HOW DID YOU COME TO YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF GOD?
It came to me rather than me coming to it. I have been involved in contemplative practice for over forty years. From the very first months of meditation practice this understanding of God became a felt reality to me. The years have only confirmed and deepened it.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU PRACTICE?
Each day I walk, chant, sit in silence, study and write.
AND WHAT DO YOU GET FROM THIS?
Nothing. There is nothing to get, because nothing is lacking. It is simply a way of remembering the truth that all is God, and that I can be in the world in a godly manner.
WHAT ROLE DOES RELIGION PLAY IN ALL THIS?
Very little. I learned these practices from mystics whose lives, teachings, and spiritual technologies were preserved by religious organizations, so I am grateful to religion for that, but my spiritual life has little to do with organized religion.
ARE YOU ANTI-RELIGION?
I wouldn’t say that. But I am leery of it. To the extent that organized religion preserves the wisdom of the mystics and how to investigate truth for yourself, it is valuable. To extent that it does good work in the world, promoting peace and justice, it is laudable. To the extent that it helps those in search of community and comfort find these, it is valuable. But when religions shun reality by denying and hiding from science; when they promote fear through superstitious notions about gender, sexual orientation, and sin that are degrading to humankind, when they sanctify evil and cruelty and ignorance and oppression in the name of this or that god, then religion is anathema.
IS THERE NOTHING THAT ORDINARY PEOPLE GET OUT OF ORGANIZED RELIGION? IF IT DIDN’T BENEFIT PEOPLE IT WOULD NOT HAVE SURVIVED.
Of course there is. While religious leaders use religion to tame the laity, the laity use religion to tame God.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN RELIGION IS A WAY FOR TAMING GOD?
Religion is magic. If we humans do “X” God will do “Y.” If we sing the right hymns, hold the right beliefs, worship the right image, marry the right people, and surrender to the right leaders then God will not beat the crap out of us here and in the hereafter.
The problem is that all religions say this, and it is impossible to form any objective criteria for determining which religion is right. There are only two ways to say one religion is true and another is false. Either you simply make that claim based on nothing but faith and wishful thinking, or you murder all the followers of the other religions and use their deaths to prove the impotence of their god.
IS THERE NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE?
Sure: Give up magical thinking. Give up trying to tame God. But this means people will have to face the fact that life, from the human perspective, is often tragic and cruel, and that bad things happen to good people for no reason whatsoever. People want life to make sense, so they imagine there is an All Mighty God in charge of things and that they can manipulate this god into doing what they want: heal this one, damn that one.
God isn’t your friend or your butler. God is reality and reality is both caring and cruel. What religion says is that you can have the one and escape the latter. What spiritual practice teaches is how to engage them both with compassion and humility. That is why I focus on practice rather than religion.
SO PEOPLE SHOULD GIVE UP RELIGION?
Not necessarily. We should respect and use religion for what it is: a repository of spiritual practices, insights, and ethics that we can test out for ourselves. Nothing should be taken on faith. Belief is irrelevant. Investigation into Truth is what matters. So people should study all religions, and test those teachings and technologies that speak to them. I love to chant. Chanting opens the “wave” me to the “oceanic” me. I chant texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. I don’t care that on the level of organized religion these faiths are incompatible. I only care that chanting these texts opens me to the nondual reality of God in, with, and as all things.
SO SHOULD WE STILL HAVE CHURCHES AND SYNAGOGUES AND MOSQUES AND TEMPLES?
People need community. In the context of religion I would like to see religious communities rooted in contemplative practice. People would gather to sit in silence, chant, study, and talk about issues of ultimate concern. There would be no dogma, doctrine, or fixed format. It would be a meeting place of seekers, a forum for contemplation and conversation. People would support one another by being present to one another. My ideal religious community would blend the best of Quaker Meeting, Twelve-Step Meeting, a Jewish study center, and African American gospel choir, all within a universalist framework that drew from the wisdom of science and spirituality.