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Kindred Spirits in a Pathless Land — Part One

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Guest post by Kindred Spirits

Preface-Truth is a Pathless Land

I was raised in a mainline church, but became an agnostic (de facto atheist) about 1980 (and continue to be agnostic). I had thought you either believed it like the fundamentalists, or religion-lite with the same supernatural god but kinder/gentler somehow, or you didn’t believe it at all. Or maybe switch to a different religion, but with the same choice of fundamentalist/literalist, or somehow kinder/gentler with a little less supernatural. I never realized there were any other choices. And so I rejected church and organized religion. And after about 5+ years of trying to debate/discuss religion with other people, and realizing that I heard all the same weak arguments, and never learned anything new myself, and never persuaded anyone to change their mind, I essentially ignored religion for decades, other than that part which influenced politics.

Starting about 2002-2003, I began to realize that there was a shit storm of epic proportions brewing between the war-mongering, the housing bubble, peak oil production, and all the subsidiary problems these would bring. Since then, I’ve been researching various topics to deal with this storm, from homesteading to spirituality to architecture, and trying to see through the various deceits and unsustainable factors in the American way of life. Attempts to discuss any of this with others led nowhere for the most part, because it required re-thinking their various beliefs, which most are unwilling to do. Which led to researching how and why people think what they do, about politics, about religion, about progress, etc. In short, it is mostly a solitary, often alienating affair.

Along the way, I stumbled across a variety of people along the spiritual dimension, often in surprising places, that didn’t quite fit in the above categories of fundamentalist/religion-lite/atheist, and I wasn’t even aware of their existence. For lack of a better term, I’ll use the phrase mystics and contemplatives as a general category, although there are a host of problems with those terms.

I’d guess that these people are much less that 5% of the population, probably much less than 1%. And I’ve never really found any group that has a majority of them or even a notable minority. Mostly it’s an author here or there (usually long dead). So there’s no group or organization one can join, but if you keep your eye out, you can find them, and realize that there are others that have trod the same path as you, and left a few breadcrumbs for you to find.

Some of the frequent characteristics of these people are:

  • willingness to discard those aspects of religion that don’t make sense,
  • interpret religious texts as mythological stories rather than facts
  • willingness to be critical of both religious organizations and the religious theology
  • generally have some sort of universalist perspective, open to other religious views
  • meditation, contemplation, or some other aspect of quietness and solitude to their lives
  • although they may have had some sort of mystical experience, they don’t emphasize it, or otherwise fall into “spiritual materialism”

And so the rest of this series is not much about me, but about little breadcrumbs related to spirituality from these other authors that I’ve collected over the last decade or so, letting me know that despite the seeming loneliness of my path, there are in fact many others that have gone before. Admittedly, it’s a small tribe that’s willing to forgo conventional thoughts and lives, but for those readers here who have also become disillusioned or alienated with the conventional American life, perhaps some of this will be useful or inspiring or offer hope to you on your own path.

About the format: In general, while I’ll usually offer excerpts to entice you, you should expect to follow the link to read the original article to get the full concept I’m trying to get across. The posts themselves might be relatively short, but the amount of reading at the linked source, if that particular author suits you, will take a longer time. Hence, the posts are broken up into a series of posts, given that you won’t be willing to read large amounts of text at the same time.

And now for the original comment that sparked this series. (i.e., the person to blame for my verbosity!)

Introduction

On July 26, 2016 anotherami said:

 

“If it were not for my own personal experiences, I would have rejected God decades ago. Instead, I am left with a form of faith that has no formal theology, no denomination, no organizations or institutions, no pastoral care, no actual fellow believers. In fact, this is one of only 3 blogs I read, or any news source for that matter, that focuses on religion. It is a confusing and often lonely place to be.”

Lots of people, currently and throughout history, are at the same place you are, but they’re spread out, and not concentrated. Deist founding fathers, Voltaire, etc. It will always be that way.

Hitchens and Dawkins and company are great for seeing the bad arguments in Christianity, but they’re combative.

Bruce is great if you are in the inside trying to get out of fundamentalist religion. And he’s also great if you’re on the outside, but want to understand the worldview of fundamentalists to understand how they’re likely to react in various situations. If you understand the internal mental models people are using, they become much more predictable, even in you disagree with their worldview.

Lots of people, currently and throughout history, are at the same place you are, but they’re spread out, and not concentrated. Deist founding fathers, Voltaire, etc. It will always be that way.

Hitchens and Dawkins and company are great for seeing the bad arguments in Christianity, but they’re combative.

Bruce is great if you are in the inside trying to get out of fundamentalist religion. And he’s also great if you’re on the outside, but want to understand the worldview of fundamentalists to understand how they’re likely to react in various situations. If you understand the internal mental models people are using, they become much more predictable, even in you disagree with their worldview.

J Krishnamurti

J. Krishnamurti was chosen at a young age to be the “world teacher” by the Theosophical Society, and given training for years until he was an adult. Three years after he was made head of the organization they created for him, he dissolved it. Here are excerpts from the speech he gave on why:

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.

[….]

The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not.

[….]

“You will have no following, people will no longer listen to you.” If there are only five people who will listen, who will live, who have their faces turned towards eternity, it will be sufficient. Of what use is it to have thousands who do not understand, who are fully embalmed in prejudice, who do not want the new, but would rather translate the new to suit their own sterile, stagnant selves?

[….]

You have listened to me for three years now, without any change taking place except in the few. Now analyze what I am saying, be critical, so that you may understand thoroughly, fundamentally. When you look for an authority to lead you to spirituality, you are bound automatically to build an organization around that authority. By the very creation of that organization, which, you think, will help this authority to lead you to spirituality, you are held in a cage.

To Be Continued….

8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Geoff

    I’m not sure where I stand on ‘spirituality’.

    Decades ago I read a book about Edgar Cayce, the renowned so-called Christian mysticist, who apparently could remember previous lives, and all that type of thing. That led me to Theosophy which, for a time, I bought into, thinking it really did seem to be a new, and appealing, form of belief, or perhaps reflective worldview might be more appropriate.

    I rapidly grew out of it, and recognised it for the sham it is. Cayce; I still can’t decide if he was a charlatan or genuinely deluded. Either way his claimed experiences were not, in my opinion, real.

    I recently met a mature couple, very well educated, who surprised me by saying that they were into spirituality. They were a very relaxed pair, not pushy in their views. When it got down to it, however, their spirituality appeared little more than that they liked to meditate though, to be fair, this was something they reckoned needed training and was, to them, an ongoing learning curve. When I consider this I wonder if it’s not all based on personal experience.

    Is there anybody over a certain age who hasn’t had some sort of ‘strange’ experience in their life that they can’t properly fathom? I certainly have had at least a couple, though I am almost certain that there is a perfectly natural explanation behind them. Even so, I think that these experiences become, for many, a handle on which to hang hopes of the imponderable. Many use it to turn to religion, others to endorse long held religious beliefs. Some then try and manufacturer the experiences, for example all the frenzied nonsense of speaking in tongues, or laying on of hands.

    Perhaps those seeking spirituality are looking for an outlet that isn’t organised religion; indeed that is what the post is about. Even so, I’m not convinced that, other than the physical and psychological benefits that meditation may help bring about, that it actually reaches anything deeper than organised religion attempts to do.

    • Avatar
      anotherami

      Geoff, I understand your skepticism and perhaps it doesn’t reach anything deeper than what religions aspire to. Quakers do not teach “exclusivity”, so I have always thought that there are “true believers” in every congregation of every denomination. It is a short step from there to conclude that there are sincere hearts in any religion, not just Christianity and good and sincere hearts that hold no faith at all, Bruce being a prime example. Yet mankind seems to constantly search for the Divine in some form; why? Why is there some form of the Golden Rule in almost all forms of faith and some sort of religion/spirituality all over the globe and throughout history? Doesn’t that point to human beings having a spiritual element? I fully realize that it’s not proof by any means, but there is too much from too many places and times for me to dismiss it all as mere superstition. I can dismiss the details easily, but the broad strokes remain. Many of those same broad strokes are found in the Humanist Manifesto as well. Why is that, if not because there is some sort of ephemeral, yet universal Truth? And isn’t science itself driven by that same search for the truth about how our bodies, minds and this world actually works? These are the questions I’ve been asking since the 1970’s and the answer I keep coming to is that there is such a thing as Truth, but that we each have to find it for ourselves. For some, that means a life faithfully devoted to a particular doctrine or practice. For others, such as Bruce, it means no faith at all. For me, it means still seeking that Truth, even if I’m following a trail of crumbs. May your Truth, whatever that may be, bring you peace.

      • Avatar
        Geoff

        Thanks Ami, I appreciate your response. I don’t necessarily agree with all you say, but we clearly have more that we do agree than ever we do with the fundamentalists Bruce addresses.

  2. Avatar
    anotherami

    Thank you again for Mr. Krishnamurti’s statement. It had been almost impossible for me to explain my faith in any sort of cohesive form. Being way too wordy by nature only made it worse, especially on those I was trying to explain my faith to. I’m almost certain they were left confused at best or convinced of my mental illness at worst. The Quaker meeting I attended growing up did very little teaching on “doctrine” and Quakerism has never had formal “Statement of Faith” that all must subscribe to, so I lacked much of a framework to even start from. The relief and joy I felt at finding something I could point to and say, “This is what I believe too,” is quite real, as is my gratitude. My most sincere thanks, Kindred Spirits.

  3. Avatar
    Brian

    I really don’t get the divide here… Humans have a ‘spiritual’ aspect that is every bit human and not a bit divine as I see it. What am I missing?

    • Avatar
      anotherami

      Nothing but the labels, as I see things. And I don’t blame you for dumping them, considering the baggage they drag with them for you and many others. Quakers believe in the Inner Light; that of God within. Buddhists seem to have a similar concept, expressed most often by namaste. Both believe it is a completely natural aspect of being human, not some special gift mysteriously granted to a chosen few. You see the spiritual aspect of humanity as fully human where I see it as of the Divine. I don’t think the labels we attach to it matter. Seeing it at all is what matters. Those that truly see it ( and not just make the claim they do) are, in my experience, kind and compassionate people who are filled with goodwill toward humankind and treat others with respect. You certainly seem to be firmly in that category to me. Through your comments, I have seen your heart break again and again for the damage inflicted on innocent children by their parents and churches over a religion shrouded in ignorance and fear, and taught with a completely unhealthy focus on sin and death. And the Light that shines forth from the heart I can see there is bright and warm. I see no divide between you and me, Brian. Namaste.

      • Avatar
        Brian

        I think you express it very beautifully. None of those here identifying as non-believers hold any avarice to people who believe in God or the big IT in any fashion, that is, until it is used as a control on human freedom-to-be. The light of the human heart shines in the darkness that is the human heart as well. We can dwell in the night and meet the dawn as nature intends. I greatly appreciate that you choose to acknowledge a divine, my friend. That we cannot seem to find an exact origin of this is neither here nor there to me.
        You mention children, and I do have a special place in my heart for them, for their brilliant genius in innocence, for their natural gift to be. When we learn to love our kids and treat them with real respect, we will advance in human love and not lose ground. If we can love our kids and not disrespect them by hitting and swatting, we have learned the turth of the golden rule. What child ever wished to be harmed by their caregiver? What child ever needed it? What God is of any practical use to us who encourages a rod on a child? It is nonsense. Michael Pearl et al are criminal abusers of innocence and they say, NOT ME! I obey my God. I do what God commands with the rod. Sheer madness.
        Admittedly, as you say, it is a small tribe but one my heart knows is home. Namaste.

  4. Avatar
    Kindred Spirits

    By some estimates, about 30% of the population has had some sort of mystical experience. However, many use that as proof of their pre-existing religious beliefs, ie, reinforcing their fundamentalist beliefs if that was what they were before.

    I don’t personally think Cayce is a good example of the category I’m talking about, but I don’t know much about him.

    As I mentioned, the words mystic and contemplative are vague to begin with, and also have very different meanings depending on who is using it. The tarot reader at the county fair may style himself as a mystic, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. Think more someone like Thomas Merton as a general type of person. At the same time, some people that I think fit in the category don’t like the term mystic either, and will declare themselves to not be a mystic.

    Rather than try to refine a definition, I’ll give various examples through the remainder of the series, which I hope makes it a little more clear. I wish I could give clearer answers or responses to some of the questions here, but every prospective response ends up touching several future posts, where I reference some author that does a much better job than I could do. So, you’ll just have to wait! 😉

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