Outside our own tiny peculiar bubble, most people do not believe. The majority will never embrace the path we hold so dear. Demographic growth related to birth-rate tells us nothing about belief. Much as it pains us, this is the way of the few.
It is the same in every tradition. Most who call themselves Christians do not follow the teachings of Jesus. Most who call themselves Sikh do not follow what Baba Nanak brought. Most who call themselves Jewish do not follow Moses. So it is amongst us.
Even those who outwardly appear to walk the path they have adopted as their own often seem to embrace little more than symbols. Everywhere we turn, people love to grasp hold of identities, while the teachings of their wise sages are spurned.
A few months back, I found myself reflecting on the Sikh’s reverence for the virtue of nimrata (humility, benevolence). As I read what their wise ones had written of purifying the soul of that arrogance which makes one think he is better than others, I thought to myself: “Yes, in this, they have the truth.” This was a teaching we could get behind.
That same afternoon, I wandered into our local Sikh-owned corner shop with a smile on my face, joyful in the knowledge that within their teachings I had found something in common I could relate to. Ah, but instead, the turbaned-one was having a bad day, for I found him shouting and swearing at an Indian woman who had just followed in after me. It immediately reminded me that we are all lost.
Most of those I left behind in my youth have long abandoned any attachment to their respective paths. Some are generations away from faith. Others simply rebelled in their teens and never looked back. Outside our cliques of the practising faithful, made ever smaller by the rampant sectarianism which scourges us, most people just live ordinary lives, fully assimilated into the culture which surrounds them.
If the paths we embrace as our own teach us the virtues of living truthfully, of being content with God’s decree, of being compassionate to all or of adopting humility in our lives, most of us turn away with fingers in our ears. For most of us, religion is just a cultural backdrop, little remembered. But it is not our cultural identity by which we are measured; the scales account for how we live our lives.
It is not a sense of collective belonging that we hold fast to. We cling instead to great ideals.