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.
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?