Self-Made Spirituality – Seeking and Finding Some Help Along the Way
If you have a toothache you go to a dentist, if you have a broken wrist you go to see a doctor. What do these have in common? There’s something wrong which you can’t fix so you go to someone with expert knowledge in the relevant area to help resolve the problem. For a toothache you wouldn’t go to a car mechanic because what do they know about teeth? And you wouldn’t try to fix it yourself, as this would likely make it worse and certainly wouldn’t help matters. We recognise that we are not experts in these areas and so we go to those who have studied dentistry – or medicine for the broken wrist – to get expert treatment. We rely both on their knowledge gained through study and their experience in treating others to get a good solution for ourselves.
But when it comes to other areas of life these principles get discarded when they still could have a useful application. Take spirituality for instance. Many people have not studied religion or spirituality extensively and do not have too much experience of spiritual matters. When talking about spiritual beliefs people say things like that’s OK for you but it’s not for me. Yet if I have a toothache and I say “I’m going to the dentist “no-one says that “the dentist is OK for you but I’m going to the car mechanic to get my teeth fixed” and no-one says “that’s OK for you but I take care of all my own dental problems”. With spirituality that’s so often exactly what we do. Why is that? What are the results? This article will look to provide some answers to those questions.
To answer the first question, there can be a lot of cynicism towards organised religion. Often religion is blamed for all sorts of social evils. This type of cynicism is often pervasive in other areas of life too, notably towards politics. For many people this cynicism is a quick and easy response which is substituted for a real engagement with spiritual issues. For all the evils perpetrated in the name of religion, the genocide caused in the twentieth century by regimes intent on stamping out religion, led to tens of millions of deaths, far more than the number for which religion is held responsible. However, it would be unfair, and indeed absurd, to label all atheists, and indeed atheism itself, as being implicated in these genocides. It is equally absurd to blame religion for so many social ills. The term religion contains a panoply of different cultural and faith practices maintained over centuries by vast swathes of humanity.
Vast amounts of social good have also emanated from religion. A well known example is the abolition of slavery was a campaign led by Christians. And the modern campaign against people-trafficking for the sex industry, slavery of the twenty-first century is also strongly supported by Christians. Admittedly terrible things have been done in the name of religion, but it is obvious that people can abuse a religion for their own ends just like people abuse political parties or corporations for their own personal advantage. Christianity for example, is founded on the person Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that people should love their enemies. Anyone trying to kill their enemies in the name of Christianity would therefore not therefore be displaying any type of authentic Christian faith or spirituality.
To say that religion should be rejected for all the evils it has committed must entail saying that atheism should also be rejected for all the evils it has committed. As discussed however, this is a very superficial way of looking at the matter. The teachings and lives of the founders of different religions should be examined and then one should look for authentic followers of those teachings practicing today to truly assess a given religion, and by implication, how that religion could influence your spirituality.