Back in the Autumn of 1989, when I was attending Scottsdale Community College, that particular semester I took a sociology course wherein I had an "opinion paper" writing assignment with the required topic of Religious Affiliation. This paper details reasonably well how I thought and felt about my life at the time and my place in this world.
I Believe In 'God' But Not Religion
Instructor: Susan St. John
Scottsdale Community College - Sociology 101; Autumn, 1989
I believe in a Supreme Power, Holy Spirit; or if I may borrow from George Lucas, an all permeating "Force." However, don't expect to often find me in a church on Sunday morning, since chances are that I'll be elsewhere; probably in bed, asleep.
Organized religious institutions are based upon human interpretations of matters that often defy simple, ordinary explanations. This is not to say religion is bad, au contraire. Besides maintaining many cultural, ideological, and philosophical traditions; if one closely studies religious documentation with an open mind, realistically interpreting the passages therein, it becomes apparent that humanity has a violent past(1); not only that, but on the whole we over emphasize the differences and altogether fail to recognize the many beliefs we have in common.
The most common differences of opinion seem to lie with the various charismatic leaders themselves and although, for the most part, they usually say many of the same things, it’s accomplished through allegory, poems, psalms, and stories, presented in different ways to reach the particular cultural group(s) they happen to lead. If one were to place most, if not all of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time into one room for round table discussions, chances are that they would each in turn speak, listen, comprehend, understand, and probably agree with one another on a great many ideals. So ultimately the leaders themselves, I feel, are not at fault for the many wars that have raged in the name of “God”, but it is with the over zealous followers of various leaders who are either unwilling or unable to accept any other opinion as a possible pathway to the Source of All Being.
Among the most common beliefs in most of the world’s major religions is in that of a Supreme Power, Entity, or Entities, or a Supernatural Force-like Spirit. Most often this Supreme Being is of divine light, and goodness in opposition to a lesser power of darkness and in some cases interpreted as pure evil. But there are those of us who believe that darkness and light are the flip sides of the same coin, and that the only difference is in the choices we all make every moment of our existence (we all includes all non-physical entities as well).
Each individual needs to look within themselves in order to find what rings true or right within their own souls. Many religions have differing dietary requirements, often stemming from geographical differences that influenced the inhabitants of the various regions of Earth. This is because certain food are available in only certain areas or because by-products of, for example, dairy cows in India are such an important food source that if people were to start slaughtering cows greater starvation would ultimately occur when all the cattle was consumed and not even the dairy products would then be available.
Although the sight of starving Asian Indians begging on the streets of Bombay, streets where cows wander freely in abundance, may seem dysfunctional to most Westerners; but the actual survival, a function of that culture, may depend on that cattle providing future generations with milk, cheese, etc., instead of a momentary feast for a few right now. The Jews historically have opposed the consumption of pork, albeit for their own dogmatic reasons. I can relate to that dietary restriction since pigs often harbor tapeworms and other such parasites that can easily be transferred to humans simply by inadequate preparation (improper cooking) of the meat before it’s eaten. And I relate to this so well because I have a severe allergy to some foods, pork is only one of them.
What seems interesting to note is that many of the major world religions, (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism), all stress overwhelmingly that a diet mainly, but not exclusively, based on fresh fruits and vegetables is the most healthy diet for humans. Amazingly enough is that these various religions; often in opposition to one another; agree on such a “trivial point” as diet, but in recent years science has come to similar conclusions, and yet, for some carnivorous reason we humans more often than not consume many times more protein than we need, but only if it is available of course.
Only eight percent of the American population maintains an undeclared religious affiliation, and I am part of that eight percent, and yet ninety-four percent of the U.S. population believes in God (2). So from those statistics it appears that two percent of the population believes in God, but doesn’t maintain ongoing religious participation. I’m apparently in that two percent.
America is a lonely place without an Active Religious Social Network (A.R.S.N.) to draw upon, and I must admit that a close family, (father, mother, sister), and school friends can help to replace the feeling of not belonging, but when much of the family is so divided as mine; a “Jack Mormon” father who left the family religion to dabble in Hedonism, Buddhism, Spiritualism, and Wicca (that’s all I know of); my mother and sister, Baptist; and mom’s family, a combination of agnostic, atheist, fundamentalist Christian, Lutheran, and Seventh-Day-Adventist; and dad’s family, devout Mormon; it’s no wonder that I grew up feeling just a little confused.
It is difficult to tell whether religion defines culture, or if culture is defined by religion or possibly geography, or if all of these influences, as well as others not mentioned, interact en mass towards the evolution of both culture and religion together, inseparably intertwined as, like the serpents of caduceus.
So what are some of the disadvantages to being unaffiliated, religiously? First and foremost are the feelings of social alienation and isolation. Most everyone in the U.S. has some kind of affiliation, as per the preceding statistics, though I doubt that most of those people are religious participants. Yet, they can and apparently do identify with some religious background. I unabashedly don’t conform to this social norm. At one time I hid my lack of faith in religion by going through the motions of believing in my mother’s faith, but in time I realized that I believe in “God” but not in any one particular creed, dogma, doctrine, ideal, or truth. I have a bumper sticker that states, “My Karma Just Ran Over Your Dogma.” No one truth is the answer to all things or should be the complete and total focus of one’s attention, since one could become blinded from the forest through the trees. So in a sense I don’t belong to any religion yet I accept all grains of truth (that work for me) no matter where they are found, bit it in a holy writ, a panoramic landscape, or radiating from the innocent eyes of a child. No one religion holds all of the answer for me, but all have something valuable to teach me. So with none yet all I do and don’t belong.
Overall it’s an overwhelming sense of just not completely and totally belonging anywhere, with anyone. Other disadvantages to non-affiliation is that I’m without an A.R.S.N. (Active Religious Social Network) and that is tough to deal with since an untold number of career possibilities, romantic possibilities, friendships, etc., have probably been lost simply because I’m so very aloof, friendly, but distant and terribly lonely much of the time. Yet, I find some of the advantages most rewarding…
So what are some of the advantages to being unaffiliated, religiously? First of all I have an open mind to many diverse possibilities and that opens the doors to meet and become involved with many interesting, unusual, eclectic people. Having widely experienced, read, and researched on a great many subjects, and having traveled to quite a few places, I’m able to communicate with a very broad number of people and rather easily understand their differing points of view. Second, I’m able to, in their own vocabulary, express many other points of view available (3); thus helping to expand the narrow mindedness that often pervades individuals of strong religious faith. Thirdly, I’m able to bring a unique and at times controversial point of view into most conversations that make for many intriguing and intense acquaintances that sometimes turn into friendships, although often these relations are somewhat short-lived. However, the creative potential for these alliances are phenomenal. Much of my personal artistic, expository, musical, and poetic expressions are a direct result of experiences and inspirations these people have guided me towards.
In recent years, since returning to college full-time, I’ve spent very little time actively seeking a spiritual family. If anything I’ve ignored the whole confusing mess in the hope that I could survive without such dependencies. I’m surviving, but not living. Yet, to again actively seek spiritual companionship is not all that realistic whilst I attend college and have to support myself at the same time. So, although this assignment has forced me to look at my lack of affiliation as a deficiency in some respects; i.e. loneliness, and loss of opportunities in the areas of career, friendship and romance; I’ve found that, for the most part, I’m quite self-sufficient, and I feel stronger for the knowing that I’m not relationship co-dependent. For this assignment we’ll ignore my chocolate and caffeine addictions, okay?
(1) The “Holy Bible” is filled with stories of bloody sacrifices, wars, and all often graphic depictions of “mankind’s” and God’s inhumanity to all life forms especially including humanity. Also, the “BHAGAVAD-GITA, As It Is; the holy book of the Hindus, nothing more than the discourse Lord Krishna and Arjuna had as they prepared for, and made their way to a “great battle (war)” [if you can call mass murder great]; between royal cousins, the sons of Dhrtarastra and Pandu. The Koran is the holy book of Islam, it almost militantly endorses the complete subjugation of all females, about half of humanity. Finally more people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason, e.g., The Crusades (historically), Ireland (today , the Middle East continuously, etc.
(2) SOURCE: Gallup Report, no. 259, April 1987
(3) I was once told by a Baptist Youth Minister, (paraphrased): “Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and it is a blessed moment when two people can agree on any one thing, but more often than not when two Baptists gather, instead of just two opinions being expressed, three or more are often the result.”