Several people have emailed me to ask what I mean by the tag line “beyond religion.” I thought it might be appropriate to devote my first post of 2010 to this question.
First, to go beyond religion means to take religion seriously and yet hold it lightly, dedicating oneself to spiritual disciplines designed to continually open your mind, heart, and hands to compassion rather than to particular beliefs promoted by one or another of the world’s religions.
Second, “beyond religion” means that I take any and all religions as particular expressions of a universal (if unconscious) longing for unity, meaning, and transformative experiences that open the heart to compassion. Religions are essentially stories designed to speak to and fulfill this longing. We are drawn to those religions whose stories speak to us, and whose rituals bring the stories alive in ways that allow us to become more alive by enacting them. In the past it was customary for a person to adhere to only one story, today it is becoming more and more common to find ourselves drawn to multiple stories. It is the multiplicity that takes us “beyond religion” and reveals the greater quest that transcends and given religion.
Regarding this blog, “beyond religion” means that I often focus on the foibles of religion and peoples religious to see how religion is often reduced to a commodity, with different brands competing for the hearts, minds, and money of billions of human beings. In this sense religion is no longer about unity, meaning, and transformative experience, but about wealth, power, and control over the minds and lives of others. This is not a new phenomenon, but one we continually need be reminded of if we are to free ourselves from it, and salvage the deeper power of the religious quest.
And lastly, “beyond religion” means that my personal quest isn’t to be a better Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, etc. but simply a better person. I do not feel bound to any doctrine, and my ultimately loyalty isn’t to any religious brand. I am suspicious of any religion that claims to be the only way to salvation; indeed I am suspicious of all particularist and exclusivist religious claims. Religions can carry great truths, but these should not be confused with historical or biological facts. Religion speaks through myth and metaphor, and only when we engage them in this manner do they reveal the truths they contain.
Sometimes, of course, this blog is just a rant. And most of the time (this post being an exception) I try to use humor to make my point, though some of you fail to take as funny what seems to me to be incredibly clever and hysterical.
In any case, I hope this reminds us what this blog is about. As always I invite you to comment on what I write, and/or to add your own take on religion as well.
May 2010 be a year of creativity, joy, peace, and meaning for us all.