Something that has always fascinated me is spiritual beliefs. They can vary so much from person to person; even people belonging to the same religious* organization can have vastly dissimilar beliefs. (I've heard non-denominational Christians criticize Mormons; Mormons criticize Catholics; Catholics criticize non-denominational Christians; but really, they're all technically followers of Christ, so it's a bit baffling to me that they can be so hard on each other.)
It is impossible to know and prove what the truth really is when it comes to spiritual beliefs and whether or not there is an omnipotent being and a great beyond, and yet there is nothing more true to the individual than their own spiritual beliefs and religion.
In my opinion, people don't choose what they do and do not believe (for the most part, at least); I think it comes from a multitude of attributing factors in their life. Experience, what they've been taught by parents/others about spirituality/religion, personal logic and thought process, and observation all play key roles in determining a person's spiritual beliefs, and it's impossible to tell exactly what led a person to their beliefs.
One of the worst things a person can do when it comes to religion- whether they are monotheist, deist, polytheist, atheist, or any of the myriad of options in between- is to be a mindless follower. So many people (of any of the aforementioned theist and non-theist sets) don't know whether or not they actually believe what they do, but are just regurgitating what they've been told. I feel that questioning ones beliefs is not a negative thing- in fact, it should be encouraged, regardless of what the beliefs actually are. Finding a personal truth is a very important thing, whether your religion has a god, is science, doesn't have a god but has an afterlife, or any combination thereof (and no, believing in a higher power and believing in science are not mutually exclusive fields).
Another thing that has always intrigued me is how tragedies and hardships affect people's spirituality so differently. I've seen people who are devout atheist become true believers in a higher power when terrible events have afflicted their family; I've seen devoted Christians shun their life-long faith when faced with their own misfortunes and severe struggles. In many instances of tragedy and hardship, people seem to either embrace and strengthen their religious beliefs or completely reject what they have been devoted to for so long.
Many are quick to criticize the beliefs of others that conflict with their own. There are good, bad, immoral, and righteous people in all groups and walks of life. But while no side really deserves persecution from the other, no side is completely innocent, either. Many of the people who accuse others of being intolerant are themselves, often without realizing it, intolerant to a degree. Without realizing, most people are actually saying "We need to be tolerant of all lifestyles, except those which conflict with what I believe."
Separation of Church and State is very important. One of the most important foundations of our country was religious freedom, though many of the religious seem to believe that means that everyone has the freedom to be religious as long as the religion others adhere to coincides with their own. Freedom of religion means being able to practice any faith you choose, or to walk away completely from faith altogether. Freedom of religion does not mean that religious people have the right to shun the non-religious. We all have the right to believe in what we find to be the Truth.
I heard this quote earlier: "Telling someone else that what they do is wrong because it conflicts with your own religious beliefs is like getting mad at someone for eating a donut when you're on a diet." Separation of Church and State is very important; freedom of religion was the main foundation for our country. No one can try to force their own beliefs on others, and if they do, they shouldn't be surprised or get upset when others resist or push back.
But this isn't a post meant to bash religious or non-religious people. It's an observation, a pondering of what drives a person to believe one thing or another. My beliefs are something that I think about almost constantly, and over the years they have evolved and expanded as I go through life. I know they will continue to change as long as I live. What I believe now isn't what I believed ten years ago; my beliefs have even become more defined from just three days ago. We constantly change, if we are open-minded, and I think it's a good thing. If we didn't change, how could we grow?
What I also find a bit humorous is how so many people assume they know a person's beliefs just based on a few comments; sometimes those comments they base their judgement on have nothing to do with spiritual beliefs. I've been jumped on from both sides. People have criticized me for being a Christian and others (sometimes in the same conversation) have criticized me for being an atheist, while none of them bothered to actually ask me what my beliefs are. Religion is a personal thing, but I think that it shouldn't be a taboo subject. Learning about other people's beliefs can really help you reflect on your own, and may help to see whether those beliefs are your true beliefs or just a regurgitation you may think you're supposed to believe.
*throughout this post, the terms "religion" and "religious" are used to generally cover all belief systems and spiritualities- monotheist, polytheist, atheist, deist, pagan, and everything else that falls under spiritual beliefs that are not specifically mentioned.