I have about 25 charms in a small keepsake box. Crosses, Celtic crosses, anks, oms, a Seminole arrow head, a Sicilian horn, sun symbols – all piled atop one another, each representing brief periods in my life that I’ve attempted to say, “This best represents my beliefs.”
I could never find the one, over-arching belief system that allowed for my view of the world. I know…that sounds rather presumptuous. Who am I to determine what’s right and wrong? I should just pick a medalion and then shut up and do as I’m told.
But who really does this?
With the exception of the most fundamentally religious people, like say, the Amish or Kirk Cameron, how many of us actually believe everything that little charm around our neck implies?
A.J. Jacobs took a crack at it. In his book, Living Bibalically, he spent an entire year trying to do everything the little cross on his neck told him to do. I encourage you to check out his webpage. Let’s suffice to say that, at the end of the year, Jacobs walked away with a new insight on what parts of his faith made sense, and which did not.
The bigger point here is that 99% of us don’t really represent the icon that sits on our chest. We may have family and cultural affiliations. We may participate in rituals. But “something else” guides us when we act in a manner that goes against our religion’s teachings.
What is it?
Plato had a good way of explaining it. He asked, “Are things good because god does them, or does god do them because they are good?” If you believe in the first part of the question, then anything god does (or instructs) is right, and you’re all sinners when you stray from his word in any detail.
However, evidence would suggest that most people believe the second part, which begs the question, why do we need to listen to god at all (to know what is right for us)?
Today, I wear no charm – or chain – around my neck. I realized that no one else will ever develop an ethos that perfectly matches my beliefs because no one has ever lived my life. And since the relativism/libertarian paradox supports the idea of a free society, that works out fine for me.
Besides, I never really had the chest hair to pull off a gold chain, anyway.