Good evening everyone, I hope you are all having a nice weekend. I realize that several of the recent posts were in response to what I had written previously, so I am going to try to address some of those concerns here, and also to elaborate on and clarify some of my own positions. I apologize in advance if this post will be longer and more rambling in nature as there is a lot of ground to cover from the valid points you have all raised.
First, I must state for the record that I am in no way trying to criticize or attack either the spiritual seeking of others or the individual spiritual journeys of others; nor am I here to question their validity. I'm also not saying that people should sit in a church pew and blindly accept everything that they are told. I am frankly surprised that people seem to think I am advocating doing that based upon what I had written previously. I wholeheartedly ENCOURAGE people to embark upon spiritual journeys and quests of self-discovery. This can ONLY be a good thing. My concern, which I shall talk about in more detail later on is when that seeking is seen as an end unto itself.
But because this line of criticism has been (perhaps rightly?) leveled at me I feel it is necessary to provide a short biographical sketch. For many, many years I was a philosophical atheist. I did have a personal experience that led me to belief in God, specifically the Christian God. I have written about that experience elsewhere on the forum. Having been an atheist, however, faith for me was a bit of a struggle. I had to reconcile my conflicting beliefs. So I delved into the study of Christian theology; in short...I investigated the claims myself; which is what many of you are talking about. After being a Christian for several years, I began to feel the religion was too 'confining.' I had trouble accepting that Jesus was the only way. So I spent the next decade studying comparative religion heavily. I've read the sacred literature from the 5 great world religions, I've read countless books about those religions. I've also experienced them in real life and in my travels. I've meditated with Buddhist monks. I've prayed with Hindu Brahmans. I have Muslim and Jewish friends. I'm actually an active member in a large interfaith organization in my city. I have the utmost respect for people of other faiths; and you can see that on here. In my back catalog of posts you will find essays where I've defended Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and others against their various detractors. I see that Beany's avatar is Lord Ganesha; I have statues and figurines of him among my other religious icons and artwork. In short, you could say that I am a lover of and am a student of religion IN GENERAL. That said, taking nothing away from these beautiful and wonderful systems; I was led right back to Christianity. As much as I love and respect other religions, and as much as I respect the validity of their paths; I am and will always be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you hold that against me, then that is your prerogative. I hope however, that this speaks into the criticism that has been leveled against me. In no way am I deterring anyone from spiritual seeking and going down their own path; as you can see, I have done it myself. This is why, libstaK, I agreed with the vast majority of your post. Our views may not be as different as they perhaps seem.
But there ARE points where I differ, and that is what I mean to highlight. There was a Sufi mystic who once said "for thirty years I sought God. But when I looked carefully I found that in reality God was the seeker and I the sought". That profound statement sums up my view. My question is not so much with someone choosing to undertake a personal spiritual odyssey; but how do we arrive at truth on that journey? Many who are in the SBNR crowd tend to think that religion is man made, and that therefore we can make any sort of 'spirituality' we like. We don't need religion because we are somehow more 'enlightened' now. I, as a Christian and a theist happen to take issue with that. Most Jews, Muslims and even Hindus and Buddhists would too. I mean no offense to anyone here; but nor can I mince words either. I believe there are objective truths that come from outside of man that are revealed by God and the essence of these truths are what we find in religion. It has been a modern fad among Christians to say 'relationship' over 'religion' but while that is true to a point; it is only half correct. Religion is about revelation; realizing that truth comes to us from God, not man. I do not find the truth, the truth finds me. Why do we worship at an altar of wood and stone? Because worshiping at that altar of wood or stone is but a shadow, a glimpse of an unseen reality that is far greater than myself. It is a glimpse behind the curtain of ultimate truth. People follow the religious systems that they do not because they are programmed to do so, but because from within that system it draws them closer to the divine reality; because this revelation comes from God and then the religious system is built AROUND that revelation; it is from within that system that heaven and earth are the closest. It is the true bridge between the material and the spiritual.
So my concern is when we divorce the two, as I said in my OP. My concern specifically with New Age spirituality (not necessarily spiritual seekers or those who would identify themselves as SBNR) is that I can arrive at this conclusion that somehow my own journey stands as truth and that truth comes wholly from within. I am criticizing how we ARRIVE at truth; because as I said I feel that truth does not come from WITHIN, it comes from WITHOUT. God and God alone is the source of truth. I do not find the truth, the truth finds me. There is a strong sense of subjectivism within the New Age, and THAT is what I take issue with; as Mark also pointed out, so many come to the conclusion "whatever I feel must be true." Many in the New Age would accuse Christians or other theists of 'blindly' following dogma; but I would counter that and say many in the New Age blindly follow their own emotional compass. They accept a kind of spirituality that is so self-affirming and comfortable, how can it BE anything other than egoistic?
For example, I watched a 3 hour long special with Dr. Wayne Dyer, a leading New Age writer. Don't get me wrong, I actually like the guy. I think he's a good dude and I like how he helps people. That said the whole crux of his lecture was about MANIFESTING...that I can tap into the universe and I can create a mental reality in which the universe will in turn provide for me materially what I will in 'spirit.' I can will the universe to give me what I want. How is this NOT egoistic??? I also read the book the Secret many years ago; a book that just FLEW off the shelves...and what did it teach? It taught that the secret is realizing that 'we are the center of the universe'; the universe was made...for me. Not egoistic??? I beg to differ.
I stand by what I said previously (however to clarify my problem is more with the New Age than it is with seekers or the SBNR) because the whole crux of the New Age movement is about self-affirmation using vague mixes of various spiritual traditions and putting them into a pot, stirring them together, and creating one odd mix of 'spiritual' soup. You'll do a little bit of a Buddhist meditation or a bit of Hindu yoga (although it may be repackaged to call it something else to sound 'new' and 'unique') then you will spend some time in prayer to an unknown, impersonal deity; or perhaps the universe itself (as though non-living matter will somehow HEAR your prayers) and then you will spend some more time 'manifesting' your spiritual will into physical reality. Thus my spirituality will, as Dr. Wayne Dyer says, help me to "master the art of realizing all my desires." Is THIS what we should call true spirituality????
And what happens when things go wrong? What happens when the universe doesn't give me what I want? What happens if the universe chooses to give me cancer instead of a new car? What then? THIS is where New Age spirituality ULTIMATELY (at least in my view) fails and collapses. The New Age does not or cannot explain life's ultimate questions. If you browse the New Age books in any store; they are all about "being a better you" or "unlocking your true potential" but these aims are overly simplistic, and thus, I would argue that they are MATERIAL rather than spiritual. They try to make you feel better in the present moment, and perhaps they CAN do that. But they can't answer questions like "why are we here?" or "why is there suffering in the world" or "why does evil exist?" Only RELIGION does that. It is ironic that my critics say religion is somehow an escape from reality or an evasion of thinking or seeking for oneself, when I say the reverse is true. Religion sees the world for what it is. The New Age, by contrast, seeks to see everything through rose tinted glasses, through yoga mats and empty meditation. A New Ager will meditate to manifest their desires; a Buddhist will meditate on non-being and their own impermanence. Do you see what I mean with this? Someone who practices the New Age or pop culture spirituality talks endlessly about somehow "getting in tune" with the universe whereas those who practice religion see the world for what it actually is. I see the New Age, NOT spiritual seekers, as being on a flight from reason.
I do not want a 'spirituality' that makes me feel 'comfortable.' I don't want a 'spirituality' that just makes me feel good about myself. I want a belief that challenges me, that confronts me; I want a belief that helps me to understand the world around me; to see things as they actually are, not as I wish them to be. I want a belief that helps me to realize my flaws and makes me strive to be a better human being. I don't want a belief that says I am a "whole" and "perfect spiritual being", I want a belief that calls me a "sinner" because it helps me to realize the fact that I am not perfect and that I screw up more times than I care to admit. I want a belief that tells me that the truth does not come from within me, is not something I discover by myself, but comes from the God who made me and in His kindness and in His mercy REVEALED that truth to me through His Holy Spirit. I don't want a belief that says "I am the center of the universe"; I want a belief that says we are ALL made in God's image, and how I treat my fellow man is thus how I treat my God. I don't want a belief that masks my suffering; I want a belief that makes me mindful of suffering, because it is in that mindfulness that I am driven to compassion. What New Age book teaches such things? Only religion teaches this. The Secret and all these faddish 'spiritual' books will be forgotten in time, as is every fad. But centuries from now, people will still be reading the Holy Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, The Dhammapada, The Pali Canon, the Mahabharata, The Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads because they reflect that which is eternal, not what is transitory.
Can one attain this path without following organized religion? Perhaps. It was never my intent to be cruel to seekers or those who profess to be spiritual but not religious; but rather to point out the flaws of those who fall into the trap of the new age which I do see as egotism. From within my own tradition, Saint Paul has said that the Law is written on the human heart and that those who follow the law without even knowing it are a law unto themselves. Thus, if those who claim to be spiritual but not religious are in some manner following the truth as God has revealed it to us; I would argue that you are a lot more religious than you think. Your very possession of truth, of revelation, MAKES you religious even though you may not recognize it as such. If one possesses revelation, then they possess religion. You are religious even if you never set foot in a church; because that's the whole point: religion is BIGGER and greater than all of us. Religion, simply put, is responding to the reality of God.
There is one final thing I wanted to address:
But this dividing humanity, separating into groups based on religious beliefs or non-beliefs, has got to stop. It's judgmental, critical, and allows for no variations or uniqueness of the human spirit or manifestation of the divine. The very act of judging implies a manifest superiority or hierarchy on the part of the one doing the judging, a feeling of superiority that one is in the position to pass judgment, or that position has been conferred upon them by some unknown source.
Is this not a judgment itself?? Rather, I would argue that it is PRECISELY BECAUSE we ARE judgmental and critical that it ALLOWS FOR the variations and the uniqueness of the human spirit and the manifestations of the divine. Every religious system has its absolute truth claims, and it is because of those truth claims that they MAINTAIN their uniqueness. The same VALUES permeate every religion; but these truth claims are what give each of them a unique identity and expression. This is WHY I love studying comparative religion; because I see that uniqueness and I see the beauty IN that uniqueness.
God could have made us all alike, He could have made us all one religion. But He didn't. And when we tried to do that, building our Tower of Babel; He came down and He confounded us, separated us. I believe that the variations in religious experience exist because God wanted there to be a variety of religious experience. The very act of judging is what makes us human. If you take away this, you take away reason itself.
I hope this has clarified my position; blessings to you all,