After reading my last post, a friend enquired about whether any lightning strikes have been observed heading for my increasingly faithless soul. He was joking. But the vision of bolts from heaven being thrown at the unfaithful got me thinking: Isn’t it strange that, jokingly or not, we can entertain the idea that a God who supposedly is so much better than us also can be imagined as so much worse?
I make no claims about possessing any divine qualities. But if you disagree with me, almost certainly I won’t get mad at you. Peeved maybe, but not mad. So right off I seem to be a better person that the God of the Bible, who gets really testy if you doubt him or fail to heed his commandments.
I’m not going to follow any faith that worships an entity possessing fewer good qualities than a decent human being. This would be going backwards rather than forwards. If a religion aspires to less than an exemplary person already possesses, then it is heading in the wrong direction.
Let’s make the baseline of theorized divinity the observable qualities of what is generally considered to be a “good person.” Anything above that is gravy, and possibly God—or a God-realized human being. But not anything below.
This is why I feel justified in criticizing some central aspects of both the spiritual path that I’ve been associated with for a long time—Radha Soami Satsang Beas, a.k.a. Sant Mat—and also every other organized religion that I’m acquainted with. They put before us the ideal of a supreme being that doesn’t strike me as supreme at all. And, probably not coincidentally, the personal qualities of long-time adherents of these faiths also generally fail to rise to the standard of a good atheist.
I had a coffee house conversation on this subject recently with another friend who, like me, has believed that being a teetotaler and a vegetarian is morally uplifting. Yet she said, “I’ve found that the nicest people drink and eat meat.” Part of what she meant is that these people just try to live a normal human life. They don’t think that they are doing anything special, as many of us high-minded holier-than-thou vegetarians do.
Taoists like to say that when virtue is lost, righteousness abounds. Virtue is acting naturally, doing the right thing without thinking “I’m doing the right thing!” Righteousness is acting unnaturally, following rigid rules or commandments that all too often make us a worse, rather than a better, person.
When I started to open my eyes and take a closer look both at myself and others who had been similarly pursuing the Radha Soami Satsang Beas spiritual path for many years, this is what I saw: People who seemingly could talk the spiritual game much better than they could play it and lacked the qualities of humility, courtesy, openness, self-criticism, flexibility, and, most importantly, love, that I’ve observed in many other people without a whit of faith in either God or guru.
What’s the deal here? How is it that someone who assiduously follows the tenets of a religion can end up being less of a good person than someone who just acts naturally? My suspicion is that the answer has to do with a fundamental flaw at the core of most spiritual paths: believers wrongly consider that they can become divine without first being human—truly human.
This erroneous conception is fostered if a religion or spiritual path puts forward a conception of God who himself/herself/itself possesses fewer good qualities than a decent Homo sapiens.
So I think you should start worrying about your religion if the God or guru you believe in…
--is so unloving you are punished for making mistakes
--is so vain you have to bow down before this being, literally or figuratively
--is so egotistical you must daily praise him/her/it
--is so uncaring you have to keep begging through prayers for what you need or want
--is so insecure that questions and criticisms aren’t tolerated
--is so prejudiced only certain chosen people are singled out for salvation
It’s great to belong to a church that aims to transform people into the image of God. But if that ideal is less desirable than the sort of good person I meet every day here on the streets of Salem, then maybe you should consider the virtues of becoming churchless.