Some Thoughts for the New Year about Spirituality and Religion

religion spirituality venn diagram

My spirituality-related ruminations are primarily supported by my own reading – my reading lists for the past 30 years invariably feature a  “Spirituality” or a “Religion or Anti-religion” category. I also occasionally poke around in several relevant Internet sites (listed in my blogroll over there in the sidebar under the heading “Atheism”). I monitor the often-intriguing postings of members of the Facebook  group that calls itself Atheism: Take the Step That Changes Everything. And my quarter-century’s worth of continuing involvement with the local Quakers and with Gay Spirit Visions reliably provides numerous prods to my spirituality-related thoughts, habits, and decisions.

So I was rather surprised to read, this first day of 2015, some interesting reflections on the relations between spirituality and religion at an Internet site operated by the gay-focused White Crane Institute. Because I’ve learned so much from the Institute’s daily digestible emailed tidbits about gay and lesbian history (with the occasional nugget of “gay wisdom” thrown in), I was pleased to see in this morning’s automated email from the Institute its re-posting of an interesting excerpt from the transcript of a conversation with Bob Barzan, a founder of the Institute’s White Crane Journal. 

Herewith is my own abridged version of that excerpt:

Often when people try to understand something that is not understandable they personify the situation and create gods, goddesses, and other supernatural being like angels, spirits, and devils to help them grasp the mystery. These beings help them understand creation, love, evil, pain, sickness, and death, among other things. For some, god can be the personification of forgiveness or judgment or compassion. This is not necessarily an unhealthy way of living, but there are traps. Where we get into trouble is when we believe that our projections are real, that our personifications are beings separate from our own minds and that these projections communicate with us. Actually we are just communicating with ourselves, telling ourselves what we want to hear. And too often what we hear are unhealthy teachings on how to live in the world. Too often our gods personify and validate compulsive behaviors of all kinds, hate, bigotry, exclusion, and injustice or tell us lies about love, sickness, death, or other aspects of life.

There is also a problem with people using religious teachings including images of god that are two thousand years old. For some reason many people believe that our ancient ancestors knew more about spirituality than people know today. There is no evidence for this belief at all, in fact there is a great deal of evidence that the ancient beliefs were at best superstitious and often unhealthy. We know that our ancestors had little understanding of the ways the world works. They held irrational and harmful beliefs about medical care, biology, sex, geography, and astronomy. We easily dismiss these aspects of their worldviews but accept their teachings on spirituality. The fact of the matter is, however, they were just as misguided and wrong in their beliefs about religion, ethics, and spiritual experiences as they were about anything else….

…We really need to get beyond god-ness…[in the same way most of us]…got over the Easter bunny, tooth fairies, Santa Claus, and the belief that our parents are all-powerful and all-knowing. It is part of the process of growing up, part of maturing, and it can be difficult because it challenges our worldview. Realizing our gods are projections is a beginning. Then it is important to continue to ask questions about our personal beliefs and understandings, and not accept pat or irrational answers.

God-ness has helped us understand great mysteries, but it is a limiting concept or notion. In fact, I think that god-ness is now a hindrance to personal and community development. It prevents us from using the full force of our intelligence and creativity in solving the ethical, political, social, and environmental crisis facing us today….

…The fact of the matter is that religion has inspired both good and evil, and I think we have reached a point where the trend is more evil than good. There are other reasons, not religious, for treating people well, for creating art, for sharing resources, and the other goods that religion is often credited with. Recent research…shows that the more religious a community is, the more that community suffers from murder, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. Other studies show the more religious a group is the higher their divorce rates and rates of teen sex….

…It is commonly accepted that anything done in the name of religion is good and beneficial, and that personal beliefs are sacred and beyond critique by anyone….It is vital that we not blindly accept the irrational, dangerous, and caustic religious beliefs of other people, no matter who they are. Religion deserves no special privileges; it is not beyond criticism. I believe in the right that anyone has to his or her own personal beliefs, but the line is drawn when those beliefs lead to actions that are dangerous to themselves or others….

Many people hide their bigotry, hate, and lack of compassion behind their religious beliefs. They have the right to do that, but I will not hesitate to call them bigots and their beliefs bigotry. One of the things that bothers me is when people call themselves conservatives when what they really are, are bigots. I was talking to a man once who said his parents are against same sex marriage because they are conservative. I corrected him, pointing out that to believe you have a right that other people don’t is to be a bigot, and that his parents sound like they are bigots. He looked at me in a shocked silence for a moment, and then agreed. His parents are indeed bigots….

…[Spirituality]…exists in every context. I like to think we are rescuing spirituality from its exclusive claim by religions. Religion is only one tiny aspect of spirituality.

As the Quakers say, “this man speaks my mind.” Thank you, Bob Barzan, and thank you, White Crane Institute, for making the first day of 2015 a more reflective day than might have otherwise been the case.

Text Source: White Crane #67, posted January 1, 2015 at Gay Wisdom for Daily Living by the White Crane InstituteImage Source: Taking Charge of Your Health & Well-Being.


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