Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Gospel According to Saint Nicholas

In honour of Easter Sunday, I decided to write a companion piece to the post I wrote last week about why Evangelicals don't consider me a Christian. This post will be about what I believe and its not meant to convince others that my beliefs are true for them...only that this is what I feel is the truth about the meaning of our existence, based on my personal experiences, deep thinking, vast reading, and empathetic understanding. My beliefs represent the most universal essence of all faiths and I do consider myself to be a bit of a "Faith Defender" (or "Defender of All Faiths") because I can see the merits (and demerits) of every single religion.

My personal "animal symbol" should probably be a mosquito, even though I detest this parasitic insect. I once asked God why mosquitos were created in the first place. They do nothing good and only cause misery. Granted, bats and spiders will eat them, but they also eat a wide variety of pests, so they wouldn't miss not having to eat mosquitos. This is the kind of funny questions I sometimes pray about. When I got an answer, it was equally amusing. I can't remember when it came to me, but it came to me like this: "Nick, you are a mosquito." Then the idea behind the answer hit me. Like a mosquito, I have a tendency to "suck out the nutrients" of a religion as I explore each one. I then move on to the next religion. The religion still exists and only experienced a minor irritation with my questions and "theft of ideas." Name me a religion and I can probably tell you what belief of theirs that I have incorporated into my own brand of spirituality.

Examples: From the Mormons, I have taken the belief of "eternal progression" and the "pre-existence" of human souls. From the Jehovah's Witnesses, I have incorporated their refusal to pledge allegiance to a flag. From Scientology, I agree with their suspicion of psychiatry and have a strong aversion to all kinds of drugs (not just the illegal kind). From the Quakers, I learned the value of silence. The Buddhists taught me about non-attachment to outcomes and material items. Life is impermanent. The Hindus introduced me to the concept of reincarnation and the wheel of karma. More recently, I've come to the point in life where I now "worship the sacred cow" (not literally, folks! Just an expression I love to say in regards to my ban on eating beef). The Amish taught me about the value of belonging to a community and that a reliance on too much technology gets in the way of living an authentic life. From the Jews, I learned the value of remaining persistent and steadfast, no matter what obstacle I face. The Muslims taught me the value of praying on a special prayer carpet (I bought one in Egypt as a young man, which I still use on special occasions). There are many religions, with old ones disappearing as the remaining members dying off, and new ones being born because of petty theological differences with the mainline church.

Anyone who believes in "the one true church" theory needs to answer the question about why so many religions exist, and why a perfect God would value one over another. Is it possible for one religion to satisfy the diversity of six billion people on earth? We know that's not possible, especially since most of us grew up in the Christian-dominated West and have seen the incredible diversity of churches under the umbrella of "Christianity." If Christians can't even agree on one Christian church, how can Christians maintain the belief that everyone born on this planet is REQUIRED to "accept Jesus as their saviour" if they hope to live an everlasting life? Its the most ridiculous requirement ever devised by man (and yes, it was a man who devised it...not God). Our purpose in being born on earth is not to accept some ancient historical figure as their saviour from an even more ancient "sin" committed by literary characters we don't even know if they actually existed. Its time to recognize the lie for what it is and reject it in favour of a more practical beliefs...that Jesus' life ministry was to teach humans that how we treat one another matters more than what we believe about him. That's all. Simple, and not so simple. Its far easier to worship someone as a god or son of God than it is to emulate his life.

So, here's a brief testimony about what I personally believe (and I can also attest that when I've shared this with people, I'm usually met with insults and condemnation, but none of that phases me because I believe that I have an advantage over most people: I've never been one to be satisfied believing doctrines that others have tried to force me to believe. I always have to think for myself to decide what resonates with me).

Before we incarnated on this planet, we existed as spiritual beings in a perfect place where only love existed. God created our world using the evolutionary process (what's several hundred billion years in the span of eternity?). The purpose of earth was to teach us about diversity and contrast. We would even finally know what hatred is and what it feels like, and how powerful it can feel at times (though its only a temporary power that ultimate does more damage to the hater than the hated). Because it took billions of years to get the conditions of the planet just right for human life, our souls got to experience life in more primitive stages and work our way through the animal kingdom until the human species arrived. We choose the person we want to be in each lifetime and make arrangements with other souls to be family, friends, colleagues, and significant others. We get to live as many lives as we want in order to understand the full range of possibilities of life, and yes, we even live as the other gender in different lifetimes (this is an especially controversial view but for me, its the only one that logically explains why there are people who are attracted to the same gender or why some feel that they were born into the wrong gendered-body).

The whole point of our existence is to EXPERIENCE and to LEARN. The obsession with perfection and being "without sin" is ludicrous because it is unattainable and the drive towards perfection has resulted in genocide, mental illness, intolerance, depression, and judgmental mindsets. No good has ever come from the viewpoint that our point of existence is to be as perfect and sinless as possible. If the original definition of "sin" is to "miss the mark", why beat oneself up over it? And why does humanity require a sinless saviour to be sacrificed so that sinful people can be "saved"? In college, during a section on Friedrich Nietzsche in one of my Political Philosophy courses, I learned that Nietzsche had a theory that humans have this tendency to create "saviours" to pay a debt for some ancient sin, which then requires all humans to be obligated to sacrifice and worship the saviour since we would never be able to pay our "debts" for the purity of our saviour. Humans have a tendency to put heroes on untouchable pedestals, and that's just wrong. Everyone who has lived on earth is an imperfect being. You'd think that an all-knowing God would understand this. But according to Christian dogma, God is a petty tyrant who expects obedient worshippers.

Not my God. I do not view God as an authoritarian dictator who expects His creation to be obedient sheep. If God wanted that...well, that's why he created sheep in the first place. Why give humanity a brain with reasoning abilities if He did not expect us to use it? And why do so many humans put so much authority on charlatans who claim to know the will of God and expect followers to pay for their lavish lifestyles and not question their every pronouncement? Yes...I'm talking about the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells, David Koreshes, Mark Driscolls, Jimmy Swaggarts, and even Popes and mega-church pastors of the world. Every single one of them is just as clueless about spirituality and God as their loyal followers.

In the past, whenever I shared some of my personal views about spirituality, those who grew up being obedient to their chosen church authorities have asked the same question: "where do you get your authority?" That's the thing...I can only speak for myself and what I feel is true (for me). I seek neither to follow blindly nor do I wish to lead others. It is up to each person to decide what is true for them. This doesn't mean "moral relativism" where murder is deemed okay, because that's missing the point. Our world is diverse and it begs the question...if God expected everyone to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour in order to have eternal life after the passing of the current lifetime, then why would He allow people to be born in countries where people grow up Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu. Isn't it a form of religious chauvinism to believe that you were the fortunate one to be born into "the true religion" and thus expect others to convert to YOUR "truth"? Why are people blinded by their birth religions? After all, why don't they convert to somebody else's religion? If that person was born into a Muslim family in Iran, and grew up where all his or her family and friends are Muslim as well as the leaders...doesn't it make sense that people tend to maintain their culture?

I laugh when some are offended about my belief that my spirituality is "more correct" than theirs. After all, they believe that their religious views are "more correct" than anyone else's, so they have no right to complain. It should be a given that any person you meet will believe that his or her beliefs are "the most correct", otherwise they would not have those beliefs. A further point is that because my spiritual views are more universal than most people's, my spirituality does not seek to change anyone's minds about their own beliefs. Only about what they believe regarding other religions. In my belief system, it does not matter at all to God or the fate of one's eternal soul whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, atheist or any other religion. Your eternal existence is guaranteed. We're only here to EXPERIENCE and LEARN. Whatever interests us, we should pursue it without the irrational fear of the wrath of some tyrannical supernatural being.

This is why I believe my spiritual views are superior to those who believe that their religion is the only truth. In my spiritual worldview, there is no religious chauvinism. If you are happy in your religion, keep it and participate in it. If you aren't happy in your religion, seek one that resonates with you. Don't worry about the fear of offending God, because a perfect, all-knowing being cannot be offended by the imperfect beings that we are. All that matters in the end is what we experienced in life, what we learned from it, and how we have grown in our spiritual development and understanding.

Have no fear of a wrathful God. The God I believe in is the ultimate artist, who created a living, breathing canvas we call our Earth. The part we play in His creation is up to us. This is what it means to have Free Will. Its very liberating to free yourself from the irrational fear of God, but as I tell people who call themselves "God-fearing Christians" cannot LOVE that which you FEAR. If you fear something, then its best to analyze the fear down to the root cause so you can release it. The world has too much fear in it and if we learn anything at all about the life and ministry of should be to follow his example of living without fear. Fear of a wrathful God is the most irrational fear there is and has led to nothing good.

So, this Easter, if you belong to a fear-based religion, I invite you to an introspective journey. The life and testimony of Jesus is more than just some scapegoat sacrifice to fulfill the human bloodlust for pure perfection. Jesus wanted to show us the way into an authentic spiritual life...which often means pissing off the religious authorities and their false rule-based dogmas. What have you got to lose but your chains?

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