Growing up in a Catholic home which was regularly frequented by nuns and priests (friends of my folks), attending only Catholic schools, being taught about life (God, religion, marriage, relationships, sex, good, bad, right, wrong) exclusively from a Catholic perspective, hanging out with my Catholic friends and only ever seeing the inside of a Catholic church, I was probably never gonna be a Buddhist by my fifteenth birthday. Or even a Baptist or Anglican for that matter. My upbringing, my environment and my education taught me that I was born into the one true church. Whatever that means.
As a teenager, I honestly felt sorry for all those non-Catholics who were going to hell; the ones in the fake churches. Whatever that means. After all, we had the Pope on our team; God’s personal representative on planet earth and a direct successor to good old Saint Peter – the first Pope. Apparently. How could I possibly go wrong?
Fortunately for me, I had somehow stumbled on to the right team. What are the chances? All those religions and I was born into the only one that has a hot-line to God and an old bloke in the Vatican with a big hat and his finger on the eternal pulse. And of course, the only religion that could get me to heaven. Talk about luck. Or Karma. Oops, we don’t mention Karma do we? That’s the other team.
Here’s a sentence I was never gonna hear from the nuns in my religious education classes at school; “Okay students, we’ve decided to provide you all with an extensive overview of the core theology, philosophy and teaching of all the major religions of the world, then we’ll leave it up to you to explore the ‘God thing’ in your own way and see where you land; it’s important that you find your own truth, listen to your own heart and develop your own religious and spiritual beliefs and understanding.”
Nope, there was never gonna be a bar mitzvah for me.
Now, before you think I’m getting my anti-Catholic hat on, I’m not. I don’t have one. I loved (most of) my childhood, my Catholic friends, my education and I was taught and mentored by some fantastic nuns and priests. And of course I love my (very) Catholic parents.
What I am talking about is social, emotional and religious conditioning (in any system, organisation or religion) that tells me what to think, do and believe and doesn’t encourage me or allow me to explore and discover my own truth beyond the walls of that system. In fact, it discourages my exploration and free thinking by being critical of groups and individuals who think, believe and behave differently. And when I start to question the system or parts thereof, I am ridiculed and criticised. Possibly labelled rebellious, misguided and troublesome.
The only reason I’m even talking about my Catholic upbringing is because that’s the only childhood I have. That’s my reference point. My experience. My story. I could just as easily be talking about any system that requires people to think, behave and believe a certain way in order to be a ‘member’. “If you don’t align with our doctrine, theology, thinking and rules then you can’t be part of our group; that is, you must believe what we believe. You won’t develop your own spiritual and religious beliefs, we will tell you what you can and can’t believe.”
In reality, we are all constantly being programmed (taught, influenced, impacted, shaped) by our world and everything and everyone in it. Our beliefs are always being moulded and manipulated (for better or worse) without us even being aware of it. Most of our beliefs are formed over a long period of time, which is why they become such a firmly entrenched (non-negotiable) part of our DNA. Our mental and emotional DNA anyway. And that lifetime of being taught a certain message and philosophy is what makes it very hard for us to consider another truth. Different beliefs.
In considering something else (another version, option, way of living, thinking, seeing, believing) we often need to question what we’ve believed for ever and that makes us very uncomfortable. Scared even. I’ve worked with people who get angry when I even question what they believe. And I’m not talking about criticizing their beliefs, I’m talking about asking logical, thoughtful, intelligent questions. They won’t even consider that their beliefs may be wrong; it’s too traumatic, too painful and too uncomfortable. They’ve based an entire life around some of those beliefs, so who (the f***) am I to suggest anything else?! They make it impossible for themselves to learn anything new. And did I mention the anger?
The pressure to conform (think, talk, act, believe a certain way) exists in all areas of the human experience way beyond the religious arena; schools, homes, workplaces, sporting clubs, political parties, gangs… anywhere that people gather. Even in Cyberspace (on-line).
Am I saying that our own beliefs shouldn’t align with a larger group? No, absolutely not. What I am saying is that we need to discover our own truth, learn our own lessons and determine our own beliefs and then if our core beliefs happen to align with a group that we want to be a part of, so be it. But don’t let someone else hijack your brain, your potential or your free will because you want acceptance in to their group. To conform is to compromise.
I like the idea of being part of a group where identical beliefs and consensual thinking is not a pre-requisite for membership. Or acceptance. Or respect. That kind of group appeals to me. I think I might start one. Hang on, I have. And you’re part of it. You got that membership card right?
By the way, I don’t want conformity in my group; I want thoughtful consideration of what I teach. I want you to consider what I write, explore it for yourself and see if it seems like ‘truth’ for you. Don’t accept what I write because you respect me; I may be wrong. You and I can respect each together without agreeing on every topic. Accept what I write when you know it to be real, valid, meaningful and relevant for you. If what I write feels
Next time, in part three of this very long post I’m going to talk about:
Let me know your thoughts on this topic. You know the drill.
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