Psst, you there, can I have a word? I’m talking to you, Ms. and Mr. ‘spiritual-not-religious.’”
I know you think that everyone who participates in church, synagogue, mosque, or temple sees the universe through a lens of purity verses evil, but you are wrong. What gets depicted as religion often sounds like a prescription for living within an intricate system of divine rewards and punishments, but not all religion is alike – nor is any single religion monolithic.
It’s true that many practitioners of religion read their scripture as tort law, but many others read it as poetry. Instead of crime and punishment, religion can also offer a more organic understanding of the dance between cause-and-effect.
For example, we have known for centuries that if we poison or over-use an ecosystem it can be destroyed and take centuries for restoration to health. Yet here we are in 2020, still resisting limitations on our life-styles even though we know climate change is a fact. This is a clear and simple example of suffering as a consequence of our own actions and inaction, rather than divine reward and punishment. Many religious people understand God and the cosmos through such natural relationships.
Indeed, many of us “religious folks” are also post-modern: we don’t see the world through the bi-focal of purity and evil, with misfortune as punishment for our sins and good fortune as recompense for purity. We know all too well there are jerks and grotesquely self-interested creeps who have all the power and money, and little of it will ever get shared with the majority who suffer, are disrespected, and wrongly arrested. Enormous fortunes are horded and never get to the millions and billions of plain old good folks. We do not imagine this arrangement was instigated and authorized by God. Rather, we see it as a matrix of bad human choices.
Without the bi-focal of purity-and-evil, we are left naked before the universe and hoping that huge random comet careening through space won’t hit Earth. As 21st century moderns who practice a religion, we know much human suffering is a cause and effect relationship related to our choices. In other words, we can accept the truth of the situation we are in but choose to frame it in a way that empowers us to live well. Being religious does not presume a denial of our situation nor claims of truth that have no basis in our experience.
Some Christians, for example, believe baptism is a requirement for protection from Hell – that our soul is stained and this is how we get the stain removed. But others of us understand baptism is simply a spiritual practice. That practice is one in which we share some common values and commend certain ways of treating one another, even those beyond our community. Rather than an act of purification, baptism seen this way, is a recognition that we have the potential to act badly and so offers a vision for how to resist our more destructive propensities and live well in community. It is not a calculous of punishments and rewards with miracles mixed in, rather, it is a physics of human choices, science, and randomness with a touch of mystery.
“So be well and prosper out there, Ms. or Mr. spiritual-not-religious, I just wanted to set the record straight.”