Many argue that religious scripture has lost its relevance and has little to teach us citizens of the modern world. The reasoning being that such scripture is tied too tightly to the era and culture in which the content took place or the text was written. I concede that the context of the stories and circumstances around their recording should be taken into consideration when reading and interpreting scripture. But I am a firm believer that there is a timeless value to volumes like the Bible, the Torah, the Upanishads, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, the Yoga Sutra, and pagan mythologies that were not always considered ‘mythologies’. The reason being that across time and the cultural landscape of the world, humanity does not change all that much.
In all times and places, people’s level of humanity is about the same. All people have the capacity for kindness and wickedness, bravery and cowardliness, faith and doubt. Humans of today often struggle with the same questions as their ancient counter parts. Religious scripture provides many examples of ancient humans struggling with moral dilemmas and often their failure to discern right action, most often due to their broken relationship with the divine. The same scripture provides guidance rooted in a greater good. We make many of the same mistakes as our ancient counterparts, so why would we not consult the same stories and advice to better ourselves? How scripture manifests will depend on the times and cultural background of the audience. But all readers’ intentions should be the same: to become better people, and to act in the interest of something bigger than ourselves. I believe these intentions are innate to humanity, which ensures the continuing relevance of religious scripture.
There are many magazines, articles, books, and speakers that expound on the importance of making time for a spiritual discipline. Spiritual discipline being anything from yoga, meditation, mindful doodling, or preparing a steamy pot of tea. Authors and speakers encourage the discipline aspect with easy to follow exercises to be added to one’s daily routine, “Carve 30 minutes out of your schedule and de-stress your day!”. Further, they insist on the effectiveness of little daily dedications, “See what a difference just 5 minutes each day can make!”
I’ve been wondering: Can such little time make any difference? Just 5 – 30 minutes a day? Can we make any true headway when our spiritual efforts are squeezed into an already packed schedule, and sequestered to their allotted minutes within the day? Many will say yes; and I agree to a point. I feel that these little moments in a hectic day serve to keep us on an even keel. I believe these moments of quiet introspection through the daily madness help keep our spiritual goals and inclinations at the forefront of our minds as we move through life. On a daily scale, I agree that these minutes make a difference. But are these snippets enough to make deep, lasting change?
Thomas Moore writes that the easiest way to lead a spiritual life is to reduce busyness (pg. 357). We’ve been told that we can do it all. We’ve been told that with planning, organization, and commitment we can become efficient enough to keep our worldly commitments and pursue spiritual goals. But do we actually need more unstructured time instead of a schedule filled to the hilt? Rather than operating at max efficiency, maybe we in fact need to do less. Perhaps if we slow down enough, a spiritual life will find us. Rather than being squeezed in and forced, spirituality will occur organically and be more likely to grow and thrive.
If this is so, then a new set of questions emerge: Is efficient scheduling a hindrance on spirituality with its free-flowing nature instead of a tool to ensure steady progress and practice as we’ve been told? With less pressing on us, could we venture further into the depths of self? If we did less and moved through life at a slower pace would the spiritual life find us? Is our fast-paced, modern lifestyle getting in the way?
What do you think?
Moore, Thomas. The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, 1996. New York, USA: Harper Collins.
Sitting in a hardwood pew with the ceiling towering high above, morning light illuminating colorful stained glass windows all around, listening to lessons first told in ancient days, taking part in a liturgy that has been played out in countless places over thousands of years… for many this is what comes to mind when asked about religion. This is religion in a human context. We marvel at man-made feats of architecture and craftsmanship, at human’s artistic expression of spiritual matters compounded with the cultural climate of the period, the (divinely inspired) words and acts designed to help us understand and bring us closer to God.
Despite clashing cultures, the passing of time, and the evolution of thought; these places of highly developed, human-regulated religion are comforting. Considering the tensions and short-comings of organized religion, they shouldn’t be comfortable. But there is something about sitting there in wonder, where so many others have been, and where I hope people will continue to find themselves, that makes it a safe place of discovery.
On the other hand, I also find myself close to God in nature, where I find the opportunity to take in the wonder of the divine’s creation. Here there is no human regulation. There may be instances where the human and the natural world collide. But efforts to control are futile here. Divine creation is impressive, resilient and constant like divine presence itself.
With God’s creation all around us, it may seem that there is no need for the refined religion of man. But I believed there is a time and place for both refined religion and raw spirituality. In our need for relationship with God and the need for community with God’s people, but also acknowledging our need to be pushed to the brink of human understanding, both means find relevance in day to day life.
Many world religions claim to be mutually exclusive, meaning you can’t maintain beliefs and practices from more than one religion. Their paths are depicted to be utterly separate, with no opportunity to walk more than one at any given moment. This mutual exclusivity is often written into sacred scripture and doctrine. But the anthropologist in me has been wondering lately about the practical, rather than spiritual, benefits of proclaiming to the ‘one true way’.
I find mutual exclusivity a strict, over-kill method used to help ensure loyalty. For the religious establishment, this tactic keeps funds coming into their coffers and limits the funds going to their competition. It keeps people promoting the establishment’s ideology and, perhaps more importantly, limits followers’ exposure to other ideologies. Finally, mutual exclusivity focuses and limits the exposure of followers’ children, ensuring the longevity of the respective religious establishment.
All of these benefits are for the religions establishment, not the follower. The one benefit mutual exclusivity has for the follower is the opportunity to dedicate themselves to one religion in order to gain an in-depth knowledge of scripture, doctrine, and ritual. Beyond that, I find the principle is only limiting, in both social and spiritual life. With some freedom, followers can explore many spiritual expressions, make new connections and find meaning that deepens the experience of their own religion. This would engage people further, encouraging followers to remain loyal believers rather than becoming disinterested or disillusioned with their faith. Moreover, reducing religious boundaries gives one more exposure to people of diverse spiritual backgrounds, and helps one better understand Others; which can only be a benefit in this global world.
Food for thought: In what other facets of life might mutual exclusivity be limiting in a negative way? In what ways or facets of life might it be advantageous?