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The Problem With Religion

Religion claims to be the pathway to God. The religions of the world each elaborate in greatest detail, definitions of God, definitions of the human person, the path that leads one to God, the practices that will provide the blessings of God in one's life.

Problem number one is that if God is truly God, Infinite, unimaginable, incomprehensible, then the human mind cannot possibly define God. Religion responds that its doctrines about the nature of God are based on God's revelations of His/Her nature. But then we still have the same problem; the human mind would not be able to actually comprehend the revelation. And if God in his/her mercy reveals that which the human mind can conceive, then it is but a mere minute fraction, a faint shadow, a distorted fragment of the actual Truth that is God.

Problem number two is that the revelations of God come through the great saints, sages, and spiritual master, who are rare and unnoticed by most. They actually "see" God through the awakening of their inner spirit to experience the Absolute Oneness of Reality which is behind all of this changing and infinitely variable multiplicity of the outer universe experienced by the limited finite human mind as "reality".

But their teachings are then learned, taught, preserved, and ultimately codified as "truth" by those with only limited, and mostly intellectual, comprehension of the Truth they have only partially received from the saints and masters.Even the most rarely gifted and devout disciple hears the Reality given by the sage through the constricting filter of the intellectual mind.

The teachings learned only partially and skewed by the inherent mind-set of the hearers, are then passed down by many others with even less experience of the spiritual path.

Priests, rabbis, ministers, mullahs, brahmins, are the caretakers of a legacy. They are the purveyors of sectarian versions of those bits and pieces of the original glimpses of Truth granted throughout history to those distant saints of their respective traditions. The flashes of light seen by the sages and learned by those eager for the light but still groping in the limiting blindness of material-consciousness, become wrapped in successive layers of "explanations" and "insights" meant to convey that light into the minds of the many human souls waiting for their own sight of God. But instead of revealing the Truth, the attempts to explain it wrap it in dogmas and doctrines.

The teachings of the various religions cannot give the light, but they provide a sense of "living with God". Hopefully they will inspire one in a great while to set out in search of God Himself, beyond the worlds of religions and their safe dogmas and doctrines.

Problem number three: truth (small "t") can be taught, learned, comprehended, studied, analyzed. But Truth (the real thing) can only be experienced; it is coming face to face with the One Reality from whom all things come, to whom all return, in whom all exist. It is the one and only "coming home" that the core of every being is desperately seeking.

The human mind is completely captured by the outer material dimensions of life experiences. It is a useful tool and a vehicle for navigating the complex business of living in the world. It is useless for attaining the experience of Truth. The spirit, which lies at the core of our being is the only aspect of our many layers of "self" which has the capacity to "see" that Truth which lies at the heart of Existence itself.

Inspiring sermons and books, thrilling music, deeply moving dance, devout prayer, profound meditation will, for the most part, only provide a sense of belonging with God, being in his presence, they cannot bring us God Himself-Herself. At best they have the capacity to awaken the outer layers of our limited individual "self" to sensations that may, with the right kind of encouragement, incite a growing hunger to find God.

Usually, however, the emotionally charged and moving fabric of religion only provides a pleasing format, an entertaining environment, an engaging selling point. The sense of spiritual upliftment gives the human mind and emotions a pseudo-experience of spirituality. It satisfies and quiets that deep hunger from far within the core, preventing it from disrupting life, breaking free and setting out in search of its one true home in God.

At worst, religion itself becomes the focus and object of attention. The enticing trappings convey the illusory impression of having actually arrived at the threshold of God, of having reached the feet of God. In fact the path to God requires a great deal more than devotion and worship. To find God one must be willing to lose all else but God, to abandon all other attachments, to relinquish even that cherished "self" we imagine we are.

The practice of religion as the actual path to God, rather than the means to entice us into that path, can lead to a communal feeling of exclusivity, of sectarian proprietary rights to God. God becomes the private property of the orthodox, the personal benevolent genie of the faithful. And at it's very worst, religion can incite us to abuse, marginalize, alienate, and even kill one another in the name of God.

Religion as a social structure for promoting ethical public values is an admirably useful cultural device. Religion as a reminder of the awe and wonder of God can awaken the heart to begin to love and seek God. But Religion isn't the vessel or the bridge to God, only a dock from which we can depart. God himself is the vessel, and God is also the infinite ocean on which we embark.

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