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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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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!

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!

Fatal Paradoxes

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/0_zBYWparsA/0.jpgI used to ask a lot of questions. I was one of those kids!
This has been the bane and blessing of my life. As a result, the platitude that “God’s ways are higher than ours” or “who are we to question His thoughts” etc, left me absolutely stone cold.

Even though I tried my best for 40 years to reconcile all the contradictions in doctrine and, more importantly, in the bible itself (and I had all the correct theologies and doctrines, all biblically based), I finally had to admit defeat and declare them irreconcilable – fatally flawed – logical fallacies… all leading to the complete dismantling of biblical theology and reasoning, although I still believe there are some gems of wisdom there, as with any “holy” writings.

This is a short summary of the most glaring issues (provided by a friend)…

So, God is the God of Love according to the Bible:

  • Love is patient – God gives up on us.
  • Love is kind – God drops us into a swirling fire pit of violent demons.
  • Love does not envy – God calls Himself a jealous God.
  • Love does not boast – God needs constant praise and adulation.
  • Love is not proud – God rejects our earnest inquiry and reminds us how lowly we are.
  • Love is not easily angered – God has wiped out most of humanity and many many people groups and individuals time and time again in His anger.
  • Love keeps no record of wrongs – God will make us answer for every single sin committed during our lifetimes.

Yes, I know how to “whitewash” or circumvent all these arguments with the best bible college answers, but to do so is to avoid the simplicity of the statements, thwarting any attempt to apply reason and/or logic to the issue.

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!

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!