Do I believe in God or a creator?
Am I spiritual?
Do I have a religion?
Throughout my decade of activism, this has consistently been one of the greatest points of interest in those who follow me. I am asked this both by people who have just met me and by people who have followed me for many years. This does not come as a surprise to me. Some seven or so billion of the eight billion people on this Earth do identify with a religion. That is the vast majority of people. For many of us, religion is just as much of a part of our life as eating, sleeping and breathing. Thus, of course, there will be people who take interest in my beliefs on this matter.
I have answered this question many times in person, in comments online and in front of large groups of people, but rarely do I take the time to give a thorough answer. That is what I am going to do today.
I am elated to answer this question here in depth so that it can be referenced for the decades ahead. At times, I may come back to add to this writing, yet my views have been quite steady for my entire adult life and I expect that I will continue on this path for the decades ahead. Only time will tell on this matter though.
One of these questions is very simple to answer and can be answered with one word. Another is also quite simple on the surface, but must be expanded upon. And one I could not possibly share in a way that you would likely fully understand what is alive in me. Yet, I will do my best to share my views with clarity, concisely and with depth.
Do I Have a Religion?
First, do I have a religion? That is a very simple, no. I do not have a religion. Although I was born Jewish, we were never a practicing family. We lit the menorah as my mom sang in Yiddish. We spun the dreidel here and there. But we celebrated Christmas even more. I never went to a synagogue or heard a sermon. There were only a couple other Jewish people in my town. My mom didn’t practice Judaism. She was more focused on Hare Krishna, Hinduism and other Eastern Spirituality. She never told me that I should practice Judaism, or any religion for that matter. While I am not religiously Jewish and never have been, I am ethnically Jewish. Born to a Jewish mother, I will always be ethnically Jewish according to societal structures. I am told that Judaism is the only ethnicity that is also a religion.
As a single mom of four children, my mother was not the most pro-active in my life and my father was more of a friend than a dad. I called him Mark since as long as I can remember. Perhaps the greatest gift that my parents have ever given me is the freedom to choose my own beliefs. The freedom to become who I wanted to be. To my recollection, they never told me to have a religion or to not have a religion. Further, they never told me I had to become any certain someone. My mom has always believed that she didn’t own us children and for that I will always be grateful.
There is no doubt that this freedom of choice, in part, set the foundation for who I am today, which is someone who stands far outside of many societal structures and beliefs. Not having a religion is still relatively unique, although more and more people are moving in this direction. Although, it was not without some challenge to come out of my small town without adhering to a religion. Most of my friends had a religion, primarily Christian and Catholic and different denominations like Baptist and Lutheran. I went to many of their activities including summer camps and weekend activities. My Scout group met at a church for the six years I was involved and one of the Scout Laws is that we were reverent. Part of our motto was “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” I said that at least once each week. In school, we stood for the pledge of allegiance as “one nation under God” each day, over one thousand times in my childhood. Surely there were people trying to convert me to their religion. Surely there were people who wanted me to believe in their God. This God I am speaking of is the God of Christianity, according to that religion, the one and only God.
Somehow, I made it out of that town at age 18 without adhering to their religions. I do remember in childhood at least some level of acceptance and fear that maybe their God was real and that maybe there was a heaven and hell. But I never lived my life by it. At a relatively young age, I put that very loose belief in my past and had a clear belief that their God was not the universal truth.
Do I Believe in God?
So, there you have it. I do not have a religion. Now the next question, do I believe in God? To that of course, I would have to ask, “which God?” For billions of people – over half the world – there is only one God, so most likely they are asking if I believe in their God. That clears that up. But there’s also the first part of the sentence. Do I “believe in” that God? Generally there is a lot implied behind “believe in.” It’s not just whether I believe in that God’s existence, but whether I take them as the one and only savior of humanity, or the creator of all there is on Earth, or the person to whom I owe my life and must do everything in their name.
With all that is generally implied by the question, “Do you believe in God?”, the answer is generally no. I do not believe in your God or that God. But from a more nuanced and open approach, I would not say resolutely that I do not believe that a God or Gods could exist. I just highly doubt that we’ve got it all figured out. I am very open to the idea of there being a God or Gods, but I do not have a God.
This is all a very difficult topic to be concise or clear on because each of us has our own belief systems and attachments to each of these words such as religion, God or creator. No matter what I say, there are plenty of people who will not truly understand what I think or believe, because my thoughts have to first come through their filters, and most of us are not even aware of our filters. These filters mostly operate in our subconscious, and that is a space where the majority of us simply do not explore. So again, I will try to share my beliefs, but if you truly want to understand them, I would encourage you to remember that my words may not mean to me exactly what they mean to you.
Do I Believe in a creator or Creator or a Higher Power?
With that said, it becomes more nuanced with the question of do I believe in a creator or Creator? For many, Creator is synonymous with God (as in their one and only God). But for many others, creator is a much looser concept, open to many different possibilities. In the sense of us knowing who or what the creator is or creator being Creator with a capital C, the answer is no. I do not have a creator. However, I believe that we were created. I believe that life has been created. I believe that the Earth has been created. By what? I don’t know. Some believe the Big Bang Theory as a sort of creation story. I’m open to the Big Bang Theory, however, I can’t say for sure that it is true. Science is certainly not my God. I have a lot of respect for science. In certain ways, I practice science every day. But much of science today has been corrupted by industries and people with ulterior motives. Even the word science has many different interpretations and meanings among our diverse humanity.
So if I believe that we were created, then what was the creator? That I don’t know. I simply don’t know. I’m completely okay with not knowing. I think that most likely I will never know. And I think there’s a good chance that humans will never know. But perhaps we will. I am of the belief that humans have not figured it out. Any religion that believes that they have it all figured out, is a religion that is not in alignment with my belief system. However, religions that do not believe they have it all figured out are ones that I am more aligned with. Again, religion can mean a lot of different things. There are churches of peyote, a cactus. There are many Indigenous religions that worship a creator in the sense of everything that is around them. Sometimes these religions adhere to even stricter beliefs in how they define Creator. Sometimes this is more of a culture created around stories that foster harmony with all other beings on Earth. These stories serve as guidelines for life, rather than an all-knowing belief. This is my interpretation of much of Anishinaabe religion or spirituality and I have very much enjoyed hearing their stories and have even incorporated some into my own life.
I am generally of the belief (although I’ll touch on my uncertainty of this later on) that I am of the Earth. I was created by the elements of the Earth – carbon, water, oxygen, nutrients and so on – and each day these elements join me in this body and leave me in this body. Each day I am a different physical being, that is deeply interconnected with Earth and all other life forms and elements on Earth. So in a sense, you could say that I believe that I have been created by Earth. I believe that everything is connected. I believe that I am a part of billions of relationships happening at every moment. In a sense, the Earth as a whole is a living organism. This is undeniable. We humans are more bacterial cells than we are human cells. There is bacteria on every surface and every nook and cranny of our body. If the bacteria all died today, I would, too, quite soon. Yet, most of us identify as a single being, separate from other beings. But, it is a fact that each of us as individuals is literally made up of billions of lives. With the understanding of that concept, it is not a stretch at all to see the entire Earth as a living organism composed of trillions upon trillions of interconnected lives. Some would call this Mother Earth. Some would call this Gaia.
A very enlightening book that I read in 2023 is Black Earth Wisdom by Leah Penniman. This book describes numerous Earth-based spiritualities of the people of Africa and the Diaspora. These religions are based on relationships with Earth, people and the plants and animals that these people shared their space with. These religions are about living in right relationship and being a steward to everything that was given as a gift to their humanity by creator. I resonated with many of these Earth-based religions far more than any of the dominator religions. In many ways these religions that would be considered “uncivilized” by the dominator religions actually seem a lot more civil to me.
As far as a “higher power” I believe that there are many higher powers. The term “higher power” can mean many things to different people. But simply put I believe there are many powers greater than myself and greater than humanity as a whole. The Earth is higher power and the many ecosystems and millions of species that co-exist are together a higher power than the one single species of Homo sapiens. The universe and the cosmos are certainly a higher power to me. The many unseen energies that we know such as gravity are all higher powers. The many unknowable forces and yet-unknown forces are higher powers to me. But I do not worship any of these forces or label them as “God.” Although it would be easy to call these forces “God” and I understand why some choose to do so.
My Disheartenment with Organized Religion
So no, I do not have a religion. I do not have a God. I do not have a Creator with a capital c. Although I do see much potential benefit to humanity in organized religion, to my great disheartenment and sadness, most organized religion has not been true to the core beliefs that are professed through their writings and teachings. Most major organized religion today is used as a means of control and has been used in this manner for thousands of years. The issues within Catholicism are so great that it has deeply tainted the entire religion for me. I am most familiar with this religion because it is the most dominate religion in the United States, where I live and is most far-reaching worldwide. So many of the human rights that I have dedicated my life to standing for are human rights that Catholicism and Christianity has stripped away from billions of people. Here in what we call the United States, Catholicism and Christianity were the guiding force in dehumanizing the many millions of Indigenous people on this land. Christianity was used to call these beautiful people savages and to enact one of the largest scale genocides in human history. This is what this major religion has done over the last few thousand years. And it is still happening today. This is also the religion that has covered up some of the largest child molestation cases in the world, happening within their own organization by the most respected and well-regarded people in their network. Although at heart, this is not what this religion represents, it is very much what it is. This is a substantial part of the truth of Catholicism and Christianity and this only scratches the surface of how this religion has been used to treat others who did not believe in their same God.
I have dedicated my life to being in service to Earth and humanity, but I do not dedicate it in the name of Jesus Christ or “God”. So, according to many who adhere to this religion, I will burn in hell for eternity. I will burn in hell for eternity, not because of my primary actions, but simply because I am not doing it for God. If that God does exist, then it certainly is not a God that I would worship. I would absolutely burn in hell for eternity before I would take part in that corruption.
Am I Spiritual?
Now to the last question, am I spiritual? I would say this is the most challenging question of the three to answer. The word spiritual is the loosest and widest ranging of all the terms – God, Creator, religion and spiritual. Many people think of spiritual as synonymous with adhering to a particular religion or God. On the other hand, many people who consider themselves spiritual adhere to no particular religion and have no God. What does spiritual even mean anyway? The base of the word is “spirit”. What does spirit mean? That could mean so much to so many different people. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” for example. Eastern Spirituality for example. Spirits in the sense of ghosts. Spirits in the sense of other beings that also occupy this Earth with us. Spirit in the sense of what is contained within us which is different from our physical self. Some believe that a spirit comes to us at birth and continues on after we die. There is so much to unpack with the term spirituality to even be able to expect someone with another belief system to understand mine.
In the sense of what I have outlined, no I am not a spiritual person. I do not necessarily believe in karma. I do not necessarily believe that I live on after my death through a spirit. I am open to these being possibilities, but again I lean towards humans not knowing more than we do know. I do believe that my body will return to Earth and live on as part of the cycle of life. My body will be eaten by bacteria, insects and likely animals and will nourish their being. My fluids and my solids will become part of the soil. This soil will feed plants and my body will be taken up into these plants. Perhaps I could help to build a tree that lasts for centuries, or perhaps as short-lived plants. This is, of course, if I die on the land. If I die in the ocean, I would return to Earth in a different manner. And if somehow against my wishes I am pumped full of preservatives and chemicals and encased in a concrete box within a concrete covered hole in the ground, then I’m less certain of what will happen to my physical being. But beyond those circumstances or some other unusual circumstances, I will most likely return to Earth. Do I live on? In a sense, yes. Have I lived in the past? In a sense yet? But as a complete spirit that is ME? That I don’t know and I lean towards most likely not.
Some choose to believe that God is in everything, including ourselves. Rather than God being outside of us, God is within us. Rather than God being a controlling force, God is more of a flow of energy. Therefore each of us is God (not in an egotistical way). This belief system is certainly more in alignment for me. To me it is a more empowering and holistic approach to life, however these are not the thoughts that I have flowing through my head. If God is in everything, then I don’t really feel a need to apply the label God. Instead I just continue to be grateful for and observe everything.
Needs that Religion Meets that I Meet in Other Ways
Most of us want there to be something greater than ourselves. That’s a need that religion or spirituality meets for a lot of people. Although I don’t adhere to a religion, God, particular Creator or spirituality, I very much believe in something far greater than myself. I am just one being who is here for a fraction of a blink of an eye on a timeline on Earth. I am a part of humanity, which I am so in love with. I am connected to the millions of species of plants, animals, bacteria, fungi and yeast that we share this home with. I am so in love with these connections I have with them. I have dedicated my life to having a greater understanding of all of these relationships and connections so that I can be a servant. A servant to Earth, to humanity and to everything that we share this home with.
I do believe myself to be special. I believe that we are all special. But I do not have the desire to attach myself to this specialness. Instead, I see it myself as impermanent.
For many, adhering to a religion is to adhere to the belief that we exist in eternity. After this life there are more lives or there is a place that we go to when we die. A place where our loved ones will be waiting for us or will meet us. I understand how this could be calming in times of uncertainty. I understand how the belief systems in religion can help people to make sense of life and find a sense of security and stability. But I don’t need to exist in eternity to feel calm. I don’t need to have another life to make sense of life or to feel secure or stable. In fact, I don’t even want another life. I’m content to have this one and to be done afterwards. My practice is one of mindfulness and presence in the life that I have now. My practice is one of gratitude for the life I have right now and to focus on it as if it is the only life that I have.
I understand how religion can create a shared reality and mutuality. We’re all looking for this. We want to belong. We want to understand and to be understood. We want to be loved and we want to matter. Many of us use religion as a tool to meet these needs. Those are beautiful needs to meet through religion. I also want these basic human needs to be met and I have found other ways to meet these needs other than being part of a group of people with a specific list of beliefs. I have a shared reality with humanity. We are all here on this Earth together – at times suffering and at times in joy. I share in this. I belong in my own body because I truly love myself. I also belong in humanity because I truly love humanity and accept us for what we are. I am loved by many, not because I have a religion, but simply because I choose to be in service to humanity. No religion is needed for that.
When it all comes down to it, I believe that I am complete. I believe that I am whole. I don’t need anything outside of myself. That includes a God. That includes a religion.
I celebrate being alive. I celebrate life. And I celebrate that some people have wholesome religions and spiritualities that help them to live with meaning and purpose. I’d like to celebrate life with each of you, regardless of our religious beliefs. I’d love to see humanity move in a direction of acceptance and love for our differences rather than fear and hate. That is certainly how I have chosen to live my life and how I choose to be a messenger for humanity.
My Awe of The Cosmos
I would not feel complete without saying that I am in absolute awe of the Cosmos. Science (which is actually just humans) says that our universe is just one of millions and that space, which is already incomprehensibly large, is ever expanding. Ever expanding! The Earth is a Pale Blue Dot from just a short distance away and expanding further out is just one of countless planets that could hold life. I’m very open to what else is out there and I doubt that we are the only ones. I doubt that Earth is the only planet with life.
Within this one Pale Blue Dot, there are many philosophies and theories that we are only seeing a fraction of what is. Just by studying our brains and eyes, it is absolutely clear that we only see and perceive a small fraction of what is. A bat can perceive by echolocation. A dog can hear whistles undetectable to our own ears. Bees see in a whole different range of light and literally view the Earth in a different way. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a lot more going on around us that we don’t see. I’m open to the possibility of there being other dimensions. I’m open to the possibility that time isn’t linear after all. I’m open to the idea that other beings have traveled to Earth at some point in the billions of years that Earth has been here, whether during the lifetime of humanity or prior. I’m open to all of these things. It’s clear how little we know. All we have to do is see what we’ve discovered in the last hundred years to have our minds blown open to what we might not know that we may discover or we may never know.
Questioning My Existence / Living in Delusion
I find this all very exciting. At the same time, if I spend too much time thinking about it, I can find myself feeling overwhelmed. I can start questioning my existence. However, I love to question my existence. Is this reality even real? Are we living in a dream? Am I living in a state of delusion? Clearly, yes, we all are. We feel that we are still at this moment when we are actually spinning at 1000 mph and orbiting the Sun at 67,000 mph on this little ball. That very much fits the definition of delusion. The question is how great is the state of delusion I am living in?
Quantum physics says that we are not even solid. We are more air than we are solid matter. Quantum physics also says that objects only exist if we believe that they exist. Within quantum physics there are concepts that nothing ever even comes into contact. When we bounce a basket ball, it never touches the ground. I tend to believe that there is a lot of truth within quantum physics and with this belief, it only makes sense to question my own existence and the standard societal beliefs of who we think we are. (An excellent documentary to watch on this topic is What the Bleep Do We Know? As well as The Cosmos Series by Carl Sagan, or the new series by Neil DeGrasse Tyson)
What I’ve chosen to do to make sense of life is to acknowledge and accept that I am living in delusion. I do not even know if I have free will. I do not know if I am actually making the choices that I think I am making. However, I choose to operate under the idea that I have free will. I don’t necessarily believe it, but I choose to operate under it. That’s simply what I know how to do with my life. That’s simply how I know how to live in a way that makes sense day to day.
My Respect for Religion
Many people have likened me to Jesus. Some have said “you’re the most Jesus-like person I know.” I’m often compared to some Saints, like Saint Francis of Assisi, who sounds like he was a person I would have related to. I can see why some would make these comparisons. It’s because I am living their values. My central values are to live in integrity. To live in harmony with Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives. To be of service to Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives. To share these values with those who would like to learn them and to help them to adopt these values, if they would like to, with their own free will. Although I have not studied religion, I am told time and time again that this is very much in alignment with what most or all of the religions profess.
With this being the case, I have a lot of respect for religion. I understand people choosing to be a part of religion. I deeply want every human to be loved, to belong and to experience purpose and meaning in life. I am really happy for those that have found religion as a wholesome tool to meet these basic needs, without doing so at the expense of others. And for those that have been controlled and dominated by religion, I am yearning for your liberation – whether they are the dominator or the dominated. For those that have had their freedom and autonomy stripped from them by their own religion, I am here standing for your freedom. If that is you reading this, I’d like you to know that another way is possible to meet your needs and to live a joyful, connected life.
What Do I Practice?
So without religion, without worship, without God or Creator and without a precise spirituality, what do I practice? Although I have touched on this throughout, I would like to end this writing with a selection of my core practices and principles, with a focus on what is actionable and doable.
- Live in harmony with Earth, humanity and the plants and animals we share this home with
- Live in service to Earth, humanity and the plants and animals we share this home with
- Live close to Earth through integrity and intention with my daily practices of food, water, energy, waste, transportation and financial transactions
- Live in integrity and alignment
- Pursue truth and living in truth
- Practice transparency with my life and my action
- Self-reflection to create self-understanding and find self-love
- Take self-responsibility
- To overcome the dominator within me and overcome my biases
- To stand for justice, equity and against all forms and systems of oppression and exploitation
- Gratitude. Be grateful for my life, all life and all there is
- Celebration of life. To simply celebrate basic existence and being every day
- Mindfulness. Live in a state of mindfulness
- Presence. To practice living in the present moment
- Empathy for all humans. Empathy as described in Compassionate Communication that all all times I remember that every human is doing the best they can to meet their basic human needs and to always be thinking about what each person is needing and feeling.
- Live simply so that others may simply live, with minimal possessions and money, largely independent of industrialization
- Be the change I wish to see in the world
- To speak compassionately
- Be in healthy relationships and nurture healthy relationships
- Find wholeness and completeness within
- Practice self-love and self appreciation
- Practice silence and solitude. Vipassana is one form of silence that I practice.
- Some of my practices of living closely connected to Earth include harvesting foods and medicines that the Earth provides, growing foods and medicines, swimming, walking barefoot, walking and riding my bicycle, moving my body freely on Earth’s terrain, breathing the air, being naked outside, observing life, observing and feeling the elements, spending extensive times alone with Earth, resting and rejuvenating with Earth, taking others out with me to deepen their connection.