Bad Religion is grounded on facts. Good Religion is grounded on metaphors and symbols. Bad Religion has symbols too, but calls them facts. Take the bread and wine of Communion. Bad religion says they are the body and blood of Jesus. Period. That’s ALL they are. Any time you can say ALL a symbol is, you don’t have a symbol. You have a sign pointing to a fact. Symbols are open, not closed. Not Facts. Good Religion says “The bread of affliction is the bread of life and the cup of suffering is the cup of salvation.” Symbols of endless depth. Life is a religious affair. Good Religion is at the heart of life. Bad Religion is death pretending to be alive. There is no life that is not symbolic, that is not grounded on symbols. We cannot know ourselves directly, only by way of our symbols. Find the things that symbolize you, find the metaphors that speak to you, and there you are. Our symbols are mirrors reflecting our soul, reflecting ourselves, reflecting us to us. Good Religion offers us living symbols of the way things are (and also are), and helps us ground ourselves in symbols of ourselves. Bad Religion explains things to us, spells things out for us, tells us what to think and do. Bad Religion is death to our soul. All religions are bad in their own way. Buddhism is as bad as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. “The map is not the territory.” You are going to have to create Good Religion for yourself. You won’t find it packaged ready for purchase anywhere. We are on our own. The problem is that we don’t want to go to the trouble. We just want to be told what to think, what to do, and have weekly reassurance that we are doing it the right way and don’t have anything to worry about. Bad Religion exists because there is a ready market for it. People demand Bad Religion. Insist on it. Will have nothing to do with the Good. The salvation of the world depends upon individuals waking up and facing up to their responsibility for their own life and living it. “Living our own life” is not doing what we want to do with our time while alive. It is doing what needs us to do it in each situation that comes along with the gifts that come with us from the womb to call us forth and show us who we are and what we are capable of in the life that is ours to live.
We keep looking for God “out there,” “up there,” “over there” to help us with the life we are living. You can see how well that’s working. We need to shift the entire religious orientation. What we are looking for is not “out there” but “in here.” It is found in working out the relationship, the partnership, between our psyche and our conscious mind. It is found in the integration, the harmony, the oneness of selves, of who we are and who we also are. Bad religion says, “Shun the devil.” Good religion says, “Welcome the Prodigal home.” The work of good religion— of the spiritual quest, the Hero’s Journey, the search for the Holy Grail and the Promised Land— is the work of bringing the conflicts, the contradictions, the polarities, the ambivalence within us to life. That is where the vitality lies. Bad religion would have us suppress, deny, ignore these inner realities. What we are seeking is not found in suppressing the truth, but in bringing it forth. Make your inner conflicts, contradictions, polarities, and ambivalence real, present, alive— and work them out! We work them out by asserting the authority we have over them— they are our children, our creation, we are their mother, their father— and listening to them with mindful compassion and grace. They all have value, they all have something to say, something helpful to offer, and they all, believe it or not, have what they take to be our best interest at heart. We are the Prodigal’s father/mother welcoming all of our children home, receiving them well, honoring them with our attention, and working out the relationships among them. This is the work of oneness, of wholeness, of integration, of reconciliation and peace. It is Rumi’s “The Guesthouse” being experienced in our own life.
No Theology! It ought to be a bumper sticker. No Doctrine! No Dogma! No Creeds! No Catechism! No Ideology! Bad religion looks for something beyond the experience of life to justify the experience of life— and something to look forward to once “this vale of tears” is left behind through death. The experience of life is more accurately a “veil of tears” concealing the wonder, beauty, goodness and joy of life just as it is— of life "Thus Come"-- which can be seen only by those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. The experience of life is an optical illusion. Now you see it this way, now you see it that way, and sometimes you never see it— with the “it” being the foundational truth of meaning and purpose lying beyond the apparent truth of meaninglessness and absurdity. The experience of life is an ink blot— reflecting the interior orientation of those who look at life and declare it to be as they see it. For example: Synchronicity is an encounter with more than meets the eye— which cannot be denied. A chance conversation changes our life forever. We have a brief exchange with a person in line with us at a checkout counter, whom we never see again and cannot ever forget. Synchronous experiences buoy us up and carry us along, and are available to all who are available to them. It takes a certain perspective, outlook, orientation, receptivity, to be able to see what is before us— and what is also before us— in each situation as it arises. That which transforms the life of one person is invisible to another. Look at what you see until you can see what you are looking at, as it is and as it also is.
The Gospel without doctrine or theology is the raw experience of grace at work in our life. When we try to explain the raw experience of grace at work in our life, and make it available to everyone by telling them exactly what they must do and believe in order to experience it as we did/do, you get doctrine and theology. We could talk about grace without becoming doctrinal or theological, but we would have to be poetic and metaphorical. Sheldon Kopp observed, “Some things can be experienced but not understood, and some things can be understood but not explained.” Grace is one of those things. We all experience grace, but none of us can say what to do, or believe, to be able to experience grace whenever we want to-- any more than we can order up what we will dream tonight. The raw experience of grace at work in our life is the ground of all good religion. Explanation and exhortation is the ground of all bad religion. If you want to be religious in the best sense of the word, put yourself on the path of the raw experience of grace. And don’t try to say what happened, unless you use metaphors and symbols. Grace is the full experience of the right time meeting up with the right place in the right way to stun us with the wonder of the impact. To put ourselves on the path of that kind of experience, we have to try new things, shake up our life, see everything we look at as though for the first time, open ourselves to wonder and delight. To experience grace, we have to be able to experience our life. All of it. Just as it is. "Thus come." If we are closed off to our experience, grace has no chance. Grace is more than words can say, more than can be said. We can’t explain right time, right place, right way. You woulda hadda been there.
We are distracted by the 10,000 things. Our life is one distraction after another. We cannot be centered, grounded and focused because of all the things coming at us from every side at all times. The entire culture is suffering from Attention Defect Disorder. We all need what true religion has always offered: Nothing! How much of Nothing! can you stand, for how long? Work to increase your tolerance for Nothing! in your life. It won’t cost anything, and you can practice it anywhere. And, it will open you to Everything! in ways you have never thought of anything. But, don’t take my word for it. Discover the worlds awaiting when you sit still and do Nothing!
In waking up, we separate ourselves from our way, and recognize that how we want things to be has nothing to do with how they need to be. In order to see, we have to see beyond ourselves— we have to see more than meets the eye. We live best when we get out of the way and allow our life to live itself through is— when we participate in, collaborate with, our life. Learning to live well is learning to see, hear, and understand what is happening and what needs to be done about it. The thrust of the culture is toward how to get what we want. The focus of the culture is having our way. Nothing could be more detrimental to us or the culture. Our life exists apart from us. We do not create it for ourselves. We do not decide what we want and live in light of that. What wants us is the question— not what we want. What claims us in such a way that we sacrifice everything we thought we wanted in order to serve it? What owns us? To what do we belong? Are we owned by the thing that has actual rights to us? Do we belong to that which is our proper owner? Do we know who our Daddy/Mama is? Who is your Daddy? Who is your Mama? If we don’t know that, we are as orphans, lost and alone in a life we have to make up for ourselves. Look at what you are living for, at what you are living to do, and ask if that needs to be done and if it needs you to do it. If you are living to be entertained— if you are living to take your mind off your life— you could do with a search for your Daddy, your Mama. We live the life that is ours to live by being owned by what has an authentic claim to us— by aligning ourselves with, and living in the service of, the life that needs us to live it. If you are looking for a mission, a purpose, finding and living your life is it.
The test of any belief, of any faith, of any religion, is this: Does it work? Does it help you with your life? Does it bring you to life? Does it enable you to live the life that is your life to live in the time left for living? Or, does it hand you a life made to order by someone else, some authority, someone who knows what’s best and must be pleased or else? Does it tell you what to do and how to do it, what to think and not think, and what to avoid at all costs? Does it call you to ask all the questions, or does it tell you to not ask questions? To just take what you are handed and do what you are told? Does it invite you to open yourself to beauty in all forms— to embrace, experience, relish, adore, exhibit, express and serve beautiful ways of responding to the wonder of who we are, where are, when we are, how we are, what we are, why we are? Or does it give you a long list of things not to consider, of places not to go, of people not to associate with, of experiences not to have? Does it open you to life or close you off from life?
Fritz Kunkel says (In “What It Means to Grow Up: A Guide in Understanding the Development of Character”) that our philosophy of life, our point of view are ours to work out for ourselves, and that “we must seek our own point of view, call our own experiences into council, develop our judgment, deepen and correct it again an again— until in this way we become mature, grow up, gain wisdom” (or words to that effect). Thomas Kuhn (in “The Structure of Scientific Revolution”) said that science progresses by encountering experiences which contradict theories and force an expansion, or a revision, or a dismissal of the theories in question. Everything becomes clear with time and experience. We work out who we are and what is important, how things are and what needs to be done about it over the full course of our life. We need the freedom to examine our experience, engaging the contradictions and discordance, and allowing the questions raised to lead us along the way of an ever emerging realization of truth— without ever arriving at The Truth, but always growing in our capacity to imagine a deeper truth at every transition point in the journey. May that be the way it is for us all along the way!
The work evolves. The work becomes more than it has been. The work shifts, changes, takes on new forms, takes surprising turns, takes off in new directions. The worst thing we can do is what we have always done. The only God worth hanging out with— the only God worthy of the name— is the God who makes all things new, including, and especially, our idea of God. If your God isn’t remaking God in the name of God before your very eyes, saying, “That was then, this is now, who knows what’s next? Let’s find out together!” you’re stuck in the same old same old and that is no way to catch up with the spirit that is like the wind, blowing where it will. We have to always be waking up, and every awakening is a rude one. No one asks us, “Okay, Honey, do you feel like waking up a little bit more today?” We turn a corner and there it is, like nothing we have ever seen before, and all the old constructs and schematics and blueprints and norms are blown to hell by that tornado of the spirit’s wind whipping through our life. That’s waking up. Every time we wake up, we have to put things together in a different configuration. We are always leaving our current home for some new Land of Promise. Settling down with “the way it’s supposed to be” is for the dead and dying. If you’re living, you’re changing. Your mind. About something you thought was solidly in place forever. Waking up is growing up. We out grow our religion. We out grow our theology. We out grow our doctrine. We out grow our creeds. We out grow our God. Joseph Campbell said, “Experience is what we use to formulate new realizations.” What was important is a step on the way to what is important. We are moving through our life from where we have been to where we are going. Waking up. Growing up all along the way. Who knows what’s next? We live to find out!
Growing up is the solution to all of our problems today. Not what we want to hear. We want to hear, “Come here, Sweet Thing! Come to Mama/Daddy. I’ll make it just like you want it to be right now— and when you change your mind, I’ll make it just like you want it to be then, there!” Now we’re talking! My friend Ogi Overman says, “All we ever wanted was smooth and easy.” And, until we find the real Mama/Daddy of our dreams, we will compensate ourselves with one addiction after another for things not being as smooth and easy as we would like for them to be. Growing up is at the heart of good religion. Remaining infantile and dependent upon the consolation of Mama/Daddy in the sky— IF we are good little boys and girls, and say our prayers, and mind our manners, and do as we are told— is at the heart of bad religion. How good your religion is is reflected by how well it enables you to grow up, stand on your own feet, live your own life— the life that is your life to live, that only you can live— and work out whatever needs to be worked out in each situation as it arises all your life long. How bad your religion is is reflected by how well it encourages you to play role of Sweet Thing to its version of Mama/Daddy. What you do about your religion— and your life— are up to you.
The problem with religion as we know it is its tendency to take its sacred writings and holy scriptures to be literal and factual accounts of actual events in the physical world of normal, apparent reality. Metaphor, poetry and symbol for religion as we know it are the same things as fiction, which is the same thing as false. So, religion has to go one way and I have to go another. Jacob Bronowski said, “You can’t find truth the way you find an umbrella.” Joseph Campbell has wonderful things to say that religion cannot hear. For example: “What is intended by art and mystical religion is not knowledge of anything factual that can be defined or explained, but the evoking of a sense of the absolutely unknowable— leaving it to science to take care of what can be known (or words to that effect).” Campbell continues: “The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can only be sensed— not more in the religious sanctuary today than elsewhere.” And: “The ineffable is of the province of art, which is a quest for— and a formulation of— an experience which evokes energy awakening images yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed ‘a sensuous apprehension of being.’” I couldn’t have said what I have to say any better than Campbell has said it. It’s great when someone else does your work for you.
Once we get beyond religion as something we think about, and understand it as something we do, we can stop thinking about our believing and start thinking about our doing— and how it relates to that which is deepest, truest, and best about us. Doing is about expressing, exhibiting, bringing forth— and the old concept of education was about bringing forth that which was hidden away within individual students, and not about instilling, or pouring information into, empty minds, or writing on “blank slates.” Doing is not about achieving, acquiring, accomplishing, attaining. Doing is about reading the situation as it arises and offering what is needed there out of what we have to offer— and seeing where it goes. The trick is that we don’t know what we have to offer until we present ourselves to the situation and meet what we find there, intent on keeping faith with ourselves and the situation, and allowing that approach to show us what we are capable of. Learning to do, to live, out of our own integrity— living in ways that are integral with what is deepest, truest and best about us— and not out of an orientation of exploitation where we look to our situations to supply us with what we want and think we need, is the shift in perspective and attitude that tells the tale.
Nathan R. Jessup (The Jack Nicholson character in “A Few Good Men”) nails us to the wall with his, “You can’t handle the truth!” We cannot bear the pain— the pain of knowing how it is with us. We cannot handle the truth of the discrepancy between how things are and how we want things to be. We cannot live with that contradiction. And so, the culture of entertainment, addiction, denial and escapism. And so, life as we know it. Karl Marx is almost exactly on the money with his observation: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” He would have been precisely correct if he had used the term “bad religion” instead of “religion.” Bad religion is the escape of the people from the burden of contradictions they cannot bear. Good religion enables, allows, requires them to dance with the contradictions, to handle the truth of the dichotomy between how things are and how they want them to be. The cross Jesus is talking about when he says, “If you would be my disciple, pick up your cross daily and follow me,” is the cross of the truth of our contradictions. And we follow him into the dance of life, which is a dance with the truth of our contradictions. Good religion makes that possible by enabling us to see into the heart of things— to get to the bottom of things— and understand how things are, and how things need to be, and take up the work of living in the tension of these polarities as those who would reconcile what can be reconciled, integrate what can be integrated, and bear consciously the polarities that must be recognized and borne. We do what needs to be done about the way things are, and bear the pain of what cannot be done, and let that be that, because it is. This is the way of death and life. The hero’s journey. The Grail quest. The path to the land of promise that unfolds endlessly before us, and calls us to live in the service of what we seek.
Bad religion is a shortcut to the land of promise that carries us straight to the wasteland. Never was truer the old saw: "The shortest way through is the long way around." Good religion carries us through the heart of Gethsemane and across the face of Golgotha before reaching the empty tomb. Bad religion would take us straight to Easter Morning without any of the agony and ordeal that good religion recognizes as part of the path to new life. The way begins where we are, and asks us to face up to the truth of how things are and how things also are— which is how things truly are. That is the path of agony and ordeal that leads to life beyond death—-the death of dying to how we wish things were and the life of living to make the best of the way things are. We take what we are handed at birth and make it into all that it might become, using the gifts, art, and genius that are ours to bring forth in our life. Good religion helps us find the tools to birth ourselves into the life that is ours to live within the life we are living. There is no waiting for heaven on the other side of our biological death. There is entering now into the fullness of the life that is our life to live by aligning ourselves with that which is deepest, best and truest about us— our own true nature, our own best self— in the time left for living.
Joseph Campbell said, “Experience is the matrix, the milieu, from which we form new realizations (or words to that effect).” The Buddha and Jesus did not have the last word. The Bible is not the last word. The sutras are not the last word. There is no last word. It is all unfolding, expanding, deepening. One idea leads to another, and before you know it, we are participants in an idea explosion. Talk about transformation! Talk about revolution! People who say, “The Bible says,” or “The Buddha says,” or “Jesus says,” or “Joseph Campbell says,” as though any of those sources said all there is to say, and all we have to do is say what they said until the end of time, are failing to access the authority of their own voice, of their own experience. And, they are failing to do the work of forming new realizations (Realizations never before realized by anyone), and new experiences, out of the wealth of their experience. They are failing to experience their experience. They are failing to live their own life. Do. Not. Be. One. Of. Those. People.
Reasonable people can look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions. Hence, hung juries— and the profusion of religion worldwide. Meaning is interpretation. What something— anything— means is what we say, or someone says, it means in a particular time and place of our, of their, life. What something means today may well not be what it meant twenty years ago, or from now. We have no business killing each other over a difference in interpretation of the evidence. If we live long enough (in the right way), all of us will change our mind about what is important. A number of times. We have to live as though what we say is important IS important, here and now, while recognizing that it may well be different then and there, and letting that realization soften our response to those who say something else is important here and now. Draw soft lines. The world is changing quickly.
I believe there is more to it than meets the eye. If pushed to say more, I would say, “I believe the visible world is grounded upon, and supported by, the invisible world— the world of numinous, transcendent reality.” If pushed to say more than that, I would say, following Joseph Campbell, who gave me the idea with a quote from Heinrich Zimmer, “I believe the best things cannot be known, and the second best things can be known but not said, and the third best things can be known and said in the language of symbol and poetry, and the fourth best things can be known and said in the language of story and parable, and the fifth best things can be known and said in the language of everyday discourse.” This is in line with Sheldon Kopp, who said, “Some things can be experienced, but not understood, and some things can be understood, but not explained.” If pushed to say more, I would say, “I believe we do our children a grave disservice when we hand them theology and doctrine in the name of religion. I believe we should hand them mystery, and invite them to wonder, with us, about the best things and the second best things. And that we should teach them the language of symbol and poetry, story and parable, and send them off to find their life in the world.”
All of the symbols of the Christian church— and of any church— are beautifully, wonderfully appropriate for every age, but. They have to be reinterpreted for each age. The current symbols of the Christian church were partially updated in 1643 by the Westminster Divines as the Westminster Confession of Faith, and are no more appropriate for today than a medical textbook of that period would be. Each age must find its own way to God with symbols and metaphors and myths that are appropriate to the age. We do that by reinterpreting the symbols, metaphors and myths of previous ages— by re-imagining them in light of our present experience and world-view. There was no Garden of Eden in an actual literal sense, but. The Garden of Eden remains vibrant and valid through all ages as the launch pad of spiritual life and understanding. No one approaches the need for a Spiritual (Hero’s) Journey, or the search for the Land of Promise (another metaphor that has to be updated and reinterpreted), except from the standpoint of the loss of the blissful state of innocence where everything was in place and made sense. It is only when we wake up to the realization that the way we have been told things are is not how things are, that we begin the Agone, the Agony, of finding our way to a unifying vision that holds it all together, makes sense to us, and fills us with vitality and enthusiasm for our life. Every Biblical metaphor, every symbol of that Old Time Religion, has to be reformed, rethought, re-imagined, reshaped, reformulated and reclaimed in order to serve us as food for our soul, and sustenance for the journey. And every one of those metaphors, of those symbols, has the power to do that— to be exactly what we need to be who we need to be in the life we are living, “from this time forth, and forever more.” As we do the work of bringing them to life, they return the favor and bring us to life, and it becomes “a new world Golda,” for everyone.
Good religion hands you spirituality without any theology, dogma, doctrine, creeds catechisms and ideology attached. Good religion hands you spirituality straight from the heart— from the heart of good religion straight to your heart— without any of the embellishments, improvements, alterations and enhancements that bad religion is so proficient in producing and providing. I wish we had another word for “spirituality,” because that is so encumbered with theological augmentation that we can’t possibly be a spiritual person without “good theology,” as though what we think is more important than what we know. Spirituality is knowing that can’t be thought, told, defined, defended, or explained as in: “The Tao that can be said is not the eternal Tao" (Which may also be rendered as, "A path that can be discerned as a path is not a reliable path" Martin Palmer). Spirituality is our connection with the Invisible World— with the Unconscious World (Which is unconscious because we are not conscious of it— because it is more than can be made conscious, except through symbols and metaphors). We have to talk about the unconscious world of Spirit and Soul, of Spiritual Reality, symbols and metaphors because we cannot say directly what we know to be so, because what we know cannot be said. So we talk about “the wellspring of living water,” but it isn’t an actual well, or actual water, and how can water be alive, anyway? The entire vocabulary of spiritual discourse is such that you have to know what I mean before you can understand what I’m saying, and without the experience of the Invisible World, there is nothing that can be said to enable you to understand what I’m talking about.
There are a number of ways of doing it right— just like there are a number of ways of washing the dishes. If you come out with a clean dish, what is it to someone else how you got there? Religion that puts you in accord with the sorrows and woes of this world, and puts you in touch with the firm reality of the invisible world, and enables you to live in this world in sync with that world, nails it, and there are any number of ways for religion to do that. Any religion. Yea for those that do. Boo for those that don’t.
We have to have something we are living to do— something we will work the job we are working in order to pay the bills that enable us to do what we live to do. We have to have something we care about, that we are in love with, that we can do with all our heart, that we can’t get enough of. Drinking beer and doing drugs don’t qualify. Meth labs and crack babies are symptoms of a culture gone bad. Of a culture that has lost its heart. That has no soul, and doesn't want anything more than it wants sex, drugs and alcohol. We don’t fix that with a new round of politicians. We fix a broken culture by being who the culture needs us to be. It takes the right kind of people to produce the right kind of culture. We produce the right kind of people by giving ourselves a make-over. This is the new religion: becoming who we need to be to live the life that needs us to live it. It starts with listening to our body (What we know in our bones, and what those gut feelings are saying), to our nighttime dreams, and our daytime fantasies. You still may be able to get a hardback copy of Anthony Stevens’ book, Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming for one penny plus $3.99 postage from Used Books on Amazon. If you aren’t willing to do that, never mind. I’m talking to the people who are so willing.
We don’t need theology or doctrine, or some second-hand religion passed along to us by Those Who Know Best And Must Be Pleased. We need only the truth of our own experience to validate for us the importance of compassion and kindness in a “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, whether or not they return the favor and do unto you as you have done unto them” kind of way. The truth of our own experience, reflected upon, and interpreted in light of the experience of the species, and the values at the heart of being human, is all we need to square us up with how things are and what needs to be done about it in each situation as it arises. No religion that has ever been could do more for us, or as much. Theology and doctrine are divisive. Good religion is unifying like the encounter with awe, wonder, grace and beauty in art, music and nature— like a cup of cold water on a hot day. Who could argue about any of those things? Who could fail to be blessed by them?
No one needs to be told what to believe in terms of doctrine and theology. Everyone needs the freedom to know what needs to be done and be able to work that out out best to do that for themselves. All approaches to the experience with spiritual reality are composed of the same elements. The basics are: Seeing (What you look at), Hearing (What you listen to), Understanding (How things are and how things also are), Knowing (What is happening in each situation as it arises), Doing (What needs to be done about it), Being (In accord with your life and with the way of life— Which includes bearing the pain of your experience). The tools are: Mindfulness Meditation (Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, and his You Tube videos, are a great source for training), Emptiness, stillness and silence (Sitting quietly), Living as an outlet of compassion and grace, Reflection and Realization, Practice (Discipline, Rituals, Routines), Participation in the right kind of company (Communities of Innocence, I call them), Diet and exercise. We cannot read a book, attend a lecture, go on a retreat and, “be spiritual.” “Being spiritual” is a practice, a regimen, a way of life. Not a vocabulary or a set of beliefs.
Physical reality puts us in touch with spiritual reality. The threshold to awareness, realization, enlightenment and perception is our encounter with the limitations and restrictions of life as we live it. Each moment in this world is a doorway, a portal, into the other world. Bad Religion doesn’t always see it that way. Religion as we know it spends too much time denouncing, dismissing, discounting and denying the world of physical reality. This world, according to that religion, is a “vale of tears,” filled with “pain and suffering,” and is only something to be made up to us in the world to come after we die. That religion misses all this world has to offer by focusing on the glories of the other world. This world is all we need to clue into the other world and open ourselves to it, here and now, and bring it into this world of present experience by the way we live. We live here, now, as extensions of that world into this world. In living in this world as those who are of that world, we make the connection between worlds real, and transform this reality with infusions of that reality, by living here and now as though that reality is the Real Reality, with grace, mercy, compassion and peace where greed, anger, hatred, fear, envy, revenge and vindictiveness would normally be. We get to the other world through this one by allowing physical limitations and restrictions to show us everything we need to know about spiritual reality and it’s experience and expression in the world of here and now. Simply sit with this world as it is, receiving it with compassionate awareness, and that world will open itself to you.
There are three statements that form the ground of all good religion world-wide across time: 1) The Bread of Affliction is the Bread of Life. 2) The Cup of Suffering is the Cup of Salvation. 3) The full scope of the Spiritual Journey is the distance from The Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane. When we understand how these statements apply to us and our life, and accommodate ourselves to their truth, we will be the Buddha and the Christ, Abraham, Mohamed. Lao Tzu, Black Elk, Chief Seattle and all others of their guild.
True religion doesn’t kill anyone. Doesn’t hate anyone. Doesn’t condemn anyone. Doesn’t focus on converting anyone. Doesn’t spend its time talking about anyone. Doesn’t care who is saved and who isn’t. Isn’t obsessed with sin and sinners. Isn’t interested in proving it is the only true religion. Has no time for debates or discussions about theology, doctrine and dogma. Thinks it is enough to know what your own business is and mind it, tend it, do it, and let that be enough.
The spiritual path is not the way to what we want. There is no deal: We give to God, God gives to us. That’s the fundamental problem at the foundation of all bad religion. Give to Get. The basis of every bad religion ever. What can we do to make God happy so God will give us that land flowing with milk and honey, where everyone lives out their life, and lives in good faith with everyone else? Baruch held out his hand and asked for favors for being faithful, and got his life as war booty. That’s as much as any of us get. We have to square up with that before stepping onto the spiritual path. The way is the way of being who we are needed to be by the context and circumstances of our life— in each situation as it arises— with nothing in it for us beyond the satisfaction of a job well done. Why do it? We get our life as a prize of war. If that doesn’t interest you, You don’t understand what it means to be alive. We do it for the joy of doing it and the satisfaction of having done it. What it means to be alive is to be who we are needed to be in the here and now of our living, And step toward what needs us to do it. The path will open before us, step by step along the way.
We have to rethink everything we have been told and led to assume. The cultural orientations toward wealth, privilege, exploitation, profiteering, entertainment, consumption, and an ever-increasing standard of living are fictions that cannot sustain life. Religion’s affiliation with, and support of, the cultural fictions disqualifies it as “the voice of God,” and leaves us in the position of finding our own way through all that is false to the treasure hard to find— which is the trustworthy foundation, source, and legitimate goal of our life. Our search is the quest for life-- or that which is worth our life, and provides life to all who find, and align themselves with, the Way of Life. To find our way there, we have to rethink everything we have been told and led to assume. Our problem is knowing what to make of our experience. Things are not always what they seem to be. How do we know what to think? Our understanding depends upon the quality of our interpretation, which is influenced by 10,000 things. We must understand that our understanding is hypothetical, conditional, incomplete, awaiting further clarity. Wait and see. Time will tell. Do not rush to judgment. listen, act. and evaluate the outcome. Test your hypotheses. Adjust your interpretation to take the evidence into account. Allow reflection upon experience to create new realizations. Allow reality to adjust your interpretation/understanding of reality. Live your way to the truth of how things are and also are. One step at a time.
Tell me now, is the moon a white marble floating on a black velvet sea, or not? What is the truth, here? Is it or isn’t it? Yes or no? Right or wrong? A culture that values “The facts, just the facts, ma’am,” is hard pressed to find a place for feelings, symbols and metaphors. If it isn’t factual, it can’t be true. Even where religion reigns, everything is “taken on faith” to be factual no matter how far removed from the laws of physics, logic and reason. To suggest that the ground of religion is metaphor and imagination is to commit the heresy of heresies, and to keep company with Satan himself, who is, of course, quite factual, actual, tangible and, hence, real. Is the moon a white marble floating on a black velvet sea, or not?
All religion is true religion to its adherents, and nonsense to everyone else. All religion speaks, or spoke, to someone, and everyone else has to take his, or her word for it. The ground, core, foundation, source, meaning and hope of every religion– of ALL religion– is the search for the ground, core, foundation, source, meaning and hope of ourselves and our life. We all, from the very beginning, wake up (more or less), and discover that here we are, and immediately wonder “What does it mean that we are here?” “Now what?” Where would we be without religion and the culture (And where do those two things begin and end, merge and part company?) to nurture and guide us? Our quest is the common quest of our species. We have to make sense of being here, now. What shall we make of it? What do we make of it? There is your religion for you. And your culture. Wherever you turn for help with the “What does it mean that we are here? Now what?” questions is your way of seeking the ground, core, foundation, source, meaning and hope of your life.
We have to find our own religion and respect everyone else’s. Religion is that collection of symbols, rites and rituals that comprise for us the ground, center, foundation and source of meaning, purpose, direction, vitality, zeal, enthusiasm, hope, resilience, loyalty, allegiance, faithfulness, dedication, determination, resolve, courage, character and all the high values — and serves for us as an avenue of lifelong reflection and realization. It is not a compendium of beliefs. It is the heart of life and being beating in rhythm with our heart, connecting us with all hearts in the service of life and being. No one can hand anyone the religion at the heart of life and being. We all have to find it for ourselves. What are the symbols, rites and rituals that connect you with the ground of meaning?
Any time we make an approach to truth— the truth of our experience, of the way things are— THE way to truth, we block the way to truth. There is no sacrosanct formula, doctrine, dogma, creed. There is only seeing how things are now and what needs to be done about them, in response to them and doing it situation by situation. Any path that becomes THE path becomes a worn path, becomes a rut, becomes a narrow way of thinking, perceiving, experiencing, and cuts us off from the fullness of our experience, and keeps us from seeing how things are and also are in the moment-to-moment encounter with each situation as it arises. "The path that is a discernible path is not a reliable path." The work is always to see— and respond appropriately to— how things are now, no now, no now… No religion can help us with that work. We are on our own there. Here. Mindfulness is our responsibility in every instant of our life. We are always getting to the bottom of things and deciding how to respond in ways that are fitting to the occasion on every occasion. The work of a true human being is spontaneously being what the situation calls for by offering the gifts that are ours to give in each situation as it arises, all our life long.
There is an intelligence at work in our life, which we sense by realizing that we know more than we know we know, and then it’s gone in trying to know more than we can know. We flirt with the limits along the edge of consciousness. Intuition and instinct feel but do not say, and we are left with knowing there is more than we know, without knowing how to know it. The test is whether we will put ourselves in its service, in the service of that which we do not know. Good religion says the service itself is life. Bad religion sees the service as a way of bartering, brokering, a deal for a better life— either in this world or the world to come. Or both. Give to get or to gain is the essence of bad religion. Good religion says live to give yourself in the service of what you do not know, and let that be that. There is an intelligence at work in our life. How we choose to live in relationship with it tells the tale.
Good religion is absolutely essential in the work to be who we are. Good religion speaks the language of Psyche, of Soul, and is a treasure trove of “symbols of transformation.” Good religion grows us up through all of the stages of development, helping us to recognize the signs along the way and reminding us that the primary requirement of the Hero’s Journey is to see it through, to not quit too soon, to press on, to persevere, to live on, whispering to us the words of the Greek poet Homer spoken from the lips of Odysseus: “I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship, and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim.” Good religion is the servant of Psyche/Soul, and is, to us, “a very present help in time of trouble.” The trouble is good religion is hard to find, leaving us with little option but to become what we seek.
Good religion is religion without theology and doctrine. Good religion is Zen without the Buddhist or Taoist trappings. Good religion is our experience of this here, this now, and our sense of what is happening, and what needs to happen, and what needs to be done about it with the gifts and resources at our disposal, and our ability to know what we know on all levels, which implies living transparent to ourselves and open to possibilities we cannot imagine, trusting ourselves to ourselves, and allowing the path to open before us as we start walking. Good religion helps us interpret our experience in light of the shared experiences of the species, communicated through the symbols, parables and metaphors that have been doorways to transcendence through the ages, and connect us with truth at the core of who we are, enabling us to live out of— and grounded upon— the Foundation Stone of our essential identity, our Original Nature, and be at-one with ourselves in each situation as it arises throughout our life.
Everybody’s religion is so because they say it is so. Everybody’s religion is grounded upon what they say is so. Whatever we say is so is so because we say it is. Taking something, anything, “on faith” is saying it is so because we say it is so, because we believe it to be so, because we are sure it is so. We either affirm what someone else tells us is so, saying it is so for us as well, or, we make it up for ourselves. Either way, it is so ultimately because we say so. We are the authority behind our own faith. We believe what we believe because we believe it is true, and worth believing. The validity of all religion is self-evident to its adherents. They believe it because they think it is so. Because they KNOW it is so. Because their experience has confirmed them in their beliefs. True religion is true because we say it is true. False religion is always someone else’s religion. Religious wars are differences of opinion about things that cannot be verified by independent observers.
At the heart level, practitioners of Zen, Buddhism and Taoism know the same thing: What’s what. The farther we get away from what’s what, into the why, and how, and when, and where, and who— that is to say, the farther we get away from the raw experience of the situation as it arises, and what is happening there, and what needs to happen in response, in light of the true good of the situation as a whole, responding to it out of the gifts and resources available to us individually, regardless of the implications for us personally— the farther we get into doctrine, theology and ideology. The farther we get from the level of our heart, bones and stomach, the farther we get into head stuff, mental stuff, rational, logical stuff, and the more we become automatons, robots, androids, a face in the crowd, a member of the masses, lost to our Self, with no idea of who we are or what matters most in any situation as it arises. Bad religion alienates us from ourselves and makes us a digital reproduction of everyone else reciting the creeds of the bad religion.
All true religion begins with an experience with the ineffable, with an encounter with numinous reality. Like falling in love. I fell in love with a camera. No kidding. I saw it sitting on a poolside table in a made-for-TV-movie in 1966 staring Robert Wagner. And I was smitten. Stunned into silence and wonder. And, I did not have anyone in my life to help me interpret the experience. We are lost to the experience with none to help us make sense of it. A religious experience can be with anything, but it cannot be with everything. And we cannot plan it, schedule it, organize it, orchestrate it, choreograph it, produce it, can it, sell it, mass market it... We turn a corner and a piano falls out of the sky on our head. And we don’t know what to do. I’ve been working with the experience of falling in love with a camera for over 50 years. It was the organizing experience of my life. I went to seminary to figure it out— to interpret it, understand it. Hermeneutics and exegesis are about interpreting and understanding experience before they are about interpreting and understanding scripture. I thought I would figure out my experience and help people understand their own. I discovered people who didn’t have experiences with the Numen, and weren’t interested in having any. “Just tell us what to believe Preacher, and make it quick. I tee-off at 1:30.” No one can give you religion. It hides around corners in the form of falling pianos. Or in made-for-TV-movies. When it shocks you awake with it’s arrival, sit with it for a while seeking to interpret it in ways that honor it and incorporate it into your life— in ways that form your life around it. The dance will last forever.
We have an experience with the ineffable— an encounter with numinous reality— and we spend the rest of our life working to understand it. That is the essence of true religion. We have devolved religion into an assortment of opinions— which we call “beliefs,” and “doctrines”— about the Numen, and spend our time arguing among the sects about whose collection of opinions are right and whose are wrong. The experience of the Numen has been supplanted by theories about the Numen. Anyone with conviction is an authority, and religion is widely avoided by everyone who recognizes a sham when they see one.
Start with your favorite religion and ask whomever gave it to you how they know that what they told you is so is so. They will say something like “Everyone knows that it is so.” Or, “Everyone who knows knows that it is so— and this has always been so.” Everyone’s favorite religion goes back into the dim regions when The One Who Knew It First Knew It Is So. Everyone’s favorite religion— and all of the other ones as well— was/were made up long ago by someone who said, “I tell you, this is so!” From that point, every religion is held to be the one true religion by those who have verified its validity for themselves in their own experience. Belief is self-validating. Try to talk a schizophrenic out of what they know to be so. “Reason cannot uproot what reason did not plant.” At some point, every religion has to be “taken on faith.” It has to be believed to be so i n order to be so in the experience of those who so believe. It is all made up. Like the schizophrenic's convictions. The internal process of self-verification/validation takes over from there, and what we say is so is so because we say so. “Never mind what the facts are, we know what the TRUTH is!” And a mind made up that completely rarely changes.