Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Know Thyself

Despite what people want to say, we're all spiritual AND we're all religious. It's just the way human beings work. We should probably add that we're all physical, too. You really can't have a person without all three.

Call it emotions, psychology, or personality, but we all have a spiritual element. more and more it's become clear that our spiritual selves and our physical selves are seriously intertwined. You might even say they're inseparable - the ancient Hebrews certainly did. Long before those crazy Greeks told us our spirits were good and our bodied were bad, the Hebrews taught and believed that you could not be you without both. Anyone who spends time studying the human brain will tell you that while we're learning more and more about the biology of our spirits, there's still more and more mystery unfolding.

Religion enters the picture as the set of practices we live out reflecting our beliefs. These are our true beliefs, not just those things to which we intellectually assent. Our religion encompasses the answers to questions about the value of human beings, the way we see ourselves and the world around us, also what we believe about God or morality.

There's a lot of truth in the idea that church people are hypocrites (I say church people, but it could be synagogue people, or mosque people, or country club people, or strip club people, really - they're all indicative of a religion, of sorts, and this generalization could be equally right or wrong about any of them). So often we conform to a specific religion in public and then privately conform to a different one. Some of us have multiple religions - we conform to the practices of Christianity when we're in a sanctuary for service; then we conform to the practices of the workplace while there; the sports team on weekends; perhaps also the family around holidays.

Sometimes out religion is simply doing whatever it takes to avoid be discovered as a fraud. In other words, we can't bear to admit who we really are, what we really think, and what we'd like to do, so we imagine ourselves differently - and attempt to act that out as consistently as possible before other people.

There are plenty of others out there who serve one religion whole-heartedly. Some practice the religion of self (as in, I'm the most important thing in this world and no one will take care of me if I don't look out for myself), others extend that to immediate family (and are generally applauded by society), others practice the religion of market principles or scientific inquiry; still others practice individualism (leave me alone and I'll return the favor).

Each and every one of these is a consistent religious ethic, with prophets, icons, traditions, and sacraments. We've often incorporated one or more of the world's faith traditions into our own version of religion, using the terms and concepts to enforce our own set of beliefs, thus making them more socially acceptable.

There's a lot of people out there who claim to hate religion. They generally fall into two camps - those people who don't like being told what to do, and those people who don't see any sort of consistent cohesion in the practices and beliefs espoused by a "religious" organization. While each group comes from its own distinct religious presupposition, they're both reacting against a lack of integrity and commitment.

I don't want this post to come off simply as a "be true to who you are" post. It's more than that. We can easily find the faults and failures of someone else's position (certainly we can do so more easily than we can evaluate our own), but it's important to recognize that we are all religious - we are all acting and standing for something - even if we're not consciously aware of what it is.

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