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I’ve started #79 five times. I couldn’t really get my hooks into anything meaty, and then I spent four weeks on an IT contract, away from home, focused hard on a single problem. Perhaps, the effort to focus at that level exercised my mind. I’m not sure. But as I puttered around the kitchen this morning, making breakfast for my family, I had a single, but repeated theme coursing through my head: religion is destroying spirituality.
I thought I had committed to the direction and content of this entry before I wrote the first word, but before I began, a video compilation of Russell Brand interviews came across my Facebook feed. I’m paraphrasing (because he said it in several different ways), but he posits that we see the world through the apertures of our limited senses, and we forget that there is a spectrum that we as humans cannot discern. A dog, for example, can hear a whistle at a frequency far above what the human ear can experience. It’s simple science, really. The ear is comprised of organs that receive frequencies, just like a radio does. Dogs can hear frequencies far higher than humans, and women tend to hear a wider range than men. This physiological difference guarantees a significant difference in the sensory experience between species, and interestingly, between the sexes.
In order to be a spiritual creature, one has to actually tune in to the world. Tune in. Anyone who has used a radio can understand the simple concept that turning the dials narrows the reception to the station. It isn’t necessary to understand the science to work the radio. Focusing spirituality works the same way. The problem arises when people with narrow minds can’t reach beyond the black and white and simply will not try to understand the experiences of the human next to them.
I understand that there are people who need the concrete rules of religion. I learned this lesson in an extraordinarily circuitous way. As a child from a Latin family, I attended Catholic school. I was surrounded by matronly nuns, including Sister Mary, one of the most influential teachers of my life. I learned that I belonged to the body of Christ simply because I was born to humanity and given to baptism by my parents. Living a Catholic life was the choice; the gift was belonging. I learned compassion, affection and love for my fellow man. Every time an ambulance passed the school, we stopped whatever we were doing and said a Hail Mary for the welfare of everyone involved. We had faith that goodwill would triumph. I still do it to this day, even though I am no longer a practicing Catholic. I wondered why repeatedly over the last 30 years. Then I realized that a little goodwill goes a long way. I can change the tenor of any situation just by applying goodwill. That is the very definition of my spirituality. I wish you ALL goodwill.
For a brief period, for reasons that are irrelevant herein, my family moved me from my beloved Catholic school to a Southern Baptist school that was barely accredited as an educational institution. It was there that I experienced the most significant break with religion. The rules made no sense in the world I’d known for twelve years. There were twenty minutes of random Bible study at the beginning of each period, leaving only 30 minutes of lesson time for the subject outlined in the syllabus. The teachers were more interested in indoctrinating than they were in actually teaching. There was more emphasis on conforming to constraint than there was to living a spiritual life. To be clear, it is religion that is a problem for me. And more specifically, it is how the hyper-religious interprets spirituality that does the most damage.
According to Wikipedia, religion is defined as “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that aim to explain the meaning of life, the origin of life, or the Universe.” Religion is a man-made construct: a byproduct of a limited understanding of the universe and its inherent spiritual energy. Religion is the insulation that fills the space between the universe and what humans can understand about it.
You see, like many spiritual people, I cannot resolve the unmitigated destruction of another human because they don’t experience the same religion that I do. I believe that human spirituality is the infinite, unconditional goodwill that we impose on our world. A whole spirit will cause things to grow, will influence children to thrive, will have a positive impact in their work environment and will create art in the “everyday.” The problem is that not all spirits are whole, and they are the architects of religion. Again, I want to be clear. I know, and respect, spiritual leaders whose messages are reasonable and clear and filled with goodwill for everyone. There is nothing destructive in them, and that is what draws people to follow them. They are truly leaders, not tyrants.
But there are an increasing number of tyrants who have the hubris to think that what they believe is the only way to function in the world. They feel that they have the right to impose their rules on the rest of the world, even though those rules have little to do with humanity. They do not have the strength of character to maintain their own boundaries, and they incorrectly assume that no other human does either. They rape young girls in the name of God because if they pray over it, their sin is washed clean and they somehow, in their twisted logic become closer to God. They kill children because they’ve been raised in a different faith. They terrorize in the name of a God they do not clearly understand. They cannot see that they have no right to interpret what God intends and their hubris is more offensive than any other sin they commit. They beat to death, or violate girls for the sins of the men that abuse them. They are vile and destructive, and not of God. They rule by fear because of their own fear, and spend so much time drowning in their misunderstanding of the world that they cannot see the beauty in it.
Earlier today, I saw a meme that described the correct definition of “religious freedom” in this country, and it was lucid and absolutely correct. To paraphrase, it said that one has the right to practice his or her religion as he or she likes, where he or she likes, without fear of reprisal, but one does have the right to force that religion on others. It doesn’t just extend to our country’s religious freedom. When any man decides that his way of life is the only “right,” according to what he believe’s is “God’s law,” then he exhibits a level of hubris that can only be punished by God himself. According to the Bible, the worst of the seven deadly sins is wrath, envy and pride. All of these are present in people who wear their religion as a badge of honor. “I believe, therefore, I am better.” It is the core of what is currently pulling our world apart. These people have lost sight of, or perhaps never had, a clear understanding of spirituality. They have the profound, incurable narcissism that is the hallmark of a tyrant. And sadly, there are millions of people looking to belong, looking for purpose and inclusion, that will follow the tyrants into hell. It’s a slow, methodical, and subtle process. It is how every dictator in history has intellectually enslaved millions of otherwise reasonable people. “Follow me, and I will set you free.” What they’re really saying is “follow me, and I’ll think for you, and it will ease your pain.” It is intellectual anesthesia and the people who want to continue to think for themselves, whose moral compasses are right without the need for a set of rules interpreted by the flaw of man’s limited apertures: those people are quickly destroyed. All one has to do is read any dystopian literature to understand how indoctrination, as opposed to legitimate spirituality, will only work as long as free thinkers are suppressed. For North Americans, free thought is the birthright our founding fathers won in blood. Yet, we are now determined to abdicate that right in order to purchase protection through silence.
It may come off as sacrilege, but I believe that Christ was the ultimate hippie. His message was simple: be nice to each other. Live and let live. See the good. Be the good. Stop killing in my name. Think outside the box. It’s hardly a stretch to understand that compassion was his mission. The people whose “religion” I respect are people who, at their core, have compassion for the rest of the world. They may believe that a person’s actions are sinful, but there is no will to destruction. They pray for goodwill, as we did in our little plaid uniforms and pig tails to the Virgin Mary, our mother, who protected and loved us all. And despite the fact that my empathic spirit is often burdened with the constant negativity to which we humans are exposed (more on empathy in another piece), I will continue to say those Hail Marys as ambulances pass, as children die in a world they would surely paint in all colors, as leaders play Risk with all of our lives. I will continue to impose goodwill wherever I can, even if all the goodwill I can muster is a smile. You will feel it as I pass you, look into your eyes, smile and silently send you a wish for health and joy. Yeah, it sounds a bit like fairy dust, but in a world where we are constantly bombarded by ill will, it makes me feel like a million drops of goodwill could create some balance. So, here’s to balance, and a little fairy dust.