The Real Problem With Religion

We’ve hit a glass ceiling.

We’re stalled on the interstate without a map. And the map has yet to be drawn.

We’re told that each institutionalized religion is the only path to salvation, righteousness, prosperity, truth, wisdom, peace, etc. ad nauseum.

But when we start to personally unfold into new stages of growth (within and without), when we start to become a more mature version of ourselves, we sometimes find that our religion doesn’t provide a mature form of spirituality. It’s like having an appliance crap out on you the day after your 5-year warranty expires.

ERROR: We apologize, we are no longer offering support (technical, emotional, or spiritual) for versions 5.X (and above) of the “Your Self” hardware. If you’d like to be notified when this support becomes available, join the club.

Religion itself suffers from a form of philosophical retardation, permanently stunted at a level of adolescence, unable to position itself in relationship to others – unable to take second- and third-person perspectives.

According to Bishop John Shelby Spong, “the church doesn’t like for people to grow up, because you can’t control grown-ups.”

Here’s what Integral theorist, Ken Wilber has to say on the subject:

Everybody is born at square one. There will always be people at [all stages of consciousness] and that is fine. An enlightened society would always make room for that by recognizing that stages in development are also stations in life. And somebody can stop at any of those stations (of Spirit’s own unfolding) and they deserve honor and respect at whatever station they are at.

click image to enlarge


But the earlier stations — archaic to magic to mythic — involve stages that, nonetheless, are ones that humanity’s leading edge passed through in its infancy, childhood, and adolescence. But because religion alone is the repository of the myths created during those times, religion alone is the institution in today’s world that gives legitimacy to those earlier stages and stations for men and women. And religion alone owns that 70% of the world’s population at those stages.

All of which is good and beautiful. But precisely because of its ownership of the pre-rational heritage of humanity (and the pre-rational corpus of the great myths), religion alone can help its followers move from the pre-rational, mythic-membership, ethnocentric version of its message to the rational, worldcentric versions of its own message. … This, surely, is the great role for religion in the modern and postmodern world.

(excerpted from Integral Spirituality)

If “religion” continues to be defined as the tactile and social side of spirituality — rooted in dogma, doctrine and myth — and as long as those myths continue to be told (and interpreted) from magic and pre-rational levels of development, there will be no forms of religion at the higher stages (rational, collaborative or pluralistic).

All interfaith dialogue will hit a dead end, religious fundamentalism will remain the status quo, holy wars will continue to be waged, and we will continue to seek (to sometimes extreme ends) that which we already are and have always been.

UPDATE: Some of the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) do have maps of the higher stages provided by Christian Mysticism, Kabbalah and Sufism, respectively. But, they are for the most part denied or attacked by the institutional and patriarchal forms of these religions.

Yes, new myths need to be written from these higher stages of unfolding. New stories need to be told from a level of consciousness that includes the highest number of perspectives. But more importantly, current mythology and doctrine needs to be interpreted, understood and possibly re-cast from these higher stages. That is what will shatter the glass ceiling.

It’s time to change this system from within. And here’s what you can do about it:

1. Get Current and Get Real – Create the space and time to regularly pray or meditate and ask yourself the hard questions about your faith and religion in general. Are there things that no longer feel true for you? Do you have trouble separating things like ethics and science from your faith in a higher power? Have you avoided certain friends, family or co-workers based solely on their religion or worldview? Do you think there is more to learn about yourself, the world or about spirituality, but feel limited by the teachings of your religion? Could there be parts of it that you’ve outgrown?

2. Get Involved – If you are committed to a church, synagogue, mosque or spiritual/meditation center, then think about volunteering for activities and events; serve as an usher or prayer chaplain or on the board of directors; if you’re truly committed to being the change, consider studying to be a teacher, priest, rabbi, etc. Create and be a part of the ministry or organization that you’d like to see in the world. Create and exemplify these higher stages and structures within your ministry or organization. If this is impossible, leave and create your own.

3. Get Connected – Participate in more interfaith dialogue. Diana Eck from Harvard’s Pluralism Project states, “Pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance … does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence … Pluralism means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.”

Host a roundtable discussion at your home or at your church. If you witness cultural or religious intolerance (at your workplace or in line at the market) speak up. It’s up to you to help those in your family, community or tribe arrive at a place of mutual understanding. If not you, who? If not now, when?

We must consider the cultural and spiritual perspectives of those around us. We must come to the table with a willingness for compassion and respect. We must recognize in one another not the borders created by our own bodies, but the Spirit that is within us, and at the same time the quantum field connecting us to that Ground of Being.

Only then will we have arrived at a place of peace. Only then will we have the mythology and the culture to support us (and future generations) as we unfold into deeper stages of spiritual practice, and into ever-higher stages of awareness, until we finally connect with the highest stage of all.

About Joran Slane Oppelt

Author, Musician, Interfaith Minister, Chaplain, Public Speaker, Event Producer, Marketing Professional, Husband, Father - Not necessarily in that order. Follow me on Twitter @joranslane. View all posts by Joran Slane Oppelt

7 responses to “The Real Problem With Religion

  • Max Warren

    I love this post. It provides much needed clarity for those that are outgrowing their current spiritual framework or practice. That “Old Time” Religion needs an overhaul. Beautiful!

  • Max Warren

    Reblogged this on Conscious Masculinity and commented:
    What does Religion/Spirituality 2.0 really look like? How do we grapple with what it means to be fully human? Joran offers us not just insights, but potential ideas to broaden and deepen both our Framework and our practices. Enjoy!

  • ecoaging

    Agreed. As a mother, this issue is so important to me. It is so hard to give them a map that will help them navigate the future in a way that is not just “scientific” but “forward/ trans rational religion”. See as another resource in helping us bridge the gap between mythic religion, science, and integral.

  • Robin Whitlock

    In my journey I found insights in both traditional and nontraditional writers and speakers such as Paul Tillich, William Maslow, Leonard Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, and Steve Charleston (another Episcopal Bishop). Because of such, I find your definition of “Religion” a little too narrow perhaps because in my writing I contrast the human institution of Religions with the life of the Spirit which has a much broader canon of resources. Even traditional writers offer insights, such as Rudolf Bultmann’s works “demythologizing” Religion. In addition, I believe serious work in ethics can assist opening a path away from the “tactile and social side of spirituality” insofar as it applies to all human experience across cultural, social, ethnic, and societal norms. The bottom line is I love the discussion and thank you for time and effort.

  • Finding the Father, Our Journey Home | Integral Church

    […] The last post touched on the need to move on, and to embrace Religion 2.0, moving past the familiar, antiquated concepts of “that old time religion.” Integral theory holds a unique position that is unlike classic modernity or post-modernism. Without going into too much detail on the evolution of maps from modern to integral, here is a brief thumbnail sketch. […]

  • kenthamaker

    Good stuff here for sure, Joran! In the spirit of this post I’d like to invite you on over to check out my blog, The Shining Stranger. It’s based on the book of the same title by Preston Harold. Many parallel lines for sure!

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