Do You Have a Right to Find Your Own Religion?
Miracles -- Fact or Fiction?
The Right to Believe in the Unproven
In our hard-headed, factual world, is there any respect, really, for the intuitive thinking of those who seem to focus more on the unseen than the tangible realities of life? We relegate certain people to the sidelines when we must participate in the Monday through Friday workweek full of business concerns.
Grandma, for example, may be there, saying her rosaries; and we'll be at church on Sunday; but other than that, what matters most seems to be paying the rent on time, or getting to work on time, or avoiding a car crash in rush hour. That's typical. Mystical things like miracles, psychic phenomena, and faith in prayers aren't normal topics of discussion.
The Bible tells us that certain people lived to over 900 years old, that Jesus had the power to bring dead people back to life, and that we can live forever if we have faith in God. Psychics claim to be able to levitate and fly, to make themselves be in more than one place at the same time, or to know the future. Meanwhile the average person modestly and quietly has faith in God in one way or another, prays often when hardships do arise, and seems to hope that he or she will be able to meet the normal, monthly living expenses.
To people who don't have time to worry about theoretical things, subjects that seem too mysterious aren't worth thinking about or discussing. They are simply irrelevant to what matters. This is why religion, psychic claims, and Bible accounts of miracles are kept in the private recesses of our lives as we perform the normal and accepted tasks. But in the backs of our minds don't more profound thoughts exist along with unspoken dreads of what might happen in the distant future and feelings of powerless desperation? Not usually, because we couldn't function very well if we acknowledged these things too often.
Is there any acceptable way to reconcile our real world of activity and communications with the miracles of the Bible, the claims of psychic powers, and the faith that society places in an invisible God?
What one is thinking deep down inside is private, personal business. Most people I know are not too much concerned with the thoughts of others until they manifest themselves in behavior that affects others. But haven't we all, at one time or another, had to make decisions on things like whether the Bible is mostly fact or fiction, whether psychic phenomena are hoaxes or real, and whether there actually is a God with whom we can communicate personally and who can answer our prayers?
Matters like this are too personal to discuss with just anyone, according to most people I've asked. I took a survey of friends and family, amounting to more than 50 people; the truth, that I suspected, is that raising questions about mystical topics aren't comfortable for people because they aren't relevant to the material concerns of life.
But I still thought there must be some connection between unproven faith and reality. Aren't most Hollywood movies tales of minor miracles with which we can identify on some level? Why would we be interested in a film unless we believed or wanted to believe that miracles could exist?
Everyone admits that there are mysterious things we don't understand. Mystical people will say we never will, while practical people will say someday science will explain these unknowns. To some people, mysteries don't prove that miracles, God, or psychic powers exist. They just simply are examples of things people don't know yet. Our knowledge hasn't extended that far.
But to other people, mysterious unknowns are evidence that invisible powers really do exist.
The word God is everywhere. It's on money. So people do believe generally in God. That faith alone makes all the mundane miracles and psychic amazement seem relatively insignificant where the powers normally assigned to God are far greater. Creating the entire universe and having the ability to bring happiness into our lives are things that outdistance biblical miracles and mental telepathy.
Compared to the things that really matter, things categorized under mysticism seem to be just fuzzy thinking to truly busy people. It's not like it matters for putting food on the table, taking care of our health, or watching out for traffic.
What miracles, the Bible, psychics, and religion are all about are things we can think of only when we have a moment to relax and be quiet. So daydreamers can't be business people and hold down jobs. The unproven mysteries are things we can talk about when we have nothing better to do. Who has time to think about the meaning of life when the phone rings, the baby starts crying, and there are stressful problems facing us?
Matters of opinion are not facts. Only facts matter, I tell myself.
Jesus either lived or didn't; he's fact or fiction; Methusala either lived to over 900 or he didn't; psychics either levitate or they don't; and God either exists or is something we made up. It's anyone's guess; it's anyone's right to decide; and it's a matter of personal, private preference, not to be discussed with anyone lest we start an argument, let alone World War Three.
But I'd be willing to bet that most people have an opinion they live by on these very topics, and it's that opinion, that mind-set, that characterizes us more than anything. We manifest our deep feelings in actions and words.
Two or three hundred years ago, advanced thinking in our society led people to believe that everyone should find God, or not find God, in his or her own way. This was in a New World society that was very religious but had roots in European culture dominated by laws regulating the way people think, of all things. Therefore, early American intellectuals in the original colonies outpaced the broadest thinkers of this very day, many of whom believe these topics are secondary to more newsworthy subjects.
No one ever thought that we are characterized by what we read in the news. Instead, we are who we are because of what we believe about the unproven, unseen mysteries we must confront to establish an inner peace that gives us the strength to endure.
Freedom of Religion
How Do Americans Exercise Religious Freedom?
Persecution based on religion is unheard of in the United States, although prejudice exists within some citizens toward others who differ about religion either by going to a different church, or not going to church at all. But the government itself cannot distinguish among citizens based on their religions, as is done in other countries.
Part of the reason for this freedom is that when America became independent, the idealists who founded the country wanted the government not to have any particular religion that was favored over others. For example, Catholicism and Christianity were official religions of the Roman Empire almost 2000 years ago. Also, pilgrims fled England to come to America specifically for the necessity of avoiding persecution by monarchs who didn't like their religion.
Many laws have been passed in America with the aim of promoting tolerance for different religious beliefs, even protecting atheists from discrimination. Catholics and Jews often suffered discrimination in American history.
The US Constitution guarantees that citizens have the right to exercise their religious beliefs without restriction by the government. Also, the government can't establish any officially sanctioned religion. This would show favoritism and promote a lack of tolerance of any other religion, or of anyone who didn't subscribe to particular beliefs.
In America, government and religion are thought to be separate. They should not be intertwined because then the citizens would feel coerced into the religion the powerful government preferred. But individual citizens have Freedom of Speech and can try to persuade others who listen of their religious beliefs, although the government officials never should do this.
One question that arose in the courts was whether there should be prayer in schools. In public schools children were taught to pray in a manner that was applicable to certain religions. Those whose families were of different religions felt left out and discriminated against. This was thought unlawful and un-American.
Mormons, Native Americans, Seventh Day Adventists, and Atheists are prime examples of minority religious beliefs, or the lack thereof, which nevertheless are held protected under the laws of the country. As long as there's no conflict with prevailing criminal law, then people can practice any religion they please, including no religion at all. The key to understanding American law on religion is that the government dislikes any harmful discrimination, and will fight to uphold the rights of the minorities who may be bullied by the larger religions. The rights of the individual to pick and choose what religious beliefs to have or not have are very important freedoms that are protected by the American government.
Therefore, within the privacy of one's own mind, one can decide what to believe or disbelieve regarding religion. This is a step forward in the right direction, a step that requires a reasonably well educated citizen base, a tolerance based on knowledge and respect of all faiths, and a welcoming attitude toward diverse, unorthodox religious beliefs.