2012-06-15

Spirituality, Please, Hold the Religion

The spiritual atheists recognize the importance of spirituality, and they want to liberate spirituality from the institutions they see as dangerous. "We don’t need 'God'; we don’t need the supernatural; we don’t need churches or mosques or synagogues or temples; we don’t need religion," they say.

Setting aside, for now, the points about god and the supernatural, let's look at the points about religion and religious institutions.

I appreciate the point that a lot of what goes by the name of religion has been more harmful than helpful.

We live in a world where people plant bombs – on themselves, in cars, in buildings – and fly jet airliners into buildings – and are led to do so in a way that is enmeshed with their religious understanding and is facilitated by their religious institutions.

We live in a world where, only somewhat less violently, people want to take away women’s reproductive freedom, and punitively stigmatize gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and their thinking makes heavy and frequent reference to their religion, and their activism on these points is facilitated by their religious institutions.

We live in a world where our children are liable to be told by their classmates that they are going to hell.

We live in a world where a few people make it their life's mission to devise elaborate refutations of evolution, and where more than a few people work to change the public school science curricula to present their religious views as science.

We live in a world where our own experience of many religious institutions is that they are authoritarian: they don’t allow questioning; they don’t allow critical thinking; they demand uncritical acceptance of authority. They say that the authority is a book, but the perceptive quickly see the authority really is a community of human leaders who have settled on one interpretation of that book, when the book itself equally well – or better -- supports very different conclusions.

We live in a world where we see that “faith” so often means “believe what the authority figure tells you to believe and pray what the authority figure tells you to pray.”

We live in a world where countries that measure higher on religiosity also measure higher on violence, drug and alcohol addictions, teen pregnancies, imprisonment rates, and high school drop-out rates.

No wonder it seems important to separate spirituality from religion, from the "god" that religions seem to focus on, and from any religious institutions.

No wonder there would arise the need to claim the depths of awe and wonder, serenity and compassion, abundance and acceptance, indissoluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universal -- while at the same time pushing away as far as possible anything that looked like a religion or a religious institution.

No wonder.

I get that.

That is so not what religion means to me – that is so the exact opposite of my experience of my religion – but I do see how someone could be led to say, “Religion prostitutes the awe and the mystery – bottles up our essence and tries to put a lid on the wonder we naturally feel.”

They haven’t seen religion as Unitarian Universalism envisions it.

And that’s a shame.

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This is part 3 of 6 of "Atheist Spirituality"
Next: Part 4: "Reverence, Primal and Tribal"
Previous: Part 2: "freshabundantsimpleunifiedsilentserene"
Beginning: Part 1: "Back in MY Day"