OK. I'm going to start trying to put this into words. This idea of mine that's been bubbling around for a while. What you see may appear to be neat and concise, but I assure you, it's not starting out that way. This end product that you see has been (or will be as I'm typing this) reworked and edited over and over again, unlike most of my articles, which are written as I'm writing them. Usually, as soon as I see something I want to comment on, I start writing and when I've said all I want to say, I'm done. Very seldom do I spend much time thinking about what I'm going to say. The words just flow...which I'm sure is obvious sometimes.) So anyway, here goes.
Before I start, this is NOT meant to be a put down of anyone's faith. I make a big distinction between religion and spirituality: religion is political and appeals to the masses; spirituality is personal and individualized. For example, I have absolutely nothing against individuals who refer to themselves as Christians. I have a whole lot of issues with organizations who call themselves Christian and are nothing but political action committees or organizations whose sole purpose is to impose their faith on the rest of the world or condemn those who disagree with their interpretation of divinity. I saw a T-shirt the other day in a store that read:
"Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell.
This pretty much sums up my feelings on the difference between religion and spirituality: religion is based on fear. Spirituality is based on Love. With that said, I'll continue.
Two things I believe with all my heart are: (1) that there are only two emotions in this world: Love and fear and all other emotions are simply deviations of these two and (2) that reality is created by the collective beliefs of all human beings (so that if we all believed as a world that the sky was yellow with green polka dots, the sky would be yellow with green polka dots and the laws of science would explain why that was so).
When we look back at the history of humanity, we find that man has been striving to become more god-like since before the beginnings of recorded history. Myths have come down to us from all types of civilizations of god/desses who mated with mere mortals and produced offspring who were part god, part human and upon whose shoulders the hopes of man rested— to give up one's humanity and become a god/dess. To "earn" a place among the immortals as Hercules did through his acts of courage and honor. IMHO, this drive to become more like one's god/goddess/deity/creator/first cause/whatever name you want to give to the "I AM" is due to the fact that we are, indeed, divine beings, possessing that spark of divinity, although in taking on a physical body, we confine the limitless for that brief moment that we call a lifetime. Something inside us yearns to return to that freedom of being unlimited. To return to our true nature/form/reality. (While this is merely my opinion, it is a "fact" to me. You the reader may accept or reject it as you see fit. The rightness or wrongness of my opinion does not change the fact that man has been and is still striving to become god-like.)
This striving to be more god-like was (and is) borne out of wonderment and awe as well as a desire to understand and seek the truth at all costs, even if it meant throwing out all that was previously held to be true. This was spirituality in its purest sense— a yearning for knowledge and for a better understanding of Self. Part of the knowledge that was gained, however, was that with understanding came power and with power came the ability to manipulate others. The mark of the true priest/ess was to use their power to help others gain more knowledge and understanding. But there were those who chose to abuse their power and to prey on the less knowledgeable, instilling fear in their hearts to manipulate them to do what the "priest/ess's" will, not God/dess' will.
All of this happened very early on in the history of man— recorded or otherwise. These "false priest/esses" with their greater understanding made themselves out to be the mouthpiece of the divine and told others what they had to do to fill that innate desire to connect to the divine. The masses, often too concerned with simply surviving to worry about what might happen when they died, took the false priest/esses at their word and began to change the way they thought about the god/desses, and as they did so, reality changed too. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me back step a bit.
From my own personal studies of different religions and the history of spirituality and religion, it seems to me that it went something like this.
In the very beginning, man did not have time to sit around and wonder what might happen when he died. Or how the stars got into the sky. Or why the moon changed its face every night. He was too concerned with simple survival. As man learned how to make more efficient weapons to hunt, learned to cooperate with others to ensure safety and later, how to farm the land, leisure time was born. (Of course, most of the people still spent a good deal of their time merely surviving. The birth of leisure time also heralded the advent of the class structure of society too, where landowners now had more power than those who did not own land. But that's another story, beyond the scope of this article...)
There was now time for a select few to contemplate the why's and how's of the universe. Man began to wonder how he got here. How the world got here and how it worked. What his place in the world was. What came after death. He saw that he created things: a hunting tool, a shelter, clothing, etc. But he didn't create or control things like trees, rivers, rain, earthquakes. Because everything had a creator, this creator of nature had to be someone much more powerful than man because no matter how hard he tried, he could not create a tree or grass or make it rain or stop an earthquake. So man "created" the god/desses that created everything in the world that man himself did not create or could not control.
Unsure how to "define" his deities, man looked to the only experience he had: his own. God/desses from the earliest faiths possessed human traits: they were anthropomorphized. Gods were angry, goddesses were jealous, gods were lecherous, goddesses were beguiling, etc. The whole range of human emotions was captured in the god/esses. If we look at the pantheon of any particular faith, we can see that there is quite often one god/dess who "exemplifies" a particular quality in humanity: be it beauty, anger, craftiness, hunting ability, etc. Each "human emotion" or characteristic was "ruled" by one of the god/desses. And while a hunter might make his greatest offering to the god/dess of the hunt, he never dared to show disdain for the other god/desses for fear of divine retaliation— after all, if someone showed HIM disrespect, he'd have to avenge his honor so of course the god/desses would do the same thing. Respect was afforded the deities of others in one's clan or tribe or social group.
The actions of the god/desses were based on how man himself would have reacted. God/desses were merely super powerful and immortal human beings— what we wanted to "grow up" to be, much as a young child wants to grow up to be like mommy and daddy when they're young and not very knowledgeable about all the possibilities. But because the god/desses were so "human", and because there were so many of them, always fighting amongst themselves and taking control of the "heavens" (just as man fought among himself for control of the land), knowing the will of God was not always an easy task. So priest/esses were born— people who divined the will of the god/desses in some way.
In these early days, when man couldn't explain things like volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, lighting, sudden death, etc., it was decided that such actions occurred because the god/desses were angry at something that man had done or not done. Didn't offer your goddess a sacrifice? She's the reason your cow died. Didn't thank the gods for a successful hunt? That's why the lightning struck a tree and started a fire that destroyed the whole forest that was your hunting ground. Of course, sometimes the god/desses just did horrible things to screw with your life— from a sort of perverted sense of humor on their part. (Again, this mirrored man's own ability to take humor in practical jokes or even in the trials and tribulations of another.)
But as time went on, like that child's, mankind's knowledge continued to grow. We learned to explain some of the more common "natural disasters": we learned that there were patterns to eclipses and comets and the movement of the stars and planets; we learned how to master fire, to dam rivers to prevent floods, to irrigate to prevent drought. By taking a really good look at nature— studying it in depth, keeping track of floods and droughts and earthquakes and rainfalls, we realized that there was a sort of pattern to them and that there were ways to lessen the devastation of these events. Not only that, but we began to realize the benefits to these events: we got new soil that grew richer crops after a flood. Forest fires made it easier to find prey because it got rid of all the old dead trees and brush.
As man watched the cycles of nature through the seasons, he learned that death was necessary for rebirth. The old trees died so the new ones could grow. The old stag died so that the young one could take over. Predators killed the young and the old, the weak, the sick and the careless— not only of other animals, but of human beings as well. The death of the few was nature's way of preserving the life of the many. A swift death at the hands of a skillful predator seemed to be kinder than a lingering death due to starvation or sickness.
We realized that if we could predict when an eclipse was going to come or control the effects of a flood, then it wasn't an angry reaction from the god/desses. Man began to understand that nature wasn't an enemy, but was truly a blessing, for without the bounties of nature, man would cease to exist. Nature followed a fairly regular cycle and since the god/desses had created nature, the laws of nature were the laws of the god/desses. Man now knew what to expect from the god/desses: follow the laws of nature. Man learned how to harness the cycles of nature to make his life easier, in doing so, affirming his belief that the god/desses were smiling on him for following the laws of nature.
The priest/esses were the ones who watched and charted nature and revealed their findings to the rest of their clan or tribe. They were the ones who figured out how to make the life of the rest of their clan/tribe easier by working WITH nature instead of against it. As a sort of payment for their information, the people of the tribe/clan saw to it that the priest/ess was sheltered, clothed and fed, giving the priest/ess more leisure time, which allowed deeper studies of the laws of nature, which made the life of the clan/tribe easier and so on, in what we'd now call a symbiotic relationship. In societies where spirituality is more common than religion, these priest/esses were (and still are) teachers, not confessors or preachers; juries or judges. Their power came from their understanding of the higher truths and their willingness to live by those truths and was rooted in Love— love of truth, love of deity, love of nature, love of one's fellow human beings.
Up to this point, we were still dealing with spirituality— each man had his own faith and his own god/desses and no one told him how he had to pray to or worship his deity or which deity to worship. I feel both a sadness and an excitement when I think about what has happened by taking the "shortcut to spirituality" called religion. Sadness at all the pain we've experienced by straying from the path of true spirituality, yet excitement to think what potential we have yet to see in ourselves and our society. We have a much greater obstacle to overcome, having taken the road to religion, but as we've all learned in just this lifetime, the greater the obstacle, the greater the joy at overcoming it.
The birth of leisure time was a mixed blessing. While it helped us to fulfill our drive to understand our world and ourselves, it also allowed those with the desire for personal power to find ways to control others. Fighting among individuals and clans/tribes was now not for mere survival, but for conquest and personal glory. One of the ways to increase one's personal power was to show that one's god was the best and most powerful. [Note: By this time, what had been once been a very legitimate need (ie, women staying home to tend to the home and children, men going out to hunt and to defend the "clan" in order to ensure the continuation of the human species), had long since become a political issue. Women were delegated to a position of second class people and so the reigning deity HAD to be a god, not a goddess, in order to ensure the male's superiority in the "gender war" and to cement his hold on the reins of power.]
But the wars and the destruction were expensive not only to the conquered but to the conqueror. So the next time one of those rulers defeated a rival clan— be it only ten people or ten thousand people— he tried to convince them that either their god/dess and his god were one and the same or, better yet, that his god was the better one to worship. By replacing the god/dess of the conquered people with one's own god, one's grip of power and control was strengthened because now not only their physical destiny was in the hands of the ruler but their spiritual destiny was too.
In order to entice the people to believe in another god, the ruler had to show how his god was better: more just, more compassionate, more giving, better luck hunting, bigger crops, etc. The more people who followed this god, the more proof it was that this god was the strongest, the best, until eventually, there was one God who was perfect in every way. And this was THE God. Not just one of many, but the ONLY God.
In order that the ruler might maintain his grasp on the spiritual reins of his people, he used priests to preach to the people what he wanted them to know about this new "one god". Because what the priests of the conquering rulers were telling the conquered about this new god was often contrary to what the common man knew from his own experience, the ruler had to elevate the priests of his god above the common man in order that the common man would believe what the priest was telling him.
As the ruler continued to conquer more lands, his victories were seen as proof of the truth of his claim and the righteousness of his God. The belief that his god was THE God grew and people turned away from listening to their hearts and, instead, put their trust and faith in the priests. There were, of course, those who refused to turn away from the "I AM" of their hearts, so it became standard practice that "non-believers" were evil, attempting to turn one away from the truth. They were to be ignored— as were their questions as to why the faithful believed what they did. Eventually, it got to the point where the very act of questioning what the priests said was a sign of disbelief and the disbeliever became one of the ignored. Those who were ignored had a hard life, so it became easier to simply not question the priests. This led to a sort of peaceful interlude once the most powerful conqueror had defeated all his enemies— until the conqueror was defeated by another ruler who worshiped a different god.
Suddenly, there was upheaval. The people had been told that their God was the best God, in fact, the ONLY true God, who was always willing to grant his followers what they needed and wanted, so how were they defeated in warfare when they had God on their side? The priests reasoned that it had to be because they had done something to displease God, who withdrew his support from them and allowed them to be defeated to teach them a lesson. (After all, this was what a human being would do— man was (and is) still anthropomorphizing God.) So now instead of a benevolent God who has created the world for our pleasure, we had a God who granted power and favor based on how carefully we followed his will.
But what was his will? How did we know what God wanted of us? So we sought for those who could reveal the will of God and we found ourselves back in the hands of the priests. The only twist was that now, instead of the ruler controlling what the priests revealed about God, the priests were in complete control and the rulers had to do what the priests revealed as the will of God. Ironically, in elevating priests to the status of the "mouthpiece of God", the rulers gave the priests what, in the end, would prove to be the most effective tool to overthrowing any ruler: God's will. And as the diviner of God's will, the priests now had the real control of the people.
So the role of the priest/ess went from being one of teacher to one of preacher. Now, where religion holds sway, priests have become pawns of politics for the most part. (I'm not denying that there are those who are truly called and who understand the great mysteries, but they are few and far between in my experience.) The power of the priest/esses of religion no longer lays in understanding but in politics. It became rooted not in love— unless it was for love of power (which is really nothing more than the fear of being powerless)— but in fear: fear of truth, fear of deity, fear of nature, fear of one's fellow human beings.
Through this politicized spirituality we call religion, we have created the reality in which we now live by means of our very desire to be more godlike. Think for a moment about the God that more than half the world's faithful follow.
In other words, religion (NOT spirituality) has created a God who is vindictive, petty, vengeful, demanding, partial, callous, capricious, manipulative, some might even say abusive and whose love is conditional upon us doing what we're told without question.
Our human desire to become godlike has not lessened because we are still striving to become like God. Unfortunately, most of the world is RELIGIOUS and NOT spiritual— and so we're trying to become like the God of religion, who is completely contrary to what we recognize as good and fair and just and humane.
We, as human beings, can forgive our children for the hurtful things they say or do in their ignorance or anger. Even if it is intentionally hurtful, many of us can still forgive— and we consider our ability to forgive to be a good thing. Yet we're taught that unless you confess your sins before you die, God will turn his back on you— his own child— forever. You had your one chance; you blew it— tough luck! (And in the cosmic scheme of things, an entire lifetime IS but one chance when measured against eternity.)
We, as human beings, can relate to our children on different levels and create different rules to achieve the same goals based on their level of maturity. We consider this a good thing— it's not fair to ask a child who is two to be as responsible as a child who is ten. And yet the God that so many believe in demands that EVERYONE, regardless of their level of SPIRITUAL maturity, follow the same rules to achieve the same goal.
We, as human beings, communicate our needs and desires in clear language if we want to be understood. We consider this to be good— if we don't explain what it is we're looking for or need, how can we then get upset when someone else doesn't give us what we're looking for? But God hasn't communicated with us more than 2000 years (about 1400 if you're Islamic) and even then, his message was in language so open to interpretation that it has led to the creation of over 26,000 sects of Christianity (I'm not as up to date on the sects of Islam or Judaism) just in the US. What we are taught about God even conflicts with what we have been told in our sacred texts about the Divine.
This sets up a huge internal struggle: we're striving to act/behave as we see God acting/behaving and yet some part of us knows that this is so foreign to what is good and true and right. This increases our uncertainty, which increases our fear, which makes us frustrated and angry that we're living in so much fear and why doesn't God speak to us as he did when he sent Jesus and.... As our frustration increases, so does the level of violence and aggression and intolerance and hatred that we see in the world today. We have become so steeped in fear and mistrust of God (although few will admit it) that we will ignore what our heart tells us is good and right and true and believe what some "authority" tells us an ancient transcript that has been translated and edited says is good and right and true. This internal conflict creates a self-generating cycle of mistrust and fear and we have to find a way to break it before we destroy the entire world on which we live.
The God of religion is created from fear. The God of spirituality is created from Love— unconditional Love. Man has come to believe in the God of religion and NOT the God of spirituality. In our desire to become more godlike, we have created a world according to our collective perception of reality: a world ruled by fear and all that goes with it. The ugliness and the hatred and the anger and the intolerance and the need for revenge and the "look out for number one" attitude and the vindictiveness and the spite and all the other negativity that we see in our world is what many have come to think of as traits of God! (Again, I stress that I'm talking about those who follow a religious path— ie, a path based on fear. And when the main reason given to follow that path is that if I don't, I'm going to hell, I can't help but think that the path is one based on fear and not Love. If one cannot answer "yes" to the question "If there was no hell, would you still follow the path you're on now", then the path is one based in fear.)
I'm sure that most who think this way are not even conscious of what they're doing. And that makes it all the more dangerous, because it's so much harder to get to the "root" of the problem. It makes it harder to admit there even IS a problem when it's rooted so deeply in the subconscious. In fact, most of them would deny they think this way about God and would quote the Bible or the Q'uran about how loving God is and how he sent his only son to die for our sins (although Muslims do not ascribe to the latter, nor do most Jews.)And yet these same people will turn around and condemn someone for being gay or for loving more than one person at the same time or for getting an ear pierced or a tattoo or for a woman who wears pants...anything that violates their understanding of what God demands of them.
It's time to turn away from the God of religion and return to the God of spirituality. To a time when those when priest/esses were teachers, not preachers. No, let me rephrase that. It's not merely "time" to do so, it's IMPERATIVE that we do so to ensure the continuation of the human species. We have reached a critical stage in our development as a species. THIS is the true danger of radical religious groups: that they will perpetuate and expand on this belief in the God of religion and drive us closer to the brink of self-annihilation. THIS is the danger of allowing religion and state to mix— and I thank the "I AM" that our founding fathers had enough spiritual sense to separate the two and ensure that they remained so.
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