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Unity or Uniqueness?

There are many reasons why we love religion: purpose, meaning, security, community and so on.

One reason, that I find is overlooked to some degree, is a desire to unite humanity with common beliefs so that we can all get along and live loving, meaningful lives. We think that if we all believe the same way, we will have world peace.

This is, in itself, an understandable and noble goal. In fact, in a way if we really did have the same religious beliefs it would solve a heck of a lot of problems.

In the real world though this will never happen, although most Christians believe Jesus will return to rule the world and everyone will become Christians or burn in hell (or something to that effect).

To embrace this idea however is lazy – really lazy. In fact it’s everything that’s wrong with religion!

We cannot all believe the same thing no matter how hard we try. There have been, and still are, thousands of groups trying to create communities and organisations that all believe the same theologies and doctrines. Every church’s main focus is to make sure everyone is on the same page, faithfully shaping people’s lives to match their particular denomination’s rules.

Religion demands (overtly or extremely subtly) that we all become clones. Like it or not that’s the bottom line. Sure, we can have varied lives and roles in our community. As long as our belief system matches everyone else’s we can do whatever we like.

Solving the world’s problems and creating a better world however, requires hard work – just not the type of work Christians (and all other religions) think.

It requires that we actively go out of our way to encourage uniqueness.

You see, even in a tight church group, no one has exactly the same beliefs. They can say they do, but it’s impossible. Every mind is different. The way we all process information and our environment is different. We respond differently to everything, with different emotions. The variations are limitless. And yet we pretend that we are all in unity – until someone expresses the fact that they see something differently. We give them a certain amount of liberty, but if their thoughts run too far off track we have to bring them back into line. We have to help them force that unique thought process back into our particular group’s mould.

History has shown that this never works – ever! And it never will. It’s like “whack-a-mole”, eventually the moles always win.

The key to growth is through accepting our uniqueness, and helping each other discover our own unique approach to spirituality. We need to help each other discover how to live with integrity (the “concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions.”). It doesn’t matter what we believe if we do so with honesty and integrity, and that, most importantly, we display love – for ourselves and others.

To force uniformity of beliefs is to bring death.

To encourage freedom of beliefs with personal integrity brings life.

When I say to Christians (and all religious people) “it’s time to grow up”, I get slammed for being arrogant and patronising. And yet, after thousands of years of religion, it’s clear for those who really want to see, that unity through religion has failed. It’s failed in a way that is horrific. It really is time for all of us to grow up as a species.

Time to love each other for who we are, not who we think we should be to appease any religious expectations.

 

 

(Originally published 13/9/17 on Jim’s Awesome Blog)

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!