Anyone who has invested time, energy and effort into finding their own truth knows that ignorance is NOT bliss. Understanding the religious environment that we grew up in should be the natural first step towards defining our own belief system. All too often, we grow up getting bits and pieces of religion, but never take the time to look at the bigger picture.
It's the bigger picture that enables us, as thinking, feeling human beings, to evaluate both the truth and the doctrine of established religion, and decide for ourselves what "fits" us in this lifetime and what doesn't, keeping in mind that 'the doctrine' of any given religion may not feel right to us, but the basic truth upon which the religion was built seems very familiar and very 'right.'
Most religions have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Common sense tells us that lots of people have made lots of changes in the teachings of any particular religion, for lots of reasons. Our job, as spiritual seekers, is to get back to the basics - the basic teachings of the 'master teacher' upon whom the religion was founded.
Our 'problem' with established religion is often that we can't find a religion that fits our modern-day lifestyle. We protest against some of the religious doctrine and practices, believing that they just aren't appropriate for living life in today's world. Without looking any further, we say, "That's not right for me," and move on in the hopes of finding a different religion that we can be more comfortable with.
In studying the history of the churches, we come to a clearer understanding of why they did things the way they did, when they did them, and - hopefully - the importance of separating truth from doctrine in our quest for spiritual truth becomes more and more obvious. It doesn't matter which religion we're looking at; in every case, there are the teachings of the Master Teacher, and the doctrine (which was established by followers, not by the Master himself) that guides us in learning how to express the Master's truth in our day-to-day lives.
That is NOT a bad thing; then and now, learning to express our spiritual truth on a day-by-day basis is what 'finding and following our own path in life' is all about. We turn to present-day spiritual teachers to guide us in expressing our spirituality, all the while resenting the spiritual teachers of yore who did the same for their life students. I have no doubt that generations from now, free-thinkers will criticize the teachers (and teachings) of our time as "old-fashioned' and 'inappropriate to their lifestyle.' That's the way it has always been, and that's the way it will always be: established religion gives each soul something to think about - a starting point in deciding what their personal truth will (or will not) be in that lifetime.
We run into problems when we want to express our beliefs differently than any particular sect of any particular religion tells us to. If we stop thinking of 'established religion' as a firm set of rules and regulations that we are expected to follow if we want to be a 'spiritual person,' and look at it instead as a historical recap of the ways generations of people have chosen to express the spiritual teachings of a specific Master Teacher, we can free ourselves of the emotional rebellion we sometimes experience at being told what we should think and what we should feel. Once we stop feeing defensive, we can begin to explore the 'truth' as the Master Teacher taught it, without getting lost in the doctrine established by those who came after him.
Once we separate the truth from the doctrine, we begin to realize that there really isn't much difference in 'truth' at all; the common thread that runs through every major religion in the world is what we, today, call "Universal Law." Every great spiritual Master (including the ones upon whose teachings the various religions were founded) taught the same basic principles. Our goal in spiritual seeking should be two-fold: to get back to the basic teachings, and then to decide whether those teachings, as presented by any religion, ring true for us, as individuals, in this lifetime. Too often, we lose our focus and put our emphasis on doctrine (which comes and goes with each change in the socio-economic environment) instead of on the basic truth which the doctrine is striving to express.
Lois Grant-Holland is a Life Path Focus Counselor offering Life Path Focus Sessions, Karmic Astrology Charts, Channeled Guidance, Intuitive Readings and Classes and Workshops to spiritual seekers on all positive paths, and is the site facilitator at The A.N.S.W.E.R. - (The Seeker's Resource Guide to Alternative, New Thought, Spiritual Growth, Wellness and Enlightenment Resources.) You can visit her website at http://www.loisgrantholland.com