Even though it’s been a while since I’ve been actively involved in church, at the moment I’m feeling rather lonely and miss the inherent social network that is available within the structure. It’s funny, because I’m just about to start a new life as a psychology student at university, which will place me within a large opportunity of social networking. However, I feel I’m still missing out on a spiritual perspective, given that it is all-too uncommon in the secular environment. Still, I’m wondering just how ‘spiritual’ is church? From my experience, most church services I have attended were emotionally engaging and heavy in theorizing around the text of the Bible. Yet I wonder if this can be classed as spiritual, as connected with the divine Spirit. The ‘faith’ spoken about in most churches within my reach at the moment is an intellectual exercise; you are asked to assent your beliefs to Christ as described in the Bible.
I would have to say that most of my most profound spiritual experiences have been in silence, yet most churches spend the majority of time making noise. Last weekend I decided to explore a yoga approach to spirituality, which involves silence and chanting. I was immediately turned off by the singing at the start of the service, which was all in a foreign language. I have no problem with the incorporation of foreign languages in a service, but it is just not pretty to have an entire service in another language sung by non-native tongue people. When this is done by the native speaker, it is beautiful, and when done by the non-native speaker, it is bland. So even here I was disappointed by noise of another kind.
The only option I have right now is a multi-faith chaplaincy service at the university, and I very much hope to report that as a source of spiritual interaction with other like-minded souls.
Following on from my two previous posts, a disturbing trend I have just noted from media sources is for people to draw what I call the ‘Jesus wildcard’. It seems to be common place for shady characters attempting to build a better image for themselves to draw this wildcard with such statements as ‘I’ve found Jesus’. Like Benny Hinn, rather these people have found opportunity. Gullibility runs rampant through the most thriving churches of our land, and I should know, because I was once one of the gullible. After his appeal for people to give $10,000 to God, Benny Hinn netted approximately $800,000 from three days of crusades in Brisbane. Not bad for a few days of showmanship. And yet the thousands upon thousands still claim to see miracles in these events. Gullibility is like a disease, and this one seems to be spread with the name of Jesus.
I’ve had this idea bubbling up within my mind, so I just had to express it here. I certainly do prefer to use the word dislike rather than hate, given the large number of friends I have who are conservative. Still, my dislike is rather intense. Before I start, I’d better define what I mean by conservative. I was going to say evangelical instead, but there are a number who go by that definition who I immensely respect. Conservative refers to a way of seeing that is currently the most popular in churches across the world, which defines us in a relationship to a personal God who has dictated specifics on lifestyle and belief. So, here goes:
- Conservative Christianity sees itself as ultimate and all other religious or spiritual ideas as inferior.
- As such, Conservative Christianity seeks the invasion of cultures and traditions for the propagation of its own system, with some very destructive consequences.
- Conservative Christianity places more emphasis on belief than action.
- Conservative Christianity encourages a dependence of the believer on the minister, the church, and the Bible, with little room for critical thinking.
- Given the power of the Institution and the Book, Conservative Christianity powerfully influences the believer to think and act irrationally.
- The common experience of Conservative Christianity – conversion – places a heavy emphasis on the afterlife, and little emphasis on transformation in this life.
- As such, Conservative Christians deem themselves to be ‘closer to God’ than the non-believer, yet their morality and lifestyle is often indistinguishable to the outsider.
- The church services of Conservative Christianity are commonly passive rather than active in parishioner engagement – very little is expected of the congregation except to be quiet and pay their tithes.
- Due to their popularity, Conservative Christian churches are attractive forms of social interaction, which draws a diverse audience. Sadly, this diversity must conform to the tenets of Conservative Christianity, at the risk of rejection.
- The absolute worst component of Conservative Christianity, the one thing that I actually do hate, is the use of fear as a motivator for conversion – namely, the fear of eternal torment in hell. The god of Conservative Christianity is particularly vicious, torturing billions for the sake of belief.
Of course, I could go on, but ten seems to be a key number when creating lists. Fortunately, there is a groundswell of movement, howbeit small at present, of people engaging their minds with a progressive approach to Christianity – and that truly excites me.
Having read an article on Benny Hinn this morning, I am tempted to resort to name-calling, and feel quite justified considering just how despicable this man is. Having once been one of the faithful following these Christian gurus, I now wonder what leads so many to fall prey to their charms. It appears the answer lies with the tremendous power of belief. Looking back over my years as a Christian, moving through various churches, and more recently on the self-help treadmill, I see a line of gurus who acted as guides on my journey. Metaphorically, I could refer to them as ‘dark guides’, given that each one has a heavy emphasis on personal financial gain. Strikingly, Christ was one who did not have a place to lay his head, who said to one seeker, ‘Give away all you possess and come, follow me’.
Complain as I will, gurus will continue to be a large part of the landscape so long as personal gain and pleasure are seen as ultimate. I have finally reached a moment of my life as a full-time student with limited financial resources where wealth no longer holds any promise of fulfillment. Given the constant message of society to reach for more, this is a significant place to be. Goodbye to the gurus, may their appeal be stripped away completely.
As an update to this post, Today Tonight did a video version of the article, available here.
At the outset of this journey, I had no idea where my curiosity would lead. In many ways I regret the choices I have made, for I allowed my curiosity to direct me to patterns of behaviour that lack wisdom and moral judgment. I won’t go into explicit detail here; I will simply say that I chose the wrong friends, whose own attitudes and patterns are severely lacking. Maybe that’s a bit too ambiguous……I’m defining lack of wisdom in the sense of self-serving attitudes. In their moral ambiguity, they choose to see others as serving their own interests. As such, for these guys, they view women as sources of entertainment, and react to them accordingly. It does not help that this is writ large in society, such is the proliferation of pornography, strip clubs, sex shops, and brothels. So, what happens is that when I am with these guys is that I take on board their immoral attitudes. Later, when not in their company, I feel disgust and regret for my behaviour, and revert back to my previous ways. On and on this vicious cycle goes, for I find myself drawn back to these friends to fulfill both the shameful desires and a sense of companionship.
What can I do with this dichotomy? Along the way I attempted to reignite the fires of my faith through attending other churches, and then discovering Buddhism. I attended Buddhist meditation sessions and began to take this path a little seriously. Yet the formalities did nothing for me; I still found a faith centered in Christ to be far more attractive, while appreciating the benefits of meditation. The only way out of this dichotomy I can envisage is to find a practice that takes into account my past faith experience and my present awareness. The question is, how do I go about this, and what will be my drive, my motivation, that can be more powerful than the unwanted desires?