Man is a religious animal, the only religious animal, and he has many religions at his disposal. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and is tempted to cut his throat if his theology differs. He has spilled vast quantities of blood across the globe while trying to bring heaven to his fellow man.
Every few years, usually on a Saturday morning while I'm still sleeping, a couple of well-groomed strangers will knock on my front door and smile at me in a failed effort to make me feel at ease. Then they'll attempt to hand me some literature while uttering some gibberish about Armageddon and the End of Days and the Rapture.
Before they get very far in their verbal diatribe, my dog will invariably snarl at them. In fact, these are the only two-legged beings my dog will ever snarl at. Apparently, he is very good at sensing evil.
My first reaction is an overwhelming urge to explain to them how downright rude it is to knock on the door of a stranger under the assumption that they are properly spiritual and that their task in life is to bring everyone else up to their lofty level of understanding. Instead, I will abruptly tell them, "No thanks, I do not care to join your cult" and close the door in their face without slamming it too hard or accepting their literature.
There are a multitude of spiritual paths, including numerous religions, conceived by the human race.
AGNOSTICISM: The view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable. They do not believe in the existence or the nonexistence of a God or gods. They simply don't know.
ANIMISM: Considered to be the original human religion, as practiced by aboriginal and native cultures. They believe in multiple gods and the existence of spiritual beings. Animals, plants and celestial bodies have spirits.
ATHIEISM: There is no such thing as a supreme deity. To believe in God is to have blind faith (wishful thinking) in something that can't be proven to exist, therefore it's only logical to assume it doesn't exist.
BUDDHISM: The essence of existence is suffering. The cause of suffering is pleasure of the senses. You grow through meditation. To end the suffering one must give up the craving for pleasure (both joy and sorrow).
CHINESE TRADITIONAL RELIGION: A combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Although Communist laws prohibit religion, an estimated 350 million people still practice this divergent faith privately.
CHRISTIANITY: Through a wide variety of differing denominations and practices, they believe Jesus Christ was the son of God who came into being through an immaculate conception and was crucified for their sins.
GNOSTICISM: God is found within the self as well as outside the self. The soul suffers in this delusional, evil world. Each person has a divine counterpart watching over us. Essential spiritual knowledge comes from within.
HINDUISM: Human and animal spirits reincarnate, returning to earth many times in different forms. Your devotion goes to the god you choose. You go up and down a Karmic hierarchy while seeking Nirvana.
ISLAM: There is one true God named Allah. Their doctrine is the Koran, written by Muhammad, and they must pray five times per day. Those who follow Allah will go to paradise, those who don't will go to hell.
JUDAISM: The world was created by an all-knowing divinity and all things were designed to have purpose. God's will was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai and the Torah regulates how humans are to live their lives.
PAGANISM: Pagan means "of the country" or rustic or heathen. It adheres to the religions of classical antiquity, such as Greek mythology. Sub-categories include polytheism, pantheism and shamanism.
WICCAN: A nature-based duo-theistic system that started as sorcery or witchcraft. They worship a Goddess and a God, have a basic code of morality, believe in magic and celebrate eight seasonal festivals per year.
OTHERS: Other belief systems (# of followers) include: Secular (1.1 billion), Primal-indigenous (300 million), African Traditional (100 million), Sikhism (23 million), Spiritism (15 million), Baha'i (7 million), Janeism (4.2 million), Shinto (4 million), Cao Dia (4 million), Zoroastrianism (2.6 million), Tennkyo (2 million), Neo-Paganism (1 million), Unitarian-Universalism (800,000), Rastafariansim (600,000), Scientology (500.000) and so on.
And within each category above, sub-groups abound. For example, Christianity has many offshoots. Some believe Jesus Christ was divine and others believe he was a mortal human. Some believe John the Baptist was the true messiah and Jesus Christ was a false prophet. Some believe Mary Magdalene was the true messiah and crucified on the cross, only to be replaced historically by a male figure later. Some believe Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene faked the crucifixion and fled to France. Some believe Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene faked the crucifixion whereupon Mary Magdalene fled to France with their children while Jesus journeyed to India. And so forth.
One thing for certain, the history of religion is a history of horrific wars and bloodshed and torture and injustice and subjugation.
For some, a specific religion manifests a sense of superiority, no doubt overcoming a sense of inferiority. And far too often organized religion has become organized bigotry.
There are those who believe their particular religion is the true path to divine salvation and assume the world would be a better place if everyone believed as they believe. They may even knock on your door to enlist you into their narrow-minded realm of truth.
Some religious zealots will not rest until the world adopts their beliefs. Even in these enlightened times, certain religious zealots feel an obligation to exterminate those who do not follow their path, to be rewarded for their bloody deeds in the afterlife.
Life is a journey. Many people get stuck in the trap of seeking pleasure or riches, but once you start the spiritual aspect of your journey your self-indulgence is replaced with simple pleasures (a beautiful sunset) and a sensible lifestyle (living within your means) as the glory of your spiritual awakening becomes far more rewarding.
Being whole isn't a matter of having money or fun; it's a matter of appreciating your existence.
Your spiritual journey is a profound individual experience of everlasting discovery. While you may rejoice in this discovery, your personal religious principles should remain personal, especially on sleepy Saturday mornings.
Treating others as you wish to be treated includes tolerating other points of view.
A belief is a blind trust in something that has not been proven. One person's belief system is another person's pile of garbage. Keep it to yourself.
When we blindly adopt a religion we cease to grow.
Quote for the Day -- "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." H.L. Mencken
Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where truth is a daily dose of spiritual awakening. His blogs appear on several websites, including www.myspace.com/bret1111