Today, an excerpt from my book “Happiness is the Truth: A Spiritual Manifesto.” Enjoy!
Several years ago, I decided to go to a bible study. It was during the time in my life that I was still questioning my identity as a Christian and I wanted to ask the people there (who were very nice, by the way) some questions about their faith.
Most of the time, the meetings went something like this: First, the leader, Jason, would talk about either the importance of spending time with non-Christians to witness about your faith or the importance of spending time with Christians to help your faith grow.
“We have to build community,” he would implore one week.
“We have to spread the light of Christ,” he’d say the next.
Either way, though, what he was asking us to do was a lot of work.
After this talk ended, the group would pray together and then everyone would share their opinions on the topic of the day and agree with each other for about half an hour.
It was unproductive, but at least it usually went just as planned.
One meeting that I remember, though, the ending didn’t go as it was planned. There was a man there that seemed quite upset by the leader’s admonitions, and he wanted to talk about it.
“Jason,” he said. “I understand what you’re saying and I think it’s very admirable, but there’s a problem: I am out of time.
“Last week I worked seventy hours because my child needed new health insurance. I barely have any time to spend with my wife, much less a lot of friends.
“What’s more, it’s making me angry. I have road rage that I never had before. What do I do?”
What we did for that man, which I regret to this day, was to pray.
“Oh God,” we said, “Please help this man not have to work so much and be so busy. Please help him know that anger is a sin and that he has a choice in how he behaves. Amen.”
When we were done, I lifted my hand.
“Yes, Mollie?” Jason said.
“I just want to say that I don’t quite agree,” I said.
“Don’t agree with what?” Jason asked.
“I don’t agree that God expects us to always strive to do more good deeds like witnessing,” I said.
“Okay,” Jason said. “Why?”
“Nobody can do everything, and I don’t think that God wants us to.
“What God really wants for us is to be happy.”
After I said that, the leader quickly changed the subject, the meeting ended and we left.
The goal of religion is not happiness, and has never been. The goal of religion is doing good, and becoming a better person. Spirituality, on the other hand, causes you to become a better person because in doing so you also become happier.
And that, I think, is the major difference between the two.
And that is one of the reasons that I am not religious anymore, but simply spiritual. Because I believe that you cannot do any good in this world if you are not doing it by choice.
Think about it: What good do you do someone by being friends with them when you don’t really want to? What good to you do when you give up something for someone else that you don’t really want to give up?
None, I think.
Probably none at all.
I’m still learning this. There are certain relationships I have that I continue more out of obligation than love.
They need my help, I tell myself, but it’s not true. They don’t need help.
All they need is love.
And if it doesn’t come from me, than it should come from someone else, or from themselves.