Religion is a funny thing, it seems to mean different things for different people. The "Word" has been used and abused for centuries to justify all ends, good and not so good. As a student of history, I got to look at the worst that religion could bring to this world. All religions really. The Crusades, the Jihad are the most known, and mentioned atrocities, but how many more are happening out there in the name of religion?
I grew up a Catholic in a very Catholic community. All through my youth, I was taught only of love, greater good, of respect and acceptance. Later learning about the crusades, the intolerance of the Christian "right" and my belief that women should be treated as equal (not honored servants) made me walk away from my parent's faith. For a while I rejected all religions.
In college I discovered Paganism and Wicca. The philosophy seemed very in tuned with my way of looking at the world. The idea of being a solitary practitioner looked like the perfect option to me. I could be completely independent, and celebrate my spirituality exactly as I wanted without being stuck into endless meaningless (to me) rituals. Great! In the years that followed, I realized that I was not a very good Wiccan really. I don't follow the tenet of the religion, my understanding of magic is very different than the "mainstream Wicca". I make my own way, honor the Goddess and the God, but that's about as far as it goes. My rituals are few and greatly simplified. I just don't take myself so seriously, it's just not my thing.
Furthermore, I've found that the Pagan religions have their issues also; poseurs and greedy merchants who will make a fortune by selling you a kitchen knife with a pentagram painted on it.
Drats! Now what?
Thing is I don't think the problem is the religions themselves, I think it's the followers. For exemple, Jesus never said that one should be intolerant, that people should get together and go attack the Middle East, that women should be treated as baby-making machines who get to clean the place between childbirths. Followers interpreted the "Word" to their own liking and used it to justify whatever they felt they needed to justify.
What of the word of "my faith"? the one thing that I try to keep in mind every day of my life is this simple statement:
"An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will"
Again, it can mean different things to different people. For some it means "Do whatever you want, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise!" That is not what I believe. To me those words speak of a greater responsibility. It is up to me to choose my course in life, and to make sure that everything I do is thought through so that it doesn't harm anyone including myself. This is a lot of work and a huge responsibility really, I can't turn to a book and say "This is what the book says, it's out of my hands". I'm making my own path, and calling the shots all the time.
"Harming none" is far reaching. I think that it includes making the world around me a better place, because "none" includes people who are, but also people who will be. This planet is old, and still has a long way to go, so I need to see how, in my own little way, I can make it a better place now and in the years to come. It's not only about not making things worse, but seeing how I can make them better. Wait, to make things better, that means I need to treat people fairly, kindly. I need to show respect and love so that everyone can live a better life.
Finally, this "none" includes myself. It is my belief that I have been given a great gift, I'm alive, I've got a body that is strong and healthy and a mind that works (most of the time ;op). It is my responsibility not only to maintain body and mind but to better it. It takes a lot of work, but to fail to do it would be showing a lack of gratitude toward my goddess who gave this gift to me.
You know, this is not that far from what I learned as a kid now is it? Treat everybody with respect and love, make the world a better place, make sure that you are a constructive, positive part of the world around you. Hmmm...
The basics are the same really, it's in the interpretation that things vary. I have chosen my path, because I am more motivated by a sense of duty, than I am by the fear of guilt. The idea of reincarnation makes more sense to me than what I see as sitting on a cloud for eternity admiring god. These are details, differences that really don't mean that much.
The bottom line is to find one's own way toward the "greater good", hopefully that is what we all look for.