It’s time to call bullshit on those who say that we’re better off without religion.
It is, after all, the religious (not religion itself) that “contribute to the world” so much war, bloodshed, oppression, hatred and intolerance. However, the religious have also brought love, non-violence, art, ethics, freedom and social service to the world in large numbers.
Going forward, we must put an end to generalizations – statements like “religious people believe …” or “organized religion does …” and take into account all the religious institutions doing meaningful, compassionate, transformational and inclusive work in their communities.
While all religions solve for a different set of problems — sin (Christianity), pride (Islam), exile (Judaism), attachment (Buddhism) — we musn’t set out with a problem as our main concern and we musn’t assume that “problems” are the only thing we all have in common.
If interfaith relations are to succeed, we must identify and shine a light on the positive traits in religious life, because interfaith relations still have, it turns out, a long way to go.
Christianity humbly offers us salvation and divine compassion through Christ, Islam offers the Kingdom of Heaven to those who submit to divine law, Buddhism teaches detachment from worldly possessions (or desires) through meditation, Native American and nature traditions teach us to respect and live in harmony with Gaia / Mother Earth and Wicca trains us in harnessing the power of magic and intention. All of them have distinctly different approaches and attitudes; all of them align uniquely with various life stages, energy centers or social concerns; and all of them are as equally valuable as the other, and need to be considered by anyone seeking a complete understanding of God, the Universe and/or spirituality.
Furthermore, since they all address a widely different set of problems and solutions, any commitment to spiritual life, any path toward understanding of human psychology, any attempt at simply living in a human community, suffers (or is, at a minimum, dealt a handicap) by focusing on just one or two of the world religions. There is no religion — from an integral standpoint — that we can function without.
The downside to putting too much attention on the differences in these groups is the same problem we face when focusing on the differences in individuals. They are to some extent an illusion. When we engage in the language and mythology of religion, we are dealing with things that are cultural, temporal and transitive in nature — and always evolving. If we start to stack the wisdom traditions against each other based on how they tackle the same problems, we risk comparing Witchcraft to Buddhism to Christianity on how they handle issues like “charity” or “the afterlife,” and falling into a very obvious trap.
There are organizations in this world — from media companies to fashion outlets to home alarm system manufacturers — that rely on us to feel very different from one another. It’s in their marketing strategy and their mission statement. Their success literally depends on reinforcing external differences — and, yes, creating fear — where none existed before.
What’s worse, these relentless campaigns don’t just lay the facts on the table and allow us to choose for ourselves. We are being lied to by people who may benefit from our ignorance, and continually bombarded by racial and religious stereotypes. We even lie to ourselves every time we generalize about a race, gender, religious group or nationality. We lie to ourselves every time we think that we are not connected to every other person on this planet in a very significant way.
The irony is that we are capable of bypassing the mental circuits of fear, guilt, anxiety, and separation by “firing and wiring” new connections in our brain. We can take it upon ourselves to create new behaviors and responses not beholden simply to outside conditioning. We can pull back the shades on our shadow elements, calling them into the light and demanding that they get current or get lost.
But, how are we supposed to know what these structures or behaviors look like? Where are the exemplary leaders of today? Where are the role models?
We live in a world drowning in artificial and genetically-modified foods (not to mention the very real threat of abundant fats and sugars). Which celebrities have shown the courage to refuse the endorsement of soda and fast food companies and side with causes that create positive change? Who do you know that has publicly admitted to being a victim of the pornography and sexual addictions that pollute and distract us from the needs of our naturally intuitive (if not polyamorous) bodies? Will we realize, before it’s too late, that the brandishing of weapons (or things used as weapons) is most times a sad mimicry of the fears inherited from our tribal elders, with no basis in reality?
Previous generations have no doubt “contributed” a great deal of fear, hatred and violence to the world, and yes, these feelings may never go away completely, but they can be identified and relegated to the appropriate stages of development to which they belong. They can be held accountable for the effects they have on inhibiting individual growth. They can be held to higher standards as those standards emerge. And in a world of instant and mobile gratification, there’s no need to prolong any false sense of separateness.
We need, in our society, a movement toward Namastasis, a word coined by my friend and mentor, Guy Larsson. We need to recognize the interiors of individuals (and groups) as identical to ourselves, and build psychic and social structures that allow us to hold that space (the role of multiple perspectives at once) permanently.
Oneness, mutual respect and harmony is not a peak experience, it is an end goal.
When you look at another and are able to see your Self reflected back, or when you can visualize the physical energy of human bodies as a system of nested constellations, infinitely unfolding points of light — co-creating and connected to each other through space and time. This is what we call God. And through us, this is what God calls itself. God unfolds as such throughout the universe at every moment and becomes self-aware through you.
You are directly connected to that source because you and the source were always already one and the same.
Is that a feeling that makes you want to fight your neighbor for resources?
Is that a feeling the world is better off without?