Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ricky's Treatise on Religion vs. Spirituality

The Cage Holds the Secret

I've heard the rants of the right wing radio hosts: "He says he's spiritual but not religious. What the hell does that mean?"

Here's what it means:

I grew up Catholic.

No, that's not the whole thing. I grew up Catholic, where I learned about sin, repentance, and all the codes and rules that are necessary to be a part of a higher power. Many of the things I learned labeled as "sin" were things I already picked up as a human being as bad: lying, stealing, killing, etc.

When I grew up, I eschewed the Catholic Church in search of other modes of religion. Every form of Christianity I studied and explored held - even if in diluted forms - the necessity to congregate in a "House of God" in order to be a part of Him. The problem was, for me, that a church always housed obligatory visitors, those that are resentful of having to be there, those that would much rather be doing other things.

And as soon as I learned about God, I wanted to be part of it. And I do mean It; I think at some superficial level that I believed that God was a Big Man in a Flowing Beard, but I always felt cheated on a practical level when it came to Him: Where was He? Why couldn't I talk to or even feel him? Would I ride around to different churches, to different temples until I felt some sort of connection?

And then came nature. Around 15, I started studying the Wiccan religion, Pagan precepts - "Do what you will, though you harm none" - and felt more at home. The wind and trees said more to me in minutes than any priest on a thirty minute homily. You can smell the Earth, touch the soil, stare at the stars and feel an awe that I still experience to this day, and technology only makes it more intense.

When I look at that picture, I see hundreds of galaxies like our own, each holding billions of stars, each holding planets, perhaps some holding life, and I get teary. That is beauty. That is god.

So after much searching, mostly amongst stories and fairy tales, I finally came to the conclusion that all religion was about being a part of - or at least getting a chance to touch - god. And that all the religions of the world were elaborate rituals evolved from cave people about how you can and why you should want to and who was out there. Fire, incense, chanting, dancing, blood, wine, ritual. And you may never even sense "inside" because even then, only those in power could touch the center of control. Because if everyone could touch it, there was no control.

And without ritual? You had it down to: yourself and the ultimate power of the universe, should you choose to believe in it. You had the power of the mind that took the form of prayer or spells or practice. They were all words for a single, basic idea: you can connect with something Higher: no cage to dance through, no arcane rules to follow, just you and your heart and your innate sense of good and evil. And you could do it.

And when you take away the box or maze or cage of religion, you are left with Something Higher, and you don't have to dance the dance or wiggle through the maze or get the ointment to pass: it is You and Whatever You Call God and you are free to smell the ocean and cry at the sky and feel a connection with Everything that Is.

So for all the Conservatives who laugh at anyone who says "I'm spiritual, not religious," here's the crux: Religion is the cage. Spirituality is the connection with what's inside. I prefer to focus on the locus and live with my own conscience and deeds. There is no cage, though you keep pretending to rattle it.

Can you live with that?


Freida Bee said...

I feel ya here. My view is that religions are systems of behaviors that people have found to work to help them feel more close to something that is more universal that contains us all. Of course, that gets distorted, but I would imagine that many different belief systems have many different tools that work differently for different people. The tools are not the end, but the means. That is important for me to remember, hence my writing it right now. Remember this, Freida.

Ricky Shambles said...

Honestly, without religion, I do believe much of society would cease to be what we consider society.

I'm not condemning organized religion, but the practicalist in me says "We are not on the same path."

Maintaining respect right now is the key.