Laurel, my wife, was moved to write a meaningful short essay yesterday: “Religion Should Unite, Not Divide.” Like me, she’s been disturbed by all the fundamentalist-inspired divisiveness evident of late. Well, also evident of early, for as long as there has been religion, there has been religious intolerance and inhumanity.
We both believe that the only way to be spiritual is to be non-religious. Religion is mostly about belief; spirituality is mostly about experience. A disturbingly large percentage of purportedly religious people don’t practice what they preach. They claim to aspire to unconditional love, then vote to discriminate against homosexuals. They claim to renounce unjustified killing, then proudly support the slaughter of innocent people in Iraq.
Laurel says in her piece that if the unity of God truly is the goal to which religious believers aspire, then churches and other places of worship should be an earthly reflection of this oneness: “If this were the role of religion, the only valid religious teachings would be those which teach love, acceptance, and unity with all people.”
Well said. As much as I like the meetings of the spiritual group I attend most Sunday mornings, I cringe inwardly every time I hear a speaker say, “We are so fortunate to be among the chosen few who have been blessed to return to God.” Laurel, entirely appropriately, frequently teases me about this divisive attitude.
Putting on her best Saturday Night Live “Church Lady” voice, she will say to me: “You’re saved, but Satan has doomed me to hell!” “Yes, you’re right,” I’ll reply with tongue firmly in my cheek, “But I’ll try to put in a good word for you when I see God.”
We joke about how almost every religious or spiritual group, including Radha Soami Satsang Beas (Science of the Soul), which I’ve been a longtime member of, considers that its followers, and they alone, are the “chosen people.” If you add up all the supposedly chosen people in the world—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and members of other exclusive sects—the unchosen such as Laurel are in the minority. (I recently wrote about this “all believers are above average” strangeness in “You’re religious, but are you right?”
Here is Laurel’s essay, which she has submitted to our local Salem Monthly alternative publication. As she says at the end of the piece, we’re thinking about forming a Church of the Churchless group here in Salem which would meet in physical reality instead of the blogosphere. If you’re interested in being part of such a group, send us an email.
"Religion Should Unite, Not Divide" by Laurel Hines
A favorite Rumi poem of mine has the following lines which are suggestive of God speaking to us:
You have been hiding so long, aimlessly drifting in the sea of my love
Even so, you have always been connected to me.
Concealed, revealed, in the known, in the unmanifest
I am life itself.
You have been a prisoner in a little pond.
I am the ocean and its turbulent flood…come merge with me
Leave this world of ignorance
Be with me…I will open the gate to your love.
I thought of this poem as I contemplated a listing for a church as a “house of worship,” as well as the “values voting” which occurred in the recent elections. I have been trying hard lately to understand why there is such a strength to fundamentalist religious belief these days, especially Christian and Islamic. I often wonder why these beliefs lead into the extremes of “separateness”: the belief that some people are wrong and to be condemned, while some are right, bound for heaven, and sometimes justified in killing others in war or terrorism.
It is hard for me to understand why a church and its associated rituals are needed to express one’s belief in God or some other concept of a creator. To me, God is a power of limitless love and transcendence from all the trivialities of our material, earthly existence. I can’t imagine God would have a human-like ego that expects to be worshipped, gets angry at people who don’t carry out certain rules and rituals, or judges people who do or don’t believe a certain way.
It seems to me that God is more likely to be a limitless source of unity, oneness and love, from which we all separate to be born into this world of physical existence, and merge back into when we leave this earthly world.
If God is the transcendent source of all, the love filled “ocean” from which all of creation emanates, then traditional churches make little rational sense. If churches unify people into loving groupings to celebrate oneness and help people take a focus off of earthly survival and onto their more exalted origins, then perhaps the role of churches would be mainly to provide a sort of earthly experience of unity and to assist in spiritual growth out of earthly, animalistic ignorance.
If this were the role of religion, the only valid religious teachings would be those which teach love, acceptance, and unity with all people. It would move beyond the belief that there is evil or a devil. Instead, spiritual leaders would teach that people who we regard as “bad” are misguided: drawn into earthly temptations of power and sensation, and away from love and oneness with others. They would teach that we are all equal, deserving of respect, and all are at various levels of spiritual growth towards recognition of our unity with our fellow humans and all beings on the earth.
John Dominic Crossan, in his new book In Search of Paul, suggests that the level of biblical literacy and Christian knowledge is actually very low among Christians. Crossan says, from extensive study, that the teachings of both Paul and Christianity in general were distorted soon after they were taught by “the drag of normalcy” – the existing pressures of society and culture. He questions how Christian America really is. Crossan also says that civilization’s drug of choice is violence, and Paul sounded a warning that we haven’t yet heard two thousand years later.
One wonders if many traditional Bible-based churches cloud our ability to absorb any teachings that lead to understanding that we are all connected at some level with each other and the entire earthly creation. So many of us falsely believe that others are different, we are “more right” and are justified in dominating others. Crossan believes Christians (and all of us) must do everything possible to lower the decibel level of violence and think of it as the very last resort.
I fear that fundamentalism could lead to the demise not only of our democracy, but of our earth, from the effects of war and our assaults on the balance of nature. I pray that an enlightened view of God can grow and spread before it is too late for this planet.
In the meantime, I struggle to accept the sea of ignorance we seem to live in. I strive against my own “inner demons” of non-acceptance and try to let go of thoughts of rejection, judgment, and disgust of cruel people. I try to look for evidence of the oneness beyond these points of separation between myself and others. I try harder to respect nature and all beings.
The bloodshed in Iraq tempts me to harshly judge those who supported the invasion, as well as the leadership that led us into it and those who voted for such leadership. It is not easy to perceive oneness with all and let go of anger and judgment of others. I have a lot of work to do myself in moving toward that gate where ignorance and separation ends. It is a turbulent little pond we live in.
Laurel Hines of Salem is a partially retired mental health therapist. Her husband, Brian, is a writer of metaphysical books. They are organizing a non-dogmatic spiritual discussion group called The Church of the Churchless. Reach the weblog at www.churchofthechurchless.com. Laurel can be contacted at [email protected].