Tuesday, September 06, 2011

All religions are self-made, some just have better marketing.

My last blog about regarding the phrase "Spiritual but not Religious" drew out some wonderful comments and lively dialogue on Facebook as well as on the other blogs that inspired my post to begin with.  There was so much good stuff to chew on,  I've been tempted to just let it linger, so that the post doesn't get buried.   But there was one facet of the conversation that I wanted to make sure got the full attention it deserves.....

In Dr. Lillian's longer post she warns against the danger of "self-made" religion.   And while I think her real and bigger point is again about the importance of being in community and the transformative growth that comes from sticking to a discipline and practice, while resisting the temptation to only do what "feels good,"  I think the point is once again too easily dismissive of a greater sensitivity to the faith formation process.

If you read my previous blog post, you'll remember I made the point that all religions are self-made. Meaning that they all follow a personal revelation by one person.  I brought this point forward on Dr. Lillian's blog to see what kind of comments it would draw and hoped for a deeper dialogue.   Instead, this is what I got....

"No, I didn't make up my religion, God the Son did, and I am following Him in part by belonging to the Church He build."

Um, ok...few questions then....  Which religion are your referring to?  Christianity?  Because Paul had a lot more to do with that than Jesus - at least in the formalizing religion part...and which Church?  Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal?  Or one of the other 100+ varieties I don't have time to mention?
While it's tempting for me to dismiss the simplistic naiveté of this persons comments, it only drew me deeper down the rabbit hole of this entire concept.

So let's establish the basics again.   From the work of Theologian Paul Tillich:

Revelation is Gods attempt to reach man
Religion is man's attempt to reach God.
Revelation is always personal never universal.
So once again it stands to reason that ALL religion are self-made.  They all came from a personal revelation of one person.  Jesus, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Baha'ula...

Each of these individuals (and may others) had a profound personal experience with God, a personal revelation.  They shared that revelation with others who then, having been inspired by the revelation sought to touch the wisdom of the insights - by creating rituals, cultural practices, religious rules and observations etc.  These things in turn became "The Religion"

Of course the point that Dr. Lillian is trying to make is that there is real value in being steeped in a tradition, ritual and practice - that you did not invent, that you stick to it and don't just throw it out or replace it when it seems to not work, feel good, convenient or comfortable.  I get that.  And I agree.  Which when I reflected on it further - discovered that this point leads you to yet another way that all religions are ultimately "self-made."

 If you are steeped in an ancient tradition, doing thing the way they have been done for eons...because it was how you were raised, what works for you, or what you believe is more "right" than anything else.... there is something magical that happens at some point on your journey.   There is a flash, a moment of insight, an "Ah-ha!" and Eureka!   Moment where suddenly it becomes clear to you.  Suddenly that which you have been doing as routine, gains new life and meaning to you.   This is the moment of self-discovery, whereby you discover for yourself, the meaning behind that which others (or your tradition) has told you was meaningful.   In this great awakening you don't need others to tell you how valuable it is, because you know - first hand!

This is what Brazilian educator Paulo Freire described as the re-learning moment, when the student learns something by re-learning it in their own mind.  Paulo noted that this is the only moment in which real learning occurs, everything else is just regurgitation of someone else's knowledge - not our own.  We are not "blank slates" to be filled with knowledge and value as determined by others, but rather co-creators of our world through the engagement of our mind in self-learning and self-knowledge.

And so, as you practice your religion of choice and do all the things that you are suppose to do as a good member of that religion - be mindful that one day, it will take on new and profound significants for you, it will become more real to you than it ever has been, and in that beautiful ecstatic moment, your religion has become self-made.    And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing!


  1. Linda Diane McMillan3:40 AM

    Actually, I think many in mainline churches never do get to the re-learning moment. That is why they stick to tenaciously to their idols of eucharist and trinity. At least they can understand and somewhat control those.

  2. I had an interesting revelation when I fulfilled the requirement of Holmes Institute to visit ten churches, talk to the Spiritual Leader of each and write a report. I approached my first church, Seventh Day Adventist. As I was walking toward the door I thought: "Oh...I have something much better than this.", referring to SDA theology. I was warmly greeted and told the Pastor who I was and why I was there. He took me under his wing and talked with me, shared some of his class with me and then we walked into the service together. As the service was in progress I began to look around at the people present. They all seemed to be listening intently and showing a great seriousness about the sermon. What came to me in that moment was the realization that there was a consciousness of faith in that room. In fact I looked for it in every other church I visited. They all had a consciousness of faith. I realized that that's what I had too. I may not agree with their theology but I saw that a consciousness of faith can arise in many places and in a variety of ways. No need for judgment or pride about my own faith expression. Theirs is as real to them as mine is to me.

  3. Beautiful Frank. Thanks for sharing...just imagine how the world would change with the spread of that simple insight alone!



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