My journey through religion and spirituality

Nearly two months back I was asked by a friend – “do you believe in God?” I replied – “yes, but depends on what you mean by the definition of God”. There has been a lot of speculation and interest over the years as to my beliefs. As someone who came from a different culture and country at the age of 15, I have experienced and seen many different perspectives. Growing up and practicing an Eastern religion, it took some time to get used to Abrahamic religions. The cultural battles in the United States over doctrines and practices still feels funny to me, because growing up I wasn’t exposed in depth to Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs. Honestly, over the past 11 years I have evolved a lot when it comes to my personal beliefs, and hopefully I will keep evolving throughout my life. But I do have a framework about what I believe and don’t. I have held off on writing explicitly about it because my ideas might offend or hurt many people close to me, considering the fact that I come from a conservative/religious society. After a lot of reflection, I have decided to write honestly about my own personal beliefs and my views about religion itself. I have tried to take as many views into account as possible, but I am also not holding my thinking in check to protect anyone’s feelings. I don’t take my beliefs or any beliefs for that matter, as facts. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and I don’t think there are any two human beings who believe everything exactly with equal intensity. Therefore, my beliefs are subjective, and they fulfill my desire and needs about spirituality. I have divided this essay into three parts – my personal beliefs; my criticisms of organized religion; and my acceptance of religiosity/spirituality. I am going to avoid science as much as possible because it is impractical to take apart each theological doctrine in an essay. I will do my best to stick to logical arguments in tackling various doctrines and ideas. And finally, I will also empathize with our species’ needs for spirituality. So let us take a travel back in time to the evolution of my beliefs and my mindset regarding religion.

A personal journey of love and faith –

I come from a Hindu background, and growing up I was quite religious. More likely, I was religious trying to gain favor with a deity and my community, where religiosity mattered a lot. In short, I wanted to impress God and people around me. After coming to the United States at the age of 15, I encountered doctrines of other religions. Growing up in a pluralistic society like India, I had a general knowledge of all major religions. But meeting people who deeply believed in different doctrines increased my interest in learning about other religions. Even though I had a ‘conservative’ nature when it came to religion and some traditional mindset, I always had a curious mind. And for the first few years in the US, I treated other religions the way I treated them in India – my religion’s doctrines are correct/accurate, but all religions are also correct because they lead to God. I hadn’t thought about the inherent contradictions when it came to the actual doctrines.

15 years back, or half a lifetime ago, I got interested in a Muslim girl in school and it piqued my interest in Islam. Three years later we were in the same college and I spent my summers reading up on Islam. It was the first time I questioned my own beliefs, whose doctrines seemed so different from Islam. I had an existential crisis of how this amazing girl could believe something that was so ‘different’. Her extreme devotion to following her doctrine told me that there must be something correct with her religion. Ten years back I had a broad knowledge of Islam; I had read two different English translations of the Quran and I was ready to convert to Islam for her and started practicing for a year. Conversion wasn’t hard for me because I took the Scripture literally – that all other religions had been corrupted and Quran was the final and perfect Word of God. For someone who loved to impress God, I thought I had found my path. One of the interesting things, which will matter later, was me telling her “how God seems so angry in the Quran”. She left once her family found out about us, and I continued practicing for 7-8 more months. In the 12 months after she had left, I had become more judgmental and self-righteous. I took pride in living a life of self-abnegation, and secretly and sometimes openly I was judgmental of my friends’ ‘immoral behavior’ (alcohol) and my own self-righteous behavior of avoiding anything God prohibits. It was 8 years back, around the time I turned 22, that two of my best friends took me aside one night and told me “just because we drink alcohol and you don’t doesn’t make us bad people and you a better person, and you don’t have to go around telling everyone that”. That was the wakeup call I needed and started my evolution towards understanding religion, spirituality, and human behavior from an academic and intellectual point of view.

Even before my interest in Islam, my idea of God during my late teens lined up with Spinoza’s God. I hadn’t heard of “Spinoza’s God”, but I believed God is everything and God is everywhere. As I grew older, the religious stories seemed too ridiculous to be true. As you can imagine, believing in a Spinoza’s God and Islam (along with a Hindu background) was contradictory. And those couple of years were confusing periods in my life. With time, I saw a lot of hypocrisy in the name of religion. Along with my personal experience with conversion and being insulted for being an infidel, I became very anti-religious. Time, and focusing on good people has calmed me down about religion over the last couple of years.

I don’t know how to label myself, or if a label exists that would define me. I do not believe in any existing religions. I don’t believe in supernatural occurrences because none has ever been documented and proven in the age of science, and none have broken the laws of science. Our universe is governed by natural laws, not the supernatural. Is there a God or deity beyond the natural world, beyond our universe/multi-verses or whatever reality might be? Maybe. But we do not possess the tools to study the non-natural. This is where I reach a philosophical point. Maybe our universe is part of a multi-verse. Maybe there are infinite multi-verses. It is a fact that we exist. Even if we exist in something else’s dream, then that something else exist. But there is something called reality that is in existence. I don’t know what a God might be, but for me a God would be the beginning and the end of everything. If there is something, there must have been a beginning. And that beginning is God. What is the beginning of God? I don’t know. That is a question that keeps me up at night, but no one can answer that question. Even the answer – God has always been – is a non-answer to me. If something is, it must come from something. But none of this can ever be proven, because none of this belongs to the natural world. Therefore, I do believe in the existence of some higher ‘power’, but I don’t know what is that higher power or how to describe it. And my beliefs are my personal beliefs and no one else has to agree with them. I don’t even take them as facts because there is no way for me to know what is a ‘fact’ when it comes to the non-natural. So, that’s my belief – if you want to call it a belief.

A question non-religious people are asked a lot by religious people is – “how do you enjoy the beauty of Creation if you don’t believe in a God?” The magnificence of nature is beautiful enough that I do not need a personal God to appreciate it. And moving away from religion has made me become more aware about human suffering and made me more focused in trying to fix it now – in this ‘life’. I don’t know about the existence of life after death, and that has made me greatly appreciate life, time, and relationships. I want to fight for justice and fairness. I want to fix mental illnesses and bring harmony to my species. I do not have the luxury in the thought that there will be justice in the after-life. I want to create utopia in this world, not in an imaginary heaven. This thinking has also helped me control my anger, emotions, and any negative feelings. I try to maintain the best relationship with everyone, not have a fight, and just be good to everyone. We don’t know if tomorrow will come, and if it doesn’t we don’t know if this life is all there is. So why not be the best we can be every moment, and be the best we can be to everyone on this planet? People also worry about inter-religious marriages because they don’t know what will they teach their children. My answer is – can’t we be humble enough to know that no one knows what is the ‘right answer’. Can’t we teach our children good morals, character, without enforcing doctrines on them at a young age. Or teach them doctrines while also teaching them that there are numerous doctrines followed by numerous people and that we have no way of knowing a ‘right doctrine’. And respect those kids’ own intelligence and personality and support them in their own spiritual and religious evolution into adults.

In summary, this is my personal belief – God is in everything, God is everywhere, but I do not know what God is or how to describe it. God is beyond space and time, God is impersonal. God doesn’t answer prayers; God doesn’t work in mysterious ways. God is nature, God is laughter. All good is God, all bad is God. God is the ultimate unknown. Unless some God decides to definitely make itself known to us in every generation, we will never know what God is. So any and all ideas about God/s are personal and unproven ideas. So why can’t we leave it at that? Why must we insist in the supremacy of religion or our own religions? Why must we insist that our own family members/children/spouses follow our own beliefs? Why can’t we respect everyone’s right to believe or disbelieve – whatever makes them happy. Why can’t we do this without intruding on other people’s personal space and their inherent right to find their own spirituality?

Shortcomings of organized religions –

So what exactly caused my detachment from religion itself? It started with my own experience – the more religious someone called themselves, the more uptight, judgmental, and self-righteous they were. It was not pleasant to be in their company. Whenever a topic came up if we should do something, the answer was mostly ‘no’ because religion didn’t allow it. Or the answer was they had to check if it was permissible to do in their respective religions. There was a bigger focus on the after-life than living in this life. There was too much guilt associated with the simple pleasures of life. Laughter, movies, music, love, jokes, clothing, food, drinking – anything that could bring joy was subjected to guilt. And I couldn’t understand how grown adults could believe their religion, the one they were brought up with as children, is the One True Religion. Religious stories seemed like children’s fairy tales meant for adults. And adults believing in supernatural fairy tales became too much for me. Every religion takes it flavors and ideas from its own geographical location/culture. Religions that were found in the same area share similar traits. For example, Quran is a compilation of The Bible, local Arabian customs and culture, and other Greek mythologies and science already prevalent in the Middle East. It is the same reason why Indian religions share a similarity among each other, but not with Abrahamic or other African or indigenous American religions.

Religions originated for many reasons. One of the original reasons was for a primitive species to make sense of the world around them. That required having gods and supernatural beings who controlled nature and our own lives. As we progressed with time, our gods progressed with us. As humans organized themselves into large nation-states, they needed a singular and powerful God instead of many gods. But this all-powerful God still provided answers that humans themselves couldn’t provide. This God provided the ‘there is a reason for everything’. And religious superstitions also originated when people tried to make sense of the world around them. And I do respect our ancestors for trying to come up with answers, even if it doesn’t stand up in our times. They did the best they could with the technology and understanding of the world that they had. Human civilization has been constantly progressing, as are our answers to existential questions. So I do respect every age that tries its best to understand reality. But what I do not get is today’s age trying to hold on to discredited answers from the past. When our society, science, technology has moved forward, I don’t understand how many people still look backwards. If I have respect for our ancestors who came up with answers that seem nonsensical today, I am befuddled for those holding on or enforcing nonsensical answers on rest of society. For example, there is no reason to hold on to homophobia, or religious supremacy, or any kind of beliefs that have been discredited by science. The answers we come today might still not be perfect or accurate, but it would be illogical for posterity to copy our answers like monkeys if in their own time period science and rationality has come up with different and better answers.

Another reason for the existence of religion is control through fear. One of the unattributed quotes to Mark Twain is “religion was invented when the first con-man met the first fool”. And I would say that con-men have used religion as vehicle to propagate fear and gain control over the masses. Humans have used fear for their own needs since the beginning of time. Fear is an innate emotion that has played an important role in evolution and our survival. It is fear of the unknown and fear of the other that kept us safe from beasts and hostile tribes. And the same fear is being exploited today to turn us against each other in the name of religion, race, nationality, ethnicity etc. But religious doctrine gave us the fear of eternal punishment to force us on the moral path (varies by culture), but also to gain a control over our lives. Men came along teaching us about vengeful and punishing gods and the concept of eternal hell. And the same men promised to turn vengeful and punishing gods into loving and forgiving gods if we followed their, and their word, only. The fear of hell had been planted. And the antidote to hell had been promised. As such, religions had evolved from spirituality and trying to make sense of the world into codified and rigid doctrines.

The more I thought about it, the less sense the concept of a personal God made to me. And it was something I truly believed in. God was my best friend. God was listening to me and watching me. God was doing everything for me. It was a lot of me-me-me. There was a reason for everything. The reason was definitely for my benefit, even if I cannot see it now. With this attitude, I was looking more inwards than outwards at the world around me. Even if something bad happened in the world, there must be a big Plan behind it. But as I grew older and saw how evil the world is, how I saw the quality of life elsewhere in the world – the concept of me-me-me melted away. There is no ‘reason’ why a parent should lose a child. There is no ‘reason’ or ‘plan’ or ‘meaning’ why children should face abuse. There is no ‘reason’ why a personal God would bless some places yet starve children to death in other places. I was only looking at my personal situation, without looking at the world around me. Knowledge, logic, and empathy destroyed the idea of a personal God for me. It felt too childish. A watching protector. It felt like stories we tell children. When it came to the idea of a personal God, I felt like a narcissistic child trying to impress his/her parents and thinking everything is about him/her. Eventually it felt ridiculous to believe in such an idea as an adult.

Finally, one of the biggest reasons that the idea of a personal God troubled me so much was the concept of an eternal hell/punishment and the concept of the end of the world. The deeper I get into neuroscience and psychology, the less I believe in ‘evil’. The more I learn about human biology and behavior, the less I believe in moral absolutes. The idea of a Creator who would also create a hell for Its’ creations is brutal and unacceptable to me. The idea that we should wait for some rapture and the end of the world where only the True and Righteous believers would be saved is unacceptable. The fact that too many religious doctrines place higher emphasis on ‘right’ beliefs rather than ‘right’ actions is unacceptable to me. There have been innumerable religions and there will always be religions coming up in the future. It is part of our genetic identity. The idea that only one sub-sect of humanity is marked for ‘saving’ is unacceptable to me. And the goal of life should not be to wait for the end of the world so that a chosen few will rise to heaven and get rewarded with beautiful real estate in heaven. The goal of life, and our species, should be to spread across the stars and propagate life in other worlds. Life on Earth will exist for only finite amount of time. Our goal should be to preserve life by transplanting it to other worlds across the galaxies. The fundamentals of religious doctrines should stop celebrating death, after-life and ‘true beliefs’, and start celebrating life, joy, and good actions. If there is a God, this life and universe we have is too magnificent and beautiful to not be the greatest gift of a God.

Getting back to doctrines, as a logician I was torn between following scriptures literally vs picking and choosing which parts to follow and ignore, and with what interpretation. I think specifics triumph generalization. Scriptures have generalized teachings for mankind as well as specific teachings about various topics. And I think the generalized teachings present an overall guideline while specific teachings tell us how to act in any individual scenario. So even though scripture might have a generalized teaching about ‘do not kill’ or ‘love everyone’, it has numerous exceptions to those teachings where it condemns various behaviors and acts and prescribes punishments that include death. A simple example is homosexuality. There are scriptures that condemn it and prescribe punishment for it – including the death penalty. Today there are many progressives who oppose any such punishment and preach acceptance and love citing generalized teachings of scriptures. And it pains me to say that textual literalists have the better logical argument. If we accept scripture to be the word of an infallible god, and such a god condemns homosexuality, then the logical argument is on the side of the religious people who don’t accept homosexuality. Even if the practical and humane argument is on the side of the progressives. No matter how much we promote tolerance for our differences, as long as the ideologies exist unchallenged, there will be human beings who will fetishize the past and take scripture literally. We will always have individuals seeking a deeper and different meaning. We will always have individuals seeking to ‘purify’ society from religious interpretations, innovations, and deviations from scriptures. We have seen it in every age; we are seeing it is our age. It is these logical inconsistencies, along with innumerable contradictions, that was the final straw in me letting go of organized religion – because organized religion is built on its doctrines, and I couldn’t stand the illogic and contradictions in the doctrines.

Humanity’s need for spirituality –

Despite my objections to organized religion, I understand that a lot of people have a need for spirituality. And if religion and spirituality give them peace, comfort, and happiness, then I am no one to criticize them for it. Every individual creates their own meanings for their religion. The meanings they create depends on their nature and upbringing, and it keeps evolving throughout life. No one knows the answers to these questions, even the people who are absolutely certain they do! Two people of the same family following the same religion can practice it differently. When it comes to the practical aspect of religiosity (and leaving behind science and logic), I fully support everyone’s rights to their own beliefs. But with a caveat – beliefs should never be forced on or be expected from anyone else. Not your children, spouse, parents, siblings, community, or the world. Beliefs are subjective, and expectations and pressure creates conflict. We can be religious and humble enough to accept that no one knows the real answers, and as such we should support each other in whatever answer gives them peace. And just make sure that the answers we pick does not intrude on anyone else.

Faith, spirituality, religion keeps many of us going in the darkest of times. It transcends the analytical mind because the logical brain deals with facts. When a parent loses their child, it is faith that keeps them going that their child is in a better place. Try telling such a parent that their child’s life meant nothing and that it is now reduced to the dust of time. Faith gives many of us hope that our good actions will be rewarded, the injustice we face in this life might be rectified in an afterlife, or that we will once again be able to see our loved ones whom we have lost.

For the practical purposes of day-to-day living, picking and choosing from scriptures is much better than winning the logical argument and following scripture to the word. Even the most religious of people have issues with many aspects of scriptures. Most human beings transcend their own scriptures and are nice and kind to those of different or ‘wrong’ beliefs. Despite being the logician, I absolutely support this because religion to me is a personal matter. Yes, it bothers me if someone says that no bad things exist in their scripture, because that is factually untrue. But most people realize they cannot follow scripture to the word, and the same people do the best they can to meet their own spiritual needs and be good to their fellow human beings. With religiosity, spirituality, or neither of those coming in over 7 billion flavors, I am in favor of people living their lives based on what gives them peace and happiness – as long as their beliefs do not intrude on someone else’s space and personhood.

I have come a long way in my religious and spiritual journey. And new life experiences, ideas, and learnings keep molding me in newer ways. I have gone from being very religious, to anti-religious, to achieving a truce with organized religion. Over the very long run I do know that organized religion’s influence will keep decreasing, as I think it should. But letting go of doctrines doesn’t mean letting go of spirituality. Religions have come and gone, their meanings and interpretations have changed over time. But our need for spirituality hasn’t changed. Even if ancient doctrines cease to be taken literally and factually, we can always continue our search for the meaning of life and existence. We can always be spiritual and be humble enough to accept that none of us have the right answer. For me, that is the progress, that is the future, and that is what we must strive. Religious doctrines and spirituality aren’t the same thing. Questioning one doesn’t mean giving in to despair and loss of hope. It just means we are maturing as a species and progressing with scientific knowledge. But it also means accepting science might never satisfy our spiritual cravings – unless we figure out every base pair in our genetic code and find where spirituality comes from.

To conclude – I hope I showed the differences between religious doctrines and spirituality. Everyone has the right to happiness – be it through doctrines, spirituality, science, or something else. Just don’t force it on others. Just don’t expect it from others and make them feel guilty for not following your ideologies. And finally, accept that when it comes to the supernatural world, no one has the right answer.

Hopelessness to Hopefulness

After the Peshawar attack last week, I was feeling quite hopeless about the human species. I couldn’t imagine ideologies would go so far as to kill children. Intolerance and prejudice can never be separated from violence. And the intolerance prevalent in our own families breed these monsters who would slaughter children. If a girl falls in love with an ‘infidel’, the abuse she suffers for such a cardinal ‘sin’ is unspeakable. And how many people in her family and community support her? ZERO. This girl might be one of the most talented people I have seen in my life – the type who can touch any activity and turn it into gold – be it art, writing, or anything else. Yet nothing this person does in life matters because she went against faith. Do her family members and friends make things up, or are they fearful after the hundreds of verses they have read? All this in the liberal mecca of New York City. So I could only despair at the ground situation in closed and conservative societies. If the parents in this liberal mecca can threaten to murder and/or commit suicide, what must be parents teaching their children in these other nations. Or why would anyone be surprised at the honor killings? If I could count how many times my female friends from this society have said “my parents will kill me” when I ask them why aren’t they pursuing this or that they clearly like. It seems as a joke, but I wish it was a joke. I was despairing how people create the concept of “otherness” and sin, and act confused when someone commits violence against these others. Then they go on social media claiming we or our flying spaghetti monster never condones violence. Show me how we can create others, teams, groups, and a superiority complex combined with a victim mentality – and how none of this can lead to violence – and I will give you the award for being the smartest person ever born in this universe. I was despairing for humanity. I couldn’t see light because most, not just the majority, were still living in denial with their heads buried deep in the sand.

But I cannot exist without hope. It would be criminal of me to ignore the few who dare to speak up. Over the last year or so two people have spoken to me – “there are a lot of crazy stuff in this book”, and “a lot of this doesn’t make sense”. Two people who had a different tune over the years are starting to open up. There are a couple others who really do not know what is written on a piece of paper, but once it was shown to them, disagreed with any intolerance or prejudice. These women are the heroes and the faces of hope and change. I read Pakistani English newspapers, which naturally have a liberal slant because it is read mostly by the highly educated young people – who naturally have a liberal outlook on life. And more and more writers (who tend to be young) are starting to question the intolerance in their society. Earlier, terrorists were called “unbelievers” by their apologists. I used to think – hey wait a minute, I am an unbeliever and these terrorists should not be labeled with me!! Today, a few are starting to label these terrorists for who they are, radical extremists. Few are openly starting to question their theological leaders. Instead of saying my flying spaghetti monsters treats others with respect, they are openly saying we should respect every human no matter what piece of paper says what. We should stand for humanity over beliefs. Maybe a paper calls homosexuality a sin, and if so, maybe the paper is wrong. These young educated people give me hope. But these voices have existed in the liberal pages of newspapers. But to start seeing them in my own life, where prejudice and intolerance is becoming uncomfortable for some people in my generation gives me great hope. None of these friends are atheists. But they have managed to combine their spirituality with their humanity. Only thing I can tell them is “thanks” and tip my hat. In these darkest of times, they give me hope. And in this war of ideas, rather than criticizing the stupidity of the majority, I have to magnify the voices of these few individuals. They are the future, and they are our hope for a change.

Obama Denounces Religious Repression

hey Mr. President, it is easy to criticize Iran, North Korea, and China…because they aren’t allies. how about saying something about Saudi Arabia or other ‘allied’ nations…wouldn’t criticizing them for their lack of religious freedom be real moral leadership? or are you going to follow the same policy of the last 70 years…pushing ‘freedom values’ only on non-allies while accepting realpolitik limitations on allies?

Fight for fairness and justice everywhere, not where its convenient

Everyone knows about my stance on issues like child abuse, women’s rights, homosexuality, science, place of religion in the public square etc. And the Catholic church deserved getting bashed for the child sexual abuse. But I also get angry when it is only the Catholic church/Christianity that keeps getting bashed for things that are not unique to them. After a while, constantly picking on an institution that doesn’t respond back in violence is cowardice. There are at least 76 nations that have same or worse laws than Russia about homosexuality. There is a huge chunk of the planet that sees women as subservient to men. Take an anonymous survey about sexual abuse and you will find how prevalent it is in the world and how easily it is hidden under the carpet in closed communities/societies. So just picking on one side because it is politically incorrect to pick on others is not cool. Adam and Eve have no meaning for half the planet. But the fundamentalists of the other half that take it literally are not all Christians. Picking on someone because it is easy to pick on them is not bravery.

Religious exemption from healthcare

In the United States under the new health care law, large corporations are required to provide health coverage to their full-time employees. Except many businesses with religious owners/founders are seeking exemption from providing contraceptive coverage because it violates their religious beliefs. So if I have my own corporation, would I be able to ask for complete exemption from the health care law because my personal beliefs says that prayers are the answer and medicines are not? Would it be alright if I tell my employees that they should pray – and if they get healed it is because God had always intended for them to be healed, and if they don’t get healed then it was God’s plan all along and one should not question or doubt God’s plan. Can I say that as a devout believer, healthcare and medications has no place in my business? If I say that, I would be challenged for not respecting my employees’ rights. They can have beliefs where they do not believe my nonsense about prayers over medications. If a business owner cannot get exemption from providing health care, then why should a business owner be allowed exemptions and the right to pick and choose what form of healthcare they choose to provide? Where is the line between the rights of the employer and the rights of the employee? And why does the government get into any religious exemption? In a strict boundary of state and church, the state should have no place to issue any exemptions. The rules should be made uniform for everyone. Because it is inherently unfair to grant exemptions to someone’s beliefs and not to someone else’s. And no two human beings believe the exact same thing. Healthcare rules should be based on health, not beliefs.

Do not forget about the gift of life

what if more people stopped living for the next world or stopped being obsessed about the next world and actually appreciated this world, actually lived for this world…
let’s say this world is all there is. if there is a next world, it is an added and amazing bonus. but if we assume this world is all there is, maybe we will be more appreciative of each other, more loving, more caring, more tolerant, and more open. maybe we wont accept injustice and fight for justice in this world. maybe we will become intolerant to intolerance. instead of using the next world as an excuse for utopia, we will try to make this world into an utopia. so why not live for this world? why be obsessed with the next world and forget about the world we are living in?

What is religious freedom?

Religious freedom is the freedom to practice a personal belief. No one should be forced to do anything that goes against their desire/wishes/beliefs. But religious freedom does not mean imposing one’s beliefs on others. Neither does it mean practicing something that negatively affects others. For example, if someone is against gay marriage, they should be not forced to get “gay-married”. If someone is against contraception, they should not be forced to use contraception. But that does not mean that those people have the right to impose their beliefs on society. Because that might go against the beliefs of others.

Slavery and racial inequality was justified under the pretext of religion. But our society has gone past that. It was once acceptable for a private business to discriminate against minorities because of their beliefs. But their beliefs went against human equality and the Civil Rights Act ended discrimination in places that served the general public. Today, religion is again used to discriminate against the LGBT community. No one is forcing a religious person to become gay, neither is anyone forcing a religious leader to perform a gay marriage.

Yet discrimination still exists. Catholic hospitals have the right to deny contraception. If someone is against contraception, it doesn’t give them the right to deny it others. Catholic hospitals do not choose their patients based on religion. They are a public sphere and they serve the general public. They do not have the right to impose their beliefs on their patients. If it is okay for a church, a temple, or a mosque to deny someone contraception, would it be okay for me to deny a Christian, a Hindu, or a Muslim food if I own a restaurant, or medicine if I own a pharmacy? It would be not. I would be charged with religious discrimination.  In the same way, it is religious discrimination and intolerance when a religious institution or an individual imposes their personal beliefs on others – whether it is racial equality, gender equality, different sexual orientation, or the right to marry the one you love. Religious freedom is the freedom to practice your beliefs in your personal life – not in the lives of your spouse, your children, your siblings, your community, your society, or your nation. Because then you transgress on the freedom of others. And that to me is religious intolerance.

Faith is beautiful

Faith is a beautiful thing. Anyone in the health profession probably knows the effects of a placebo. When we take a placebo, we believe it is a medicine and have faith that it will cure us. And when we pray, what different are we doing than taking a placebo? Whether we pray to a God, to many Gods, or to men, we are all doing the same thing. We hope and believe that whoever we are praying to is listening to us, and we derive strength from it. If I pray to this pen which I am holding in my hand and believe that it is watching out for me, I will feel good about praying to this pen. So what is this faith that we place on animate objects or inanimate philosophy? Some name it God(s). While others call it positive thinking. Maybe there is a God somewhere. Maybe there is a God within all of us. Praying to a God gives us self-belief because we feel strengthened by the prayer. And there titans and champions in many fields who are highly successful based on self-belief itself. I am not writing to prove or disprove a God being. I am just writing to explain why having faith is beautiful. That faith does not have to be in a God being. All I am trying to show is the power of positive thinking, confidence, and self-belief. Some people go to temples before a big exam and do well because they believe that God is helping them. I wear my Yankee jersey to big exams and feel good and confident in the exam room. And I do pray to God too, asking for strength. And that prayer makes me believe that a God being is providing me with strength and no matter how hard a task might seem, I feel strengthened and confident to accomplish it. Therefore, I believe faith is beautiful. It is nothing but positive thinking and we give various names to it. But are faith and religion the same thing? Yes and no. And that topic is for another time.