Religion is a manmade construct. In my mind, it is the attempt by a few to control the many by positioning themselves as a conduit to God. The rules of various religions were often created in response to conditions of the time in which they were conceived, such as not mixing meats with dairy (which may have hygienic validity). Some religions were created in reaction to other religions, such as Protestantism as a reaction to the Catholic Church. But even though every religion has a mystical, more esoteric side that relates more to true spirituality, many of us have found that adhering to the traditional fundamentals of any particular religion can thwart rather than assist our attempts to flourish in the area of spirituality.
Maintaining control over our behavior is becoming more and more difficult for religions. In Western culture, going to church every Sunday (or to synagogue for the Sabbath) is not as mandated as it was generations ago. And we are exposed to more varied beliefs than ever before through travel and immigration, television, the internet, and social media.
When I attended Catholic school as a youngster, people always told me “Don’t go to a non-Catholic school or you’ll lose your religion.” In my case, this turned out to be true. When I was no longer surrounded by the rules and regulations of the church on a daily basis, I started to question and reject Catholicism. I think this happens to many of us when we are no longer encased in the religion of our youth. The good news is that when we turn from the religion of our childhood, we often feel a void, a sense of something missing. It is this sense of something missing that can motivate our quest for true spirituality. As Lenny Bruce said, “Everyday, people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”
There is a religion that many don’t recognize as such and that is the “religion” of materialism or scientism. This religion states that nothing is valid that cannot be experienced through the five physical senses. To me, this seems the height of hubris. So the world was flat before we could “see” or prove that it was a sphere? As our scientific tools become more sophisticated and we are able to observe the “God particle” at work, many materialists are finding it hard to deny the existence of a power they cannot experience with these five senses. But the five senses are designed strictly for the physical plane and that’s the only place they operate effectively. The five senses cannot capture the spiritual. On the physical plane, we utilize our five senses to “prove” what is real and what isn’t. When dealing with the spiritual plane, you must go beyond your five senses.
Most religions discourage questioning and emphasize the fixed answers that make up their canons. But true spirituality begins with a question: Who am I really? Via this question, we begin to access our intrinsic personal connection to Divinity. We’ve had it all along – we were just unconscious of it. We come to the physical plane so that we can return to our spiritual nature consciously.
As defined by most religions, God is a being that acts like a somewhat capricious human (judging harshly, doling out gifts arbitrarily, creating laws for his own pleasure). But in true spirituality, God is not a thing or a being, but consciousness itself. It is everything and everything is God. Because the word God is often charged with old images of a white-haired guy sitting on a throne waiting to punish us, personally I prefer to use the word Divinity.
Everything in creation originates from Divinity, the spiritual level of being. It moves through the mental, emotional levels until it is finally made manifest in the physical. The spiritual level is very simple: it is all one. At the physical level, everything appears complicated as the “10,000 things” Daoists talk about. But as we begin to awaken, we realize that we are part of the One and the One is within us. This journey and experience is the beginning of flourishing in spirituality.