January 11, 2010

Thoughts on Religious Freedom


This year I am participating in the Social Justice Challenge because it is near and dear to my heart and I cannot express how excited I am that we have this challenge.

This month the focus is on Religious Freedom. The freedom to practice your own religion, to follow your own set of beliefs, to worship your God in the way you want to, or the freedom to choose not to believe in anything at all is a very important freedom to me. I apologize in advance for the lengthy post but I felt it necessary to explain where I am coming from in order for you to understand, hopefully, where I am now.

My road through religion and spiritual practices has been one that people generally make light-hearted fun of because I have bounced a lot from one place to another. When I was a child my mother took me to a Methodist church where I was eventually baptized. I didn't like that church though and when my mother got a job at a Baptist church I began going to the youth group there and found I enjoyed these people much better. On a trip with this youth group, I realized I had not given my heart to God and did so. I came back and was re-baptized in the Baptist Church. When I left to go to college, I did not attend church. I hardly even thought about it because there was always such a flurry of activity around me. I knew I believed in God, but I also knew that my beliefs were not fully formed yet and that I was edging away from the beliefs that people I knew had, including my overly zealous roommate.

I changed schools in 2003 and met some very nice people who went to a non-denominational group at my new university. The people were awesome and were open to all kinds of deep discussions on faith so it was very interesting to me. However, in 2004 I met and fell in love with a man who was a devout Catholic. We talked a lot about what the differences were between Catholicism and Protestantism. I read Catholicism for Dummies a lot and let me tell you that book can really explain a lot! I began going to classes for people who wanted to become Catholic. My intentions were just to learn more about my fiance's faith. However, I soon realized that so much of the Church's teachings aligned with beliefs I already had that did not fit into the Baptist faith. My relationship did not last, but I went ahead and finished those classes and became a member of the Catholic Church.

You'd think I would be finished at this point, right? But, no, not I! While I still consider myself Catholic, there are some teachings in the Catholic Church that I do not believe, namely their stances on abortion, homosexuality, and birth control. This, I think, puts me out of communion with the Church, but everything else I am right in line with. I probably should talk with a priest about all of this. Anyways, I love learning about religion and other cultures and beliefs, which you *may* have gathered from reading my blog before. :) I began reading about Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and even Navajo traditional beliefs.

After reading about all of these religions, you realize that all of them have pretty much the SAME ultimate goal: to become better people than you are right now and to love others and give of yourself more than anything else. What differs really is the path of how you arrive at this destination. Now, some Christians will say that the ultimate goal is Heaven, which is true, but the goal of brotherly love and self-improvement are also goals.

At this point in my life, I believe there is a God, or Higher Power, but I also believe there is more than one pathway to God. This is very much against traditional Church doctrine that says the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. But where I am right now Jesus is amazing and I believe in him and what he did, but that cannot be the only way. Perhaps that is a Hindu belief coming out in me. They believe and respect the right of everyone to reach God in their own way. The Truth and God is one, but different people call it by different names and different cultures have created different ways to reach the same conclusion- call it Enlightenment, call it Heaven, call it whatever you want.

So, since my religious views are ever evolving, I cannot imagine living in a place where I was not allowed to express my religious and spiritual views freely. I believe that everyone should be allowed this freedom, if for no other reason than to find what makes sense to them. The threats and restrictions against religious freedom in this world are upsetting at best, and infuriating and suffocating at worst. I am continually angered by religious persecution around the world. So many people of all different beliefs are persecuted instead of being allowed to be human and reach their own conclusions about their ideas, beliefs, and dreams.

Even in America where freedom of religion is in our Constitution, people are persecuted. I am allowed to express my beliefs but hailstorms come down on me because I don't follow strict doctrine rules for any one organized religion. In high school a Jewish substitute would chastise us randomly because we weren't Jewish. In the Baptist church I was baptized in so long ago, they look at me as if I had joined a cult because I am Catholic. And it is so much worse for others out there.

There are several books I would like to read that fit into religious freedom:

  • The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose
  • Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple by Kaoru Nonomura
  • Infidel by Ayann Hirsi Ali
  • Dawn by Elie Wiesel
  • Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman
  • A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal
But I will probably read A Lucky Child because I have already started reading it, although I had put it down 2 months ago because I was trying to finish some other books before challenges were over.

How do you feel about religious freedom? Have you ever felt or been persecuted for your beliefs? How do you think we should help those who do not have religious freedom? Do you want to tell me off? What book or books would you like to read on religious freedom?

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for a really powerful and thought-provoking post. I'm with you...I have come to believe that there are many paths and agree that being a better human being is the ultimate goal. Too many people die or kill others in the name of religion instead of focusing on how they can become better. I can't imagine living in a place where I wasn't free to express my beliefs and also my doubts.

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  2. I completely agree with you that there is more than one pathway to reaching God. I think it's a very personal thing. While I was raised Hindu and thus may be biased, this is my favorite part of the religion- how open it is to that idea.

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  3. My religious path has also been one of exploration. It is great to be open and able to ask questions. I don't think there can be only one way, but many.

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  4. Wow, Rebecca ... you and I have a *lot* in common. Thank you for this wonderful post -- I feel like I got to know you a lot better.

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  5. I loved this post! It was so interesting to hear about your religious experiences. I was raised Jewish, but have always thought of Judiasm more as my culture than my faith, if that makes any sense. I don't necessarily believe in all the things Judiasm teaches, but I feel very connected to the foods, traditions, language, etc.

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  6. Great post! I was raised Catholic but kind of lost faith in it during college, at which point I took a World Religions course and started looking into other types of religions and teachings. I've never "settled" on one officially .. but having a child now is making me think more about it. When he is older, I think we will explore various options together. And I think so much of it depends on the local community/church you find ... if you feel good at it, it will work for you. Best of luck on your quest.

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  7. I enjoyed this post about your journey. Have you read "Girl Meets God" by Lauren Winner? I love her journey into a deep faith, and the detours she took.
    I am so unhappy with how Muslim countries often do not allow any churches, or Bibles. I lived in Turkey and learned they do not allow any new churches to open, but they are lenient compared to places like Saudi Arabia.

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  8. Awesome, awesome post Rebecca! I absolutely love it and now I'm wondering if I should join this challenge! :)

    Ahhh, religion . . . this is a tough one for me! I was not raised with an organized religion. I've been exposed to a multitude of them however in one way or another: Lutheran, Catholic, Jehovah Witness, Mormon, Presbytarian. I can be difficult at times having this type of background, especially when raised in a very Catholic town and now working at a Jesuit University!! I love to learn about different religions. It helps to expand my mind, challenge me about my own beliefs.

    As a mom, this issue is very much in the front of my mind. How do I raise my child in this aspect? I want both of my kids to be knowledgeable, but freedom of choice is also very important for them to know. My husband and I have discussed putting my son in a vacation bible school to begin his exposure, but then the question comes . . . What church to go through? I firmly believe that we should also go in order to better answer questions that arise. Still not sure what to do . . .

    Anyways, I am curious to hear what books you read and what books you recommend. I will definitely be adding them to my list.

    Thank you for your honesty and thank you for sharing! I will definitely be sharing this one on my weekly wrap-up!

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