Tuesday, May 5, 2009

to those unaffiliated with a religion

I was watching a documentary, by Bill Maher called Religulous. In it, he mentions some where, that there are 50,000,000 people in the U.S. that are unaffiliated with a religion; last year, '08, I had heard on public radio that there were 30,000,000 people unaffiliated. I always have a skeptical eye with all statistics. Most are a momentary snap shot into what ever is being analysed. For instance, in 2010 the Census will be taken, and as soon as the results are published, the count will have changed, and as a matter of fact, the results would have changed the first day of recording. Also, most statistics take on the bias of the entity initiating the analysis. To me objectivity in relationship to statistics is a misnomer. However, I gave that 30, to 50,000,000 unaffiliated statistic some value because I understand that voluntarily abandoning a religion can be a stepping stone for spiritual seekers. I know that because I lived through that experience, and I intuitively understand that in an developmental way, humans are seeking points of truth to help guide their spiritual progression, especially woman. Where ever there is learning or training in the broad spectrum of human development woman are there, in much greater numbers than men. I believe that the days of men leading the U.S. are numbered, and by the turn of this century, women will have taken most of the leadership roles from men.

Forthcoming, is a synopsis of my experience of abandoning my inherited religion. I had sixteen years of formal religious education: eight years of Catholic Grammar School, four years of Catholic High School, and four years of Catholic College. You would think that such a long, active association with a religion would at least generate a modicum of "real" spiritual identity. It did not.

In grammar school, I went along with religious instruction and tried to put into practice what I had been told. I didn't use foul language, prayed daily, confessed my sins, fasted on appointed days, went to Mass on Sundays, and received the sacraments. Retrospectively, my religious education was comparable to "brain washing," the only difference being I had the consent and approval of my parents and culture. Regular doses of dogma were introduced into my mind, from what I was told to believe an infallible source. The doctrine of the Catholic Church says that the Pope acts infallibly when rendering doctrines or decisions of faith and/or morals. I swallowed whole. I could readily regurgitate doctrine, simulating mastery, and I could practice as though spiritually motivated. In truth, I carried undigested and unfelt concepts, ideas, values, attitudes, and objectives that belonged more to the instructors than to me. My primary motivation behind my religious education was fear of punishment, and not deep-felt convictions or believes. I feared blackening my immortal soul with sin, and the consequence of suffering eternal damnation in hellfire. There were times when I would concentrate so singularly on the idea of eternity that I was able to gain a mental sensation of that idea. I was frightened by that sensation, but I was terrified when I associated that idea of eternity with that of eternal damnation. Accompanying my fear of punishment were anxiety and guilt. I was anxious over the continuous encounters with "mortal sin," and forever guilty over the weakness of my will to resist.

By the time I entered high school, my religious education had become mechanical. I bit off large chunks of Catholic dogma, partially chewed, then swallowed. My spiritual development was completely repressed and overshadowed by the strict infallible doctrine of the Catholic Church. The problem with chasing after other's ideas, values, attitudes, and objectives, I discovered, lies in the area of limited physical energy and misplaced attention. We have on average, a life expectancy of 75 plus years of life. Consequently, any energy misdirected is a squandering. Following others' goals, we spend our scare energy, maximizing their objectives at the direct expense of maximizing our own human potential. In this process of achieving other's goals our minds are also misdirected. The one essential tool necessary for realizing full human potential is occupied with the attainment of subordinate objectives. This kind of misdirected attention limits our mind by narrowing its range of focus and capabilities.

It wasn't until my last year in college that I finally gained enough experience to truly begin, with awareness, directing my destiny. This period too, begins my unfettered search for spiritual identity. Unfettered in that I no longer was bound by the thoughts and desires of authorities other than myself. I had castoff the excess baggage in my mind, and was thrust into the initial stage of becoming my own authority.

I chewed all information thoroughly, digesting and assimilating what I believed valuable, and jettisoned the rest. Now, I looked to outside authorities only for verification of my own ideas, and as a stimulating source of bairn-food. This change in seats of authority brought a complete rethinking of Catholic doctrine. I adapted a skeptical eye with regard to its spiritual value. My daily experiences suggested other less debilitating ideas and concepts more in line with spiritual identification to assimilate and use. I developed a humanistic philosophy which greatly flattened out the idealized Catholic doctrine, and substantially decreased the debilitating effects of fear and guilt. The "Catholic Way" didn't sustain, comfort, or guide my spiritual life. Here I was , 22 years of age, religiously derelict, but ready for spiritual awakening.

There is an important distinction that must be made clear between spiritual and religious. It is like the old argument of what came first, the chicken or the egg. What came first, that which is spiritual or religious? After I voluntarily abandoned my Catholic Faith, many would say, I than also discarded my spiritual life. Most people associate spiritual expression exclusively with religion. However, spiritual expressions are often completely separate from religion. Spiritual expression originates from within human beings, as an expression of their essential spiritual core, and although religious rituals and ceremonies, can initiate a spiritual response, religion is not the source of spirituality. Religion is a direct effect of a spiritual cause. So therefore, as I am a living argument, it is possible for human beings to be highly spiritual without being religious. Even at this late date in my life I remain unaffiliated, and none the worse for it.

For most of us, what is sensed on the material plane is what is believe. The spirit, (our essential core), lies within the medium of the intangible, beyond the ordinary reach of the ordinary use of our senses. Those dependent entirely on ordinary sense perception try to see the spiritual aspect or soul by dissecting the physical organ, the brain. When the senses do not reveal it, they deny its existence. Then there are those who believe the soul exists and that it is the result of the physical form we call the body. Consciousness, thought, soul and all mental phenomena, they say, is a function of the brain. Every special form of thought is a result of the activity of a special portion of the brain. When we see things or think of seen things, the optical convolutions of our brain are activated. A certain portion of the temporal lobes are activated when we hear, and so on. If the brain functions stop, all associated phenomena will instantly cease. Because of our heavy reliance on our ordinary senses, the above reasoning is very difficult to overcome. Most of us stop at this barrier or feebly attempt to cross. The truth cannot be made manifest by philosophically based arguments, they help or by religious doctrines, they also help, but by a honest answer to several questions. When your own heart asks: What happens to me after death? When your own heart asks: Is there something beyond my physical reality? When your own heart asks: How is it that I can sometimes know what is true, and sometimes feel what is beautiful without the use of my reason? How will you respond? Will you rationalize your answers to conform to your affections or will you answer with a heart that unconditionally seeks to understand what is true?

So, brotheren and sisteren of the "unaffiliated," if you have something to say about your unaffiliation send me an e-mail.