I’ve never been able to understand how people can think because they are of a certain religion or persuasion that they are the ‘chosen ones’ to be gifted with a heavenly afterlife.  What happens to the rest of us?

I was brought up Catholic, wore a crucifix from my Confirmation until I was about 32 years old, went to Mass, prayed to saints, genuflected and made the sign of the cross when life got unbearable.  Or scary. Or lonely. At one of the darkest points in my life, I went to a Catholic church in a strange city and asked the priest to please let me in so I could pray.  He looked distrustful as I stood there with tears streaming down my face.  I just needed to pray.  I had nowhere else to go. Compassion must have won out because he let me go and sit in one of the back pews. I was taught the Church is a place of refuge and you’re always welcome.  The locked doors almost turned me away.

Comparative religions intrigue the hell out of me. (No pun intended) What else brings such solace, comfort, peace and sense of hope while equally eliciting fear, suspicion, righteousness, and intolerance? Two billion people or more on this planet consider themselves Christians. Over a billion people follow the teachings of Muhammad and practice the religion of Islam. Hinduism,the indigenous religion of India, has 900 million believers. The teachings of Siddharta Gautama (the Buddha) in c. 520 BC, laid the foundation for 360 million Buddhists. Close to 400 million people live according to the belief structure of Chinese folk religion. Judaism, the religion of the Hebrews, 1300 BC, has over 14 million people adhering to those doctrines. Confucianism still has five to six million followers.

Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in 1830: 12 million. The Bahai Faith, 1863: five to seven million. Jehovah’s Witnesses, begun by Charles Taze Russell, 1879: 6.5 million. Cai Dai, Viet Nam, 1926: four to six million. Falun Gong started in 1992 in China: estimations to 100 million. Up to half a million people followed Paul Twitchell, who introduced the religion of Eckanar to the world in 1965.

It’s surreal when you start looking at these numbers. Not only does it bring into perspective how many of us are sharing this space, but how many believe in their soul of souls that what they follow, what they believe, what they know in their hearts to be true, is the best or only way to reach salvation or live life as intended by the Creator, God, the Higher Source, the Holy Trinity, Universal Intelligence, or a Divine Spirit called “ECK”. None of this even touches on the millions more who are atheist, agnostic, or abide by the canons of some lesser known sect.

This week many are celebrating Chanukah, the 8 day Jewish festival of rededication of the Holy Temple, or festival of lights. Christmas, celebrating the birth of Christ, is in two weeks. On December 8th, Buddists celebrated Bodhi Day, the day the historical Buddah experienced enlightenment while the Catholics were celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Pagans are looking forward to the Yule celebration on December 22, the date of the winter solstice.

Some people are born into their religion of choice, others convert when they find the love of their life. Fear, tradition, searching for answers, guilt, socialization, comfort and assurance may all be factors that draw people to religion.  Spiritual fulfillment, joy, and a sense of purpose may entice others. I think I have to agree with the Dalai Lama on this one:  “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” Whatever holiday or festival you decide to celebrate or take part in, I hope it brings you joy and helps you to see the world through eyes of compassion, love and kindness.