Religion vs. Spirituality

There is nothing quite like a cancer diagnosis to initiate contemplation of theological questions. It’s always been a tough subject, especially for me. I know people who are all out aetheists and do not believe in any sort of God, and I know people who are quite devout and would never miss a Sunday! The believers and non-believers alike are all great people.

My personal experiences and beliefs have led me to a middle ground. I believe that spirituality is the way to go. However, I also believe there are many paths to spirituality, including religion. I look around the world, and have to believe in some sort of higher power. I don’t believe this world is a product of chance or coincidence. It is simply too great, too beautiful, and too big to be an accident. So I do believe there is a creator, who I will refer to as God. I can’t really remember a time when I doubted the existence of God. However, I remember several instances that have turned me away from religion.

As a history major, I can’t ignore the historical accounts of death, torture, and violence, committed repeatedly by many religious groups in the name of God. It seems no era is free from war, terrorism, and needless suffering all tied, somehow, to a religious cause. I simply can’t believe that God supports any of these causes.

Next, I have had some unfortunate encounters with people who call themselves religious, but their actions tell me something different. I won’t go into details, but I have been preached to many times about being a sinner and going to hell for various reasons, by people who have engaged in far more shocking activities. But, because they have turned their lives around, they get to sit in judgement on everyone else. Not that these people don’t deserve forgiveness, I think we all do. No one is perfect. But as far as judgement goes, I think that should be left up to God. One imperfect human being judging another imperfect human being, makes no sense to me.

I have also met people who go through the motions, without putting much thought into it. People who go to church every Sunday, read the bible, perform charitable acts, go to confession, pray, etc. Yet, when asking them about what they believe and why, their answers indicate a blind following of “rules” set forth by one church or another. They do what they do because it’s what they have been taught to do since childhood. They don’t ask questions, they don’t ponder their relationship with their higher power, they simply do what they’re told. I’ve never understood the purpose of this. Maybe this is what God wants? Who am I to say it’s not? However, I suspect, there is a way to create a deeper connection and understanding. I don’t believe it’s wrong to ask questions.

The questions I struggle with recently, are those around how much control God has in our lives. Everyone thanks God for the good things, the miracles, the blessings, but it is taboo to blame him for anything bad. I guess I have to ask how he can be responsible for some things, but not others? If I believe that he has saved me from a premature death for now, then must I also believe he is responsible for the premature death of a 25 year old friend with a 3 year old daughter last month. How and why would he let this happen? Ultimately, I just don’t know. I guess I prefer to think that he isn’t responsible for any of it. Good or bad. I prefer to believe he has only promised to walk along side us while we struggle, rather than determine the outcome. Perhaps I am not meant to understand such things at this point. But, when I meet my creator, I hope he is willing to answer a few questions!

I know religion is a touchy subject and I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I’m always willing to engage in a good dialogue about the issue with just about anyone. There are only two “religious types” I won’t associate with. Those that loudly and clearly brag about what good Christians they are. This, to me, indicates I should turn and run away. I’ve learned that those that have to make constant verbal declarations of their goodness and superiority, are generally the absolute opposite in their actions. Truly good Christians, in my mind, let their actions speak for who and what they are. The other person I won’t discuss religion with is the one that shows up at my door to read to me from the bible and/or hand me a flyer explaining that the end of the world is near and I should prepare to burn in hell. Explanation hopefully not needed!

Lastly, I want to say that I do believe that religion offers a path to spirituality for many people. But, religion and spirituality, are two different things. Perhaps my journey will lead to a religious path at some point, but for now, I focus on the spiritual. I don’t need to read rules about how to be a good person. I believe I know how to do this in my mind and in my heart. I don’t believe God is responsible for my cancer, but I do believe he has given me the strength and wisdom to face it. I can’t read or predict my future, but I know in the end, because of my spirituality, it will be okay, no matter what.

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