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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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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!

 

Apologetics

In a conversation that came out of my previous blog – Fatal Paradoxes – I casually stated that I knew all the correct theological and doctrinal answers to my own questions: that I had found the paradoxes of faith to be insurmountable and thus fatal. The other person asked if I could provide some examples of these doctrines that I used to be so confident about.

I quickly started looking through old notes and looked up some of the old books etc. What I found was rather scary in some ways!

You see, despite being a deep thinker and questioner all my life, I was also a bit gullible and easily followed those who sounded profound and wise, well at least in the context of christianity.

http://www.digitalfreethought.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/apologetics.jpg

 

My “go to” source for apologetics was C.S.Lewis. He was arguably the greatest apologist for the faith. He came from a rich academic heritage, was extremely well studied in religion and philosophy and very persuasive at presenting what seemed like irrefutable logic.

So as I was digging around to remind myself of all these “theological answers to the paradoxical questions of faith”, looking at Lewis and many other’s works, and thinking “where’s all the good stuff… you know, all the arguments that caused all my doubts to fade?”. I kept looking until I realised I had already found it. There actually wasn’t any profound and persuasive apologetics after all! Even the great Lewis (who I almost worshipped) was simply a product of the culture of his time, lacking in any real diverse understanding or depth from other cultures, and operating in a philosophical environment that reflected the limitations of scientific understanding of the time.

I scratched my head a little more thinking how arrogant I was for coming to that conclusion, and surely the basis for christian faith is more solid than this?!

But I realised that once you’ve “un-seen” the integrity of the faith, you can’t go back. Once the confirmations biases are revealed, the paradigms seen for what they are, the logical fallacies exposed, the role of psychology and science explored, the assumptions about the veracity of the bible and how it all hinged on that, then there really is no going back. The entire foundation of the christian belief system becomes at best, a fascinating adventure in Jewish history, or completely irrelevant, or at worst, an incredibly damaging belief system that was responsible for more hatred and bloodshed than any other. The truth is probably a mix of all these. And yet it persists – and many beautiful, genuine, loving people embrace it and bring life to others in the process.

But for me and countless others, there are far greater truths, and far greater questions that christianity fails miserably to answer, and the apologetics I thought were irrefutable are nothing more than opinions based on assumptions.

What strange and foolish creatures we are!

The Inner War – 2

In this blog I present why Christianity is such a great religion and why it truly was my “salvation”.

In my previous blog I presented the premise that Christianity, and most other religions, claim that we are broken and in need of an external deity to “save” us.

This is a very sound premise when we observe the state of the world and humanity as we see it. We all behave in ways that are counter productive to ourselves and everyone/thing else. We constantly live in judgement of ourselves and every other word and deed of our fellow humans. And then we react out of that judgement.

This judgement can be destructive, but it can be helpful in practical ways. To judge a situation we may find ourselves in, in a healthy objective way, gives us the power to make decisions that benefit us all. But in saying that, we never have enough information to make truly objective and beneficial judgements, let alone the best responses to those judgements.

Deep down, we know this to be true. We know that our limited perspectives cause problems. They always have, no matter how hard we try.

Thus we assume that an external deity is the only solution. A deity who knows all, sees all, understands all, and can communicate this to us. This deity must be able to somehow provide the ability to make good judgements and empower us to respond  to those judgements with wisdom.

Perhaps then, the Christian solution of Jesus is the most elegant one humanity has embraced. It provides the external influence of a deity in a way that makes it very personal and empowering. We set the scene with the moshttps://2.bp.blogspot.com/-h5Bo960Ken4/UIGRKKPI4wI/AAAAAAAAA8M/csOFC-9a72E/s1600/word-and-spirit.jpgt powerful deity of all – Yahweh. He, through the Jews, presents the foundation of the all powerful, all knowing God. Then this God comes to us physically as a human, identifies with us in every way, embraces his humanity, recognises our deepest needs. This God then sends himself as a “spirit” to live in us, become “one” with us, in the greatest demonstration of love imaginable. This spirit repairs that which is broken and allows God to “live through us”.

As we embrace this Holy Spirit and surrender ourselves to it, we become more God-like. The oft quoted “more of Him and less of Me” is a proud declaration of our willingness to change for good, recognising the apparent brokenness that we can never escape by ourselves. As we “grow in faith and love” we build a personal relationship with the Spirit inside us, listening, worshipping, loving, obeying

This truly is one of the most empowering religions created, when properly understood. It can take the “least of us”, and give us life and love, hope and security. So basically, it works, and can work well.

So why am I no longer a Christian? Why would I walk away from something that gave me purpose and life and saved me from despair?

Partly it’s because I saw the dreadful hypocrisy in the church, partly because of the drastically conflicting doctrines within Christianity that have caused hatred and war, still to this day. Partly because there were questions it is unable to answer. One of most potent reasons was the ever raging “inner war”.

And then, there’s “The Word”…

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!

5 Steps to recovery from spiritual abuse

This is a guest post by David Hayward (The Naked Pastor and The Lasting Supper)

Spiritual abuse is very real. No automatic alt text available.

1. Admit that it happened. What I find with many people who’ve experienced abuse is that they can’t believe that such a thing happened to them in the church. It is repugnant to them that an organization that boasts about grace and love can be so mean and hateful. They can’t comprehend or acknowledge that people who are in the people-helping business are actually in the people-hurting business. So, don’t minimize it by saying, “Oh, they didn’t mean to,” or, “They didn’t treat me very well,” or, “I was wounded”. You have to be able to say you were actually and really abused… that you were treated in such a way that it hurt you.

2. Recognize the symptoms. There are many symptoms of abuse, such as depression, withdrawal and isolation, low self-esteem, guilt and shame, not trusting others, nervousness and fear, emotional instability and crying, etc. Another aspect of this that I noticed when it has happened to me or notice in others is that their sense of God or the spiritual is damaged. The heavens are as brass. This is partially due to the fact that we may attribute divine power to those we trusted in the church.We might even acquire a strong distaste for anything spiritual, such as fast-forwarding spiritual music on our song lists. Also, the difficult question, “Where was God when this happened?” may arise. If we start trying to answer this question, there is no telling where we could end up. But we have to be open to the change this question invites.

3. Talk with someone. It is important to talk with someone who understands abuse, especially spiritual abuse. When one is spiritually abused, an interior fracture can take place which will manifest itself in different responses. Some simply change churches. Some leave the church. Some leave Christianity. Some leave their God and their faith. Most consistently, many people experience their spirituality “freezing”, slipping into an extended dormancy or an eternal hibernation. Like broken bones, talking with someone can help your fractured spirit set in a healthy manner. You might become a Buddhist or an atheist, but your spirit, your inner self, has healed properly so that your new spiritual life is authentic and not reactionary.

4. Write in a journal. A couple of weeks ago I recommended to someone that they begin writing in a journal. A week later we spoke and this person was amazed at how revealing it was. What this person discovered through journal writing was that there was a lot of anger coming out through their pen. This person wouldn’t have realized this without journaling. I’ve kept a journal all through my spiritual journey. It is an amazing tool which helps me understand myself and for processing all that happens to me. It is a very revelatory act. Journaling may help you acknowledge and admit the abuse, recognize the symptoms, and find hope for a way through the trauma. It usually helps your spiritual self heal faster and better.

5. Appreciate the process. Many people consider the process of recuperation and healing as a necessary but unpleasant passage to becoming whole again. In fact, this process is the wholeness. Healing is entirely possible, and the journey there is the healing process. This isn’t to say that you should stall in an endless cycle of the therapeutic process though. Did you know that doctors have their own doctors? Did you know that some regions require psychotherapists to employ their own therapists? These times of healing are rich with forgiveness, wisdom, compassion, self-awareness and confidence that would not be gleaned without it being appreciated.

 

Copyright © 2018 The Lasting Supper, All rights reserved.

 

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.