- Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
It is almost Christmas in the year 2015. All around the world people are in celebration mode. Some are probably in a panic because they’re not ready with the gifts or other preparations. On a big level this holiday is about stress: spending money, giving expensive things to others, buying expensive things because they are on sale at really low prices, spending time with family we don't get along with, trying to make things perfect and feeling like they won't be perfect. The big day is full of opening those gifts, preparing the meal, family traditions, happy children, disappointed children. A lot rides on the big day going well. Our hopes and dreams are tied up in the big day. I think a lot of people spend more time thinking about the preparations for the big day than they do about what the day represents. It feels like Jesus’ birth is the reason for the season, but not Jesus himself, not his message. The Old Testament is still hanging around in our everyday lives, for the most part. Just look at all the hoopla over Christmas Day. We spend an entire month preparing for that one day in a superficial way. I wonder what would happen if we all spent a month preparing in a different way. I don’t want to make this Christmas post sad or to make anyone feel scolded. I just can’t help but wonder, what is the point of religion?
Some people think religion is meant to show us how to get to heaven and avoid hell. Some people believe it is to teach us morals and how to be good people. Others believe it is to teach us about the right god to believe in and the right things to do to please that god. Still, others believe religion is meant for all of these things. There are many people for which religion simply does not work and does not make much sense, yet they celebrate Christmas in the way I described in my first paragraph. It’s about the gifts and the food and the family. It is a big day and a big deal. What if we carried Christmas with us all year long? What if it were an all year long celebration in tiny little ways every day? What if the point of religion was to teach us how to live in compassion with each other as a human family every day? What if the point was to bring us to peace and happiness, no matter what happens to us; no matter how much our family pushes our buttons; to help us cope with our everyday lives?
I came to the question, what is the point of religion, when I was discussing God with an atheist. This person understands the Christian God to be a judge, banishing people to hell even if they have never heard of Jesus or the bible. I told him my view of the devil being the human ego and heaven and hell being our own creation based on our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. He said he did not think the bible says any of what I believe. I can see why he thinks that. Most people don’t read it that way. In the past, I did not read it that way, either. I think that is the reason it does not help many people. I have had similar discussions with other atheists. In fact, every time I have ever spoken to an atheist about God or religion it has been the same conversation over and over. I used to say the same things they say and ask the same questions they ask. We seek answers, continuing to try to make sense out of what appears to be nonsense. Their exposure to religion is probably much the same as mine with conflicting messages of a loving and yet vengeful god. They mostly bash religion and they think I am completely delusional. I completely understand this. They may have been hurt in some way by the beliefs of others, maybe even by their own beliefs. At a point in my life, I was where they are. I wanted nothing to do with religion, except to bash the poo out of it every chance I got. Religion made things worse in my life because it confused me and made me feel bad. Religion is not meant to make us feel bad. Yet, even after I stopped believing, I still wanted to know things. I wanted to understand how this world works, why people who do bad things get away with it, why people are born with disabilities, why there are people being hurt all over the world, why – if there is a god – he does not help them. WHY? WHY? WHY? The religion I knew was not answering my questions.
I know a lot of religious people who believe with 100 percent certainty that they know who is going to hell and who is going to heaven. I know other religious people who, while they do not claim to know who is going to heaven, are unhappy people, unable to cope with life’s challenges in a way that leaves them with an overall feeling of joy and peace, so going to church every Sunday is not working for them. The best way I found to protect myself from my former beliefs was to just stop believing it. When I finally stopped believing it and made up my mind that god did not exist, I had more peace than ever before. I know that sounds strange, but it is absolutely true. I was not completely at peace, but closer than ever. It comforted me to know there was no god judging me, that I was okay, that my son was not a product of sin, and that there was not a god out there who could help us but chooses not to. Bringing us closer to peace is what religion is meant to do. When I did not believe in God, I still knew there was a good, helpful message that Jesus gave to us. I knew the things he said and did were to show us the path to peace - peace in the world which starts with peace within each one of us.
The point of religion is not to teach us how to get to heaven when we die. It is to show us the way to live; the way to peace now, while we are living this life, dealing with these challenges, dealing with these challenging people who push our buttons and make us angry and fearful. If you have ever experienced this peace, you know that it is heaven. No one has to convince you of it because you have experienced God. Religion is not about avoiding sinful acts. It’s about understanding that we are one human family, each with problems and stresses and each of us committing the only sin there is – judgment. The message has gotten twisted around in every religion, causing us to fight for what we believe and divide up into groups of like-minded people, pitting us against them. We judge other religions, we judge other races, we judge other cultures, we judge other political views. We do not seek to understand them, to learn about them, to open our minds and hearts in compassion for someone else’s suffering. We fail to acknowledge that they may have suffered and that their suffering has shaped their beliefs. We fail to see that their suffering is our suffering. How can their suffering be our suffering, when we disagree and hate each other so passionately? It is because we are one family, born of One Source. This Source did not simply create us separate and apart from Its Self, but expanded Its Self, in order that we may live. Each of us is part of the Whole, carrying the energy of the Source inside ourselves. That is our connection. We know this deep inside our souls, but on this earth, where our sense of individuality makes us feel separate, it is too easy to forget this knowledge. So we seek the companionship of like-minded, wounded souls in churches, in families, in internet community pages, in bars, and any place else we think we will find it. We continuously fail to miss the entire point of religion, which is to remind us that we are One. What if we were to search for this Source connection in ourselves and in everyone we meet each day? That would be a true year-long celebration of the birth of Jesus!
What I have come to believe without a shadow of a doubt is that whenever I find myself judging an entire religion based the actions of people who have perverted the message of that religion to fit their own ideology, their own fears, and their own worldly desires, its because I am failing to open my mind and my heart to the message of the millions of others who have not perverted that same religion, whatever religion I am judging. I am failing to look for evidence that such people exist within that religion and I am failing to believe it when presented with that evidence. I’m failing to turn towards love and dig through my layers of fear. I am becoming like those I judge. If I judge another race, culture, political belief, or person, it’s because my early understanding of God and religion lead me down a path of fear and away from a path of love. It did not give me a foundation of empathy, but rather a foundation of judgment, which, ironically, is the opposite of its intention. I believe that if we were suddenly presented with a crystal ball that showed us every emotional wound of the people we meet and see in the news – giving us insight to why they act the way they act, and why they believe what they believe – we would see that our judgments are simply assumptions we are making. But, we do not have a crystal ball. It will have to suffice for us to remember our own emotional wounds and to realize the ways our wounds turned our hearts and our actions towards fear. But we have to want peace among our human family. We have to cultivate an atmosphere of trust. And to do that we must face our fears and be willing accept others as they are. We must remember the spirit of the Source within us and use our eyes as God’s eyes; seeing them the way God sees them; wounded and hateful as they are, but always, always, always worthy of compassion and love.
Religion is supposed to teach us about our inner fears, to help us face them, and to help us cope with all of life’s challenges. It is supposed to show us our Godly connection to all of life and to teach us how to create the life we want. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails extraordinarily. It fails when it tries to make us believe that peace comes with controlling the actions of others. Religion is not meant to control. That is the Old Testament view. I believe Jesus came to teach us the art of allowing. Trying to control others never makes us feel good. It only makes us feel helpless. Wanting, but not being able to control others hurts like the fiery pit of hell. I know because I have a tendency to try to control others. It feels good and helpful in the moment I am doing it, but later it feels horrible when I realize what I have done or said.
If you are nauseated by this post and believe religion to be a fairy tale, I congratulate you for making to the end without vomiting or giving up on me. It does not matter if you are a believer, a church-goer, an atheist, a believer in nothing, or a believer in only what can be proven through science. As long as it is helping you, bringing you step by step closer to peace, helping you to find happiness and joy in your life no matter what is happening, and helping you to drop your judgments, then you have what religion is meant for. I am so very happy you have it.
If your beliefs are not helping you deal with your fears, not bringing you closer to peace, happiness and joy, if it is separating you from your human family around the world and making you judge them on any level, I beg you to drop your current beliefs, or at least, seek a new understanding of them. Begin to believe in anything else that brings you peace because what you currently believe is not working for you, My Friend. I know how scary it is to give up a life-long belief. I know how relentlessly hard it is. I know it takes time, and a constant commitment to challenge each belief, but I also know the rewards you will receive if you decide to make a change. Trust me, they far outweigh the fear you live with now. Celebrate Christmas a little bit every day by reading the words of Jesus or whomever you follow. Allow your holy book to help you challenge your judgments and fears. In doing so you will be living in the joy of Christmas every single day.
Merry Christmas and Peace to All!
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