We often think of religion as the source of our values. We can’t leave Christianity (or Buddhism, or Islam, or Judaism) because we’d cast adrift into a morass of values, not all of which are good. We think of religions as a safe place, where we can come back to – a place where the pastors and leaders can set us straight if we wander, just as they themselves can be set straight if they wander. All of this is based on the values and principles in the Holy Book of whatever religion we follow.
Yet as many of us grow old in religion, we come to realize that we tend to filter, interpret and otherwise mold ‘religious’ and ‘righteous’ practices to conform with how we want to behave. We do largely what we want and pay lip service to a religion. At some point we are living our own interpretation – and if the particular denomination doesn’t suit our taste, we move on to find one that does. In fact, you can become more conservative or liberal at will by joining a church that gives it legitimacy. We fool ourselves into thinking we are obeying God by conforming to the church, forgetting all too quickly that we chose that church. It conformed to us – or our parents we inherited it from – before we conformed to it.
Given this reality, what have we to fear leaving a religion? Do we really lose values if in fact our values have driven the choice of church? Do values and principles in fact go deeper than religion? I suspect they do, and that religions are a way of codifying values and behaviors for a society. Religion is a way of aligning a group of individuals towards the same shared behaviors.
It only follows then, that we can and should come together with kindred spirits and likewise create our own structures and norms to codify the desired behaviors. Creating a religion is not playing God; on the contrary, it is very human. The values that drive it, however, should aspire toward a positive greater good. Where do these noble values come from ultimately? Whether instilled by a divine breath or simply the evolution based on the benefits they deliver, their well spring is the human heart.
The dynamics of religion, then, is about the dynamics of shared values and their manifestation into a socially sacred culture.
— copyright Roy Zuniga 2014