From: mmohanv <email@example.com>
Date: Sun, Aug 8, 2010 at 10:38 PM
Subject: FW: Who owns God?
From: Dinesh Agrawal <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, 6 Aug 2010 17:23:42 -0400
Subject: Who owns God?
Who owns God?
August 6, 2010
Author Anne Rice said last week that she was 'quitting Christianity:' The once-lapsed Catholic wrote that she was could no longer accept her religion's teachings on homosexuality, feminism, politics and birth control.
"In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian," Rice announced on her facebook page.
Can you leave religion and keep Christ? Can you be spiritual without being religious?
Does Christianity own Jesus? Does one need to follow a particular sectarian belief system to have a relationship with the divine? When I attended Catholic school as a youth, the answer to both questions was obvious and unquestionable in the minds of the nuns who taught us: The Church has exclusive rights to both Jesus and God, and only makes them available to the select few of its membership. All others, as well as anyone who disagrees with the Church's views of reality, are condemned to spend an eternity in hell.
As I went from my adolescent to my teen years, I and many others like me began to have doubts. Can a supposedly all compassionate and all forgiving divinity only like one type of human and have created a place of eternal damnation for those who are different? The more I thought about the issue, the more I came to believe that such a divinity could not be as narrow minded as the Church claimed, and its version of hell could not have been created by an all compassionate and forgiving God. Either an all powerful and all loving deity exists or eternal damnation exists. One or the other had to be false ...so I gave up a belief in eternal damnation. Interestingly, once I did, the fear of it that had kept me Christian faded away, and I no longer saw a reason to remain within its narrow confines. Like Anne Rice, I simply and happily walked out the door.
This fear of damnation, coupled with claims of exclusive control over who goes to heaven, has kept millions of Christians and Muslims tied to narrow sectarian beliefs for centuries. In short, fear has been a tool of both traditions to maintain membership. An added element of fear within Islam is that orthodox Muslim law dictates the murder of any member who rejects the belief system for another one. This law is in practice in at least a half dozen Muslim countries (fundamentalist cleric Zakir Naik's justification for it can be seen on Youtube). There are Muslims in the U.S. that would like to see it become law here as well.
Once I left Christianity, I found it was still possible to have a relationship with both God and Jesus in my own mind, and church doctrine and belief no longer limited its form. The term "spiritual" was not within my framework of thinking at the time, but the way it is used today essentially describes the kind of relationship I was seeking at that time. In the Christian and Muslim worlds, being "spiritual" is not enough. Being a good, decent, loving human being is not good enough. In most denominations of both religions, one must commit to a preconceived set of beliefs within a narrow sectarian framework or damnation is one's fate. This emphasis on external labels and narrow beliefs over goodness and decency are among the reasons there are so many either lapsed or ex-Christians in the west today.
Freed from the fetters of Christianity, my own personal search took me to India, where I became a Hindu monk. I did so not out of a need to "belong" to a religion or denomination but out of a desire to find answers to questions about life that I had been asking since I was a child. As a Christian, the Church had not provided answers that seemed either logical or consistent with the way I had come to understand divinity.
Significantly, unlike my Christian teachers my Hindu teachers did not tell me what I had to believe or what sectarian label I had to wear. Instead, they taught me various religious practices that would help me to focus on finding the answers within. Hinduism, for the vast majority of its members, has little to do with adherence to a particular set of beliefs, but has much more to do with how to live one's life within a moral and ethical framework. In addition, most Hindus do not feel the need to "belong" to a particular denomination, nor do they feel confined by their Hindu identity. That is why they can freely attend a Christian Church, pray at Buddhist or Jain temple, or join in at a Sikh Gurudwara. To Hindus, a house of God is a house of God irrespective of the name on the building or the particular method of worship inside.
Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk and teacher who visited the U.S. at the end of the nineteenth century once suggested that It is good to be born into a religion and die out of it. He was referring to the benefits of being raised with the values that most religions teach but also the importance of moving beyond sectarian identity to free one's spirit to experience an unfettered divinity. Religion and religions have value and teach values, but narrow mindedness and exclusiveness can and do serve as obstacles that block the ability to have a broader vision of the world and of the divine. After all, nearly all religions describe the divine as being beyond the limits and human understanding. They say that no human can know the will of God, yet there are those that then claim God only likes those who believe like they do, only those who follow their narrow thinking? Christians claim the Bible gives them that right and Muslims say the same about the Quran. How can any text written by a human, or any religion for that matter, actually know the likes and dislikes of a divinity that is beyond the human ability to understand? Have any of them ever stopped to consider that maybe God has more tolerance than they do for all the loving and decent people in Her creation whose beliefs happen to vary from theirs?