Sunday, 10 April 2016

Path to #enlightenment - step 5 of 10000000........ 'God, Religion and Spiritual Homelessness'

My friends have often applied the term ‘hobo’ when describing my musical tastes – if I like the sound of something, I will listen to it, despite what genre it comes under, just like a hobo wonders from one place to the next, never settling.

I like the epic sound of pagan folk and fantasy metal, the punch-like intimacy of grunge bands and the lyrical mastery of rap. But I also enjoy the positive vibe and energy that comes from top charts or some Christian pop and rock bands. And at certain points in my life I love to sit back, draw the curtains closed and switch off the world outside, letting classical music express my most intimate feelings or opera carry me to a different place. Despite the negative connotation of the term ‘hobo’, I actually think that my musical taste is enriched by the variety – each genre expresses a different emotion or guides me through a new stage in my life. Collectively, the genres inform my thinking and enrich my later creative endeavours.

By that definition, I’m also a bit of a ‘spiritual hobo’. I feel a deep connection to a supernatural force which I used to call ‘Dieviņš’ when I lived in Latvia, then changed his name to God when I moved to England at the age of fifteen. After going through some soul-searching, I don’t have a consistent name for IT any more, but on an intuitive level I have always felt that something larger than me exists, and I’ve often marvelled at the way IT seems to answer my most heart-felt prayers and that I am a miniature expression of IT.

To me, the different religions or spiritual interpretations around the world represent different languages or ‘genres’ of God, each trying to interpret IT in a way that they find most comfortable and easiest to understand.

In the early part of my twenties, I went through a bit of soul-searching. Much to my own regret, I put my trust into someone who professed to defend Christianity as the One True Religion. Following our frequent conversations, I began to attend church every Sunday, I tried to give The Bible priority over any other books I was reading. I began to mould theories about the world so that they fit with what’s written in The Bible. 

The brain has a remarkable capacity to change your subjective truth about the world, based on your beliefs, and to actually perceive it as the ultimate truth - slowly but surely, without even realising it myself, I was being brainwashed into defending a belief systems that was not truly my own. Deep down, I questioned whether Jesus would be so cruel as to send someone to hell just because they dared to ask if he really was the Son of God, and I felt an immense pressure to do all I can to make sure that people wouldn’t end up in there.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to diss Christianity or any other religion. I am fortunate to have friends from a variety of backgrounds, and religion has never been an issue in our friendship. What I’d like to do instead is propose the findings of my own search so far – to raise some of the issues with religion. I’d like to pose the question - why can’t we approach religion in the same way we approach other things? Namely – the more we learn about the diversity that exists, the better people we become.

Just like I enjoy the diversity of music genres, I like to marvel at religion. I think it’s incredible how the Islamic tradition where depictions of God are prohibited, led to the development of marvelous geometric patterns; I enjoy the philosophical quality of Hebrew books like Ecclesiastes or the Christian writings in the Gnostic Gospels; the mystical and metaphorical beauty of Hindu gods; the tranquil attitude towards life that many practicing Buddhists seem to maintain.

Religion is just another expression of human creative endeavour, and, just like music, art or any other creative form, it is countless and full of marvels. But why can’t different religions simply get on?

I find that one of the roots of these problems are the unquestioned motivations and needs that people have when they decide to join a particular religious group. We all have needs that need to be met, and some of these needs can be met by joining a certain religion. These reasons, most often, have nothing to do with the core message of a certain belief – more often than not, they are to do with your upbringing, how much attending a religious establishment was a part of your childhood routine, and what unresolved traumas you have experienced in life. It may be that religion offers a safe refuge from feeling like an outsider in the society, creates a sense of a family where someone has lost their own, or enables someone to express themselves creatively. These are all perfectly legitimate needs, and religion can be one way of meeting to meeting them without necessarily becoming problematic.

The reason I believe they do sometimes cause problems is because many people, myself included, are not actually aware what their needs or unresolved issues are, and are equally unaware that joining a religious group is a way of meeting those needs

And there are some needs that are best met somewhere else – for example, for someone who has a need for attention or an obsession to be applauded for being right, religion can quickly lead down a dark alleyway where it becomes an excuse to feel and act superior to others who don’t belong to that religion.

Another major problem with religion arises when people try to impose their view of God onto others. I say this, because this is what I once used to do, believing that I was doing God a service. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my desire to buy into that religion had little to do with the message of salvation. It was to do with my own past experiences, my own upbringing, my personality, my unresolved issues and insecurities. That’s why I think addressing the first problem could go a long way in resolving this second problem.

The third major problem is that most religions come with a holy text/-s which can’t really be questioned.

When I was devoutly religious, I felt like someone living in a totalitarian state where I was allowed to maintain the illusion that I could question this text, but never to its full extent. But no text should hold authority over our own inner moral compass.

My biggest issue with religious structures, and one of the reasons that I eventually stopped attending church, was that I often felt as though I am not allowed to properly question the religious leaders or the holy texts themselves, even if parts of their speech/text don’t agree with my own inner moral compass. Paradoxically but unsurprisingly, the preachers who were most humble about the way they examined a passage from the scripture, without claiming to have the ultimate truth, seemed to get furthest in their examination and many of their teachings really made me think, and have still stuck with me today, aiding me into questioning my morality. I feel as though developing that set of moral values is of utmost importance in a person’s life, and a life’s work – and the only way to develop it is by questioning, challenging and learning from mistakes. Even though I do believe in God, this is where I applaud the atheists – from those I have met in my life, most have had a strong sense of an inner moral compass without referring to a holy text as a guide.

I am fully aware of the paradox of this statement but I can’t help but feel that God would only be proud of many atheists, seeing that humanity has come such a long way that it no longer needs a manual in order for someone to strive to live a good and moral life.

My spiritual search has left me thirsting for more. I feel I will forever be student of religion without being religious myself. That’s not to say I’m not spiritual – in fact, I often feel the need to pray, meditate or sometimes I have an unexplainable urge to simply worship that SOMETHING. But when I do this, I don’t feel the need to call God by one specific name – sometimes my affection will be directed at the image of Jesus, other times at Shiva, and others still I will feel a natural connection with the feminine aspects of God.

Just like listening to the various musical genres gives me a greater appreciation for music, similarly studying about the different forms of religious expression, gives me a greater appreciation for God.  

I feel as though every religion can reveal a new aspect of God and his universal nature. Finding out as much as possible about various religions and ways of worship, to me represents a desire to know all aspects of God on an intimate level.

On the surface, it may appear like we all have irreconcilable differences, especially if they are presented through the lens of religion or culture, but we are all basically the same. I don’t think that being a 'spiritual hobo' is a bad thing at all – I think it’s actually rather beautiful to construct God’s image, piece by piece, hoping that one day you’ll be able to marvel at the full picture.

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