During the course of last week’s discussion about virginity, a smaller conversation got started about religion, which always seems to be a hot button subject open for debate and conflicting opinion. It reminded me of an interview where rapper Ja Rule said he didn’t believe in religion. About a year and a half ago I got the chance to sit down with Ja and ask him about that. Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, Ja explained to me what he meant by that statement. “I’m not a religious person at all,” he began. “Not into religion. I think religion is bullshit, but I’m a real spiritual person. I’m more into my one on one thing with God. I believe it’s a higher power.”
I understood exactly what Ja was saying because I have a very similar outlook. My grandfather (R.I.P.) was an extremely religious man, and while he was only alive for the first 10 years of my life, he made sure that I had a strong connection with God. Plus, I attended Catholic school for 12 years. However, when my grandfather passed away, my adherence to religious practices he instilled in me began to wane a bit. My daily conversations with God began to dwindle. I didn’t pray before consuming every meal. I stopped attending church weekly. I didn’t get down on bended knee before closing my eyes each night. It wasn’t that I believed any less, it’s just I’m no longer following any set religion. That’s why I consider myself more “spiritual” than anything else.
Just the other day I had a conversation with my homegirl Robyn and the question of my religious beliefs came up. I said, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Robyn is one of those friends that’s always up for a debate, so she pressed me about my unique response. I continued, “I don’t subscribe to a specific religion or follow a set doctrine. I take note of a Higher Power and try to live my life as just as possible. I pray on occasion and respect all the things that people consider religious and holy, but I just choose to walk down my own separate and distinct path. So I’m spiritual by nature, but not religious in the normal sense.”
In retrospect, though, I’m not sure if that’s necessarily true. Like I said earlier, I don’t pray or attend church regularly. I’ll mumble, “Thank you Lord for this food in Jesus’ name, Amen,” before dinner, but most times it just feels like I’m mindlessly reciting random words. It’s kinda like when a kid says their ABCs, strictly autopilot with not much thinking. Over the course of the past year and change, I’ve gone to church a few times but I never feel “worthy” enough to receive the Holy Sacrament. (In fact, I wrote about that feeling HERE when I partook in Ramadan last year).
Sure, I believe in God, but that’s because I was raised to. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that blindly believing in something solely based on faith or believing in something that cannot be analyzed and dissected with research and notes goes against everything my rational mind would do on a normal day. But, in essence, the basis of religion is faith. The Bible? No disrespect and I say this with the utmost respect, but it’s a book with no author, no footnotes and no solid point of origin. It’s been altered, changed, translated and retranslated (i.e. King James) over the centuries but in spite of all that the Good Book and other religious texts (i.e. the Koran, Torah, et. al) are highly revered by those that believe—and those that believe, believe strongly. Some may call that “irrational” or “myth,” but others call that “faith.”
Ja Rule had an interesting take on this. He said, “To me, the Bible is stories. Not necessarily true facts of things that happened. I think some of the stories are facts. I think they’re good for life, when you read the Bible. Stories that you read in the Bible you can take for life and kinda [equate] them to things that are going on in your life and you can make good sense of it. But sometimes people take things in the Bible too literal. You know, people get too serious with religion and faith and belief. You can have faith and believe in a lot of things—but it’s hard for me to believe in man. For me, faith is that. Faith and belief, it’s just what it is. You may never see, you may never touch, but you gotta believe.”
It’s hard to believe that I could be so in tune with a rapper on this subject, but apparently I am. Ja basically echoed my earlier sentiment about people believing simply because that’s what they were taught. Maybe it’s “fear,” but I’d much rather believe in a Higher Power and discover there isn’t one than to not believe at all and find out that I was completely and utterly wrong. In case of the latter, I’d be subjected to an eternity of damnation, which could have been avoided had I simply had a little faith. Although I have and probably will sin again—I’m not perfect, I’d like to believe that I am a good person. So I’d hate to reach the end of my life and meet God at the pearly gates only for Him/Her to say, “Close, but not close enough, Ans. Go see the guy in the red suit downstairs.”
But is belief based on fear true faith? Or is religion just a fear-based system created to keep us all in check? Because without the moral fabric of religion and the possible retaliation for “bad” behavior; we’d probably exist in a world of total chaos and anarchy. Instincts and impulses would rule and there’d be no sense of self-restraint. It would be Sodom & Gomorrah all over again. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t wanna live there—especially on Judgment Day. But if fear of a fiery afterlife in the pits of hell is all that keeps my “faith” in check, then how true is my “faith/belief” in the first place?
So am I religious? Am I spiritual? Or am I just a heathen trying to skate by on a few good acts/gestures? Shit, I mean, shoot…. I dunno. When I do pray it’s not just because I want something. God has bestowed a lot of blessing upon me that I am very grateful for and try my best to stop and take time out to say thank you. I do send prayers out for the continued health of my family and friends. I do acknowledge the fact that I have more than a lot of other people and I try to share with others when I can (maybe I could do it more). But I know I also am a sinner and I ask for guidance in staying on the right path. Sure, I’m bound to sway and drift off course from time to time, but at least I try, right? I am after all only human, and only God can judge me.
So what’s your take on organized religion? Do you believe everything that your religion promotes or do you only practice some of its tenets? What religion do you currently practice? Is that the same one you were raised under or did you switch religions as you got older? If so, what do you practice now? Do you consider yourself more “spiritual” than religious?” What is your definition of “spirituality?” How do you feel/respond to people that attack others based on their religious beliefs? Do you feel that atheists have the right to not believe in a Higher Power? How do you rationalize any conflicting accounts in a religious text or between different faiths? Have recent church scandals weakened your faith in organized religion? Do you feel religion is just man’s way of explaining the world? Could you date someone that didn’t have a relationship with God?
Speak your piece…and please be respectful