In the 1926, Leopold Weiss, A central European Jew traveled to the Middle East. Upon witnessing the “community,” of the people there, he converted to Muslim in 1926, at the age of 26. The sense of brotherhod and unity among the Muslims led him to view his former European community as hollow. He believed the aim of progress in Europe had given way to focus on materialism, leaving them to lose awareness of spirituality in pursuit of material happiness. He believed that such a materialistic view left little room for God.
Muhammad Asad, as he was known after converting to Islam spent the rest of his life writing about and defending a culture, many of us in the US, have little knowledgeor understanding of.
Interestingly, he noted, the “shunning,” of the Islam culture began as far back as the Roman Empire, where catholicism was “King” and all others were considered barbaric my comparison. While Islam spring from the same tradition as Judeo-Christian theology, the “poisoning of Western minds against Islam” began with the Crusades. Asad’s autobiography, “The Road to Mecca,” chronicles his travels in the middle east, but was intended more as a way to correct the erroneous views of the Judeo-Christian Westerners.
Does the pursuit of material prosperity impede happiness? In contrast to Asad’s views, Karl Marx believed the first step to happiness was apolishing religion. Does believing in God make us happy? If so, does it matter which religion?
I was raised as a catholic, I attended catholic school, recieved all the sacraments and attended CCD classes, when I attended public school. I would not call my childhood happy. As a matter of fact, I found some things about my catholic upbringing very disconcerting, which led me to declare myself agnostic for most of my adult life.
I remember being a young girl when the Pope changed the rules. Suddenly, I was not going to hell for eating a hot dog on Friday. I lost sleep over things like this, forgetting that Friday was supposed to be meatless and eating a hot dog at lunch. I also remember being chastised by the nuns at school one Monday morning because I did not attend Sunday Service. While my parents made me attend catholic school, they were not really practicing catholics themselves. I noticed such things. I noticed that Dad only went to church at Christmas and Easter. I always thought it was hypocritical. My dad, being my dad always said something like, “do as I say, not as I do.” And so, I faithfully recieved my sacraments and had my hands smacked with rulers for wearing clear nail polish and had my hair pulled, the nun dragging me across the hall because I needed to use the restroom at lunchtime. (We had “Special visitors” in the school that day, we were supposed to stay in our classrooms.) How on earth, could a God that loved me punish me for needing to pee?
After leaving home, I can count on my hands the number of times I stepped foot in a church and half of those were for weddings and funerals. I did not babtize my sons catholic, as a matter of fact, two of the three, were not babtized at all. (The eldest son was babtized at the Presbytrian Church where is paternal grandparents were patrons. My poor, sweet, devout grandmother was convinced that my children would end up in pergatory, because they were not babtized. “Just babtize them,” she said, “it doesn’t matter what religion, but for the love of god, please babtize them.”
Grandma was a devout catholic and her faith and her church were very important to her. It just wasn’t for me. I tried. I tried to believe, but the more educated I became the less I believed and I have never been able to reconcile some of the reasons for my skepticism.
Of course, when life took a bad turn, I would find myself praying, mostly of habit more than true intent or belief. I can actually remember starting my prayers with something like, “if you really are there god, how can you allow this to happen?” Perhaps because I didn’t believe?
For 45 years of my life, I have struggled with my belief in God, particularly my belief and /or willingness to participate in organized religion.I have never been able to say I am an atheist, no, I always say agnostic… just in case. My catholic upbringing perhaps leaving me afraid of the repurcussions if I actually say there is no god.
22 years in the military exposed me to many people, from all over the world with their varying degrees of faith and participation in organized religion.I asked questions, I learned, I never judged, but I also never found anything in any of those people or places to shake my agnostic views, if anything, my new world-view made me believe even less.. I still do not believe in organized religion and its hyprocracies. I have read the bible, I have read the Gita, I have read the Koran and parts of the Torah and the Tao te Ching. I have read literature from many different parts of the world and spoken with people of many different faiths. I never could understand how any god, from any religion, would condone the hatred and war in the name of God. How can all religions profess that all men were created in the image of God and yet each religion thinks its followers are the chosen ones. Each religion professes to be better than each other religion. Some religions condone sexism, some speak out against gays, if God there is only one God and we are all his children, how can he condone the hate of any of his children? Futhermore, in the history of the world, more lives have been lost in the name of God than for any other reason, ever.These are just some of the reasons for inability to reconcile my beliefs.
Recently however, I have had a spiritual awakening. My world-view has changed more in the past few months than all of my 45 years together. I am still not religious and short of witnessing a miracle with my own eyes, I never will be. In finding my spirituality though, I have found peace and a taste of that all illusive happiness we all seem to be searching for.
I do not think it is spirituality, per se, that has increased my happiness, I actually think it is quite the opposite. In realizing my place in the universe and upon recognizing the roll I play in my own happiness, I have found happiness.
Let me explain, I realize that in everything I do, I have a choice. If I am unhappy with my job, it is I who chooses to stay there or to look elsewhere. I am not trapped, I have choices. I live in the greatest democracy in history, I have a voice and more importantly, I always have a choice.
It takes a great deal of humility and honesty to get to this state of mind, but the reward is freedom. Similar to crowding into the dark confessional to tell the priest all of my deepest, darkest secrets, I have to face the part I have played in my own life. I had to be willing to admit my mistakes, take responsibility for my own poor choices and accept that most of the negative things in my life, I allowed to happen. You may think this could set one up for great unhappiness, but instead, it gives me an unparalleled freedom. I am not a victim. I am not the victim of circumstances, rather, I have dealt with consequences of my own choices and actions. In realizing this, I broke the chains of victimhood. When I look back and see my own part in my own happiness, or lack of it, I also realize that I have the choice to be happy, regardless of my circumstances.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you inferior without your permission.” For me, understanding that, makes all the difference. I have always liked the quote, but I don’t think I truly, deeply understood its meaning until now. It is true, regardless of what negativity is said, it is my choose to internalize that negativity or not. Now that I have awareness of my own brutal inner thoughts, I recognize the person that has made my life most unhappy, was me.
While it is true that many of these thoughts originated outside of my own head, it is I that chooses to believe them or not. It is I who chooses to accept them as fact. And now, it is I that chooses to disbelieve that I am worthless, that I am not as good as my siblings, that I am ugly, fat or stupid. Regardless of where those idea were born, I now choose to let them go, they do not serve me.
I think when we believe there is some higher intelligence causing us pain for some higher purpose or divine plan which we are not privy to, we let go of our power. We believe someone else, someone who supposedly loves us unconditionally, is the cause for our suffering. Letting go of that idea, accepting my own responsibilities and acklnowleding the consequences for my actions has made me happy. Understanding that by choosing to believe the negative lies created by others I create my own unhappiness, gives me the freedom to let all of that negativity go.
Could organized religion be a cause for us to believe we are all victims? If we hand over our power to god, do we forget that ultimately we still have the power of choice? These are things I cannot answer for anyone other than myself. I have found happiness in finding my voice. I have found happiness in my boundaries. It is I who ultimately holds the power, it is I who holds the reponsibility to be happy, not god, nor anyone else in my life. Recognizing this has ultimately released me of any obligation to believe otherwise and in doing so, I have found happiness and it feels good.
I know this view can be controversal for those of deep faith. I understand and accept the criticism that may come my way for these words. However, my feet are on solid ground and I have found internal peace and happiness, no words can remove my happiness, no criticism can stop my light from shining. I respect the views of others and I believe we all have the right to our own beliefs. I make no effort to force my beliefs on anyone else. I hold no ill will towards anyone of any religion or belief. We all have to share this planet while we are here, I can only hope all of us can find the happiness to be secure in our beliefs without the persecution of others. I welcome your comments.