During my recent European trip, I visited more cathedrals and churches than I care to remember. When I was touring the places, I often wished I'd had a computer to type the multiple thoughts that crossed my mind. One recurring thought was how people choose to worship those they perceive as holy, instead of imitating them.
I am not convinced that all the Roman Catholic saints were remarkable, but there must have been something about them that made people put them in a pedestal. Should Mother Theresa ever be canonized, she will be worth imitating, but most likely the masses will resort to worshipping her instead.
During my trip, in every museum and church I visited, I saw at least one if not five plus pictures of St. Jeronimo. I have no idea what he did to be regarded so highly, but it became boring after a while to see him portrayed over and over again.
He, more often than not, was painted doing penances, out in the woods by himself on his knees beating his chest with a rock. It stroke me that he was doing what most of us ex-christians did. We gave our lives completely to god. We were by-the-book kind of people. We did everything there was to do to be holy.
I wouldn't be surprised if St. Jeronimo, by the end of his days, was a closet atheist. After all, he experienced how much peace and happiness the religion does not provide. He must have known by the time he died how useless the religious rituals are.
Or perhaps he realized that religion is just the beginning of a journey to get to know ourselves. First, we need to turn to an outside presence for help. We need someone else to hear us, forgive us, tell us what to do. But as we walk the walk, we realize that it is all up to us. We get to know our strengths and abilities. We learn to think for ourselves. Our capability to listen to ourselves is greatly enhanced and we experience real spiritual awareness. The awareness of ourselves. Many call that enlightenment.
It is my belief that if Jesus did exist, he experienced enlightenment, and did not want people to worship him. His desire may have been that others found their own truth, that they became independent thinkers as he was. (He was neither perfect nor infallible. He was just a person willing to think and to share his conclusions. Many of such thoughts, I believe, were wrong).
Instead of imitating Jesus, or St. Jeronimo, or whomever, people chose to worship them. They invented fables about them, built them shrines, and came up with the idea that if they just prayed to them, they could get things the easy way, without having to do the hard work of devoting themselves to a life of study, meditation, and profound reflection.
I believe that religion is borrowed holiness from people who used their brains to arrive at their own truth (or lie). Those who take religion seriously are able to get over it, to realize that dogma can only take us so far. When borrowed beliefs can no longer answer our questions, we must start thinking for ourselves.
The weekend-religious, however, are stuck at the beginning of the journey, and must rely on other people's opinions and holiness to have any kind of personal identity. They are too lazy to spend time developing their own philosophy of life. They believe anything that a smart-looking guy on a suit preaches at them in church. So it isn't a matter of intelligence. It is about having the resoluteness to investigate our beliefs and to disregard those that are found faulty.
I think I stayed in church for as long as I did because I was too lazy to do the hard work. People who looked smart and sure of themselves told me that, if I just prayed enough and read the bible a lot, all my problems would go away. For many years, I believed what I was told, and I repeated it as well. When people had problems I parroted, "You must pray about it," but I seldom did it myself. I didn't know whether the magic formulas I was given worked, because I inconsistently tried them.
One day, tired of always being in trouble, I decided to read the bible and pray every day. I did it daily for two years. My prayer time, which I now realize was all self-talk, was really good. It was during those times that from the depths of my soul I started to believe that rejecting gay people was wrong. I started to figure out that wronging others in the name of god was awful. Many of the things I heard from "the holy spirit" were against what I read in the bible.
The bible reading started to show inconsistencies and brutalities that I never noticed before. And so started my journey out of the christian religion.
It was until I stopped borrowing holiness from others to pursue my own that I was able to leave the christian cult. So when I meet aggressive christians, I invite them to read their bible a lot and to pray often, for I know that is the sure way out of christianity.