Does religion still have a purpose? – personal reflections

I was raised a catholic, my parents, and especially my mother’s side of the family, are really religious. I had to go to church every Sunday, I went to a catholic school and I hated it. When I was 14 years old, after a few years already having doubts I turned an atheist. I didn’t want to believe that there is a God in the sky that watches over us and that punishes or rewards us according to our behavior. I want to believe in myself and I want to take responsibility for my own actions. So, I thought religious people as being weak, not standing up for themselves and not taking responsibility at all, just blaming everything on God or turning to God whenever something went wrong (a disease, any setback,…).

When I moved to China, I found it great, finally a country (and one of the few countries in the world) with no major religion! Even though, they have buddhists, muslims, christians, most people don’t believe in anything. The rituals they have is towards their ancestors, not towards a God. They don’t believe in a God in heaven or a God that will punish or reward you. So, it was great to hear people talk about their lives without the knowledge of all these religious fantasies and without any religious rules. Although, Chinese have also their own rules, which are based on mere superstition, on the fact that it will be unlucky or bring a disaster to your family, not because a God punishes you, but life itself will punish you for not doing something. Which the young generations also don’t believe and don’t do anymore as they acknowledge that it’s old folks superstition.

I just traveled to Bali and was in Ubud for 2 weeks and now I am in Thailand, in Chiang Mai. Bali is a Hindu country and Thailand a Buddhist (I will consider Buddhism a religion here, as I know it is not considerate that, but that’s a totally different discussion) country. I had a minor culture shock when I first arrived in Bali. It was marvelous! Everywhere you had the beautifulIMG_6519architecture with 2 statues in front of every entrance, I guess to protect the house. And every morning and afternoon you had a piece of a banana leaf or some sort with flowers on it, a bit of rice an incense stick burning on it, to respect their Gods. It was, again, interesting to see, but too religious to me, too many rituals and believing in external personified forces.

After a couple of days I started to notice other things. Balinese people are very friendly, they smile and say hello in a genuine way, they are very considerate on the road. For instance, they would stop to let you pass, or I was there when it was rainy season and they would slow down, when I was walking alongside the road as to not splash a lot of water on me. Balinese would also be very interested in you personally, they would ask things about you, but nothing too personal, they would respect you in a certain way.

Being in Thailand now, I see the same thing. Thai people are very nice, smile all the time, are very polite in a shops. They giveIMG_6847 you a good service in bars and shops (same in Bali). Of course, traffic all over South-East Asia is a bit crazy, but never as crazy, as I experienced in China.

Back to China: Chinese people are not that considerate, they are selfish in a certain way. They don’t consider other people on the road, they would run over you, if you would be in their way. They also invade too much of your personal space. Even if they don’t know you, their first questions are: How old are you? How much do you earn? Are you married? If you are not, they ask, why not? Too personal to me, even my best friends at home don’t know how much I earn or why I am not married, I don’t even know how to answer that. Also, the service in restaurants and bars is not that good. The waiters, waitresses, don’t know much about hospitality.

I don’t want to make China look bad, because it still has a big attraction on me, even though, I don’t understand much of that culture yet and how people think. So, it’s not a reflection of good and bad. It’s just the difference in attitude and whether this is linked to religion or not.

In any religion, you learn certain values: you learn to respect the others, to always be nice and considerate,…
A friend of mine who lives in Chiang Mai, told me that his motorbike never gets stolen here, as in China he got his bike stolen a couple of times. He also thought it is the buddhist attitude here and no religion in China.
I wonder, if it is religion or it is the mentality of the culture. It is hard to say, because culture is a big part of who you are and who can say how much that religion shaped your culture, because a lot of religions did and do bad things in name of that religion.

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