What Does It Mean to Be Religious?

I’m a devout Unitarian Universalist. A lot of people take that as an oxymoronic joke. But I mean it.

For about half the world — where the Abrahamic religions dominate the culture — being “devout” can only mean going regularly to a house of worship and praying to a creator god who determines our individual fates. My Merriam-Webster dictionary app seems to support the view, at least with its first few definitions, that religion is about “belief in a god or a group of gods.” Eventually, it gets to this definition for religion: “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” That’s my idea of religion.

Illustration Hands in PrayerReligion is where we go to seek answers to the hardest questions of life, where we go to find comfort when tragedies overtake us, and where we go to celebrate life’s passages. For about half the world, where we go is not a place to worship an Abrahamic god. And I’d suggest that many Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who do worship an Abrahamic god see the deity in figurative terms, not as the supreme being described in the Torah, the Bible or the Koran.

Although it doesn’t always live up to its ideals, Unitarian Universalism encourages us to do the hard work of finding our own paths, our own truths, building our own theology. UUism has strengthened my journey into Buddhism, which of course is a non-theistic religion, but I would not call myself a devout Buddhist. I have not in recent years carried on a daily Buddhist practice, and I take parts of the dharma figuratively.

How often have you heard, “We all worship the same god”? Although many would like to believe it, we know it’s not true. That’s not a bad thing, but if we’re going to get along with one another we need to understand and respect our differences. Some of us believe in no god, some in a pantheon of gods, some in the Trinity, some in the God of the Old Testament, and some n a figurative god, or a metaphoric god.

In God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, Boston University’s Stephen Prothero sorts out the very different belief systems of the world’s major religions. He does so to help us know each other better. He leaves me confused, however, on whether he feels that, at their cores, all religions agree on some version of the Golden Rule. I think they probably do.

Another book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, goes deeper into our various belief systems and why they exist. Haidt reaches some fascinating conclusions about their evolutionary role.

Are we making any progress in understanding each other’s religions, in accepting our differences? In some places, it seems that we are. In others, we decidedly are not. Militant Islamists are in the news every day. I’ve been especially sad to see that militant Buddhists (another seeming oxymoron) are more visible in Thailand now as well as in Myanmar.

Let us pray, or meditate, or chant, or dance for mutual understanding and peace. After all, we are all made from the same cosmic dust.

Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine

3 Comments Add yours

  1. amiezor says:

    Beautiful!
    It seems you and I were entangled in some similar thoughts over the past day. I love religion in the way it can perform what you mentioned – a place to go to ask questions, seek comfort in tragedy, or celebrate life’s passages – and serve the tools to the individual who is wanting “more” in this life. But more often than not, these religions put up walls – or encourage “boxes” of worldviews – that hinder their original spiritual message.

    If I believe in a God that is essentially my subconscious, then yes – I do think we all worship the same “God” – only under different “boxes” of worldviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lplobinske says:

    I had just started (drafted) a blog post on the Hindu thing, “many paths to the same summit.” But I say a lot of what you did, so I’ll have to rethink it. Thanks for that. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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