I have come to a conclusion, and have found the courage to share it with you.
I AM NOT RELIGIOUS.
I use the word courage because I realise that some people will be upset with me. I do not wish to upset you or anybody else who is religious, but I think it is time I admitted it to myself. In fact I came to this conclusion about 6 months ago.
May I start at the beginning? At school I sat in classes listening to stories of so-called miracles performed in The Bible. Even at a tender young age I wondered how most of them could possibly be true. The scientist in me is not strong but even so I could explain most of the stories to myself, and dismissed the remainder as fiction. I could not understand why so many stories included reference to sheltering in a cave. Growing up in southern England where there really are no caves at all, only added to my scepticism. Much later in life, during a trip to the Holy Land, I noticed that there were in fact a lot of caves there. Very convenient, but the damage was done by then. Also on that trip I went to Nazareth. I visited the site of Joseph and Mary’s house. Looking down through a hole in the ground all one could see was a table. Immediately I imagined the ‘angel’ Gabriel visiting Mary over the kitchen table. Sorry!
I could never take the burning bush story seriously either. On another trip I visited the site where this story was supposed to have taken place. There was indeed a bush there. But a few metres away, in the corner of a yard, was a fire extinguisher. Presumably there just in case the bush bursts into flames again.
Nevertheless I was raised as an Anglican Christian, and happy enough to go along with all the ceremonies and cultural requirements associated with it. In 1970s England I was not taught a thing about any other religion, even Catholicism.
Somehow, since then, the UK has become a secular state - officially neutral in matters of religion - though I cannot find anyone who can tell me when that changed. We fought wars in the name of Anglicanism, over hundreds of years. I am sure that it is a much better idea to be neutral now and allow anyone to practice their own choice of religion as they see fit.
I was Christened in a church, and married in a church, but never quite got to grips with idea of God. I think I have now concluded that’s the point. God is just an idea.
About 6 months ago, well in to my journey around the world, I came across a notice which changed me. In itself it does not amount to much, but I think I must have been near tipping point. I was in Bali, strolling around the sights with an open mind, trying to absorb cultures and customs. I climbed up a few steps and almost fell back down them. A large notice advised tourists how to behave in the Hindu temple I was about to visit. The first 3 instructions were about dress. The 4th told me that menstruating women were not allowed to enter. I had never seen an instruction like it. It must have been written by men. Up until that moment I had enjoyed learning about Hinduism, especially during my time in India. I had tried to get to understand the role of some of the Gods (there are far too many for me to learn them all). I had tried to understand, and appreciate, the role of Hinduism in communities. I could well see why so many hundreds of millions of Hindus pray to their Gods every day and ask for their help. So many of them need it. I enjoyed what seemed like as many women as men getting involved. But now, to see that women cannot enter their temple when they are menstruating, made me angry. It is not my religion, but I find it intolerable.
I have since then learnt that the same rule is applied against Muslim women entering a Mosque.
The menstrual cycle is essential for reproduction, and the future of the world. It is anything but ‘unclean’. Men!
Religion causes death.
They say that the mosquito is the number one killer in the world, but I think it might be religion.
Just look at how many wars have been fought over religion. Christians against Pagans. Christians against themselves. Muslims against Christians. Muslims against themselves. Almost everyone against Jews. Hindus against Muslims. The list goes on, and possibly accounts for hundreds of millions of deaths over thousands of years, all in the name of religion. I am saddened to think though that most of this has very little to do with religion itself. Individual leaders, with power and politics dominating their agendas, have formed armies of people, and bullied them into killing each other, in the name of religion. My God is better than yours, seems to be a common theme.
My ‘God”, I have concluded, is inside me. But I prefer to think of it as ‘Love’. I like many of the Ten Commandments and the moral guidance that they give, but think that love is enough for me to want to follow them. I will not murder. I will not steal. I will not commit adultery. I will love my neighbour. I will honour my mother and father. Of course when Moses picked up the list there were no laws, police officers or courts, so a set of rules to follow was important. Especially as he had been leading people around the Sinai for so long, not knowing where he was going. I can well imagine that they were getting unruly.
Love not war, please.
I am still learning a great deal from the world as I continue to travel through it. I am disappointed to conclude at this stage that I am not religious, as I can clearly see that religion brings so much pleasure to so many people wherever I go. But I dearly wish that religious love was in the heart and stayed there. There are far too many things that religions oblige you to do that seem to have no other purpose than to separate people. We have so much in common with each other. Separating religions with details like dress, behaviour, idolatry, rituals, and mis-translated ancient scripts adds unnecessary complications for the world.