written 12 Sep 2021
published 19 Sep 2021
Spirituality can be understood as an individual's quest for the experience of our divine birthright and religion can be understood as an organization that grows up around a particular spiritual orientation.
In unity perspective, everything expresses from the same interconnected whole, which is aware, potent, and wise. The foundation of evil is any denial of this unity. Once some portion of unity is defined as "other", all forms of violence can enter. That is why variations of the Golden Rule are so globally universal, directing us to love the other as a way of honoring the divine unity.
As humans, our waking awareness of self generates a tendency toward division, which distracts from the experience of our deeper unity. Yet the yearning is always there, because it is from the unity level that personal meaning and context arise. The history of human civilization can be viewed as an evolution of spiritual experience.
Despite whatever limitations our karma, culture, and family overlay on us, we are always expressions of the divine, with constant opportunity to explore that connection. This is an inherently personal journey. Since each person is unique, their exploration will be unique as well. However, we have unity in common, and can benefit by sharing our experiences, helping each other as we struggle. Everyone has something valid to contribute, despite different levels of experience. In this way a spiritual community forms for mutual growth.
Religions arise when the human tendency toward division and structure is overlaid on a spiritual community. The religious organization can intrude on the personal experience of the divine, inserting interpretation and judgement. A fundamentally personal experience becomes codified and regulated, with structure imposed "for the spiritual good of the community". Sharing of spiritual experience becomes a top-down conversation.
Over time, such organizations can accumulate secular wealth, political power, and social dominance, attracting leaders desiring personal power and wealth out of balance with the rest of the community. In extreme cases, a religion will sacrifice its members to preserve the business of the religion. It takes inspired intention to avoid such excesses, but there are successful examples in the larger world, such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Unity Churches.
The Catholic Church is the oldest religious organization in the western world. Without casting aspersions on their faithful parishioners, it began as a spiritual community of political outcasts, but became the official religion of the Roman Empire over 1600 years ago. Despite an Old Testament commandment not to kill, and New Testament direction to love one another, the Church waged Holy war against Islam and the Eastern Orthodox branch, instituted the Inquisition against heretics, directed explorers to "convert or kill" heathens around the world, and began killing other Christians after the Protestant Reformation. More recently, the Church killed residents at Indian boarding schools, just now coming to light.
Whatever the spiritual rational behind these actions, accumulation of wealth, property, and power were a consequence. The Church exercises political power to this day, currently distorting the US Supreme Court, prioritizing the business of the Church over the spirituality at its core. The ongoing cover up of the persistent pedophile priest problem prioritizes protection of the corporate brand over practitioner's welfare.
But to be fair, the Catholic Church is not the only example of a contrast between a religion and its spiritual roots of unity love. Protestant intolerance in Europe drove much of the early settlement in the New World. The Methodist Church is currently breaking apart over gays, and the Baptist Church is coming apart over women. In New Mexico, evangelicals hold rallies with armed gunmen shouting "death to Democrats".
Islam, which also reveres the teachings in the Bible, has been in lethal internal conflict between branches of the Prophet Muhammad's family ever since his death 1400 years ago, creating the Shite/Sunni split. The Muslim/Hindu conflict tore apart the Indian subcontinent last century, and Buddhist fundamentalists slaughtered Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar a few years ago.
A 2020 poll showed less than half of Americans now associate with any organized religion, but a strong majority are spiritual. Since religions tend to accentuate divisions, and the core of spirituality is unity, I consider this a hopeful trend. When you look around, all our dysfunctions come from believing the illusion of separation within a profoundly unified reality.