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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.

The Ever Elusive “Truth”

I was having a conversation with an on-line friend and the question came up – what is truth? – as it does, lol. My response was basically this.

That’s the million dollar question! http://img.picturequotes.com/2/208/207088/truth-is-of-course-relative-but-then-so-is-relative-quote-1.jpg

I think there are infinite truths that are unique to every situation.
Truth is dependent on our paradigms and observations.
Moral and ethical truths are societal and cultural constructs.
Religious truths are the same.
Scientific truth is ever changing as we dig deeper into the nature of “reality”.
In fact, the only truth that is slowly being revealed through science and spirituality that could be a candidate for the foundational truth is that everything is energy. Although even that is a problem when we ask “what is energy?”.
We also now know that our entire personal reality exists only as a vast complex hallucination within our brains – and that’s mind blowing in itself!

So yeah, truth is something we crave and yet slips through our fingers the moment we try to grasp it.

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!