Why Be Religious?

It has become fashionable in the past two decades to be “spiritual but not religious.” There are many reasons for this, probably the biggest one being the clergy sex scandals, particularly in the Catholic church. Perhaps another big reason is that our society values busyness more and more, and Sunday is no longer a day off so people can now work 24/7.

By being religious, I don’t necessarily mean going to church, although that could be part of it. What I mean by “being religious” is “connecting with one of the great world religious traditions.

These traditions are like super-highways of spirituality. They all have people who are recognized as being super-spiritual. Normally they are called saints or mystics. These spiritual super-heroes have developed ways of drawing closer to God that are tried, true and shared down through the centuries with everyone within the tradition.

Also, the scriptures of all these traditions are super-countercultural. They tell you that you are loved not because of how rich or famous or beautiful you are, but just because you are a human being. You are loved without conditions, unlike in the “meritocracy” most of us live in where your worth is constantly being calculated by how much you produce and consume.

Numerous studies by contemporary psychologists have shown that religious people are healthier, live longer, have better relationships, more friends, better marriages, better sex and are more generous than non-religious folks.

Also, these traditions specialize in giving people the big picture when asked the fundamental questions: who are we, where did we come from, how are we to live, and where are we going?

On top of all this, these traditions have engaged in major charitable works throughout the world, founding schools and hospitals for the poor and advocating for their rights.

If you are spiritual but not religious by yourself, you would have to get other people to join you if you were going to get any significant charitable work done. And as soon as you get any group of people together, you run into the same problems religions have always faced regarding who gets to lead the group, how to keep your egos from clashing, etc, etc.

So why not just join one of the major world religions that have tons of lived experience down through the centuries to share with you?

LOVE YOUR TRUE SELF

RECONCILING ANCIENT RELIGION AND MODERN SELF-HELP 

    All world religions would agree with St. Catherine of Sienna who said “Every evil is founded in self-love.” So how do we put ancient religion together with the modern self-help doctrine that you cannot love others if you don’t love yourself?

    When we are born, we are unitive thinkers: we sense our oneness with everything. However, as we develop we learn the word “no” from our parents trying to curtail our behaviour. We start to separate from our parents and others and develop our own identity. We learn we are a boy or girl and a human being not a dog or cat. Later we learn our race, nationality and everything else that separates us from others.

    Developing a sense of identity or ego is natural, healthy, and necessary to function in the world. However, if you think your ego, what separates you from everything, is all you are, it creates individualism, the source of all our problems. The illusion of separation transforms your ego into your false self, and life becomes every one for himself/herself.  

    Separation from others causes all social problems, and separation from nature is the root of all environmental problems. If you are really separate from others and the planet, what happens to them is not your concern. You can misuse them without any consequences. However, what happens to others and nature does impact us.

    I was pondering why, in indigenous paintings, there are fish, bears, and birds inside peoples’ bodies? Suddenly I got it: indigenous people are unitive thinkers – fish, bears, and birds are part of who they are. They and the environment are one.

    This is the solution to our environmental problems: the earth is us and we are the earth. Until we get that, we will continue to abuse the earth we depend on.

    Jesus was also a unitive thinker. He said “God and I are one,” and what we do to the least among us – people who are starving, naked, or homeless – we do to him.

    He also said the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love others as yourself. Perhaps he didn’t mean, as contemporary self-help would have it. “love others by first loving yourself,” but rather “love others because they are yourself.”

    God is everywhere and that includes inside you, in your depths. As Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, frequently said “When you meet your deepest self you meet God.” 

    God is not only love, God is peace, goodness, wisdom, forgiveness, patience, and kindness, and so are you. Your true essence, your true self, is all these things. In this sense you and God are one. This is what being the “imago dei,” the image of God, means. You are not God, God is greater than you, but you and God are one in spirit. 

    That is why it is good to love your true self, your soul, the self that is love, peace, and goodness. When you love your true self, you are loving God within you, and since God is in everything, you are loving everything through God. When you love all the virtues of your true self, you are doing exactly what others and the earth need: people who love peace, goodness, and love.

    It is necessary to develop an ego, but it is also necessary to transcend the ego and realize that you have a larger, truer self. It is not healthy or wise to just love your ego, your false, illusory self. Loving just your ego is the root of all evil as St. Catherine said. She was thinking of love of the false self; contemporary self-help is presumably thinking of love of the true self, which is the foundation of all good.

    What we need now is a civilization built on love of the true self, the soul, our best self, our “better angels,” not one based on love of ego, our “worst demons.” This would solve many of our problems.

    As another holy woman, Mechthild of Magdeburg said:

“The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest or happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.”

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach, and religious educator of adults. www.brucetallman.com. For his weekly reflections on spirituality, see “The Big Picture” at https://brucetallmanblog.wordpress.com

3 Big Ideas for April 10, 2019

  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of “cosmic personalization” means that the entire cosmos is headed towards wholeness, complexification, consciousness, and love.
  2. In 1961 at a General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, James Sittler, a Lutheran theologian, reminded the gathering that, according to Colossians 1:15-17, the Cosmic Christ is the foundation of all things and all things are united in the Cosmic Christ. If this is true, Christians have nothing to fear from other religions, philosophy and modern science since all these things are “in Christ” whether they acknowledge it or not. In fact, the values of materialistic scientists and philosophers such as the search for truth,could be a preparation for the acceptance of the gospel.
  3. Since all institutions are relative and provisional, including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, we must put our hope in the living God who alone can fulfill history. We must hope in God, not any religious institution.

3 Big Thoughts for March 12, 2019

  1. The more one pursues spirituality in the teachings of world religious leaders like Jesus, Mohammed, Lao Tzu and Buddha, the more one experiences oneness, interconnectedness and less separation.
  2. The new cosmology (the story of the origin and development of the universe and our place in it) that science is showing us: – things develop from matter (big bang, galaxies, planets) to life (plants) to sensitivity (animals) to thought (humans) – demonstrates that the whole universe is heading in a spiritual direction – the whole universe is moving inexorably towards more life and consciousness. This new cosmology can heal the former split between science and religion. Matter intrinsically moves toward spirit. The whole universe is bound for enlightenment!
  3. Contemplation does not kill your pain and anguish. In fact it increases your awareness of the false faith in things that most “normal” people put their trust in: money and possessions. Once you start to grasp the folly of this – the cultural trance or sleepwalking that is the status quo – it increases your grief for the all those who are trapped in it. You shed tears of compassion for your fellow human beings. “Compassion” means “to suffer with.” Contemplation leads to suffering with and for others.