Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Spiritual Get it – the Religious Don’t

I met recently with a local group that had been studying my book, How the Bible became the Bible.  [My website, provides the opportunity to listen to a clip of the audio CD or read a sample chapter.] We were discussing the difficulty we all have trying to verbalize deep spiritual and personal transformations. The issue was that the minds of very religious Christian folks, as opposed to those identifying with a spiritual path, seemed to be so closed. I said something like this:
One of the major themes in the book is that the writers of the Bible were just people – just like us. We hear their voices trying to talk about the nature of God and the nature of Mankind. These different voices – some Old Testament, some New Testament – reflect their times and their individual perspectives. The Bible consists of all these different voices trying to communicate the deep spiritual realities the writers had experienced, and it is difficult to communicate these kinds of experiences. Try it sometime! For example, try writing exactly how and why you love your child, or pet, or spouse. You will use whatever you can – images, sounds, smells, memories, past experiences, tried-and-true symbols, and the like. You’ll say, for example, a perfect love like you have comes along once in a Blue Moon. Now that doesn’t mean you believe the moon is blue, or used to be blue, or might turn blue. It’s just an expression that means “…a very rare event.” If that expression were in the Bible, people would believe literal things like that about the blueness of the moon.
Still, it is hard to describe experiences that are beyond words. To emphasize that point I tell my story (Chapter 9) of a spiritual turn-around – my transformation. I also describe several other incidents that occurred in my life that underpin my point – different voices in different times and cultures use different words and images to explain a deep transformation.  Spirituality understands that. Religion often doesn’t. If you don’t use the appropriate religious-sanctioned “language,” the religious don’t quite seem to get it or don’t quite seem to believe you.
The question: Why is that so? Why do the spiritual seem to get it, but the religious don’t?
The spiritual is based on some form of what I call intuitive knowledge – an inner “knowing” that seems to just simply occur. Some people may refer to it as an “AHA” moment. As I think about it I would say there are two aspects to this: (a) this “knowing” defies the use of our five senses and (b) this “knowing” is something known through experience. I’ve heard some define this as experiential faith, which I think is pretty accurate. For some, like me, people experience a revelation at the bottom of some hopeless pit. My pit was alcohol. To describe that experience to someone else is virtually impossible – unless the listener’s been in a similar place themselves. Consequently, whenever people begin to describe their transformational experience, I begin to relate. Regardless of their specific words or images, I understand what they’re trying to communicate. They can be trying to describe overcoming an addiction, overcoming a destructive set of lifestyle choices (which may or may not be an addiction), overcoming a devastating sense of futility or frustration or meaninglessness. Whatever. I can relate because I’ve been there in my own way and understand how pointless words seem to be.
In my travels, people who have experienced this kind of transformation understand there are many roads that lead to a life-changing realization. I can relate to anyone in a 12-Step Program. I can relate to someone following the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism),  Sufism (Islamic mysticism), or the Buddhist tradition. Essentially, in my opinion, we are all saying the same thing, trying to describe the same kind of transformative experience. We all acknowledge the reality of that event, and in doing so, we acknowledge each other, just as we are, which in itself is transforming.
Those who are very religious seem to be trapped into using only appropriate “religious” language.  I do understand their rationale for doing so. It’s comfortable for them. The Bible is the common denominator. However, the situation of the very religious is complicated because it also seems the hearers require that the specific religious language be used. If the “right” language is not used, they refuse to believe the reality of the speaker’s transformation – thus denying the personal reality of the speaker.
I’ve heard Christians state that their personal relief they received from salvation cannot happen to a Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. So, I ask, “Why can’t their spiritual experience or perspective offer them the same comfort your religious beliefs offered you?” Their answer: “They don’t believe what I believe. They don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t believe in the crucifixion/resurrection event where He died for our sins. They can’t experience the Holy Spirit because He comes only when invoked through the name of Jesus.” Some have gone so far as to declare if you do not read from the King James version of the Bible, you’re not reading from the real Bible.
In my opinion, this kind of rigid belief comes from fear. It is sad. They must be right or they believe they are damned. However, if they must be right, then everyone who isn’t quite like them is, obviously, wrong. It seems to be a very closed system.
The God of my understanding is not like that. He’s open. He’s happy, joyous and free and wants me to be that as well. He doesn’t condemn, He corrects. He doesn’t blame or shame, He accepts. He smiles at the tiny, stunted, miniature concepts of Him I carry around, simply because those concepts fit my miniature ability to comprehend. He smiles, loves, accepts, and corrects. I am learning I am happiest and most fulfilled when I simply do likewise.
Thanks for listening, and if you feel so moved, please share this message with your family, friends, and spiritual acquaintances.
#4 April, 201

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