The road from evangelical Christianity to where I’m at now has been a pretty long road filled with both times of spiritual peace and spiritual angst. Currently, I feel like I’ve entered another period of peace and I’m not entirely sure why. One thought that I had today is that perhaps it’s because I am finally begining to "let go" of Christianity a whole year after giving up the Christian label.
I think before giving up the label I spent a good couple years working through various theological ideas (as documented in this blog) to help justify my faith because I simply could not see my spiritual experience apart from it. After I gave up the label this past year, I spent the majority of the time feeling confused on just how to edify myself spiritually without a rigid system and community to guide me. I knew that my old ideas and ways of doing things simply wouldn't do but yet I felt a sense of emptiness without anything to replace them with. I struggled to figure out what spirituality outside of religion was supposed to look like...only to conclude that the idea of it needing to look like anything was just another byproduct of the religious mindset I had tried so hard to overcome.
In another sense, “letting go” is no longer feeling a strong need to help instigate or stimulate change within the religious systems as a whole…at least, not in an active sense. I have great respect for those that are devoted to those systems and seem to be benefiting from it. I also have great respect for those that do feel an active need to stimulate change within those systems. For me though, I’m starting to feel that people find what they are looking for when they really need it. People that are truly in a state of cognitive dissonance will pursue what they need to recapture their spiritual equilibrium, which in some cases means dropping spirituality altogether. The best thing I can do is focus on my own spiritual well-being and if “fate” has it, I will be able to assist someone else if and when the need arises.
I've just become aware of how much mental and emotional energy I have put towards this Christian/institutional religion thing that I don't even identify with anymore. Perhaps to some extent it was necessary to sort of work through my new ideas but at some level I think it's prevented my own healing and progress. I wasn't allowing myself to enjoy the extent of spiritual freedom. It's like constantly talking about an ex-girlfriend that you've long since ended things with but are still rehashing the events that led to the break and the painful aftermath in an attempt to warn the current boyfriend. Not only are you going to piss of the boyfriend, you're just reopening your own wounds for no reason and not being mindful of the opportunities before you.
It's not that I have to swear off ever thinking or talking about it again, but there is simply so much more to explore and focus on. I've said what I've needed to say regarding it. The "good" fruit grown in my time as a Christian I have carried with me and I have discarded the "bad". There isn't really any point in wrestling with it or trying to get others to wrestle with it. I have a journey that I am on and others have theirs.
Not too long ago, I made a post about God being a concept that many people have approached differently over the course of human history and gave a very brief idea of what I currently thought God to be. Since then, I've been entertaining a different take on God I've been learning about and I'd like to try and articulate that in this post. The basic idea is that you, me and everything around us is God manifested. God "plays" various roles from a human to a bird to a rock to a star but is one single thing in reality. God is the universe but also may transcend the universe as well. This is along the lines of pantheism or even panentheism that can be found in much of the eastern religions yet can arguably be found in the western religions as well.
Admittedly, this idea is still fairly strange to me and is among many of the things I once outright objected without any real consideration. However, thinking upon it seems to not only resonate on a very deep level but also has led me to a few interesting conclusions.
First of all, it not only puts God in a different light but illuminates the purpose of the universe as well. The concept of God I grew up with was said to have created the universe for his glory and worship alone, while in this concept it seems God created (or rather manifested as) the universe to have experiences -- to love, to fear, to laugh, to cry and to learn. "I", in the grand sense of "I" as an eternal being, have purposefully forgotten who I really am in order to experience "I" in a more limited sense.
This concept of God also seems to support a feeling I've had for awhile, which is that all the suffering we experience is essentially rooted in the illusion of separation. Our journey to be whole beings in this life is based on a yearning for something we all once shared --a universal sense of oneness. This realization of oneness is where we all have been and it is where we all are going because that is truly what we are. From a Hindu perspective, this process has happened before and will happen again and again. It is the cosmic game that God plays to not only have experiences and relationships but to have something to contrast it's fundamental oneness to.
So, essentially the question is not, "why did God allow suffering" but instead perhaps "why did we allow suffering"? The answer to which may lie inside the common structure of many stories in movies, video games, books and so forth-- the protagonist versus antagonist model. There is something psychologically fulfilling about a perceived "good" embarking on an adventure to overcome a perceived "evil". In the same way, we at some point decided to bring about evil, perhaps for the sole purpose of defeating it. By overcoming evil or separation from the One we are able to celebrate good or unity of the One with new freshness and life.
Some years back when I was big on Christian evangelism, there were a series of questions I had been taught to ask a person to see if they were "saved" or not. If not, I would go into various Bible verses that explained how they could be redeemed and so forth. I don't recall what all the questions were exactly, but I remember the last question went something like "if you were wrong, would you want to know?"
I think there's something telling about that question in regards to how spiritual conversations are often engaged. The attitude behind the question is, "if you do not have the same general beliefs that I do, then you are simply wrong and need to be corrected." At least, that was definitely my attitude then and it honestly took several years for me to shed it (assuming I even have completely). I think that attitude, though, is the reason why little to no real discussion happens between people of differing beliefs. One or more parties are only interested in dispensing what they deem to be truth and if others in the discussion dare to doubt that truth, they are written off and their ideas dismissed. "Agree with the Truth or just go away" seems to be the motto of many today.
A few such interactions is all one needs to find reason to never discuss their beliefs with anyone of differing beliefs ever again and hence many people stop talking about it, if they indeed ever started. I sometimes find it amazing that I haven't got to that point yet; my desire to discuss things regarding spirituality never seems to totally dissipate for one reason or another. However, I often wonder what is the best way to go about such discussions? How can we avoid detrimental or frustrating conversations of spiritual nature?
Perhaps it's best to first ask "what is the purpose of such discussions?" Back in my evangelical Christian days, I thought the purpose was to get people to believe like me so that they wouldn't go to Hell. Now, I think the purpose is simply to foster understanding and provide the opportunity for people to actually compare and weigh differing ideas instead of only bouncing the same ten tired ideas off of ten other people that essentially see things the same as you. If that is the purpose, it's only necessary to put the ideas out there and if people think it's far fetched, then so be it. There is no need for conversion.
Another thing we should consider is the effects of these discussions. Is what were discussing going to have a positive or negative effect on the person we are discussing with? I think this is relatively a hard thing to gauge simply because everyone is different and if you put something out online, you never really know who all will see it or how they'll react. Some people are able to entertain different spiritual ideas without necessarily accepting them and others simply cannot. For some people, to even suggest that something other than their particular belief could be true is to evoke immense anger or sorrow because our attachment to spiritual ideas (or lack there of) are just as much emotional as they are rational. So, I think we have to be cautious of giving ideas to people who clearly are not yet in a place to discuss them.
Lastly, I think we should strive for humility. We need to have the humility to accept that we, whoever we are, do not have all the answers and that people across the world and throughout time have been wrestling with the very same questions regarding spiritual truth and have come to different conclusions. So, we should view each discussion of such nature to be an opportunity not only to share but to grow and become familiar with all the various answers that are out there.