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Monday, November 20, 2006

Religion anyone?

I invite you to put your thoughts down here too...

My life course so far has led me through a few stages of religious or
spiritual approach. They can be simplified to:

- Born and baptized as a Christian- Anglican Church (as with almost all religions, inherited by place of birth and parents)

- Sunday school and church into my teens, with a brief flirtation with considering the priesthood (Anglicans can marry) - I lost my faith when I began reading, thinking and well... smoking a little pot. I went to Catholic mass many times during this period...because my girlfriend's parents required it.

- Spiritual-seeking stage - over a few years I studied Buddhism, joined (and left) the Bahai faith, looked at Christianity again (while living in Israel) and then explored eastern mysticism

- I met and spent 10 years with a Guru from India, including 8 years as a monastic (me, not him). This took me to my early 30s.

- Since them - no religious practice (I meditate every day), very little faith in the superstitious and a growing faith in the rational mind and the unexplainable transcendent experience (not needing a definition and definitely not needing a religion).

I respect people's right to believe whatever they want, but don't respect everything others believe. For example, if President Bush said that his shoes were talking to him and telling him who to invade, he might be locked up (not a bad idea). However, when he says he's having little talks with God about such things, it gets him votes...

Another example: poor Moses led the Hebrew people for 40 years in the desert - trying to get to what is now Israel from Egypt. I'm sorry, but it can be walked in a couple of weeks without too much effort, especially if you can go right through the Red Sea! One simply walks toward the rising sun. Forty years! This guy was deluded and those following him needed more than golden calves. Good story though.

There, that's a far too simplistic opening post on religious thought.

My basic pondering these days is around this question: Does the good in religion outweigh the negative? While it's complex - the Dalai Llama is not the Pope for example - on balance, I'd say no it doesn't.


"...Does the good in religion outweigh the negative? ... I'd say no, it doesn't."

Oh boy Gary, what a loaded train of thought!
Personally I separate religion, spirituality and politics (worldly powers) and I insist that others do the same!!!
Religion - inward contemplation, a personal journey
Spirituality - research available to anyone, attainment of the wisdom of higher existence
Politics - the mechanics of societal life, maintaining law coexistence on the physical plane

Now religion asks for devotion to be acquired, spirituality demands translucency and flexibility of thought, while our world affairs ask for rationale and sound ethics.

Religion in itself is not a bad thing as long as it is not mingled with the other two. If it does, it either becomes hysterical (spirituality) - or materialistic garbage (politics).

I am not saying that religion, or religious slogans have been used (abused) throughout history. What I am hoping for is that "devotion" - "inspiration" - and "action" (religion, spirituality, worldliness) become nowadays independent entities working and inspiring each other without any claims.
Otherwise we will all end up in the most popular and the most quickly expanding "religion" of the present that combines "earthly law" and "spiritual law" in one entity, namely Islam.
That indeed I would fight to the last fiber of my own physical existence. Why? Because it leaves the human spirit unfree!

So yes Gary, as you can see it is a loaded question. Usually I don't respond to posts (if I do) with more than none line, sort of an appreciation thing to say hello and that I read your stuff. But this is an exception.
As you are well aware, I struggle with similar issues of religion or "religion".
The question Gary is simple and profound: How can we find the gate of chrysalis as humans to transform from a worm to a butterfly? The answer is freedom.
And that includes the freedom IN religion, and not "from" it ...
Best wishes, Lukas.
the question "Does the good in religion outweigh the negative?"
I would think that the world religion itself needs defining first.
For me, if religion is to seek the divine, then it is out of the scope of the question. Its concern is simply finding the truth, the divine and experience it if it exists.

Perhaps the divine is in all things positive and negative. freedom of choice is simply to choose which sides of the divine one like to live in...

P.S I liked your comment regarding Moses :)
Zee, that is a long comment from you...and a very wise one. I like 'freedom IN religion, not from it'. I think we're on the same page, although I'm probably a little more atheistic than you.

Mone, very nice comment also. In my question, I mean organized religion as opposed to the religious or spiritual life, but either way, it's an interesting question and fine response from you.
Smile .... :) You can't be "a little more atheistic" Gary, it's like saying "I'm stoned, but can I be a bit less stoned please?." That doesn't work. Either you are an atheist or you encompass spirituality.
Details aside.

It is obvious that religion is important to the human psyche: basically it boils down to two imponderables - why are we here and what will become of us? All religions give answers to these, in that they are ubiquitous and long lasting.

It is not hard to surmise that at the dawn of reason, when humanity stopped being a savage, religion came into being and was an important first step to civilizing the species.

The vast majority of religions that survived time are founded on good morals and love. I think today, religion is a bit like the planet Jupiter - if it suddenly wasn't there, we'd crash into the sun! so, my answer must be YES.

I want to say that I am not a religious person and have never noticed Pascal's god-shaped hole in myself. It's a fascinating and curious aspect of being human and I'm often asking people why and how they come to have their particular faith.

(I'm sure I have a deficiency in my genetic composition because I'm exactly the same with football teams, like my mate supports a real crap team and I say ''why don't you pick a good one?'' and he says ''look, you just don't get it, do you.'' and on that point he's right!)

one detail: you mention him and I think the concept of Dalai Lama is a good example of my puzzlement with modern faith. I mean, so many Westerners love the idea! okay, the current incumbent looks like a decent bloke but the whole process seems so random and untenable in this enlightened age.
hey, Didn't moses have to fight a few battles on the way? And he had to learn stone carving from scratch and write out all those jewish laws in long hand...

...but at least he had the divine Sat-Nav. ;o)
I find religion extremely problematic.

On the one hand, it's produced gorgeous art, a tradition of compassion, hospitals, aid, etc., a wealth of stories and legends, and some heroically virtuous people. (Jean Vanier is my hero.)

And of course, there are the endless bloody wars, the illogic that arises from trying to apply ancient writings and mores to modern situations, the abuse of spiritual power, the encouragement of "sheep-ishness" in groups, the exclusivity, the hypocrisy....

I like a balancing act, just like in politics. As long as we all don't feel too sure of ourselves, things stay in balance. So, I love it when religious figures like Bishop Henry (Calgary) get taken to task for their boneheaded statements. (He was advised to stop being so rudely homophobic or he'd lose his "charitable" status - what a hoot!) Can you imagine a Pat Robertson operating in Canada? He'd be operating from a hospital wing.

I think Canada's in pretty good shape religiously - you're free to go at it anyway you see fit, but you're not free to strongarm anyone else. Which is only polite. If religion can't even raise people to the level of politeness, what good is it?
Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzt, hat auch Religion; Wer jene beide nicht besitzt, der habe Religion!

[He who possesses science AND art also has religion; but he who possesses neither of those two, let him have religion! — Goethe, Zahme Xenien IX]

... couldn't resist, cheers!
Zee, you should like this one too then...

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einsteim
Ian, you're a thoughtful man (and a good photographer). Having faith in the Vancouver Canucks hockey team here in Canada, is much like Moses in year 39 (and I'm a fan).

Madcap - I think you're right about Canada having the right environment for freedom of belief. And then we fight out the implications politically, not with guns. I take your comment to be on the middle road as far as value or not?
Have you read Yann Martel's novel, Life of Pi? My favourite chapter was at the beginning when Martell has the protagonist naively asking why he can't be a catholic, a muslim AND a hindu because he loves all three! and each of the priests is going no, it can't be done and running the other two down. It does seem odd that they have to be exclusive.
Every year I live, I become ever more opposed to organized religion. It's just difficult to see any good coming out of it at times. It seems to be one more thing to cause divisions among humans, one more reason to kill and shed blood, one more excuse to be intolerant.... Can you tell it's really pissing me off? ;)

I love this bit from your post: "...very little faith in the superstitious and a growing faith in the rational mind and the unexplainable transcendent experience (not needing a definition and definitely not needing a religion)." That sums up my feelings on the sujbect beautifully. I pray every day. I pray to the universe, and I remember something I read by Gary Zukav in The Seat of the Soul (to paraphrase): when I pray for understanding (my own), my prayers are always answered. I've found this to be true.

Was once a Catholic, though. Now I'm an independent.
Ian - I loved that book. I like the undercurrent theme too - "What is real and what is our hope and imagination?"

Sherhazade - thanks for your thoughts - I like the 'independant'
The biggest shame of it is that all organized religions have the potential to do such good, yet sadly, always seem to fall prey to the greed, hatred, and intolerance of the men (usually) who are leading that religion.
It makes my Catholic heart so very heavy... yet my fellow Catholic brethren decided to elect an ex-Nazi as Pope, so why should much make me feel disappointed anymore?
I'm converting to Pastafarianism.
An interesting and thought-provoking posts, as evidenced by the comments.

My own view is in direct opposition to Zee's; that religion, spirituality, and politics are inseparable. Spirituality is a part of religion, and religion is a part of politics. Problems arise when this hierarchy is not observed; ie when sirituality is religion, or when religion is politics.

I share Sherhazade's disgust with religion, and I think this is rather common in the US at this point in history. But I realize that all this is sort of reactionary to the development of religion in the US, ie the work of the Heritage Foundation, et al, that have worked diligently to reshape religion into a political movement.

I believe that religion is neither good nor bad, but is simply a tool, much like a hammer. The hammer can be used to drive a nail into a wall or to make holes in the wall all around the nail. Some are content with the latter. Sad, that.
PT is right in that it's the people USING the religion and not the religion itself that are the problem.
Organized religion has outlived its usefulness in my opinion.

People are smart enough to act without their preacher watching them these days.

At least in the West...
Hi Gary
I am coming to this discussion late , having been travelling and notice all of the interesting discussions. Religion does not have a clear definition , usually it includes spirituality, mysticism , mythology and the like.
Its evolution was our first experienced “consciousness” where such “consciousness “ was attributed as spirits from the dead speaking to us. Religion remains to many to day as a source off comfort, fulfilment of the basic human need to bring meaning to life. Popularity increases according to the degree of hardship experienced, hence its growth in impoverished regions, particularly to Islam, with reduction in the affluent regions, replaced by modern day spirituality rejecting organised religion. Religion, inclusive of spirituality does fulfils a basic humans need for a very large number of people and continues to be a imaginative tool. Hence is overwhelming in the positive in my view.
The literal interpretation of “ sacred texts” in the form of “fundamentalism” causes all of the problems described and takes up most discussions. There was never any mass migration from Egypt, no evidence to support this, Moses maybe had only had a handful of followers and Joshua never destroyed the walls at Jericho, which occurred in previous centuries and so on and so on. Stories and myths passed down from generations to be retold around the camp-fires and written dowm , re written ....
Religion and Science are both tools for philosophy, in fact it was the monasteries that spawned the early philosophers and heretics . Science was once called philosophy, only recently have the two been separated. Everyone has beliefs of one kind or another, there own philosophy to bring meaning to their life and Religion is one branch of imaginative tool to do this for us. Spirituality operates equally in both secular and religious circles, dependant upon our own adopted philosophy which encapsulates our beliefs.
Best wishes
Religion, a man-made concept, often leaves out God, the force of Love, Life and Truth within all of us.

We are all master metaphysicians, we just don't realize it.
Ghandi said he was Hindu, but he then said, "I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew..."
Thanks all - Lindsay, as usual you provide a nuanced and balanced view. It reminds me to step back and be more careful in my judgements. I am still not convinced however, that religion (and I mean organized religion, with scriptures, structures and rituals) is on balance a positive force today. I believe that we are becoming capable of using the rational mind and our experiences of imagination, intuition, spirituality and love to evolve further.

Octavian and Lydia - thanks for visiting my blog and for your thoughtful comments.
Atheism is a religion.
Hey Bohemian - you might be right - there are elements of belief and faith inherent in any atheist worth his denial.

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