In recent weeks, America has been hearing a lot about hate. In this run, hate has been centered around race. Both the supremacists spewing hate and the protesters toting tolerance often use religious themes to support their cause. Religion certainly plays a role in hate and anti-hate rhetoric, but what role does hate have in religion?
Most religions and great schools of thought have some type of long distance goal or reward. Whether it be salvation, nirvana, or enlightenment there is reason to do ‘good’. Somehow it seems like we are closer to the reward when we tell ourselves we’re making more progress than others. Is it just human nature to one-up each other? Since I would like to think it is human nature to help one another, I will offer a different answer: our fixation with opposites and dichotomies. Us humans tend to use duality in our sense of logic: If we are going to get to the ‘good’ place, that means someone must fail or go to the ‘bad’ place. This very human notion has made its way into the great faith traditions and given the false notion of hate in religion.
While I think such dichotomies in our world and our intellect can teach us much about balance and duality, it is important to remember this is a human trait. The divine as a whole is limitless. As is the potential for love in our world. As long as we continue to believe some must suffer for others to succeed, hate will have a place in religion, business, economics, and every facet of life. Rather than dichotomies we must become well versed in unity. Then hate will appear as the choice that it is instead of a fact of life.
Two people in my life have a significant fear of death and the possible lack of an afterlife. One of these people is not religious. She wishes she was religious and had faith in an afterlife, then death would not be so ‘scary’. The other person is looking for a religion that fits because he says he can’t face death without believing there is something more to come after. That would be just to ‘scary’. Their similar sentiments about fear of death and the comfort religion can provide in that area got me thinking about the functional role of religion and the role of fear in the creation of organized religion as we know it.
In ancient days, people experienced both death and mystical / spiritual experiences. They turned to the mystical for comfort and answers. There they found that the death they knew as a reality, may only be physical death. Fed by spiritual experiences they found hope that there may yet be an afterlife for the spiritual body. People of antiquity went on to create elaborate systems to explain how this could be so. In modern times, we talk about fear bullying followers within a faith organization. When this travesty occurs, we should be reminded that the first religions came into existence to dispel fear. Through history, cunning and power-hungry individuals took advantage of religion and the importance to its followers. Whenever one uses religion to feed fear rather than subdue it, something is wrong.
A criticism you often hear about the comforting function of religion, is that it exists for the weak to feel better about their circumstances. I don’t think finding comfort in the current and historical mystical experiences along with the system of meaning they are situated within is weak, but rather thoughtful and optimistic. Join the conversation: How do you view the role of fear in religion today and historically? How does fear serve to gain, keep, or drive away followers? Would you consider fear to be a key component in religion?
I feel that if extraterrestrials were to discover earth and observe us, they would conclude that our lives are centered around love. Or perhaps they would determine that a lack of love, or the quest for love is central to earthling life. It seems that any way you square love, we are always looking for it, growing it, despising it, or running from it.
Think about all the time we spend looking for ‘the one’ or painstakingly working through issues with the loved ones already in our life. Romance is a genre all its own in literature and film. Some would argue that the best songs of all time are love songs. Love permeates our lives as individuals and in the wider culture. Due to this fixation, love has become lucrative. Think about the amount of money spent and made off internet dating platforms and products that promise to make one irresistible to potential partners. A good deal of Western economies capitalize on ideals of love.
Love is also the overwhelming common denominator in religions and spiritual traditions. All of them discuss in some capacity how humans should regard the world, each other, and the divine through love (or lack thereof). Across the great traditions we find examples of conditional, temporary, eternal, and boundless love. It is a main subject in religious texts and practices. Love’s wide sweeping prevalence across all realms of life shows how important it is. However, the light in which it is depicted varies considerably.
Love can be a weakness to be manipulated, something to distort and pervert. It can fade and extinguish. It can grow and last. It can empower and strengthen. These are all realities of love. There are schools of thought and tactics to support each one. But in these times, I implore you to foster love that heals rather than hurts, and is steady rather than fleeting. So when extraterrestrials find their way to us, we can show them the beauty of earthling life.
An article in Crain’s Detroit Business touched on an interesting theory concerning falling rates in church attendance in Detroit. The source of this line of thought is Khari Brown, a sociology professor of Wayne State University. Brown argues that in addition to reasons such as the overall population reduction in Detroit and wide sweeping changes in our culture’s religiosity, churches’ involvement in conservative social issues may be turning parishioners away.
I find this an interesting factor that should be considered in regards to falling religious participation and any attempts at resurgence. With technology allowing us to create and consume information almost constantly, we are bombarded by opinion. Are centers of faith there to weigh in on social debates, or something more. More than ever people need a place to get in touch with something bigger than themselves, bigger than the social ills of our time, even bigger than humanity. The goal is not to escape this world, but connect with God or the divine in order to bring some divinity back to this world.
We don’t need another source to insist that its way is the ‘right’ way. Instead we need a place of quiet that allows people to cut out chatter and find connection with something greater. If centers of faith focused on providing experiences with the divine rather than commentating on current issues, then perhaps people would find their way back to the pews. The desire to remain current drives faith organizations to such social issues, but their roots in relationship with the divine cannot be forgotten in such endeavors.
Crain’s Detroit Business. “Religious groups hope Detroit’s rise helps them”, by Kirk Pinho. May 15-21, 2017.
Crain’s Detroit Business published an article about how churches in Detroit could find their circumstances improving. Not as one might expect through increasing membership, but rather rising property values. The hope is that congregations can sell their existing buildings, opting for newer properties with less maintenance costs. Falling membership, and subsequently fewer donations, require making cuts to the budget in order to remain viable.
Faith traditions with infrastructure will undoubtedly have many logistics to navigate. With less money coming in this becomes harder to do. The strategy to use the real estate market to churches’ advantage is logical and sound. Part of me wishes the article could have been about a wonderful resurgence in Detroit’s faith centers. But instead it was about methods of coping with the dwindling importance of religion.
Perhaps our centers of faith will have a comeback to mirror the city’s. That is something that time will tell.
Crain’s Detroit Business. “Religious groups hope Detroit’s rise helps them”, by Kirk Pinho. May 15-21, 2017.
In the major monotheistic religions, a good deal of time is spent acknowledging the darkness in humanity. We admit our sinful nature, and work with such darkness by aiming to reconcile with each other and God through repentance. Through this process, individuals are encouraged to emulate the divine as it is considered the main source of light and goodness in the world. Eastern faith traditions acknowledge both the light and the dark, but more time is spent on cultivating the light compared to Western counterparts. Rather than an external divine source, followers are encouraged to find and grow the light and goodness already in themselves.
One school of thought focuses mainly on darkness, while light exists outside individuals. The other line of thought focuses on the light already present in the individual. Darkness is typically not dealt with. If anything, the Eastern traditions only address it with respect to expelling and dissipating darkness. It is dismissed but never really analyzed. I think a blending of these tendencies is called for. Dwelling on either the dark or the light denies another part of ourselves. Without fully acknowledging and working to understand both sides, we risk either fearing ourselves or failing to live up to our potential.
I was talking about meditation with a young woman that follows the teachings of Yogananda. I asked if she found it difficult to meditate. My companion answered yes, very much so. In fact, she wasn’t sure if she had ever managed to actually meditate. She had been developing her meditation practice for two years and could not say if she had every meditated ‘successfully’. My companion explained that according to Yogananda’s teachings, the goal of meditation was to cease all thought, which can be achieved by letting the heart be still, suspending emotion. I found this concept interesting. In this line of logic, emotions drive thoughts. It’s quite contrary to the way we usually think about emotions. Typically, we have a thought, either elicited by external circumstances or from within the conscious, and then that thought triggers an emotional response. The two differing notions create a scenario much like the chicken and the egg. What begets what? My companion an I contemplated this for a while, reaching no definitive conclusion.
Having thought on this further, I think this conundrum can only have a both / and answer. We’ve all had cases where emotion is reactive to an idea presented by ourselves or someone else. But I also think that we’ve all experienced emotions with no trigger, perhaps this can best be described as a physiological experience. With the emotion already present, it’s only a matter of time before the mind finds a thought to justify or perpetuate the emotion, giving way to the scenario Yogananda describes.
It makes sense that he would discuss this scenario because it would be an especially difficult part of meditation. The logical self is deciding to meditate, so it would be working to clear the mind. But the emotional self is more difficult to tame and creates havoc with the conscious. Emotion exists independently from logic. Logic can have great influence over the thoughts in the conscious, but it has little effect on emotions that manifest in the entire body. In order to affect emotion, it takes a multipronged approach that targets both the mind and the body. Yogandanda and other great thinkers provide such an approach through yogic practices such as asana, mantra, and pranayama.