(Yes, I stole the title for this post from the very excellent book by my other husband, Alain de Botton.)
I have a bit of a mixed relationship with religion. On one hand, I am skeptical by nature and firmly believe in science, in empirical, peer-reviewed evidence, and common sense. Once I find out that someone is religious, I can’t help but think slightly worse of them. Like if a grown adult told me that they still believed in Santa, or in vampires. I want to shout “HOLD UP!” and then interrogate them about angels, creationism and the big boat that took all the animals two by two.
I don’t believe that prayer can heal, or in the whole baby Jesus in a manger thing. Organised religion is, frankly, bloody terrifying. The fact that churches don’t pay tax, don’t allow basic civil rights, and require weird shit like eating wafers and regular atonement, gives me the shits. I absolutely call myself an atheist. Hashtag blessed, hashtag grateful.
However, despite this, I still get that there are some really excellent parts of religion.
The idea that people come together on a regular basis to be grateful, hopeful (because at its most essential, that’s what prayer is, right?) and send some loving vibes out (I am well aware how non-scientific ‘loving vibes’ are.) can only be a good thing. And the community that springs up around churches: the weekly groups, youth activities, systems for looking after the elderly and vulnerable – all that stuff in necessary.
I have a brother-in-law who is a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and he is ace. And I get that we need people to be monks, and nuns, in order to go deep into the meaning of life. A society needs deep thinkers in order to flourish, and if we need to call those people monks or nuns and dress them in crazy robes and put them in a room to think in silence, then so be it.
But I also believe that we can untangle all the crap of organised religion – and yes, even Buddhism is an organised religion – and get back the good bits, the bits that strengthened communities and brought people together and gave a purpose. I’m going to try, anyway.
Some things you can do to get a bit of non-religious religion in your life:
Join something that meets regularly
There is something heartwarming about catching up with the same people regularly. Because you see each other often, you quickly move past the whole work-life-kids update that happens with people you don’t see much, and get onto the deeper stuff. Plus, it gives you something to look forward to even when you have had a shitty week. Some people might get this from a yoga class, a mother’s group, or in my case, a book club.
Find your own sacred text/s
Sometimes you just read a book and think “HOLY SHIT the author literally went in my head oh my god oh my god.” Make that your sacred text. Buy two copies, one to sit proudly on your bookshelf, and another to scribble on, underline and generally ruin with love. It can even be a few books: mine are How to talk so kids listen and listen so kids talk by Faber and Maslich (for parenting and relationships), Bird by bird by Anne Lamott (for writing and general life) and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (for being a human in this world).
Use The Golden Rule.
Every religion has some version of what’s been called the Golden Rule, which is: treat people like you want to be treated. In Christianity it’s ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ In Hinduism it’s ‘Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you’. Islam says ‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself’. You could say that it’s kind of a foundation for everything, right? And it can apply to almost every situation. Don’t be an asshole, be kind, try your best and put some good out into the world.
Amen to that.