I have a difficult time swallowing the horse-pill of any religion wholesale but I sure love the commonalities between them all.  Respect, humility, helping the poor, prayer/meditation, the eternal nature of the soul, family, compassion, love, belief in an ultimate divine mystery/secret meaning to life and the eternal search for wisdom – Yes!  This is my religion.  This is all religion.

So why do we have to choose one – insouciantly invalidating all the others?  There is a strange societal pressure to select one religion after finishing shopping around enough.  Once a particular religion is chosen by an individual, it is generally assumed that the person will and should embrace its dogma broadly.  I have a sufi friend who once told me that, “It’s good that you study many religions, but at some point you really need to choose one that you identify best with and get under its ‘umbrella’.”  According to my friend it is important to speak from a place clearly understood and identifiable, a place of security that would give me more credibility.  I think that was his point.

The main problem I have with solidly identifying with any particular religion is that I cannot agree to every single tenet and belief within any of the world’s religions.  There will always be areas within any religion that I question, do not feel comfortable with or even interpret in quite a different way from others of the same faith.

In fact, I especially can’t stop liking the wisdom and inspiration I receive from the profound religious books available from the many different faiths throughout the world.  I can be a Muslim, but I can’t remove the Bible from my shelf.  I can be a Jew, but I can’t put down the Dhammapada.  I can go to church, but I still love the Bhagavad Gita.  I can’t help it!

I can be a Muslim, but I can’t remove the Bible from my shelf. I can be a Jew, but I can’t put down the Dhammapada. I can go to church, but I still love the Bhagavad Gita. I can’t help it!

I have a problem with the expectation that if you join a religion you need to accept everything that comes with it as a complete package, wholesale – I must wear the blue robe and shave my left eyebrow using my right hand on a Thursday.  Lol!  To me, many of the details within religions are silly and do not appeal to my sensibilities nor my mystical leanings.

So, am I allowed to take bits and pieces of a religion that I like and still consider myself a member of that religion?  Where should the line be drawn, if it should be at all?  Why do we feel a need to “join” a religion in the first place?  Perhaps the idea of identity may play a key role in this discussion.

All of us want to feel part of a special group of some kind.  We want to be part of an in-crowd that is in the know somehow.  Knowing that we are part of a group that is special boosts our own confidence and makes us feel privileged and lucky – better than others somehow.  It satisfies our need to be able to explain the world and wrap it up in a neat ideological box – a final end to the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.  But does it come with a price?  Does any religion ever truly explain everything perfectly to our liking or does its embrace force us into a continual state of apologetics as a result of our wholesale acceptance of its complex package of dogmas?

Does any religion ever truly explain everything perfectly to our liking or does its embrace force us into a continual state of apologetics as a result of our wholesale acceptance of its complex package of dogmas?

If we choose to believe or follow only the key parts of a religion that suit us, we run the risk of being ostracized by our fellow religious brethren.  “You really should go to church.  How can you call yourself a Muslim when you don’t pray five times a day?  A good Buddhist never gets angry.  Where’s you’re yamaka?”  Etc. etc.  By critically thinking we risk getting our membership card revoked, left again to the perceived darkness of dissonance.

But the prophets/founders of the world’s religions didn’t need a valid membership card.  They spoke the Truth as they saw it and had the courage to speak out against anything within the followed faiths of their age that didn’t make sense.  They had no need to follow any kind of orthodoxy and were courageous – generally unaccepted during their times.  They were the creators of path – paths that many attempt to copy and follow to the best of their abilities to this day.

So what have we lost?  What is the problem here?  The prophets were pointing to the moon and we formed cults after them focusing on the details of hand positions – oblivious to the lonely yet ever vigilant eye of the moon itself.  We go on to fight over what hand position is correct – becoming different faith clubs vying for righteousness.  What nonsense!  How sad.

Today is different – or at least it should be.  Globalization is forcing us to adapt and adapt we must.  To survive we must focus on the key points the prophets/religious founders were trying to get across to humanity – the “prophetic takeaways” so-to-speak.  Dogmatic details, at this point in human history, are only further fodder for fighting.

What about the key points, the main ideas – the things that unite us?  Have we yet understood them – do we practice them?  Mercy, kindness, compassion for the most vulnerable amongst us, respect, humility, the eternal nature of the soul, sharing, the eternal search for wisdom and the belief in a mysterious origin and sense to the universe – these are the themes that connect all the religious faiths and, in turn, all of humankind.  Why can’t these most basic concepts and beliefs become our religion?  Why can’t we have a no-name brand religion?  A nameless faith without a valid membership card – where membership is a private matter between you and the Lord?  Or, perhaps, just perhaps, we can have membership cards more like passports where we can have visas allowing us to travel into the other faiths with respect and a desire to grow through experiencing the unity in our beautiful diversity.

Why can’t we have a no-name brand religion?  A nameless faith without a valid membership card – where membership is a private matter between you and the Lord?

Is it insecurity and the overarching need for identity that compels us to take sides and join particular groups, setting ourselves up against “the other” creating a supererogatory ideological battle rather than sitting down for a pleasant dinner together?  The “other” is also our brother under one sun, placed here  within the same struggle as ourselves.  Is love only meant to be expressed to those within our identity group – our chosen religious club?  Or is mercy boundless, flooding creation without discrimination?