It is very good to be born in a church,
but it is very bad to die in a church.
It may come as a surprise to my readers, my particular views on these issues, Religion, Atheism, and Buddhism, and other manifestations of the human spirit, I do not expect for my readers to share my views, after all they are mine! And more than mine, it is my experience through years of practice, study, and life acquired knowledge, distilled in to wisdom, or my lack of it, that can be communicated, but not shared in equal degree, because after all as incarnated sentient beings in this realm that we give various names: The World, Mankind, Life, or even negate as Maya (Illusion) it really come to our own solipsistic nature that we experience the world not through somebody else perceptions, but our own, rendering each experience unique, and limited to our corporeal person, subject to our particular set of circumstances, as our sex, family, language, nation, occupation, historical period we live in, socio-cultural, educational, and economic backgrounds, that define us, including the Religion, or lack off, in to what we are born in, or choose to change it later, as it may be the case.
I am a deeply religious person but do not have a Religion, I am not a Christian, even if I was born and baptized as Catholic, never care too much about the apostolic side of it, that either is missionary in nature, or to ratify hierarchical authority, do not care, or wish to convert people to my beliefs, and if believe there are Hierarchical values in Spirituality, I do not like Religion as an institution, I see Christ more as an example to follow, than a personal savior, I am neither a Jew, if most interested in Kabbalah, I am disqualified by being a Goyim , nor a Muslim since I had never embraced totally the five pillars of Islam I do my daily prayers but not always in a ritualistic way, plus I don’t think I will ever become a Haji, this doesn’t mean I am an Atheist, or even if I respect and admire Buddhism. And at one point in my life, my inclinations was to embrace Buddhism, never did, serious Buddhism it is monastic in nature, and I do not see it as a way for me, or for most part of Mankind as a matter of fact, and no, categorically I am not an Agnostic, I find the term rather lukewarm, From Agnostic to Atheist there is really little difference if you consider it is just a subjective idea of admitting belief, or disbelief, with little relevance one way or another one, to my knowledge there is not such a thing, as Agnostic activism, like there is some Atheist who are in a crusade to propagate their lack of faith, they believe man will be free if unshackled of belief on a higher power, a rather mystifying belief on itself, since freedom it is such a subjective, and relative word…
However if I respect their right of disbelief on a personal God, or an Immanent God, what I find odd , it is many of the limitations such position entails, it was not until I started to understand how diversely different a concept of God vary from individual to individual, Religion, to Religion, and from sect to sect that realized how complex a subject it is, and how little explored by many who declare himself an atheist on the face of their particular choice, rather than conclusions after a lifetime of study, and experience on the matter, instead than a choice he took after he read the last bestseller book from Richard Dawkins, a popular writer of atheist books, whose lingua franca is arguably the Scientific method of a biologist! With little relation to the study of Ontology, Philosophy, or Theology, and many other branches of knowledge besides biological determinism, and Darwinism.
The late Ronald Dworkin did an essay entitled: Religion without God, Mr. Dworkin a Constitutional lawyer and anti-positivist, no doubt fed up with the idea that the dominion of science, should be applied in to such a subjective Sociological field as Law, but very possible an atheist on the principle of denying a personal God argued for a defending an atheism, that sound now days more like a “Cosmic Force” “Awe of Nature” or some other Euphemism for God, cited Einstein, a favorite undisputed darling of scientific oriented, or not, but of a large section of mankind, believers, or unbelievers alike, whose words are the final verdict of truth, Dworkin quoted Einstein:
“To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.”
What do you know? Einstein if alive would be classified as; Spiritual but not Religious, quite a big umbrella for many whose beliefs could be as different as night from day! With that thought in mind, my point is the diversity of personal unbelief can be as baffling, complex, supercilious, or idiotic, as that of many believers. Dilettantism on almost anything seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
Yes, also I know the History of intolerance by religious authorities, wars, genocide, murder, torture, abuse, and so many other crimes.
However I like to point out there not seem to be a cessation, or decrease of these crimes just because people has abandoned belief. Political, social, economical, racial, family, and so many other issues, seem to be the source of continued unabated violence, and crimes regardless of belief, or unbelief.
The Root of anger and Violence
Maybe it has to do more with how we react to issues, our virtue, wisdom, or lack of it, and not our belief, or unbelief that is responsible for our bad behavior? What I mean we can believe whatever we may wish to believe but it is the capacity of self restrain, against anger, violence, greed, opposed by the virtues of compassion, love, tolerance, and wisdom of the individual, groups, societies, nations, that will determine their actions, in other words Moral Virtue sorely lacking in most of the leaders of mankind, and people in general around the world at the present moment, otherwise the world wouldn’t be in such a mess, doesn’t it?
Perpetrators of violence exist at all levels of society, and hardly any particular individual is free from it, consciously, or unconsciously we are all perpetrators of violence, male or female. I will not go in to a full study of the causes of anger, fear, and human weakness that are responsible for it. But we can point out, to countless of historical examples from Hitler, Stalin, Pol-Pot to Attila, Tamerlane, Genghis-Khan. Suffice is to say that religion, or lack of it has little to do with it, more to do with the family structure, and the values, and pressures broth in to such families by an unjust society:
“The violence inflicted by human adults on themselves, each other and the Earth is an outcome of the visible, invisible and utterly invisible violence inflicted on them as children.”
Robert J, Burrows
At the time, in the moment, violence makes emotional sense to the perpetrator because it feels “right.” It also feels “free” because social restraints are suspended. And it feels satisfying to let angry impulse rule, anger the most common justification for violence. Why is that?The awareness of anger is usually identified by such thoughts as, “this is wrong,” “this isn’t what I like or want,” “this isn’t fair,” “this shouldn’t be going on,” “This must be stopped.” So the function of anger is to patrol a person’s well being, identify possible violations, and energize some expressive, protective, corrective, or aggressive action in response, regardless of how misguided may be.
Mankind seems to be historically every moment at a crossroads of sorts, driven by our foibles, and weakness, rather than by our wisdom, or good judgment were the future, and our human survival, and that of the world seems to be in question, a estrange and mysterious state of our Human condition…
SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS
Spiritual but not Religious it is a common expression used now day to denote you believe there is such a thing as Spirit, but you do not conform to the norm of following a established religion, unfortunately the term now days it is so common, that the phrase is used world-wide, but is most prominent in the United States where one study reports that as many as 33% of people identify as spiritual but not religious. On the other side it means little to too many, and I will be the first to admit the bad connotations associated with this term, many serious religious observers claim people who embrace this rubric, are people who lack to avoid commitment, and the sacrifice that making a difference in embracing a religion imply, they say:
“Do you like feeling good without having to act on your feeling? Boosting your self-esteem no matter your competence or behavior? Then I’ve got the religious program for you, Spiritual but not Religious!”
“The thing is, SBNR folks, you may know more about what we’re supposed to be doing than we do. I mean, church — if it’s done right — involves inconveniences like missing brunch with friends on Sunday morning, money that could be spent elsewhere given away, old people calling you by the wrong name and occasionally boring sermons.
Being transformed and transforming the world together takes commitment and hard work. It’s a messy engagement that sometimes hurts. It’s caring and sticking around, changing systems and continuously inviting a world in desperate need to witness communities of transformation and prophetic witness
It’s a fair question to ask why you would add that kind of inconvenience to your life if you didn’t have to.”
My response to these critics, of course it’s they do not understand how fed up we are with dogmas, ossified institutions who are a waste of time, who follow the letter, but the Spirit flew away millennia ago, hierarchical, authoritarian figures who tell us what to do, how to think, and what to say, when most of the time they do not follow their own rules, and not only that, they claim to be the voice of God, and go on committing on their sheep flock serious abuse crimes too well known to bother to talk much about it, from the historical Inquisition Auto da Fe, to contemporary now unfortunately common sexual abuse, to monetary exploitation of the believers by leaders, gurus, and all kind of spiritual scoundrels ready to make a buck out of the innocent.
NO SMOKING ALLOWED
But above all, that barking at the wrong tree talk, blaming the SBNR for being wishy-washy, the key factor, that most organized religions are missing in their discourse against the SBNR it is not the disappointment of people with religious institutions, or the implied flakiness, selfishness sunset watching, and lack of seriousness of SBNR, but the lack of direct Spiritual experience that is absent in their own Religious Institutions, or pseudo spiritual communities, and that are unable to provide it, because simply put; They do not have it!
That is on my view the real culprit why people do not flock in to their churches, temples, synagogues, etc..After all there is religious groups that thrive, when others fail, I used to joke with a friend, when years ago we explored different Spiritual groups on the fringes, who promised an esoteric knowledge of sorts, I remembered a comment the painter Edgar Degas made when visiting the House museum of Gustave Moreau a French symbolist painter, when a friend pull out a cigarette to smoke meanwhile he walked through the house, Degas, said something of the sort: “No smoking allowed here, after all we are in the house of a very sick man.” A harsh criticism from the painter, no doubt on Moreau’s art, but visiting ourselves the temples, or saloons of many of this religious, or quasi religious museums of time past, mockingly I would use the same phrase, or if the group or church were vital, and thriving with plenty of people, I would said admiringly: “You could have a few fat, big cigars here, nobody will die!”
However it is true that if serious about your spirituality you will better be an exceptional individual, who apply itself to a Spiritual practice, rather than remain a spiritual dilettante for life, a common case now days, regardless of claims of high spirituality when the only spiritual exercise you do is having a vague idea of a supreme deity, or pagan deities, as a reaction against an unfortunately association between old religions, and patriarchal Monotheism, ignoring Oneness of Being as the essence of it, not the tribal patriarchal context it come from. Or what is very fashionable now days naively become a Buddhist, just because it suit your ideas that Buddhism it is not a religion, a statement that it is half true, to a point, but since most of it is organized as any other religious institution, with it’s rituals, scriptures, chants, temples, rules, and hierarchical, and monastic dogma, and where abuse it is not unheard for those in the know. To our eyes perhaps, a new dish exciting like an exotic, fragrant, and foreign plate, but old, agonizing, and decrepit on it’s place of origin, and no less unappetizing than our Judeo-Christian fare, after all fossilized as well.
Since the Renaissance it has been fashionable to revive ancient beliefs, there was a religious and moral, or, as usually expressed, an irreligious side to the classical revival in Italy which cannot be passed wholly unnoticed. In the first place, the study of the pagan poets and philosophers produced the exact result predicted by a certain party in the Church. It proved hurtful to religious faith. Men became pagans in their feelings and in their way of thinking, not that Christian in Europe ever abandoned paganism entirely, merely adapted it, like making the pagan gods, in to saints. Italian scholars and Italian society almost ceased to be Christian in any true sense of the word. And although Europe remained Christian the Pagan gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece jostled with the patron saints of Christianity on public monument, and classical philosophy began to change the way people thought about ethics and morality.
I kind of smile when contemporary church leaders complaint at the decline of believers, abandoning the church, in fact the Protestant Reformation, was an effort to bring back the old Spirit of Christianity in what was considered a decadent, immoral, church with obsolete doctrines, rituals, leadership and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, through the centuries since then the germ keep propagating, bringing more enlightenment, humanism, atheism, and rationalism, with the subsequent backlash of more offshoots of more radical Christian fundamentalist, until even those movements loose impetus and embrace modernity, to the point of Nietzsche famous declaration: “God is dead.”
What it seems to be missing it is the understanding that the Christian church in general can’t survive postmodernity if a new Spiritually a live current doesn’t come to revitalize it, not only in the logical, and conceptual side of it, were all the efforts seems to be made, forgetting the most vital, and essential part of it, which it is not the rational part, but the non rational, and emotional side of it, as the Theologian Karl Rahner expressed it:
“The Christian of the future will be a Mystic or not exist at all.”
Shamanism, Paganism, and a host of Oriental religions and practices, like Vedanta, Yoga, Taoism, Sufism, Gnosticism, not to talk of the revival esoteric traditions like Theosophy, Kabbalah, Hermetic,and now New Pagans like Druids, Wicca appear to hold high court for a few years, then to loose their initial impetus to settle down as a small communities, who struggle to survive, and prosper on the fringe of the mainstream religions.
What these groups intent, it is to offer an alternative to the decadent, but still dominant mainstream religions, some with more luck than others, some falling in to what is no different, than a novelty with the lifetime of a short summer that goes in to an early cold Autumn. Some of these groups start with a charismatic leader, or guru, who is able to inspire people to spiritual action, and religious fervor for a while, just to disappoint them after some scandal, or other. Others if better, as soon as the charismatic leader pass away they fall on the hand of uninspiring leaders, who institutionalize the teaching, and set shrines to the memory to the personality of the individual in question, and soon forget the essence of the message to become death letter, worried with the prosaic practicality of supporting a church, and the memory of the death leader. Many times a struggle for power ensues between the disciples of such leaders, and many followers leave disappointed, usually schism promptly follows, and two, or many other splints of the original group take place, and attack each other from a distance claiming legitimacy over the others.
It seem Human social interaction with our eternal companion, our egos it is at the base of conflict and lack of ecumenical understanding between nations, societies, groups, religious institutions or not. All these are antithesis to Spiritual pursuits, and here is when we come to the dilemma of involving ourselves with a particular religion, or spiritual fringe group, and get bogged down in our search for true Spirit, since not only we have to deal with our inner struggle, weakness, and temptations as limited, and imperfect individuals, but add to our misery the weight of a spiritually death congregation.
The Spirit bloweth where it listeth
The great explorer of Religion an acquaintance of mine, Houston Smith, of who I read some of his books, and listen to his talks when in town, and if too briefly engaged in conversations with. Interviewed about the subject said:
Loudon: I would think that Thomas Merton’s experience might bear out the legitimacy of this gradual independence within an ongoing dialectic between freedom and form.
Smith: It is a dialectic. The Zen tradition, as we know, has many stipulations like “When you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha!” or “Tear up the Sutras! Such teachings have their place, but we tend to overgeneralize them, divorcing them from the contexts for which they were intended. Too early in the game, we appropriate to ourselves the right to take the liberties they counsel.
Loudon: Might there be a special temptation for Westerners, with the emphasis on freedom and individuality, to avoid the early stages of
initiation into a teaching?
Smith: Yes. And there is a sizeable streak of counterdependence in our culture. “Don’t tell me what to do!” The Fritz Perls attitude toward life.
Loudon: And if you say that at the start, you may never get off the ground.
Loudon: Does following a religious way, a path of faith, necessarily involve spiritual disciplines of some sort?
Smith: Yes. Again, we must recognize that “the spirit bloweth where it listeth,” so there may be one in a million who may be the exception.
But overwhelmingly the need is for wisdom and method both; all the traditions so teach. As the saying goes, we need to walk on both
feet: right views and right practice.
Loudon: How can a person understand a religious tradition that he or she does not practice?
Smith: Very imperfectly. There are those who see the promised land, get some intimation of what lies there, but for some quirk within them
just do not take the steps to cross over into it. But the rule in religious matters is that understanding proceeds through living what
one is trying to understand.
Loudon: So it is only by living a tradition that one comes to understand it and gains thereby the resources to understand other traditions?
Smith: That’s true. Noam Chomsky once said that there is a very real sense in which to understand fully how one language functions is to
understand how they all function. The situation with religious traditions is comparable.
Loudon: Is the advanced, scholarly study of the particular traditions a necessary or vital part of the interplay between knowledge and practice?
Smith: One has to ask, “Necessary for what?” You see, I believe that Black Elk [Lakota Sioux medicine man] or an Australian aborigine living the Dreamtime that Eliade talks about had everything“ necessary unto salvation,” as the saying goes. Scholarly equipment would be irrelevant to the depth and quality of their awareness. When it comes to religious living, the kind of information that appears in scholarly journals is quite expendable. Even so, the mind is a part of the human complement, and one can become interested in comparative religions as one can in other things. Lunching with a
colleague, Bertrand Russell listened attentively to his report of a discovery in brain functions that he had made, and then commented quietly “It’s nice to know things.” That holds for religions too. I am constantly grateful for such historians of religion. As you may know, I chanced myself to stumble on one remarkable fact in this area: the capacity of certain specially trained lamas to sing multiple tones simultaneously. Was that discovery important?
Probably not. It was a grace, you might say; a grace, moreover, from which one can learn something beneﬁcial.
Loudon: So it’s not necessary, but such study can be enriching.
Smith: It can also be distracting, because if one isn’t careful one’s attention can get sidetracked into merely collecting information. In
which case living, organic wholes get pulverized and become like dry sand.
Loudon: Regarding the interrelationship of religious traditions, what about the individual traditions’ claims of exclusivity and preeminence?
Smith: It’s totally understandable, because that to which one gives one’s life one must think is ultimate. Otherwise, it doesn’t deserve ultimate allegiance. If one gives one’s life to Christ, exoterically conceived, then it’s almost as though one wouldn’t be wholly committed to Christ unless that Christ were absolute above all other exoterically nameable deities.
Loudon: Otherwise you’d always be on the threshold of commitment and never committing yourself actually.
Smith: That’s why Schuon says that for the exoteric the preeminent, privileged status of one tradition is not only inevitable, but appropriate. Now, such people are going to have problems, because we live in a world where people are aware of other traditions. And how God’s mercy is to be reconciled with his apparent favoritism for one
tradition will probably be a lifelong koan for those people. But whatever one says, this is no problem for the esoteric, because the esoteric core is common to them all.
(From the book The way things are Conversations with Houston Smith)