Worlds of imagination by Sara B. Gauldin
The concept of faith has been a source of focus for me for much of my life. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of the sense of spiritual peace I had when attending prayer services at my school as a young child. I recall that I knew with absolute certainty that my prayers were heard and each thought and deed was being accounted for. Truly I tried hard not to vary from this. For my parents faith was a different variation of the same concept. Both of my parents were raised Lutheran and proudly expressed the fondness of being “home Lutherans” meaning that they maintained an affinity with the religions background but did not feel the need to have an intermediary in their relationships with the almighty. Further, my anthropology loving parents encouraged me to learn about and explore the beliefs and customs of any culture that happened to make itself available. There was no sense of rejection of others values, only a curiosity that was inscribed in my mind.
As with most things there are two sides to every coin. The welcoming sense of love and innate curiosity was to be short lived for me. Around the age of nine I was introduced to the concept of using a veil of religious piety to express exclusion and hate. My “home Lutheran” parents lived behind a church. We did not go to church on Sunday. I attended a Catholic school and was receiving a strong Christian education. One Sunday morning I was playing in my garden which ran directly behind a local church. I noticed some children playing outdoors after the service and to be honest I was wishing they could come over and play. As I observed them a few parents came outdoors and called the children to them. The next thing I knew the children was running down the hill towards me. I was elated. The parents had told them to play with me… but that was not the case. As they approached the children began to pick up rocks and dirt clods form the garden and hurl them at me. “Stone the heathen” they shouted. The parents yelled and egged them on. They were invoking a biblical penance for my perceived religious short comings.
The sense of a connection to a greater purpose and the worship of a deity are not new to human kind. Although most people choose to dwell on the details that can be staunchly different I choose to see the many commonalities. Most faiths derive a sense of purpose from faith. They believe that their short human life span has more significance that the physical drive to survive that they will ultimately lose. It is a cheery thought to be firmly convinced that we are not simply awash in a scientific chain of events that allows a brief mortal heyday before snuffing out our very existence. Almost all faiths have a conviction that there are powers greater than themselves that set things into motion and continue to have influence over all that they omnisciently govern. We as Christians call this deity God, as do the Jewish people. The Buddhists refer to Buddha, in Hinduism Shiva is worshiped, the Muslims call their deity God as well, but they do not follow the teachings of Christ. Native Americans make reference to a “Great Spirit”, the Wakan Tanka. Although many contemporary religions mistrust the practice as being dark, the premise of the Wiccan faith is being in tune with nature. All of these systems of beliefs have the secondary purpose of providing a set of moral and ethical guidelines with which one may live a more spiritually correct life in the context of their faith. Truly these tendencies are more alike than different.
So what does this broad presence of a need to find faith and relate oneself to a higher deity come from? In a broader sense it could be said that the presence of common markers of faith across cultures is proof that a higher power does in fact exist. How else could diverse cultures, once isolated from one another in the world come to such similar conclusions and sets of moral mores? Recently a researcher by the name of Dean Hamer did extensive DNA testing to postulate his theory that we as human beings are genetically hard wired to have a sense of faith or religious affiliation. According to his “God Gene” research there are specific genetic markers that contribute directly to the draw organized religions has to a given individual. Of course there in the faith based argument that the creator could also hard wire the tendency to be knowledgeable about the spiritual element of humanity directly into the creations. Either way, the universal need to find faith and belong to a set of religions guidelines cannot be denied.
This brings me to my quandary. The positives of organized religion are tied to a darker element. Religiosity itself seems to hinge on a Yin and Yang effect. I refer back to the people I mentioned at the church earlier. They perpetuated hate and violence in the name of a religion that is based on love and acceptance. They turned that model on its head and used it to be exclusive and intentionally cruel. Could it be that the human need to compete, to crawl towards the top at the expense of others is at direct conflict with the sense of spiritual connection they seek to achieve. We have in this world a multitude of people who do good things and live a virtuous life in the context of their religious beliefs, amongst those who seek to use faith competitively, to exclude others, to set themselves apart, to believe themselves to have transcended the status quo. This darker element is also somewhat universal. I read about a suicide bombing in Pakistan over differences in faith only today. There were the terror attacks on the world trade centers, the murder of the “savages” the Native Americans by the US government for hundreds of years, the attempted genocide of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany, the strange protests held by the extremist of Westboro Baptist Church. These are just some to the extreme cases of people behaving badly based on a misdirected moral compass. It seemed the purity of spiritual morality is easily sullied by human shortcomings and prejudices.
Not all shortcomings are so dramatic. There are multiple churches that firmly believe that their church is the only one who can ensure entry to a positive after life. They believe that the entire rest of the world is doomed to a horrible afterlife or lack thereof merely because of the unfortunate occurrence of not attending church in some specific location. There are those who resent others for having differences in religious affiliation. There are those who share common religious values but put down each other for the perceived lack of devoutness of one another’s faith. I refer to the example of a man who lived his life in India. He worked his entire adult life and gave every penny he had ever earned to charity for the betterment of others. He himself lived a life of poverty. Had he been of the Christian faith his life of generosity and self-sacrifice would have been hailed as a Christ-like life. Truly the man should be canonized. But upon questioning several Christians locally I ascertained that they believed that this man would be doomed to hell, while they themselves enjoyed the reward of heaven.
I intend to continue to raise my children to live a faith based life. As it happens I do consider myself a Christian and adhere to that set of guidelines. As my children mature they will be encouraged to suppress the more base tendencies of those of faith. Too many of this world’s saddest and most savage moments have been carried out in the name of the pious. I encourage all to take a closer look at their faith and ask themselves some difficult questions.
-Is my faith a loving one or is it caustic to others?
-Do I accept the common faith journey of my fellow man as a separate passenger traveling on the same mortal direction, or do I judge other’s progress to make myself feel better about my own shortcomings?
-Do I use my faith for the betterment of the world I live in in honor and respect of my beliefs and those of others or do I seek to squash others I the name of a “loving” deity? Truly if a deity is loving, and the Lord who I choose to believe in is, he would not reject his creations based on cultural deviations or geographic location.
Whatever set of beliefs you choose to accept, or to reject I encourage others to take a perspective of tolerance and of camaraderie in this journey called life.
Don’t miss Sara B. Gauldin’s amazing books! Click HERE!
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