Recommended listening: We Live by Superchick
A few months ago I wrote a blog post titled Take My Hand in which I touched upon the impact of religion on identity. This topic is something that is frequently at the forefront of my thinking because G-d plays a unique role in my life and I often think of the construct of organized religion. At any rate, today in class religion came up in a new way. After extensively discussing the State of the Union speech made on Tuesday, the conversation shifted to President George W. Bush and his religious views. One student brought up the fact that Bush's overt expression of faith was concerning. The frequency with which Bush openly relied on G-d for guidance made him uneasy. In response to this, several other students noted the positive impact Bush's religion had on him and his supporters. Hours later, this has me thinking outside of simply the political realm. I've begun to wonder, to what extent does religion shape us and the way we look at others?
I guess this is an idea that has been brewing for quite some time. I also touched on our perception of others, specifically Muslim women, in my post Blue Eyes. Of course, this question is by no means unique to me. Everyone questions their own spirituality and faith, but I think it is also integral to begin to think of the faith of others, how we react to it, and how that influences our interactions.
Organized religion is not for me. I understand the appeal. I see the value in congregating with like-minded people and worshiping together. I have been disillusioned with it, however, because I grew up going to Hebrew school and attending synagogue services. I never felt connected to it. Perhaps this was because my family is more ethnically Jewish, or because I don't speak Hebrew, or simply because at the time religion didn't concern me. For whatever reason, I never cared for gathering together and reading a text which dictated how I should behave and what I could not do. Throughout high school I have been surrounded by a group of intelligent students, many of which think religion is absolute nonsense and that G-d is a figment of our imagination. So I brushed off spirituality and it was not a component of my identity whatsoever.
However, last year I went on a religious retreat called Kairos. At this retreat I was able to finally distinguish between religion and spirituality. From that point on I have embraced spirituality and my relationship with G-d despite it's non-conventional nature. As a result of the fluctuations along my spiritual journey, I consider myself to be very open minded of others. At this point in time I consider myself Jewish in the sense that I celebrate Jewish holidays and embrace the traditions and customs of my ancestors. I also participate in the Youth Ministry program at my local Catholic Church, where I lead retreats, participate in community service, and discuss openly the role of G-d in my life. Additionally, I wear a very open symbol of my spirituality, my Kairos necklace, every single day. All these components together make up my faith.
In my English class we also frequently discuss the "us" vs. "them" dichotomy. I feel this idea plays a critical role in many religious and ideological conflicts. Looking inward, our religion, or lack thereof, makes sense to us. We accept and firmly believe in the doctrines we subscribe to and the morals we hold dear. However, I think we often forget that everyone else is the same way. The same complexity and thought we have put in to our faith is, for the most part, put into the spirituality of others. Before we can pick apart the religious views and expressions of others (which I, for the record, never recommend doing) we must, at the very least, acknowledge the fact that they have gone through a process to get there and that their beliefs make sense to them.
At the end of the day, I think the way in which we approach other people's religions and beliefs is just as important as the way we approach our own. If we believe in loving our neighbors, the best way to begin to do that is to love them for what they believe in, whether or not we agree with them.
When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.