Side note: I’m going to refer to “god” throughout this article every so often. It isn’t ideal, but I’d like everyone to consider this also as Allah, Buddha, or whatever else your religious beliefs name (or don’t name) your higher powers. In no way do I plan to offend anyone, please don’t hesitate to let me know if it bothers you, and I will edit the post.
I’m not a particularly religious person, but I definitely believe in some sort of higher power. The world just wouldn’t be as interesting place to me if there wasn’t some part of it that could not be explained. In this same vein I wish that dragons, dinosaurs and all sorts of other fantastical things existed in our world, but I digress. The reason for this post is that I know some people who feel uncomfortable around devout religious folks when god is brought up in conversation (though not as a participant in the conversation – There’s a special place for that). While it might be outside your comfort zone that someone could believe very strongly in the presence of a higher power – you have to take into consideration the guiding principles of what the stories and words are about.
“Spending a day worshipping some fake higher power is silly! You’re wasting your time!”
There really is no proof for or against the existence of a higher power. So if we get past the personal beliefs part of this (rather negative) statement we can get to the guts of it. Spending a day in worship doesn’t mean you’re kneeling all day long apologizing for living your life. In his book “The Blue Zones”, Dan Buettner discusses Seventh Day Adventists as some of the longest lived people on the planet. As one of the common themes among the folks he studied for their longevity, all those folks had stress relieving activities in which they regularly partook. The 7th Day Adventists observe the Sabbath, a day of rest, usually on Saturday. During this day, they take time to do things they enjoy, to socialize and most importantly, to do it all guilt free. Have a big deadline for a project the day after Sabbath? These people have the stuff done the day before, because they’re going to relax and enjoy themselves on that day. Same goes for tests and many other things. I’m sure occasionally slip ups are made (that’s our nature), but to have this habit/behaviour taught to you from birth is pretty cool. How many of us can say we spend one full day per week without stress? Not many.
“Following a whole bunch of rules takes away your free will! I’m a peacock! I need to fly!”
I’m not going to pretend to know the scriptures from any of the big books, but from what I’ve experienced from speaking with those who DO know them, most are based on the same life lessons our parents teach us as we grow up. As Earl Hickey would say, “Do good things and good things will happen to you.” (Yes, I just quoted ‘My name is Earl’). This statement sums up a lot of what’s written in the good books. The rules are often simple – don’t kill folks, don’t steal stuff, don’t do most stuff that makes you feel bad, and if you do, own up to it. How bad are those rules? They’re pretty much common sense. How much happier would everyone be if we could follow these “rules” most of the time? Probably pretty happy. The guidelines laid out in religious scripts (in my opinion) aren’t meant to be taken as concrete rules. They’re meant to evolve and change while remaining the same – much like how a story being told from generation to generation will have small changes to it, to make it relatable and relevant to the new generations.
“They all want to push their religion on me, and I won’t stand for that! Not cool!”
I can agree with this, but I can also see the other side of the coin. Crossfitters and Paleo advocates often feel like they need to “save” people from globo gyms, or eating according to the USDA food pyramid, respectively. What’s the underlying theme here? Some people who are very excited about what they’ve learned and experienced want to share it with others. This can be taken too far with everything (i.e. EVERYONE should believe in MY god! Or, is ______ paleo? Are you sure??? I don’t know that Grok would have eaten it though!?! WHAT DO I DO???!?) New paleo converts don’t know this just as badly as Christian missionaries don’t when they’re trying to colonize some native populations. What you/they know isn’t necessarily better, and it isn’t necessarily for everyone. Instead of getting angry, how about we acknowledge their enthusiasm and say, “thanks for the info, I’ll think about it and get back to you if I need to know more”. After all, they’re excited because they want to help – the excitement just gets misdirected sometimes.
“Why should I thank someone else for everything that I work hard for? I earned it – not them!”
This stems from saying “grace” at the dinner table in most of my experiences. I would venture to say that this action/ritual has existed for millions of years, not just since religion started. Hunter-Gatherer cultures pay respect to the animals they kill in various ways. I believe that saying thanks for the food your about to eat isn’t a bad practice or habit. I don’t do it myself, but think about how much more mindful you’d be about what you’re eating if you stopped to thank god, the earth, the animals and plants themselves, whatever it is, before you ate them/it. That’s some seriously mindful eating.
The ultimate point of this post is not to “ok” religion or convince anyone of anything. The goal of this post is to nail home that the underlying concepts of religions and how we would act without them are largely the same. Most belief systems strive for a common goal, and knowing that can make the difference between being open and accepting versus coming off as dismissive and close-minded. So be open, ignore the names of the characters in the story and look for the morals and themes – you might be surprised how similar they all are.
Dr. Adam Ball