Where we Find Higher Power
"If that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without."
Doreen Valiente, from The Charge of the Goddess
A September 29th post by Alan Miller to the CNN Belief Blog entitled "My Take: I'm Spiritual but not Religious is a Cop-Out" spawned so many angry comments that Mr. Miller needed to post again on October 2 in response to those thousands of comments (mine amongst them).
As a blogger, I stand in defense of any writer posting their opinion. And, I am probably a wee bit jealous. Eight thousand plus comments is pretty awesome, even if the vast majority of comments are negative. Obviously Miller struck a nerve, which is what every good blogger wants to do.
In the original post, Miller says that fewer and fewer westerners are identifying themselves as members of a specific religion. I assume from the tone of his article that when he says "religion" he primarily means an Abrahamic religion, and most specifically a Christian religion.
He also says that many people are identifying themselves as "spiritual." Spiritual people, he says, may do a bit of yoga, a bit of philosophy and a bit of meditation, but are not committed to anything. He also seems to be alarmed at the growing number of people who identify as atheist.
For Miller, this new spiritual identity is vacuous, shallow and self-centered. He feels it lacks unity, and lacks a commitment to any set of rules, authority or larger aspirations.
On the other side, he sees the weakening of the mainline Christian churches (he identifies the new "Prosperity Gospel" churches on the side of spiritual but not religious) as an odious societal trend. And here is where he makes a leap of logic that seems indefensible.
Miller suggests that since literacy, art and music were influenced so strongly by early Christianity, had there not been Christianity we would have no literacy, art or music today.
Um, how does this make any sense at all? As humans, we are creative by nature. If not inspired by the Christian religion, I am sure we would have found something else to fan our creative fires. If I remember my history correctly, the artists, musicians and writers of the time were limited to Christian subject matter under pain of death. Perhaps we would have an even greater creative heritage had those limitations not existed.
In those who identify as spiritual, Miller finds self-absorption and lack of commitment. I must admit I have known quite a few self-absorbed yoginis, but I have also known some self-absorbed Christians.
Miller sees this new spirituality as a therapy to help people feel better, rather than a commitment to something greater. My question to him is this. Isn't healing something greater? Isn't the commitment to heal ourselves, heal each other and heal the planet the bottom line? Didn't Jesus send his own followers to heal the sick?
Another problem cited by Miller is that in the spiritual community there is no central doctrine. Everyone believes what they want to believe. Again, I am not sure I see the problem here.
A lot of people get really hung up by the "God" word. I prefer to use the term "Higher Power," since it seems more inclusive, and doesn't evoke the "Angry Sky Daddy" that so many of us find distasteful and harmful. But, as I see it, the truth is this. Whatever name we use for Higher Power, and whatever method we use to find Higher Power, we are each taking our own path to get to the same place.
Yes, spirituality is more personal than religion. We don't recite creeds that were written for us; we look within our hearts to find our creed.
Miller suggests that without a commitment to a specific dogma there is danger of moral decay. I think most people are more likely to hold themselves to the creed of their heart, versus a creed that has been thrust upon them.
Miller suggests that the spiritual community is lazy, and incapable of spiritual study. I think nothing could be further from the truth. When you need to seek your own path you have to work a lot harder than if you simply swallow something that is handed to you.
If people are leaving churches in search of something that seems more real and more healing, it is not that they are failing their Higher Power. It is that the churches' human leadership has failed the people.
Many of the practices and philosophies studied by spiritual people actually pre-date Christianity. That people are mixing cultures and sampling from different spiritual plates seems to prove my earlier point - all roads lead to the same place.
In his rebuttal to his commenters, Miller suggests it is inappropriate that atheists feel oppressed in the United States. While I am not atheist, I do feel for those who must handle money with the "God" word stamped on it, and who must endure a presidential election where the biggest issue seems to be how many times the word "God" is cited in the party platform. I feel for my fellow citizens who must follow laws passed to appease a god in which they have no belief.
If God is real, then God is everywhere. God is in our hearts, in our minds, and in our homes. God is only in our churches when we allow God to be in our churches. Whether identified as God, Goddess, Spirit, Higher Power or Flying Spaghetti Monster, our ability to connect with Higher Power is enhanced when we seek Higher Power in the way that resonates in our own hearts and minds. The unity we find in that is greater than any dogma, or any one scripture. That unity is incorruptible, unlike our priests and churches.
If God is real, then God is present where I have felt God to be present - at drum circles, tarot study groups, music festivals, Pagan rituals, kirtan, yoga class, the mountains and the beach. God is big enough to be in all those places, and more.
It is a very small god who is available only in a church.