How Religion Works for Me

I do not believe that Muhammad wrestled with the angel Gabriel on the outskirts of Mecca. Nor do I believe that a man named Joshua Ben Joseph arose from the dead after being interred for three days. Nor do I believe that Moses came down from the mountaintop carrying the 10 Commandments of YHWH. Nor do I believe that Zoroaster turned down a deal with Anra Mainyu that would have made the prophet the sovereign over the world. Nor do I believe that Krishna froze time in order to convince Arjuna to fight. Nor do I believe that the Aesir and Venir actually engaged in a war. Nor do I believe that an Athenian queen, on the evening of her wedding, slept with a sea-god and later gave birth to a hero who would go on to kill a monster who was half man and half bull.

Instead of believing in those things, I believe that some of humanity’s greatest storytellers and philosophers developed conceptual systems that aid in the communication of heart-salving wisdom and/or embody hard-won lessons learned through historical conflict.

To read or listen to the Koran, the Bible, the Torah, the Avesta, the Bhaggavad Gita, the Vedas, the Poetic and Prose Eddas, the poetry and plays of ancient Greece, etc. is the act of experiencing great literature, and in that, it helps develop our sense of compassion, love, obligation, beauty, etc.

And for this, we should be grateful.

But we should not make the mistake of seeing such literature as rigorous proofs for the existence of the gods or God.

I applaud Catholics and Muslims and Jews for dedicating hours, years, and lifetimes to interpreting the wisdom they find in their sacred texts, just as I applaud Joyceans for dedicating precious time to interpreting the intentionally coded messages found in their sacred text of Finnegans Wake.

But in the same way that I do not let the words of James Joyce dictate the choices I make, so I do not allow the world’s religions to dictate my path through this life. I have no problem going to these founts of wisdom for assistance and guidance, just as I do not have a problem going to Shakespeare, Homer, or David Foster Wallace for a similar kind of guidance.

Great literature is great for a reason.

But we need not make a religion out of it.