Many people, religious and nonreligious, do not understand religion. Religions are simply groups of people with similar spiritual views banding together to share their views. As such, religions may be (but do not have to be) concerned with their members' world views, conceptions of God, politics, interpersonal relationships, morals, and ethics. I have repeated myself with some of these, because some people do not look at morals, politics, and interpersonal relationships as different aspects of the same thing: beliefs about how we should treat the people around us. Some religions care about some of these and not others. Some religions make no value judgments about any of them but merely discuss these topics among themselves and let their members choose for themselves what to believe and how to act. Others expect strict adherence to all the dogmas they support.
In the early stages of their spirituality, the religious usually see their religions as unchanging, monolithic, saving institutions, overseen directly or indirectly by God. They look to their religions to define correct world views, conceptions of God, politics, interpersonal relationships, morals, and ethics. They want to be told even the most basic details of correct decorum--including who to associate with, how to talk, how to dress, and what to eat and not eat. These people are looking for detailed rules to live their lives by, not deep understandings of principles by which they can make their own rules.
Non-religious outsiders who have either never been religious or have had only rudimentary religious experiences during their childhoods look at mistakes made by religious institutions as the fruits of "evil". This is because outsiders do not have a deep understanding (through involvement in their lives) of the underlying histories of religions' internal structures and their power struggles. Outsiders confuse the actions of religious bureaucracies with the actions of the religions themselves. They often conclude from what they see that, either God does not exist, or He is evil. Since these non-religious people do not have the background that others attain through growing up spiritually within these religious organizations, they cannot understand how anyone could see them as anything but evil.
Formerly-religious people who have had substantial religious backgrounds often feel betrayed by their previous religions. They can't see past their anger to engage in real dialog with religious people. Most want nothing to do with religion or religious people. Others want to help the religious to see the "truth"--as they see it.
The result of these dichotomous perspectives is that there is hardly ever any real communication between the religious and the non-religious. If they talk, they talk at each other or past each other, rarely to each other. Sometimes this non-communication sinks to the intellectual level of teenage girls criticizing each other for wearing the wrong shoes or dating the wrong boys. Most of the time they ignore each other.
Religious people in more mature stages of spirituality have different views of what religions are. They recognize that doctrines, dogmas, world views, etc. taught by religions evolve over time as the spirituality of their members evolves. Nothing is set in stone. Teachings and highly-regarded teachers change over their lifetimes and over the centuries. The more mature are learning to separate culture from doctrine and to see the complex interplay between the two. They have come to understand that religions evolve, die, and are born from the ashes of their predecessors over the centuries and millennia. Here and there, charismatic individuals arise and convince many to follow them. They die and leave their institutional legacies to groups of followers that wax or wain. Often these followers establish bureaucracies to take the places of the original leaders. Gradually, these bureaucracies do what bureaucracies everywhere do--protect their own interests at the expense of the interests of the grass-roots members of their organizations. In order to do this, religious bureaucracies often begin to exert control over the members of their organizations through forceful means. Depending on how much power these institutions hold, this force can range from minor warnings to excommunication and even execution. The strivings of bureaucracies for their own interests often leads them to ignore and even disavow the teachings of their founders in their pursuits of whatever is convenient at the time. Doctrines can change overnight while the bureaucracy claims that they have always been in agreement with the new doctrines. Policies fluctuate back and forth depending on which members of the bureaucracy are in power at the time. Nothing is set in stone. Yet, the bureaucracy claims that everything is set in stone.
With the more spiritually mature, religion has evolved into a personal, private spirituality. It has to, because the less mature cannot tolerate maturity. Not that they are jealous of it. They just don't understand it. And, because they don't understand it, it frightens and offends them.
Through whatever events have occurred in their lives and by whatever pathways they have come in life, some mature spiritually to the point where they are no longer confused by the arguments or the dictates around them. They now focus on living their lives among their fellow beings. Religion--in the sense of world views, conceptions of God, politics, interpersonal relations, morals, and ethics--no longer preoccupies their attentions. This does not mean that they are immoral or amoral. What they once saw as good and evil, they now see clearly with refined understanding as better and worse choices. With understanding replacing doctrine and dogmas, they now choose, based on their own values, how to act and how to treat those around them. Their beliefs are simple and based on what they have seen in their lives, not on what they have been told to believe. They live simple, usually peaceful lives. They recognize that although at times their lives and their beliefs have been shaped by their religions, they are no longer beholden to those religions. They are free to think their own thoughts, believe their own beliefs, and live their own lives.
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