I saw a book in the Los Angeles airport’s bookstore called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Practically Everything. I am certainly no fan of organized religion, but somehow the title seemed way off base. To be fair, I haven’t read the book; I’m responding to the sentiment. I advocate everyone cultivating a personal relationship with the Divine Mystery of Life. By this, I mean to ask the questions
Why am I here?
How did It All begin?
What will happen to me when I die?
The most important aspect of these questions is that they don’t have answers. We answer them ourselves, and no one anywhere can answer them for anyone else. Religion proposes answers. Science suggests answers, and science admits the limits of its realm.
The author of this denouncement of religion appears to have had personally offensive encounters with some church somewhere and now sees religion as inherently toxic. He suggests a secular life as opposed to a religious one. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think Life is best held as Sacred.
The modern Western world divides life into two spheres… sacred and secular, where cultures that accept the Divine as a given tend to divide between sacred and profane. A secular world without a spiritual compass values economics over human well-being, and relies on military force rather than diplomacy to solve issues of state.
I am from a small town in Oklahoma, where Christianity is embedded in the culture. I was brought up in the Presbyterian Church, though most of my friends were in the Methodist Church across the street. I loved the New Testament story, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, where Daniel prays and the lions lie down beside him. I just though that was really cool… and it seemed worthwhile to develop a relationship with God that would bring such infectious peace. I adopted Daniel as a hero, and sought to develop inner peacefulness that would bring me into harmony with nature.
It wasn’t until the sixth grade that I discovered that most of the people around me were taking the Bible LITERALLY. I mentioned evolution in a casual conversation. My classmate, Jana, asked me what I was talking about. I explained as best as I could at age 13 how humans were descended from apes. She said that was ridiculous…. That actually man was created from mud by God and woman was made from a man’s rib. I knew the story, and was stunned to discover someone thought it was factual. We went to our teacher to settle our debate. She told us in no uncertain terms that she would absolutely not get involved. And so I learned about the ongoing debate between creationism and evolutionism. I interpreted it as, “Wow, some people are stupid.”
Ironically, at the same time I was skeptical of religion, I was extremely interested in the spiritual aspect of the world. It started with a fascination with Merlin in Excalibur, and then all things fantasy… wizards, dragons, unicorns, Greek gods. I became interested in mastery of my mind. I became convinced that only human beliefs limit human potential, and I followed that thread. I also had a love of The Weird. Major paradigm shifts in human potential occur when the impossible becomes possible. Sometimes it looks like a superhuman athletic achievement such the four-minute mile. It could also be a milestone like putting a man on the moon. And sometimes it’s more subtle… like King Solomon reading silently without moving his lips, which seemed like magic because no one else could do it.
It seemed then more interesting to focus on the things I would like to see humans do instead of what they were already doing, or at least what was already recognized. ESP, telekinesis, spontaneous healings, and other such mysteries caught my attention. Weird became the north on my personal compass. And superhero comic books became my favorite tales, because they showed people going beyond human potential and putting their abilities in service to creating a better world.
Along the way, I became disenchanted, though. Believing in superhuman potential didn’t make me rich or famous. It didn’t keep me from being injured, and I couldn’t shoot fire from my hands. I lived a mortal life, waiting tables and doing the best I could. I was having a lot of fun, living a Dionysian existence trusting that it would all turn out, but I was accruing debt and spinning without direction. I had believed I was superhuman, and I was wrong.
I felt like a fool, believing I had wasted my life on fantastical ideas. My life seemed to be falling apart around me. My most treasured relationships fell apart. After riding my bike 545 miles and raising money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation I was hit by a car, sustaining a series of injuries that took me out of work as a massage therapist. Uninsured, I was trapped in a nightmare that could only be conceived by the American medical/insurance system. I found myself in my hometown of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, being taken care of by my father and non-biological mother (she hates to be called stepmom) while I recovered from surgery. I call this rock bottom.
I returned to San Francisco to put my life back together. I had enough savings to get me through a couple of months, and I was determined to figure something out. Unfortunately, the financial system all but collapsed, and finding a job became akin to growing wings. My hand was in a cast, and I could not massage, wait tables, or even work in a café. These were the only things I knew how to do.
Then it was Tuesday. I got a call from a friend, who invited me to a seminar called the Basic. It was going to start on Thursday. I figured, “What the hell…” I’ll always be grateful for that phone call. Something happened in there. I looked at the contents of my mind. I looked at how my life reflected what I believed. It stirred all my old studies about the power of our thoughts. Somewhere along the way I had decided that life was just happening to me, and the best I could do was survive. So I did.
By stepping outside the day-to-day flow of my life, I was able to see how I had participated in creating my circumstances. I saw so much synchronicity in my life, and how it increased when I was committed to something. I looked at where I had failed and stopped, rather than learn and improve. I realized I had become so frightened of disappointment that I had given up on dreaming, and I was taking scraps that life handed me. I had forgotten that I was important, that I have something to contribute, and so my body had deteriorated from lack of attention. I had been going through the motions, surviving the circumstances of my life until I could finally die. Nothing was sacred. It was all matter that didn’t matter. That was just not going to cut it anymore.
One of the key things I remembered that weekend is that everything is connected. I’ll leave it to each individual to draw those connections for themselves. It’s not theory. It’s fact. Everything is in relationship with everything else, including you and me. To me, that is as magical as it gets. The sunshine, the rain, voices, and coffee are all intermingling. They can be mundane things I overlook or they can each be a treasure. I choose to treat each of them a sacred rather than secular. It is the difference between a thriving world and dying one.
Perhaps the most important piece is that we are the ones who shape our world. When we treat our world negligently, the whole thing disintegrates, including us. What I once thought of as a superpower is actually something that everyone does everyday. We create the world we live in. We nourish the world or we withhold nourishment. We choose kindness or we choose cruelty. In a secular world, it doesn’t matter what we choose. In a sacred world, the choice is always obvious.