Religious Traditions Distract from Divinity

There was a time I was really into my religion. I went to Catholic school and leaned on the idea of this deity who would bestow justice on the world. I think I once mentioned on this blog I made my brother cry when we were young when I told him of the torment he’d experience in hell for lying. Another time, I was panicked that my parents dared to go to church on a Saturday night instead of Easter Sunday (but then the priest said it counted. That made it okay). I had all the prayers memorized, all the actions, all the movements and all the ideas. In 8th grade, I was voted most likely to become a nun. Where did all these rules and traditions get me? I ended up far far away from the God I claimed to admire.

There was a day in college where it slapped me in the face. There was no specific event that separated me from Catholicism. Instead, it was like I suddenly awoke to realize I was alone. I wasn’t connected to any kind of spiritual presence. So obsessed with all these rules, I had lost meaning. What I worshiped was not a god, but these traditions that had been drilled into my mind. Where was I to go from there?

For a while, I knew what it was to be lost.

Literally, I had no direction. In the absence of religion, there was nothing connecting me to any sense of divinity in the world. I imagine many people stay in that state, but I kept searching. There were a handful of events in my past where I felt a true divine presence. I couldn’t let go of those moments and kept searching for what I had once felt.

What I came to realize is that religion is not the same thing as God. I was searching for a relationship with something and I wouldn’t get that through memorization. Can you imagine connecting to a friend, family member or significant other like that? Every meal you eat together would be scripted. Every conversation would be another script. After a while, you’d start repeating scripts. With the passage of more time, you’d develop a relationship but not with the person. You’d have a relationship to those scripts and no idea about the person you were trying to connect with.

This photo, “lost in thoughts... lost in prayers” is copyright (c) 2014 Rajarshi MITRA and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic. The image was cropped to create the featured image.
This photo, “lost in thoughts… lost in prayers” is copyright (c) 2014 Rajarshi MITRA and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license.. The image was cropped to create the featured image.

But those scripts are nothing if they don’t foster the connection they were meant to, right? I left them behind, seeking to find the deity I had originally sought a relationship with. In a way, I am still in this stage. I’ve explored other churches, listened to Christian radio and found a sort of…. acquaintance. I think that’s what I’d call my relationship with God right now. That’s a greater connection to divinity than I found memorizing my scripts. In the absence of those rules and traditions, the scripts by which I used to associate with divinity, I’ve discovered true connection takes a lot of effort. Friends, family and lovers don’t come with a rule book. There’s nothing that says there is one way for you to be towards them. Even more, you might find a person expects one thing out of you and something different from another.

This is how I’ve come to understand divinity. Perhaps it’s ironic that it’s close to how I viewed God as a child. I never looked at people and thought they were going to hell because they acted differently than I did. Instead, I felt they were just good people trying to move along a path made for them. There was nothing wrong with their paths being different from mine. I also used to talk to God like I would a friend. Rarely did I recite the Our Father or some other prayer as I tried to sleep. Most nights I would start with “Hey, God. How was your day.” In my innocence, unencumbered by the heavier rules of religion, God was just a friend. Some to confine in and trust.

Let me be clear, I am not trying to say there is anything inherently wrong with religion nor am I saying there is anything wrong with using the rules and traditions of religion to connect to Divinity. What I am saying is that for me, my personality and my heart, those rules distracted me. I went from treating God like my most trusted friend as a child to fearing the wrath of others if I dared deviate from my script.

I do wonder how many others are trapped in their script, unaware they are worshiping their religion more than they are any god? I know people vehemently obsessed with their religion to the point where doing A and avoiding B is more important than any real connection to Divinity. My father once scoffed at a cousin of mine who was in a committed relationship with a man who didn’t believe in marriage. “How can you believe in God if you don’t believe in marriage?” He asked. The absence of that one rule, that once ceremony, apparently made him an atheist.

It just so happens that I know of atheists who believe in marriage and believers who do not. That tradition is not God. It does not dictate the existence of anything. It is a script that, for some, brings them closer to God. For others it means something different, and that’s okay.

Do you know people who are obsessed with their religion? Do you think their obsession might be disconnecting them from the deity they claim to worship? Is it possible to believe in God without believing in religion?


29 thoughts on “Religious Traditions Distract from Divinity”

  1. It is absolutely possible to believe in God and not religion! This post is beautiful. I began to diverge from my church at 13 when there were questions my pastor couldn’t satisfactorily answer. It wasn’t him, it was religion. I still believe in God, but I have long felt that the dogma of religion distracts believers from the true experience of knowing God. Religion is fine for those who enjoy it, but my beliefs about God are that I have no answers and I don’t presume to think that anyone can absolutely know what is and isn’t God’s word. I say let all people find their paths and accept them.

    1. I might not have gotten where I am today if not for my Catholic school’s encouragement of asking questions. Those questions eventually lead me away from the church I grew up in. I think we find the answers God has given us in ourselves – as God lives/works through us. That’s why people have different answers for what is right and wrong in their life. We are all different. We have different missions and, when we search within ourselves, we find different answers.

  2. To me spirituality has always been disconnected from religion, I don’t believe the Devine can be found in any institution. Perhaps it’s a pagan thing, seeking answers in nature. I’ve found the presence of older gods much more intimate there – in the same mesmerizing way a bolt of lightning and the crack if thunder is awe inspiring, or how gazing up at the starts without city light interference brings about a true sense of wonder. It is in things like these I find my gods (Odin, Thor, Skuld, and Freyja to mention a few). My ancestors believed the gods were as alive as they were, and perhaps it is in the human experience true divinity resides? Who knows? ^^

    1. I like that. I don’t know too much about the Norse gods, but I really want to learn more. What little I’ve gleaned is so interesting. Whether it is they or something else we feel in nature, I don’t know. I think all religion points to the same unexplainable thing. Since it beyond our understanding, we come up with different answers.

      Man… now I need to go find me a book on Norse mythology.

  3. Liked this blog. I too speak more to God like a friend. The relationship is great for me. I can tell him all my secrets(which he already knows). Whenever I feel overwhelmed. I try to remind myself to “be still” It really helps.

  4. Reblogged this on jessabelltuminelli and commented:
    This is a reblog. I totally agree that my personal relationship with God is more important than organized religion. I like to just have that conversation with God in the car. My favorite place to pray. My favorite prayers and prayers of thanks as well. I have a lot to be thankful for!!! 🙂

    1. I don’t think there is anything wrong with organized religion if it helps you connect with Divinity. I just know it’s not for me.

  5. In my honest opinion .I will start from the end .Is it possible to believe in God without believing in religion?
    absolutely yes, BUT It is like believing in the justice system and society laws while being a criminal , cause as u are granted rights u still have duties to fulfill.
    There are always 5 pillars to religions and by religions here I mean (Judaism, Christianity and Islam in historical order) 1- god 2- the prophets and messengers 3-the script 4- scholars 5- the people.
    the problem sometimes lays in the script when it is lost in translation from old languages like the bible and how it is always rewritten and revised or the scholars whom are usually plagued and corrupted by power and that have happened and happening in all three religions. Scholars of all religions sometimes try to play god they use the script to benefit from directly or in directly and the most obvious case was the catholic church where no one outside the church was allowed to read the bible or shia mula’s rising above messengers and profits.
    as for the people like you and I and Jennifer up there and the majority we always associate religion to its people and vice versa , the truth is we don’t need scholars priests mulas pastors to answer our questions we have the scripts we have millions of resources to go back to when we see something that doesn’t make sense to us but instead we lay a blind trust in a mere man like u and I and that is where the problem begin and end it is the link between you and god u either work on it ur self and strive to find answers to all ur questions or follow someone blindly or drop the whole thing and join a yoga class ” lol I do yoga so all you yoga fanatics don’t start ”.
    Great complicated topic

  6. Thank you for sharing your heart on a very personal and emotional issue. I relate strongly with your words, almost to the point where they could have been mine. Your journey is familiar to me; your questions and struggles well known. Good for you for taking the courage to explore this new route. May you find what you seek; may you make that vital connection with the Divine. I cannot imagine my life without that connection. Please keep us updated on your journey and your findings.

  7. Sometimes it’s form over function, isn’t it?

    I went through something similar to you — A loss of God and feeling of flailing — for different reasons.

    But I’ve come to place where I feel very comfortable, especially, now.

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that different people need different paths to God. What works for some won’t work for others.

    1. “Different people need different paths to God.” I couldn’t agree more. Divinity is a spiritual essence beyond complete understanding. I think it’s a very personally thing and the paths to that connection are as unique as people in the world.

  8. Yes! I used to be that person, as you very well know. I definitely think it can disconnect people from the deity they claim to worship…it certainly did so for me. Yes, it is absolutely possible to believe in God without believing in religion. I can’t say I believe in God too strongly these days – mostly because I do not know what to believe about God – but I still believe in a higher being. Life makes more sense to me that way.

    1. You know what’s crazy, though? There are so many people out there who I think believe in religion and not in God… but they think what they believe in is God.

  9. Being the spouse to a pastor, I can tell you with certainty that you are spot on. I see it every Sunday. People get used to the traditions and man-made rules and eventually put those above their relationship with God. And when you call them on it? Don’t expect a Christmas card again, that’s for sure.

    1. I appreciate that coming from someone so close to religion. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with religion, but in putting religion above God. There are a few bloggers I hear talk about this and I can’t help but wonder about their rules. Like, if I meditate and reflect on God and come to a different answer than someone else, is one of us wrong? Is one of us sinning? Can’t we just accept that different people, living different lives with different opinions may believe in the same God?

      1. My two cents: if two people meditate on God and hear different things, neither is wrong. God speaks to everyone just as we speak to our school friends. We don’t say the same things to them, right? And (in my belief system) we all have sin, so having a different thought does not make one a sinner again. Accepting diversity is difficult for many because they do the one thing God has asked us not to do, that being judge others. I think you have a good grasp on truth and God. Keep listening and your heart will take you where you need to go.

  10. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I was raised Catholic as well (Anglican, not Roman) and, ultimately, fell from the purer faith as the saying goes. It was quite a fall; I was an acolyte and had toyed with the idea of attending seminary and shooting for the priesthood. Once I got out of the miasma of the incense and stepped out of the grind of the routine, I started to wonder just what it was I thought I was gaining there. For a while after I left the church, I floated between various Asian philosophies and would probably still call myself a Taoist if someone really pressed me on it. Ultimately, I started to realize there is more out there, but I don’t feel I can get there through religion. I’ve begun to feel more and more that all religion is a mechanism for control and nothing more. Perhaps religion started out as a good thing, but time and the slow, quiet infusion of rotten people in power has rotted all of them from the core and whatever was there and held the system together and gave it meaning has quietly left. All you have is a shell that does nothing more than separate people from the divine and turn their attentions to the various churches of the world. I hope, I honestly hope that people are getting what they want from their churches, but to be brutally honest I feel like organized religion is the overly protective mother at prom. I’m an adult and I don’t need a chaperone at this dance.

    1. I saw recently that the Dalai Lama said something about the world no longer needing him. I just read a summary of the news, but it sounded like he was saying spirituality is more than just a routine. I personally think all religion is trying to address the same thing. That’s why religion is so tied to culture. Different cultures felt the same thing, but interpreted that unexplainable thing differently. Religion is something different now. As you say, it’s a way to control people. To me, you grow in spirituality by asking questions. A person shouldn’t fear the absence of an answer nor should they worry if someone has a different answer than them. That bothers me more than anything else. I can never get behind something that prevents people form asking questions and condemns people just for being different.

  11. Hi T.K. Finally got a chance to peruse your blog so I’m a bit tardy on this post. You have a great blog! But I’m especially interested in your views on this particular subject.

    I would have to say that my personal journey was much the same–leaving the scripting in search of the real. Over the last four decades, I’ve come to find out that God is seen as Father and Son for a reason–because He’s about relationship and love before He’s anything else.

    I think we have trouble with God because we’ve “scripted” Him and put Him in our box of rules and our do’s and don’ do’s. But, like you pointed out, imagine relating to anyone else like that. Rather, the view of inclusion and family should inform us about what He’s like.

    Anyway, good stuff! 🙂

    1. That’s why I’ve always liked your idea of God as a relationship. It makes sense, even in terms of being made in God’s image. We we are social, relational beings, then why can’t God be that way?

      The problem is too many people are willing to ask questions about their religions in the first place.

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