Humankind is a strangely conflicted species. We are saints and sinners, killers and healers, rational and emotional. We love and we hate without really understanding why.
We don't want to be told what to do, but we need reassurance so we turn to the law or Holy Scripture for justification.
I wake in the morning and begin my ritual: Wash my face, arms and feet. Feet? Yes, just like a good Muslim, which I am not. I give thanks for the new day and ask forgiveness for my failings. Then I recite the 23rd Psalm.
Please God; lead me in the path of rightness. The days are difficult, and the shadow of the valley of death is very real. Unfortunately, despite my prayer, I do fear evil, so I lie.
The water runs down the drain, and I slosh away a myriad of little gnats that have accumulated around the basin overnight. In the kitchen, I fill the kettle for coffee.
Before it boils, I wipe away a multitude of tiny grease ants that have found their way to the countertop since I cleaned up after dinner.
A fly buzzes around my head. I get the swatter and take out the pesky fellow and two of his companions.
Then it occurs to me that even before the coffee is made, I have decimated a hundred or so of God's creatures. It isn't exactly a feeling of guilt, only an awareness of life ... all life, even the most insignificant.
Can one be a righteous individual and not think these thoughts occasionally? And if so, how do we live in this complicated and interdependent world? We need guidance, reassurance that we are not the killers we know ourselves to be. The religious turn to a book; the rationalist, to the law.
The problem is: Which book do we read? Whose law do we follow?
Christians have the Bible; Jews, the Torah; and Muslims, the Quran.
Hindus study the Upanishads, and Buddhists, the Sutras. Zen Buddhism rejects scripture entirely believing that Enlightenment cannot be found in the written word. Maybe they're right.
As the world become smaller and more interconnected, it's increasingly important that our source of comfort and assurance doesn't come at the cost of our neighbor's welfare and peace of mind. It is life itself that must be honored, but not just life that looks like us, talks like us and thinks like us.
Beware the individual who is sure he knows the truth. The universe is vast, and truth is more complicated than we can imagine.
It is all too easy to pass our personal conviction off as God's will.
This is why government sanctioned religion is dangerous. This why the United States was founded as a secular state. The world is in a time of crisis and change. It is all too easy to point the finger at someone else and insist that if the other guy had just voted for the right party or followed the right religion, all would be well.
To call on God is laudable, but remember: the God we seek is personal. If I prepare for morning prayer like a Muslim, recite psalms and say "Our Father" like a Christian, assume a Yogic asana and repeat a mantra taught to me by a Hindu monk, I seek my own salvation, one that will hopefully make me a better person, but my pathway is of no concern to my neighbor.
What is of concern is the fruit of my pathway: Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5: 23-23)
Meditation and introspection are not for everyone, but when we stop thinking and refuse to question, we blind ourselves to much of what makes this life such a wonderful amazing experience.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.