Thursday, 6 August 2015

Through religion, and out the other side

This is probably more of an article than a blog. So grab a wine first.

I've spent a long time de-constructing Christianity (and religion in general) because I've lived through the worst of it, and seen the inestimable damage its done to so many, as well as the damage it's done to mankind in general.

I do this because it needs to happen. We need to be honest about this stuff. I recognise my bias/paradigm in all this, and would never deny it.

I have denounced the bible and traditional doctrines in no uncertain terms - not because they are devoid of any truth, but because to see any of the truths in a way that has real value to humanity in general, or to us individually, requires a level of "maturity" that not many have allowed themselves to achieve.

That's not meant to sound patronising, so I'll unpack that idea a little.


There is a "levels of faith" process described by Brian McLaren that lays out 4 distinct levels of growth or progress through our beliefs. It's not perfect of course, and often the lines are blurred between the levels, but it serves its purpose. (The levels can be applied to just about any religion).
  1. Simplicity: Seeing everything in black and white - right and wrong - us and them. God is the ultimate authority who must be obeyed. The truth is knowable and liveable, but only through our belief system. This is where fundamentalist/literalists generally fit.
  2. Complexity: There are many ways to grow and serve God. Life and spirituality is measured by goals, purpose and success. Authorities are the experts and can coach and direct us. God is the ultimate guide/coach. This is where your average church sits.
  3. Perplexity: Everyone has an opinion and we can never know who is right. Beliefs are more subjective and relative, but being honest and authentic is crucial. There's a distrust of authority and a tendency to be highly cynical. Although passionate about integrity, there's a strong tendency to be highly critical and negative. Most leave the church at this stage.
  4. Humility: There is an understanding of unity and deeper truths - our connectedness and focus is on wisdom and love instead of doctrines and dogma. Love becomes very practical and unconditional. Life is mysterious and paradoxical.
Most of us are happy to be told what to believe, how to live a good life etc, and as long as it represents good morals and makes reasonable sense we are happy to go with it. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is a lazy thing. It's deferring the responsibility for our core identity and belief system to someone else. It's lazy because we can "believe" something simply because heaps of others believe it, and assume that it must be true. This is basically level 1.
I would say that it's only beneficial for little kids, to provide boundaries of safety as they learn to think critically and mature. This is not a good place for any human to live, although it's often part of our spiritual journey.

The last few years, I've been struggling through level 3 and moving into level 4. Although I hate the clinical labels, it does help to map where I'm at and ponder where I'm going in my spiritual journey. I'm finding more and more people struggling at level 3, seeing all the inconsistencies, hypocrisy and just about everything that makes christianity a laughing stock at best, and a damaging blight on the face of the earth at worst.

To get to this stage can be soul destroying, causing a complete crisis of faith, often resulting in totally abandoning all traditional beliefs and even becoming atheists. A few manage to sift through all this and find a far deeper understanding of God and life, and move into level 4. For myself and many others, this isn't a clear cut process, but I can certainly attest to the reality of level 3, as we become critical thinkers, using logic, reason, science and above all, honesty and integrity, to examine our belief systems.

I have probably always tended to see aspects of the mystical and higher truths, but always felt trapped in seemingly logical constraints of fundamentalism. Finally leaving christianity, as it's known and represented in the first 3 levels, has felt like walking out of a school hall full of hyperactive screaming kids all throwing tantrums, into a beautiful serene forest with flowers and a little stream... you get the idea!

But to communicate to those still living in the other level is almost impossible. Level 1s will call anything else heretical. Level 3s will despise the lower levels as ignorant fundamentalists, and often fail to see the potential to keep growing. Even those at level 4 can tend to be dismissive and patronising of others apparently stuck in fundamental beliefs.

For myself, I'm still transitioning into level 4, as I wrestle with all the crap. But the level of peace I'm experiencing as it all falls away is astonishing. Doctrines become irrelevant. There is no in or out, us and them. Unity, love, integrity, compassion and empathy, have become the only things that matter, and love has become tangible. Love is becoming something I see in everyone without even trying. Living loved is becoming a natural part of me.

Life is still rich and complex. I act out of selfishness and ego, but I recognise it more than ever, and am finding myself more teachable than I've ever been, getting less offended about stuff. My heart for compassion and justice, to help the underdog and the broken is becoming real, rather than an obligation. I no longer have to "act" loving in defiance to my "sinful" nature, I just do what I feel, which happens to be more and more loving.

What used to be unreachable/unrealistic ideals is becoming reality.

So how does this relate to anything practical? Glad you asked!

I'm finding that Silent Gays is directly aimed at those struggling through level 3, compounded by their sexual identity. I seem to be finding people who are ready to jump off the cliff of faith, or those who have already jumped and are needing an ambulance. Realising all this is helping enormously in my focus and methodology.

I'm worried though, as a read through the blogs of my journey, that it sounds like my "growth" makes me, and others who relate to "level 4", superior and patronising, and that is the last thing I want!!

If anything, I understand why people cling to dogma and black and white thinking. I get the whole need for strict authority structures for some. But it's my passion to help people move through that phase and into greater freedom and peace.

I no longer see the bible as a historical book in any sense, and I'm not really concerned if Jesus was even a real person. If there is anything to be learned from scripture it's in hidden and deeper metaphor, which could be why so many "mystics" of the centuries, have drawn any life out of it.

Spirituality is constantly growing and changing as society and culture change, as science and technology change - because these sciences discover the reality of our physical universe and how we interact with it. And that has to change our spiritual concepts whether we like it or not.

Christianity, and all religions, can serve a purpose if we are taught to use critical thinking to see the deeper universal truths. But it takes time and a willingness to be wrong - about everything - all the time. And that's something we don't like very much!