|GOD, RELIGION, TRUTH
A Non-Believer’s Spiritual Path
My understanding of “God” is connectedness: that which connects all life and consciousness together. It, (“God,” the connection, the ALL) is found by looking within. Meditation is an excellent vehicle for this.
I do not know, nor do I pretend to know, whether there is life after death, rebirth, heaven, reincarnation, or some other plane. (I seriously doubt the existence of a punishing hell after death. Surely people suffer enough before death to satisfy any vengeful god.) But it does seem to me that most religions use concepts of afterlife, karma, heaven, hell, nirvana, etc. to try to bribe or threaten people into behaving well.
I believe that such incentives are unnecessary and irrelevant to people who act out of true compassion. One who cares for another cares because they care, not as an investment in their own individual future.
To act out of concern for the well-being of others actually is an investment in our collective future. The more people act with love and compassion, the greater hope there is that we may one day live in a world of love and compassion. Without increased love and compassion, life on this planet may very well cease to exist. But even the relief of suffering of a single individual is reward to someone who cares. People really do do good for its own sake. It seems most religions have little faith in people’s willingness to be good to each other without promise of reward or punishment.
Have such promises and threats made humankind more kind? It appears not. Religion has, in fact, been used as the excuse for the mass murder of millions of people in wars, inquisitions, crusades, “witch” burnings, the genocide of native peoples, etc. Being promised individual reward or punishment in an afterlife still leaves people without an understanding of our basic connectedness (to all beings regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, belief system, etc).
Without such an understanding of our essential oneness, people are left without a guiding principle as to the meaning of morality or ethical behavior. Ancient texts with their rules and lists of dos and don’ts written by humans, translated and altered by humans, endlessly reinterpreted by humans are then held up as God’s infallible word. Morality is defined as submission to the “authority” of those (ancient or modern) men who claim to have exclusive understanding of “God’s will.”
In Western religion, turning within for guidance is discouraged for all but the temple/church/synagogue/mosque fathers/priests/rabbis/imams. The common people must never know God directly but only submit to the “Word.” When the “Word” (from the Torah, Bible, Koran, etc.) suggests cruel or unjust treatment of self or others, people are admonished to accept it as the “word of God” rather than think for themselves about truth and right and wrong.
Eastern religions like Buddhism, do tell the individual to turn within for answers through meditation. This seems a major improvement over blind obedience to “the Word”. But Easterners also have, embedded in their religious philosophy, an important tenet that tends to blame victims of injustice for their fate. The concept of Karma, while making sense in general terms, is taken by many to an extreme that, (in my opinion, falsely) holds each individual responsible for everything that happens to them.
Certainly the more kindly or cruelly one acts toward others, the more that same energy comes back to one. It may also be true that in most conflicts, both sides have contributed to the conflict and the final result. But we are not alone in this world and people do suffer undeservedly from the actions of others. Children are abused before they even have time to build “bad karma.” When a city is bombed, those with “good karma” are not removed first.
Eastern religions deny these clear injustices by claiming such sufferers are reaping karma from a past life or lives. Such denial of the existence of injustice may make people more comfortable with life, but in my opinion, it has three detrimental consequences. 1) It is a denial of reality (and how can a false belief bring one closer to enlightenment?). 2) It re-victimizes the victim by blaming them for their plight. 3) It discourages people from struggling to end injustice by denying that it exists.
As stated before, the tendency of religions to ask believers to take on faith whatever they are told and to believe that their religious leaders and texts have the (only) true answers has not made humankind more kind, loving or well-behaved. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the purpose and practice of religion, and adjust (or abandon) its theories.
If people were taught the truth of our inner connectedness one rule of behavior could sum up the point: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you (but only with their consent, of course). One guiding principle might also suffice: compassion. Help others to grow in health, happiness, wisdom or love, and relive suffering when you can. Compassion is the ultimate truth of every religion, which seems to get obscured by all the questionable rules and rationalizations.
Perhaps most people are not ready to shuck all the ancient rules and learn to love for love’s sake or through a recognition of our inner connectedness. Perhaps people will never be ready for this. But, (given all the wars, injustice and destruction of the environment), it seems that such a spiritual path may be one of humanity’s best hopes of surviving at all.
Connectedness is the God/Goddess I believe in. Compassion is the path I try to tread.