I work in an environment where almost everyone has at least a Masters degree. I say that to point out that I work with fairly educated and one may even go as far as to say “smart” people. That’s why I find the variety of opinions and beliefs among this tiny cross section of accountants and business consultants so interesting. It seems, for a variety of subjects, education has made us no less intelligent nor any more in-step on a variety of topics.
For example, one woman I work with is Hindu. She is very intelligent and thoughtful; however, she is also deeply religious. We have on several occasions had discussions about religion (more an academic inquiry than anyone trying to convince each other who’s right or wrong) and I find Hinduism as illogical and fascinating as almost any other religion.
I think that’s why I find it ironic that a logical women (she’s a tax accountant) with a higher level degree from a prestigious University has never found it illogical to have any spiritual belief. Upon our conversation I was also surprised just how little she knew about Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone carries with them a fascination of religion like I do. (I was a business major in college I nearly double majored in religion. I have also written about and studied religion independently.) In any case, Hinduism is a polytheistic religion – and each “sect” of Hinduism carries a certain and differing amount of praise for each God. We both found the difference in monotheistic versus polytheistic religions fascinating – she even pointed out that the belief in one God seemed very strange. In a mostly Christian society I found that thought interesting and unique.
I have had conversations with people of all backgrounds and education levels from a variety of religions and it never ceases to amaze me how people can be perfectly happy with their beliefs while ignoring or rejecting the plethora of differing ideologies all simultaneously claiming with certainty their religious validity and accuracy. For me, it bothers me deeply that two perfectly rational, educated, and presumably smart people can come to two different and often opposing views on religious truths. Almost always determined by geography and what your family taught you as “truth”. Maybe this is the largest and most compelling reason I find atheism so easy to accept.
Once you start seeing religion as a big picture rather than how you “feel” about a belief all of the contradictions begin to surface. Maybe that’s why there is a patter that emerges: often the more “educated” a person becomes regarding religion – the less “religious” they usually become. Some say that the academic study of religion is evil – I think it’s more likely that academia simply draws a logical conclusion from the evidence.
Religion is Beautiful, Natural, and Dangerous
No one can deny that what you believe is largely determined by what you are taught to believe. Yet people will often fight and die for a God or Prophet that someone else doesn’t even understand to exist. I’ve always found this tragically interesting.
On the other hand – most “great” religious teachers (Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, etc.) practiced and taught absolute peace, moderation, and understanding. Almost everyone can agree that those are very admirable traits. So I can not say that religion itself is evil, it’s not. Rather the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of a religious belief to make it fit someone’s personal agenda is where the problems begin. Belief and religion are certainly powerful tools – which can also be dangerous.
I can sympathize with believers. I used to be one. There is some sense of belonging when you are a member of a religious organization that is hard to find elsewhere. When you are surrounded by a room full of people who are literally ready to weep for a common belief in an unseen entity there is a feeling of “oneness” that is truly special.
This feeling isn’t unique to religion though. I’ve felt the same way other times too. When the wrestling team I was on in high school made it to the state tourmament – we all felt almost transcendent – we felt oneness with each other. Sometimes when I am having a discussion with my best friend and we come to identical conclusions we feel a deep connection. I think that is the key. Religion provides a deep and needed natural desire to become one with other people. That is beautiful.
Oneness without Religion – with Humanity
The biggest disadvantage of religion that I see is that the same force that brings us together also serves to divide us. That same understanding that causes some people to weep and feel the deepest emotion of love and togetherness causes others to murder each other.
I wonder if we can find that in simple humanity. The desire to help and love our neighbor because they are a member of the human race and because we can empathize with their human experience. I think this is possible.
The more I learn and understand that everyone has such a variety of human experience I begin to realize that, that very variety is what makes our experience so similar. Which makes me feel a part of it all – connected, but without the need for a religious doctrine.
“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us. ― Neil deGrasse Tyson”