By Ann L. Lorac
Those who belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or any of other temple of worship all have a faith that is explicitly woven into the ideological fabric of that religion.
But faith and religion are separate entities. One can have faith without belonging to a collective religious body. On the other hand, a particular religion has no faith without its parishioners believing in its ideological credo. In other words, religions’ houses of worship are empty and meaningless buildings that only have spiritual significance in the minds of the beholders who occupy them. Their personal faith resides not in heaven or with an exterior god or goddess, but in their minds only. In fact, there wasn’t a Sumerian beer god until beer was invented. Then the Sumerians invented him.
As I look back on my detachment from the religion of my youth, I realize that it was a process that is still unfolding. There are a lot of layers to shed. It’s similar to desensitizing one’s self from a cult.
My initial reaction to disbelief in an exterior male god was guilt. I felt that I was abandoning a close friend who was always there for me, looking after my well-being — the benevolent all-powerful creator of the universe. I then felt trepidation for ignoring such a powerful deity, but no retribution ensued, only the horrified reaction from a fundamental Christian sibling and his wife. But I, too, was horrified by my admission of doubt.
My sibling asked, “If there wasn’t God, what would be the purpose of living?” That is the classic philosophical question every human must answer for themselves — the meaning of life. I grappled with that and the hole left by turning my back on a familiar, comforting spiritual path.
Absorbing myself in Buddhism, I learned to meditate for spiritual solace and self-healing. The enormity of the many Buddhist practices with their physical and mental disciplines were not for me. I am not a follower; I must discover for myself.
After a bit of research, I incorporated my own technique for relaxation and mind focus, in which I freed myself from the guilt imposed upon me by others through hostile interactions. And I nurtured myself by allowing strength, wisdom, compassion and love to flow inside me. The empty hole was filled.
I came to the realization that one’s belief in God was indoctrinated at a young age by one’s family. But no matter how seemingly real that God, that Jesus or that Holy Spirit is, it is only a belief, not a fact. I realized that God is not an absolute and my god was equal to all the gods that exist in the minds of everyone on Earth.
My next thought process was to find my god. Faith is an indelible human trait, even if that faith is in an idea buried deep in one’s subconscious, waiting to be discovered. Then I discovered that my god was not only a belief in my mind, but my conscious mind itself, the place where all beliefs in god reside. My god was my conscience.
Since my god didn’t need to be worshipped, I now saw all religions that do have gods that need to be worshipped as pagan. Bending the knee or bowing the head, reciting a litany of praises to placate a belief of an all-powerful deity was to me the essence of paganism, which had its roots in the gods and goddesses of antiquity. I viewed contemporary god worshippers as a continuum of the pantheism of antiquity gods of the Egyptian pharaohs, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans. All those religious devotees — prostrating themselves to their gods, lighting candles and burning incense — were still with us.
This past Dec. 24, when a friend gave me a link to her splendiferous church with its stained glass, vaulted ceiling, her recall of wonderful wood and incense smells, angelic voices and flickering lights, I thought of the labor that made all of that possible. I thought of the cathedrals of Europe, the great temples from antiquity — of Egypt, Israel, Greece and Rome, and even of the Egyptian pyramids themselves.
All required an exhaustive supply of labor, which was grueling, crippling, deforming, toxic and lethal. How many men and women died creating houses for the gods? And how many who didn’t wished that they could have died instead of dying slowly by unrelenting physical pain and mental persecution?
I realized I was a humanist. The god that resides in the consciousness of each of us gives us dignity and the right to be here simply because we were born. It is religion that dehumanizes other human beings and denies them the right to their own life by demeaning it, constraining it or simply eliminating it completely.
Gazing at the twinkling lights on my front porch, the sense of heavenly awe that they used to invoke was replaced by a painful aching of empathy for humanity of the past, for long departed souls that walked this earth before me. I envisioned each light as the god-consciousness of a departed soul and the lights seemed brighter and more intense. They suffered and died for an ignorant human being’s devotion to a god that lived only in his mind and who told him he was superior to another. That false superiority has been the most egregious crime against humanity ever committed — the assumption of a God-given belief that another human being is not worthy of his life on this earth and is tortured and killed because he or she was born.
My humanism and respect deepened for all the souls who lived before me, from the Paleolithic period to the present. I finally realized that until humans shed their gods and stop bending their knees to worship them, humanity will never be free of suffering, oppression, persecution and death.
I have learned that so much work needs to be done in this world to rid the human dependency on organized, bureaucratic for-profit and for-power religions that reach their tentacles in government and every aspect of one’s personal life.
One’s god and one’s faith should be personal and private and kept in one’s mind, where it belongs. When religious proselytizing is no more and for-profit religious bureaucracy has died, the world will finally become wiser, more compassionate, more tolerant, more understanding and more peaceful.
FFRF Member Ann L. Lorac is an amateur author who lives in Tennessee.