You may assume that people have a choice to make in their lives: to either follow an organized religion, or carve out their own personal religion (collection of beliefs, rituals and moral code) to live by.
But that would be a wrong assumption to make.
It’s not a question of either/or. You always adhere to a personal religion, whether you wish to acknowledge this fact or not.
No matter how hard you try to adhere to the teachings of an organized religion (should you choose to do so), you will always be living by your own personal religion.
Your personal religion can be strongly shaped by the organized religion you adhere to. But it always exists separately to organized religion.
While organized religion may offer you a set of beliefs, you are always the one who makes the connections between those beliefs. You’re always the one who relates those beliefs to your personal life experiences. In matters of life and religion, the spokesmen and women of organized religion can’t speak on your behalf (i.e. on behalf of your personal religion). You are the only spokesman or woman of your personal religion.
Your personal religion expresses what you truly believe in, how you truly feel and how you will conduct yourself in life. It defines what your true priorities are. If you want to know what you believe in, you can’t ask anyone else for answers. You must look to your own personal religion.
Of course, you can always ask others questions. About what an organized religion teaches or what other people believe in. But religious beliefs aren’t transferred automagically as soon as you claim membership to an organized religion. Your consciousness must become aware of a belief and then become convinced of its truthfulness. Just because you are told that your organized religion teaches X, Y and Z, that’s not a guarantee that you – as an individual – will embrace these teachings wholeheartedly.
Every religion I’m aware of has been shattered into separate sects, each with its own set of beliefs and practices. Divisions usually arise when an adherent of a religion senses a strong divide between his personal religion and the teachings of his organized religion. To eliminate the contradiction, he establishes an organized religion based on his personal religion. This happens to individuals and groups. Its origin is almost always the need to fully express one’s personal religion.
So why is it so important to draw a distinction between organized religion and personal religion?
You cannot experience personal growth by being oblivious to your own person and all the factors that influence your life. You need to know who you are as a person. What you think, how you think, what you feel, why you feel it, what experiences shaped your life, what motivates you, what annoys you, what principles you uphold, who you admire, why you admire them, what you enjoy, what bores you and a string of other questions that are personal to you.
No other person can answer these questions on your behalf. The Pope himself can’t answer these questions on behalf of a single Roman Catholic (apart from himself, of course).
You should be comfortable with the fact that you have your personal religion, without feeling guilty that it doesn’t fully match your organized religion. What you need to work on is your personal religion. That’s the key to success and well-being.
Whenever you think about the teachings of your organized religion, dig deeper to find the true teachings you are living by:
What do I think? How do I feel? What will I do?
Ultimately, these are the three questions that will shape your life.