The Paths to Enlightenment

There is almost always more than meets the eye; or the expectation…

Walking an un-trod or rarely trodden path can be difficult. It can be frustrating and challenging and there are times when you just want to give up. When every single small thing that makes such a journey hard to do sometimes happens all at one time, it is tempting to throw up your hands and just quit.

I haven’t done that yet, though I’ve come close.

My particular journey is an odd one. I have chosen to walk where many others refuse to go. Where there are few of us who remain true our core principles because they are our core principles, not out of desire to fit in. And that can be challenging.

You see, I’m a Libertarian with a conservative bent, and most of the people that I encounter are Christians; fundamentalist Christians, who find it challenging to make and keep good friends outside of their group sometimes. Not all of them, but many.

Me, I’m not a Christian. Not because I haven’t heard the message, but because I have heard it, over and over again. Ad-nauseum. I am also pretty well-educated in the Bible, sociology, human nature and the history that surrounds the time of Jesus, including alternate theories and practices surrounding the formation of Christianity.

My chosen path that I found so challenging is this; I’ve chosen to not just exist in my own bubble, but to challenge my Christian friends to move away from the assumptions they have about people like me and everyone else they encounter, and the assumptions are many.

Unlike many non-Christians, non-practicing Christians, or lapsed Christians, I like my friends and acquaintances and I don’t hold their belief system against them. I don’t think them dimwitted for adhering to their values and what they hold sacred and true. Hey, the Universe is full of the impossible. They could be right.

The initial assumptions I get from Christians that don’t know me, or people like me, are that we are just like them; that we are a God-fearing Christians who are signed on to all or most of the fundamentalist beliefs that they espouse. These assumptions occur because I of my political outlook and groups I associate with.

Please notice that I mentioned ‘beliefs’, but I did not say principles. I hold many of the same principles dear, just not the belief system.

I guess their assumptions are easy ones to make. I don’t preach my own belief system. I bow my head out of respect when prayers are uttered, and I don’t feel the need to say anything at all about my own philosophy on life in the arena of political ideas.

The really interesting things start to happen when my friends realize, initially through a direct encounter and then y word of mouth, that I am not a Christian. That is when the really interesting and often offensive assumptions begin. I don’t take it personally, because like any other established religion, facts and presumptions regarding their doctrine are drilled into their head from the beginning, and accepted by everyone around them as basic fact. That doesn’t make the assumptions they make about me any less offensive, but if I took things personally, I’d never be able to leave my house lest the anger of just existing overwhelm me.

Basic assumptions include things like if you are not a Christian, then you must be an atheist, that you don’t believe in God, or something larger than yourself. That if you are not a Christian that you don’t ‘know’ about Jesus and his teachings, or you don’t even believe that Jesus existed. That you don’t believe in the basic principles that Christians believe, such as the Golden rule or the wisdom of the Ten Commandments. That even if you do know of, or about the teachings of the Bible and specifically of Jesus, that you certainly don’t get it.

It was kind of funny when I started to realize what the assumptions were and how they took form. It has been by far the largest challenge yet. The mindset is almost impenetrable, though I have seen success with the more inquisitive, open minded friends who are strong enough in their faith that they are willing to entertain ideas and concepts outside of their structured world.

The biggest challenge I speak of is the assumption by Christians that if you are not a Christian that you are devoid of any spirituality whatsoever; or that you are so un-evolved spiritually as to not have a spiritual nature at all. If you do not follow Jesus and the tenets laid down by men in the fourth century, then you do not have the capacity to attain spirituality unless you are on the path to accepting Jesus.

Which is kind of ironic because Christians do believe that we all have a soul, and if we don’t accept Jesus that the soul goes to purgatory or hell. So regardless of the path, there is still a spiritual journey being made… It’s an inconsistency I find it hard to reconcile, much less address, so for peace of mind I just write it off to human nature.

For me, this is highly offensive, but it is a solid paradigm among Christians that is all but impossible to change. It is offensive for me because I was raised to see a larger spiritual picture. To recognize the inner quest, the spiritual journey of the human animal and respect it. I was taught that different cultures, indeed, different individuals all have spiritual journeys that they must walk, and that those journeys are to be respected and honored.

Very often, the most spiritual people I have known have been those that walk their own or alternate paths to enlightenment, be it Buddhism, Taoism, the various belief systems of Native Americans, Confucianism, or even the path of science.

And some of the least spiritually evolved people I have ever known are those who attend a regular congregation of whatever religion they espouse. Often it seems they assume that their attendance to worship is what makes them Spiritual, and excuses the many transgressions of their professed belief system.

A more detailed example of the ‘spirituality void’ concept is found in a conversation I had recently with a very devout friend who preaches the message of love, kindness, acceptance, and generosity of spirit. I made the error of holding my own assumptions about how he would recognize spirituality in others, but when I broached the subject with him about his message to non-Christians, I got a surprise.

His inherent assumption based on his response to me was; that if a person professes to be spiritual, that they are on the path to recognizing the Christian faith as the one, true path. He kind of berated his fellow Christians in his answer to me. He said that they need to love those types of people as all others; that they cannot shove their beliefs down the throats of the budding masses of spirituality, saying “You don’t feed a baby steak right away! A baby needs to be nurtured with milk at first and work their way up to more solid foods along the way.”

Do you see the assumption inherent in this diatribe? That steak is the rich teachings of Christianity; that rich solid foods are the meat, so to speak, of spirituality; which is, to him, Christianity.

Even if he did not intend to say it that way or if that’s not what he really meant, one of the drawbacks that Christians encounter in conversation with non-Christians is that what they say and how they say it is almost always perceived as ‘talking down’ to non-Christians; very often because of these very attitudes and assumptions that they unconsciously convey in their encounters with non-Christians. And as they say, folks, ‘Perception is Reality’.

I’ve had plenty of steak. I’ve moved beyond steak to many more tastes and culinary adventures. The richness of the foods I have sampled put steak to shame in many cases. But the assumption that I was only at the ‘milk’ level of ability to consume spiritual ideas and concepts- even of a specific religion- was, and is, kind of offensive. Actually, it’s very offensive. I’m a grown man with an advanced intellect. I have taught Christians true history about their own background they never knew, or suspected even existed.

But still I remain calm and vigilant. For all of the offense it gives, most Christians I know are not intent on being offensive. They truly believe they are being kind and helpful, that they are shining a light on a path that has done wonders and miracles for them in their lives, and out of love they want the same for you. And it might very well be that the path they shine the light on could be that kind of path for many people.

The trouble is that they have is an issue recognizing and respecting when that is not the case with given individuals, and very often they have a hard time wrapping their heads around that concept.

So it is up to us, those who are not quite so wrapped up in a closed system of thinking, to bridge the gap if we want to be able to actually have a civil, useful dialogue regarding the world around us today and how to solve the many problems with which we are faced. We need to step out of the closet of alternate belief and challenge our friends and colleagues to be the inclusive group they profess to be. Challenge them to respect us, and respect the principles that founded this nation; the right to believe and worship as we see fit without outside interference or judgment.

Christians are not bad people. They are not hateful people. They are not stupid or closed-minded people. They are, for the most part, good people who can sometimes find themselves in a bit of a fog with regards to the assumptions they make and the interactions they engage in.

News Flash: As humans, we are all like that to a certain extent.

How about we cut each other a break?

Assumptions and Exclusions

Some thoughts on the national conversation…

Buckle up, this is going to get bumpy and long…

Recently, I had a friend post a comment on one of my social media posts. My comment, on the title picture of this article, questioned to validity of the national conversation with regards to being gay being a ‘choice’ or a genetic pre-disposition. My own point of view is; what does it matter? We are a free Country! The entire conversation is a pointless red herring designed to keep us from discussing things that truly matter.

In response that that, my friend posted the following comment:

“This country was founded on biblical principles…correct? Aren’t our laws/morals built upon biblical principles? If the bible is left out, then we have no morality anywhere. If I want something, then I should be allowed to steal it because I so choose to without any consequence. It gives the murderer the right to murder because he chooses to do so and it gives the pedophile the right to do whatever he chooses…”

My response to that is important, I think, because it is the basis of all that my own personal philosophy regarding the national dialogue revolves around. There are inherent reasons why we aren’t listening to each other, and a lot of that has to do with misdirection by our servants (read ‘Political representatives’) as well as our own personal assumptions about the Nation, and the world in general.

If you have the patience and the attention span, my response follows (the names have been eliminated to protect the faithful). I apologize for the long windedness, I usually try to keep it short, but this is a deep subject with many ins and outs. Please bear with me.

I said:

“As you know, I host open discussions and all points of view are valued. Your own opinions matter to me; as a long-time friend particularly so, even though we have different life philosophies. J

I’m going to have to disagree with you slightly here. I don’t disagree that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian, or Biblical principles. There those who would disagree, just to be difficult, but it’s inarguable. The Bible has served and serves as the basis of Christianity and an invaluable source for morality, and it served as such in the country, the world, since before we were founded as a country.

But I bridle a little at your statement “If the Bible is left out, then we have no morality anywhere.” That is an exclusionary statement that (without meaning to, I’m sure) passes a harsh moral judgement on a large group of individuals. Not everyone uses the Bible as their baseline for morality, even though they might use Biblical principles, or at least hearken back to them.

The apoplectic fear that we are going to devolve immediately into a screaming bunch of Harpies intent on murder because it fits a twisted moral relativism is a groundless one. All the same it is perpetuated and hyperbolized for the purpose of frightening people into keeping or adopting a particular religious course, which is a completely natural human tendency. I don’t judge the strategy, it simply re-enforces many things that I have observed in my studies of people.

Your statement regarding ‘if the Bible is left out we have no morality anywhere’ defines the most studied and advanced individuals in Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Confucianism, et al, as people void of spirituality, only full of themselves and not knowing or having any advanced idea of enlightenment or spirituality.

Here’s the thing, the Golden Rule, while an inherent ingredient in the Bible, does not originate with the Bible. It is, in fact, used as a basic rule in many world religions and morality systems. So when you say that ‘Without the Bible, there is no Morality anywhere’, what you are saying is “Look, I know you have your cute little religion or belief system and all, but it’s basically crap. Without believing as I believe, you are a doomed, wretched soul with no morality, no hope and no real say in the day to day happenings here in the mortal world.”

When you say something like that, you are saying that anyone who does not adhere to the strict path that you walk, is devoid of any chance, ability, or hope to possess any level of spirituality whatsoever.

I resent that. I can tell you that my own choice has resulted in a quite evolved sense of spirituality, more so than many people who profess to read and internalize ‘The Word’ because they go to church every Sunday. My spirituality is evolved enough to realize that my path is for me, and that there are countless other spiritual journeys others must make that will not resemble mine in the least. I don’t exclude people because they don’t walk my path with me.

Now, I don’t presume to know the mind of God, but I’m pretty sure that God would find my attitude to be a much more ‘spiritually evolved’ than one that excludes and dooms his other precious children to the deepest pits of the worst imaginable creation because they don’t live or worship in the same house.

There are three major religions in the world, but there are also many, many others. The adherents of those belief systems have as much faith that what they believe is the truth as much as you do; so when you talk down to them like that, they automatically rebel, they get pissed at you and they no longer listen to anything you have to say. You get branded as a ‘zealot’ with a closed mind who presumes to know the mind of God and presumes to pass judgement on your fellow humans.

After that, any chance at any kind of constructive dialogue goes out the window forever, along with any hope of maybe changing any minds. No dialogue, no exchange of ideas. It’s that simple.

I know you, and I’m pretty darn sure that’s not what you mean to say. But the truth is that perception is everything. The issue is that not everyone uses the Bible as the baseline for their faith, their moral system, or as their base of logic; and the overwhelming majority of Christians think or assume that those people do, or that they should, use that Bible and only the Bible as the arbiter of their morality. And if they don’t they are un-savable heathens without the intelligence to realize the ‘Truth’ like you. You are saying that they are too stupid to get it.

But there are other, just as viable, just as closely held, just as structured morality systems out there. It’s pretty judgmental and narrow minded to dismiss belief systems that go back thousands of years just out of hand.

This is a basic reason that Christians find themselves on the firing line in today’s national dialogue as one of the only groups it still seems okay to ridicule- and that’s wrong! It’s as wrong as doing it to any group, and I spend an inordinate amount of my time defending good Christians of humble faith as wrongfully persecuted. But they don’t help their own cause with these unspoken yet easily (even if wrongfully) perceivable attitudes and assumptions. And the ironic thing is that most would never consciously project these things I’m speaking of here!

In the end, with reference to this picture, the argument over if being gay is a choice or genetic is a silly one. It doesn’t matter, because aside from religious beliefs, this country was founded on religious Freedom. The right to believe and practice your morality system as you see fit, the way you believe is right for you and yours. It was not founded or perpetuated to be a Christian colony existing only to further the teachings of the Bible, but as a land where all could come and live as they see fit regardless of race, religion, or creed; in harmony with others.

There were other morality systems and teachings that went into the founding of this country other than the Bible that were just as important, just as viable as Biblical principles. The philosophies of Sir Edmund Coke, John Locke, Patrick Henry, Edmund Burke et al, and the principles of Natural Law were just as inherent to the foundation of the United States as anything else.

Don’t be frightened that people will ‘abandon’ the Bible and therefore become directionless and amoral- the Bible has already been abandoned by many in that course. Be glad that the principles of the Bible still persist when adherence to the Word has been abandoned. Be thankful that God sees fit to lay these basic truths, these basic principles down where any old person can pick them up and use them in their lives. That only serves to re-enforce the principles laid down in the Bible, it only serves to solidify the foundation, the rock you have built your house on.”

Where the Air is Clear and the View is Limitless

Everyone has to hang their hat on some kind of structure to get through. The more adventurous and fearless build their own edifice; they challenge their own preconceptions, test their own limits and find in themselves the strength and resources to erect a structure that has the most chance of being in harmony with the environment they’ve chosen. They are also not afraid to tear down and rebuild or add on to that core construction at any given time.

The more fearful, or less adventurous if you prefer, tend to adopt an existing structure, taking for granted that what they’ve been told, provided for, or maybe even programmed by the culture they are born into is the way to go. Neither is necessarily wrong, and without diversity between all of the different and varying ways of dealing with and living life, what would be the point? Where would all the fun be?

We were made to push the envelope, go further, become more than we are, but not everyone is up for that challenge.

I like being different, running free of the crowd. The atmosphere may be more rarified, but the company is better and life is more vivid and alive.