I love religious deconversion stories. They're more inspiring to me than conversion stories, because I've come to realize that a meaningful life is far distant from religiosity.
So someone is making progress when he or she is able to get further away from rigid dogmas. Below is a story from one such "someone."
After sending me an email, I encouraged this person to write a blog-sharable version of why a decision was made to leave the formalities of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, an India-based spiritual group organized around the teachings of a line of gurus who are considered to be God in Human Form.
This morning I read a passage in one of my favorite books, Raymond Smullyan's "The Tao is Silent," which is a good introduction to the following deconversion story.
I would make the statement "everyone has the right to do what he wants" only to people who I feel are overly moralistic.
...All I am really trying to say to them is, "I wish you would let yourself alone and stop beating yourself on the head; I believe you would be better off." That's all I really mean by "Everybody has the right to do whatever he wants."
Perhaps a still better way of conveying my real message is to say that if one believes he has the right to do what he wants, then he is more likely to want to do what is right.
Here's the story:
Thanks for offering to let me have an opportunity to share my experience with your readers. I have always enjoyed reading your blog; you are quite prolific and thought provoking.
Since I was a very young child I have felt deeply that someone or something was always with me. Perhaps it’s just my own ego or personality, but I have never felt as if I were entirely alone. When I first started thinking about having a guru, I imagined “this must be who has been with me all this time!” This sense of companionship has always felt like a living presence. This is in contrast to my feelings about Jesus who in my childhood I tended to only see in black velvet paintings or nailed to a cross.
I was raised a southern Baptist and briefly attended Catholic Mass along with a boyfriend during the late 1970’s. [I didn’t know until later that because I wasn’t an official Catholic I am likely doomed to hell for drinking the wine and chewing the wafer following transubstantiation. I was never confirmed.]
A few years later I was initiated into RSSB. And somewhat like you, I quit after nearly 30 years.
During the intervening years I had officially converted from Christianity to Judaism, as my husband was Jewish, and we had a huge “religiously recognized” wedding. It was the first gay wedding at our reform synagogue--one of the oldest in the United States.
During my active involvement, I was pretty much a closeted Satsangi. As you know, the RSSB books contain much of the typical fundamentalist preaching on the subject that I had heard from the Baptist church (which I abandoned) and a sort of “gay-hate lite” that I heard from the Catholic Church. Frankly, I had been so numbed to what religion had to say on the subject that I pretty much ignored it. I never in my life felt that God didn’t love me because I was gay. I knew that I loved our creator, whatever entity that may be, and that was enough for me.
As far as I know I was the only openly gay Satsang speaker. There may have been others but having lived in the Baptist closet my entire childhood I just avoided discussing it.
Our local center has always been really great. People were nice and we didn’t have any weird group dynamics that we always heard rumblings of happening across the country. Over the years I was even nominated for secretary.
This last time I was nominated, the local secretary was apparently asked to pry into my personal life with weird questions that I am sure they would never ask a straight person. Anyway, I was fine with it all but relieved that I didn’t get the “honor” of all the extra work.
This spring I finally accepted the fact that the RSSB rose had started dying on the vine for me some time ago. It started several years earlier on a trip I took to Petaluma. It was during a Q&A session when someone asked Baba Ji a question about how they could be sure he was real and he said, "Sister, how do you know I am not a fraud?" And I can’t explain it, but his answer made me completely sick in the pit of my stomach. It felt like a sign from God… and not like mere indigestion from an Amy’s burrito or the work of the devil.
The entire audience laughed when he said that. I tried to put it out of my mind. Still, it would came back to haunt me occasionally. It had been 25 years for me; and I thought shit, WHAT IF THE JOKE’S ON US?
I liked the fact that in RSSB we weren’t pushed to give money. This was a huge change from all the years I spent among the evangelicals, although it felt much more up front in India during my visits there.
One day recently I was just sitting in the car when a feeling flooded over me like a giant wave. “This is making you unhappy. Why don’t you stop it?”
And so I did, I tuned in to my inner self and dropped out. I decided to stop beating myself up for being gay. I decided that God probably doesn’t care if there is a particle of an egg in a muffin or gelatin in a marshmallow. I decided that it doesn’t make any sense to raise a ruckus with insurance companies over whether a prescription pill is available in a form other than a gel tab, and I don’t give a flying flea whether there is rennet in my cheese. If this is what is required of perfection, we simply cannot attain it and we will always be unworthy.
It’s sad to think of the number of times I refused or threw away food, sending it back to the kitchen and somehow feeling I was the victim in the situation.
Because it was also frowned upon to feed carnivorous pets meat products, I also had tried to feed my cats vegetarian kibble and related products over the years. One of my cats, with the personality of an angel from heaven, has all kinds of allergies. One of the things she is allergic to is yeast, which it turns out is in everything vegetarian. The poor dear ended up licking herself bare in numerous quarter-sized spots of her fur while I was trying to force her to eat vegetarian cat food. I wondered: did God really want me to have a hairless kitty?
Sant Mat also somehow makes you feel superior every time you eat with someone and they apologize for eating meat in front of you. We might say, "No, go ahead and eat meat I don't care—really!" but in the back of your mind you think "God, you're just poisoning yourself with that stuff!" Sant Mat makes you feel special, more valued. And then you feel guilty for feeling chosen, and then you feel sorry for the people who are less special because “they will just have to live another lifetime to be as special as you.“
I had even less to fear however, since in my case, having converted to Judaism in 2000, I am in fact, covered by a perfect soul-saving trifecta!
- Although I had forsaken Jesus when I became Jewish, it seems safe to say that if I turn out to be wrong, he’ll be there to greet and forgive me
- If my Guru is there to greet me when I die, no doubt he will forgive me for leaving RSSB as well. And then I’ll probably come back for another life.
- If neither Jesus nor the Guru is there, at least I will still be a part of the original chosen people.
Brian, while I may not be an official member of RSSB any longer [although you can never actually leave since the guru never leaves you -- just like with Jesus!], the benefits of meditation are clear according to various scientific studies.
Now however, instead of beating myself up for not meditating two and a half hours every day, I want to be able to feel great about myself if I meditate for even an hour! Hooray! Ten minutes? Hooray! Hooray!
What a different world I will be living in now… one where I can talk positively to myself instead of thinking that people who don’t follow the path “like me” are missing the boat, and where I can be grateful for whatever moments of the day I am able to focus on living in the moment instead of worrying about the past, the future, or whether my guru approves of what I’m feeding my cats.
The bottom line is this: Sant Mat has requirements of people that are virtually impossible to attain, and because you can never attain them, you are never perfect enough for god-realization. So you have only yourself to blame for not going within.
After 30 years I am going to believe the opposite: each of us is already perfect because we were created in God’s image. To me that means that together with God we are evolving. And just by being who we are, we are always automatically becoming our future higher selves.