When we say that we are a Christian, or Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, or Hindu, what does that mean? When I was a faith-based Christian, it meant that I believed. I believed in God, Jesus, the Church, and I believed in Catholicism. I was proud of being a Catholic. It didn't matter whether my beliefs had any logical or scientific support, I simply believed, and that was good enough for me. After all, how could humankind's puny science or logic ever stand up to God's word? As a matter of fact, I believed so strongly that when my belief was challenged, I was ready to defended it with my life. I believed, because my mother, and the Church trained me to believe, and as the training took affect, I developed an emotional attachment to the religion, and to God and Jesus as well.

When we say that we are Green Bay Packer fans, that doesn't necessarily mean we play football. We are usually only fans; armchair quarterbacks at best. While real football players are risking their lives and sweating it out on the field, we are more than likely eating popcorn in front of our big screen TVs. If someone makes a sarcastic remark about the Green Bay packers, odds are we will become downright belligerent.

Therefore, although I was Catholic, I didn't necessarily think that I had to "be" Catholic, that is; keep the commandments so religiously that I would have nothing to say in the confessional - except maybe talk about the weather! Merely believing, along with some occasional good works, would do the trick, I believed, and place me smack dab in heaven seated at the right hand of God.

Identifying with a football team, or a religion, is a natural thing. It goes back to the early days when we lived in tribes, huddling together to provide mutual security. Wherever we found ourselves, that's the tribe we instinctively supported. Presently, if we are born in Iraq, we huddle with Muslims, in India, with Hindus, in America, Christians, in Southeast Asia, Buddhists, and in Israel, Jews. It is a natural thing, All of us will defend our particular religions just as we defend our favorite football teams.

This attachment to our particular brand of religion, the religion that we identify with, causes problems amongst the religions, no different from the friendly competition amongst football fans. We can argue which football team is best, but only a game will prove who is right. The problem with religion is that there are no friendly games, only religious wars. The Muslims, Christians, and Jews are warming up for another doozy in the Middle East, or so it seems, and although there have been countless wars in the past; nothing has been solved. Of course, the coming conflict might be nuclear, which may very well end our worries about future wars, and humankind as well.

This is what religion has come down to in many cases, a spectator sport, so to speak, with no one playing the game seriously. Just as football fans talk endlessly about football statistics and players yet never pick up a ball, we religious people love to talk about our religions and what they mean to us, mentioning our faith in every other word that we speak, but seldom do we do any heavy spiritual lifting.

Actually, the most successful religions, based on numbers, are the ones that require the least inconvenience to their followers. Even the Catholic Church has made adjustments. Who hears of "Meatless Fridays" anymore? If a religious organization's requirements become too demanding, or inconvenient or not very entertaining, attendance drops. "What's in this for me in the short-run" is written on all our foreheads.

I mean, what the heck, if we can get to heaven the easy way, why not, especially if our religion doesn't get in the way of our enjoying ourselves and making money, after all, the important thing is that our religion doesn't interfere with our economic development! Asceticism and discipline went out with Christ and the Buddha, a long time ago. Lucky us! This is the feeling today in many organizations, and although they might say otherwise, the proof is in their activities. Why should religion get in the way of our lives, shouldn't it enrich our lives by giving us something to brag about?

We can boast that statistically, people who practice their religion in this fashion die the happiest; content and confident that they will be taken care of in the hereafter. Whether Buddhist, Christian, or any of the other 4,000 religions on this planet, they will be okay. It is a win-win situation. Yay.

But that brings up a serious question: Which way was it with Christ and the Buddha – were they simply stupid, or were they very smart? Maybe they were stupid, because all they would have had to do was kick back and enjoy life as we do. Or were they smart, knowing that a life of ease not only would never get them far in the after-life, but would never make them happy on earth? That's a good question, because if we think that they were stupid in praying and working so hard, then we are following stupid people! If, on the other hand, they knew something that we have conveniently forgotten or never knew, we might be in trouble!

There are hints throughout religious literature that sincere effort must be made, tremendous effort actually, in order to insure our destinies. We can rationalize as much as we wish, and die psychologically content and happy if we choose to, but what actually happens after death remains a mystery. If we truly believe in an afterlife, and that what we do on earth will affect the quality of that afterlife, and also that the eternal afterlife, compared to the fraction of a millisecond we spend on this earth, is all that we should be concerned with, how can we whistle in the dark as we do, continuing to view our religion as some kind of a football game?

When will we seriously begin practicing? Religious practice, and the benefits of religious practice, if understood, would replace many present nonsensical activities. The Christ and The Buddha understood this, that's why they pretty much turned their backs on the world in order to go deeper. They tried to show us how to do the same. They didn't save us so that we don't have to do anything, in my opinion - they saved us by showing us the way to save ourselves.

As usual, it is strictly up to us. We have to get up from the couch, turn off the big-screen, pick up the ball and start playing . . .or praying. Who knows, searching within might open up a completely new world for us, since this present world is becoming nothing great to write home about! Or are you still amused?

If enough of us began playing, or praying and meditating, maybe the world would be something great again, filled with compassion, decency, love and understanding. It's a question of becoming disciplined once more, which serious football, or prayer and meditation, requires.

Wouldn't that be radical?

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com