Are you religious? A lot of people say they are. They like to think they are. But are they really? If you believe in God, does that make you religious? Do you have to go to church regularly to qualify? I have entertained these questions for many, many years.
I attended the Methodist Church for a bit when I was in grade school, but I didn’t understand why. It was expected, so I went along. Sometimes I enjoyed certain aspects of it. I never learned to appreciate the time in church listening to the preacher.
In my senior year in high school I met a girl from Columbus with whom I thought I might be in love. Her family was Catholic, and her dad had no desire to encourage our romance. Once I saw that as an impediment, I decided I would take Catechism and convert. I studied Latin in high school and was always attracted to that denomination and having the ability to understand the Mass in Latin was alluring. Plus, I was told that after confession if I were to immediately get hit by a car and die – it was take the express lane to Heaven. I liked that. So, first trimester at Miami University I contacted the church in Oxford and began studying the teachings of the original Christian church. Soon, both the young lady, the church and I drifted apart. But the experience prompted me into a yearning to understand what this powerful thing called religion really was. I embarked upon a year’s long mission to find the correct path to spirituality.
First, I understood immediately that if there were one proper means of convening with God, then there would only be one religion. Logic would prevail because it would be obvious that God decided we should go to Him through the One Way. I began to study the workings of as many belief systems as I could find.
I quickly discounted the oldest, i.e., shamanism, animism, paganism and Atenism since they had been dead for thousands of years. Not that they held no value; I read about them. They just seemed to be out of favor with almost all people on earth. From there, you move to Hinduism, the oldest organized religion still practiced today by close to a billion people.
That one took some time to look into. It is a very complex structure of beliefs. There were many aspects I admired such as Samsara; the ongoing cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The thought that a life of virtue would allow you to continue to improve on your existence from life to life was appealing. And Ahimsa also attracted me. That is the thought that all life has value and no harm should be brought to any living organism. But the negatives quickly outweighed those good beliefs. The caste system, for example, I found particularly heinous. It’s the concept that some humans have greater claim to life than others. The vagaries of your birth dictated your esteem within society. And I couldn’t come to an understanding of Ahimsa since I knew that in order to live I would have to consume other living organisms. No Hinduism for me.
I had several close friends who were Mormons. In recollection, I discovered that I had never met a person of the Mormon faith that I didn’t like and respect. But I didn’t really know that many. Howard Hughes hired all Mormons to staff his upper-level offices, including what became known as the “Mormon Mafia” that Hughes used to clean up Las Vegas. But after extensive research, I couldn’t buy in to the Joseph Smith “golden tablets” legend that is the basis behind the entire theology.
Judaism? I was already very familiar with the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, so I couldn’t get interested in a religion ruled by a vengeful God. I quickly crossed out Islam since I knew that word meant “submission to the will of God” and that was not appealing and after reading the Koran, I decided it was too extreme and all-consuming. I quickly ticked off Shintoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Taoism – all interesting, but none reached out to me.
I went back to Christianity and delved deeper into the history of the church and I was quickly impressed with the fact that the teachings of Jesus Christ and his disciples were revolutionary in that it was the first religion that did not worship an angry God. I liked that. But there were so many other red flags such as the necessity of believing in a “virgin” birth plus discovering that many of the hallmarks of Christianity seemed borrowed from several other earlier systems such as ancient Egypt’s polytheism. As a history student I was very aware of the damage brought upon many cultures around the world in the name of Jesus Christ. All negatives for me.
But I wouldn’t give up. There had to be a system out there that would help guide me and make me into a better person. Finally, I came upon Buddhism. I was intrigued. I was excited. Could this be it? I read everything I could find about Gautama Siddhartha. I came to the conclusion that Buddhism wasn’t a religion, but rather a philosophy. For me it became a way to live that was honest and honorable. I took it on while in my late twenties and it has served me well ever since. I don’t recommend it to anyone since that is one of the tenets I admire about the system – Buddhists don’t proselytize.
I admire anyone who believes in a discipline that makes them better and doesn’t take anything away from anyone else. I only ask that if you proclaim to follow a structured theology that you truly do so. Otherwise, I’d like to suggest that anyone who doesn’t do that might be considered a hypocrite. Does that describe you? I certainly hope not. Peace to all!
Garry Boone is a Hillsboro resident.