The Two-Way Path
Those who believe in God often also believe that religion, and in particular their own religion, is the way to God. Religion is thought of as “about God”. But in fact religion is more about our conceptions of God, our desires about God, our limited human amalgam of centuries and millennia of cultural re-constructions of our own ideas about God.
Religion can be generated out of a profound experience of God. It can lead people to a deep transformation of the soul, the core of our being. But it can also lead us to self-centered assertion of the superiority of our views of God and humanity that withers our soul and destroys those who encounter us.
When worship, adoration and praise lead to an overwhelming and all-encompassing love that utterly seizes the heart, mind, and soul, the human life is radically altered. That love begins to wipe out our personal investment in our individual ego, exponentially increasing the desires to please God at all costs to the little ‘self’.
How we live in the world, among other people and creatures and the natural environment is changed. The focus is no longer on how to please myself, protect my lifestyle, advance the interests of my family, my people. Love for God rises to the top level of our personal vested interests, and the impulse to seek the wellbeing of all begins to permeate through all the inner tangles of motivation and desire.
However, worship can also lead to a sense of empowerment and entitlement of the ego, a strengthening of personal investment in advancing the individual ego at the expense of others. Worship and adoration, combined with strong belief systems that emphasize right and wrong ways of approaching God can break apart the inherent divine unity of all things in God. It polarizes, setting one group against another in the name of God.
When we engage in erecting differentiations, separating me and mine from you and yours–along any of the numerous sets of criteria we use to define ourselves and God–a dichotomy is created in the unity that is the essential nature of God. We put words in God’s mouth, and interpret his words to suit our own perceptions.
We are not transformed. Our individual ego is not gradually worn away in the continual washing of love for God. Rather the opposite occurs. The individual ego joins with others with whom it identifies and together with others, our worship and adoration of God becomes the talisman which gives license to all sorts of horrendous acts toward others in the misguided presumption of serving God.
Because we are using our own limited human conceptions of God to validate our own biases, prejudices and self interests, our worship, adoration and praise actually reinforce our limited personal ego, blocking that growth of love for God which would gradually efface the individual ego in the all-pervasive experience of God’s presence everywhere and in everything.
Studies have shown that when we make distinctions between ourselves, our group, and the Other, there is an inevitable deterioration of the sense of compassionate connections toward the Other. When others become “you” and “they” in our minds, our individual ego becomes empowered to violate the dignity, value, soul, mind and body of the Other. The Other is characterized as different, inferior, dehumanized, making possible and even promoting violence against the Other, disenfranchisement of the Other.
History has demonstrated this again and again – from the Christian crusades against Muslims and Jews to the Inquisition and Pogroms against Jewish communities in Europe, and the Holocaust, the Shema, in the twentieth century; from the hundreds years wars between Muslims and Hindus in India and between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland to the Muslim jihadis of the twenty-first century – when we think we and ours possess the true knowledge and worship of God we seem to begin to behave in the most appalling ways to our fellow humans.
The way of God is the way of love, of feeling ourselves connected with others, bound to them so intimately that the distinctions of “us” and “them” become irrelevant, unimportant, begin to evaporate. Love is the way of practicing breaking down boundaries, of perceiving and noticing our similarities while diminishing and overlooking our differences. It must build a continually increasing awareness and realization that we are all in this together.
God wants our adoration, praise and worship (even our belief in His/Her existence) only if it leads us to efface our individual self interest and live the life of caring and compassion toward others, all living things and all of creation.
If we do not follow this path in the ways that wear away our ego and remove the boundaries to our heart, it will lead us into places where we can truely lose our most authentic selves.