What is true religion?

Every religion in the world thinks that their religion is the true religion. But it is common sense to also say they can’t all be true, given the wide variety of different beliefs and the direct contradictions between them. They can’t all be right or true.

It is common practice in the modern world to not challenge or critique religious beliefs, recognising that people have the right to hold the religious beliefs of their choosing, providing they are not inciting hatred, murder and so forth.

But does this attitude of silence and tolerance just keep us mired in an approach to religion that prevents true evolution and growth in our understanding of religion? Are we being too precious, tiptoeing around the subject of religion for fear of offending others or being attacked for criticising other religions?

Of course this situation has arisen, as we are all very aware of the many battles, wars and deaths that have been perpetrated in the name of religion, where fervent religious adherents have either attacked and killed others just because they have different religious beliefs or have endeavoured to enforce conversion. On a lesser scale, there are the religious fundamentalists who preach against, judge and condemn those who are not of their religion’s persuasion and who fervently believe their way is the true way.

These examples of imposition, violence and an absolute lack of acceptance towards others’ religious beliefs has thus allowed the subject of religion to become a protected, cocooned subject that dare not be challenged. But is this approach actually inhibiting our understanding and development of religion?

Our understanding of many areas of life, be it science, medicine or law, has evolved over time and is assisted by a healthy arena for debate and critique. Likewise for religion – how we understand it and apply it has evolved and changed and surely a healthy and mature approach would also include being able to critique or point out flaws in our understanding of religion without fear of being attacked or killed for doing so? Surely it would itself be a loving act to help each other come to a deeper understanding of religion so that all may benefit from it, providing of course there is absolutely no imposition or need for another to accept what is being shared.

It gets messy when people feel others must do as they say or must believe what they believe – rather than being able to respectfully share and discuss without any need for the other to accept what is being offered.

So given the smorgasbord of religious beliefs available, how do we discern which ones are true and which ones are not? What are the qualities of true religion?

Going back to basics, the word religion comes from the Latin words religare / religio, meaning to re-bind or re-connect. It has also been said to be derived from relegere ( re = again, legere = to read) which is ‘to read again’ or ‘to go through again’.

The origin of the word religion reflected the activity of what being religious meant – so the word was an accurate description of the activity of religion and not as it is today, where we ascribe meaning to words without knowing the true activity that the word is describing. Today religion is often referred to as a certain set of beliefs/rituals/dogmas/doctrines through a recognised institutionalised or organised religion – but does this really represent what true religion is as a lived activity and expression of human life?

From the Latin we see that religion is about re-connecting or re-binding to something – which inevitably concerns a relationship with something. So the question arises ...

Reconnecting with what?

And, relationship with what?

It is firstly about re-connection to ourselves, to our true selves, to the inner-most aspect of our being and through this reconnection we are bound to reconnect to the Divine, to God within.

In this way, we come to know God, to know that which has given us life and which lives and breathes through us. We get to know and feel the purity of love that God is – a love that we are forever held by, a love that we come from, and which we can live and express from, with and in, as we also return to it.

Most, if not all, religions agree that God (or by whatever name God is known), is love. Whilst there can be many areas of disagreement – there would be pretty much universal agreement that God is love – and even atheists who do not believe in God would probably say that if there was a God, he/she should be loving.

We are relational beings and so religion essentially is about our relationship with ourselves, with God and with all of life. Not only that – it is about developing a quality of relationship with all, that is founded upon the love that God is and we are, and which is expressed with that same quality of love.

So what if true religion is as simple as that?

What if true religion is about developing relationships with ourselves, with others, with God and all of life that come from, with and in love – in the knowing that we are love?

And the starting point of all those relationships, upon which all others are founded, comes from our relationship with ourselves – for it is only when we live in a truly loving way that we can embody love and be it for all others. It is well known that we cannot truly love another if we do not love ourselves.

No churches, no preachers, no dogma, no doctrines as such are needed – for true religion is about a living way of love that seeks to bring the quality of the love of God to all that we do, say and think – something we are all capable of doing and being for ourselves by the re-connection to the source of love that dwells in our own inner-heart.

In addition, we can expand on this further by looking at ‘relegere’ and what it means ‘to read again’, to ‘go through again’. What if this refers to our ability to understand and see with different eyes, ourselves, others, and the world when we reconnect to the Divine within?

What if this is about our ability ‘to read’ people and life, so that we have a deeper understanding and appreciation of what is going on in any situation and thus do not get so detrimentally affected by it?

What if it is through our reconnection to the love within, to God within, that we are able to increase our awareness of why things happen the way they do, and understand that things are never what they seem to be on the surface?

We get to sense, feel and know that behind every happening there is an energy making it happen, a series of choices that have created a momentum, that has lead to whatever outcome is in front of us. We know that how we live matters, that our choices matter.

What would such a religion look like?

What would it mean for our lives and us?

  • It would mean that our relationship with ourselves would be based on love. This is not merely about a warm feeling within – it is a quality of energy that we can choose and from which our choices and behaviours will flow. To develop a truly loving relationship with ourselves means we endeavour to take deep care of our bodies – only feeding them healthy food, with no alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or other toxins. It means we take responsibility for all facets of our lives including our emotional wellbeing and that we are willing to look at and address all beliefs and behaviours we have that are not truly loving. It affects the quality with which we move and walk, the time we go to bed, what we eat, how we exercise, make love – indeed all areas of life are affected if we choose to live in a truly loving way.

At the same time and to dispel a myth – love does not mean being a doormat or acquiescing in the face of abuse. Love stands firm and calls out that which is not love and always says no to all that is abusive and not loving.

  • It would mean that by reconnecting to the love that we are, we know that everyone else is also love and that the only form of true relationships are ones based on love, understanding, acceptance, allowing and non-judgment. Therefore it is obvious that no form of violence, war, battle, killing or gratuitous attack or any imposing of any kind is part of a true religious way of being. Surely this then exposes all those religions that have fought, killed and gone to war in the name of religion as not being true? It also exposes all religions that endeavour to impose their beliefs onto others or to convert people as not being true – when the truth of who we are is known, there is no need to convert anyone, for it is known they already are Divine and all the wisdom of the ages is already within them.

  • It would mean to be observant of life and people from the love that we are, thus we are more able ‘to read’ life and people and discern what is truly going on behind the scenes, to get a sense of the unseen movers and movements. In doing so, we are less affected by the ‘happenings’ of life, more able to stay present and centred, and therefore able to respond appropriately, no matter what the situation. We tend to take things less personally and to give people more space to be what they are choosing to be. We no longer accept life at face value, but are able to ‘go through again’, ‘to read’ again and come to a deeper understanding of life and whatever is occurring.

  • It would mean a religious way of life that is based on service for the greater good of the whole. In other words, to the best of our ability, we live in a way that is all encompassing, that knows every choice and action has a ripple effect throughout the cosmos. It brings with it a purpose to life that goes way beyond any self-interested or invested agendas. Life is no longer about me, me, me, but is about the evolution of all of us together, where ultimately no-one is left behind. Knowing we are already all the love we seek, and more, has the ability to satiate our earthly desires and needs, such that life is no longer about what’s in it for me, but, how can I bring all that I am to all that I do? How can I serve and give back to life in the knowing that I have already been given everything?

  • It is about living a way of life that is not based on perfection, but on a consistency of care and love for self and all that can be felt, known and trusted. Where through reflection, people can be inspired and come to know there is more to us than meets the eye, that we are multi-dimensional and multi-faceted beings, held within a stupendous, Divine love, with which we can reconnect within our own being, and have that as our life-force and inner fire that guides our every move, thought, word and deed.

These principles or tenets are not mere propositions or grand ideas, but the founding elements of The Way of The Livingness. They are universal principles of life that apply to all and benefit all if truly lived and applied.

The test of a religion or a religious way of life for me is to assess and discern the quality of the lived way of life by those who align or adhere to that religion.

It is to feel and discern whether what is being lived and expressed comes from the love that God is, or does it come from all that is not love? How does a person treat him/herself and how do they treat others? Do they, without perfection and accepting we are imperfect, predominantly bring the qualities of understanding, allowing, acceptance, non-judgment, love and compassion to all? Do they live with a quality of responsibility and integrity that is clear and visible for all to see, feel and know?

Words are cheap and it is easy to say what true religion is – but the marker of a true religion and religious way of life, is whether it is lived and expressed by those who align to it in a way that makes a difference, not just to the individual, but to others and the world at large.

As the Master Jesus put it, "Ye shall know them by their fruits."

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  • By Dr Eunice Minford, MBChB MA Dipl Clin Ed FRCS Ed

    Eunice Minford works as a Consultant General Surgeon. She has trained as an Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Counsellor and has an MA in Applied Spirituality.

  • Photography: Cameron Martin, Video and Photography