WASHINGTON, August 9, 2012 — Religion is one of those things that runs deep with people, like political ideology, educational background and ethnic identification. But behind every label, and religion is a label (if you hear that your friend is Mormon, the first question you ask is how many wives, and of Catholics, how many brothers and sisters) there lies substance.
Religion is manifest in two ways: inwardly and outwardly. Outward religious manifestations are the things we see every day without looking deeper; they are the culture and rituals of the religion, outer expressions of piety. When you see a group of Jews sitting around the low-set table, eating matzo and singing songs, or Muslims washing before prayer, that’s cultural: people spending time in ritualized ways with one another for divine reasons.
Inward religious manifestations are more serious.
They are the connections between the worshipper and the divine, the inner motive that gives force to our beliefs. These things we cannot analyze, cannot capture or graph or display in any way. Like faith, they are beyond our power to truly explain.
Our inward religious life makes us who we are. If you are a Christian, your personal connection with Christ compels you; if you are Buddhist, you seek harmony with the ebbs and flows of the universe; if you are atheist, your existential fate is yours to guide each day, unrestrained. This is why religion runs deep: When you tell an atheist he has no belief system, or a Christian there is no god, you are shooting down a part of who they are.
That’s the premise of this column — to analyze the ways in which religion affects us, joins us together, and also splits us apart.
Furthermore, we will search through the incredible stories of different religions from varying times and places to explain their importance, and to look for the morals of the tales told. Religion inspires people to boast certain traits and, depending on where in the world the religion is centered, the systems of morals it inculcates will differ. However, there are certain morals, inalienable one could say, that remain ubiquitous wherever you go. Courage, humility, and sensitivity are among these, and many stories of old stress them as much as we do today.
Every week we’ll examine a different moral, surrounded by stories supporting it and an exploration of its role in religious life. I urge you all to comment, add your thoughts, make yourselves a part of this column and add to the intellectual fumes we seek to foster here.
I hope you will join in on the conversation, leave your polite comments, submit your own articles to the Communities or email me via the link above.
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