religion: 4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary)
I started with a rather obscure, but still valid and in current use, definition of religion just to make a point. There are lots of things that we do in our lives that can be defined as religious activities. When my wife and I first moved to our current home town, her new boss told her that football is the local religion. Looking at the attendance at high school and college games, not to mention the dirty looks we get for driving by the local “cathedrals” without stopping, I’d have to say he was right.
So, accept it as a given, it is possible to be religious about something that has nothing to do with church. Like sports (live or on TV). If you do it consistently, with devotion, and enthusiasm, it is probably religious – for you. Some people I’ve heard about are religious about going to counseling. Others might be religious about hunting, surfing, biking, hiking, etc.
But, let’s look at the “founders” of formal, organized religions for a moment. Where did they do the majority of their teaching? Jesus, for example, spent most of his time teaching outdoors, in nature, using metaphores from nature to explain spiritual principles. The ancient Druids did all of their teaching outdoors, and rarely if ever even wrote anything of their teaching down. Likewise for Zoroaster and Budda. These teachers rarely (if ever) ventured into a building to find students. Even Jesus’s disciples seem to have mostly taught in the countryside, or from a balcony overlooking an assembly that was outdoors. Egypt, Greece, and Rome were the places where, to the best of my knowledge, formal worship centers and sanctuaries were built and used. That does not set a very good example, considering the depravity of the activities they engaged in, as compared to currently accepted social standards.
Since the Roman Catholic Church currently boasts (among other things) to be the “Mother of all churches” – let me take a moment to compare it’s practices with the teachings it’s offspring (the Protestant Christian churches) adhere to. Start with the 10 Commandments. The second commandment (in Deuteronomy 5:8) reads; “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” Have you ever seen the inside of a Roman Catholic Church? They are filled with statues of saints, as well as crucifixes and other items used in worship.
Oh, I know. The RCC has plenty of justifications for their departure from that teaching. I’ve even been told (not by anyone in a position of authority within that church) that the old teachings don’t matter in this new era (since Jesus was crucified himself). However, if God is truely eternal and unchanging, then I ask this; would a commandment he wrote in stone himself be subject to ammendment?
On the other hand, if we unburden ourselves of the modern trappings of formal worship, and allow nature to become our teacher, then we replace rigid and unflexible religion with spiritual examples from life. We learn about balance. We learn about being flexible. We learn about living in the here and now, instead of the past or the future. We learn to accept responsibility for our actions, and the consequences of those actions affecting others. We learn that death is a part of the cycle of life, not something to be feared and avoided by every modern means at hand.
Let me be clear on that last point, because I anticipate that someone might think I’m advocating suicide. Suicide, or even “noble sacrifices” are foolish. Death takes you out of the game. So, the act of “dying for a cause” ultimately ends your support of that cause. We know that death awaits us all, at some point in the flow of time. But we need not fear it, or dwell on it either. Just accept it, and live each moment doing the very best that you can with it.