The Frame of Reference

A few weeks ago I drove my 73 year-old father with dementia to a medical appointment across town. Because I hadn’t been to that area in a while, I turned on the GPS and punched in our destination. About five minutes into the drive my father exclaimed excitedly: “That thing is telling you where to go! It’s talking to you!” We both giggled and I explained the GPS and the satellites feeding it our location and the maps in the computer’s memory. But it all got me thinking. Sixty years ago, my father would go to work as a busboy at a local hotel restaurant riding a bike on a dirt road. There weren’t even stoplights in the small town. If we would have told that 13 year-old boy that sixty years later a computer the size of the palm of your hand would give you directions to the doctor’s office… well let’s just say that sounds an awful lot like Star Trek.

I personally take our GPS for granted. It’s a tool in my car that I use as needed, just like the wipers. It was a blessing for me to see the GPS through my father’s eyes, with wonder and amazement, even if it was only for that short while.

That is what frame of reference is to me. It is interpretation. It is seeing things through the eyes of someone’s collection of experiences, and through a cultural point of view. For example, if I say to my husband that I am picking him up at work and to meet me out front, he will be looking for and expecting me to drive up in our minivan and not riding on a camel, because in his frame of reference our family drives around in a minivan.

So when humans discuss such things as God and the constructs of religion, we are doing so with the imagination and limitations of the human mind. And because humans have been around for 200 thousand years and there is a wide array of cultures on this planet there is a variety to our frames of reference over time and geography. That is why, I think, we have different religions.

Taking Religion Out of the Box

Something I learned from Wellness Consulting is that there are two types of people when it comes to weight loss: those who want to follow a strict meal plan telling them what to eat at every meal and snack in the day, and those who hate routine and feeling restricted. Same with exercise, there are some people who like to vary their workouts and use the free weight machines and others who want the regimented routine of a class. And to be honest, if you have the discipline to follow through without strict boundaries, there really is no difference in the results. The key is in the consistency.

I view religion and spirituality that way. Spirituality is the underlying goal comparable to weight loss in this example. It is turning towards God and not away from the Universal Love that unites us all. It is striving for love and peace and kindness towards all we meet and for ourselves as well. Some of us can consistently live spiritually without having to follow a prescribed regimen… and some of us can’t… and that is where religion comes in.

Most religions give us rules to live by; what to eat or not to eat, what to wear, when and how to pray. When you take a close examination of the biology and psychology of the human being and how much of our tendencies are ruled by subconscious reactivity and habit, it can become quite clear why human beings need the confines of religion and why we need the checks and balances to hold ourselves to the standard of the more intelligent, creative and inspired animals we are. But just as we evolved to manipulate our environment enough to build cars and GPS devices, I believe we can also evolve to no longer need the firm guidance of religious dogma.

Religions use the frame of reference of the people of the time and place where they are born. There are fundamental truths that cross all religions, as I refer to in my book Being Human, and I feel that those deserve special attention namely “Love one another.” But there are other laws that I find were included just to appease the people of the day… sort of easing them into the change by not making things too different. For example, Christian holidays closely linked to the pagan calendar with Christmas at the winter solstice and Easter at the spring equinox, and the Baha’i faith which was born in Persia in 1844 keeping the obligatory prayer with ablutions and prostrations familiar to the Muslims of that time and place.

It is my personal belief that religions are conceived by humans. I understand that most people believe that the holy texts were written with the hand of God guiding the prophets or scribes, that there was a connection to the divine and that the humans where mere vessels and instruments for the recording of the wisdom and laws of God. But it was written describing the limitless in limiting human language while using a human frame of reference. And when these texts are read and interpreted, they are read and interpreted in a human’s limited frame of reference.

We are all Okay

And so I have reconciled myself to the fact that there are no perfect religions, because humans are imperfect. I have also reconciled myself that we are all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Sometimes, we really need the regimen of a diet when we’ve been tempted for too long and gone way off track. Sometimes we are doing just fine in our own little routines, sticking to our plan and reaping the benefits. As far as I see things, as long as we live with the intention of love every minute of every day, we can overcome our basic human drives and find peace, and it doesn’t matter what box we fit into or if we don’t fit into any box, as long as we are consciously living in kindness we are all okay.