Chapter 34 – Religion (3 / 12 / 18)
I consider myself a spiritual man. I am formally identified as Episcopalian by virtue of the fact that grew up and worshiped in the Episcopal Church my entire life. But even as a child, by the time I was 12 or 13, I new not to take serious much of what was said, preached and ritualized. No one told me to be that way or pointedly influenced me to be that way, but it was just a logical conclusion I came to, using my own mind and my own thoughts, to crystalize my beliefs out of the information I received from church, school and personal experience. I believed then, and I believe now that religion is at best a means of inspiring people live in harmony with their fellow man, and providing a coping mechanism for the consciousness we have of our mortality. It is at worst, a means coercing men to bow to the will of other men or a single man, usually to the detriment of the man being coerced.
I draw a distinction between spiritualism and religion. Spiritualism is that which arises from within. It is the innate knowledge we have of what is right and wrong and what we need to have peace in our lives. When practiced in its highest form, it tends to unite humankind with love and harmony. Religion, in it purist form, is spiritual. It seeks to connect humankind with environment and the entire universe, and provide a measure of comfort to the knowledge we all have, that we will die some day in the future, and that we will not exist in our present form forever. However, once you attach religious dogma and rules of conformity to religion, you turn it into a means to divide humankind. It then implies that you must demonstrate your faith in the creator by performing certain rituals, by thinking in certain ways, by condemning certain people and by paying tribute to your God from your hard earned money. It creates out of this demand a hierarchy of value from one human being to another and claims that God only cares for those who demonstrate their worthiness through worship of Him and that God punishes or gives you the right to punish all those who don’t conform. Modern religions assign God a personality, more often than not, a personality like Saddam Husain or Basher Assad. “Do as I say and I will give you eternal paradise. Defy me and I will burn you in hell for all eternity”, the God seems to say.
I believe in order to practice religion in its highest form it must be personal. You must regard the orthodoxy of whatever region you practice as metaphorical and not literal. You must be able to interpret the rituals, sacraments and stories of your religion in the context of your own life experience and that which you feel within that gives you a sense of peace, while at the same time expresses love harmony to all humankind, regardless of race, creed or religion. Without that approach to religious practice, the religion can’t evolve with the time and certainly can’t be tolerant of other religions that don’t share its beliefs. Without that approach, religion can’t teach us to distinguish between absolute truth and that which is only true. As human beings, if we fail to be able to make those distinctions, we cannot survive as a species on this planet.
To give you an example of something that is true, but at the same time is not the absolute truth consider the concept of gravity. Regardless of religion, race or color, we all believe in gravity. We know that anyone jumping off a five-story building is going to fall to the ground at the speed of 32 feet per second and will probably die when they hit the ground. That is a true statement. But there is no truth to the statement that everyone who jumps off a five-story building is going to die. Using this same gravitational metaphor, religious orthodoxies would have us believe any and all people jumping of a five story building will die all the time, every time because God says so. It doesn’t matter if there are clothes lines to grab onto, or laundry to break the fall or firemen on the ground with a net, that person is going to die every time, all the time because the Bible, Koran, Torah or whatever religious doctrine says so. It is that kind of fanatical adherence to religious doctrine that is tearing us apart and causing us to live in fear and guilt, and in a constant state of unhappiness. I believe that most of the unhappiness in the civilized world, unhappiness that spares neither the rich or poor, stems from a feeling deep down inside us, that we are living a lie and wasting our lives.
My advise to anyone asking is to think of God as universal, alive in every thing and every place. Think of God as, “That which can only be experienced”, never understood or explained. Think of your religious leaders as at best, interpreters of what spirit requires of us if we are to experience life as safe, secure and happy people, and to use the words of the brave young student who spoke out after the Parkland Florida shootings, don’t be afraid to call “BS” on them when you feel they are being manipulative. Be very leery of anyone claiming to know exactly what God wants. Understand that the only source of knowledge of what God wants comes from within. How accurately you interpret what God wants is in direct proportion to your connectedness and sensitivity to all creation.