We live in divisive times. For many reasons, but surely because in recent history, society has become more secular. In the Bible Belt, religion is impossible to ignore. Here in Atlanta, the largest metro area in the Deep South, religions are impossible to ignore: churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, monasteries, and other spiritual centers are everywhere.
I love diversity. I like living in place where so many different people have to coexist. So it’s disappointing to see that differences due to religion and spirituality have become more schismatic. You are either religious/spiritual OR secular. With differences—as humans go—come judgements. You are moral and ethical OR secular. You are intelligent and rational OR religious/spiritual.
Language is our primary tool for communication, and thus language is often the source of divisiveness (whether deliberate or inadvertent). Generally, people define “religion” as a set of beliefs about things divine, supernatural, ethical, ritualistic, etc. By this definition, not everyone has a religion—because not everyone subscribes to those types of beliefs.
But that’s not the only way to define religion. I don’t mean Judaism vs Buddhism—I mean a broader definition entirely, beyond the capitalized-first-letter types of religion. I prefer to think of religion as whatever you follow or believe devotedly. The dictionary, as well, lists this interpretation as one of several definitions.
Perhaps you live according to a structured set of beliefs—your religion is Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, paganism, or something of that nature. Maybe you don’t subscribe to any spiritual/religious beliefs. But you still have a religion, in regards to how you direct your energy, attention, and effort.
Kahlil Gibran’s explanation is my favorite: “Your daily life is your temple and religion.” With a more inclusive definition of religion, we can recognize that everyone has (at least) one.
I think most of us have multiple religions, in the sense of having multiple areas of devotion. Maybe you are devoted to Buddhist practices as well as your job. Maybe you focus your daily life on both family and paganism. Maybe your religion is your creative work. Maybe your family is your church. Maybe volunteer work is your religion.
Many of the advancements, works of genius, and brilliance of cultures have been borne from those whose religion had nothing to do with beliefs in deities, ethics, or the supernatural, but devotion to their passions.
My spiritual beliefs are a central part of my identity. Yet I often connect more with people who don’t define themselves as “spiritual” at all. Many of them are atheists. I’ve realized that the connection manifests in similar regard for our passions in life, and how we manifest our devotion to those passions.
This is about godliness. This isn’t even about goodliness. I’m not interested in judging people about their passion or devotion. I don’t care to rank people or beliefs. I want to encourage inclusion and understanding, rather than division and criticism. I want to foster more connection.
People who identify as non-religious often point to science as a counterpoint to spirituality. Certainly, science has contradicted and debunked many religious tenets. But, science and many contemplative religious increasingly dovetail in matters of energy and consciousness—that everything is energy, that perception is reality.
In the words of a famous scientist:
“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is inpenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”
In the Aquarian age, we can all be devout in our own ways.