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August 23, 2011

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience;

we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin-

I was raised a Christian, but I no longer consider myself one. Not if being a Christian means allegiance to an institutional dogma that is steeped in exclusive and mythical ideas of spiritual “salvation”, while failing to address real spiritual, social, and environmental issues.

 That was the first sentence of a paper I wrote some years ago about my thoughts and feelings toward the Catholic Church -specifically- and the Christian religion in general. But to be fair, I have also held a lot of anger and resentment throughout much of my life toward most religions (many of which I have been involved with as well). Since religion has been such a large part of my life, I feel it’s something I need to give some final words to before I leave this subject and this life. And in so doing, I hope I don’t offend any of my religious friends here … it is not my intention to unduly deprecate religion, and certainly not religious people; but sifting through this significant part of my life has been a journey in itself, and I could not talk about my life and my thoughts without giving some mention to religion.

Some years ago I finally learned that much of my negative passion toward religion stemmed from the fact that, no matter how much sincerity a religion may have started with, it inevitably ends up turning Teihard’s insight on it’s head, which to my way of thinking and understanding corrupts much of the point of why we are here on this Earth. By changing these few words around, “life is a spiritual experience/life is a human experience”, religion succeeds in eliciting from us a profane dependency on fallible institutions and/or imperfect human beings, thereby failing to nurture the true spiritual work we are all here to do: our souls being fully present to our human experience. In spite of what I was taught in religion classes in my childhood, I now believe that we came into this world already connected to spirit. All we really needed was to learn how to nurture this while integrating it with our living experience. The notion that we were born in sin, thus requiring us to seek salvation through another or through an institution, is anathema to what my soul has always been trying to tell me.

 It’s not that I don’t understand the value of spiritual structure and guidance; and it’s not that I didn’t benefit in some ways from that guidance. The problem as I see it is that most religious systems don’t encourage us to take that guidance and to develop our own personal relationship with spirit. I had to do that on my own, and I had to do that by rejecting religious dogma’s that only confined my potential, while reinforcing a spiritual dependency by nurturing a perpetual “adolescent” perception of spirit and soul. Add to that the appalling teaching that we are all born in “sin”, and it’s no surprise that we all grow up feeling spiritually dependent, ashamed, guilty, and without an inherent sense of love for who we essentially are. This might be a great recipe for creating a world of heart-broken, naive followers, but in my opinion does little to help us spiritually mature into what we are truly designed to be.

More importantly, how is it that the most significant and profound insight ever to be offered by a religious theology -as LOVE is- should constantly be relegated to the archives of religious practice. Whether Jesus Christ existed or not, the idea that was taught about love at that time was no less than revolutionary … and continues to be. Yet Christianity perseveres in allowing itself to forever be pulled down by the weight It’s own primitive myths and It’s own overworked and less than relevant dogmatic beliefs, all too often leaving love as a neglected and malnourished orphan.

 It’s not that I don’t think some good has come from religion, since I do believe that spirit can work through anything; and there has been some remarkable expressions of heart and spiritual insights from many in established religious institutions throughout the ages, in spite of an oppressive and archaic belief system. Still, I can’t help but feel that this is due more to the relentless spirit of the human soul than it is to any spiritual power within the religious institutions themselves. In other words; love, spiritual insight, and integrity continues to thrive in us in spite of, not because of, religious institutions and -so called- religious prophets. That’s my personal feeling at any rate.

However, as I said, I’m really not here to slam religion. I no longer feel that kind of anger anyway. I can honor the sincere efforts of so many in the religious community without approving the way the institutions themselves, or some individuals within the institutions deny, distort, or manipulate spiritual truth; nor can I condone the amount of energy that is put into its own self-perpetuation. There are many, many people I deeply love and respect that are members of one religion or another, just as there are many people whose spiritual wisdom I greatly admire who have no religious affiliation whatsoever. In all these cases, love dwells.

Spirit exists, I believe; and it expresses itself through anyone who opens their heart to It. This is the truth we all aught to be nurturing in one another. Whether we happen to believe in any particular god, messiah, teacher, guru, or prophet; or whether we know all the rules, commandments, directives, or verses in any particular dogma or “sacred” text, simply seems beside the point to me. If we can just get to the core message that is love, and mindfully walk through it’s millions of shades of color without getting caught up in all that other stuff, I believe we will discover everything else we need to know.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca Wainscott permalink
    August 26, 2011 8:15 pm

    HI Rick – Beautiful insights, thoughtfully expressed. I know I went through a time in my life, when I was younger and quite repressed, that I thought of God as a 3-letter word for self-sacrifice. This was important at the time because I’d not been given the knowledge of who I was, or that my self really mattered, to anyone. Then I made the connection between the ‘spirit’ recognized as visible energy within living beings – the high-spirited horse – and the creative source of existence referred to as God. It helped me find a relationship with that force, and with my Self, and I put many words to the process of that experience during those years.

    It’s unfortunate that the teachings of Jesus have been so abused and misdirected within so many Christian religions. He must have know that given the level of our spiritual development during his time on Earth, it would take a while for us to really ‘get it’. As a whole, humans seem to be a long way from living those teachings; just as it seems we’re a long way from understanding the truth of the gift of these bodies we inhabit, and the enormous spiritual power they have to offer.

    I have to trust, choose to have some faith, that each individual practice, each moment of forgiveness for all the shortcomings that seem so obvious, every look of recognition we can offer to all the Beautiful Beings in our iives, serves to strengthen the bond, bringing God, and the Love we are made of, into visible awareness and felt experience.

    Much Love to you on your journey,

  2. Lauren permalink
    August 25, 2011 11:46 am

    I feel like we are sitting at your kitchen table having a wonderful conversation. Can you pour me some more tea?

  3. Julie permalink
    August 25, 2011 10:30 am

    I love these reflections, Rick (and David your comment). I was raised Catholic, and kinda sorta maybe still am . . . sometimes? Your beautifully put thoughts Rick speak so clear and make much sense to me.

    I’m searching. I have been practicing meditation for some time now as well, and my spiritual life is richer and more alive since. PRACTICING mindfulness, paying attention and cherishing others has changed my life. It’s given to me more than a lifetime in the church has. You so elequently put in an earlier post, practice and not being perfect, but continuing is what it’s about. It’s interesting the path both of you have taken, it’s all part of the process and part of the journey to get you “there”, what feels right and good.
    In regard to religion, it’s tough when you were raised a certain way and your family is rooted in the tradition.

    As always, deep thanks for sharing your wisdom with us. You Rock, Rick!

  4. August 23, 2011 3:42 pm

    Rick…our journeys are similar. I was raised in the Episcopal Church and found it to be full of empty dogma, of no inspiration whatsoever. Then I entered what I call my “religious dilletante” stage for about ten years,where I attended every brand of church there is ,i.e., Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Pentacostal, Assembly of God, Unity, Unitaritan, Ba-Hai……you name it, I tried it. I came up empty. For a long time, I attended no church, thinking myself an agnostic. Then, in 1970, I read Ram Dass’ BE HERE NOW. It forever changed my life. I AM a spiritual Being having a human experience.

    Your words are a most eloquent call for a return to LOVE as the center of our spiritual quest.


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