Welcome to Ask April, a no-nonsense advice column focusing on what it is you can do to correct things that need correcting. While we all know much in life is out of our control, and sometimes, our reaction is all we CAN control, we really do have a lot of personal power, thankfully. Our will is just as important as the wills of others around us, and while we need to be considerate, we also need to make sure others are equally considerate of us. It is my hope that when you write in to me, asking advice that I can help you make a good decision that somehow improves whatever situation you’ve found yourself in. As with anything I share, I recommend people don’t automatically take my word for anything, but include my advice in with the rest of the things that help them make a decision. I wish you well. Read on.
One question I get regularly is how to find a spiritual path that works.
We’ve come to a realization that conventional religions don’t work for everybody. More people are leaving traditional religion and looking for deeper meaning than just doing what they are told so as they don’t get punished for Eternity. Many no longer believe the world works this way.
The scientific revolution moved us towards this. Instead of praying for healing, we now have more understanding of how the body works. We go to a doctor and take medications people in the past did not have. We also understand that the seasons will change and the sun will rise and set even if we don’t sacrifice a virgin or a bull to a harvest deity. So, we don’t rely on divinities for keeping us alive anymore.
We also understand that scientifically, while we may look different on the outside, on the inside we are still all human beings, and more alike than we are different. Religious doctrines forbidding intermarriage with people from different cultures and Nations makes no sense anymore, taking this into consideration.
Divorce as well as living together, having kids, and never being married at all is more accepted as well. We don’t believe a god wants us to live miserably ever after with somebody we have grown to hate and we don’t view virginity as spiritual purity like we used to.
Americans are moving towards more tolerance of people who are different. People who are gay are not being seen as an abomination, and neither are trans people- much to the dismay of the few who still feel gay and trans people are of the devil and are going to hell.
More people are literate now, and read the Bible for themselves, as opposed to going to a pastor who was tasked with reading it to them and explaining it to them.
We are more exposed to other religions, and not only has the stigma of choosing who you love worn off, but the stigma of not taking orders from some pastor has as well. While there are still many groups of very conservative people who don’t believe it is okay for an individual to question a church or a religious leader, the majority of Americans disagree, and are taking matters into their own hands.
We don’t adhere to religions because we have to anymore. There is no risk of being executed as a heretic or being shunned by your whole town if you don’t believe as you are told to- except in a very few places, and in America, those places are few and far between.
It’s also allowed not to believe in a deity at all. Aside from that, it’s allowed for people to be spiritual, but not attend worship services at all if they don’t want to.
Now that it is no longer forbidden to leave a church and find another one, people ask how they can go about that.
You start with an open mind. You want to look into lots of different faiths and allow yourself plenty of time to make a decision. You can change your mind about your new place, and leave it for another as well.
Next, you make a list of what you believe and what you, specifically are looking for. Even if your list just talks about what you DON’T want, that is okay. You may have no idea what you believe yet, most especially if this is your very first time looking outside of the religion you were born into. Major questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What happens when we die?” are things people have been debating since forever! You can’t be expected to have all the answers the day you decide your religious organization has not answered them well.
This brings me to my next point, the only thing I’d like you to remember if you only get one thing out of reading this. It’s a quote from a bumper sticker, and I don’t know who originally said it. Ready?
“God is too big to fit into one religion.”
There are over seven billion people in existence just today. The number of people who have lived for all of history is astronomically higher than this. It is estimated that the first homo sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago. Imagine how different beliefs were then as compared with today. Imagine all the different names for deities that have been uttered and all the different views of sacred things there have been? Imagine all the disagreements people had about these things in 200,000 years.
If you really want to get picky, it’s been said by some experts that evidence of religion appeared about 150,000 years ago with the emergence of organized burials, which is taken to be evidence of belief of life after death. That still only cuts into it by 50,000 years, and leaves a whopping 150,000 years.
How is it then possible for a religious center that was established in your town say 50 years ago to have all the answers? How is it possible for a religion that is 1,000 years old or 2,000 years old or 6,000 years old to be the one, true, and correct way for every single person who has ever lived? How is it possible that all other religions but ONE are completely wrong?
Besides all of that, we could explore the plethora of cultural and regional customs that incorporate their particular taboos into religious beliefs. While it is seen as unclean in one part of the world for a man to shave or to cut his hair, it is seen as unclean in another part of the world for a man to have a mustache. How do we decide who is right and who is wrong in this scenario?
Taking all this into account, while it sounds convenient to just go to a temple, or church, or mosque, or other kind of worship center and have all the questions answered for you by somebody else, why bother to leave where you attended before if you are not going to explore for yourself? Why not just stay put and do as you are told if you want to be told what to believe?
More and more people are favoring a different approach.
They are favoring starting their own spiritual journey, looking at the wisdom from many faiths, and taking all they learn to forge their very own set of personal beliefs.
Some would call this sacrilege and find all I have said blasphemous. These people are living under a delusion. This delusion is triggered by living in fear of punishment from a deity.
I ask people all the time, “Why would you worship such a mean god?” They get mad and run. It’s easier for some people to hang onto fear than to free their minds.
The people who leave what they view as an unacceptable religion or simply one that does not work for them, personally tend to be the ones searching.
So you will discover for yourself what it is that you do believe.
You will do this by soul searching, reading, and dialoguing with other searchers.
You might decide to do reading first. Thanks to the digital era, you can read a lot at home for free, or if you are a book lover, you can hit the religious sections of your library and book stores. Amazon.com and other online booksellers can also provide materials.
Just don’t be afraid to look places you never thought to look before.
You might luck into finding a religion and or worship center that is exactly what you are looking for, but you might not.
Many find one religion does not provide all the answers they need, and others want the freedom to continue looking for themselves.
In the end, most agree that the divine light is already inside of you, and you are just digging around inside of yourself to find it. Think of religions as toolkits you use to establish a relationship with whatever you feel the divine is. There is a plethora of toolkit sets out there, and you are looking to find the one that suits your needs best. Even if you have to customize your own, that’s okay too.
Some find spiritual fulfillment inside a building with other believers. Some find it climbing mountains. Others find it by becoming a hermit or living some cloistered life. Others find it literally contemplating their navel at home. There are countless other ways to find spiritual fulfillment, and they cannot all be listed here. All of these ways are the right ways, but for different people. You won’t know what way is right for you until you start experimenting!
Just be patient. Your spiritual journey is one you will be on for your entire life. You are not on a deadline to figure it all out immediately.
Enjoy your journey.