I think we’re all afraid,
That we might be alone,
Alone down here,
We all want to have some faith,
At least that’s true in my case,
To just believe..

-Tyrone Wells, “More”

I’ve never been a particularly religious person.

Please don’t take that statement to mean that I don’t believe that there is a God or some force out there greater than us, because I do. I just don’t believe that any man/woman or child on this planet has any right to tell me how to worship/pray to or honor this being or force.

I’m of a belief that one’s relationship to God or the Universe (or the Force) whatever it is you believe in,  is a very personal thing and having someone, anyone, try to force their way of belief on another person is actually against everything that a true God would wish for.

Religion: re.li.gion. (noun) people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity  or   deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life; an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine; a set of strongly-held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by; an object, practice, cause, or activity that somebody is completely devoted to or obsessed by.

(A friend of mine once told me she believed that my religion was music because that’s the only activity I seem to engross myself in, well, religiously. Of course this was right after she’d seen me at a Dave Matthews Band concert where they played six out of my top ten favorite songs, which is rare, so that may have been the reason I was having a major “hallelujah” moment, but I digress.)

I see these people on the street handing out pamphlets or bibles saying “you gotta let Jesus into your heart” or “God will save you” – the reality is they’re just trying to get more members for their church (more members = more money) – says so right there on the pamphlet.  Every morning when I used to take the ferry to work, there was a guy who would lecture to us passengers about how if we don’t let Jesus and God in to our lives, we’re going to all burn in hell – so we should all go on and follow his religion. My most memorable interaction with one of the “ferry preachers” happened one early morning in the ferry terminal. A woman came up to me, tapped my shoulder and asked “do you believe in Christ?” And I said “I’m Jewish.” She said “So was he.” And then begins to tell me about “Jews for Jesus.”  (This may sound ignorant of me, but,  wasn’t Christianity started by, well, Jews, for Jesus??) I begged her forgiveness as it was early and I was enjoying my first cup of coffee, and asked her to kindly leave me alone.

I am aware that religion plays a huge role in the lives of many people. And I would never judge their beliefs or the way in which they choose to practice these beliefs. It’s just never been the right path for me. Trust me, many a Rabbi has tried and then been frustrated with my incessant questioning of the rules and regulations they told me God wanted me to follow.

I guess that might be one of the biggest issues I have with religion. There are all these rules that seem to dictate how God wants us to pray, eat, sleep, dress, behave, raise our kids, treat our pets, rest, (how much money to donate to the religious institutions we belong to…) My question is, who made up these rules? The Rabbis? Priests? Bishops? Deacons? And if that’s the case, who made these  folks the experts?  (I know they all go to their own religion’s form of Seminary school – but where did the things they’re learning come from?). And who wrote the bible? And how do we know that ANYTHING in there is even true? Weren’t these tomes written years after the events happened? I mean I’ve read the Old Testament quite a few times (seriously, I even lived with a guy who was studying to be a Rabbi – exhausted the crap out of him with all my questions too) and while the stories seem like great cautionary tales, I just don’t know how much of it all I can believe.

Ever notice how many wars are started in the name of God? And please don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of so called “holy men.”

And then there’s the attitude that so many folks seem to have when it comes to God.

Folks like to blame God for just about everything wrong in their lives. Folks also tend to forget to thank God for the good.  We blame God for war, for strife, for hurricanes, the economy, death, cancer, heartbreak – you name it. But forget to thank him for any good fortune that comes our way.

(I mean seriously who were those repressed douche bags who said Katrina was God’s way of punishing New Orleans for being a sinful city? Really, what God would punish New Orleans for being sinful before giving Osama Bin Laden – and all his murderous followers – the massive coronary they all so deserve? They KILL innocent people – New Orleans is full of music, laughter, fun, good people, good food and yes, spirituality. Some of the most spiritual people I know come from New Orleans! I can’t for a second believe that God would flood a city full of happy people before getting rid of assholes who murder in his name. But the statements made by Robertson and Falwell about Katrina and about the Earthquakes in Haiti are a great example how some religious leaders like to twist their view of God and what God wants to serve their own personal agendas.)

Back when I was in Hebrew school (yeah, go ahead, laugh), I had a teacher who explained to us that God will only help those who help themselves.  And that, of all the many lessons she taught, is the one that’s pretty much stuck for me.

To me, God isn’t some mystical Santa Clause that’s going to answer prayers just because you want him to. Truly, the only time I’ve actually had any of my prayers answered was when I was 11 years old and the baby my mother had been carrying turned out to be a girl (yeah, I prayed EVERY night – partially because I KNEW my stepfather wanted a boy, but mostly because I wanted a little sister – and I got one – the best kind too – and I thank God and the Universe and anything else out there for her every day – but, again, I digress).

God’s not going to help you find a job unless you actually SEARCH for one. God’s not going to make you lose 50 lbs unless you go on a diet and get off the damned couch. God’s not going to bring you the man or woman of your dreams unless you put yourself out there. And there is no way that God’s going to let EVERYONE win the lottery either (“Why not?” You might ask – For the answer, please see “Bruce Almighty”).

A friend and I had this discussion recently, where she said she doesn’t understand why she’s still alone, and that God must want it that way. I don’t believe that’s true. And for the record, I know she doesn’t believe that either. I mean any God that would be that cruel wouldn’t be worth believing in. I know that God didn’t just arbitrarily decide to take my husband from me (although I DO think should I ever meet God in person he has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do), because why would he? She’s alone because she hasn’t found a man worthy of her. My husband died because he got Cancer. End of story.  And while I don’t blame God for my husband’s death, I do thank him for the friends and family and inner strength I’ve been blessed with that helped me get through it all.

The fact is, bad things happen to seemingly good people every day.  And in the end, does it matter if they went to  whatever religious institution and prayed once a week; Or if they ate the right things on the right days;  Or, if they wore a skirt that was of  certain length?  And, who’s to say which path anyone chooses to follow is, infact, the correct one? If there were just one true way to follow God, would there be so many varying opinions as to what that path should be? And would God permit so much evil to be done in his name because of all these varying opinions?

I am of the adage that ultimately, how we treat ourselves and one another is the ultimate way to truly worship whatever being it is that you are prone to worshipping. Isn’t that what the Ten Commandments are all about? If you want to summarize those ten little rules alone, all God (or whatever being you chose to believe in) wants is for folks to believe in him/her/it, be good to one another, and be good to ourselves. Go ahead, read them. The first two are about believing in God, the rest are all about being good to our parents, our fellow man and ourselves.

As for the bad things? Shit happens. Believe me, I know, I’ve had more shit happen to me in the past three years than I thought I could stand. And I know I’m not a bad person. I know it’s not God or the Universe having a field day at my expense  (although, right about now the only prayer I have is that no more bad shit happen – I need to recuperate a little – go pick on someone else – or take an Imodium – K? Thanks!) It’s just the way things have been. My job in all of this is to make the best of whatever situation I am in and move on, hopefully having learned something in the process that would make my life better in the future.

I’ve definitely, in the past few years, had time to ponder on a lot of the crappy things that have happened in my life and in the lives of people I care about. I’ve had my self-pitying moments where I wondered what I could have done to prevent things from happening the way they did and wondered if somehow or other I was being punished for some wrong I’d done, long forgotten by me. But then I’d be reminded of all the good things in my life, friends, family and my own personal strength to deal with all of it. And I guess, most recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only person I can look to to make things right for me, is me.

So, I think we should be grateful for the good things in our lives. And when things start to really suck? Well, in the words of the Beatles “take a sad song and make it better.” It’s on us. Instead of looking to the heavens and asking “Why are you doing this to me?!!!” look inward and just deal with what you have and become the person you want to be. The rest will work itself out somehow

Belief in God or some being greater than us isn’t a bad thing, but I think that not believing in ourselves and each other is the worst crime we can commit to whatever God we believe in and to each other.