Connection and Awe

Growing up in Christian household, I never quite understood the reverence and awe people felt in the presence of religious iconography. My grandmother had crosses, rosaries, and paintings of Jesus all over her house, but I never fully understood why. Even in the Eastern religions which I am now more familiar with, I never quite grasped the purpose of the shrines people make with pictures of their gurus or other’s they admire and aspire to embody.

At the same time, I knew that similar rituals and symbols were very meaningful to all different types of religions all around the world. Many times I have been tempted to make my own little yoga shrine, but never have because I don’t know whose portrait I could possibly add to it. I don’t really have a guru or any particular religious or spiritual figures that inspire strong emotion in me. If anything, anyone that I could imagine adding would just make me feel awkwardness and embarrassment instead of admiration. It always felt like there was something important about this that I was missing out on though.

Finally the other day I was presented with an interesting alternative way to spark feelings of awe, connection, and wonder. The comparison was made between religious feelings and the feelings some of us get when we immerse ourselves in nature. Nature! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? The forest can be my church, the plants and animals my gurus and teachers. Now that creates meaningful emotion for me. Not the image of some imaginary demi-god or revered old man. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection sooner.

Nature is what humbles me and fills me with wonder and awe, not human beings. Why would I admire a human being when I can admire mother earth instead? I don’t need a religion. I don’t need gods or gurus. All I need is the natural world all around me. Nature is what I honor and respect, what makes me feel connected, not mankind. Especially when all my life, humans have come off as proudly separate from and even above nature. Whereas I have never felt special or superior for being the species of animal that I am. In my eyes humans are more of an abomination than a miracle of nature.

I thought it was a beautiful idea to replace the ritual of church on Sundays with a weekly morning nature walk. I want to make more time for quiet reflection in the woods, alongside the river, or even just in my backyard. I want to meditate on the feelings that fill my heart when I watch the sun setting or listen to the soft cadence of rain. What could be more beautiful? What could be more awe inspiring than the miraculous mystery of this Earth? Instead of placing pictures of spiritual leaders up in my sacred spaces, I can add acorns, rocks, dried flowers, etc. These items fill me with much more joy.

I thought I’d share this idea with anyone that may also be interested in actively incorporating more reverence and awe in their life, but who doesn’t identify with any particular religion. Let me know if you decide to give this a try or if you have any other things you use to stir up feelings of connection and wonder.

Main | Nature NB

Hiding Behind Religion

A few months ago, there was a child that came to my office to be interviewed. She was going to an extremely small private school, like 25 kids total in K-12 small. Like most private schools, this school was centered around a religious group. While she came to disclose sexual abuse, the female PRINCIPLE had grabbed her breasts insisting that she must be stuffing her bra, the other things she told me were just as disturbing, if not more so. This school was simply not a school by any stretch of the word. These kids were not being taught anything besides that everyone in public school was a Satanist and going to hell. This “school” was essentially a little cult. The worst part was that even though CPS reported our concerns to the state board of education, nothing has or will come of it. The school will not be investigated or shut down. The offending principle will not even be removed or prosecuted.

Ever since I met that poor, sweet girl that day, I’ve been thinking about that school. Thinking about it looming on a hillside in my very own town, brainwashing children, robbing them of an education. It makes me sick, but there is nothing that I can do. Even more disturbing, I know that this child’s story is not at all an isolated incident. How many other small private schools like this exist in the country? More than I’d like to know, I’m sure. But not only schools are using this religious excuse to shield them from the consequences they’d otherwise have to face for their atrocious actions.

The past few nights I’ve been watching Cults and Extreme Beliefs on Hulu. Even though I had heard about what goes on inside most of these organizations already, each episode exposed even more horrors I wasn’t aware of. From what I can tell, every single religious organization uses this status to get away with abusing children. Despite the majority of the country as well as local and federal authorities understanding the abuse taking place, nothing is being done about it.

I theorize that this is solely due to the government feeling hesitant to attack any religious sect. They fear negative publicity and the legal battleground that freedom of religion has created. The United States was founded on the idea that our citizens are free to practice any religion that they like. It seems obvious that it would only be a matter of time before people with nefarious motives would take advantage of that. What I once thought was an unfortunate side effect of isolated religious communities is now seeming more and more like the whole point behind them. The focus is child abuse, the method just happens to be through religion. Religion is an afterthought, cleverly used as a shroud to conceal these monsters from the law.

Not only am I becoming more and more informed about the way religion shields sexual predators, we see every day in the news how religion is also used as an excuse to endanger public health. Long before Covid-19 made it’s debut, churches were using their beliefs as a reason to not vaccinate their children. This has led to viruses once thought to have been totally eradicated in the developed world, to raise their ugly heads once again. Children are dying. They are being raped and beaten and brainwashed. All in the name of religious freedom.

At what point will the world start to realize that a parent’s rights cannot and should not overshadow the rights of their children? “Your personal liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” This has always been one of my favorite quotes. Yet it has never seemed to apply when it comes to children. Despite avowing to “protect our children,” in the eyes of the government, children still seem to be considered property. You’re allowed to hit them, you’re allowed to rob them of an education, and if you’re “religious” enough, you’re also allowed to rape them.

I understand the historical events that have created this fear of targeting different religions, but that fear cannot be allowed to result in religious organizations and leaders acting with impunity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t believe procreation is a “right.” Especially when you do not have the physical, mental, or emotional competence to raise and protect that child. How can it be your right to create a life of suffering for another who is helpless and at your mercy? I suppose I should be happy about how much progress we have made toward installing protections for children within the law. I realize in the past things were much worse. However, I cannot find any peace when I know that the progress we have made is not nearly enough, that children are still being subjected to unimaginable abuse each and every day.

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