A question about religion

It’s been a long time since I discussed religion and belief on Scatterthought, but here’s something I’ve always wondered about.

I hold to no religion, not because I’m an athiest or because I lack faith, but because I’ve never felt the need or desire to choose a religion. To be honest, I like and appreciate every religion so long as its followers subscribe to four simple words:

“Do good unto others.”

The traditional way of saying this is, of course:

“Do unto others as you would have done to you.”

Or something like that. But I dislike the counter-justification that some people take out of this statement, which is that if someone treats you badly, you can do the same to them. My version removes any notion of how you, the individual, are treated. Always do good.

Or, as they used to write on signs in video stores:

“Be kind, rewind.”

The words are different, but the principles are the same. And like I said, any religion that communicates this is alright in my books.

So here’s what I don’t get. There are a lot of people these days who will say that they are “non-practicing _____”, where the blank is filled in with their religion. The suggestion is that they believe in the religion, but don’t follow its doctrine to the letter. I have no problem with this viewpoint, but I really don’t understand it. If I were brought up in a specific religion and believed in its teaching, I would find it very difficult to do things that go against it. Yet people do this all of the time.

And really, what would a devout person think of someone who doesn’t follow the tenants of their chosen faith? There are a lot of non-practicing religious folk out there, and I wonder how the practicing folk view them. I’ve always found that the toughest thing to understand about religion. How can a person say that they subscribe to a religious viewpoint (whether they chose it or it was chosen for them) and then not feel guilty whenever they don’t live up to it? Or do most people just accept that they’re going to sin to some degree? Perhaps people recognize and subscribe to their beliefs, but just aren’t concerned about meeting the standards that have been set for them. And I suppose that’s a perfectly valid decision, as well.

I suppose I’ve always wondered about this because I’ve always been on the outside looking in. I’ve always seen religion as a good thing for people who need a guiding principle in their life to provide moral character. But in some ways, the moral code I’ve created for myself is stronger, because it doesn’t rely on me being true to what someone else tells me; it relies on me being true to myself. It might be easier to flaunt a moral code instilled by religion, so long as you don’t think anyone will find out. But if the code is internalized, as mine is, then I can never hide the bad things I might do from myself.

What about relationships? With all of the different religions out there, we get a lot of intermarrying between various groups. You would think that a Catholic would have difficulty marrying a Protestant, but I know lots of couples in this category. Clearly the beliefs are different, in which case I have to believe that the people aren’t concerned that their partners share their beliefs. What matters more is that their partners accept their beliefs.

From that standpoint, I could find myself in a relationship with someone and completely accept her and her religion, so long as she can accept that I do not follow it myself.

Would I allow myself to be baptized? That’s a tough question to answer. I had this conversation with a friend years ago, when he was dating a Jewish woman. He would have had to convert to marry her (though they broke up long before that was a question), and we wondered about the meaning behind that.

If I were baptized into a religion then I would have to give myself to it and live according to its practices–I couldn’t do it as a formality that I would pay lip service to…that would be absolutely wrong. But I don’t think I’ll ever feel strongly enough about any specific religion to subscribe to its beliefs. And as I said earlier, I have a strong and highly developed moral code that guides me in everything I do.

I’d like to think that that’s what our god or gods intended…not that we be moral because of our beliefs, but because we want to be.