Since today is Christmas, supposedly the day Christ was born of a virgin (a crazy idea explored here), I feel like I should write about why I've come to dislike religions so much, whether of an Eastern or Western variety.
That's a difficult question to answer, because there's so much to criticize about these belief systems founded on supernatural premises that basically have zero grounding in any sort of evidence-based reality.
Here's an attempt that discusses something I haven't emphasized much in previous blog posts, at least not explicitly:
One of the worst things about religions is how they encourage people to have unreasonable expectations about their life.
I say this as someone who enjoys what I've learned from various teachers of mindfulness.
Paying attention as much as possible to what is actually happening in the present moment, rather than mentally time-traveling to the past or future where regrets, memories, hopes, anxieties, anticipations, and such reside strikes me as a wise way to live.
Part of mindful activity, I've found, is keeping comparisons of our current situation with that of other people to a minimal degree. Meaning, we should primarily be aware of our life as it is, not as how it would be if we were someone else.
I have sciatica pain in my right leg.
That physical pain bothers me, but it doesn't prevent me from doing what I need to do. However, sometimes I'll look at other people in a grocery store where I'm shopping and think, Most of them don't experience pain while standing or walking like I do.
This creates some extra emotional pain. I'll feel bad that I have sciatica and others don't. This isn't a massive emotional upheaval, just a disturbance in my feelings caused by a momentary expectation that instead of my right leg feeling the way it does, it should feel the way it used to: pain free.
Put another way, arguably contentment, or happiness, is when there's no gap in our life between what is and what should be. Or at least just a minimal gap.
This doesn't mean having no goals. But I can have a goal of my sciatica going away someday without feeling that there's something wrong with me having sciatica now. A goal is an aspiration that might not happen. Achieving or not achieving a goal lies in the future.
However, when I have an expectation that something true about my life at this present moment should be different than it is, that creates an uncomfortable feeling. Life is giving me this, whereas I expect life should give me that.
I've read that surveys show that someone's satisfaction with their income is partly based on the actual amount they're getting, yet is heavily influenced by the person's comparison of their income with how others like them are faring.
And it's clear that social media like Instagram affect the body image of girls: wow, everybody else looks so thin and beautiful, and I don't look that way, so there's something wrong with me.
Well, no, there's nothing wrong with you. You're fine just the way you are.
What's wrong is being led to feel that because you lack qualities others have, you expect that you should be like those other people. Since there's always someone who has what we lack, playing the Expectation Game dooms us to frustration.
Religions play that game to the fullest possible extent. This makes religions destroyers of contentment and happiness.
Without religion, we'd accept that everyone who is born, eventually dies. Without religion, we'd accept that everyone is a mix of positive and negative qualities, of good and bad, as it were. Without religion, we'd accept that if change is needed in the world or our life, some physical work is needed to make that happen.
With religion, though, we get an expectation that eternal life can be ours; that it is possible to become a saint, an elevated being, even attain perfection; that prayer can tap into the grace of God and produce miracles at odds with the laws of nature and everyday goings-on.
Religious believers then strive mightily to attain the expectations that their chosen faith has put forward. No longer is it enough to live an ordinary human life, with all that this entails: education, play, work, marriage, child-raising, volunteering, and so much else.
Instead of simply accepting that what life offers us humans is what's possible for us, religions set forth unreasonable expectations of what we're supposed to do between our birth and death. Not only do what everyday living demands of us, but attempt to achieve divine or supernatural outcomes.
I don't know about you, but I'm happiest when I'm able to accept the circumstances of a present moment. If my leg hurts, that's OK. If our driveway is covered in ice, that's OK. If I'm unable to balance our checkbook, that's OK.
These are problems, for sure. But worse than having a problem is considering that you shouldn't be having that problem -- because now the problem is magnified by not only being a problem, but also being a problem that shouldn't be happening, so the problem is doubly wrong.
Agonizing over how to make your health better, your family more secure, your world more sustainable, or any of the countless aspirations we may have is absolutely fine. However, agonizing over how you're going to please God, ensure life after death, or enter heaven rather than hell is absolutely a waste of time.