Lessons From Major Religions That Even Nonreligious People Can Believe In

by Molly Falco
Mauro Grigollo

When I was little, I attended church with my family. It's so far back in my memory that I couldn't even tell you what denomination we followed. It's just a vague memory of singing "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" to a large-ish congregation in a cavernous, wooden building.

Since my parents stopped taking us to church when I was 5 or so, I've been happily agnostic. I don't connect any one religion to any specific higher power, but over the years, I've learned bits and pieces of many religions that have come to take a place in my own unique moral code.

I've heard it said that you can't pick and choose which pieces of a religion to follow, but I would argue that borrowing tenets from many belief systems leads to a holistic spirituality. More importantly, there's something to be learned from each and every religion.

Here are five takeaways from major religions that even the most nonreligious person can learn a lesson from:

1. The Second Noble Truth In Buddhism

In Buddhism, there is a belief that craving is the root of all suffering. This is the second Noble Truth of four, all of which address overcoming obstacles and negativity. This particular Truth teaches us that by constantly expecting or hoping for something beyond what we already have, we create tension in our own hearts and minds.


Think of it this way: When you're sitting in traffic wishing you were going to make it home in time to watch "Game Of Thrones" despite knowing you won't, you compound the frustration that's already being caused by being in the car. Trying to be more satisfied with things the way they are leads to a peaceful mind. Set goals that are attainable, don't wish for shoes you can't afford and recognize that GOT will be on HBO Go like, as soon as it starts.

TLDR: Quit stressing over things; enjoy what you got.

2. The Importance Of Life In Judaism

Many people look to religion to tackle the question of what happens when we die. Most major religions put significant focus on the afterlife as a concept, whether it's a destination or a reincarnation.

In Judaism, however, the afterlife is far from central to the faith. Judaism focuses almost entirely on how a person lives their life on earth and their morality during that lifetime.  There is no concept of heaven and hell, just a life well-lived.

The Jewish faith typically categorizes a good life as a life that has been devoted to God. But if we take a step back, we can isolate the concept of living well and not worrying about what happens next.

People are often so concerned with the future that we forget about our deeds in the present. By celebrating the importance of life, we can be more present. Being morally good can be more than just a free pass to heaven, and instead a way of ensuring you're living your best life while you're here.

TLDR: Live in the moment.

3. The Definition Of Love In Christianity

Anyone who has been to a Christian wedding has heard First Corinthians 13:4-8. For those who aren't familiar, the passage reads like this:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Regardless of religion, this definition of love is a great guidepost for healthy relationships, both romantic and otherwise. In an age where divorce is at an all-time high, hookup culture runs rampant and friendships can be made and broken in the space of a Snapchat, it's important to look back at these concepts for how we can do a better job of appreciating each other.

TLDR: Don't be an assh*le.

4. Intention-Setting In Islam

In Islam, it is believed that the prophet Muhammad said, “Innamal a'maalu biniyyaat,” or “Verily, actions are judged by intentions.” This hadeeth essentially means that righteous actions can only be counted as righteous actions if the intentions behind them were truly good. This lesson lends itself back to many Islamic beliefs and is key to many religious acts, but the belief extends beyond Islam.

If you were to tell your friend she looks great in her new dress, your friend would feel good about it, and seemingly you would have done a good deed. If you tell your friend she looks great in her new dress because she actually looks hideous, and you know you'll end up looking hottest in all the photos, your friend might feel good, but you're actually just a big jerk.

TLDR: Do things for the right reasons.

5. Ahimsa In Hinduism

Ahimsa is the concept of causing no injury in words, deeds or thoughts. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, and all lives deserve to be loved. While most religions cover the idea being kind to other people, Hinduism extends the concept beyond humans. All living things — including plants and animals — are to be treated with the utmost respect and are never to be harmed.

At its most extreme, this means never swatting a fly or eating a hamburger. When we zoom out on the concept a little, it means not hurting people (physically or emotionally), not cutting down trees to make room for malls, not buying shampoo that's tested on animals and eating meat from local, cruelty-free farms.


Basically, ahimsa means respecting more than just other people. It means respecting the Earth that sustains us and all of its inhabitants.

TLDR: Don't kill things for fun.