Friday, January 01, 2010

Beyond Religion

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.


Patti said...

Wow...this entry could be my manifesto. I too want to follow these paths and go beyond religion to unity. That is pretty damn exciting actually. Though I do miss the Toto lover that I am. I am so looking forward to another year of reading, being challenged and laughing with you Rami and yes, sometimes at you!! Thanks so much for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rabbi Rami,
What I love about Judaism is that there is no controlling orthodoxy (although there are those Jews who wish one existed). That it is a religion open to reinvent itself now and in the future as it has continually done in the past. A religion that is open to truth no matter what the source. I love the idea that I am connected to a people that continued to show both wisdom and folly for thousands of years. Who have continued to maintain through millennia despite everything life has thrown at them. I love the thought that, through my genes, my very existence is connected to those who have lived through thousands of years. Underneath everything, my Judaism, Judaism as I conceive it, is a path, certainly not the only path, but a path that answers for me the universal longing that you speak of. Shalom and Happy New Year, David S.