Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stimulation - The Soul

First off, let me make clear where I stand on the subject of religion and personal choice:

Since I believe that we each have a soul (the individual part of us that is immortal and undying, the part of us that makes us unique from any other person alive), the belief about what happens after our bodies quit working is as personal as anything can be. Nobody else has any right to tell you what to believe, since they aren't going to be the one who has to suffer the consequences if they're wrong.

The paths to the afterlife are varied, but I've never heard of any of them having a carpool lane -- your choice, your beliefs, your soul. The corollary to this, of course, is that you have no right to tell another what they should believe. The “convert or else” attitude is one of the few ways to meet my bad side.

My beliefs are basically Christian: 
  • I believe that the Son of God was born into a mortal body and sacrificed himself to atone for the sins of the world.
  • Belief in the Christ is my path to a better place once my physical body has died.
  • I try to follow His teachings and live in hope of an afterlife that is easier than what I am living now. 
Overly simplified, but those are the basics for me. I have tried to remove as much of the human interference as I can from my beliefs, since I believe that my relationship with God is a personal matter that is not subject to the interpretations of anyone but myself.

I do not agree with many Christian denominations on their various interpretations of God's message, but that doesn't stop me from being able to help someone of another faith follow the path they have chosen. I am learning about the non-Christian faiths and their rites and rituals in order to be able to offer as much help as I can. There are a few faiths that I haven't figured out how to help yet, as well as at least one that I'm sure I can't help while maintaining my personal beliefs. I don't judge others' beliefs, but I can judge their actions and won't excuse evil dressed up as a religion.

My job as a Chaplain is not to be a leader, but an assistant: 
  • I am not here to convert you over to my beliefs. 
  • I am not here to belittle, deny, or denigrate your beliefs (your actions may be another matter).
  • I am here to help you explore your beliefs and do what I can to further your progress down the path that you've chosen. 
  • I do have limits on how much and what kind of help I can offer, based on my personal beliefs. I am more than willing to assist in a ceremony or rite, as long as it does not require that I repudiate or deny my own beliefs. 
  • I will not swear allegiance or fealty to any God not my own. I may acknowledge that they exist, but will not worship them. My God is a jealous and vengeful one and I have no desire to stir up His wrath.

Stimulation of the soul
You should figure out for yourself what you want to believe and do your best to work towards being the best Catholic, Asatru, Baptist, Wiccan, Lutheran, Mormon, Hindu or Zoroastrian that you can be.

Follow the rules
Monotheistic or polytheistic, almost all forms of religion have a base set of rules for the believer to follow. Be it the 10 Commandments, the Wiccan Rede, the Asatru Virtues, or the Zarathushti Creed, there are ground rules. If you look at them closely, you'll see that they have many similarities. At the very least, you should know what the rules are for the religion you have chosen and do your best to follow them. They should be the base of your spiritual happiness and should give you joy to be doing them. "Breaking the rules that you know exist" is the definition of doing wrong.

Many faiths treat charity as a personal attempt to emulate the higher power that provides for the believer, and most religions expect followers to be charitable towards their fellow men. Charity will remind you that there are others out there who have are having a worse time than you are. 

Feeding the hungry and clothing the needy are my personal favorite forms of charity. I don't give a lot of money to the United Way or any of the other organized charities, because I feel that I can make better use of my time and money locally. Tithes and other structured giving are normal parts of organized religions, with plenty of guilt provided to encourage followers to give until it hurts. I believe that charity should be completely voluntary, and any attempts to force it should be seen as an act of theft. Take care of yourself, and especially your own family/tribe before giving to others, unless you have been blessed with more than you and yours can possibly use.

Honor has different meanings to different people and different cultures, and is not an easy thing to describe. I have books on my shelf devoted to this one subject, so I'm not going to be able to cover it completely in a single blog post. Integrity, righteousness, and honesty are all parts of honor, but there are too many variations of the concept for it to be simple. Honor has taken a beating in recent years, being treated as a relic of an earlier age, but I'm seeing a slight resurgence in the acceptance and creation of things like online reputation and instant feedback systems for transactions.

One of the basics of honor is integrity: if you give your word or swear an oath, don't break it. Give honor to those who deserve it and be aware that not all are worthy of your honor.

The best example I can give is a person who wants your trust, but has a problem honoring their oaths and promises. A person that can stand in front of family and friends and swear to take a mate “forsaking all others”, who then decides to have mistresses and affairs, is unworthy of anyone's trust. They have proven that their word is worthless by their actions. If you have sworn an oath to or on your God, how do you think they're going to react to you breaking that oath?

Many faiths place an emphasis on fellowship, gathering with those of the same faith to share experiences and support. This is normally most helpful for people who are new to a faith or unsure of their faith, but everybody can benefit from shared support. Fellowship can be addictive and should not be used as a replacement for growth in your faith.

Explore Your Faith
Learn the history of your faith and those who helped form it. No religion is completely free of human influence, regardless of what you may be told, and humans are fallible. Humans have to write the records, translate the records to different languages, and interpret the guidance from whatever god or gods they follow. Nobody knows everything about any subject, so keep learning about your religion. Expect to have more questions than answers and be able to accept that situation as best you can.

Atone for Your Sins
We all make mistakes (“sin” in the lexicon of religion) and we need to make amends for when we wrong another. Take responsibility for the mistakes that are yours and do what you can to make things right. This will take a burden off of your soul, as well as your mind, and most religions require this step in order for forgiveness of sins.

Defend Your Faith
If you hold religious beliefs, you should be willing to defend them. There is a difference between honest debate and the infantile discourse that you'll find on the internet, so you'll need to learn how to choose your battles. Honest debate isn't about who is right and who is wrong, it is about exploring different sides of a topic. The internet is full of people hiding behind anonymity flinging poo like monkey at the zoo, with about the same amount of reasoning. Sometimes it is better to just smile and walk away from someone who wants to argue, especially if you're unsure of yourself and your beliefs,.

Be aware that there are quite a few of the “convert or else” people in this world. Defending your faith may mean anything up to defending your life from fanatics of another (or no) religion. Anyone who uses the phrase “the one true religion” or its equivalent should be watched carefully for possible signs of violence, since the true fanatics are willing to kill you in order to save you.

Any discussion of the soul is potentially divisive. I am not interested in hearing how wrong I am because some “holy man” said or wrote something that disputes what I have written, but I will entertain comments, questions, and respectful discussion from anyone who can act like an adult. We're not all going to believe the same things, so we need to be able to live with people of differing beliefs without anger or vitriol (violence should be met with violence - I am not a pacifist be any means).

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