It is with some effrontery that I need to make some comments about faith and organized religion from a very personal view. I’m certainly not a scholar on the subject of any of the many systems of faith on the planet, but I grew up in a protestant faith that was excruciatingly specific on what or whom should be worshiped and in what manner.
As a teenager I became more aware that there were myriad systems of religious thought and practice, all of which had some merit in influencing the behavior of the most savage beast on the planet (man) and his inclination to treat his fellow creatures rather badly in the wider picture. I very actively and devoutly practiced a protestant faith for many years until I was almost sixty and moved from Indiana to Colorado, where I was in a remote location away from churches. Any religious fervor I then experienced came from nature through my views of the mountains, other creatures, along with sunrises, sunsets that seemed to bolster a sentiment that there must be a “creator” to have produced such splendor and beauty. I know it wasn’t exactly scientific.
Religious rites were no longer part of my communion with nature and whatever I imagined was a creator that might care about a species that was supposed to adore Him through formal rites in certain places on Sunday mornings and in prayers anywhere else too. It was a singular but effective religious experience I had “alone.” There were not rites or requirements. Ritual came from my craving to be in nature with my own thought about what it all might mean.
In terms of religious practice, I became something of a spiritual hermit whose relationship with creation itself became unforced and completely personal. I did miss the sharing of such deep emotion with other supplicants that I had enjoyed most of my life, but I found that my personality and inclination was fashioned for some other way to seek what might be eternal, if there was such a thing.
Of all the rules I ever encountered regarding religious practice, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” was the one that rang true with no sour note. I’m not a hermit, and I have good friends with whom I share many inspiring experiences socially and in nature. The control that formal religion has exerted for the past two thousand years has gradually changed its aura for me, and my deep feeling about faith is that, finally, it is very personal and can be shared if one wishes to share or receive it. The rules, if there are any from a creator, are very broad and compassionate, and I fancy that I have found my niche in that vast conglomerate of religious laws and demands that give structure but not always inspiration to us humans. Fear has no place there. I suppose some would label me an agnostic for my very nebulous views, but then humans like charts and diagrams to rein in their doubts with what they need to see as clear data and “facts.”
Our relationship to the planet and its inhabitants is everything. Knowing right from wrong doesn’t depend upon formal religion. If it does, its record is quite sad. Formal religion is not always a control for the good. It’s often just a “control” used too often for the benefit of judging people unfairly by standards that no longer matter in the broader scheme of things, leaving behind the sad remnants of human relationships and lives. In the end I believe that kindness, generosity, and compassion are not just the province of formal religion, but we have a very long way to go in order to find our way. I know that I certainly do. JB