Carving Out Your Own Spiritual Space Among a Sea of Religionists

This week has been a particularly stress free spiritual week for me, until today. I started sensing this peace a couple of weeks ago by first carving out a new space on the web for my personal musings (somewhere secret and far away from here) and by attending Mass a couple of times at my local Catholic church.  The two experiences have melded very nicely together. However, my peace came to a screeching halt. I can’t believe how choosing to experience my spirituality in several different ways would be so bothersome to so many people! I’ve learned that there is great benefit in surrendering to whatever comes my way as spiritual food. I don’t question it. It’s all a gift.  But, for others who think they know me, it’s the height of absurdity.  I’m doing it all wrong! Increasingly, I am getting a sneaking suspicion that those who read this particular blog in a cursory manner might think that I am either just a religionist or a spineless agnostic unwilling to take the existential leap into the surety of unbelief. Either way, my blog has gotten wrested out of my hands in a most peculiar manner.  I almost feel as if I can’t be honest anymore without being attacked by men from every side. Some choose to leave anonymous barbs. Others choose to tackle what they see as a “stubborn woman.” Sadly, this is typical of women’s blogs. I’ve become cornered and corralled by men who would assume to know what is good for me in the faith and belief department or even in the no faith or belief department. I hope to set this straight right now.

I am a woman whose spirituality is eclectic and I am free to absorb the graces of all traditions. I am a cultural religionist, meaning that I like the trappings of all religions, especially the Pagan and Roman Catholic variety, but I also know that I am most definitely not committed to religion as a necessity of faith. Spirituality and religious institutions are poles apart. One is true faith. The other is a man-made attempt to trap the impossible and to dispense it’s forms of piety to humankind. the former is egalitarian and nurturing of all. The other is top-down, power-over hierarchy plain and simple. I am also most definitely a pagan theistic agnostic. I don’t believe that anyone can know for certain whether the doctrine they teach so assuredly about God is true. I believe that Godde is neither male nor female and that in order to nourish all souls, this genderless Godde must take precedence in our mass psyche. No one can possibly know that such a Godde exists because there is no proof beyond one’s own experience of Godde. Revelation to one person is that one person’s experience. All else is hearsay.

But! I am also a Christian, someone who believes in Christ.  I am not your definition of a Christian nor am I someone else’s definition of a Christian. One may have one’s own experience of Christ or one may take the word of other people who have had an experience of Christ. There is no other option.  I have had an experience with Christ. I do not, however, believe that every person who claims to have an experience has indeed had one.  People are free to think this of me as well. It’s my word against theirs after all. To me Christ is all of the grace of Godde embodied.  I do not believe in the Old Testament God. Israel’s experience with their God is very problematic, because it posits a male God who is hateful, vengeful, and spiteful to all other nations but Israel. This is how Israel experienced God because Israel had a personal stake in carving out their spiritual space among the plethora of religions rampant in that area during the formation of the their nation. However, Israel’s experience is by no means proof of who God really is, nor is it the God of the New Testament. All is speculative and unprovable.

Many, many folks seem to want to equate institutional religion as we know it today with spirituality. They think that just because you have faith, you MUST practice a religion of some kind. Not true. Many Buddhists have faith in a perfected soul or universe, but they have no religious practice. Yet other Buddhists do have religious practice. Many Muslims are practitioners of religion. Many other mystical Muslims are not. It’s the same for every religion. Protestant Christians especially believe that any other practice but their own is legalistic. They are usually pointing fingers at the Catholic church when they say this. Growing up in church, they will say, doesn’t mean you have faith. This is true. Church is a great place to grow some faith if you’re so inclined, but it’s not an automatic “in.” Going to church may also kill what faith you may have had to begin with (some of the people I know here such as me, and those at agnosticatheism’s blog, have had this happen to us). For us, religion gets in the way of faith and inserts its own agenda where there should be none. Some of these friends are in the process of deconversion from their religions, but some of us cling to what little faith we have, recognizing full well the tactics of religionists to get us within their clutches once again. Religion is merely a tool in the hands of the wise and a battering ram in the hands of the power hungry.

Conversely, NOT going to church does not mean I DON’T have faith. End of discussion.  I know that I am prone to assuming many things myself,  but really, how many times do I have to be hit with the same story or the same comments or the same accusations to know that the debate isn’t worth the trouble or that it will always lead to a stalemate or that it will always end the same way? It’s only a battle of wills and who’s more stubborn than who? When Christians debate non-Christians, or even other Christians, it’s very easy for them to assume things about their “opponent” that isn’t necessarily true and toss off comments meant to be scathing rather than those that promote dialogue. It’s been going on for thousands of years. It will continue to go on for thousands more and it will never be resolved. Our own pride often prevents us from listening. Much like the jockeying for position that takes place during my morning commute to work. All anyone wants to do is get in front of everyone else. There’s no discussion of why or how or no polite gestures of letting people go first. Everyone wants to go first! When Christians assume you don’t have faith because you don’t go to church any longer, they are really jockeying for position to be first by saying that you don’t have THEIR brand of faith, or you don’t go to THEIR church, or you don’t practice piety as THEY do. It’s not about respecting your faith at all, it’s about promoting their own. Submit to what we believe and only THEN will we rest.

You see what other people believe about the religion of Christianity are all moot points for me. I’ve decided to pick and choose what I practice, because the practice of religion is only for my spiritual nourishment, not a test of faith for others to judge me. Religion is not meant to be a “marker” of my piety, to somehow show others how far I’ve come up the spiritual ladder, so that they can judge my progress and report back to those in power. Practicing religion how and when I choose to has nothing to do with whether I even have faith or not. To me religion and the institutions that generate them are not faith but are only pretty ways to “practice piety before men to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1-6),” ways of jockeying for spiritual position.So, what feeds my faith? Many different things. By embracing all religions or none at all, I am bound by none. I know the difference between the definition of legalism and pure grace and I am no more convicted to confess to a priest that I missed Mass on Sunday, than I am to feel guilty that I have “forsaken the assembling of ourselves together” with my fellow Protestants. Both may pronounce me hell bound, but I know in heart that my fate is in Godde’s hands alone, if indeed there is a Godde who decides such mundane things or who even cares that humans down here are theoretically and actually killing each other over interpretations of such things. Who can know? But if I want to pray to the saints, speak in tongues, or prance naked in a coven full of wiccans, it’s my business and my spirituality. It’s what feeds me.

Bottom line is: I go to church or to coven or to Zen meditation to nurture the tiny amount of faith that is left in me, that hasn’t been squashed out of me by religious male zealots, but I am not bound by religious rules made by men. I’ve carved out my own spirituality, one that’s my own. That’s true freedom from legalism. That’s true grace. That’s true spirituality. But don’t assume, because I don’t believe as you do, because I don’t go to the same church you do, or even because I don’t go to church at all, that I am in need of “correction” or that I don’t properly “understand” the Gospel or even that I am inviting debate about it. I’m not. It’s my business. I don’t need men’s advice. I don’t need someone else telling me I’m doing it wrong. This is the hardest thing to get men to understand about why we create our own woman’s space on the web. You see, I’ve earned the rewards of my own spirituality through hard-won experience, faith in myself, confidence, and spiritual practice.  I’m not asking your permission. I’m telling you like it is.

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28 thoughts on “Carving Out Your Own Spiritual Space Among a Sea of Religionists

  1. What? Elsewhere? Secret? Rebecca gets out her secret decoder ring and sleuth detective that she is, wanders off into the nether regions of the collective world wide web to find “elsewhere.” If I’m not back in a year, come find me.

    *giggle*

    I wish those pesky men would stop bothering you Moi. I’ve always been pretty fortunate in that area. I’m a bit of a Ninja though and will kick them in the shins if they don’t behave, so maybe that’s why I don’t have trouble? 😀

    Maybe the men sense in you a very strong woman and they just need to knock you back a notch in order to straighten you out my dear and try to elevate their status. 😉 Makes them feel better?

    The men around here since I’ve been reading seem to be okay eh? Rebecca waves with a big toothy grin to the men. Hi guys!

  2. really enjoy this post. You and I see things alot alike. It seems the christian church has lost its way. We have allowed religion to step in between us and God.

  3. Rebecca,
    Yesssssss. Hiding. Can you guess where? I would greatly appreciate your Ninja sensibilities over here. Keep the vultures at bay, so to speak.

    I think it is the strong woman syndrome. It’s not so much that they are on my case, but very cocky while doing it. I’ve had to delete much and allow others to filter through. Of course, where would I be without you and Noogatiger to keep me honest? 🙂

  4. morphinelife,
    Love the name! Yes, religion likes to insert itself. We need to keep a focused spirituality and not mistake the road for the sign pointing to the road. Thanks for the comment!

  5. I was picking up that you’ve done just a bit of deleting at your end. 🙂

    I don’t think these people you are deleting realize we’ve heard it all before. We heard it ad nauseum in the church, ad nauseum out of the church…why do they think they are the first to inform us?

    No matter where your meter is today…have a nice day! Wait, I think I just channeled Bon Jovi. 😉

  6. Rebecca,
    Bon Jovi???? 🙂

    I’m at work now, so ….. (sigh).

    Why IS IT that people think I’ve never heard all this “advice” before? Curiouser as they say…

  7. I feel moved by this piece. Regardless if it is a male point of view or female that we must struggle against, the issue becomes the same: uninvited oppression. (As if oppression is ever invited…hmm maybe it is, subconsciously…ok…I won’t go down that road any further).

    The most beautiful message I come away with is the innate strength, I feel emboldened and will carry this strength with me today.

    Namaste.

  8. hehehe uhhhh… I feel awkward. I’m going to assume this time that I’m not included in those you are ranting/being strong against. 🙂 I really enjoy reading, and that was definitely interesting. While I disagree (duh), I wonder why this must be such a divisive issue for other visiting Christians besides myself… Afterall, your own belief is not (or at least SHOULD not be) an indictment against their own, and thus should not be so defensive (offensive?). Meh, oh well.

    LOL, I do feel very alone here now…. however, I am encouraged to read from someone so self aware and well spoken about the deficiencies of “religion.” I hope and pray that people like yourself will continue to put out well written and well thought out material like this so that the global church may pull its head out of the sand long enough to realize the cultural seasons are changing (or rather, have already changed).

  9. **I don’t think these people you are deleting realize we’ve heard it all before. We heard it ad nauseum in the church, ad nauseum out of the church…why do they think they are the first to inform us?**

    What always interests me about this is considering the fact that the Bible is a pretty big book, that’s not evident in those that do a drive-by quote. We tend to see the same verses, such as “For God so loved the world …” or “All have sinned and fallen short …” or “I am the way, the truth and the life …”

    Would variety be too much to ask? I’d like to see more of “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God” or “Perfect love cast out fear” or “Test all that is evil, cling to what is good” or “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

    I really think some Christians should look into retiring a few of the verses for a while.

  10. Heather,

    Variety is a good thing. Good question! “Would variety be too much too ask?” It would seem that you can tell a lot about a person by what they continually focus on.

    Am I feeding too much into the energies of negative people who read my posts? Is Jon (where oh where is Jon??) right when he says I should write more about what I DO believe rather than address what I DON’T believe?

    But that’s where some of the good posts come from and it’s rife in literary circles. The debate stems from disagreement about interpretation of texts. This is what fuels dialog and what helps us write new and intriguing stuff! How can we write without people’s ideas to bounce our own off of?

    Good thoughts!

  11. Mystery….I think (yes another person forcing an opinion! ugh) that only you know what you need and want to write. We will be here reading whatever shape it takes.

  12. **Is Jon (where oh where is Jon??) right when he says I should write more about what I DO believe rather than address what I DON’T believe?** I actually see a lot of either ex-christians and especially ex-fundamentalists talking about what they don’t believe. I think much of that is in response to the negativity of fundamentalism. It’s all about how sinful a person is, how Jesus died a bloody death, how God’s justice demands that everyone go to hell. There’s not a whole lot of ‘light’ there.

    Your posts are in reaction to that, in trying to reclaim the light. Often the first step in that is to boldly cast off the darkness (sometimes over and over again, because darkness doesn’t really let itself get cast off that easily) to make room for the light.

  13. hahahahahaha! MOI, I will take that as a supreme compliment! And I will not claim to be totally fear-free in writing on here! I have however been pleasantly surprised with the response, as I have said before.

    Heather, you said:
    “There’s not a whole lot of ‘light’ there.”

    That may be true, but does not the contrasting darkness brighten the light so much more? Does not the suffering and pain that our God went through make the reality of His love that much more powerful? I agree that sometimes the focus can be redundant and very depressing if not preached together with grace and love, but I feel like the intent and heart of the message they are trying to communicate is quite bright indeed!

  14. Ok, reality check:

    Brad says: “Does not the suffering and pain that our God went through make the reality of His love that much more powerful?”

    Brad, I know it is a wonderful sounding story. I truly believed it for 39 years. How could anyone turn down love? The love Jesus supposedly had for us, I mean he gave his life for us right, why does anyone not desire this love?

    We all want love don’t we? I do.
    However, (you know me), I have to ask about that little word; “reality”. Is it really reality, Brad? How do we know? How can we ever know? Why do I have to have faith in what is supposed to be “the truth”, I mean if this story is “the truth” then just show me the facts which back that up, please, I mean really I am all about TRUTH.

    I can handle “The Truth.”

    I know, I know, I hate to throw cold water on the proceedings here, but geese it was just getting a little too touchy-feely.

    However being a man, I am a little intimidated, after this blog.

    So, just to cover my bases MOI, I am not right, I am just looking for the truth.
    I struggled with wanting to hold on to Jesus for the last three years, but finally just decided to accept reality and keep searching.

    God Meter = 0.05 (I think this thing is broken)

  15. You know, maybe I need to try that Zen Meditation.
    Sounds pretty cool, couldn’t hurt.
    Can’t do the Lotus position though, too old for that.

    Funny though I just checked out one site on the internet and read this: “It is important to center your attention in the hara. The hara is a place within the body, located two inches
    below the navel. It’s the physical and spiritual center of the body. Put your attention there; put your mind
    there. As you develop your zazen, you’ll become more aware of the hara as the center of your attentiveness.”

    Ahh, that is pretty close to where most men have their minds most of the time anyway isn’t it?

  16. Noogatiger,
    HAHHAHAAA! 🙂 My hara, huh?
    But seriously folks, being a man, I think you are right on top of things,….er….. I mean, you have a handle on……..what I mean to say is that you can’t help how you feel at any given moment anymore than I can. I think I’m hanging on with my eyes wide open to the fact that it’s a myth and right now I need the myth more than the alternative.
    Please, by all means, butt in with all your non-touchy feely opinions. (what’s with all the body parts?) I’m counting on them!!!

  17. Moi,

    You’re welcome. I always like to refer back to Jesus telling the crowd “You are the light of the world.” The crowd was a light way before anyone had the correct belief, or the right faith. Jesus was telling them what they already were, and just trying to wake them up to that fact, and help them come to terms with that. It was never “You will be the light of the world if you follow me in this right way and hold to these right facts.”

    Brad,

    ** Does not the suffering and pain that our God went through make the reality of His love that much more powerful? ** Except I don’t find the Trinity valid, so I don’t hold that Jesus was God. I also don’t find it valid that Jesus had to die in order for God’s justice to be satisfied, or for God to be capable of forgiveness (I’m not sure if you do either — I’m basing this on your Protestant views, as that tends to go along with that particular atonement theory. If you follow another, then please disregard. 🙂

  18. This sentence says it all for me…and I could not agree more!

    “To me religion and the institutions that generate them are not faith but are only pretty ways to “practice piety before men to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1-6),” ways of jockeying for spiritual position.”

    Growing up Catholic I saw this by the age of 10 – and that was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Mothership.

    You inspire me – keep your chin up and your opinions strong!!

  19. Oh man…wow… so much good stuff to tackle…

    Nooga,

    ***”Is it really reality, Brad? How do we know? How can we ever know? Why do I have to have faith in what is supposed to be “the truth”, I mean if this story is “the truth” then just show me the facts which back that up, please, I mean really I am all about TRUTH.”***
    OK, here are a few things to chew on that are completely apart from personal experience (which is also valid, but so much more unique and diverse).
    1.) The Bible (Old and New Testament) is the single most trusted historical document of ancient antiquity. I’d need to pull the sources, but it ranks higher among experts (non-Christians as well) than any other document, to include the Illiad, the Odyssey, any of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the ilst goes on.
    2.) The fact that this faith survived the most ruthless persectution and attempts to eradicate it (nay, even GREW during that time), seems to support it as well. Lies do not survive slaughter.
    3.) The statistical probability of someone either accidentally or intentionally fulfilling EVERY SINGLE prophecy of the OT (which we have peices of that predate Jesus’ lifetime) are something like 1 x 10 to the 55th power. Ridiculous.
    4.) How do we explain things like Paul, who was the single most ardent opponent to and murderer of Christians and then one day “changed his mind” to become the single greatest evangelist for them.

    The list goes on. No, there may never be a 100% surefire way to know. But compared to ALL other options, the odds alone are in Jesus’ favor. Even science has failed to prove with any certainty evolution, big bang, or anything to disprove a creator (a whole nother topic, but nonetheless worth mentioning). I very much appreciate where you are coming from, bro, I spent all but the last 2 1/2 years where you are now.

  20. Heather,

    Actually, you can assume all that. I am theologically conservative, but culturally liberal. I’m all about the Trinity, God’s saving grace, Jesus’ divinity, and God’s forgiveness. Guilty. 🙂

    Your last comment has me very curious though, why is it you believe God is not capable of forgiveness? I ask because I’m curious and honestly haven’t heard that argument before…

  21. Thanks for the old college try there Brad. Not much proof though.

    1. Most trusted historical document of ancient antiquity.? NOT: see my list below.

    2. Survival of persecutions and martyrs? Hmmm, there sure are a lot of Muslims willing to die for their faith. I suppose that makes the Quran the truth as well. Morman’s were persecuted and driven from their homes to Utah. You didn’t prove anything with that one. Nice story, but it does not prove anything.

    3. Fulfilled prophecies. Ah, hold on there big guy. There are several so-called prophecies in the Bible which did not get fulfilled, (false prophets were to be stoned weren’t they), and others which were not even really prophecies at all. Check some out here: http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/prophecies.html

    4. The Apostle Paul? There have been many people who have had just a large a change of heart which had nothing to do with Christianity.

    Brad, while your proofs are nice circumstantial anecdotes about Christianity, they don’t rise to the level of proofs. Sorry. I also never said there wasn’t a creator, there very well could be. I am just saying that the Bible did not come from any God. The odds are not in Jesus favor as you say. The only book which tells us about Jesus is so horribly messed up that it simply can’t be trusted as accurate about Jesus or anything else. Evolution has been proven true as much as the theory of atoms and protons and neutrons. Nobody has ever seen those things either, but by theorizing and then testing the theory there has been enough confirmation found to prove that it is as an accurate theory. Scientist theorized that if there were a big bang some time in the past that they would find some background cosmic radiation in space, left over from this event and guess what, in the last couple of years this has been recorded. Transitional fossils have been found, lots of them. Microevolution has been witnessed. The geologic record confirms that different animals appear at different times back through the years, not all at once as creation would hold. The geologic record also shows absolutely no sign of a worldwide flood, etc, etc, etc.

    Here is why I no longer believe.

    1. Creation: The geologic record alone disproves the account laid out in the Bible. Then there is starlight and the distance it travels, which shows that millions of years have passed for that light to reach us, not thousands as creationist believe, or else God is a big deceiver.

    2. Hell: There was no concept of eternal hell fire in the original writings of the Bible, this was added later when it began to be translated into English and came from ideas in mythology. What else may have been tampered with in this book?

    3. Biblical Errors: The Bible has a lot of historical errors, as well as mathematical and counting errors, prophecies which never came true or weren’t really even prophecies at all, and scientific errors, or simply false statements. Many of the events surrounding the birth, life and death of Jesus himself have several different versions, with conflicting details, all of which can’t be true. There are also hundreds of contradictory scriptures in the Bible. Can God be seen, or not? Did Jesus come to bring love, or a sword? Are we saved by grace or works? Who killed Goliath? How did Judas die, etc, etc, etc? There are so many it is mind boggling.

    4. Biblical Moral Problems: The Bible did support Slavery, and it was in many cases forced slavery, not just indentured servitude to work off debts. The Bible did support polygamy. The Bible did support the view of women as property. The Bible did support genocide, the killing of babies, women and even the rape of women in battle. Sorry, but it did. How could a moral, just righteous God ever really support such things, ever?

    5. Noah’s Flood: The geologic record again disproves this little story. So does the distribution of animals and ethnic people around the globe. It never happened.

    6. The development of the Canon of Scripture itself: The Bible and the books in it, especially the New Testament came together like a vote of the greatest hits. They simply assembled the books which were used the most, and took votes on which ones to keep as the gospel of the New Testament, and it took nearly 300 years after Christ, with arguments and intimidation and compromise to finally come to a final decision on which ones to keep and which ones to eliminate. How can this be the method in which God gets his word to us? How is this a divine process?

    7. Biblical Myths: Angels having sex with earth girls and producing a hybrid race of people. The six day creation myth. The war in heaven with Satan. The Egyptian plagues. The mass exodus from Egypt. The wandering in the wilderness for 40 years by 400.000 to 600,000 people with no trace of them in the dessert at all. The large Kingdoms of David and Solomon. The strong man Sampson. (Sounds like Hercules doesn’t it?). The big fish story with Jonah. The worldwide flood. The tower of Babel. The parting of the red sea. The virgin birth, the resurrection. None of them ever really happened. All are myths which find their origins in previous mythology from the Greeks or Egyptians.

    8. Prayer: They simply do not get answered the way the Bible says they will in the New Testament. Everyone knows this. Even if you can think about one or two or three things which you view as an answered prayer, what about the other ten thousand prayers you said which never got an answer? This is not how the New Testament said this should work. Read it again.

    9. The name of Jesus; how many times I have heard, oh what a wonderful name. A name above all other names. The name of Jesus. “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.” Philippians. It was supposedly a special name selected by God and brought down by Angels, for the son of God alone. It would be the name to bring peace and saving grace to the world. Nowadays even Christians have to admit that thousands of people back during that time were named Jesus. It was as common as the name Smith today. Therefore God gave him the name that is above every name: John Smith.

    10. Jesus did not write or record anything: This is one of the big mysteries of the New Testament. While Jesus was on earth, he never had anyone commit to writing his sayings down, nor scribing the story of his days here on earth, nothing, nada. It is as if he was content to die without ever spreading his important message to rest of the world. It was left to oral traditions which people handed down and then later began to write down many years later and pass around from group to group these different stories for 300 hundered years till somebody thought; hey we need to put these together in a book.

    Finally what is the one biggest factor which has led me away from Christianity?

    11. The Bible itself: One day I made the biggest mistake a Christian can ever make. I began a study of the Bible. Not from a position of accepting upfront that this is the word of God, but from a rational reasoned approach to study it to see if it really could actually be the word of God. I figured that, like I had been told many, many times, the truth would hold up under any and all scrutiny. I figured that if it were absolute truth, it would be easy to prove that it is the absolute truth. Wow did I get my eyes opened. This book simply does not hold up under a critical eye. It does not hold up under scrutiny. It cannot defend itself against the skeptic. It is not consistent. It is not reliable, accurate, or even moral in many places. It became very easy to see that this book was not from God, but it was simply a book written by very flawed men, and the God they made up.

    Now this book makes perfect sense to me. It is not from God.

  22. Brad,

    I do think God is capable of forgiveness. What I dislike about that atonement theory is that it says God can only forgive with strings attached — aka, only through Jesus’ death on the cross could God extend forgiveness. I disagree with that particular thought process.

    **The Bible (Old and New Testament) is the single most trusted historical document of ancient antiquity. I’d need to pull the sources, but it ranks higher among experts (non-Christians as well) than any other document, to include the Illiad, the Odyssey, any of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the ilst goes on.** How are you defining historical? As in, the copies resemble each other? Or that events in the Bible are historically true?

    I have to agree with Noogatiger on the fufilled prophecies, as well. Many of the fufilled prophieces only look that way after the fact — in that Jesus did something, let’s find a corresponding prophecy. The virgin birth is one such example. Meanwhile, the Judaism had a list of specific events needed to be fufilled if the person was to be the Messiah. Rebuilding of the third temple, descended from Davd on the father’s line (physical descent, not adoption or through Mary), and that there was no indication that the Messiah would be divine, or God in the flesh.

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