Religious? What Type? Why? Spiritual?

As a mental health specialist who assists people in creating a healthy and productive life I find that what a person believes has a lot to do with personal success and happiness. Spiritual beliefs are part of most peoples’ belief system.  Having studied philosophy, theology, the Scriptures, and Christian Church History, I am particularly interested in finding out why a person believes what s/he does and to what degree it influences his or her behavior.

Most people believe in the religion/spirituality that they were brought up in. It is part of one’s enculturation. Some people change/convert to another religion for various reasons, oftentimes because of a spouse. Few people really examine in depth what they believe and why.  If they did it would probably rock their soul.

Would you be interested in some spiritual examination? Starting with God. The concept of God has gone through many changes over the years.  (Suggested reading: “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong).  So,too,  have many doctrines changed over the years. Even in the short two thousand years since Jesus’ birth, the concept of church has changed. Christian denominations have split off with various denominations having different books in the Bible, and different interpretations. For example, trying to explain why there are two versions of creation in the book of Genesis.  Some Church people believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, others say Communion is just symbolic. Some people say Jesus had brothers and sisters, others say he was an only child. Some say Mary was a Virgin, others say no way. Some denominations say you only need faith to get to Heaven. Others say it is about good works. Historically two saints differed on that issue and some denominations reflect such opposing views. Some denominations believe, or have believed, in Purgatory and Limbo, that you would commit a mortal sin and go to hell if you ate meat on Friday, masturbated, or practiced birth control. Some denominations say drinking and dancing are forbidden.  More recently there is the denominational debate about homosexuality being a sin and that group going to hell or whether gays should be allowed to marry. The list could go on and on if you want to look back in history and see the various differences that exist in religions. I make note of these things not to be critical of any one religion but to point out how many beliefs and practices have changed over time or have differences of beliefs and practice among different denominations. These beliefs affect how you think and act in your everyday existence.

It is evident that there are many spiritual traditions and religions out there. All religious traditions are based on faith. By definition faith means that it is not provable. That’s why the great theologian Kierkegaard spoke of the “leap of faith” beyond reason.

Perhaps there should be less arguments, debates, and wars over who has the “right” religion and what the “right” way to practice one’s faith. Perhaps spirituality could be simplified which may lead to more unity among people of good will.

What is the core of spirituality?  The following prescription, offered by an anonymous author, may be partial indicators of how truly spiritual people behave.

 

  1. Increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  2. Frequent attacks of smiling.
  3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.
  4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than based on fears from past experiences.
  6. An unmistakable ability to live in and enjoy each moment.
  7. No interest in judging others.
  8. A loss of interest in being judged or judging yourself.
  9. An increased awareness of little things.
  10. A love for all beings.

Perhaps Jesus had it right. Maybe spirituality is not that complicated. The good life is about Love. He summed it all up in this prescription, “Love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself”.  (Matthew 22: 35-40) Or, perhaps, “Do to others as you would want them to do to you”. (Luke 6:31). How about this suggestion?  “By their works you will know them.”  (Matthew 7:16).  Perhaps over the course of history the essence of spirituality has been distorted by beliefs and practices that have nothing to do with a viable spirituality. Simple may be better than complex. “Less is more”. At least there probably would be less debate and squabbling!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”    Socrates

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