Letting go of my religion, was a rather resolute act. I was in my mid-twenties and unaware of the conflict my religious beliefs were creating in my head and heart. I was part of a very structured belief system, that not only included dogmas, but also involved a large part of my social life as my entire family and most of my friends were part of the same church. This environment was my home. In the new testament, Jesus says to Love God with all of your heart, all of your mind and all of your soul. In the protestant church that I was part of, there was an emphasis on the ‘mind’, and contrary to what most people may think, it was a very rationalistic environment. Yet, unconsciously I did not dare to unleash my full mind power to all that I had learned, knowing deep inside that it would crumble and with it every feeling of security I had. My life was falling apart and I was trying to make sense of it all, when I met Tejo, a counselor. My life was saved the day I walked into his study. Despite all the things I told him that weren’t working, he wanted to focus our conversations on my religious beliefs. I must say I did not quite understand why at the time.
One day, in Tejo’s study, after answering his question ‘what do you believe?’, he said in his impressively deep voice: ‘Sound theology, but what do YOU believe?’ I had just given him an answer to that question, so I was angry and shocked that he had not listened to a word I had said. And I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, either. But it was the end of our session and there was no room for questions, so I went home. Of course, the wise Tejo had heard every word I had said. In the two weeks that followed, like a mantra, repeating over and over in my mind, there was this question: ‘what do I believe?‘ The next time, I saw him, I knew that I didn’t know what I believed in. I wasn’t ready yet to let go of the church community I had belonged to my entire life, but I was ready to let go of everything I had believed to be true until then.
Most people have some kind of religion. Most religions aren’t as obvious or overt as mine was, most aren’t organized, and they certainly aren’t called religions, but they are religions just the same. Ironically, this is one of most powerful lessons my religion has taught me. The third of the ten commandments tells us not to worship any god other than God. To worship means to be devoted and full of admiration for something. And by gods other than God, the writer of these ten rules not only meant the false gods worshipped in the polytheistic cultures surrounding the people of Israel, but also and maybe even mostly the less visible gods of our minds.
In the decade that followed, I learned a lot about the power of beliefs. Our minds feel comfortable when they can hold on to certain ideas. Our minds don’t especially care whether our beliefs are true or not, although we religiously believe they are. Our beliefs give us the sense of security and control that most of us are so desperately looking for. I’m not talking about the big G-belief here. I’m talking about all the small and not so small beliefs that are hidden in invisible depts of our psyches, learned ideas that we have come to see as truths, because we or others repeated them often enough to ingrain them in our minds and make them part of the way we view the world and ourselves.
What do I believe in? I believe in myself. As much as I used to rely on the outside validation of my belief system, nowadays I don’t attribute specific powers to things outside of myself anymore. I don’t need the bible or any science to back up my world view for it to be true. My safety comes from knowing that I’m good enough for myself to decide what feels true to me, or not. I believe we recognize the truths of who we are when we encounter them. Finding and accepting them feels extraordinary. It feels as if the pieces of a puzzle are falling into place, as if we are coming home to ourselves. And when we do, although our minds will undoubtedly play their best unbelieving Thomas ever, we simply know in our guts that it is true for us, no matter what anybody else thinks.
So, at the end of this session, before we say our goodbyes, let me ask you, ‘What do YOU believe?’