I am not a Catholic, a Muslim or a Baptist. I am not a Pentecostal, a Jew, a Sikh or a Buddhist. I am not a Hindu, a Bahai, a Pagan, a Rastafari or a Jedi Knight (don’t laugh; around 100,000 Australians were in 2006). And I am not an atheist.
But I am religious in that I have a set of beliefs about our cause, nature, and purpose. These beliefs remain transient, never fixed and always open to challenge, refinement and change.
- I am a Catholic because killing makes no sense to me. I am not a Catholic because I cannot accept the concept of hell.
- I am a Hindu because I believe in Karma. I am not a Hindu because reincarnation seems too simple an answer.
- I am a Muslim because I am happy to see pork listed as a prohibited indulgence. I am not a Muslim because do not view life as a test.
- I am a Buddhist because I believe that mental development leads to personal freedom. I am not a Buddhist because I see the passions as something to enjoy rather than avoid.
- I am a Jedi Knight because I believe in a universal force, a balance, an energy that binds the universe. I am not a Jedi Knight because I am unlikely to ever watch Star Wars.
But I am none of these things as well. I simply follow a path that makes sense to me. One of my choosing which can only be trodden with a sure footing by listening, reading, experiencing and questioning - every day. It is not one which can be simplified into words. The innocent surety that attached itself to God and the Ten Commandments when I was growing up as a Catholic quickly became an apathetic loathing of any religion where rules were, literally, set in stone.
How can a person, I thought to myself, simply follow rules and statements devised en masse? Rules which go unquestioned and unchallenged because of a dangerously sacred link to the gods. Rules which are written rather than known. Rules which become an excuse for otherwise inexcusable actions. Rules which become a defence when personal reflection, not quoted passages are required; a point illuminated when a question posed to a close friend was deflected to the Bible. An inability to interpret and apply the messages contained within religious texts to our own beliefs is a fundamental flaw, restricting our ability to understand and justify our existence to ourselves and others.
Not only am I suspicious about the value of committing our ever-evolving beliefs to words, but I also fail to understand our desire to brand our beliefs. Why the need to attach labels to beliefs, beliefs based not on physical characteristics but on an intrinsic way of living, personal to the point of being our only true distinctive trait. By identifying with one label and promoting one set of truths and beliefs do we not, by default, effectively taint all other religions as being false and rooted in naivety?
By choosing a particular religion we choose a label by which to differentiate and identify ourselves rather than relying on actions and behaviour as an indicator of self. I do see the attraction of a labelled set of beliefs, a path that skips over the frustrating and never-ending journey of evolution and discovery of self. Attaining a label also provides the foil and safety of a familiar stereotype. Identifying as a Christian earns an immediate value judgment without consideration of individual values and actions. So instead of simply being good people, we become good Muslims, good Christians and good Buddhists. We lose the ability to live a life according to what we personally believe is right, and instead contort ourselves into the pre-determined and fixed boundaries set by religions.
By attaching labels to religions, society promotes the unintended consequence once membership has been attained: inertia. Upon identifying as a Christian, we lose the motivation to question why; the Bible, we are told, contains all the answers. But does this stubbornness produce naivety? The release of version two of the Bible, the Koran, the Tipitaka, the Tanakh, the Bhagavad gita or the Code of the Jedi is not expected anytime soon. This failure to question and renew seems reckless when one considers the Encyclopaedia Britannica is currently in its 15th reincarnation. There is one explanation for this failure to mature that resonates with me: a correction or retraction would be seen to diminish a religion’s permanence, legitimacy and truth.
Discovering our own path requires a certain level of trust in one’s instincts, instincts about what is right and wrong, and what is both right and wrong. Instincts that occasionally take on a sinister note, but instincts that define us as humans. In subscribing to a set of pre-defined beliefs we cast aside instinctual behaviour and replace it with a religious filter through which our actions become controlled and ultimately confused.
Beliefs will only ever mean something if they are stumbled upon by living. They will only ever validate views and opinions if they are uncovered during reflection. They will only affect actions if they are tailored and bespoke.
I imagine a world where humans believe in whatever makes sense to them. I dream of judgment being based on how we live rather than on what we wear around our necks, the amount of flesh we expose and the type of building we kneel at. May belief prosper but may the labels that we gain without discretion disappear. Let the world consist of only one label, the label of humanity.
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