Religious expressions sometimes just expressions

“Hey there, you have some dirt on your forehead, let me get that for you. Wait no! That’s… but it’s too late, freedom of religion and its expression just hit you in the face. Quite literally. Which is a good thing to have, really, considering our increasingly diversified population and the countless backgrounds that comprise it.”

Hey there, you have some dirt on your forehead, let me get that for you. Wait no! That’s… but it’s too late, freedom of religion and its expression just hit you in the face. Quite literally. Which is a good thing to have, really, considering our increasingly diversified population and the countless backgrounds that comprise it.

The ‘dirt on your forehead’ phrase refers, of course, to Ash Wednesday and the advent of Lent. And it’s not dirt, it’s ashes. Like from an ashtray, but let’s hope not. In (relatively) ancient religious times, ashes were thrown over people’s heads to signify repentance before God. Today, Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a 40-day period during which various denominations of Christianity are supposed to give up one vice or another to represent the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert resisting the temptations of Satan.

Of course, there are variations in interpretation of the meaning and purpose of Lent, but that’s what religious expression is all about, right? It’s an important thing to have in our society. Imagine if the Spanish Inquisitors were running things-a gruesome reality we would be enduring, for sure.

However, sometimes religious expressions are just that. Only expressions, with no feeling behind them. This is not meant to single out those who find and relate to a personal purpose in Lent. All religions do this in some way.

Perhaps it is first necessary to make a distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’. ‘Religious’ refers to those people who are of a particular religion simply because it was what they were raised with, those who take the words of the clergy as being moral law with no exceptions. The human product of an established religion’s indoctrination.

‘Spiritual’ refers to someone who has found their own answers to the same questions that religions were created to explain (I.e. why do we exist? What happens when we die? How were we created? Etc.), but inherently have no real answers. This may be done through a process of questioning, exploring, interpreting, criticizing, more questioning and so on until, ultimately, the individual has arrived at the perfect set of answers that works for himself. It may be a mix of cross-referenced faiths and personal opinions, but if it works, it works. The ultimate goal has been fulfilled.

The primary difference lies in the individual’s perception of the church. To be religious is to listen and accept what you’re told; to be spiritual is to question and adapt it to your own life. Sometimes both processes result in the same outcome, and that’s okay.

The point here is that many people who are of a particular religion claim to believe what the religion proposes and express what the religion tells them they should express without having any clue as to why they’re doing it. If that works for you, that’s okay, and more power to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a whole bunch of other religious theories out there that claim to be able to fulfill the same purpose that whatever your religion is provides, just in a different way. And no single faith can lay a substantial claim to being right about it.

Consider the man whose weekly routine involves drinking too much, cheating on his wife, beating his children, lying to his superiors at work, and making racist comments. Should he be absolved of such sins simply by showing up to church at the end of the week, donating a bit of money, and begging forgiveness just because his religion expects this from him? Well, yes, but only if that system works for him. If that makes him feel better and fulfills his religion’s purpose to him, then we can’t judge him for his religious beliefs. Aforementioned man would be considered religious.

But does that man realize the weight of his actions? Both his day-to-day and weekly actions? How many people realize the weight of their religious expression and what it signifies? And how many people would continue to act in such a way were they spiritual, as opposed to being only religious? Not many.

A lot of people go through the motions of religious expression. Far fewer actually know why they do it and personally identify with it. It’s time to start getting spiritual.