Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rami's Reply to Mike's 4/8 Post

I agree that there is more to religion and spirituality then I have stated so far, and I like the idea that spirituality is, among other things, the conscience of religion. But then I would ask, “Where does this conscience come from?”

It can’t come from religion itself, for then it couldn’t act as a corrective. It must come from outside religion. We might say it comes from God, but, unless we define God (which leaves us only with god), this affirmation says nothing. Yet I cannot deny my experience (and that of many others) that when I find myself aware of the Presence of God (whom I define as the source and substance of all reality), I feel myself completely integrated with the whole of life and overwhelmed by a sense of love for and from all things. From this nondual perspective I understand St. Paul’s teaching that there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free in Christ Jesus.

It is also important to note that spirituality isn’t passive or quiescent. The spiritually infused person is a prophet speaking truth to power, and willing to follow conscience all the way to the cross. When Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me” he isn’t inviting people to the Rapture, but to the crucifixion. He is saying and living the fact that spiritual awakening engages one in the hard and dangerous work of justice. Justice and spirituality are two sides of the same coin of God-realization.

I am intrigued by your notion that it could take centuries for religions to turn the bend toward greater unity, justice, and compassion that is the hallmark of post-tribal globalism. I don’t disagree, and this brings me back to my position that religion is a social device concerned with power more than truth, fear more than compassion, and control more than justice.

Religion doesn’t necessarily lead people in a new direction. Most of the time it simply creates a god who sanctions the direction in which the people are already moving. This is why true prophets are always a threat to the religious. Jesus, to mention just one example, often saw past Jewish tribalism and pointed toward a global spirituality, but Christianity, and I realize this is a gross over simplification, ended up reinforcing it under another name.

As for despair, I admit to it. Conventional institutional religion as we know it, i.e. Bronze and Iron Age worldviews with their attendant biases, phobias, and mores cannot move human consciousness to the more inclusive level of experience needed in the 21st Century. But while I despair of religion I do not despair of prophets. I place my hope in those contemporary spiritual pioneers in every religion who have “turned the bend” and left behind much of the madness that passes for faith today. These post-tribal prophets speak to humanity as a whole, and for the earth herself. They sift through the old and find and release the timeless truths buried there. They may be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists by birth, training and even affiliation, but they are not limited by these labels, and are in fact practitioners of the perennial wisdom that flows through all faiths and is bound to none.

I prefer to see myself as a Jewish practitioner of this perennial wisdom, and I would dare suggest that you are a Christian practitioner of the same.


LCR said...

Mike & Rami,
What is your "working definition" of the word "Religion"?
It would help me if I knew how each of you defined the word.

If you have already discussed this in a prior post you can just point me to the post.


AaronHerschel said...

I'm both encouraged and dismayed by "spirituality." On the one hand, I respect your definition and I see it echoed in the jigsaw faith of many of my peers. And yet, equally often, if not more often, I see the term employed as an excuse.

"Spirituality" is typically invoked, in half-drunken barroom conversations anyway, like this: "organized religion sucks, but I'm totally a spiritual person." When questioned, such spirituality amounts to a vague belief in a well-meaning higher power and the overall "niceness" of the universe. What it too often is not, is a deep challenge to wrestle with God, or with the ethical and intellectual complexities and difficulties of faith.

"Religion" itself is frequently employed the same way, so I have no preference in vocabulary. In both cases, I sense a dodge, a sort of easy, self-serving affirmation of "belief" that entails nothing, that requires nothing. At least, with 613 commandments to juggle (and drop, and break), I'm kept on my toes.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. Religion has more than one meaning, of course. In this case, though, I mean the formal structures of religion: theology, practice, denominations,and the like. Religion, in this sense, is a human necessity (we organize and create patterns--it's just part of being human). The benefits are obvious: preservation of sacred memory and group cohesion,the potential to resolve disputes, the possibility of focusing resources, etc. The downside is that found in any kind of institution: institutionalism, the devolution from worship and missional purpose to self-preservation.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Rami: I agree with what Mike said about religion. For me it is a thoroughly human institution reflecting the best and worst of what we humans are capable. As an all too human institution religion is preoccupied with power and powerful elites; with in-groups and out-groups, with winners and losers, etc. While I am indebted to religious institutions for preserving the great wisdom texts of exemplary humans, I find its day to day operations more troubling than hopeful.

Spirituality is, as Aaron Herschel implied, a matter of wrestling, of practice. It is something one does rather than something one feels. The doing, however, does lead to insight and the insight is often accompanied by feelings—awe, wonder, compassion, a desire to do justly, love mercy, walk humbly as the Prophet Micah put it (Micah 6:8).

What Aaron Herschel is talking about is cheap grace, mistaking a vague feeling of wholeness for the hard-nosed practice of holiness.

At the heart of the deepest spirituality is a sense of not-knowing. Spirituality doesn't provide us with answers (this is religion's obsession), but with the means for justly and compassionately navigating a world in which our deepest questions go unanswered.

LCR said...

Rami said: "At the heart of the deepest spirituality is a sense of not-knowing. Spirituality doesn't provide us with answers (this is religion's obsession), but with the means for justly and compassionately navigating a world in which our deepest questions go unanswered."

Well said!!!
Thank You.

vania said...

Well this blog is right up my alley. I am a Jew and a believer in Yeshua (Jesus). I love this exchange of "minds", what a relief to find a place so comfortable where a Jew and non-Jew can meet each other with neither one feeling the need to compromise.

It's refreshing!

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. Glad to have you reading and responding to the blog, Vania.