I grew up in a religious home, and as such, learned about religion from a very young age. I can never remember a time that I wasn't taught about God, and taught to pray. Our religion was an integral part of our daily life. So having grown up with this constant, it has always been hard for me to imagine a life without religion.
I've often wondered through the years what I would have been like if I had not grown up in a "mormon" home. In our religion, we don't drink alcohol, coffee, or tea, nor do we smoke or use any illegal drugs. If I hadn't grown up in my home, would I have used these things? Part of me thinks that I would never have smoked, simply because I loathe it so much. But it's really hard to know what I would have been like if I had been raised differently. As part of my religion, I didn't date until I was 16, and I was taught sexual abstinence before marriage. How would my life have been different if I had not been taught these guidelines? It's hard to know if I would have made those choices by myself. I will never know, but it is interesting to contemplate.
So with those questions in my mind, it's been fascinating to me to read comments by blogger friends who are not religious. It is interesting to see their take on what it must be like to be religious. It gives me an insight in to how I might have thought if I had never been taught religion. Shackman likened religion to an addiction. Ursula thought it must be something like opium. For the non-believer, it must seem strange for someone to believe and have faith in something that can't be proved. I know that many people in the world assume that those who are religious have a lower intelligence, or have been"duped" in to believing. There is this common belief that people with a religion are merely "sheep" who follow along blindly. These misconceptions couldn't be farther from the truth!
Let me explain a little more about what it takes to become religious. You see, there are many of our children, siblings, and other family members who do not remain religious, despite having been raised with a religion. So it is not automatic that a person taught a religion will follow it. My parents taught me the principles of our religion. They taught me the "thou shalt not"s, and the why's. They taught me the history, and they read the scriptures out loud to me. But in every person's life, there comes a time when you can't rely on your parents' faith. It takes great faith to live a religion that has strict requirements. If you don't have that faith, you won't be able to live it. But I do believe, as one of our prophets rightly said, that a religion that does not require sacrifice, does not produce the faith necessary for salvation. (I'm paraphrasing here.)
So at some point in a person's life, they have to find God for themselves, no matter how much it was taught to them in their youth. For me, that meant that I had to pray on my own, privately. I read the scriptures for myself, to see what they contained. I did attend early morning seminary so that I could learn what our religion teaches. But it was those private moments of prayer, and moments when I reached out for help from God that I really became converted. You see, I got answers from God! I never heard a voice, but I had distinct impressions come to my mind and heart. I had feelings that drew me to the answer to my problems. Sometimes I had intervention on the part of others who helped me when I most needed help. I believe they were prompted by God to help me. Throughout my life, I have had clear answers from God, so much that I could never doubt that He is real. I actually do not like to share those sacred experiences publicly, because they are quite sacred to me, and when I have shared them in the past, there have been those who have belittled them, or ridiculed them, or have tried to convince me they did not come from God. But this is the core issue about religion; it is immensely private, no matter how much time you spend in a church. It is those private moments of communion with God that really convert us. It is those strong impressions and feelings that bring peace to our souls, and direction to our minds. That is what keeps me religious. Those feelings of assurance, peace, and faith to move forward cannot be gotten from the world.
Is religion an addiction, or an opiate? Absolutely not! It takes work and faith to live my religion. Does it "dumb" me down? The opposite is actually the truth; it makes me think and helps me increase my capacity to think! Can I live without my religion. Yes, I can, and so can many others who have become inactive in their faith. But it sure makes life more difficult to not have direction and help from God during our dark times. It's ironic how many soldiers find God in the foxhole. They had perhaps been taught as a child, but veered from their parents' faith. But in the darkest of times, we all will return to the faith taught to us by our parents.
When I look at this grand world, I see the hand of God in it's design. You can't spend a lot of time in nature and not be amazed by the grandeur of it all. This can't have happened merely by chance. The ways that one single enzyme could have been misplaced, thereby destroying everything, are infinite! And if this great world was not merely nature's "fluke", then by extension, neither are we, and there is a God who has a plan for us and our lives. Having that knowledge brings great peace to the soul, and faith to keep going even during the darkest of times.
There are still many who will scoff at what I have written, and say that I am a confused product of brainwashing. I would say that they are those who have not tried this experiment for themselves. They are those who have not sown the seeds of faith, and nurtured them long enough to develop a relationship with God. But I can tell you that if the effort is put in, and the faith is exerted, anyone can find God.