On Religion in America

NY Time’s columnist Nicholas Kristof writes (Believe It,or Not,Editorials, NY Times, August 15, 2003) that America is increasingly being separated from the rest of the world as well as being internally by its religious beliefs. He’s right. But this is not a drift toward the “mystic” but a drift toward religious fundamentalism. We are becoming more rigid, more judgmental, more arrogant. Those are not desirable qualities.

America lives within a bowl of confusion that mixes up religion and spirituality. They are not the same, even though most religions will try to convince you they are so they can take charge of them both.

I’m not big on religion, at least as it is practiced in most of the world today. Religions have, as I just hinted, become ideologies that separate people instead of joining them, justify war instead of advocating peace, advocate a rigid brand of morality instead of being moral (and to me this means not hurting others), and generally seem to create more havoc in the world instead of teaching it to be more serene. I question whether most religions that exist in the world today really are based on spirituality at all. They are geared to serve their churches, to keep certain ideologies and people in power, and seem to have little to do with teaching people to find peace within themselves or in their world. Yet, my own experience says that true spirituality, which can be owned by no man or institution, integrates me with myself and my world, teaches me to Love first myself and then others, and leads me on a road of turning my life over to God instead of trying to be Him.

Church is a place in the soul, not a place outside oneself, though the skies and lands of the Desert Southwest in this country (the US) come pretty close...

If religion is dividing us, is it truly religion or something else? Most religions advocate the behaviors of the drug pusher, i.e, you must behave and believe like we tell you; if you cross us, you die; if you pay us, you get heaven. The same disease of denial that allows the pusher to do his work allows religions and religious institutions to advocate their brand of morality and put people in fear of disobedience. But no matter how much religious training someone has had or how much religious power he gets, he is still a mortal with all the flaws and imperfections that come with it. We all put our pants on the same way.

Our forefathers saw this perhaps better than we do. It’s why they insisted on the separation of church and state, a line that has become increasingly fuzzy with America’s shift to the religious right. If you want examples of what happens when church and state are mixed, look no further than Iraq and Afghanistan. Islamic fundamentalists incite people to kill in the name of religion and jockey for power in the running of the state. It is a dangerous combination. When we cannot understand the wisdom behind reinforcing that division, as the Alabama Chief Justice on its Supreme Court apparently cannot, we are opening the door to our own slide down this dangerous road. It is simply a matter of time and degree. We are not as different from them as we’d like to believe.

I’ll keep my spirituality and forgo religion, thank you. For me, spirituality not only integrates me with and through Love, it teaches me I am responsible for the evolution of my own and no one else’s. Once I get beyond my own nose, I am playing God instead of trying to be one with Him. Magnify that a million times and you understand why America is becoming divided, and why when we talk about the role of religion in American and its effects, we might nor be talking about religion at all.

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