This is a continuing conversation, therefore it is important that you read Religious versus Spirituality Part 1 before reading this post.
A few days before writing this I received an email from a friend with two USA Today articles on this type of subject. The first USA Today article is called, “Religious Americans: My faith isn’t the only way” and the second one is called, “Survey: More have dropped dogma for spirituality in U.S.” (note: take a look at the fascinating survey results). It’s interesting to note that the oldest one has ZERO comments where the one on dogma and spirituality has, at the time this is being written, 1,791 (updated 9/10/08) comments. Obviously the latter has gotten the attention of a large group of people.
I read several pages of the comments and the fascinating thing is that they are very similar to the type of comments written in reaction to the YouTube “Church of Oprah” with the main difference being more comments from the “other side”. It’s also very interesting that the first article has absolutely no reaction but in just over 24 hrs there has been an average of one comment per minute (assuming no one is sleeping). Why? It comes right back to The Believing vs. The Feeling that I originally discussed in my post “The Church of Oprah vs Christianity“. The first article is about how my way is not the same as your way. Okay, big deal, we see that all the time. The second article is about people turning away from dogma, the cornerstone of ANY religion and turning to this nebulous thing called Spirituality. So again, The Believing is being attacked here, even though it’s in a more mundane fashion than the Oprah YouTube phenomenon which was more attacking so it could promote a book. This article is only publishing the results of a survey but perhaps the reactions are forcing the readers to re-evaluate their Believing when there are statistics that challenge the dogma that supports their Believing. In other words, “Why are so many leaving dogma and turning to spirituality?”
Taking all of this into the context of what it means to be “spiritual” with dogma being used as the basis of the definition, it not only puts dogma into the realm of a personal opinion but also being religious or spiritual as a personal experience. This then takes us back to the comment in my first post about The Believing and The Feeling. Believing is based on thoughts and Feeling on emotions. As in language, we both can decide that what we see in the distance is a tree, but that does not say that we will ever fully agree on exactly how we feel about that tree. For example, perhaps that tree looks a lot like the tree one of them fell out of as a child and severely broke a limb, where for the other it looks just like the tree where he/she first made love. Both people are looking at exactly the same tree, but are having entirely different emotional reactions, which again points to experience affects how you feel about what you see which in turn can affect your Beliefs.
Taking this to the altar of religion, two people can be within not only the same religion but also part of the same physical church and neither of them may fully agree on how they FEEL about God. In this case The Believing is fundamentally the same but the resulting Feeling may not ever truly match and again be based on previous personal experiences. As a result the dogma, principles or doctrines of a religion are normally vigorously and clearly stated to ensure that the resulting feeling is as much the same as possible (did you know that nothing in the Bible could be questioned until the early 1900′s?). The congregation of a religion then looks to a main figure of Authority to bestow upon it The Believing in such a way as to ensure they all feel the same way and if ever doubted The Dogma is then reiterated to bring the correct Feeling into the religious commonality. You see this quite clearly in the “Church of Oprah” comments and ensuing video responses. The Dogma is being reiterated over and over and over again. When this is being done by the main figure of Authority it ensures that The Believing is legitimized which then reconnects to The Feeling the congregation has come to know as a result of The Believing as stated in their Dogmatic Doctrines.
An excellent example of this is one of the “Church of Oprah” response videos. A pastor was going to use Critical Thinking to validate his verity. What was amazing about this was he talked as though the congregation should have the answers and asked his questions expecting them to respond, very few of them did and much of the time it wasn’t what he was exactly looking for which then made it look like he was leading them to the results he had predetermined. I was quite surprised at the minimal congregational response that was coming from someone claiming that he had taught them all of this. It was clear that they entirely depended on his Authority to determine their Believing.
The congregation has bestowed upon this main figure the responsibility of delivering The Dogma, he is The Authority, to the point that the Dogma determines how they should think which then “thinks” for them. If Dogma thinks for you, then Dogma feels for you, and doesn’t that rob you of your Free Will, a God given gift? You were born with the capacity to feel a plethora of emotions, why would you allow anything to do it for you? Does that not rob you of the one thing that makes you a human being? If Life is more about the experience of the journey then what kind of life are you living if feeling is done or directed for you?
What would happen if you thought about it for your Self, outside the constraints of The Dogma, could it be possible that you might come to some different conclusions? If so you might not then fit in with this specific religion any longer which then threatens you to become an outcast and then you’ll have to find it for yourself, a frightening scenario indeed. If there are so many interpretations to the word dogma in various dictionaries where the editors of them make the decision for you based on their interpretation which in turn determines how you feel about the word, might not the main figure of any religion have their own interpretation? The most negative extremes of that have been people like Jim Jones and David Koresh.
As this occurs, it can also be done at the cost of condemnation of those that don’t adhere to that Believing which only furthers our separation as a society. This is where I believe the detours begin with those that claim they are Spiritual not Religious.
Somewhere along the way their Feelings were not in sync with The Dogma of The Believing resulting in a conflict. These people thought enough for themselves to question some of the things they were being told via The Dogma. The more this conflict continues the more The Dogma becomes the object of the cause and by releasing one’s self from this, the conflict then ceases but leaves the individual at a loss because there is now a lack in that which supplied The Believing. The degree to which The Believing and The Feeling are interlinked will depend on where this person will now go. If the two were intertwined then one cannot be without the other and the person will be left faithless. Once some sense of The Feeling has been established, then other works are sought out that at least align with a Feeling that comes from deep within.
Without dogma to guide us to that which we call God (that word means something different to everyone because of the feeling associated with it) then all we are left with is The Feeling but not knowing what to do with it. This is why I contextually disagreed with the comment made on the Oprah video that “God is a feeling experience not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience, if God for you is still about a belief, then it’s not truly God”. This is actually true but only the first sentence. This is why I ended with the evolving human being. Here language was not established well enough to establish dogma as we know it, but that did not stop the presence of The Feeling. There is plenty of evidence in the graves of our ancestors, long before there was written language of spiritual beliefs being practiced. Some may say this is early dogma, but it is more in alignment with ritual because Part 1 showed the definition of dogma includes doctrines. The Feeling was calling to them so as the mind continued to develop so did the ways to discover what this feeling was and from that ritual sprang forth which eventually led to dogma.
With or without The Believing, The Feeling is there and essentially The Believing is not required to touch The Feeling. It is a calling from deep within. To quote a Buddhist phrase, it is the sound of the soundless sound, an essence that is just there, no explanation for it, it is just there. It is The Beckoning but is also a small still voice within that can easily be drowned out by the Circus of the Mind and if that has been infiltrated with The Dogma of The Believing then the resulting Feeling will be in proportion to what The Dogma of The Believing allows.
Let me put it this way. It is said in the Bible that God is The Alpha and The Omega and in the totality of God there is no beginning and no end. That God sees all, knows all, and is in all places. So it’s not a big stretch to take from this that God is The Infinite, a concept our tiny minds can’t grasp because everything around us is finite. If dogma says that God is This and Only This or That and Only That, does this not limit the Unlimited? In turn does it keep you from perennially discovering The Divine? Many years ago when I started on this Path of Spirituality I decided that no one will tell me how to think about God but what that did was force me to confront The Feeling and emphatically state, “Show your Self to me!”. What happened and continues to happen is the constant unfolding of the presence of The Divine in my life. It is a never ending wondrous adventure filled with Joy and the excitement of continual discovery!!
When dogma isn’t working for someone they either leave the religion without ever pursuing an alternative, or The Feeling continues to call to them and they seek out alternative writings that they can connect to. One of my absolute favorites comes from one of the exercises in “A Course in Miracles”. Exercise #29 simply states, “God is in everything I see”. For me, when I opened up to the infinite possibilities that The Divine offers, then it’s only a matter of time before you experience it in everything you see.
I have been getting a number of search referrals for “Religious versus Spiritual”. Upon doing my own search for this term and reading some of the results, it appears that this is a common quest for many people yet amazingly there is at best overlapping consensus and at worst disparity of consensus. Some of these people use the root of the word Spiritual, breath, as their starting point and from there state that we are all Spiritual, yet it doesn’t seem to truly explain what it means. Does this again require the recipient to come to their own conclusion? If for no other reason than Exercise #29 from above I agree that we are all Spiritual. The explanation for me is one that defines the level of your personal connection to The Divine or “that which we call God”.
Part 3 gets to the core of what I’ve personally come to understand is what truly defines the difference between Religious and Spiritual. It’s not as obvious as you may think and I’ve not seen anyone else explain it quite this way, at least not to my satisfaction which is why I ended up writing such an extended discussion of this topic because I don’t feel it’s as simple as some have made it out to be.
BE THE MIRACLE!