I sometimes have been tempted to be “religiously correct”. By this I mean that, in spite of my continuous spiritual growth and evolving journey in life, I sometimes tend to regress and think in a traditional, exclusive, and religious way like I used to. Of course, there are a lot teachings and customs in the Christian faith I grew up with that are still a huge part in my spiritual life, not because others have taught me to believe them, but because I genuinely believe them to be true. But I wanted to share a list of old beliefs I learned from childhood which I accepted without question until recently, which now I consider “religiously correct”:
“I shouldn’t be angry at life… or at God.” I have always been taught that we should not be angry at life or God because He knows everything and loves us, and that life is a gift. This is true, but it does not dismiss the fact that this life can sometimes be painful. Besides, acknowledging the pain is also healthy. God also at times seem unfair and distant. I tend to feel fearful in expressing my true feelings to God. But if I don’t, I would not have a close relationship with Him. Thankfully I have learned in my spiritual journey that we have the right to be angry at God. The Bible has stories such as Israel, Job, and David whom disputed and questioned God on the injustice they experienced. Even Jesus once said “Why have you forsaken me?”, citing Psalmist, while slowly dying on the cross. So, yes, being angry at life and God is natural, even healthy, because expressing this honest feeling to the Omnipresent Being is better than having no relationship with Him at all.
“People who are not Christians are living in sin, and therefore, not ‘saved’.” This is one of the most disturbing beliefs of the Christian faith. Jesus said “Do not judge…for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2) Who are we to determine who is “saved” or not? Jesus taught that many will claim to know Him but He will say to them “I never knew you…! (Matthew 7:23). How am I to conclude that people like Gandhi, Dalai Lama, and other inspired people who lived serving others, are burning eternally in hell unless they agreed with my faith? No, I cannot embrace this exclusiveness anymore.
“Behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and tattooing are sinful.” I have witnessed the damaging results of drunkenness and smoking cigarettes in my family. Many close families have been affected by the disease of alcoholism and I recently lost someone to lung cancer caused by heavy smoking. So it is easy for me to agree with those who automatically link these behaviors to spiritual shortcomings and sin. However, I have learned that true spiritual growth relies on what my genuine attitude about life is and how I treat others. I can be completely sober, never touch a cigarette, and have a clear skin, and still practice adultery, gossip, lie, manipulate, be greedy, and discriminate others, which is broadly done by many Christians. Jesus himself said that what truly defiles man comes from within (Mark 7:15). So no matter how much junk I put in my body, or how much ink I use to decorate my body, what comes from my heart is what defines how I truly am.
“If it somehow involves Jesus and his teachings, then it must be good.” Whenever someone preaches or talks about how God inspired them, I tend to show admiration and trust because it is commonly an expected response. I used to listen to people “of faith” without a filter, simply because they admired and worshiped Jesus. I thought “Surely Jesus is backing them up for their arduous commitment to Him…!” Not necessarily. There are thousands of churches and denominations that claim to be the true church, but are actually based on self-service and worldly ambitions. Ever wondered why the Christian church is so divided? John wrote in the book of Revelation about Jesus preaching to various ancient churches that were short from being righteous (Revelations 2-3). So if people claim to have a message from God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, or any of the so-called “saints”, my suggestion is not to believe them. Do your own research and follow your guts.
“All we need is prayer.” Saying that I will pray for those in need and even myself is usually the first thing that comes to mind. I tend to tell people in need, “I will keep you in my prayers” Again, this is a nice thing to say because it is religiously correct. Well, this is easy for those who are doing the prayer, but not for the ones having the need. I am not implying that we should have no faith and simply rely on our own strength. But prayer should not be the only thing we do. I agree that actions speak louder than words. To me, prayer is not what I have been taught. Prayer to me is like reflecting, meditating, thanking, and doing all the things that helps us to be more connected with our true self and our creator, not simply requesting for things. So reflecting on life is not sufficient for good things to happen, we should also put into practice what we pray or reflect on. The book of James in the Bible beautifully describes how faith and work should go hand in hand (James 2:17).
The following beliefs continue to be a strong part of my spiritual journey, which I do not think are religiously correct, but rather teachings we should all follow as fellow human beings to maintain peace and genuine love and care regardless of religious background.
Deny yourself and be humble. This is one of the traditional teachings I still long to accomplish on a daily basis. It is the initial step we should take to begin our journey towards spiritual maturity. We should be like children, “born again”, and begin a new life of simplicity, selflessness, and God-centeredness. (Luke 9:23, John 3:3, Matthew 5:3-5)
Love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a simple teaching to understand, but not to practice, which is probably why it is seldom done. Jesus identified himself with those in need, and wanted us to do the same. Loving ourselves more than others is easy, but loving others the same way as the self is true Salvation. And not only loving those who are easy to love. Jesus said that if we love only those who love us, what is so special about that? We should be perfect as God is perfect, not because it sounds good, but because I honestly believe it is the way to spiritual purity. (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 5:43, 47, Galatians 5:14)
Forgive and don’t hold grudges. Letting go of hurts and resentments will surely free us from any bondage that keeps us from growing spiritually. I still believe strongly in this. My personal life has taught me how liberating it is to truly forget past hurts and simply live. (Matthew 18:22)
Fight for righteousness, justice, and peace. These are strong teachings most people believe in, including myself. Fighting for what is right in today’s world should be one of our priorities. There is too much injustice, wars, famine, and suffering for us to cross our arms and simply pray for what we wish for. No, we should act and fight for what is right. Jesus taught this and it is our obligation to follow this commandment. (Deuteronomy 16:20, Matthew 5:6, 9)
Following certain teachings simply because they are popular or because they sound religious does not necessarily make them right. I had to learn this in my life. It was not easy breaking away from traditions and customs that people taught me all of my life. It is not easy being unpopular, discriminated, and singled out because of my decision to be genuine and truthful to myself. But I rather be honest and continue to grow spiritually, than to continue to be “religiously correct.”