Perhaps i am this way because i regard religion itself as "bipolar," "schizophrenic." and, perhaps, a little bit "paranoid." For religion, as i believe 90+ percent of people know it in this world, is a two pronged affair, whose prongs, however connected, seem to be essentially disjointed.
Religion is the human attempt to experience life in the context of a grander scheme than we can perceive with the eye clouded by our experience in the temporal, secular, material world. Sometimes we try to help each other heighten that experience of "another world" and preaching and praying and meditating and serving are techniques by which we try to do this. Most of us must find consolation for the disappointments of living in this material world, and however we choose to do that should be nobody elses business unless it intrudes on their ability to make choices or unless we mutually agree to help each other seek that consolation, understanding, and meaning. This is religion that i never intend to denigrate, and when i do so, i humbly apologize.
Religion's other prong is to provide for society and its other institutions a supernatural mechanism of social control. The hope of eternal reward and/or the fear of infernal punishment allows the powerful to supplement their other mechanisms of control with one that is especially effective for many people. Yes, i admit to having problems with authority. Yes, i admit to being an anarchist. But i like to believe that if neither of these things were true, i would still have problems with this second prong of religion. There are many reasons to want to control the behavior of others (just as there are many reasons to lie or kill) and some of these reasons may seem to some to be good or necessary. But, if someone feels the need to control people, i wish they would not use God or some universal principle to help them do it. It puts the person being controlled at a really unfair disadvantage. This is religion that often frightens me, and i sometimes attach labels such as "fundamentalist," "protestant," "Catholic,"
"Islamist," etc, to my fears.
I think most people acknowledge the existence of "spiritual growth." They also recognize the existence of stunted growth.
Sometimes this process of growth is perceived in terms of "stages". In the West there are often two, three, five or siix stages; in the East five, seven, or ten stages, the "highest" stages in the East are probably "beyond" the "highest" stages in the West, e.g. i do not believe that a Christian Saint is the equivalent of a Buddhist Bodhisattva.
One description of "Stages of Faith" is that described by James Fowler. The two early stages are "preconventional" focusing on the pleasure or pain of the individual believer and seeking consolation for the latter and an increase in the former. The two intermediate stages (3 and 4) are "conventional," focusing on the "moral" and "legal" implications of religion. Our contracts with God and our obedience to the "will" of God are central. The final two stages are "postconventional" attempting to acknowledge universal principles and going beyond the ethnocentrism that charactizes most religious faith and practice. Islam and Christianity call themselves universal religions, but they are not! There is a difference between particularizing the universal within one's own practice of religion and universalizing the particular which means that everyone elde should subscribe to one's own particular notions about the universal. The former is normal and necessary' but the latter is intrusive and, ultimately, i think, violent
Mowt people end up in stage "3" or "4" which means that religion, in practice, is a set of rules, moral and/or legal which they and, especially others, are supposed to follow. Unfortunalely this tendency is not confined to Christianity and Islam, but pervades the Eastern Religions as well. The important question for me is not what religion a person espouses, but what level of belief and practice she or he has achieved or is attempting to achieve. All religions produce Boddhisattva's whether they use the term or not, and all religions have dogmas and rules which hold people back from attaining the spiritual goals that they are capable of achieving.
I would love to be able to avoid all criticism of religion but i cannot. Because of my relationship to a beloved person, i am probably closer to Catholicism than to other religions. Yet when i think "Catholic" I do not think of Francis of Assisi, i think of birth control and i think that it is only natural that i do this. When i think "Islam" i do not think of Rumi, i think of the sharia. When i think of Protestantism, i do not think of the sermon on the mount, i think of the condemnation of sin. When i think of Judaism, i do not think of loving God with all my heart and soul and mind and might and my neighbor as myself, i think of Israeli nationalism. I am this way because that is what i see Christians, Moslems and Jews focusing on.