By Deb Avery
With the evolution of the first brains capable of self-contemplation and that of the world around them, there has been curiosity, wonder and a search for meaning to life.
Self-consciousness evolved. Rituals, and even to some extent a set of beliefs, formed in the animal kingdom and then beyond. Chimpanzees, crows, elephants and other animals mourn and in some cases, have rituals for their dead. Science today is proving more and more what some of us have been aware of for many years—the fact that animals have always led rich and varied emotional lives, along with a deeper consciousness than previously thought by some.
But religion, with its organized belief system in some shape or form, has only been around as long as we humans have been here on Earth.
Religions and beliefs are much like freckles—numerous and varied. However, what they are not is a gold standard to measure another person’s character, worth or innate goodness. And although they have been used to do so in the past and are still used in that way today, they should never be used to persecute others or as an attempt to justify killing.
Religion and/or distorted, egotistical beliefs, have caused tremendous amounts of war, death, destruction and suffering in the world. Religion and belief systems can be a constant cause of conflict, separation and division in relationships, families, communities and entire countries.
Today, all over the world, people use religion and beliefs to either help or harm themselves and others. But what exactly are the two, and why are they so powerful and polarizing?
What I have found is that anyone can have a belief in anything. That belief can be backed up with scientific evidence, or totally devoid of any evidence of any kind. A belief system is one in which we use our experiences, studies and what we have learned from them, to form an educated (or not) opinion or belief about certain things and how we feel about them.
Our beliefs shape our perceptions. Our perceptions shape our world.
Religion, on the other hand, takes certain beliefs, usually from a codified book of tenets passed from one generation to the other that forms their belief system. This book of laws, beliefs and codes of conduct, form the base of the religion. Depending on the religion and its beliefs, it can be beneficial or harmful. It can be a system that is peaceful and does no harm, or it can be a system that tries to enforce its rules and beliefs on others.
Here in America, we supposedly have the freedom to choose our religion and beliefs, or to have a lack thereof. But in actuality there is a lot less freedom than we would like to think. People are discriminated against daily for their beliefs, or non-beliefs, right here in America.
If you don’t think this is true, just try being openly Pagan, Buddhist, Hindu or an Atheist in some of the more conservative areas of this country. You will find out very quickly that because your beliefs are different and go against the very tenets of the religions in those areas, you will face discrimination in the form of heckling, intimidation, proselytizing, being passed over for work and even being socially ostracized.
It is sad to think that this still happens in the 21st century, but the simple fact is, it does—everyday.
Beliefs and religious ceremonies can be a wonderful and scared part of life.
They help us to form social bonds with the world around us, in relationships and with our communities to help ourselves and others. They can also be turned into judgmental, hateful, “us against them societies,” with varying degrees of hostility, discrimination and superiority issues.
Beliefs are essentials to life. We all need to make sense of our journey in a way feels true and authentic to us. Beliefs backed up by experience, scientific evidence, ancestral heritage and many more venues, helps us form a sense of connection and a pathway for us to follow. They give our lives meaning and our minds a way of understanding the world around us.
However, our beliefs should not be carved in stone. They should be able to flow into the reality of life, science and nature. They should not be allowed to grow stagnate but remain open and flowing to the constant changes around us, to the mysterious, the unknown and the dreams yet to come true.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” ~ From Shakespeare’s, Hamlet
Editor: Dana Gornall