But after a brief consideration I answered that what I want from religion is meaning and connection. For me these two things work on a variety of levels.
One of the things I love about Wicca is the way it makes meaning. Polytheism and mythology give meaning to all aspects of life. The turning of the seasons are stories. The winter solstice, for instance, is not just the low point of the sun it is death and rebirth. It is an old man dieing and a young woman giving birth. Imbolc around here isn't just the first weekend in February it is people gathering together in the cold of winter to give thanks for fire and warmth, the light of inspiration in us all, and hope for the growing light of spring. History is what happened to specific people in specific times, Mythology is what happens to everyone all the time. The stories we tell ourselves are how we make meaning of our lives. I love being in a religion with so many stories I can relate to.
Those stories also help me feel connected to the world around me. The seasons become relatable. Atheists may scoff that gods are just anthropomorphic projections, but anthropomorphic projection is how we relate to the world. To see yourself in another is empathy. We know the gods don't really look like us. And we have always known that. Gods just appear to look like us because that is easier for us to understand. For example in the Bhagavad-gita before Krishna reveals his true form to Arjuna he gives Arjuna special eyes with which to see Him and even then Arjuna is overwhelmed by the vision. And in Greek mythology Semele the mortal woman who demanded to see the true form of Zeus was reduced to ashes by the sight. The lore is quite clear that humans can not look upon the true form of the divine without being destroyed. So the divine shows us forms we can bear to see. Gods appear to us in human form so we can relate to them.
But the story of Krishna and Arjuna also brings up another way religion builds connections. Krishna's true form is the basis of everything. The ultimate form of the divine is the unifying principle of the cosmos. Seeing ourselves in others is one way to connect but seeing the one unified divine in all is another way. Namaste, I bow to the divine in you. The idea that there is one divine force underlying all the cosmos is not unique to Hinduism. I found it also in the classical Roman polytheism of Marcus Aurelius. I believe that this universal form of the divine is one of the two ways that all human beings can directly experience the presence of the divine in their lives. I believe that the idea exists in all cultures because all people are capable of having the experience and when they do they express it in the language of their culture.
The third way religion helps us feel connected is by bringing people together for a shared purpose. Certainly people can come together for nonreligious purposes. But meaning gets tied up in mythology very easily. Our shared stories bind us together. Our shared experiences bind us together. Our shared values bind us together. Gathering together for a shared purpose, to tell our shared stories, is the social manifestation of religion. The bonds we form with people build our network of social support and create communities.
So that is what I want out of religion. I want stories and rituals that make life meaningful and help me feel connected to other people and the world. And I want a community that shares my values and shares the same stories.
What do you want from your religion?