I think I am still looking for my tribe.
Some of my friends are religiously conservative or avidly anti-religious, and I am neither. I think I belong to the Religion of Kindness and Beauty. I want to be kind to others, kind to animals, kind to the earth, and kind to myself. And I draw inspiration from the beauty of ordinary life: friendships, movies, music, poems, conversations, animals, and the earth. I’m trying to build a life for myself and add some goodness – some justice and joy -- to the world.
I’m not sure about the God thing. My religiously conservative friends tell me that I should believe in God with all of my heart. I ask why and they say “Because God created you and wants you to believe in him.” It seems to me that, for them, God needs to be flattered. My atheistic friends never refer to God at all except in a dismissive or ironic way. I’m somewhere in between, moving back and forth between belief and unbelief. Sometimes I believe in God and sometimes I believe in Goodness. Often I think they are the same thing.
On days when I believe in God, I find myself praying as if there is Someone truly listening, albeit without a fixed address. I don’t imagine God as a bully in the sky, but rather a great companion to the world’s suffering and joys, all-loving but not all-powerful. I think you once called it Process Theology. Is that right?
But on some days I find myself thinking that the universe itself is what there is and all there is, not necessarily enfolded in something greater. So I guess I am both theistic and non-theistic; or somewhere in between. I don’t feel a need to resolve the issue. What I know is that there are scraps of light and that if God exists God is in the scraps.
Is there a religion for me? I think I am still looking for my tribe.
by Deborah Cooper
I see the way the chickadees
take turns at the feeder.
I watch a neighbor take
her husband’s hand.
I see the way the sun will find
the only interruption
in dark clouds
to toss this amber light
across the pines.
I see a row of cars
stop on the road
until the orange cat
has safely crossed,
then take off slowly, should
she change her mind.
I watch the way my brother
lifts our mother from
to the car,
the shawl he lays
across her lap.
I save up every scrap
because I know that it will take
each tiny consolation
to mend the world.
Yes, I think there is a religion for you. Maybe even a tribe.
It is not one of the big institutionalized religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism. It is a religion of daily life that is being practiced by many people in the world today, including you, even though they don’t have a name for it. Your name for it is as good as any -- the Religion of Kindness and Beauty.
For my part, I see it in many places. I see it in people like you who are spiritual but not religious, and who care about the world and sense a spiritual side to life. You are what sociologists call a None: someone who, when taking a survey of religious preferences, says unaffiliated.
I am told there are three kinds of Nones: Rejectionists (people who reject religion altogether and think it does more harm than good), Apatheists (people who are not personally interested in religion, but who think it may serve some social good), and Spiritual Independents (people who are interested in religion and the spiritual side of life, but do not affiliate with any of the religions.) Perhaps you are the third kind of None?
In any case, I see the Religion of Kindness and Beauty in you and also in others. I see it in kind-hearted Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others who practice Kindness and Beauty with help from selected teachings and practices within their own religions, but who hold onto their religious identities with a relaxed grasp, because they think the well-being of life is more important than religious affiliation.
I see it in people who lost their faith in God, or who never had it in the first place, but who live from kindness and sense something sacred in life itself. I see it in people who believe in God, but who, like process theologians, see God on the analogy of a companion to the world’s joys and sufferings rather than a cosmic tyrant.
And I see it among people engaged in interfaith dialogue as they discover a religion of shared humanity that includes but transcends their affiliations. All belong to a global affinity group emerging in our world today. All belong to Religion of Kindness and Beauty.
Is it really a religion? Everything hinges on what we mean by religion, and scholars have arrived at no single definition. If we think of a religion is a way of seeing things, a way of thinking, a lifestyle, and a spirituality, then it is indeed a religion. But it is not a formal religion with institutions of its own. It is an implicit religion that can be practiced by many different kinds of people, including those who do not think of themselves as religious.
This takes me, then, to your question of looking for a tribe. I know what you mean: you are looking for a community of people with a shared mind-set and perhaps even some rituals that help you live out the Religion of Kindness and Beauty.
For better or worse, the Religion of Kindness and Beauty does not have a community like this or a prescribed set of rituals. It is a global affinity group without a tribe of its own. There is nothing wrong with being tribeless, if that is true to who you are. The world needs free spirits.
But for many and maybe most people the solitary path can be a problem; because it is hard to practice the Religion of Kindness and Beauty all by yourself. It helps to share the journey with others, and to have friends who inspire you and hold you accountable. Don’t despair. Go looking for a tribe that can be a home.
There are many possibilities. If you were born into a formal religious tradition that contains some wisdom, you may want to reclaim this tradition for support and sustenance, or convert to one that is better for you. A religion doesn’t have to be perfect to be followed, and you can help change it.
On the other hand, you may find a tribe that is not conventionally religious and more secular in nature. I have a friend whose tribe is a local chapter of Narcotic Anonymous and another whose tribe is Amnesty International. This works well for them. A church – a gathering of spiritual friends -- doesn’t have to be formally religious in order to be a church.
What is important is that your tribe, your community, offers scraps of light that help you mend the world in your way, and that also you become a scrap of light for the community, too. What is important is that your tribe helps you practice the religion of Kindness and Beauty.
One thing for sure. Your letter is a scrap of light for me. I plan to write a book about the Religion of Kindness and Beauty, addressed to people like you and also to people who are religiously affiliated, but hold onto their religions with a relaxed grasp for the sake of life itself. Thank you for the inspiration, Rita.