The Absurdity of Religion

the challenge of religion

I’m sure the title of this article could be jarring, and that is not its intent. The challenge of religion is simply another addition to our “Absurdity Series."  For more on this, you can also read on The Absurdity of Yoga and The Absurdity of Competition. 

Religion has important cultural and personal benefits that need to be acknowledged as we learn and grow and use our past experiences to influence our present moment. For example, religion offers many uplifting themes and can spread potent messages influencing personal and cultural benevolence. Religion also facilitates community. A sense of community can be uplifting, supportive, and yield many nourishing relationships; it also reduces stress, which has massive health benefits.

The absurdity of religion is not in its teachings, the absurdity is in the dogma that permeates them. The challenge of religion is that we are told to follow instead of lead ourselves. Why is dogma absurd? Dogma is absurd because there is no one way to lead our lives. There are many ways. Some might even say there are seven billion ways, as that’s how many of us are on the planet now. When something is done the “right way” instead of “what feels right to you,” it stagnates creativity, personal expression, and evolution. It suppresses one’s personal needs and breeds sickness and disease. It can be very offensive to some to say my skin color is optimal or my god is the only god, my culture is better or my gender or sexual orientation is most optimal or my way is the right way. This might be the foundation of all war. In acknowledging the absurdity of dogma, which permeates religion, we are free to retain any traditions we would like. Yet without dogma steering the tradition, we are liberated instead of repressed, and tradition evolves naturally, as we take out of it what feels right, and leave the rest behind. Kind of like a spiritual buffet.

After all, what is wrong with a female priest or a gay catholic other than someone said it was wrong? Why is only the Christian soul going to heaven, and the Jews God’s chosen people? Do we even know who really created these ideas? Why do these Ideas have the right to dictate our lives? Why are these ideas more righteous than our own? Do we not see how our doctrines can be hurtful and repressive? I love the teachings of Jesus (“let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”) and the Ten Commandments (“thou shalt not kill”), I love the examples of Gandhi and Mother Teresa. I love them not because they said it or because I’m told to love them. I love them because it feels right to me. I’m inspired by these teachings, I’m not dictated by them. Is it not absurd to be told what to feel and how to think? Instead, we should be asked, “how do you feel and what do you think?”

If how you think and feel is what you have been told to think and feel, is it really how you think and feel? That is the challenge of religion. If you grew up on a deserted island, would you even know that you are fat and ugly? If Tutsi and Hutu grew up together in an American home from birth, would they hate each other? What about Muslim and Christian or Catholic and Protestant? How about Sunni and Shiite, Tamil and Sinhalese, Indian and Pakistani, Communist and Capitalist? We all know this list can go on for hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. Can you imagine that who you think you are might not be who you are, but who you were programmed to be? Imagine if you're a by-product of all you have seen?

Psychology 101 informs us the more you see something, the more you believe it, even if what you’ve seen is absurd. Growing up in the West, you might consider a big belch to be crude and rude and may even get upset at hearing one, yet if you grow up in the East, that same belch means you enjoyed your meal and it makes you happy. Our whole thought process is dictated by our culture. What we see and hear every day over and over again influences or programs us. We have been raised by programmed people who unwittingly have programmed us. It’s said a child will never listen to their parents but they will always become their parents. This is why it is said, “history always repeats itself.“ It is because the program has not changed. Is it not amazing that with cell phones, the Internet, and space travel, nothing has really changed other than we can now destroy ourselves with a bomb or pollution. There is as much (or more) crime, war, disease, poverty, and hunger as ever. Maybe the answer to our great problems is not intellectual prowess, so much as recognizing the program or dogma and having a choice about it instead of blindly following. The absurdity and challenge of religion maybe isn't that it exists, but rather that we take it as is. This is why the goal of yoga is enlightenment, which is another word for awareness. Being aware of the program (dogma) is the first step toward freeing ourselves from it. At this point, religion as a set of rules disappears, as now we are free to pick what resonates with us and leave what doesn’t, and a more personal spiritual path and practice can evolve. All this is very simple to understand yet takes strength and perseverance. Standing your ground can mean standing alone. Yet we are here to support you! Let the healing begin!