By Josephine Grothoff
When I dwell on the word “belief”, my mind brings up all sorts of religious images and concepts. I think of so-called holy books and holy people. I think of churches, of mosques, of other buildings of worship. I think of rules, of sins and of prayers. However, to me, this is not what belief should ever be limited to. My own belief rests outside of the borders of any religion or institution or type of worship, for I merely believe in connectedness, as rooted in the following observations and perspectives I have of this world.
I do not believe in religion, I believe in spirituality. The two are not one and the same to me, because as writer Brene Brown describes, spirituality means “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” I agree with this notion, believing that all of us, no matter of what gender, nationality, class or other randomly constructed category, and even no matter of what species, are inextricably connected through nature. To specify, this does not mean that I believe in any wild conspiracy or magic, but simply that I see what we have in common as ever more powerful, lasting and beautiful than what we think separates us. Every earthling, no matter whether they be human or not, is dependent on the same things on this planet. All beings breathe the same oxygen, take nutrients from the same Earth and are dependent on nature providing them with surroundings that allow them to live rather than die. All animals, human or not, need the rain, the water this Earth provides. They need the moon and the sun for their life to continue moving in the cycles that it has followed for as long as we have been on this planet. We share our basic needs and our basic capabilities, such as feeling pain and communicating in some way, with not just all other humans, but also all other animals on this Earth. On top of this, we are biologically connected more than we often recognise just by having common ancestors. To claim that these traits do not connect us all in some very basic yet relevant way does not seem logically sound. Our common origins are simply so obvious, and I believe that much power lies in that reality. To me, recognising and exploring these connections defines spirituality, and this kind of spirituality does not require belonging to a religion at all.
I do not believe in Gods, I believe in nature’s wisdom. From my point of view, it makes little sense to pray to some white old man who supposedly once lived, or to attribute all our triumphs and tragedies to some holy supernatural being floating above us and presumably deciding upon them. Believing in and trusting in Gods makes especially little sense to me now in this time where we are seeing everything that is natural around us die, triggered by the climate crisis we ourselves are responsible for. We have been destroying our very home while worshipping imaginary beings in the sky who apparently know and govern everything. To me, this behaviour is the perfect example of disconnection, and I believe that if we had stayed in touch with nature instead of being occupied with our self-created religious institutions, the Earth would most likely be in a better place right now. Untouched and left to follow its course, nature appears to always be in some state of equilibrium. While we humans have put everything wildly out of balance in our time on this planet, Mother Earth never really deviates from her natural cycles and is always in tune with the other planets and stars (such as sun and moon) moving through the universe. Therefore, I do not believe that any supernatural being humans pray to could ever come close to nature’s wisdom.
I also do not believe in praying, I believe in doing and being. I see little reason to close our eyes, fold our hands and think of some religious figure into whose hands we place our fates, rather than to take full responsibility ourselves. I believe in acting out of kindness and empathy, out of a feeling of caring and community – not because a religious scripture demanded us to do so, but rather because it is in our nature. I believe in being who we authentically are and who we trust we can be if we do our best, rather than praying to some God to release us of our sins because we are apparently not good enough. When things are not going well, we can do all we can to make the situation better instead of praying for it to become better. Especially during this very critical time on Earth where we are in the middle of a mass extinction caused by the climate crisis, it is inevitable that we recognise our autonomy and thereby our responsibility in all of this. Instead of praying that bad things will not happen, we should reflect on our role on this planet and stop making bad things happen.
I understand that religion, if practised diligently, can relieve many people of unhappy feelings and guilt. This relief comes from religion often giving people the feeling that someone or something that is above us all has final control, that they can pray to and trust this great power to make everything okay. However, I see this religious naivety as a very negative and unproductive way to look at the world as it tends to make people omit the connection they naturally have to everyone and everything that is around them. Delving into our connection with nature, with each other, and with all other beings on this planet would surely be more useful. It would likely restore our sense of responsibility for all that happens around us as well as giving us a sense of obligation to handle this Earth softly, contrary to what we have been practising for a long now time now.
In conclusion, belief does not need to be linked to institutional religion. In fact, this Earth might do better if it were not. Instead of following human-made rules and systems to guide my spirituality, I believe only in our inherent connection to all that is around us, and in the compassion, kindness, creativity and love that are born from this connection. Finally, however, I know that people do not all perceive the world in the exact same way. I do not think that there is even any strictly right or wrong belief, as long as said belief does not do harm to others or the planet. This is the important bit to reflect upon.