Growing up in a religious community, I was constantly taught lessons of good and bad behavior based around the idea of God and Heaven and Hell... et cetera. But there was always something that made me feel out of sorts within this ideology. I've constantly struggled with the idea of God, Heaven, Hell - the idea of an organized religion being the correct idea. If we say that our idea is the right idea and that this is the way things are - things that are so much bigger than us, and beyond our knowledge and understanding - how can we really be sure?
The religion which I was raised in, which I believe is completely tolerant of other religions, says that you can get to Heaven even if you believe something different, as long as you're living a good life as you believe you should and do it honestly. This is a wonderful sentiment and I definitely subscribe to this idea. However, i am still unsure of the actual existence of the "Heaven" that one can "get to."
I want to believe that there is a better, happier place that our beings go to reside when our natural bodies pass away, but I just cannot know. Many people within the church that I talked to would just say the proof is in the scriptures, but even these were just written by human beings. At the end of the day, there is no solid evidence which proves the existence of God, or Heaven, or Hell, or anything of the kind.
Religion is a set of beliefs that concerns faith of some sort, usually in reference to a superhuman power, aka a God. Some people believe that organized religions were built to subjugate the masses and divide us, making us easier to rule. See a great monologue on it from the show Mr. Robot here (one of my favorite clips):
I like to think on a more positive wavelength than this theory, however. I think religions are just things which make people more comfortable. People loathe the feelings of uncertainty, loneliness, and meaninglessness. I think religion is something that satisfies the needs of the masses by eradicating these. Religion gives people a community of like-minded people who come together to worship something bigger than themselves. Isn't that appealing to most of us?
I am comfortable in accepting what I don't know - or, at least, I'm working on becoming more comfortable with it. I love the idea that my loved ones who have passed away have gone to a place of light and warmth, where they dwell happily for eternity. I like the perfect idea that there's a loving God who created everything and is the source of all good in the world.
But the truth is, this could be completely wrong. There could be reincarnation, or just endless nothingness after death. There could be no God, or multiple gods, or the Force, or something completely different. Doubt is completely normal, and a characteristic of being human. Someone once said to me that agnosticism is "worse than atheism" because it's "worse not to decide anything." But I think accepting that you don't really know anything is one of the smartest decisions. (And to clarify, I don't think atheism is "bad" in any way, it's just another belief, even though it may be the absence of a belief in God.)
Now, this acceptance can be paired with religious faith as well - they are not exclusive. There are plenty of people I know who say that they completely understand that they do not understand. We can know that we can't prove anything but can still believe it. In my opinion, this relates to the difference between religion and spirituality.
As I stated before, religion is a set of beliefs. Spirituality is a very broad concept that can host as many different perspectives as there are people on this earth. To me, spirituality is being concerned with how we live our lives in connection to everything else around us and what sort of meaning we find in our lives. You can be a spiritual person, but not a religious person. Or both, but usually not neither. Spirituality is a pretty universal human condition, as all of us tend to consider the meaning of our lives, actions, and connections at some point.
I consider myself a spiritual person, while I've become less and less of a religious person. I appreciate all of the great lessons I learned while growing up in a religious community, and they've given me good tools for figuring things out on my own. Now, breaking from the mold of a certain set of religious beliefs, I am taking my broader spiritual beliefs and applying it to what I think is important. Rather than worrying about the existence of a God, or a Heaven, or a Hell, or anything like that, I am concerned with how I can live a life of good will towards other people. I am concerned with how I can live a life that coexists peacefully with the planet I inhabit. I am concerned with how I can live a life that lets me do what I love and what gives my life meaning and purpose.
My plea to you is to consider this first. Religion has been the source of countless wars and negativity over the time of human existence, but this is because of selfishness and intolerance. Believe what you will, and the next person will do the same. Let them. It is not for you to decide. Our responsibility as people is to be accepting of one another and to use religion and spirituality as guides for how to better make the earth a better, kinder place to live - not the other way around.