Life with Religion, or without? And does it matter?

Growing up in a small village in the mountains of Austria, I was raised Roman Catholic. We went to church on Sunday, because everyone else went to church. My grandma carved a cross on the back of every freshly baked bread loaf before she cut into it, and we bend our heads down before we ate, to either quietly say grace or give others the time to do so.

But did I believe in all of it? Honestly, I don’t know. I copied what I saw, accepted what I heard, and followed the rules without questioning any of them. By sheer luck, I the poor farm girl got offered a scholarship at an elite boarding school in Bavaria, the South of Germany -a school run by Catholic nuns.

Seven years old, in second grade I followed the rules in boarding school. We went to church, oh boy did we go to church. Three times during the week early in the mornings, and on the weekends when we didn’t drive back home. We prayed and answered prayers, and we had religion classes. We were greeted and released with a prayer or a Hail Mary.

When a girl in my class had to mourn the death of her mother, a nun told us that she one day would be reunited with her mother again and they would spend eternity together. “You will meet your family again and you all will be together.”

Right then it hit me. We were a small family, chances that I would be lonely or alone in heaven were pretty high. How did this heaven thing work anyway? Would I have a choice or would I be reunited with my useless, alcoholic parents against my will? I raised my hand and asked the nun if the family reunion in heaven was optional. My question took her by surprise. The kids roared with laughter, nobody realized how serious I had been.

According to Sister Charitas, my parents would then be loving, sober, and without sin. In heaven, we all are perfect, kind, and very happy. I thought about heaven a lot. I looked at the large poster of the universe. How small the earth looked. I thought about all the religions I had come in contact with so far. The roman gods and the Greek gods, we learned in school about. Three girls in boarding school were Hindus, a few were Jewish, two kids from America who called themselves Baptists, a few Lutherans, and a little girl from the middle east, who prayed to someone called Allah.

They all believed in one way or another in an afterlife. Billions of people gathered for eternity doing what? Nothing to learn, no challenges, no personal growth, no struggles. To me, heaven sounded boring. Perfection for eternity?

When I was nine I called myself an omnist. I wasn’t really sure what it meant and how to live by it, but I liked what it stand for. Believing in all gods, accepting all religions, and respecting all beliefs.

Deep down however I struggled with faith and belief. I loved science, logic, mathematics, but also the arts. I didn’t believe in fairy tales but loved old fables and stories. It didn’t make any sense. I didn’t make sense.

What upset me most was the fear of God. As a child, I had feared my parents. As a little girl, I prayed that God would come to my rescue when I was hiding in my room. When I rescued myself, that day when I refused to go back home, I ended up living with my grandmother, who was happy to take me in. God did not send my grandmother, she was there all along.

For some God is responsible for everything, in the end, he or she will make it alright. There is no sin that won’t be forgiven, no time wasted, because, in the end, the earth is just foreplay, the big reward is eternity afterward.

Even as a child, I could do little with religion. Neither the tales and myths nor the pressure helped. I got bored in religion class, in church I admired the art and the statues. I had many questions and I wandered around without knowing where to go. Religion gave me neither support nor a vision.

When the religion teacher asked the question “Who does not believe in God?” in preparation for the first Communion, only two hands went up in the class. I didn’t raise my hand but I saw how the religious kids and the teacher reacted. They were outraged, how could two kids not believe in a 2000-year-old story and be so unbelieving. The schoolmates looked at them with pity and gave them contemptuous looks. They were labeled lepers -at least for one hour. This happened more than 50 years ago, but I do remember. This was the moment when my inner voice was confirmed. I didn’t belong to either group.

An inside picture of the Catholic church that belonged to the boarding school I went to.

I am not an atheist or a believer. I am an agnostic. Either way, it’s fine with me. If there is a god or gods, we will meet, if there is none, I lived my life to the fullest, with zero preparation or fear of any form of afterlife. Will I come back as a dragonfly, an ant, or an elephant? Who knows. I don’t!

Like Ricky Gervais said in an interview. There are roughly 3000 gods. Christians don’t believe in 2,999. I don’t know about 3,000. Actually, doesn’t it make Christians atheists because they don’t believe in 2,999 gods? Thought-provoking isn’t it?

People and countries in Europe are more open-minded, any religion is practiced quietly at home -other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who bother you at your house. The religious fanatism we started seeing here in the US or in the Middle East is not known there. Even countries like Italy and Ireland can’t fill the churches anymore.

As a child, I often felt sorry for God, with so many prayers from people who could have easily helped themselves. Why pray for a good grade, use the time, and study. Give your God a break. The nun told me it was a sin to feel sorry for God. I felt sorry for her too.

I apologized to God for praying and wasting his time. They made me!

I made sins up for the confession box because I knew the other girls were often listening. Yes, I had kissed a boy (Nope I was the youngest in a class by almost two years.) Yes, I had lied (because I didn’t kiss a boy). Confession was easy!

In the course of my life and especially during my travels, I have often thought about faith and religions and have come to the conclusion that religion does not help but only hinders. Why? That’s what I’ll tell you now. And perhaps now would be a good time for you to stop reading if you haven’t done so already.

Religion frightens me

Whether the seven deadly sins, the ten commandments, or the ten rules of life, religions give you strict regulations and if a believer does not abide by these rules, then he has God, the devil, or what do I know to fear. You don’t go to heaven or you will be reborn as a snail. No matter how you twist or turn it, any violation of the rules of faith leads to dire consequences and all believers are afraid of these threatening consequences. Only with repentance can one escape the terrible outcome. All these rules lead to fear, and fear inhibits our existence, our free-thinking, and our positive attitude to life. A life with religion and without fear is unfortunately not possible.

Religion restricts

No matter which believer you ask -and I don’t mean the part-time believers who are only in the church because they all are- no, I mean the real believers. They face every open question and every argument with rejection. They, the believers are right and the non-believers are wrong. How can you? No matter what they believe in and what religion they belong to, each of them has a limited horizon. The perspective is deliberately restricted. They are the good guys, all the others are bad!

Only if you believe in Christ you will go to heaven. What? I thought heaven was for everybody?

Religion discriminats

When I was still a little girl and we went to church, the rule was women on the left and men on the right. The symbolism and the sense were lost on me even then and I have to honestly admit, I still don’t understand it. Because it is just another piece of the mosaic of the incredible discrimination against women in most religions. Why are women, in whatever religion, considered unworthy or not equal? There are no female monks, let alone a female pope. There are no female apostles. God’s son is male, most gods are male. Why do women have to take a back seat in most religions?

Religion reduces self-confidence

In difficult times and dark hours, faith can move mountains and make difficult situations more bearable. But isn’t this support also a pretext? An excuse to blame someone else, because the solution should come from a higher power. And if it doesn’t come, then you can at least continue to pray. However, an important factor that makes up life is lost for many. Trust in your own self. With the belief in a higher power, faith in yourself has to go and the lack of self-confidence makes life difficult in all situations.

Religion is coincidence

I was born in Austria and raised belonging to the Roman Catholic church. What would have happened if I had been born in Thailand or India. Would I have been Catholic then? Probably not. Faith is strongly dependent on our place of birth and this happens purely by chance. But why do so many people cling to this purely random religion? Wouldn’t life be more exciting if we looked at all regions of the world?

Religion takes away human dignity

“All people, regardless of all their distinguishing features such as origin, gender, age or condition, have the same value” – Wikipedia.

Human dignity is trampled in many religions -there is one up there and many down there. I don’t want to -and can’t- identify with that. We are all equal, all people, all nations, and all religions of this world. There must be no top and a bottom. Wars have been and are being fought in the name of God and religion. Educated women have been declared witches. All this is not in harmony with human dignity and not in harmony with nature.

Better life without religion – the revelation?

“… man is inherently good…” this is what the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said. And just like him, I also believe that if we listen to our inner voice and also to the voice of nature, then we do not need any external force or order. All suffering and evil arise only when we follow external voices.

If we only follow our inner and natural voice, then we are able to live a beautiful and peaceful life without commandments and rules. Because if I am at peace with myself, then I do not need to do evil to anyone. I can meet people without envy and with openness. So I live a life according to my personal values and enjoy life!

Life with religion is easier

Sometimes I envy religious people. In the end, they are never responsible for anything, it’s either god’s will, or the Gods will forgive. It’s all part of a hidden big plan, nothing, in the end, is ever up to human beings. If they win, it was with God’s help. If they lose, they pray to God for forgiveness and better results next time. Humans seem to be too weak to accomplish anything by themselves.

Grieving is so much easier if you believe to be reunited with the ones you love. How much easier for the mother to believe she will see her dead child again, and for the widow to think she will hug her husband in an afterlife. What if they marry again? Which spouse will they be reunited with? Shared custody?

I do believe we are good by nature!

One day, in a faraway future I will close my eyes forever and I hope I will have lived life to its fullest to the end. I hope I will have used all my talents.

If there is a God or Gods, then I fear nothing. I tried my best and he or she will know. We do will have a talk about some things, and I fear there will be lots of explaining on both sides -perhaps even understanding, considering the Gods will be open-minded.

However, I do hope the heaven concept is wrong and there is a plan B-exit even for eternity. What if I don’t like it?

52 thoughts on “Life with Religion, or without? And does it matter?

  1. “Is Atheism Dead” by Eric Metaxas is a good read for anyone uncertain about the existence of God and their faith. This book tries to answer the question “Is God Dead?” The arguments he presents to make his case for God are solid. He finds evidence in physics, archeological finds, etc, that actually confirm the Bible’s accuracy. The information he discloses from his research is quite amazing, and Metaxas does answer a lot of questions you brought up in your blog. Thanks for sharing your opinion!

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    • Thank you for sharing your opinion and your faith. So many pros and contra can be found in books, so much evidence for the existence of gods of all kinds. Are there ever solid arguments for something that we cannot prove?

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  2. So many questions and so many insights, grown during a long life of meeting with science and different cultures and religions. May I recommend to you Houston Smith’s book “The world’s religions”? It is also available in your mother tongue German.

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I am not sure why you think I would be interested in a book about religion because lets face it, at my age chances that you change my opinion are pretty slim. All the best!

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  3. As often happens, hon, the comments are a valuable part of this post. Drake, the philosopher and Debbie, a wise woman. Religion isn’t a subject I think about deeply, but I’m distressed by the strife and unhappiness caused by religious intolerance. And yet saints and religious figures have made enormous personal sacrifices in the name of God. Part of me would like to have that blind faith, but mostly I settle for trying to be good. And even that’s not easy.

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  4. Religion is something created by humans. Over the time it grew with spiritual, social and political aspects. It even has own economy associated. Wars among religions happened in the history, and still happening. So, its public matter and not ones private belief. Beauty of every religion is in its spiritual and ritualistic cultural aspects and life will be beautiful if you stick to that.

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  5. Pingback: Life with Religion, or without? And does it matter? – Finding Muthoni

  6. I grew up as a Unitarian Universalist in New England. It’s interesting to read this article, as most of my friends in school were Catholic. I’m from a very Irish Catholic part of Massachusetts. Most of the sermons I heard at church were based on Bible passages and themes from Christianity, but the church also had a small but growing pagan community. (Today, 12% of Unitarian Universalists are self described pagans, while only 8% identify as Christian.). Around age 14 or so Unitarian Universalists have coming of age, which is like First Communion in Catholicism. I decided not to follow through with it because I felt that I was fully an atheist. Though years later, in college, I took LSD a lot and realized I believed in polytheism. Today I am a Heathen, or Germanic/Norse Polytheist. It’s very sobering considering that there are almost no official organizations to find like minded people. And there are some Heathens who seem to be quite racist unfortunately. It’s a very lonely existence I have found. I find it upsetting that most peoples in the West have lost their original cultural religious identity and that Middle Eastern religion has replaced nearly all of it.

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      • I’m not sure what you mean by “advertise our beliefs” in this case. When a Catholic person wears a cross necklace, do you consider this advertising one’s beliefs? What do you mean exactly?

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          • I see what you mean, I think. Just so you know, we pagans have to talk about what we believe, otherwise we would never find others like us, considering that there are about 10, 000 of us out of a 300 million (in the US at least) person population.

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  7. You put a lot of effort into your post, and it is very clear you’re expressing beliefs and thoughts and “wonderings” that have been with you since childhood. I felt the confusion of a little girl wondering if she was going to be stuck for eternity with errant parents. I’m sure the sister you addressed with the question was more than little shocked. You had a very mature perspective!

    I have a strong personal faith and I was certainly raised with a strong Christian “education” both at home and church, and for a time, church school. Over my life I’ve slowly jettisoned most of what falls into the “religion” category, recognizing that my faith is personal, and best expressed when I’m asking my own questions and keeping distance from the institutions that more often divide us rather than stick to the message of inclusivity.

    I do believe in God, and I have always felt that since most of the time we picture the Sistine Chapel god, we don’t really understand much. Those of us who remain curious and open don’t have to be all in or all out. Your post was a great conversation starter, Bridget.

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    • Growing up in the Catholic church, being partly raised by nuns, does make a child question a lot. I respect it all, the non-believers as much as the believers, the ones who don’t know or the ones who admire mother earth.
      I do wish we all would be more open-minded toward other religions and other beliefs, even if they are non-beliefs.
      The right to be who we are without judgment by others, the right to believe what we chose to believe without judgment by others should be protected -if we ever get the right, to begin with.

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  8. It dawns on me the parallels we have shared coming to terms with religion/spirituality. I can now say I am settled and own my beliefs. It was, at times, a hard journey to now. However, to the thinking individual it truly takes a lot of thought to get through the various beliefs we are offered.
    I wish you all the best.

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    • I think most of us will come to terms with a form of belief we feel comfortable with, something we can relate to. Some continue the way they were raised, others are full of questions and it’s a long path until they find a place where they feel comfortable. Whatever belief we believe in, is up to us.

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  9. Excellent post.

    As being educated in marketing, among other things – I think it is striking that religions are almost built on the same principles. Where you have “borrowed” from previous rituals, traditions and “truths” – rebuilt them a bit, then declare them to be unique in your own version. Roughly speaking, most religions (like most political movements) are created to create power for the few leaders at the expense of the many.?

    So pragmatic agnostic must be “the label on the back of me” – as long as we can say “and why”, there is a long way to go to become a believer imho. Believes religion of any substance should be a private matter and not a weapon against others.

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    • You do know that from this moment on I will quietly call you “pragmatic agnostic” just because it will make me smile. πŸ™‚
      What you wrote about religion and/or politics is unfortunately the truth. In the end, it’s always about power and we are just the pawns. Sometimes a pawn gets smart and becomes a queen, but that doesn’t happen to often.

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  10. A most interesting post this. I struggle with the concept of formalised religion and enjoy the comment made by one of my brothers: no matter which path you follow, it leads to the same head office.

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  11. What a great post Bridget. Lots to ponder over and accept, or reject, as each of us wishes. That, surely, is what life is all about. If The Bible ever was the word of god (and I deliberately put a small “g”) then it has been altered, reinterpreted, and adapted to suit mens (again a deliberate gender choice) foibles and desires. I have read the Bible all the way through, and some parts many, many times. There are some fantastic guides to life. There are lots of conflicting statements and ideas, and there is some complete and utter balderdash. All of that is, of course, my personal opinion. That opinion has been modified over time but is unlikely to change now. To claim that something is right, and must be blindly followed, just because it was written by some unknown person, perhaps, or perhaps not, aided, or guided, by something they heard, or felt, is to my mind nonsensical, especially since the original thought has been through various translations and modifications.

    Regardless of religion, lifestyle belief, race, gender, or any other distinguishing factor, I believe (that word again!) that we are basically, as Dorothy so aptly puts it, Good people trying to find a way. The seven deadly sins, and many others, may often get in the way. There are many good people in this world of ours and, sadly, there are many evil ones too. Fortunately, the good far exceed the evil and that, surely, is as good a basis as any for whatever belief we wish to follow!

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    • Peter, this is the longest reply I have ever gotten from you. πŸ™‚ Thank you so much for taking your time to write an excellent comment.

      In Germany and Austria and I bet in more countries, every year the graduates in Latin -and Old Greek- write a letter to the Vatican and ask permission to read and translate parts of the original bible, out of the parts that are still existing. Every year the Vatican gives the same arrogant answer. They deny the request because the untrained person would interpret it wrong. In translation, there is lots to be found and perhaps lots to be hidden.

      “Good people trying to find a way” is so true. I agree with you, the bible (just like any other ‘holy’ book) has wonderful guides to life.

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      • The Vatican has always insisted that everyone must toe the party line and the catechism is strictly enforced and yet they have consistently covered up all sorts of misdeeds within the church. I have strong reservations about many organised religions and sects!

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  12. I was educated at a Jesuit grammar school – I accepted everything, served Mass, and taught catechism in my teens. When I began to struggle with transubstantiation in my twenties I went back to one of the priests at my school to discuss it. He asked me what work I did. When I told him Social Work he said that the way of life of my errant clients had rubbed off on me. I never went back. Incidentally the thought of us all meeting again in the afterlife gives me the horrors.

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  13. Such a great post! I’ve asked myself all of these same questions over the years and I think your conclusion is what matters most. πŸ™‚

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  14. Well said Bridget, as always. I completely agree with all you have said. I personally refer to myself as a respectful agnostic, a term I picked up from a blues musician I interviewed on a podcast.

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  15. A comprehensive and brilliant post, Bridget! I will say at the outset that my thinking evolved to a similar questioning logical conclusion as you did, albeit along a different path. Religion is often used by authority, knowingly or unknowingly, as a way to control the masses, as it is a cop-out that effectively replaces personal responsibility and accountability. I hated the hypocrisy, abuse and discrimination I witnessed in religions, all while expected followers to be such kind, generous souls. Forgiveness is important in a functioning society but not a forgiveness that facilitates a confession that means it is okay to not learn from ones mistakes and is merely fear driven!
    Religion gives reassurance when the individual fears its own mortality. Prayer seems often used today a substitute for desire and greed, especially in Pentecostal circles. I agree with your words here:
    “so many prayers from people who could have easily helped themselves.”
    Confirmation bias, arrogance and cognitive dissonance is rife in religious institutions. And that is no example to follow.
    I have become comfortable with the idea of nothing in eternity. I remain unaware of life prior to my birth and so it will be afterwards. I hope during my limited time, to have contributed something along the way so as not to waste the opportunity of a life.
    To me, it is some comfort the struggles of life are over when we die, but I am sad for those who are left.
    I do tend to look to Nature as a God like force, if there is one. I can not in my heart feel there is anything like any conventional god as portrayed by religions. Buddhism is considered by some to not be a religion but more a way of life. That sounds eminently sensible to me. And preferable when we think of how many have died and continue to die in the name of other religions.

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    • I have looked into Buddhism and I like some of the approaches and the fact that it’s not a religion. The meditation make you aware that words are indeed a weapon and words should be used wisely. Also, if you want to consider it a religion, it’s the only one that has never been killed in the name of Buddha.

      I feel the same way. “Not to waste the opportunity of a life” that’s profound and probably the biggest problem for many.
      The hypocrisy, the bias, the judgment, and all that comes with religion, as does brutality and violence, is something I cannot tolerate either. If you can’t live what you preach, stop preaching.

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      • Excellent point about the lack of Buddhist atrocities. Political in a Buddhist country yes, but not in the name of Buddha, as you say. That is worth remembering!
        Continue to call out the hypocrisy, hate, violence etc when you feel moved to do so. For the hypocrites, it is their own journey. Who are we to save them from learning the lessons the universe has for them? Even so, it is important to gently and peacefully assert our beliefs in a differing perspective and POV.

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  16. I think I like the concept of omnist. I grew up in a Protestant church…but I can’t believe there’s only one right theory. I think every religion is related in some way to all others. Whether any of them are right? We’ll have to wait and see.

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    • That’s perhaps my biggest issue with all religions, not accepting other beliefs, or believing all others are wrong. When you really study them all (which I was tortured with in school and I am forever grateful for) it’s interesting how much most of them blend together.

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  17. A lot of thoughts here, many questions most of us have asked at one time or another. I am a Unitarian and I believe that there are many paths to spiritual fulfillment, no one better than the other, no one right, and certainly none wrong if they are based on sincere and loving principles. Not talking about fanatics here, just good people trying to find a way. πŸ’•

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    • I find the subject very interesting (always felt that way) but it’s hard to find people who truly want to discuss the pros as well as the contra. Most are very blindsided, so I am happy that you stopped by and actually read my post. Thank you for that.

      “Good people finding a way,” I love that.

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