My Faith Is Not My Religion (Expat Week #061)

This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness. ~Dalai Lama

 

How is it possible that one’s faith is not the same as one’s religion?

I was raised Catholic then later in life, after seeking spiritual nourishment for more than a decade in many of the colors painted by man over the millennia, became a Protestant. This was in large part to me being a lost human soul in desperate need of meaning outside my selfishness which saw me as the center of the human existence. For the past twenty years, I would classify my faith as the Protestant branch of Christianity.

To most in the world, the two branches of the Christian faith are one and the same. To me, they are separated by a gulf based on fundamental doctrines that can’t coexist in the same sphere as black and white, cannot coexist in the same space.  The colors can complement each other but black cannot be white nor can white be black. I don’t intended to cast dispersions on one or the other by insinuating one of them is evil while the other is good. The colors are simply used to show a dichotomy that cannot overlap and still maintain their identity.

 

What then is religion if it is not ones faith?

I equate religious practices with religion. For me, religion is not words, it’s action. It is the outward actions stemming from inner belief. Religion is Faith in action.  Religion is Faith manifest in everyday life. Religion, like love, is a verb, an action word, a doing word. In that sense, we all have religion. For some it is capitalism, for others socialism, for some football.

If someone claims to be a Christian then denigrates another race, another human, any child of God then that person is living a lie because the fundamental teaching of Jesus was love. In this scenario, the persons religion is bigot so must their faith be bigot. Our actions don’t lie.

In living our religion, words, beliefs, culture, society all take a distant back seat to the actions we live day in day out. It is, quite simply, action that identifies us with our religion. I will go one step further. Our religion is the sum total of all our actions. Nothing more. Nothing less. Our religion is who we are when we believe no one is watching us.

I have no interest or time to debate dogmatic precision. I am not concerned as to whether Adam and Eve existed as actual humans or existed only as a tool to impart a sense of continuity in my ancestors. It is irrelevant to me if the true age of the earth is a billion years or 10,000 years. Nor am I concerned with many of the facts in the holy books which lead people to argue, fight, commit atrocities in the name of god(s).  My concern is spreading ripples of love in the here and now.

I don’t believe any human being should be marginalized for their faith, their creed, their color, their ethnicity, their gender, their socioeconomic status, their sexual orientation, or any other nuance that exists in the kaleidoscope of humans.  I wish we could see beyond the jingoism that pits one country against another and see ourselves as citizens of earth rather than American, Indian, Saudi. It’s a mindset that could help to unite peoples rather than drive wedges between us.

It is my deeply held belief that God made everyone who ever has or ever will walk this earth with a specific purpose in mind. I firmly believed that God created us with unique qualities that, if utilized selflessly, would bless the world in amazing ways. Each of us is a personalized gift God has given to the world, given because God knows the needs of this world and knows that our particular gifts will bless the world in a way no one else can.

I don’t believe God makes garbage nor do I believe God makes mistakes.  Thus, contrary to many of those in the Christian (and other faiths) ecosystem, I do not believe God made a mistake when he made one person white and another black, male or female, straight or gay, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist….

I do believe we are blessed with freedom of choice thus the problem of evil. The difference between a Gandhi and a Hitler is that the former used his God given gifts selflessly while the latter use his gifts for selfishly, a subtle difference with significant impact for humanity.

We have condemned Hitler and rightly so. However it is critical that we don’t jump to quick judgments about the people with whom we have brief encounters or make assumptions based on external indicators.

People treat others based upon how they feel about themselves. A person who is at peace within will reflect the peacefulness to others with kindness. A person with inner turmoil frequently interacts with others with unkindness. Perhaps we have crossed their path because they are in need of kindness. Perhaps a kind word instead of a cruel one could spark a change in the hurting person.

Everyone we meet has gone through, is going through through challenges we cannot fathom, suffers in ways we cannot see through their physical presence. So, it is our duty to not judge. It is our responsibility to extend kindness, to extend the hand of friendship. The  person to whom we extended it has two choices. They may accept our offering or they may reject our offering. The rejection is not a reflection on us. It may just be that they are not yet ready to receive kindness.

 

What is my religion?

It took me quite a long time, 53 years, to come to this understanding of myself. It required extensive solitude creating a space for deep introspection, a gift I gave myself when I moved to India 14 months ago. It required immersing myself in another culture which allowed me to view the world from a completely different perspective. It required exploring other countries with an open mind, a mind seeking to understand things as they are not as the compare to my history.

If I have to give my religion a name, I would go with the Dalai Lama on this one. My religion is simple. My religion is kindness. My religion is to love my fellow humans on spaceship earth. My religion is to seek out the beauty inherent in each and every person, to celebrate the unique individual God designed us to be, to glory in the manifold gifts God has spread all over this planet.

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About David A Olson

I often find my mind wandering to various subjects, subjects that make me stop and think. The blog, Musings of a Middle Aged Man, is a catalog of those thoughts I muse upon as I search for significance in life. I am the father of 3 children and the grandfather to 2. I spend my days working for a medium sized multinational corporation where I am an Agile Coach. I view myself as a Servant Leader, have a passion for leadership, particularly, in helping people develop their individual leadership skills and abilities. In October 2012, I went to India on business. After a week of being there, I still had not talked to or texted my 7-year-old grandson. He asked his mom, "Is Papa dead? He hasn't texted me all week." To facilitate communication now that he and I no longer live together, I started a blog for us to communicate. It's titled, "Correspondence Between Luke and His Papi". In April 2013, I moved to Pune, India on an 18-month delegation. It's an adventure that was 1.5 years in the making...The experience is captured on my blog, "The Adventures of an American Living Abroad" My two latest blogs are "The Learning Leader", a topic I have been studying since 1990, and "Lipstick on a Pig", a foray into the fashion sense of this middle aged man.
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