A personal reflection: What is a religion? Part III

This is a continuation of last week’s message, which you can read here. Or, go back to the beginning and read part one here.

The way that I found my own definition of religion was not an easy journey. Whenever asked, I introduce myself as a Buddhist, Confucianist, Daoist, and Swedenborgian Christian. This itself shows that I have traveled some rough roads in finding my truth. Also, these days, this background of mine serves me very well in initiating spiritually-intriguing conversations. One of the most common questions that I hear is, “how does it really work for you to have and live with multiple religions?” My answer to them is usually, “I have one religion with three philosophies of life.” This usually leads to another interesting conversation about the difference between religion and life philosophy. For many people, Buddhism, Daoism, and even Confucianism are religions on their own. But to me, Buddhiam, Daoism, and Confucianism are not religions, but philosophies of life. My reasoning is very simply that all three were taught by wise humans to explain how our reality came into being. Personally, I believe that a religion must answer or explain how it began and why. Therefore, I believe the true purpose of a religion has to be revelatory; meaning it must enlighten the minds of humanity to a truth that is difficult to perceive and comprehend without going through some special process. Furthermore, the core message of a religion – the notion of life and purpose beyond our present, physical reality – has to come from what is non-human in origin. Just as eggs cannot teach each other what it is like to be a chick before they hatch, and caterpillars cannot know their destiny to be beautiful butterflies before building their cocoons, it is impossible for humans to perceive and comprehend the possibility of their destiny after their life on Earth. This truth, if it were to be true, has to come from a being or force that is beyond human reality and capable of seeing the whole process all together and at once.

Certainly, human history is full of sadness and pain in both the East and the West when it comes to religious institutions and their abuse of authority and knowledge. A great deal of abuse still happens today and there are tens of millions or people, if not more, who are the victims. I am a clergy ordained by a denomination that is a member of National Council of Christian Churches in North America. Thus, I might be qualified to share my frustration that Christianity has done as much if not more damage to human minds than the sum of all damage done by all other regions on Earth. Yet, I have accepted my ordination from a liberal Protestant Christian denomination. Why? In a way, that is very hard to explain. I perceived that there was something very unique about the message carried throughout the Bible from the Divine Being whose name is “I AM WHO I AM.” And, it deeply inspires and enlightens me whenever I read this message, especially when and where the Divine Being emphasizes that “I am not made by human hands like other gods you worship!” and as in Isaiah 55:8-9: “As the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The message came to my heart as one that is from being who is non-human, yet loves humans deeply.

I have struggled and still am struggling when it comes to my faith in the living God. On one hand, I feel, perceive, and communicate with my God who is fully present and real in my life. Yet on the other hand, I suffer the absence, silence, and intangibility of my God. Sometimes, I feel so stifled by the limitation of my human mind that I am not even sure about having faith in anything that is outside this physical reality. Yet, time after time, I am assured both by messages in the Scriptures and by my own personal experience that I am more than just a bio-organic body, and that there is Super-Consciousness that is present in all. The comforting truth is that religion is made by humans, for humans, and is designed to create a community in which we can share the same value and experience of the non-human. Therefore, the purpose of religion cannot be and should not be commanding people to do this or that. If we were to take the example of caterpillars and butterflies again, the truth to caterpillars is not about the particulars of becoming a butterfly — what food to eat, where to build a cocoon, how to build the cocoon — but simply the fact that they are all destined to become butterflies in the end! If we were to take it seriously, the greatest truth for humanity from all religions is quite simple: we are spirits having humans experiences during a temporary existence on Earth. And, religion is a shared expression of our personal experiences of a deeper and truer reality!

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee