“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
It would do the world a lot of good if we kept this famous quote in mind when thinking about religion. Unfortunately, so many aren’t able to honour their own religions while still recognizing the merits of others. From the Crusades to the current battle over homosexual marriage, religious discord has been the source of a great deal of conflict throughout the world, perhaps second only to political discord, and at times even fuelling or influencing political discord.
Religion enters our lives typically in one of two ways: we’re either raised with a religion or we have an “Aha!” moment during which we feel some of the secrets of the universe become clear to us through particular religious experiences. For the latter, we usually then choose to adopt religions that correspond to our experiences. Considering these two ways we “stumble” upon religion (and for some of us, it’s a combination of the two, since we may habitually follow certain religions but then have “Aha!” moments later in life), it’s easy to see why someone would have a hard time understanding why someone else would choose to think differently about faith.
Habitual traditionalists tend to believe what their elders have passed on to them and are skeptical of anything new. People who have been overcome with incredibly strong emotions when engaging with a particular religion would, understandably, have difficulty imagining the fact that someone else wouldn’t have that same experience when engaging with it—that would be like trying to imagine not feeling love while looking at our significant other or children.
However, to make reference to another well-known saying, we need to follow our hearts but take our brains with us when dealing with religion. While religions have been partially founded by passion, and passion is often what ensures their continued existence within the world, nothing can be completely driven by passion. We’re unable to base other actions and decisions in our lives purely on passion, so why must religion be any different? For example, we can’t spontaneously kill others because they wronged our family members, nor can we rip our clothes off euphorically and dance down busy streets (well, without expecting arrest to be in our immediate futures!).
Similarly, nothing can be founded solely on tradition, either. The world is continuously evolving and changing, and we have to change our rules and norms to keep up with it. Two examples of how we as a society have changed: women weren’t allowed to vote in Canada 100 years ago, and as recently as 160 years ago, blacks were allowed to be owned as slaves in the United States.
If thinking about religion can neither be completely passion-driven nor completely tradition-driven, what else must be considered in regards to it? The short answer is logic. After all, the reason religion came to exist in the first place was so that ancient people would be able to explain the events which occur within the world, such as why we experience different weather within different seasons, why there is day and night, and why humans are mortal. If we look at religion from a logical perspective, it’s easy for us to realize that the basis of all world religions is the same (the documentary Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds explores this in depth, and you can read more about the film here): living peacefully with one another and understanding ourselves, life and the world.
No matter what your religion, both you and your neighbour likely experience similar feelings when practicing your faith. It’s just like when two people experience feelings of deep love, but towards different people, or when two people are moved by music, just not by the same artist. It’s actually quite sad that religious practices, which have all been created with the intent of promoting peace and giving us the ability to explain our existences, have deteriorated into instruments of competition between faiths.
Of course, some don’t consider themselves as having any specific spiritual orientation. Perhaps they haven’t had any traditions to follow, nor have they had a passionate awakening. Using logic, we’re able to understand that this is acceptable too. Someday, these people may actually choose religions, but they may not. However, we’re able to logically grasp the idea that as long as they have some understanding of the physical principles which guide the universe, they won’t have inferior perceptions of the world. In fact, sometimes they actually have a wonderful understanding of the world’s workings, as they’re able to incorporate different religions into their lives, without being constrained by feeling disloyal about exploring more than one.
Ideally, we must all keep our minds open in a similar way. That isn’t to say that we can’t choose to practice only particular religions, but when we encounter other religions. which may at first seem to have absurd rituals and practices, we must look beneath this surface behaviour and ask the following questions: Does this religion help its practitioners understand themselves, life and the world? Does it help them live with peace and love? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” we must embrace the people of that religion as fellow members of the universe and remember that we’ve all evolved from the same ideological place. If the answers appear to be “no,” we must dig a little deeper, perhaps by personally speaking to some members of that religious community—it’s highly likely that “no” will turn into a “yes” once we truly understand that religion’s essence.
image: Alice Popkorn (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)