“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It will have to transcend a personal god and avoid dogma and theology. Encompassing both the natural and the spiritual, it will have to be based on a sense of intelligence arising from the spirit of all things, natural and spiritual, considered as a meaningful unity.” ~Albert Einstein
Man has become a spiritually neutered animal, a subtracted being disconnected from the whole – in mind, body, and soul. What has been cut from him is Nature itself, more specifically, and consequently, his own spiritual nature: his connection with his inner animal – awe and creature -astonishment that has the potential to transcend itself and achieve the numinous, the kind of overwhelming interconnected feeling that can be felt balls to bones, ovaries to marrow, and has the potential to make god-animals/animal-gods of us all.
Alas, the loss of Soul has become untenable. We have forgotten how to speak a language older than words, because we rely far too much on outdated traditions reeking of parochial values grown unhealthy and uncouth. Dogmatic religion is a direct result of this phenomenon. Hegel’s “silent weaving of the spirit” has unraveled into discordant knots of anxiety and neurosis. It is time to counteract dysfunctional religiosity and its dogmatic ideals and antiquated values with an updated spirituality that heals the dissociative split between Cosmos and Psyche, between Nature and the human soul.
Our overly-religious culture can be reborn, but in order to be reborn into a spiritual one it must first learn how to die. It must die a beautiful death, with the mighty seeds of spirituality planted into its rotting corpse. Nietzsche once declared, “God is dead!” But it wasn’t enough. It sent shockwaves of change in patterns of thought, at least for those who actually think, but it was met with a religious cognitive dissonance that absorbed it and continued on.
We simply weren’t ready for God to be dead. We weren’t ready for the end of religion itself. But now, with burgeoning spiritual practices and modes of enlightenment rising all over the planet, each able to see past the Big Con of religion. Now we are ready. We’re ready to ride the wave of the Great Mystery. We’re ready to hold the pain of being mortal creatures living out short lives within an unfathomably ancient cosmos. We’re ready to open up, to release our death anxiety, and to surrender to something greater.
So can we still call it “God?” Sure, why not? But now we’ll finally be able to stare into the vast awe-inspiring cosmos and state, with self-evident and interdependent truth, the following words once spoken by Meister Eckhart, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me.”
“There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.” ~Daniel Dennett
What is the hidden function of dogmatic religion? It is the presentation of the inexplicable by the impossible in order to steal the minds of the unthinking.
The fly in the ointment of religious devotion, isn’t just the devotion part. The Achilles heel of religious devotion is that it is blasphemous to question the tenets of the faith. Indeed, it can even be considered “evil” to question one’s faith or to challenge the Gods one has devoted himself to. This leads to woeful ignorance and willful myopia. This makes the devotees all too easy to manipulate and control, whether it’s to the extreme extent of slavery or the covert extent of debt-slavery, people become easily convinced and overly fearful of authority. How else does one explain how Christianity and Islam, two religions originally based on loving tolerance, are now tyrannically intolerant? Alas, they began as spiritual practice, but dissolved into dogmatic religiosity. As Carl Jung Intuited, “The religions of the world suffer from increasing anemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, mountains, and animals, and the God-men have disappeared underground into the unconscious.”
But, as James Joyce stated, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” So all is not lost if you’ve found yourself spiritually bamboozled. Which most of us have. We are all born with the faculty of wonder; it is the duty of the individual not to lose it, or to be distracted by the “monkey-holiness” (Campbell) of the slothful who lean on spoon-fed, hand-me-down religions. But it is not easy. Religious indoctrination, like cultural conditioning, is difficult to overcome. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological hang-up that even the most intelligent of us can easily get hung-up on. But, as P.C. Hodgell said, “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.”
Religion is tempting because we think it fulfills a purpose. And it means well, but inevitably falls short due to its own shortsightedness. It provides a crutch for the spiritually perplexed, for lost spirits and broken souls. But religion is to a broken soul as a crutch is to a broken leg; whereas spirituality is to healing a soul as science is to mending a broken leg.
Religion puts you in comfortable shackles; spirituality sets you free into painful self-realization. Religion has faith in blindfolds and tells you what to see; spirituality removes the blindfold and teaches you how to see. But What you see can often be terrifying. Religion wants to keep you small, meek, fearful and adaptable to authority. Spirituality wakes you up to how big your smallness really is, which can give you the kind of power that gets power over power itself. It was Rumi who said, “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” Indeed, religion keeps you small and indifferent to the universe; spirituality helps you understand that you are the cosmos and the cosmos is you.
But it’s not easy. Love and fear are at constant loggerheads inside us, and sometimes inversely so. The religious man looking to possibly break away from his religion to become a spiritual man will be “afraid” to leave the religion he “loves.” After all, he has almost all of the cognitive biases and logical fallacies inherent within the human condition working against him. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Experience is the hardest teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.”
But on the other side of the coin there’s reason screaming at us. As Carl Sagan succinctly stated, “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”
The evolution of man itself advances depending upon how often he can exchange outdated, parochial methods of achieving enlightenment with new, more holistic methods. Leaving dogmatic religion behind and evolving toward an adaptable spirituality is precisely such a sacred exchange. But it comes down to a critical choice, and one only the individual can make for herself. As Bill Hicks said, “It’s just a ride… And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love.”
“Mystery is a place where religion and science meet. Dogma is a place where they part. Awe-based psychology is a place where they can evolve and reunite.” ~Kirk Schneider, PhD
If, as Voltaire claimed, “Religion began when the first conman met the first fool,” then spirituality begins when the first soulful skeptic reveals the spiritual bamboozle of the conman, and thus relieves the fool of his ignorance. The conman is then forced to reconcile his guilt, or not. For “when an honest man realizes that he is mistaken, he will either cease being mistaken or cease being honest” (unknown).
Here’s the thing: we need to drop the idea that religion and spirituality are one thing. They are enemies. It is religion that destroys all possibilities. If you feed religion, possibility will be destroyed; if you feed and nourish spirituality, possibility and diversity become manifest. They are not one and the same; they are two separate concepts, and antagonistic to each other.
As such, true spirituality is largely lost in the West due to the ruthless suppression by organized, state-level religions and oppressive ideologies. But spirituality is moral, despite what man-made laws or indoctrinated laws are considered to be gospel. As H. L. Mencken surmised, “Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.” As such, the spiritual person is not averse to becoming amoral if need be. As Arthur C. Clark observed, “One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.” But the spiritually robust individual, adaptive and self-overcoming, hijacks morality right back from the steely jaws of religion and brings it back into alignment with a healthy/unhealthy mythology, despite parochial notions of good and evil.
What remains then is a moral plasticity that is adaptive to the numinous experience of interdependence. It teaches spiritual humility, human compassion, and eco-centric and egalitarian, as opposed to egocentric and sexist, values. This moral flexibility all at once subsumes all religions under a giant umbrella of spirituality. The spiritually self-actualized individual is thus free to pick and choose the healthy and good from all religions, while discarding what is unhealthy and immoral.
But such spiritual acuity also shines a spotlight on the fallibility of the human condition itself, and upon how easy it is for people to get things wrong. As such, it takes both religious and spiritual proclamations with a grain of salt. For as Mark Twain pinpointed, “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly, teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” Whether we call it spirituality or not, any basket that we are tempted to put all our eggs into must be held suspect and handled with circumspection.
In the end, the adaptive spiritual individual overcomes even her own death anxiety, becoming a mediator of natural terror through her own robust soul-craft. She becomes a facilitator for those trying to bridge the gap between suffering mortal and flourishing mystic. A spiritual person becomes then in art, literature, and religion the extinguisher of death anxiety and the sacred overpass toward a new way to triumph over it. She subsumes the sacred. She frees the human animal to become individuated in ego and self-actualized in soul, despite the petty fears of afterlife pedaled by those still locked within a dogmatic and religious construct.
As Adolfo Quezada said, speaking of lost spirituality:
“God of the Wild, you are different from what I expected. I cannot predict you. You are too free to be captured for the sake of my understanding. I can’t find you in the sentimentalism of religion. You are everywhere I least expect to find you. You are not the force that saves me from the pain of living; you are the force that brings me life even in the midst of pain.”
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
This article (Spirituality Vs. Dogmatic Religiosity: A Guide for the Spiritually Perplexed) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary ‘Z’ McGee and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.
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