Religious Tolerance

I didn’t comment immediately after the Christchurch shooting because it triggered a heap of stuff and I needed to give it a day or two to settle. As is my want, my comments are usually outside the status quo, so I don’t want to appear insensitive in any way.

Firstly, the whole thing is horrific at every level and trying to convey anything meaningful through my words is kinda lame really. Simply put, I’ve been in tears for the people affected. And don’t get me started on things like white supremacy and the mental illness that creates such sick paradigms.

All people, no matter their beliefs, are beautiful and “sacred”, deserving of love, compassion and respect. End of story.

However, religion is an entirely different matter and we are faced with the task of whitewashing our religious differences and glibly saying we must respect everyone’s beliefs and co-exist in harmony and respect, or face the fact that our beliefs actually do embrace the possibility of justifying horrific actions. To sort this out effectively, requires a lot of unpacking.

Islam, as represented by your everyday Muslim, is described (or has been re-branded) as the “religion of peace”, and for these millions of people, all they want is to live their lives in peace – as we all do! Christians too make similar claims.

But there are facts – “elephant in the room” type facts.

Islam has never been a religion of peace – ever – under any circumstances (except to, perhaps, other Muslims and even then there is an extremely brutal justice system that is hardly one of a “peaceful” religion). It has shed endless rivers of blood. It conquers and destroys with cruelty and viscous hatred and bigotry.

But let’s not forget that Christianity is also guilty of this, as are most of the major religions. This includes Judaism. In fact the three Abrahamic religions have released more horror on this world than any other force.

But before you jump on me, I absolutely recognise that there are millions of people who live within these religious constructs and despite what they are taught at any level, just want to live peaceful lives.

So we have a massive disconnect here. Many would say we shouldn’t include the extremists and activists in the equations as they don’t represent the vast majority. But the fact is, they are there, and their influence is huge. They have guided these mammoth institutions throughout the centuries more than any “peaceful majority”. Let’s face it, would you really want to live in an Islamic state?

Let’s be grateful that at least in “western” countries the laws are such that we don’t allow overtly violent and abusive religious expressions.

Christianity is only peaceful because of those who embrace the simple teachings of Jesus (don’t get me started on Paul). Those who like to weave the Old Testament scriptures into the picture have a deep sense of God’s wrath and violence (yes, there are many doctrines and theological ideas that try to piece it all together with varying degrees of success). But the same is also true for Islam. Muhammad’s teachings are clearly contradictory in terms of being peaceful and embracing all nations, and committing various degrees of horrific genocide on the infidels. To get the type of religion most Muslims like to live by requires extreme cherry picking and juggling of scripture.

Same with the Jews.

Same with Christians.

Islam is one screwed up religion, seriously! And to think otherwise is to be naive.

So what do we do with all this? My heart is to help people be truthful and realistic about what they believe and why they believe it. Are our beliefs really based on being “peaceful and loving”. Does our core religion, as laid out in traditional doctrines, allow for unconditional love, compassion and empathy with every other person on the planet? Are we even willing to look at the issues, or are we happy to just pretend the problem doesn’t exist?

We can ignore it to a huge degree, which is what the various movements towards religious tolerance encourage. Live and let live. Your beliefs are yours, and mine are mine and if we accept that we’ll get on just fine… until another group realise that their scriptures and fundamental teachings don’t embrace this in the slightest. And so another round of brutality, bigotry, hatred and terrorism starts.

Of course I support the efforts for religious tolerance! Its all we have so far that resembles anything like a solution. But it’s time we “grew up” as a species and looked at exactly what we get from religion and how ours benefits humanity as a whole.

Truthfully, religions only reflect the hearts of those who created them, and that’s not always a pleasant reality. All religions are cultural constructs, with the potential for peace or horror, just like humans, strangely enough.

There is a better way!

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Who wrote what?

Here’s something I always had a problem with, even way back in my fundie days, although I’d end up thinking the usual “God’s way’s are higher than mine”. I often talk about this still, (and will probably keep bringing it up) and have yet to hear any viable answer to the problem.

But it never went away, and once I’d “deconstructed” enough to see through my confirmation biases, this became a central issue to the entire veracity of the gospel.

Let’s face it, the bible is full of random stuff that should never have been put in there. However, if we claim to be Christian then the words of Jesus are the only thing that matters ultimately. But that implies that the writings of Paul (and lets not forget that at least a third or the letters that bear his name aren’t actually written by him) are really only his personal “revelations”. He never met Jesus, or heard a single word he said. It was all in his head from a mystical experience. So just looking at Jesus is really keeping it simple and pure.

But we do have another problem, just to make it all a bit more confusing.

The gospels are all we have as a record of anything he said, but they aren’t written by eye witnesses (and yes, it’s doubtful that even John was by THE John). They are all assembled from the accounts of one, possibly two, other documents (as far as the latest theories go) that no one has any idea about their historicity. Plus we also have to face the the obvious fact that someone was following Jesus everywhere frantically writing down his every word, on parchment, with ink, in “real time” (so as not to miss any subtle nuances or misquote him). And apparently this guy was even there, in the dark, writing away furiously, while Jesus was praying, on his own, to the Father.

This is no small issue! It goes right the the crux of Christianity. And seriously, if we have no way of verifying that the gospels really are the actual words of Jesus then it’s really nothing more than mythology.

For me, this was one of the key factors for my “leaving the fold”. And as I looked outside the confines of christian theology and doctrines, I found other spiritual and philosophical hypothesis far more rational and capable of making myself and the world a better place.

It’s really become a case of why would I attempt to adhere to a religious belief system that was so flawed from the ground up, creating nearly 2000 years of bitter conflict, endless reassessment, new doctrines, etc, to maintain credibility and relevance.

I keep bringing this whole point up, not in an attempt to undermine anyone’s personal beliefs (although that would be a very real possibility) but to help us all realise that religion in any form is an entirely subjective experience that we create to feel better about ourselves and the world.

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My Scooter

(a true story)

I had a scooter when I was a kid. Not one of those little things they have these days. Nope, this was the 60s. I had a blue and white super deluxe scooter with big pump up tyres and white rubber hand grips. It was fast and smooth. It could handle the rough, but best of all was the speed.

We lived near the bottom of a long gentle hill, and as I slowly gained more confidence, I would go further up the hill to get that extra bit of speed. Stopping was a challenge, even though it had good brakes, but you could never be too careful!

Off I’d go down the footpath, oblivious to the thought of people coming out of drives and old ladies or the postman. When it was quiet however, I’d go straight down the middle of the road.

Finally I worked my way to the top of the hill but still I needed more speed. My last techniques involved crouching down to minimise drag and I was always oiling everything to get that last little boost as well.

Of course, it wasn’t without its risks, and there were many grazed arms and knees, but I was never daunted. It was my scooter – it was perfect.

I’d scoff at other scooters and prided myself on how fast I could go. And yet, in the back of my mind I knew bikes were even faster. My older brother had a bike, but I ignored it completely – stupid looking thing with skinny tires and you were right up in the air, not close to the road like my scooter.

I did try the bike once, but it was terrible! All wobbly and just not right at all. No, bike riders were stupid. Scooters ruled!

For some reason I never allowed myself to think that bikes were actually far more useful. So much so that I would rather walk than make the transition. Eventually though, after pushing it too hard for too long with too many accidents, I had to admit defeat and finally realise I had outgrown my precious scooter!

So as soon as I was old enough I got a motor bike and eventually a car, as you do. I mean, scooters are great, don’t get me wrong. When I was little it was my life, my pride and joy, and did everything I needed. But I simply had to admit that there were bigger and better ways of getting around.

My spiritual journey was very similar.I wanted the best! I wanted truth, wisdom and knowledge. So amidst all the options I chose Christianity.

Christianity had everything I needed! It was slick, with all the answers. I could dig deep into mysteries and get more and more revelations. I could stretch my limits with faith and “ministries”. There was so much to do and strive to be better.

Of course, it wasn’t without its risks, and there were many accidents, causing damage to myself and others. I’d trip up when doctrines didn’t work properly and find another one that did, or patch up the old one with a few different scriptures.

I’d not only scoff at other beliefs, but actually declare them evil – even other Christians who didn’t have my particular polished, high speed, oiled and maintained doctrines, weren’t as good as me.

For some reason I never allowed myself to think that other beliefs were actually far more beneficial – both for me or everyone else! Eventually though, after pushing it too hard for too long with too many accidents I had to admit defeat and finally realise I’d outgrown my precious beliefs.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make Christianity work any more. It finally became a matter of either ignoring all the other options and doggedly limping on, or at least giving these other beliefs a serious look.

Don’t get me wrong, Christianity served a purpose, but like my scooter, it had a limited usefulness – it would only take so much before turning into a liability.

All this may sound a little patronising to a lot of Christians. I would have thought that too when I was still oiling the wheels and going further up the hill to get more speed. I would have vilified anyone who thought I would outgrow such an amazing belief system.

But outgrow it I did. I still appreciate much that I’ve learned. But I grew too much for it to contain me. Like my scooter that is way too small for me now, Christianity is too small to be of much value.

I could still ride my scooter if I wanted too, but why would I? 

Some kids trash their scooters, run over people’s toes, smash into old ladies’ shopping trolleys and wreak havoc! But I still have a soft spot for my scooter, and I don’t mind dusting it off when talking to other scooter experts. Hopefully we’ll all outgrow these things anyway, although I’m not sure what our perfect transport looks like!

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Taboos

Everyone has their favourite “taboo” topic, but religion is one of those universal taboos.

I don’t mean taboo as in “don’t talk about it”. I mean as in “we must respect each others religious beliefs”. To that, I say bullshit! Religious dogma, in all its variants, has caused more “hell on earth” than any other single factor. So that’s a big yeah/nah from me.

Of course, we do well to respect each other’s humanity, exercise compassion and empathy etc, but we have managed, as a species, to be unable to separate religious beliefs from our identity as a human being. We simply aren’t very good at applying rational thought to those beliefs.

That doesn’t mean we should abandon religion. It simply means that religion must be open to the same scrutiny and objective analysis as any other part of our life. This also means that we must recognise our spiritual needs as human beings and the influence of our emotions and “gut feelings” – everything goes into the mix.

We are so incredibly offended when someone challenges our beliefs. However, beliefs must be challenged if we are to grow as a species – grow in unity, love, compassion and ways that build a better society.

I love to challenge ALL belief systems and provoke people to look at why they believe what they believe. Nothing is taboo for me, and nothing should be taboo for anyone.

If you are upset by someone questioning your “god” and your beliefs, then you should be asking yourself why you are offended – why is it your job to defend those beliefs so passionately?

Not one single god or religion is objectively provable. So believe whatever you want, but if someone challenges you, have the maturity to at least recognise that.

What an amazing world it would be if we all stopped protecting our precious taboos!

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The Narcissistic God

I write this as a challenge rather than a statement of my personal beliefs. The link below is to an article by Andrew Jasko, an ex-fundamentalist Christian.

There are endless variants of christian theology and some, such as the “Grace Movement” paint a very different picture of God – one that is unconditionally loving. This, and the more mystic form of christian theology, provided me with some relief from the chronic cognitive dissonance of fundamentalism, but ultimately, I had to admit that even these theologies created their own set of problems with the biblical God.

No matter how I tried, I could not equate the biblical God as an entity who had any concept of genuine love. In fact I found our innate concepts of love to be far more “moral” and genuine than the Abrahamic/christian deity.

So as you read this, make the effort to see past your own dogmas and paradigms. Be willing to be challenged to look outside your confirmation bias.

God Has A Narcissistic Personality Disorder

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Theist, Atheist or Agnostic?

I’m often asked if I’m an atheist, or most Christians assume I’m atheist. After engaging in discussion, some will assume I’m agnostic. Often atheists assume I’m still a theist or haven’t got the guts to ditch the whole god thing.

Whichever way it goes, people want to label me as being in one camp or the other, or simply agnostic.

However, I simply can’t define my beliefs that simply. In fact I think it’s asking the wrong question entirely!

The whole premise is usually based on the assumption that we are talking about some permutation of the Abrahamic God, which is fair enough given it’s roots in our culture. This is true for theists and atheists. Because of this, most struggle to understand someone who has moved beyond those concepts entirely. As a result I get labelled as a “new age” thinker, or some other sort of spiritually nebulous wanker. Some think I’m more Buddhist/Zen these days… you get the idea.

However, I could only define myself as one who sees the “big picture”. Someone who strives to understand the interactions of ideas, philosophy, spirituality, religion, science and the empirical methodology it embraces, and many other factors. I get equally annoyed by Richard Dawkins as I do by Franklin Graham – because they both have such a shallow and ignorant view of religion. I’m frustrated by the politicising of spiritual disciplines such as Buddhism in far eastern countries. I revolted by the cults of christianity in Africa and Latin countries, and the Evangelical religious cult in the USA. I’m sure you get my drift.

My motivation in all this is a desire to understand why we need religion, and is there a better way of “doing it”.

If there was any label that was vaguely appropriate, it might be “seeker”, but even that implies I’m looking for some sort of god. The whole idea of theism or atheism is moot for me, unless you are talking about the theological constructs of traditional religions.

I hope that answers any questions about my beliefs – or not, lol. Just remember that you will often not get the response you are after from me. In that sense, I’m probably rather Zenish, but even that is just a particular viewpoint rather than a “truth”.

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Spiritual evolution?

I’ve been trying to write my next book “…But Not as We Know It” for a long time. But I’m forever struggling. Not through lack of inspiration, but because of the immensity of the subject.
 
Spirituality and religion define humanity. It’s arguably the thing that separates us from all other animals. We just can’t help ourselves.
 
We have this innate awe at the splendour and power of the universe. We create religions and philosophies to understand and process it all. Science is a direct result of this deep drive as well. Understanding, meaning, purpose – piecing together this insanely huge puzzle.
 
I’ve read so much philosophy and religious text, and the growth of our understanding through countless millennia is muddied by fear and insecurity. The threat of “existential crisis” is palpable through all disciplines. Religion handles this with magical thinking and dogma. Science handles it by ever pushing forward with knowledge. Philosophy handles it with mental gymnastics.
 
There are so many threads through every discipline, glimmers of hope that get tangled up and strangled in our deeper fears. We keep worshipping the wisdom of ancient peoples instead of acknowledging our own internal evolution and ability to build on that wisdom, or even start from scratch, or a willingness to see that no one methodology is “truth”, or the deep subjectivity of just about everything we believe.
 
There is so much, and yet in all that there is a way that transcends our cyclic futility, despite the most profound ideas constantly ending up as dogma, tradition, ritual – stagnating as their adherents refuse to use beliefs as stepping stones to maturity.
 
Religions are utterly incomplete and incompetent in their attempts to satisfy our spirituality. The moment they are formalised the vast majority see it as their final destination rather than part of our evolution as human beings. We use it as an attempt to calm our fears instead of fuel to grow.
 
Philosophies are embraced and then treated as religious dogma. Gurus, preachers, religious leaders, all dole out their glimpses of wisdom to hungry adherents who refuse to do even the most basic work of finding their own unique place in the universe. They swallow the bite size chunks and call them their own.
 
We are taught to be spiritually lazy. Our favourite teachers perpetuate the hand feeding of their sheep. And yet I believe we are slowly learning. Change is coming. I can see it. Religions are failing. Science is not answering the things that concern us the most. Philosophy runs around in circles. But through it all there is a merging. Each field is starting to embrace each other. We are beginning to see that what we have accepted so far has not worked, or ever will. We are becoming willing to break new ground and drop all dogma and preconceptions.
 
I’m struggling to express the enormity of what I see as the way forward, because it requires more unlearning than learning. It requires so much breaking down of existing paradigms that it’s almost overwhelming! And I’m constantly challenged by my own fears, in fact, even thinking that I have some sort of insight is dangerous ground in itself!
 
So my next book may be a while yet. Perhaps it won’t be me that writes it!!
 
I just ache for humanity to grow up.
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Religion – definitions

In my last blog, I talked about the differences between Spirituality and Religion in basic terms only. It’s purpose was to clarify what I personally mean when I use the words so everyone is on the same page, although many did like the descriptions.

But the definition of religion needs to be unravelled much more. People are always at cross purposes when talking about it, and unless they take the time to explain the semantics etc, it’s often a lost cause. Even Wikipedia struggles with it: “Religion may be defined as a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion”.

So once again, I have to provide my own views so at least there is no confusion when discussing this broad subject.

The word religion is often used in derogatory ways these days, however I try to avoid any judgement attached to it and use it as an overall term for various belief systems. So here are a few qualifiers I add to the word and what I mean when I use them in reference to Christianity.

 

Traditional

As the name suggests, this is a system of theistic beliefs that have been built up over long periods of time to create a complex set of dogma that are regarded as sacred traditions and essential to maintaining those beliefs.

Fundamentalist

This is pretty much the same as conservative evangelicalism and embraces literal interpretations of scriptures (although still guided by doctrine and dogma) in an attempt to maintain the purity of “faith”. It is also very much into defining who’s “in or out”, setting clear boundaries around salvation and acceptance by God. It is often the most aggressive form of religious expression.

Institutional

This is very similar to traditional religion but is more defined by the power structures and politics that shape and control the traditions. It takes the traditional beliefs and uses them to justify a complex, and often global, network of “branches”, along the lines of a business.

Liberal

Liberal christianity contains far less dogma and is open to allegorical and metaphorical interpretations of scripture, often embracing mystical and eastern philosophies. It rejects literal understanding of scripture based on the type of hermeneutics used to interpret any ancient literature.

Mystical

This is an interesting approach to religion that has persisted throughout Christianity’s nearly 2000 years. It could be said to be “above” the constant battles of other forms of religion and most of the profound wisdom teachings over the centuries have come from the more mystical interpretations of scripture. It’s very hard to pin down any specific definition but Wikipedia has a whole section on it.

Pentecostal

This could be considered a sub-group of fundamentalism and is defines by extreme physical demonstrations of faith, such as speaking in tongues, prophesy, various types of “trances” and ecstatic states, miracles (mostly physical healing) and a high emphasis on evangelism.

Charismatic

This is very similar to Pentecostalism but tends to be part of more traditional church structures, such as the Catholic Charismatic Movement etc.

 

There are of course, many smaller sub groups. Often these groups refuse to be labelled and many believe they are the true representation of the original church, or variations of that idea. A lot of them would be classified as cults.

 

So there you have it in a nutshell. If you use the word “religion” in any conversation, be aware that any of the above could be assumed by your use of that word.

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Spirituality vs Religion

I write about this a heck of a lot (in case you hadn’t noticed), and I have tried to explain the differences in the past.
I thought it might be helpful to to define these two terms quite specifically, purely so we are all on the same page. Bear in mind that this is purely my interpretation of the words/concepts and I realise we all see these things differently. At least now you’ll understand what I’m on about when I talk about them!

 

Spirituality:

I use this word to describe the deep, innate sense of awe and wonder we have about the universe. It’s the part of us that wonders why we are here and how we fit in. It’s neutral, in that it’s not about any particular belief system, only the common yearnings that are in all of us that are intangible and mostly inexpressible except through allegory, metaphor and art.
Even atheists have, in this sense, spirituality. It doesn’t imply any sort of god, just the part of us that senses something “bigger” and beyond our senses. For some, this need is fully answered by science and all that entails. For others, it leads to another dimension that can include “gods” or spirits.
I believe it’s possible to explore spirituality without being “religious”, but we all tend to adopt some form of religious process as a way to express and live our own concepts of spirituality.
 

Religion:

Religion is the belief system we use to understand and define spirituality. There are countless forms of beliefs that attempt to satisfy our spirituality. Even the most prominent religious systems have endless variations, and in the end, every individual applies those beliefs in a unique way according to their own world view or paradigm.
Every culture has some form of religious practice that gives a unique sense of unity and common cause, purpose and direction to that culture.
As individuals, especially in more liberal cultures, we tend to mix and match religious ideas into something that works for us. This means that in the west for example, we may be predominantly Christian but how every individual defines “Christian” and applies it to their lives can be anything from living by the “golden rule” to extreme fundamentalism.
By “fundamentalist” religion, I mean a belief system that is based on applying sets of external rules as dogma that govern our morality, ethics, behaviours and even our thought processes. Most fundamentalist religions apply the greatest value on literally applying the contents of their sacred scriptures to every part of their lives.
A more liberal approach looks at applying the principles of the scriptures as a way of life.
The most liberal belief systems only see any scripture’s value in its metaphor and allegory.
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Deconstructing Jesus

I’ll preface this blog by saying that the Christian belief system is a very mature one, in that it’s doctrines have become a panacea and comfort for countless people. It provides security for our eternal future, a safe haven from our darkest struggles, hope for a better life, loving communities and a way to navigate the complexities of life. The writings of Paul in the New Testament are powerful observations of human nature and methodologies for navigating our failings. For most Christians however, it all comes down to “relationship with Jesus”.

In my own life, through all the years of crap, it was my relationship with Jesus that kept me going!

We claim that whatever people say and do and whatever claims about God people make, Jesus is real and loves me more deeply than I could ever imagine. When we experience the “living Christ” we know that we know he’s real and alive in us.

Atheists and critics tend to focus on all the absurdities of the bible and the mythical anthropomorphic god, the hypocrisy of the church and so on – all the really obvious stuff. But for those of us who have experienced the reality of Jesus none of that matters, in fact we may even agree with a lot of it! When we “know” Jesus, nothing is going to shake that belief because we experience him everyday and every way in our lives.

When everything fell apart for me, the only thing I had was Jesus. I could rest in the fact that he was there for me, speaking to me, telling me it was OK and he’d look after me. But as I began to dismantle the theology and doctrines, the historicity and veracity of the bible, church history, other religions and philosophies and especially psychology, I had to take a second look at this “relationship”.

As all the external beliefs slowly crumbled I was left wondering what this relationship actually was. What exactly was my heart “hearing” when we talked? Where did these words of love and comfort come from? It wasn’t until I had the honesty and fortitude to let go of my security in that voice that I could see it for what it is. It was me all along!

Yes, it was my deep longing for love being voiced by my subconscious desires. It was my own heart telling me I’m loved and good and to hang in there. I had taken my “innermost thoughts” and ascribed them to a deity. I had separated my heart into “me vs god”. The core doctrines of Christianity told me that my heart was deceptive and there was nothing good in us, and that the only way we could grow was to nurture our relationship with Jesus, so this inner voice, that the bible said was the Holy Spirit (which is the same as Jesus, which is the same as God, or not), was the only thing to be trusted. However, we could only trust it if it aligned with scripture!

But that opened the door for Jesus to be able to say anything to me as long as it could be backed by scripture. This was beginning to become rather a mess, because there are millions who claim to hear Jesus say all sorts of stupid stuff, backed up by scripture. So the only thing that I could say for sure was Jesus voice were the words of love and acceptance, because without that, I had nothing. I was already nothing more than a piece of shit saved by grace, God didn’t have to remind me of that all the time, so his love was the only thing that made sense to me.

But as I said, when I finally had nothing left to lose, I discovered that my own heart – desperate for love and acceptance – was really this “Jesus in me”. I decided to accept that as the reality, instead of all the complicated twisted theology of the trinity and human nature, and how God lives in us.

My heart, in it’s deepest place, is pure and loving. I’m not intrinsically broken and sinful. None of us are! We certainly lose sight of that however, as we blunder on through life, and completely lose sight of that deep perfect love, but it’s there none the less.

So I no longer talk to Jesus, or listen for his words of love and comfort. I don’t wait expectantly in prayer for that still small voice to whisper to me, or his passionate embrace of my soul. I open the depth of my heart to hear what’s always been in me – that part of me that is beyond ego, that existed before our paradigms were formed by life’s interactions and expectations. My heart knows me better than any deity, better than my scrambled thoughts, better than my deluded ego. It’s my own deepest voice that speaks love, and that is a power and strength that no deity can ever match!