In the last few years religion has come under a fresh range of attacks and with books like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion we are once again doubting the role of religion and whether it really is the path to God. I believe that there are many ways of finding God and if you need a specific religion to do it, then so be it. The problem is that religion, by nature, confines us to rules and the testimonials of others while spirituality in a broader sense places the responsibility right back on your own shoulders. Being spiritual without religion is not only possible but eventually it will be inevitable. George Bernard Shaw probable best summed it up when he said “There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”
Religion can loosely be described as the formalized ideas held by a group of people to define their understanding of God and their relationship to the creator and creation. In some shape or form, religion has been present in human civilizations since the beginning of time. Throughout history cultural development has been inextricably linked to people’s view of the world and their relationship to the mysterious and the unknown dimension of life that we’ve come to call God.
Religion has taken on many different forms and many different views in many different cultures all over the world. The one common idea is that the religion will collectively value, uphold and even impose a set of beliefs which they consider the path to God and ‘the truth’ about this mysterious, yet ever present force of life. I must admit that the one thing that always bugged me as a child was this idea that God must be cruel only to save those who worship him in a certain way (fortunately I was ‘right’).
Along with religion, came a certain level of power – especially for those who ‘made the rules’ and who were believed to be appointed by God to rule the people. In the early Christian church, the religious leaders were also the politicians and they ruled by fear, violently imposing their ideas upon the people. You were told what to believe and how to behave in virtually every aspect of life. There was absolutely no room for really getting to know God, because those who claimed to know God were the only one who can speak to God, and be spoken to by God.
Some of the earliest meaning of the word religion comes from a Latin interpretation that means ‘to bind’ – an bind it did, keeping people tied to silly ideas for centuries. Religious ideas have been developed and refined for centuries and is almost exclusively designed to keep people from stepping out of line and ‘being different’. The fundamental difference between spirituality and religion is that religion is based on knowing ABOUT God, while spirituality is based on KNOWING God – on a personal level.
There’s a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Knowing about God is about intellectual knowledge and relying on the testimonials and experiences of others, while knowing God is a deeply personal and ‘inner knowing’ that you are indeed connected to God. This is a personal relationship to God and an insight that you don’t need to go to a special building to find God, but that you simply have to look deep within yourself. It means that you don’t need some special person with a college education to lead you to God, but that you simply have to turn inwards to find divine guidance.
It’s been said that you can’t get wet from the word water and however strange this might sound, it is very true for many people’s spiritual journeys. Until and unless you go from the intellectual idea to the inner knowing where you make personal contact with God, spirituality will always be something you do to satisfy your ego’s need to ‘be a good person’. By turning inwards and following your inner guidance you will start to open up yourself to a whole new dimension of life. You no longer have to turn to someone else’s rules or be dictated for by other people’s ideas – ideas that are mostly designed to keep you thinking and acting like everybody else.
True freedom and a profound sense of liberation comes from this personal relationship to God and knowing that you don’t need to be saved, that you are in fact born a good person and that God cares about you regardless of whether you comply to some religion’s rules. Spirituality will lead you to the realization that you are whole, complete and magnificent in every possible way and that you are unique and special with your own grand mission in life. Your purpose in life in not to live up to the expectations of other in order to be a good person, but rather to live up to the expectations of your Self, your spirit (or your soul) and to become, in form, the kind of person you were destined to be.
You can get to know God for yourself. It will lead you to the realization that you are in fact “God’ – you are a part of God and contain within you a portion of this Divine force that makes up the very essence of life. Listen to other people, hear them out and discover their view of God, but then go within and find God for yourself. This is where all the power is. This is where the freedom lies and if you need a religion to help you develop your understanding of God, then practice it! Remember to keep and open mind and don’t just focus only on what you are told about God but rather what you feel to be true deep down inside.
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