A friend of mine started a lively debate on the social networking juggernaut Facebook. He said:
“I have to admit, all of this spiritual but not religious mentality irks me. I understand the “spirit” of what they’re saying, but we would do well to remember that our Lord Jesus observed the religious traditions of Judaism, including participation in the Temple (so much for being too spiritual to belong to a local church), tithing, giving, etc. And for those spiritual but not religious “teachers” who have ears to hear — if you are not under spiritual authority, then you have no spiritual authority.”
That’s a strong accusation, and one that I find has no real merit in the broad sense of “faith”. Faith isn’t something that should be dictated by the words or interpretations of one man or group, but rather should be something one decides for themselves. While there are many, many structured faiths out there, true spiritual enlightenment is a self-fulfilling event.
One of the glaring problems I’ve experienced with Christianity is that many within it feel that everything else in the world that doesn’t obey they’re Gospels is wrong. Many even take it one step further and decide to make sure that those not following the Gospels know they’re wrong. Many Christians take their set of beliefs and cram it down the throats of those who don’t believe. The problem is even internal. Many Catholics, Baptists, Pentacostals, etc. fight with each other because their interpretations of the Bible are different. I mean, is this any way to promote a religion?
I also have an issue with certain portions of Christianity that glamorize things like their churches, their priests/ministers/pastors, and even “faith healing”. I’ve been up late before. I’ve stumbled across Benny Hinn and others — in thousand-dollar outfits of white suits, Rolex watches, and snake skin boots — smacking people in the forehead and magically “curing them of their ailments”. I’ve also seen how Christian’s have used the words contained in the Bible to strike paralyzing fear, wage war, and cause pointless death. Some Christians even preach anger, hostility, and bigotry, teaching children to believe that “God Hates Fags” with a very loose description on what actually constitutes a “fag”. Is this any way to promote a religion?
Are these really ways to get people believing in the same things you do? Is brainwashing, glamorizing, and teaching hate really the way that God would want his words being interpreted?
No. That’s why I moved away from Christianity, which leads us back to the main topic.
I’ve always been one to see things my own way, and over the course of time, I’ve developed my own way of answering the questions “why am I here?”, “what is the meaning of it all?”, and “what’s the secret to life?”, without the need for doctrines and other Holy texts. I’ve basically becomes spiritual, without being religious.
I began the comments to my friend’s post by saying:
“No one has any spiritual authority. Someone can have a spiritual side without being religious, since spirituality is a position of spiritual center and religiousness is a subscription to an established thought process, such as believing in a deity manifested by the interpretations of someone else, and not one’s own experiences. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily need to be a definitive, uniformed school of mass thought. It can be a self-imposed code of morality, philosophy, and thought.”
A comment containing “preach it, bro!” followed my comment, which was then followed by someone saying they made some of their biggest decisions and changes after consulting a pastor and following his advice, which is great. Let me elaborate.
While this post has probably come off as me being “anti-Christian”, that is not the case at all. I’m very tolerant of religion. I understand it’s significance — historical and otherwise — and I also understand why it exists and why people latch to it. One of the most intimidating aspects of our existence is to understand why we exist and what our existence means. It’s a loaded question, and it’s answer could very well change how we live and why we live. Monumental change is undeniably intimidating, and with good reason. Human’s are creatures of habit. We live our lives habitually — wake up, work or school, come home, retire. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Even the most mundane of routines, in our minds, has absolute significance, and because of that, if we shocked or deviated our routine, we’d be traveling on a road of absolute uncertainty, and that itself, is also terrifying.
It also plays into our significance as a culture and as a race. Science has told us repeatedly that the human race is, in many aspects, lucky to still even exist. We are a conscious, intelligent, progressive species that has been on the verge of extinction since we developed. So, isn’t it more comfortable to think that our race survived all of these near-deaths because of some divine plan orchestrated by a divine entity? Absolutely. It takes the ball from our court and levies the responsibility on something else. Thus, we live our lives and routines comfortably.
Religion also helps us to better understand how things end. Within this junction, there are many different interpretations — depending on what religion you subscribe to –but ultimately, they’re more or less the same. For Judeo-Christians, it’s Heaven. For Taoists, Buddhists, and other Far Eastern and Pagan religions, it’s reincarnation. Every religion has some variation of an “afterlife”, and that idea quells our primitive human fear of death. There may very well be nothing we as a species are more afraid of, especially since we are driven by intellect, and death is the absolute uncertainty. It breaks our routines and reaffirms our worst fears. Religion, indeed, has an answer.
The next comment made touched base on how parasitic religion and spirituality are to each other. She stated basically half of the argument, that someone can be both religious and spiritual. This is absolutely true. She also gave her summary of what religion is, saying:
“I think religion has come to mean something else, though. It stands for a structure with grace, love, and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
While her statement is true about Christian doctrine, the same can’t necessarily be said about other religions that don’t conform to Christian principle, unless you interpret those Christian doctrines as a universal form of religion itself. Allow me to elaborate.
I believe that all religions, at their core, are the same. They follow the same basic principles, patterns, and philosophies. Many even carry the same folklore (on which I will elaborate a little later). The vast majority of religions that have existed in the world teach grace, peace, and the betterment of yourself and your fellow man. The Holy Spirit, in a sense, is the aforementioned traits, but manifesting those traits in some kind of astral entity. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit impregnated the Virgin Mary, so she could deliver the Messiah, the one we know as Jesus. This is, however, not the only instance of such an event occurring in religious dogma. In Hinduism, Krishna was conceived in the same manner. The Egyptian God, Horus, was another. There are many instances across all religions of a miraculous birth instigated by a deity or a manifestation by a deity.
There have been times where I’ve brought up the topic of religious similarities and have been accused of claiming the Bible is fraudulent (I do live in the Bible Belt, after all). This is not the case. The Bible, and Christianity, is an interpretation of events and dogma, much in the same way as other religions that formed in the same general area — the Middle East. The similarities between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are very striking and all three share similarities with Ancient Mesopotamian and Greek texts, which inspired Ancient Roman texts, which ultimately gave way to Roman Catholicism, the original Christian sect. The lines of deviation are everywhere, like a web, and the similarities between all of these faiths — and many more — can be plainly seen with just a little research and a little openness in your mind.
My next comment in the post went as follows:
“You can definitely be both, but one can also be spiritual without being religious. I am the latter. I don’t believe in the stereotypical God from Christianity, but I believe in a force greater than myself (my “God” being along the lines of the natural universe itself). My faith rests in my experiences, not in a sect of religion with a set of rules to follow. Faith is personal, and while I understand there are many who’s faith is in an organized religion — which is perfectly fine — to me, faith is a personal endeavor and is molded around the philosophies and experiences one obtains, hence why when people say some variation of “someone cannot be spiritual without being religious” is bothersome to me.”
It most certainly is bothersome, and to me represents narrow-mindedness and spiritual bigotry. If there is a way to summarize this post, it’s that someone can be both religious and spiritual, but it’s also possible to be spiritual without being religious. The philosophy of having free will and being able to think for yourself is that you can reflect on your experiences to justify your existence and what everything in the universe means. To deny someone of that, or to claim that someone cannot have a spirituality outside of an organized religious practice is no different than claiming that a black person cannot sit in the front of bus or that women are not allowed to have the same rights and privileges as men. The claim made by the man who posted the Facebook status that inspired this Zephyr Lounge entry verges on a denial of civil rights.
The next comment in the thread did peak my interest. This is the first half:
“Jesus, while adhering to customs as a Jewish person and caring for the Jewish people deeply, had a heart for the bigger picture. His biggest critics were those who were religious without getting the spiritual side at all. I understand that, at time, we swing the pendulum too far one way to make a valid point. To be on your own, without community or mentor-ship, is not the best idea either.”
I actually agree, within the scope of understanding. There are many who need counsel, not only for their dilemmas, but also to help them understand the information be given them. Sometimes, we’re not strong enough or wise enough to grasp aspects of our spirituality. It’s a huge undertaking at times, one that’s daunting, intimidating, or just flat out confusing. It took me many years to get to where I am spiritually, and even though I didn’t have much spiritual counsel, I had enough information and insight to determine what these events and notions meant and how to apply the lessons learned. It was not easy, though. Words actually cannot describe how difficult and painful the process was.
Could I have benefit from spiritual counsel? Yes and no. If I were to have sought out a figurehead to help me understand life and all things within it (say, a priest, for example), then I would have been given their interpretation based around their faith. Since I had determined that an organized religion wasn’t beneficial for me to find enlightenment, I couldn’t turn to someone within those spiritual restraints. On the other hand, I was very out of sorts and in many ways, unable to accurately interpret the events and spiritual abnormalities that manifested along my journey. In hindsight, I really can’t say one way or another whether consulting someone would have been better for me than taking it on alone. Within my solitary journey, I was free from distraction and without bias, so in that respect, it was a better choice. However, it is possible that with counsel, many mistakes I had made would not have been made, making the journey easier, but at the expense of many things I had learned along the way, and possibly, at the expense of my personal spirituality I have today.
If I may quote an 80’s sitcom theme song:
“You take the good
You take the bad
You take them both
And there you have
The facts of life
The facts of life”
Yes, I just did that. Don’t judge me for it.
The second part of the comment that peaked my interest actually called me out on why I think the way I do:
“Robert, it is interesting that you say that [“God” being along the lines of the natural universe itself], because I have often mused that those who do not believe in God, or a God, must somehow reconcile the nature of existence. Where did original matter come from? The very first Big Bang had to come from something. What, or who, did it come from? So, are you saying that the universe is eternal and has a creative willful force?”
In a sense, yes, the universe does have an eternal and creative, willful force. I elaborate more on that with my final contribution to the thread, so allow me to answer one of the questions posed in the comment. I was asked where original matter and the first Big Bang came from. That’s a hard answer to give, because it treads the lines of experimental physics and the ever so controversial “string theory”.
When we look at time, do we really look at it? We’ve broken time into increments — past, present, and future, and further broken it down into eons, eras, millenia, centuries, jubilees, decades, years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds, and so on. But can we really observe time this way? In a historical, astrological, and geological sense, yes, but on a very elementary level. Time is the ultimate grey area within the universe. Time is the ultimate dictator for every facet of everything’s existence. Time is, in many ways, incomprehensible. Time could very well be God at work.
So, where did the first Big Bang come from? The best answer I can give is that there never was a first Big Bang. How is this possible? Because I think time, and by extension, existence itself, is part of a temporal loop. For example, many plot lines in Star Trek deal with temporal anomalies, and while they can make your head hurt, there is a certain amount of logic in them. We’ve all been told that the universe is infinite, meaning it never ends. But infinite also means it never began. To give something an end or a beginning means that you have given the object something finite, meaning the opposite of infinite. Infinity is a concept without borders or expiration, thus since the universe is described as infinite, there are no borders, meaning it has no end and no beginning. This defies what we know from physics, but is a common belief among researchers and scientists who are devoted to unlocking the secrets of the universe.
Would unlocking the secrets of the universe be unlocking God itself? Absolutely.
We also know from science that, at some point, the universe will expire, whether it be the Big Rip, Big Freeze, or whatever other explanation scientists have proposed actually manifests itself. This sounds like a contradiction to the above statement, but it isn’t. Another idea proposed in theoretical physics and astronomical sciences is the existence of other universes or realities or branch points, timeline deviations that we saw primarily in Back to the Future. Could such things exist? Theoretically, yes. But before I get too off-topic here, let me summarize by saying that time is one of the only constants in the universe. While it seems we have developed a methodology for telling time and understanding how it works, in reality, we don’t know near as much as we think we do. The reason for that is time could very well be the manner in which God works.
Before I was able to post my final comment — and answer to the questions posed in the previous one regarding the reconciliation of existence — another comment was made regarding Christian structure, as defined by the Apostle Paul.
“I’m guessing, [person who posted status], you may be referring to a (not really new) movement among some Christians to be, supposedly Biblical and faithful, yet rejecting any or all rules of spiritual authority, organization, or theological conformity. “Brothers, we ask you to respect fully those in authority over you in the Lord, who serve and admonish you…” 1 Thessalonians 5:12 is only one of many clear examples where Paul, in the New Testament, automatically assumes church membership, authority, and structure are an integral part of a Christian’s belief and life.”
If the man who posted this Facebook status would have specified he was keeping it within the confines of Christianity, then we would not have a debate. However, he put in a generalization, hence why I even got involved in the first place. There is structure within Christianity — as with all other “organized” religions — but spirituality, without religion, is free-form.
There is a growing number of Christians who are deviating from traditional practices of Christianity. While what was written in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and attributed to Paul is typically a part of Christian worship, let me counter that. Just because someone doesn’t attend church, doesn’t make them any less of Christian than someone who does. The Bible itself even says church should not be part of a Christian’s structure of worship.
“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
— Acts 17:24
The Book of Acts, which is an outline of the history of the Apostolic Age, explicitly states that God does not exist in churches, or temples made with hands.
It’s no secret the Bible is a contradictory text, but it’s contradictions are the result of man, not of events. No two people view the same events the same way, and in no form of literature is that more prevalent than the New Testament of the Bible. In the same way that no two viewpoints are the same, no two methods of worship should be either. It’s against basic human nature to forgo intelligence and creative thought for a uniformed belief. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are different versions of the same general events, as are the accounts in Thessalonians, Acts, Timothy, etc. etc. etc. Why should worship be a specific method of interacting with God and one’s own spirituality, when the book itself isn’t a specific account of events?
My final contribution to the thread was massive, and summarized how and why I have my beliefs.
“I’m saying that existence itself is God. To me, God is not an astral being, Heaven isn’t a place in the clouds, and Hell, in it’s Biblical form, doesn’t exist. When I look at Creation, I can see the events playing out in a very similar manner to proven scientific principles of evolution and what we have discovered about the age and history of the universe, our planet Earth in particular. I’ve asked myself many, many times: What if six days isn’t literally six days? What if six days is an interpretation of six stages?
For example, according to the Book of Genesis, God created everything in six days, and those six stages of Creation (ordered slightly differently) do account for the beginnings of the Universe (Genesis, Day 1: “light” and “darkness” are stars and space itself), the creation of Earth and other planets, galaxies, etc. (Genesis, Day 4: creating the sun, moon, and stars, etc. — meaning God created the universal bodies in conjunction with Earth itself), the formation of an atmosphere on Earth (Genesis, Day 2: God creates the “sky”), the formation of hospitable climates and water for life to begin (Genesis, Day 3: God creates land and vegetation), the emergence of life on the planet (Genesis, Day 5: God creates life; creatures we know of from the small, unicellular Precambrian life, dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and even through the beginning stages of humanity), and the rise of man (Genesis, Day 6: God creates “Adam” and “Eve”).
Also, I looked at different religions that predate even the primitive notions of Christianty: The Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, the Ancient Meso-American tribes (Mayans, Incas, Olmecs, etc.), Druidic paganism, Taoism and Buddhism, and all of these other structured belief patterns that existed long before man even uttered the word “Christianity”. Christianity itself is another Sun based religion, and shares many similarities with Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman doctrines (all mention a “messiah”, a great flood, and even all share a variation of the events surrounding Ezekial).
So it begged the question: who was right? Well, I’ve determined that they’re all correct, and they’re all wrong. I figured out that “religion” is a spirituality determined by one man for the purpose of a group, to explain why we’re here and what’s the purpose of it all, whereas “spirituality”, on it’s own, is man’s own interpretation of himself and the world around him, as a means to understand why we are here and what’s the purpose of it all.
Over the course of my life, I’ve met a lot of things on my own and sorted through them individually. So I coupled my experiences with what I have learned about religion and spirituality, and realized that there is, in fact, a God. The universe itself — in all of it’s wonder and mysticism — is actually God. God is not a being, an actual entity, but existence itself. In that respect, as I said before, everyone is right, and everyone is wrong.
To me, God is God, no matter who belongs to what church or what philosophy or whatever. If you are a person who has a “religion”, then you are still “spiritual” in the sense that you believe in a higher power to justify your existence and why things are the way they are. That’s great. Definitely more power to you and a great spiritual center. Some people, such as myself, cannot take another man’s words to justify why I’m here. Religion is a personal conviction. So is spirituality. I choose to form my own path to enlightenment, without disregarding or misinterpreting or straight up lying about scientific advances and discoveries (case in point, the Earth is much older than the Bible says). My beliefs are my personal reflections and interpretations of myself and the world, and being an individualist about my faith has brought me so much more comfort and spiritual center than Christianity ever did. I don’t fear God. God isn’t vengeful, or intimidating from being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. I live within God and knowing that allows me to be comfortable in my existence.”
I’ve spent many years pondering existence and this is what I have determined. God is everything. Without question. Without bias. Without limitations. God isn’t a being, so much as a concept. The most basic trait of anything that has “life” is the continuance of life, and as such, things evolve, become stronger, faster, and more intelligent, all as a way to survive. Everything that exists in the universe is here because of this will. Everything in the universe “without life” exists via the need for life. For example, water is not a living thing, but is necessary for the survival of living things. Air does not exist without water, nor does water exist without air. To deviate from what is naturally occurring, we humans have created different mechanisms to make our lives easier, such as plastics, cars, computers, dwellings, and other technological advances. None of these things would be possible without naturally occurring substances, most of which need water and other naturally occurring substances, without which life would not exist.
It’s not even limited to our planet. All of the basic elements that make up our existence are found even in the farthest reaches of the universe. Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all of these pieces of the Periodic table are found in everything from stars to planetary atmosphere to nebulae and other anomalies found in space. This lends credence to the idea that God is the embodiment of all that exists, and that if there is one planet in the universe that can sustain and harbor life beyond simple, unicellular organisms, than there are likely other planets that do the same.
I wonder what their interpretations of God could be?