I was born and raised Roman Catholic and I am very proud that I was because that’s where I learned about a man who changed my life. That man was Jesus Christ.
I know what you’re thinking but hear me out for a bit because I doubt this is going where you think it is.
See I’ve known and studied Jesus for years as is required of a Roman Catholic student and I’ve heard countless stories and a hundred times as many interpretations. I’ve traveled the world to numerous churches to see him crucified and bloodied in all colors shapes and artistic styles. I’ll just come out and say it, I hated being Roman Catholic. I hated going to church, I hated praying to statues, I hated memorizing prayers, and I pretty much hated most of the confusing and seemingly senseless rituals. Needless to say I was not happy being Roman Catholic but despite this there was one thing that I did not hate. No. There was one thing that I actually loved, and that was Jesus and his teachings.
Sadly my love for Jesus and his teachings is what made me stay in the church, I would think to myself “With such wisdom as a basis of their teachings this must be a good organization.” But as I grew older I started seeing Jesus and the church in different ways. I find that it is important to observe that during his short life Jesus’ biggest frustrations were directed at the Pharisees and church leaders. Jesus himself would break laws considered sacred at the time in light of the greater good. Jesus wanted us to know that the Kingdom of God is open to all. He valued the meek, the poor, and the weak, at a time when no one would.
I will admit the church of that time was different from the church of today, but how different was it really? Do we really believe that Jesus’ teachings got through to the disciples or were they just a band of men following the rockstar they didn’t really understand? In the Bible there are several instances where Jesus’ words or actions are met with confusion or even anger from the disciples. We know that Mary Magdalene along with some other women accompanied Mother Mary when Jesus carried the cross, why were none of the disciples there? Surely if the issue was danger the women would have been in even more peril. Could this be why Jesus first revealed himself to Mary Magdalene? Had his death shown him that the disciples were not worthy? Judas, though his name has been dragged through the mud throughout history was by some accounts one of Jesus’ closest and most trusted disciples and yet traded him for silver coin, Peter somewhat the leader of the disciples, denied Jesus three times on the day of his execution, what trust can we then place on the character of the other disciples some of which are hardly even mentioned. Seeing as they were a brotherhood of men I think we should consider that we may find a very different account had there been something written by an unbiased third party or by Jesus himself.
The Gospel of Judas for example written by a third party shows Jesus often laughing at the disciple’s shallow rituals and immaturity.
“He found them sitting, gathered together, practicing godliness. When he [approached] his disciples gathered and seated, offering thanks over the bread, [he] laughed. The disciples said to him, “Teacher, why are you laughing at [our] eucharist? We have done what is right.” He answered, saying to them, “I am not laughing at you. You do not do this by your own will, but by this, your god [will] be worshiped.”
“your god” not Jesus’ God. Could it be that by taking part in ceremonies we don’t fully understand we are paying homage to a different God? It doesn’t seem too farfetched to me, I don’t ever recall being part of a sacrament in which I understood what was actually going on, I just seemed to accept it as a reality as I grew up. The gospel portrays the disciples as angry belligerent, blasphemous men who you could say were really no better than any other men of that age. This really doesn’t surprise me, if Jesus really needed to suffer and die to save us from our sins then the world was in a place where words and teachings would not be enough, hell, miracles of healing weren’t even enough. Upon Jesus’ death he tore the temple veil split the earth and unearthed the tombs, he literally destroyed the church, and they simply rebuilt it with him as the new mascot. If Jesus had to die for the world to be released from sin then the change would have started after his death, with Mary Magdalene not the disciples, they were simply a tool for his life on earth to have gone the way it did. You may say today we have a totally different church but consider history after that, consider the crusades, the witch hunts, the colonization through evangelization, bloody conquests, sexual assault by priests, Vatican cover-ups. Is that crucifix upon that altar really there to remind you of the sacrifice he made for you, or as an example as the Romans used to do, of what became of the man who went against the church.
Religion to me is a specific type of thinking that can introduce people to spirituality, but religion is not spirituality. I believe in a higher being that is beyond our senses, well our five basic senses that is. I find that when you hone and eventually master your five senses you start to experience senses beyond the five. You begin to discover things such as intuition and vibrations and even learn to trust these feelings. As we hone our senses we begin to become more and more aware of a higher being present. Our spirituality is our relationship with that being and everyone knows what relationships are like, no two are ever the same. A large number of religions have teachings based on the experience of point people with a higher being, some religions clam there is only one higher being while others claim there are several, I think either can be true and we cannot be certain, several higher beings would be easy to explain, a society of them beyond our senses, however, it would be a lot harder to explain the existence of only one higher being. Some religions suggest a hierarchy of higher beings with one superior being at the top. But several would argue that the existence of multiple religions each with different gods makes it highly unlikely for the existence of only one superior being, I believe however that each encounter a person has had with their god was something transcending their senses, beyond human explanation yet made into human form in the way the their mind would imagine, because really how else could we see something beyond our senses. Now supposing there is really only one superior being, each and every one of our experiences with that being would be different based on how our mind chose to represent it and thus would just be an influence of our culture, belief, and language. Often times teachings bestowed upon a person by a higher being or god were understood to be messages for all humanity or maybe a law or command to be set, but really these are moments where in wisdom was bestowed upon these specific people relevant to their own situation, a lot would argue that the events and teachings of their religion transcend all time and situations but I believe that though virtues and morals transcend time following actions and rituals outside of their original context is not only wasteful but dangerous and religion to many people can become stagnant at that shallow superficial level. Many would not see the danger in teaching morals and virtues but I would argue otherwise, I believe that these traits that make up your character are not studied but learned through experience. Many religions use stories as examples and you hear the point every homily or study session or whatever it is your religion does and these stories remind me of those filtered images with inspirational text on them that stream through your Facebook or Tumblr feed, you read them, you nod your head or smile, then you move on. Sadly the biggest difference I see between religious teachings and inspirational pics is most people would probably pay more attention to the latter. It really isn’t the people’s fault though, somewhere along the line someone started the idea that studying something was the road to achieving it but that’s a deadly misconception, there are geniuses who have studied everything there is about the world yet find themselves unable to function in it, or students who get straight As then break down in tears when they realize you can only survive on grades for so long. People think studying and imitating the movements of a just or a generous person will make them those things as well but character is so much deeper than that, these actions aren’t instructions to become virtuous, these are simply the acts of a virtuous man, and though imitating them could do some good in the community, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that these imitators are virtuous themselves. Prophets after deep spiritual searching were able to commune with their higher begins and were blessed with knowledge, however, I do not think we must dwell on what a being bestowed upon our ancestor in the past, but focus on what it is trying telling us right now. I’m sick of religion or at least the religions I’ve encountered because they tell you “hey bro, do this and you’re good” people think if they close their eyes and pray each day or stand mindless in a church or temple they’re good or “will be saved” but all these rituals we do, all these sacraments and traditions, they all have much deeper meaning, I highly doubt any of us after all these years remembers why we even do them, and in that case what’s the point of mindlessly doing something we don’t even understand. I suggest we build on ourselves and nourish our spirituality without having to conform to any certain religion till we find our own connection to the higher being and then they can import the most appropriate wisdom for us.
All that being said, do not discredit the teachings of religions because though possibly misunderstood or decontextualized they truly are built around a multitude of wisdom. However, when the time comes that your upbringing forces you to choose between your “beliefs” and what deep down inside you feel is right, always go with your gut, because I believe that subconsciously we see through all the deception and the lies. Deep down, we know what’s what.