The great religion debate
I spend an unhealthy amount of time analyzing life, death and the general nature of things.
I find my thoughts drifting through the “big” questions and was frustrated that my religion, Anglicanism, couldn’t answer them.
I was tired of hearing reasoning like “there can’t be good without evil.”
Assuming everything is in “God’s plan” makes us disregard our actions and not take ownership of them.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized what best suited my beliefs and provided answers to my burning questions: Buddhism.
Growing up in a Christian household, I was still exposed to Buddhism by my father’s interest in Buddhist monastic life.
I had many misconceptions about the religion, yet I was fascinated by its insightful mysteries.
I began attending mindful meditation at the Dharma Centre in Waterloo and learnt all about the religion’s history and practice.
What is appealing about the foundation of Buddhism some 2,500 years ago is the founder Siddhartha Guatama was neither divine nor a prophet.
He was an individual like any other, seeking truth and answers.
One of his most beneficial teachings, deriving from his Enlightenment, is the “Four Noble Truths,” which say: there is suffering in our world, that suffering stems from our attachment to things and craving for them, that there is a solution to suffering and the solution is to follow the eight- fold path.
The path that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
I connected with the idea that we are the cause of our own suffering, meaning we can also be the solution.
I became aware that I was easily attaching myself to things and people. I allowed the actions of others to affect me, and found myself suffering when the things I had attached myself to changed.
This is the nature of “things”; everything is impermanent.
In essence, the religion of Buddhism is more of a philosophy to live by; there are no mandatory sacraments, services to attend or strict rules to abide by.
Your spiritual development is entirely dependent upon you.
Practicing mindful meditation so that I may be mindful in everyday life is how I am beginning my spiritual journey, knowing that any wrong-doing on my part will result in consequences – as every action has a cause and an effect, also known as karma.
Buddhism appeals to me for its complex universal truths which are quite simplistic in their understanding.
To be able to identify strongly with a religion is something I’ve never experienced and am grateful for. What I will get out of life is exactly what I put in.
My struggle with religion began several years ago. Within months, I went from a straightedge Christian to a slightly bitter atheist.
The bitterness wore off as I began to accept that there were some merits to religion and that it wasn’t all brainwashing and feelings of superiority; the community aspect can be beneficial to many, as can the charity side.
However, it still frustrates me that for so many years I fell for the concept of God; it seems to be a made-up construct to control the masses.
As well, Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, once stated that, “God was invented to explain mystery.”
Throughout history, mystery might be anything from inconsistent weather to why we exist.
These days, most of us know that praying won’t stop a storm from coming, yet our existence is still perplexing.
For those with a Bible, that’s easily explained: it starts with the creation of the earth, moves on to how to live, and then explains what happens at death. Everything you might need to know is detailed within the pages of the Bible.
And there are certainly some useful stories and guidelines in the good book, such as The Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments; yet many less obvious rules on how to live can be derived from Bible verses as well.
I was raised in a conservative non-denominational Christian home church.
As part of the church, we were to eschew television and pop culture, avoid alcohol and a rowdy lifestyle of any sort, and steer clear of churches that actually had their own buildings.
As a girl, I was to wear skirts, keep my hair long and not wear makeup or jewelry.
The consequences of disregarding these guidelines were a bit vague, but most likely involved an eternity of fire and brimstone.
It wasn’t until I took a logic and reasoning course in college that I finally started to realize the subjectivity of these interpretations.
I’m sure Jesus never intended that anyone should feel superiority over others simply by refusing to watch The Simpsons, but that’s how it seemed to my friends and myself.
That’s because the religion I was part of was “the truth.”
It was the only way to heaven, and everyone else would die a fiery death.
I’m sure many Christians, Muslims and other religions would disagree with that.
There are certain aspects of my former religion that I still follow; I don’t particularly like to dress up and I still don’t care much about pop culture.
However, I know now how incredibly ludicrous it is to link such miniscule actions to the wrath of God.
My lifestyle is connected more to how my parents also like to live, and less to what I picked up from my religion. That fear is such an underlying part of many religions often saddens me.
It’s one thing to say “do to others what you would like to be done to you,” but it’s another thing to add “or else ye shall perish with all the unbelievers.”
People should be taught how to live good lives without fear of an unproven outcome.
If we were taught that we are all equal instead of some being placed higher by God, we might have a more peaceful world.
As an atheist, I’ve come to be more accepting of others’ lifestyles, and generally I have become a happier person.
Where once I felt forced to try to see God’s beauty everywhere, I’ve realized the wonder of rational thought and how fascinating life on earth simply is.
Religion inspires people every single day. While many people are born into their religion, others – like myself – convert.
I remember being 13 on a school trip to Paramount Canada’s Wonderland and seeing a woman sitting wearing a burka.
It covered her whole body so that you could only see her eyes.
Looking at her, I couldn’t understand why anybody in their right mind would wear that on a hot day.
I stood there and stared, wondering what kind of religion would make a women dress like that.
Now, five years later, when I see a woman in Islamic garbs I smile and say, “as- Salaamu alaykum” and she responds “alaykum as Salaam.” This is a Muslim salutation of peace.
Now I understand because she is my Muslim sister. I admire her even though I do not know her.
I converted to Islam at the age of 18; it was one of the easiest choices I have ever made. Many people questioned me and brought me down for converting because I was turning on Christianity and leaving it behind.
Converting was what I knew I had to do. It was not a magical calling; it was more of a young adult doing what was right for them.
The Muslim community, the Umah, inspires me everyday because I know that no matter where I am there is someone who believes and lives the religion as I do. There is a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood to the religion.
Many people have these existing notions about Islam and what it stands for; the average person is constantly being told that Muslims are bad, that they are terrorists wanting to hurt people and take over the world.
But Islam is about way more than that. It is about Allah, or “God,” and how amazing Allah is.
Islam is about the community helping one another and being there for one another.
It is about love and compassion, justice and human rights; it is about equality among everyone, women and men, the poor and the rich.
It is about the everyday person. Many people do not see this on the television because all non-Muslims are told that Islam is about hatred, violence and terrorism.
Islam is far from that.
There are over one billion Muslims around the world; it is also considered one of the fastest growing religions.
This shows that your neighbour or classmate or even the person next to you might be Muslim.
People also see Islam as complex; that is not true. Muslims believe that there is one God and that the Prophet Muhammad is the last Messenger of God.
We believe that the Holy Qu’ran is the direct word of God and that there will be a judgement day.
We believe that the Holy Qu’ran is the direct word of God, and we believe that there will be a judgement day.
There are five pillars of faith that every Muslim must believe in. The first is called the “Shahada,” which is that you believe that there is one God and that the Prophet Muhammad is his messenger. The second is “Salat,” which is prayer and Muslims do prayers five times a day. The third is “Zakat,” the giving of charity to those in need. The fourth is “Saum,” which is to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Finally, the fifth is the “Hajj,” which is the pilgrimage to the Mecca.
There is so much to say about Islam; if the world could open its eyes they would see that Islam presents people with possibilities and wonders.
It is about love, family, equality, faith and, most importantly, the love of God.
Islam, like a book, should not be judged by its appearance because once it is open a whole new world appears.
Religion has always played an important yet diverse role in my life.
At the age of 12, I realized that I knew nothing of the greater meanings of life and swore to “pursue truth and wisdom,” regardless of how painful the results might be.
Throughout my time in high school I studied a wide variety of faiths and even spent a brief period lost in the despair of atheism.
From this gloom I was able to find meaning in an obscure Persian religion called Zoroastrianism.
While I am not a Zoroastrian per-se, I have adopted many of its concepts in the way many adopt the philosophies and practices of Buddhism.
Zoroastrianism represents the union of East and West and takes from the best of both worlds.
It combines the monotheism and moral duality of the Abrahamitic religions with the compassion and search for truth of the Eastern religions.
The most important feature of any religion is its conception of the divine. The divine in Zoroastrianism is Mazda, a Persian word meaning wisdom. Mazda’s two main attributes are truth and wisdom; these are the two pillars that I base my life on.
Humanitys’ relationship with Mazda is viewed in a unique way; Mazda is not a slave master or a tyrant, but a friend, companion and partner.
While science and evolution are true, I believe that all sentient beings as they evolve seek Mazda and gain understanding of the divine through intuition.
I found the Zoroastrian concept of God to embody my ideals of a higher being.
Humans are the allies of Mazda in a cosmic struggle against evil in its many forms, be it racist intolerance or political corruption.
Unlike Christianity, where God creates the devil, Mazda and the “lie” have always existed as opposites and will always struggle. So we as humans have true free will to choose our path.
This absolute belief in the worth and responsibility of the individual, and the commitment to obtaining knowledge and seeking social progress are beliefs I have wholly adopted from Zoroastrianism.
I say, do not embrace tradition recklessly, seek out your own truth and wisdom, wherever you can find real meaning; be it in Buddha, Jesus or Mazda, that is where you are meant to be.
Seek wisdom, truth and justice and you will never find yourself on the wrong path.