I don’t often like to speak about my thoughts on the sacred realm with people. That’s partially because of how I fear my friends and family will react to my rather open stance on religion, but also because, well, I don’t know that I have a great grasp on it to begin with. And also, I really don’t want to give off the impression that I feel like I have any solid answers. If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s that we are not expected to know everything, even if most of the religions out there would tell you otherwise.
But, for whatever reason, I feel like opening up a bit today. To give you a glimpse into where I sit with the idea of the supernatural. The divine. The unseen. And to do that, I feel like I should probably give a very brief background on my own history with religion.
I grew up in an incredibly fundamentalist church group. My dad was/is a pastor. Throughout my childhood, I had an incredibly detailed education on what the Bible said and what that church group claimed was the only possible interpretation of it. I grew up closed off from other religions. Even other Protestant Christian religions. I remember being invited to go to a friend’s Baptist church where they were holding their Wednesday night revival and being incredibly excited to see how other people went about their worship. I was immediately forbidden to go, being told how dangerous it was to even entertain other interpretations of the Bible.
Needless to say, this only served to cause me greater interest to see what these other groups were teaching that was so darned spiritually fatal.
I already knew the basics like why Martin Luther split off from the Catholic Church, but the differences between the Wesleyans and the Methodists and the Presbyterians and why all these groups considered the other groups anathema, well, it thoroughly intrigued me.
It turns out the separation of Christian religions was a truly boring history lesson and really involved far more politics than anything else. But my interest in the history of religion had been piqued, so I expanded my research. I started looking into newer religions like the Ba’hai. I looked into ancient religions like the Greek/Roman/Norse/Egyptian gods. I fell in love with the tragic story of Buddhism and found myself disgusted by the bits I could find about Molech. This wasn’t obsessive research, mind you, but slow periods of interest spread out over decades. What I found most amazing was the severe amount of similarities between all religions.
Especially with regards to Karma.
Karma is a belief system which basically boils down to do good and good things will happen, do bad and bad things will happen. It’s the eastern religion version of the golden rule. We often think of it as simply as “Be good, get good”.
Karma feels incredibly logical. It’s cosmic justice. And humans love justice. We love things to be fair. One of the primary reasons many atheists believe there can’t be a god is because they simply can’t understand how a just god could allow pain to impact the good. Even the non-religious are on-board with karma.
And it was actually at this point of my understanding of religion that I started to pull away from it. Because karma, within the church, had you focused on the future instead of the here and now. Karma has you focused on what you can get for being good. Karma felt like it was causing me to put my focus in the wrong place. I remember being in high school and questioning why one wouldn’t simply kill themselves to get to the reward faster. I mean, if this world sucks in comparison to the next one, why waste our time here? The church is so incredibly focused on the next realm that this world, the one they claim was made for us, feels incredibly inconsequential.
I guess it’s good that suicide is one of those sins that causes the church the most trouble as far as how to best condemn it, which reminds me of a conversation we had in class when I was in the 3rd grade. Since I went to a Christian Day School, we openly talked about theology often. And on this day, for whatever reason, we had gotten onto the topic of suicide, which then led into a discussion with the teacher where we, the third graders, tried to determine which versions of suicide would take long enough for you to die that you would have time to repent for your sin and still get into heaven.
And after you’ve had a moment to consider how purely screwed up of a conversation that is for a group of 3rd graders to have…
How better to realize how much of religion is about the future than to see a bunch of kids discussing in which ways one could kill themselves and still earn their eternal reward? Like, outside of the subject matter, this wasn’t a morbid discussion. It was a logical review of how far one could get in bending the rules before you absolutely broke them.
Importantly, us 3rd graders wanted to know how bad you could be and still “be good”.
For so long, I’ve bristled at the anti-men rants so many of my feminist friends would go on because they felt like an attack on me. I had similar responses to any anti-cis-white-male stereotype. “But I’m different!” I would shout (quietly to myself as I cried about people not liking me). “I’m one of the good ones!”
But I wasn’t one of the good ones. Not really. Because I never actually spoke up and showed how I was different. Yeah, if someone would speak ill of the Black Lives Matters movements, I would lightly try to explain why BLM is important while still trying to not offend. I would take similarly tentative approaches to many similar movements, but only if someone else broached the subject and forced me to speak my mind and as long as I could find a way without offending or appearing to take a side. I never actively and publicly supported gay marriage, but I would like feeling like an ally when I’d go hang out with my friends at the gay bar. I was following all the rules, but I wasn’t really being any different.
It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago when I realized how much this bothered me about myself. I spent my days feeling helpless as I watched the world being torn apart by protest after protest due to the elections, George Floyd, the pandemic, and countless other things. And all I could see was countless people actively working to put bad into this world. And it wasn’t until I was at my very lowest that I realized that in order to counteract people putting bad into this world, the only option is to put good into it.
It was a simple thought, but it grew rather quickly. I saw how much bad there was and how unjust our world really is, but it wasn’t until that moment when I realized I didn’t need to wait for karma to act. I could be an Agent of Karma. I could work to balance out that cosmic scale.
I could put good into the world.
And so, I did something that I had been hesitating doing for years. I went down to the Red Cross and made my first donation. And although I may have only made a positive impact on one person that day (the Red Cross claims up to three people impacted per donation), I came out of the donation center feeling a whole lot better about the world than I had going in.
I’ve become a little obsessed with the idea of putting good into the world. You might even call it my religion now. So many religions focus on what you can do to improve your own status in life (or afterlife). They see you as a recipient of karma. I’ve come to the conclusion that they could work a whole lot better if we were to all act as Agents of Karma.
Put good into the world. Don’t expect to get it back, just do good. Make the life of one single person on this planet somehow better. And then, if you can…do it again. Maybe as Agents of Karma, the world won’t have to look quite as stark as it does right now.
That’s my belief anyways.