Happy World Religions Day!
Happy World Religions Day!
Okay...total transparency here--I had never heard of World Religions Day until today when an email showed up in my inbox with the same subject line as this bjlog post.
According to Google, "The purpose of World Religions Day is to promote the Bahá'ís principles; that all people are equal, all religions have value and the idea that religions can contribute to uniting humanity, rather than dividing it."
So just in case you needed another holiday to celebrate, here it is!
I woke up this morning with religion on my mind. Maybe because it's Sunday...or maybe because I'm actively involved in undoing religious programming and reconstructing my spirituality. This journey of leaving behind one's lifelong religion can be an all-encompassing experience.
It's been about 10 years since one of my close friends left Mormonism behind. At that point, I was already questioning my faith and trying to figure out what I actually believed. But as I watched her and her family walk that path, I found myself in awe of the fact that she had the courage to leave. At that point, I still held a deep belief that the only way to be with my family in the next life was through following the "covenant path"...or in other words, following the doctrine of the LDS church. Although I wasn't sure I agreed with everything the church was teaching, I firmly believed in the concept of eternal families and didn't want to screw that up for myself. (Truth be told, it is that single doctrine that kept me in the church for the past decade.)
As I watched my friend deconstruct her belief system, I remember feeling a profound sadness for everything I thought she was losing. I tried to be supportive (although I probably didn't do a great job of it), but I often found myself at a loss for words because I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to "lose everything"...which is exactly how I perceived her journey.
I'm not sure why that memory popped into my head today--except maybe I needed a reminder of what it felt like to be on the other side of religion.
During the past three years, as I've slowly opened up about my own faith journey, I've lost a lot of friends and followers and many of my family members have become distant. The JUDGE in me says that people are criticizing my decisions and cutting me off because they think I'm choosing the path that will lead me carefully down to hell. And the truth is, some people probably do feel that way.
But I think it's also likely that there are some people out there who simply don't know what to say. They don't know how to be supportive, because, from their perspective, I'm "losing everything" and they have no way to reconcile the path I've chosen with their personal beliefs. There might also be people who are on their own faith journey and are in awe of my courage--but not yet ready to admit that to the outside world. And there are probably a few who are terrified of getting too close for fear that I might infect them, and they'll end up in the same place.
The truth is, all of those are feelings I had as an active member of the church.
I was completely unaware of how much pain these thoughts and feelings were inflicting on my friends and family members who were in the process of deconstructing their faith. But with this new perspective of being on the other side, I wish I had made a greater effort to be understanding and willing to listen to their stories.
Because the truth is, I was afraid.
I was afraid they may have found something that would hold enough weight to make me leave, too.
I was afraid they knew something that would cause me to question everything.
I was afraid that if I listened with an open heart and mind, I'd lose everything, too.
Of course, that's exactly what I'd been programmed to believe. Fear is a strong motivator! And my religion wanted me to be afraid of their journey.
This brings me back to World Religions Day...this day that celebrates all religions having value and the idea that religions can contribute to uniting humanity, rather than dividing it. It's an interesting thought and a nice sentiment. But I don't see any reality in it. As long as there are religions in the world that teach that they are "the only true church and the only way back to God," there will be division. That's literally the mission of fundamentalist religions--to "divide the wheat from the tares"--and if you don't see life through the lens of their doctrine, you are a tare. It makes me sad that religion literally divides communities, neighborhoods, and families...because if there is a God who created us all, I think he would want for us to be united, not divided.
So, to all of my friends and family...I'm going to try to be better. I know some of you have been avoiding me. But the truth is, I've been avoiding you, too. I mean, I was you not so long ago...and I had all the thoughts and feelings you're having about me leaving.
But I haven't really changed. I'm the same woman I've always been.
I am deeply connected to my spiritual side, just like I've always been. I love my family with all my heart, just like I always have. I want to be a responsible contributing member of society, just like I always did. I have a passion for serving other women who have suffered from trauma and abuse, just like I've always had. I'm the same sarcastic, slightly cynical, fun-loving woman, who loves deep conversation and is moved to tears by beautiful music.
So I'll be reaching out to you. And just so you know, I'm happy to talk about my spiritual journey. But I'm also completely respectful of yours. As a Religion Recovery Coach, my goal is to help those who have decided religion doesn't work for them and have walked away...not to convince people to leave. I'd love to facilitate conversations that foster greater understanding between those who have left their religious communities and those who have chosen to stay. We are all in this together!
Happy World Religion Day! Make it a good one!