A rabbi was once trying to persuade a self-proclaimed atheist to perform a good deed. In explaining why he considered such deeds to be useless, the atheist said, “You know rabbi, I do not believe in G-d.” The rabbi replied, “The G-d that you do not believe in, I do not believe in either.” M.M. Schneerson
In recent times I have observed a great tension around the word ‘obedience’ as it relates to religion. To many people, it seems to suggest an unquestioning obedience to the institution while for others, it simply means obedience to God. These are polar positions no matter how eloquently the institution tries to describe or skirt around the issue. For Jesus, obedience to God is synonymous to being obedient to the ‘heart’. And while it may take us a lifetime to reach this level, Jesus saw it in many children. Perhaps it is the grime of daily living - the exposure to so much pain and suffering that causes us to close our hearts. Only when we are removed from the burden of competition, the desire to be number one and the deceptions created by our ego’s, can we again learn to trust in and listen to the quiet voice within. Only as the pursuit for security, money and recognition begins to fade with age or life changing circumstance can we safely return to experience the embrace of the patient God within. Slowly we can then begin to undo the chains and shackles that demand that we interpret our understanding of God through the filters of an institutional religion.
It is true - religion can help us maintain our connection with God during that period in life when we seemed to have given up on our heart. It is true that institutional religion can bring us to levels of comfort needed at a time of crisis such as death and sickness. It is true that religion can provide us with a wonderful sense of celebrating community. It is true that religion can bring us to a deeper understanding of our role and purpose during our brief existence on this planet. It is also true that religion has brought us many heroes and heroines to help us overcome adversity. But it is also true that institutional religion has brought the world much pain and suffering.
It is perhaps due to the ongoing global turmoil that many people are now expressing their disappointment and frustration with religion. The answers provided by the institution simply may not have been satisfactory or brought the peace and understanding they were seeking. In the absence of a listening heart some people have chosen to abandon their faith or adopted a new religion. Still others have given up on religion entirely and declared themselves as atheist or non believers.
Today, many of us are struggling with our image of God. There are still so many who believe in a punishing God who demands a strict obedience to the rules - a God who keeps a detailed record of our ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’. Theirs is a God who keeps a tight control over who gets into heaven and who will spend an eternity in hell. Theirs is a God who condemns anyone who challenges religious Tradition. Or an impotent God who needs us to fight his religious wars – be it a battle against unbelievers, terrorist, abortionist, democrats, or new agers, etc. etc.? And according to some, a final battle needs to be fought between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ bringing the earth to an cataclysmic end.
Seldom, a day goes by, when an idea perceived to be in contrast to ‘established religion’ does not need to be slain and conquered. As it has been said before, we seem to have created a God in our image rather than remembering that it is the other way around. If only we would relearn to embrace our unconditionally loving Creator with the same fervour we extend to religious dogma and doctrine, we would once again begin to hear his quiet voice.