The great physicist Richard Feynman once described what he and other scientists were doing this way: “[The Universe] is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules.” I think he was right, but his analogy scares me a bit. People who attempt to learn something, like chess or swimming or religion, often get fascinated with irrelevant customs and nonessentials. A child may think that it is impossible to learn to swim without a blue bathing suit or that chess (or science) is only played by boys. Further, if we were to describe chess to someone who has never seen it, we might mention that the pieces are black and white, that the opponents sit on opposite sides of the board, and that it is played by two humans. None of these things are required, and drawing a novice’s attention to petty rituals can interfere with their grasping the game’s brilliant simplicity. The same is true of religion.
There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
The essential rules of religion involve creating and maintaining a heart of compassion and acting in loving ways. Not only is all ethics boiled down to the simple, and universal among world religions, command to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, but the very motivation for being religious relates to developing the inner core or soul that enables us to live by the Golden Rule.
Remember this the next time someone asks you why there are two candles on the altar.