By R. Wiote, New Age Islam
09 January, 2014
I’m a Libran, and if you know anything about Librans, you would know that most of us are notorious for being painfully indecisive. Arriving at a decision about almost anything is generally a torturous, long-drawn-out process for me. But still, I’ve managed to get through life pretty much okay so far, somehow getting myself to make the decisions I need to about everyday things as well as matters of more long-lasting import.
One of the most sensible decisions I ever made was some four years ago, when I decided to officially declare that I did not belong to any conventional religion any longer. I got an official document prepared to this effect with the help of a lawyer friend and had a clause inserted mentioning that when I died, the parts of my body that were recyclable should be donated to someone who could make use of them and that the rest should disposed off with no fuss, and with no religious ritual or ceremony at all. Even when I was dead and gone I didn’t want anyone to think that I considered myself a member of a particular community or to believe that I owed allegiance to a particular form of organised religion. For the remainder of my life, and in and after my death too, I wanted it to be clearly known that I had no connection whatsoever with institutionalised religion of any sort.
You can’t imagine the tremendous liberation and relief I experienced the moment I signed the document testifying to this decision and when the lawyer put his official seal on it!
Of course, I didn’t arrive at this momentous decision all of a sudden. It took me several years of tortured searching, buffeted by my proverbial Libran indecisiveness, to finally reach this climax. Starting when I wasn’t yet in my teens, for decades I moved from one form of institutionalised religion to another, till, one truly blessed day, the utter futility of it all dawned on me.
Moving from one form of institutionalised religion to another wasn’t a purely disinterested search for the Truth for me, I have to confess. There were major psychological factors also involved. As I look back at all those decades of ‘religion-hopping’, I realise that it was not so much God or the Absolute that I was searching for as emotional comfort and solace and an escape from my many, largely self-created, woes.
Organised or institutionalised religiosity is based on a set of creeds, dogmas, laws, regulations, rules, customs and rituals that are believed by those who subscribe to them to be the best, or even the only, way to communicate with the Divine and to ensure a good life for oneself, now and after death. The communities that emerge around these beliefs and practices generally see themselves as specially chosen by God, or as superior in some other sense to others. Often, they regard others as deviant or irreligious, or even as lesser beings. In many cases, they view them as followers of utter falsehood, insisting that they are doomed to eternal hell if they don’t ‘mend’ their ways and adopt the ‘right’ dogmas, rules and practices. In effect, then, they claim to know or to represent the mind of God. Several of the various forms of institutionalised religion that I flirted over the decades had this basic core in common, despite their many differences.
What, you might want to know, led me flit from one form of institutionalised religion to another over so many years? Why didn’t I stay put in just one form of religion, like most people do, and commit myself to it for the rest of my life?
If you ask me, I think it might well be that God wanted me to go through all these many decades of ‘religion-hopping’, of being in one religious box and then desperately seeking to escape from it after a while, so that, among other things, I would finally see and experience for myself that institutionalised religiosity wasn’t something that He wanted for me at all. In fact, I firmly believe now (although this was something I would have rudely snorted at some years ago, when I was still in my ‘religion-hopping’ phase) that none of the many enlightened beings that God has sent to earth down the ages to guide humanity themselves preached or wanted others to follow institutionalised religiosity of any sort whatsoever.
Adherents of various forms institutionalised religion may vehemently insist that their systems of institutionalised dogmatic belief and practice were ‘founded’ by these enlightened beings, but I’m firmly convinced that the latter would firmly deny this claim. I’m also sure (and I think you, too, will be) that they would be greatly pained at all the many horrors that followers of institutionalised religiosity have sought to legitimise in their name down the centuries. Bigotry, supremacism, hate, murder, genocide, terror, war, racism, slavery, patriarchy and crass superstition—there is almost no crime that adherents of institutionalised religion haven’t committed in the name of God and religion.
Institutionalised religion, I am convinced, has nothing to do with the religiousness that all the many enlightened beings commissioned by God exemplified and stood for.
No longer subscribing to any form of institutionalised religion does not mean that I now deny God. In fact, I am now possibly even more convinced that God is an undeniable reality than when I was in my ‘religion-hopping’ phase. Saying ‘no!’ to institutionalised religion doesn’t mean that God is a myth. On the contrary, it is very possible that liberation from the heavy shackles of institutionalised religion can enable us to have a much more authentic, free, enriching, liberating and loving relationship with God than ever before. We can now relate to God directly, without having institutionalised religion to come between us and God and make a total mess of our relationship with Him.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, we can be free from what we earlier imagined was the obligation to let religious professionals, texts and traditions dictate what our relationship with God should be.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we fear the wrath and the supposed supernatural powers of priests and others who claim to be intermediaries between us and God.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we be burdened by the demands of onerous rituals.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer do we need to feel compelled to perform elaborate (and often expensive, and sometimes bloody) ceremonies and sacrifices in the hope of pleasing God or averting His wrath.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we live in mortal fear that God will punish us for not praying in the ‘correct’ manner or for not being able to force ourselves to believe some outlandish dogma that our conscience and sense of morality and rationality just refuse to allow us to accept.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we force ourselves to blindly accept or rationalise bizarre, unscientific and sometimes cruel beliefs and practices just because they are thought of as divinely-ordained by others.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we suffer from the burden of the illusion of superiority over the rest of humanity just because we happen to follow a certain cult which others’ don’t.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer do we need to feel compelled to pity, deride, hate or even combat (even if it’s just in our minds and not physically) people who don’t share our views.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we suffer the delusion that one form of organised religion is the best or the only way acceptable to God.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we feel compelled
to defend, rationalise or else feel ashamed of the evils committed in the name of religion by our co-religionists.
Relating to God directly and dispensing with institutionalised religion, no longer need we feel forced to define ourselves by our affiliation to a group. Each of us can now identify ourselves as just me—just as we all were when we came into this world, and just as all of us will be when we finally leave it.
If you ask me, stepping out of the prison of institutionalised religion and relating directly with God can do wonders for our spirituality. It could help us get along much better with our fellow beings (humans and others) and make us more peaceful and joyful people, more deeply in loving connection with God.
That, and not dogmatic attachment to dogmas, creeds, communities, cults, laws, rules, regulations and rituals, is, I would like to think, what true religiosity must certainly be all about!