I have a daring request for all the young, liberal, and open-minded people of my generation. Go to church. Or a temple. Or a synagogue. Or a meeting house. Or a tepee. Pick one “spiritual” activity and do it. Go and sit in a pew, or kneel, or cross your legs on the floor, or prostrate yourself, or beat a drum. Be still and silent for as long as you can. Sincerely participate in a sacred ritual. Listen to an ancient text and perhaps hear a short talk from a learned person. Sing a hymn or chant a psalm. Then finally, and most importantly, pray. Pray to Allah, or God, or the Great Spirit, or the Divine Force—be it a He or a She. Pick a God and pray. Do this pure, mystical, crazy thing. You could change the world and your life forever. Worst case scenario, you’ll piss off the religious right.
I speak for no particular religion or ideology, but I have a specific agenda. I want everyone to engage in a religious or spiritual activity. I want to bring a sense of spirit back into a world that is drowning in dollars and technology. I want to fill a need; the need, says Quaker and renowned theologian Richard Foster, “not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” In the past, Religion arguably was Niche’s “opiate of the masses”—a government mandate devised to keep the disenfranchised quiet. But it’s not anymore. Yes, we all know how divisive and dangerous Religion can be—but so is football. In our country, we are free to worship whomever, whenever, and wherever we want. Sadly, this means that many young, liberal adults choose to worship nobody, never, and nowhere, and therefore miss the many benefits religion has to offer.
Religion has proven to be a powerful motivator, activator, and reconciliatory. Prayer and meditation have proven health benefits. Those who practice religion, who participate in worship, who spend time to be grateful, to fast, to mediate, to celebrate, to reenact rituals, are happier and healthier, less weighed down by the day-to-day worries of life, more motivated to create change and improve the world, more engaged in community and the world from a perspective outside of consumerism and politics. Yet, for some reason, a majority of smart, enlightened young adults in America are leaving all these great benefits and the collective power that comes with it to old people and the notorious religious right.
Don’t go to church because you don’t want to go to hell. Go to church to pray, to synthesize, to mediate, to frame your life for a few minutes outside the techno-consumer barrage of noise we are beaten with daily. If anything, go for the quiet, the time to reflect, the chance to hear sacred words and participate in ancient rituals. If you don’t have a God, pick one to try, or pick a religion without a God (like Buddhism or Taoism). If you happen to be one of the few of our generation who has one—but perhaps hasn’t felt a sense of the divine in that tradition—maybe try a new one for a while. If you need silence and reflection, find a temple, or a Quaker service. If you need liberal theology, go to a Unitarian service. If you crave experience and cultural transcendence, try a mosque or a synagogue. If you need safety, comfort, or tradition, attend a service similar to one you may have been raised with. I’m personally a big fan of several religions, and like the young boy in the Life of Pi, I’m sticking with them all. (For a good look at all the major players, read God is Not One by Stephen Prothero.)
I think the Buddha was dead on when he said that suffering is unavoidable, universal, and primarily caused by ignorance. Eliminate ignorance and you eliminate suffering. And a little Buddhist meditation, emptying of the mind, erasing of the ego, can go a long way (and most religions encourage meditation). I keep the Dhammapada close at hand. I also am tempted to become Hindu based solely on my reverence for Ghandi and the Bhagavad Gita. I like the universalism and liberalism of the Quakers and the Unitarians (any group that reads John Steinbeck as a religious text is alright by me). I think there’s enough in the Tao Te Ching to last a lifetime (but not much of a Taoist community in my area). I’ve hardly dipped into Rumi or Zorastrianism—but their next on my list. And, of course, like most Americans I was raised on Jesus. He’s cool too. As Michale Stipe says, “I can’t say that I love Jesus, that would be a hollow claim; but he did make some observations, and I’m quoting them today: Judge not lest ye be judged.” Words to really think about.
I don’t think which religion you choose is the point. We have reached a place where we can start to dialogue about the possibility that we all worship the same God (gasp!), and perhaps the differences in religions are due to culture, time and place, and human motivation. In many ways, there are fewer contradictions between the most important tenets of the major world religions than there are minor contradictions within each individual religion. Christians can argue endlessly over the meaning of the crucifixion, but few can argue that most major religions agree that killing, stealing, and lying are bad. Most (perhaps all, arguably) major religions, when at their best, promote nonviolence, equality, community, forgiveness, change, growth, and peace.
Getting involved in a spiritual activity does not mean you have to adhere to some form of dogma. Just try it out. We young, liberals try a lot of stuff. Why not this, for just a little bit. Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking about some different practices that are common among many religions. I’ll be trying them myself. We’ll see what happens. Can I fast? From food, probably yes. But what about from beer and martinis. Shit, that could be rough.
GIVE UP the secular life for just a little bit AND get involved in something spiritual. Chant, twirl, say the Rosary, hold a full moon meditation, fast. DIE a little to the idea that everything has to be logical or make sense. You’ll be glad you did.