If you have a toothache you go to a dentist, if you have a broken wrist you go to see a doctor. What do these have in common? There’s something wrong which you can’t fix so you go to someone with expert knowledge in the relevant area to help resolve the problem. For a toothache you wouldn’t go to a car mechanic because what do they know about teeth? And you wouldn’t try to fix it yourself, as this would likely make it worse and certainly wouldn’t help matters. We recognise that we are not experts in these areas and so we go to those who have studied dentistry – or medicine for the broken wrist – to get expert treatment. We rely both on their knowledge gained through study and their experience in treating others to get a good solution for ourselves.
But when it comes to other areas of life these principles get discarded when they still could have a useful application. Take spirituality for instance. Many people have not studied religion or spirituality extensively and do not have too much experience of spiritual matters. When talking about spiritual beliefs people say things like that’s OK for you but it’s not for me. Yet if I have a toothache and I say “I’m going to the dentist “no-one says that “the dentist is OK for you but I’m going to the car mechanic to get my teeth fixed” and no-one says “that’s OK for you but I take care of all my own dental problems”. With spirituality that’s so often exactly what we do. Why is that? What are the results? This article will look to provide some answers to those questions.
To answer the first question, there can be a lot of cynicism towards organised religion. Often religion is blamed for all sorts of social evils. This type of cynicism is often pervasive in other areas of life too, notably towards politics. For many people this cynicism is a quick and easy response which is substituted for a real engagement with spiritual issues. For all the evils perpetrated in the name of religion, the genocide caused in the twentieth century by regimes intent on stamping out religion, led to tens of millions of deaths, far more than the number for which religion is held responsible. However, it would be unfair, and indeed absurd, to label all atheists, and indeed atheism itself, as being implicated in these genocides. It is equally absurd to blame religion for so many social ills. The term religion contains a panoply of different cultural and faith practices maintained over centuries by vast swathes of humanity.
Vast amounts of social good have also emanated from religion. A well known example is the abolition of slavery was a campaign led by Christians. And the modern campaign against people-trafficking for the sex industry, slavery of the twenty-first century is also strongly supported by Christians. Admittedly terrible things have been done in the name of religion, but it is obvious that people can abuse a religion for their own ends just like people abuse political parties or corporations for their own personal advantage. Christianity for example, is founded on the person Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that people should love their enemies. Anyone trying to kill their enemies in the name of Christianity would therefore not therefore be displaying any type of authentic Christian faith or spirituality.
To say that religion should be rejected for all the evils it has committed must entail saying that atheism should also be rejected for all the evils it has committed. As discussed however, this is a very superficial way of looking at the matter. The teachings and lives of the founders of different religions should be examined and then one should look for authentic followers of those teachings practicing today to truly assess a given religion, and by implication, how that religion could influence your spirituality.
The second question is a little closer to home. What does it mean spiritually for me if I decide to forge out on my own and create my own spiritual path? To believe in spirituality entails a belief that I am a spiritual being. As a spiritual being I recognise the existence of other spiritual beings namely other people as well as quite possibly some or all of the following; God, angels, and darker spiritual beings. As a spiritual being, how am I to act towards other spiritual beings? How do I recognise other spiritual beings and explain what they are? What is my ultimate purpose or destiny? Believing in spirituality is often equated in believing that there is “more to life” but what does that actually mean for you and me?
People have spent deeply spiritual and wise lives seriously wrestling with these questions and processing their answers through their experiences of life’s triumphs, tragedies and the mundane in-between. There could be a certain arrogance in rejecting all the wisdom and spirituality of the past to forge your own path. To do this is to essentially say “I will find a way or a truth that no-one has ever discovered before.” If no-one has ever discovered it, why do you think that you will? On the other hand, if there is a good spiritual way or truth or experience that someone has discovered before, why not see whether you can learn and grow from that?
Jesus Christ recognised that there is an element of spirituality and faith that you must find for yourself. He said “Seek and you will find”, not “learn your religious instruction by rote and never question of think for yourself.” However, the spirituality you discover in taking up this challenge may not be at all what you might expect. Jesus is not talking about a superficial seeking but a deep seeking of the whole person, perhaps over a long period of time. In that seeking it is wise to consider the viewpoints of others, to see if we can benefit or learn from the knowledge and experience of others. Sometimes it helps to be asked questions about our spiritual beliefs and how we form them. Being challenged on those beliefs and how they are formed is often a spur to spiritual growth.
Often is can be hard to find someone who will honestly challenge us in these ways to help us to grow by asking us the important and sometimes difficult questions about our spirituality and religious beliefs. This is where an interactive online spirituality test could be a real help. Through answering a number of multiple choice questions about their spirituality a person can effectively consult with their virtual guide. By assessing the answers given and the way that they connect with each other, the spirituality test can give the person taking the test a personalised spirituality profile.
This shows the key influences on how you make spiritual choices and allows you to see the positive and negative elements of that approach. It also assists you to reflect on any areas where your beliefs may be inconsistent and in need of some fine-tuning or even a radical overhaul.