In financial investing, it’s well accepted that attempting to beat the market is a fool’s game. This is why index funds are so popular (and lucrative). You don’t bet on particular stocks or bonds. Instead, you put your money in the entire universe of investments represented by an index fund, such as the U.S. Total Stock Market or the U.S. Total Bond Market.
Wise financial professionals advise that if you want to save money for retirement, it’s best to invest in index funds. Increasingly, people do. But when it comes to saving their souls for eternity, most of those same people will put all of their spiritual nest egg into one basket—a single religion that they expect will support them both here and hereafter.
We here at the Church of the Churchless say, “that’s foolish.” Spiritual diversification makes as much sense as financial diversification. No, even more sense. For sometimes savvy (or lucky) investors do beat the market by buying stock in a single company. And they can prove it by having their CPAs work up a statement of net worth.
But no such proof exists in the sphere of spirituality. No religious figure can show you how his or her investment in a particular spiritual practice has paid off in terms of salvation. The claims made in supposedly holy scriptures such as the Bible, Koran, Talmud, Dhammapada, Adi Granth, Vedas, and so on are just that, claims. Unsubstantiated, unproven, unbelievable.
They are no different in kind from the mailings I get almost every day which claim that if I subscribe to such-and-such financial newsletter I’ll be privy to special investment wisdom that will make my portfolio soar. Yeah, right. There’s lots of evidence that the only people who consistently make money from financial newsletters are those who write them and get suckers to pay for their over-priced useless advice.
There was a time when I believed that I was smarter than the average investor and could beat the market. I subscribed to newsletters, read the Wall Street Journal, and even devised my own investment schemes. But then I began reading about index fund investing and all the research supporting the proposition that, over the long haul, it is next to impossible to choose particular stocks and bonds that will outperform the entire universe of stocks and bonds.
My spiritual investing strategy has moved in the same direction: toward diversification. I no longer believe that I am among the blessed few who know the truth about God and will reap the corresponding spiritual rewards. I came to embrace a “nothing special” philosophy. I don’t consider that my spiritual practice is anything special, just as I don’t consider that my index fund investment practice is anything special.
Yet, I’m confident that both work. I know that I haven’t lost any money by giving up trying to beat the market. Instead, I’ve watched our index funds outperform most actively managed funds. It’s more difficult to assess my soulful net worth, but my self-assessment is that I haven’t lost any spirituality by giving up my previous faith in a path that claimed to occupy a special exalted position among all of the world’s religions.
In short, I’ve become spiritually diversified. I try not to set rigid boundaries around what I believe and what I do. I try to look for inspiration in lots of different places, people, and writings. I try to become aware of all that is real about both physical existence and whatever metaphysical realities exist beyond the world I know now. I try to be content with what the cosmos brings me rather than considering that I’m entitled to unique dispensations.
Here’s the interesting thing: my faith is stronger now. As I’ve lost faith in particular religious approaches, my faith in a universal spirituality has become stronger. Again, this is akin to how my financial philosophy has changed: I’ve lost faith in the value of choosing individual stocks and bonds, but I’ve gained faith in the wisdom of investing in the entire universe of equity and debt investment possibilities.
Of course, seemingly it’s much easier to invest your money in the entire financial spectrum (just go to Vanguard, Dimensional Fund Advisors, or other purveyors of index funds) than to invest your consciousness in the entire spiritual spectrum. Where do you go to find a universal approach to salvation or God-realization? Or, to use a less religiously-charged term, to knowing ultimate reality?
I’ve tried to answer this question before here in the Church of the Churchless, and I’ll keep on trying. My hypothesis is that the word “seemingly” in the paragraph above needs to be carefully considered. Is it really so difficult to practice a universal spirituality? Or have we become so deafened by the cacophony of competing religious claims—“Here is the truth about God!” “No, this is!”—we fail to hear the clear, calm, unified divine voice that speaks within us?
Perhaps even closer than within. That voice, many mystics say, is us.
It may well be that I don’t need to look anywhere outside of myself for all of the spiritual wealth that I hope to acquire. My spiritual diversification, paradoxically, will result from my becoming one—purely and simply the “I” that I really am.
[Here's a follow-up post on the same subject: "Spritual investing takes nothing"]
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