I have had several conversations with Soldiers who tell me that they believe in God, or are spiritual, but do not like or participate in "organized religion."

That is an interesting statement.

I think I understand what these friends of ours are communicating. They see certain high-profile religious leaders who are perceived as scammers, greedy or hypocritical as well as notorious cult groups as representative of religious institutions in general. Therefore, they avoid participation in any type of religious activities.

Many religious practices are group practices.

I have found that groups of people who worship together tend to form strong relationships. These relationships formed in a religious context can provide a significant support network when we face the difficult issues of life.

The religious community gathers specifically to address spiritual issues and can provide insight and encouragement when we face death, loss, crisis, or when we are simply pondering the concepts of eternity and the meaning of life.

The religious community can also help us attach deeper significance to the major events of celebration in our lives, such as birthdays, weddings and family gatherings. To opt out of "organized religion" is to deprive one's self of a great life resource. I believe most of the world's greatest thinkers and writers on spiritual issues have come out of "organized religion."

To make an analogy, if I say I believe in God but don't agree with "organized religion," that is like saying I believe in national defense but don't believe in the national military because it is a flawed system: "Because there are instances of poor leadership, weaknesses and misuse of funds and more in the military system, I choose to opt out of it entirely. I choose to cope with defense as an individual, perhaps stockpiling weapons and ammunition, and maybe even joining a militia."

It quickly becomes obvious that individual efforts at self-defense would be no match for a major conflict involving national military forces. My view of the military, then, has deprived me of an incredible resource of protection in our society.

Organized religion is similar.

When faced with life's most significant issues, the religious community has a long history of experience in dealing with those issues. It becomes a tremendous resource we deprive ourselves of when we opt out and choose to develop our spirituality on our own.

Don't be discouraged by a few perceived bad apples within "organized religion." Realize that there is a huge spectrum of religious groups in our communities that are filled with amazing people of faith.

Don't let past experiences or misconceptions keep you away from one of life's greatest resources.