Holiday gatherings are meant for fun and festivities with family and friends, correct? Well then why does it represent a time of dread, stress and depression for most people? Yes, you’re bound to have moments of laughter and walks down memory lane. But what about the other moments. Like when you simply sit there smiling at your loved ones while they make snide remarks toward anything that doesn’t represent their faith, culture or taste in music. Like a pressurized bottle cap, you attend year after year suppressing the urge to speak up. If you express your discontent, you run the risk of confrontation. If you continue to ignore this display of self-righteousness, you’ll eventually find yourself drifting further toward the land of isolation.
So, who’s to blame? Is it the “devil?” (In my SNL’s Church Lady voice) — which is a conditioned response you’d expect to hear from someone who grew up in the church, and this blame-filled explanation doesn’t take much effort. Thinking critically on the other hand does. It also takes courage and objectivity. It has been my experience that spiritually evolved people are open and respectful to ALL expressions of God. A Christ-minded individual should express nothing but love and understanding, not judgement and self-righteousness… which in my opinion represent nothing but dogma and the rigid ideology that Christianity has become.
A classmate of mine stated in one of our required presentations that if someone speaks in absolutes, like what you hear from dogmatic Christians, run from them because you can not reason with a rigid mind. The “enemy,” or any other perceived outside force, is not to blame for family conflict. There will always be opposing views at the dinner table. So, again who’s to blame? According to Carl Jung and Wayne Dyer, power, control, ignorance and the ego mind are all culprits. The dualistic nature of our thinking speaks to this (dualism). It doesn’t matter if it’s two people or two nations. The ego mind has to be right.
My decision to step away from family has apparently caused a “crack in the family’s foundation.” Yes, we are indeed loved ones… and I love them dearly. Simply put, I have grown in a different direction, and that’s okay. However, I have to admit that it’s very lonely being the odd man out. There’s nothing I’d like more than to share space with my loved ones. However, if sharing space means suffering their ignorance or negotiating my identity, I’d much rather stay home. I stopped debating religion many years ago because I was consistently finding that those who are dogmatically anchored to ideology are not very good with reason.
I am at a point in my life where I am no longer able to hold my tongue, and considering that I am a recovering hot-head, I am afraid my sharp tongue will hurt my sister. When I was discussing this with my mother she mentioned how important it is that I get this off my chest. A quiet voice then whispered to my spirit that I may be underestimating my sister’s ability to understand my views on religion.
Rigid minds lead to bigotry.
Like racism, religion is a social construct. What we know has been force-fed to us by culture, family and institutions. Once while in a graduate class we debated the difference between Muslim and Christian extremists. I drew the analogy of how religious bigotry share a backyard with racial bigotry. They may be in different sections, but nonetheless they’re in the same backyard.
People who are not exposed to different cultures, religions or races tend to resist the idea of examining or deconstructing what they have grown to know as “normal” or “right.” Their egocentric views direct them toward self-righteousness and a sense of superiority. Many Christians go about their day-to-day lives looking through a very narrow lens, believing their entire lives that their view is “truth.” What they are not aware of is how their belief system creates division and that rigid ideologies are at the center of wars and conflict. Pope Francis recently likened it to an “illness.”
“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”
I heard David Letterman mention that travel is the best form of education you can give a child because it widens their scope. It makes way for understanding cultural/racial/religious differences. Otherwise we will marginalize and judge things we don’t understand. While traveling I would sometime make a point to visit various religious services. It didn’t matter if it was an episcopal church, Jewish synagogue or a Jain temple I stepped in.
It’s naïve to think that two or more people getting together for the holidays, or any occasion, will always get along. We’re all taught the hot-button topics to avoid… politics, religion, race, etc. Those topics are okay to discuss if everyone is of the same mindset. But what if they’re not.
Off the reservation
What happens when a family member returns home after being off the reservation for a while? Who will bend? Because of your exposure to new things/people/places, you see things differently. The world is no longer flat, and returning back to the home front can be a lonely experience. But because we are social beings, and according to Maslow have a need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, we try to fit in. I think most people walk aimlessly through life behaving like mindless drones not understanding their circle of influence or why they think what they think. Please forgive me if I’m coming across as mean-spirited, and yes I’m being a little condescending. I once wrote in my journal that I do not want to be a mental slave to ancient men of the past anymore. “We are governed, our minds molded, our ideas formed, largely by ancient men we have never heard of or met.” ~ Bernays.
Many people are afraid to accept that the Bible, which is a compilation of books, was put together by men. Again, religion is a social construct, and like any scholarly approach the who, what, when, where should all be considered when understanding it. Your average Christian would look at you sideways if you’d ask them about the Nicene Creed and Constantine’s role in shaping Christianity. Having a basic understanding of history between the 3rd and 17 century provided me with enough information to know that my relationship with God should be a unilateral one, not based on a bilateral arrangement where an intercessor is thinking for me. Galileo wrote in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Galileo wrote many insightful things about his relationship with the church, and if I recall there were many scholars during that period who proclaimed that the church was the antichrist. If you’re not aware of the church’s dark history (crusades, inquisition, etc.), you would find that hard to digest. The dogmatic structure of Christianity doesn’t make room for critical thought, so things/words like blasphemy or heresy were invented.
While visiting my sister I often heard criticism about things they didn’t understand. Misrepresented comments about yoga, Harry Potter, or other church denominations, and religions to that matter, would fill the air. And the Illuminati, a simple read about the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment would have easily cleared up a few things for them. Heck, the word in and of itself speaks volumes to what it means. Illuminati… their inner dialogue could have been something like, “Illuminati… hmm what could that be… it sounds like illuminate which means to bring forth light. Wow! Could it be that the Illuminati is something positive?” If they were to look it up they’ll see that the word is “plural of Latin Illuminatus… enlightened.” To illuminate ones path. But rigid thinkers are afraid to seek out new information. While in graduate school there were many philosophers from the enlightenment era we had to study, and considering the topic and nature of the classes (race/culture/identity), I now understand why authors like Descartes and Kant were required reading.
Putting God in a box is divisive
I knew at a young age that I was spirit first. After my grandmothers death in 1983 I remember sitting on my bed in the dark watching the silhouette of my arm move up and down. I said, “what makes my arm move?” I would also stare for several minutes at a time in the mirror asking similar questions. I remember feeling this sense of peace and understanding while looking in the mirror as if this presence or conscious being looking back at me welcomed me. I thought and analyzed what it must have been like in my mother’s stomach, coming out into the world and then leaving it. I don’t remember ever being afraid of death. I’ve always looked forward to the transition. Don’t misunderstand me, I want to live a long time because there are many things I want to experience in life. My attitude has always been, since it’s something I can’t avoid I might as well embrace it.
My thirst for understanding kicked in again in my early 20s. I finally had the courage to step away from what I was conditioned to believe as “truth.” I probably read a dozen books over a 3 month period. My spirit kept screaming for more understanding. When I first stepped foot into a Unity church the message resonated deeply with my spirit. It’s what I felt about God and Christ as a young teenager. No one domination/religion/person owns God. Someone recently explained to me why Christianity works for him. He quoted something from Confucius and proceeded to explain why Christianity is better. Putting God in a box will ultimately lead to the ego dominated notion that one God is better than another… and we know what that leads to… war, conflict, atrocities and suffering. Putting God in a box leads to arrogance and my God is better than your God thoughts. I was highly offended when my sister mentioned to my mother that the unity church I joined was a cult. I read to my mother the definition… “us versus them mentality… messiah/martyr complex… rejection of critical thought.” I then asked my mother who belongs to what?
Group Thinking and Conformity
Take any communications class that deals with issues pertaining to group dynamics and you’ll quickly learn how we’re all governed by systems of thought. I find it interesting how people believe in the myth of individualism. Yes, of course we’ve got individual freedoms within the confines of society and we need values and law and order for a just society, but we still live within a controlled system (love the Matrix by the way.)
Do a quick scan of the internet on group thinking or conformity and you’ll find all sorts of information. With my first scan I found… “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”
Forcing yourself to embrace the idea of thinking critically about your belief system takes courage. It’s much easier to push things that contradict your thinking off to the side, labeling them as deficient or of the “enemy.” Early on I started teaching my kids the importance of embracing and respecting things that are outside of their comfort zone or circle of norm. I’ve always told them that differences aren’t deficiencies, they’re just different. In all of my encounters, I always strive to create a spirit of mutual equality. The ego mind will fight against that. The dualistic system we live in does as well (up/down, hot/cold, right/wrong). Why not make an attempt to understand what lay between the spaces. Prayers, affirmations and mantras I write for myself are designed to help navigate those spaces. Taming the ego mind is something I work very hard at. I once heard someone say that ego stands for Edging God Out. Over centuries the ego mind has turned these great men into messiahs. Buddha mentioned countless times to his followers that he should not be made into a deity. I refuse to allow socially constructed religions to keep me from having relationships with Christ, Buddha, Confucius or Krishna. Deconstructing what I consider as “truth” is something I will continue doing because I know it’s an important ingredient for growth.
I challenge all Christians to view Christ and his message outside of what man and the church constructed. What I’d like for my sister to understand is that the ways in which people worship and view God is based on their culture, language and systems of thought. Jesus was not an exclusivist. It was man who created Christianity. I think Christ would say to the Church, “You missed my point!” And I also think he would agree that man has hijacked his message. Folks have been co-opting Jesus and his message for centuries.
I will continue to study and learn from the above teachers not because they were force-fed to me by those in my circle, but because they help in my quest to stay connected to my source… which by the way is the actual meaning of the word religion. Derived from the Latin term religiō — return to source.
“Nothing has done more to separate and divide human beings one from another than exclusivist organized religion.” Neale Donald Walsch
I end with my favorite scene from the movie Dead Poets Society. I first heard of this movie while working at an office supply store. My Jewish friend Carol came rushing in with her big coat on saying, “John, John!!! I thought of you while watching this movie… you gotta see it.”
This is the most important scene of the movie I think. It reminds me of the Henry David Thoreau quote, “The universe is wider than our views of it.”