Is religion dying?
No, say some. Yes, say others. As controversial as it is, it is a valid question. I’m not talking here about the people who believe that there is absolutely no higher power (although there is a growing number of individuals who follow that path). I am taking here about the growing number of individuals who have noted their belief system as being “spiritual but not religious.”
Why this change though? One of the reasons, I’m pretty sure is because of all the restrictions, but restrictions are everywhere. Without rules, we would be a bunch of rampant animals just pissing and spitting wherever we liked. So more than the restrictions, I think it’s the delivery of the restrictions that put people off. When I was growing up, there was so much negative reinforcement coming from my religious teachers and even my family. It was almost like a threat, “if you don’t do so and so, then you’ll find yourself in hell where you will be swallowing thorns and bathing in flames,” or “if you do so and so, you’ll be boiled alive,” and so on and so forth. You get the picture. I’m told it’s the general tone across a few religions.
Earlier on, with all the restrictions and threats of burning in hell, my practice was out of fear, pure and simple. Nobody was particularly present to start me on a practice, so religion was issued as a threat. There was no love, and I was not taught to look up to the prophets and/or saints. My introduction to religion was all the “have to” – have to be good, have to do this, have to avoid that. There was no practice or evolution. To avoid hell, you just do this and that. You even have to love and respect your parents to avoid hell. There’s that “have to,” again.
Unfortunately kids don’t stay kids. They grow up and realise that there is some grey woven in between the black and white of the world. They question, and sometimes, they realise that a place without love is no longer worth staying in. Religion in a way creates a separation between communities, and even between one person and another. People who do such and such could have the darkest hearts and yet because they have followed all the rules, they are going to heaven. While people who have so much love, because they did not follow rules, are meant to go to hell. And of course at some point, certain people actually really believe that they are going to heaven. That’s where all the problems start. At what point do the fundamentals steps of being a good Muslim/Christian/Hindu overcame the fundamental aspects of being a human being?
The thing is, “spiritual but not religious,” denotes that people believe in a higher power. It’s just that religions, with all the hate, bias, wars, power struggles and discrimination, are making it hard for people to believe in them nowadays. There is nothing wrong with religion itself, I don’t think, but they have somehow managed to give themselves incredibly bad PR in the here and now.
In my personal life, a few years ago, I had given up on religion. Why? Because I had chosen a life that was far from what my religion taught, and I thought that religion had given up on me. Now, my spiritual practice is yoga, but I supplement that with some religious practices, like prayer and fasting. I’ve cut away the politics of religion, and choose not to take a religious stance on things concerning the choices that other people make. My religious practice and my yoga practice travel next to each other, but I choose to let neither elevate me above anyone else. Why? Because we don’t know what is coming.
Perhaps in a time when choice is aplenty, and where people know that they have a choice, a gentler approach is needed. Religion should not be a club where some are better than others, but more so a practice where every day is a step in the right direction. Perhaps it’s not exclusion that’s needed but inclusion. And perhaps, it’s not hell that should be promoted as much as love and acceptance. Why? Because perhaps even though there is a high degree of independence, perhaps what people really want is to be part of something that is safe. And perhaps it’s just time that the world’s religions embark on a whole new PR campaign which is not so much about how other people are going to hell, but more about how “different paths can lead to the same heaven.”