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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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Proof of God!!

You can’t prove god exists, and I can’t prove he doesn’t!

Sure, there are all sorts of philosophical angles you can take on the issue, but in the end, no one can prove anything.

What you CAN do is present theories based on subjective observations. They can be beautiful and quite functional theories that meet some of our emotional needs, but they are theories none the less.

You can present ancient writings from other cultures that express everything from of wisdom writings through to the nature of various divinities, but you can’t “prove” that this god is actually real.

You then have to ask yourself what “proof” is. What I find extraordinary is so many christians saying that if you can’t see the “proof” in everything around you then you are [insert derogatory name here]. But of course, if it’s not obvious through examining all the evidence, then it isn’t proof at all. Proof, by the very nature of the word, means there is no ambiguity or doubt. The worst “proof” offered however is the bible. Irrespective of however one may interpret the writings in the bible, they are still subject to the same demands of proof. As I say, if the bible was indeed proof, there would be no ambiguity and everyone who read it would be convinced. The bible is like any other sacred writings – full of interesting cultural stories – myths and legends, various types of wisdom, justifications for cultural traditions etc… everything except “proof” of god.

I just recently saw a video from a highly qualified physicist who claimed that the theories about the big bang being caused by quantum fluctuations, that are pretty much universally accepted in the field, are proof of god! Sorry Mr Professor, they are simply proof that there is a greater level of physics that we don’t understand yet.

And as for atheists (yes, you don’t get away unscathed either), you can dismantle theology entirely and present absolutely convincing arguments for the non-existence of a deity, but at the end of the day, you still don’t know. At best you can only really call yourself agnostic, simply because you don’t know what you don’t know!

Having said all that (as I often do, lol) feel free to believe whatever you want, but the moment your beliefs turn to dogma and become “truth” you have slipped over into self delusion, and that’s a topic I’ll leave for another blog!

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Religious freedom?

The big debate is currently around people having the rights to exercise their religious beliefs – freedom of speech basically. But the real issue isn’t our rights to exercise our faith so much as questioning the veracity of those beliefs in the first place.

Let’s face it, if I was a Satanist wanting to introduce religious education into schools and petitioning government to make live animal sacrifices legal…. well we all know how well that would go. “But it’s not the same thing!!” we cry “everyone knows Satanism is wrong and evil”. Really? Technically, it’s a religion, and has the same legal rights as any other religion. So why shouldn’t they be free to exercise their “firmly held religious convictions” and be free to openly discriminate against Christians?

The questions we should all be asking are around the belief systems themselves. We should be looking at why any religion discriminates against another human for any reason. We need to dig deep into religious culture and question the veracity of every belief and how they affect our society. We have to have the guts to challenge beliefs that damage and divide – beliefs that create pain, suffering and abuse. To ignore these questions and blithely grant the status of “religious freedom” to Christianity (or any other religion) is to be complicit in the damage caused!

So lets have the guts to be honest and upfront. Let’s challenge those beliefs and expose them for what they are instead of wasting time around people’s rights to express them.

In saying that, I’m not calling for some Christian hate campaign. On the contrary – we’ll never get anywhere by simply fighting and discriminating against religious beliefs. The key – as always and in all things – is love, patience and empathy. That’s not the same as tolerating a destructive belief – it’s standing up to them with facts, reason and patience. If we mock and belittle those beliefs we create bigger barriers and lose any hope of speaking truth.

It’s a narrow road we walk when trying to simultaneously bring truth and love to humanity. We must be strong enough to say no, but also compassionate enough to bring understanding and break the walls instead of making them bigger. Our common humanity, love and compassion for ALL must come before, and/or be the basis of, any religious beliefs. If not, those beliefs should not get any freedom of expression to the rest of the world. Believe them of you want, just don’t expect to have any rights to inflict them on others.

We can do it – if we are prepared to cut to the real issues with bravery and compassion.

Live loved!

 

The Inner War

Traditional Christianity (and most other religions) teach us that we are broken- fundamentally flawed and need to be fixed/saved/restored/born again…. https://tjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Stephen_What-Must-I-Do-to-Be-Saved.jpg

They teach us that there’s a war going on inside and outside us for our souls/hearts/spirits. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood” is a common cliché we throw around. The devil is a real adversary. Our mind is deceptive and untrustworthy. We are easily deceived by “the world” or “the devil”. You know the story!

It is however, the wrong assumption, creating the wrong solution, and ultimately achieving nothing. In fact, it is worse than that. It creates a deep sense of worthlessness that only an external deity can resolve, causing an outflow of religious dogma that has divided us, created wars, hatred, bigotry, genocide, etc. In fact, this theology is the foundation for just about all that is wrong with the world!

Now that sounds like a rather audacious statement, and I know there are many wonderful loving people who embrace christian theology and endeavour to bring love to the world as best they can. But even these beautiful souls are shackled by the lie that they are worthless without an external deity who forgives and empowers them to do good.

I’ll be opening up this a lot more so take the time to think about it as rationally and objectively as you can. Feel free to make comments, just remember that they are moderated though, lol!

What is God?

Religious people believe in God – Atheists don’t. Simple really – until we ask what we mean by “God”.

Here’s a little summary from Wikipedia. Have fun getting through that!

If you come from primarily Christian, Jewish or Islamic backgrounds, God is an all powerful being. He is “omni” everything and predominantly masculine, especially in Christian and Islamic beliefs. Other religions are a little more generous with their idea of God and many have a whole heap of them.

Then there are those who prescribe to a less humanised type of God, who see God as a power that exists in everything. Some see God as nothing more than the power of love. Others see God as consciousness. In fact there are so many definitions of God that when we say “I believe in God” we could really mean anything! Image result for my god is better than your god

Most traditional views, especially in the big 3, offer an anthropomorphic view of God as a single Deity who has complete control over everything. Others prefer something along the lines of Hinduism, where God’s are still anthropomorphic but there are millions of them, representing every aspect of life through metaphor and allegory.

I’ve found that when I talk to people as an “ex-Christian” they assume I no longer believe in God. They assume that there is only one type of God – their God. The same for all other major religions.

So when we enter into discussions, even outside of the traditional Christian/Abrahamic beliefs, we must remember that we all see a different God/gods. An atheist will scorn your belief in any god, but most assume you are talking about a type of Abrahamic God.

Many people who leave traditional religions recognise that there is the possibility of a power/force/whatever that is beyond our understanding. This relates to ideas such as:

  • We are all part of God
  • We are all gods
  • God is pure love
  • God is the innate consciousness of the universe
  • God is nature
  • And countless other variations on the theme

The thing is, no one is right OR wrong. We simply don’t know.

However! We owe it to ourselves, and the entire human race, to consider what our particular God is really good for.

Does our God:

  • Contribute to a better world, promoting peace, love and tolerance?
  • Teach us to accept others unconditionally?
  • Help us tend for the planet in all it’s beauty and bounty?
  • Give us real empathy for all people?
  • Fight for injustice and abuse without an agenda? and so on…

When I was a Christian I would have answered yes to all the above, but with the overall condition that Jesus must be at the centre of it all and you had to accept him as Lord and saviour. Only then could you truly love. I know many Christians (and Muslims and Jews etc) who genuinely don’t have an agenda, but the majority do. The genuinely loving ones hold a different foundational belief in the nature of God, often far more “mystical” – seeing the bible as metaphors, and doctrines as less important than inclusive love. This is also true of the other religions.

In summary, it comes down to what God have we created in our own minds? How have we shaped our beliefs to encompass something that includes all humanity in a way that brings unconditional love to all? We can’t simply say “there is no god”, because we don’t know. We can’t prove one way or the other. But we can look for beliefs that on the one hand, satisfy our need for love, acceptance and security, and on the other, are rational and not elitist/exclusive dogmatic systems.

If genuine, unbiased love is the “fruit” then go for it. Just don’t pretend that YOUR god is THE god.

Religion… and religion…

I’ve often posted about the nature of religion and spirituality. It seems to be a very subjective topic with everyone ready to jump in with their ideas.

We all have our notions of these terms based on our experiences and inherent paradigms, but to make any sense out of it all so that we can communicate successfully and actually be on the same page, we need to find common ground.

The most popular comment is something to the effect of “I’m spiritual but not religious!”.

But my point of contention is the definition of  “religion” and “spiritual”.

Now I’m not saying I have the ultimate definitions, but I’ve dug around extensively at the root meanings, the cultural interpretations and psychological inferences (sounds impressive!) and come to what I consider a good baseline for the terminology.

Totally unrelated pic – just because.

Spirituality is the innate part of every human, that longs for purpose, meaning and eternity.

It’s the part of us that looks at the stars and the seas and forests and is left speechless in awe.

It’s our yearning for meaning to this short, temporal existence. It fires our hearts with imagination and helps us understand love and life. It doesn’t have any set form or dogma, it’s simply a part of our existence.

When we talk about being spiritual, what are we actually saying? Most of us would agree on the above statements, give or take. But we also add our own belief systems into the mix, creating a confusing definition that others easily misinterpret.

Religion however, is the application of theories supported by subjective experiences, doctrines (formalised theologies and beliefs systems) and rituals that help us make sense of our innate spirituality. (Wikipedea: Religion is any cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, ethics, or organizations, that relate humanity to the supernatural or transcendental. Religions relate humanity to what anthropologist Clifford Geertz has referred to as a cosmic “order of existence”.[1] However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion)

Using this definition, we can see that all the major “religions” clearly fit the definitions. But millions of people explore “alternative”, “new age” or what they call pure spirituality without realising that they are also embracing religion.

I recently engaged in a tense discussion with a friend about things like chakras, reiki, and similar forms of “spiritual” practices. Although our biggest problem was to do with definitions, it did cause me to stop and think about the whole issue again.

Whatever methods we use to interpret and apply our innate sense of spirituality is basically a religion! We may embrace various forms of “new age” teachings or traditional teachings from indigenous or ancient cultures – a whole range of practices we consider as spiritual but not religious. But in fat, the moment we apply some form of methodology, interpretation and application of a spiritual concept, we have adopted a religion.

This in itself is fine! We have to, so that we can apply the principles in a constructive way. It’s not “bad” to practice religion in any form because it’s the only way we can live by our beliefs.

But here’s where the rubber hits the road…

  • Do you think your religious applications of spiritual concepts are “the truth”?
  • Do you proclaim you have the real deal and other people need to be enlightened to the reality of your beliefs?
  • What are the “fruits” of your beliefs (that you apply as a religion to your life)?
  • Have you refined your beliefs into a form of religion that has become dogma? (a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true)

So many people claim they have rejected religion to discover “true” spirituality, free of the dogma and oppression of religious fundamentalism. but they are unaware that they have simply shifted from one form of religion to another – that they have accepted another dogma with just as much passion as they claim to have rejected.

What we fail to see is that any form of religion and dogma is entirely subjective – there is no empirical evidence for any spiritual beliefs or the applications of those beliefs through a religious structure.
Whatever we embrace is, by it’s very nature, subjective and cannot be defined by dogma. Whatever we believe, we have two primary considerations – do we regard it as dogma, and what is the fruit of that belief?
 If our “religious”  belief and expression is in any way exclusive, creates an “us and them” mentality, denies unconditional love to all humanity, then we have failed at the most fundamental level. We must examine our beliefs and be prepared to let go of all our assumptions.

It’s OK to be wrong.

It’s OK to lose unshakeable beliefs.

It’s OK to have an existential crisis.

It’s OK to simply “be”.

Live loved – because that is all that matters!