This is an inner journey. A journey of the spiritual and mundane and about being human. An imperfect journey. My journey.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Country...And Yours...And Yours...And Yours.

In this blog I keep mentioning what I love about living in this part of the country...the mountains that heaved into the sky thousands of years ago, valleys that are tucked in between and creeks that seemly bubble up everywhere to satisfy a thirsty Earth. All such a gift of Nature which I believe gives us a glimpse of the nature of God.

I use the word 'God' generically to describe both male and female parts of the Divine Creator. 'Goddess' would also be correct, but it's a bit awkward in some situations and we are more comfortable with the use of the former. In some Eastern Orthodox religions, the feminine divine is named Sophia (Holy Wisdom).  I believe there must be both within the nature of the Universal Source in order to understand His/Her character and our human selves.

I also believe that the names we have for the Supreme Divine Being are intended to be the personal understanding each of us has of that element of our individual spirituality. The holy names are intended to be used in those quiet times of personal communion; they are an endearment between loved ones. I think it's staggeringly wrong to shout these names from the rooftop because Holy Scripture makes it clear that we are to address God in private (Matt.6:5-6) Devout Jews wear a prayer shawl which is called a talith, talis, or talit ( depending on your preference), which means, "little tent". When the prayer shawl is in use, it is drawn up over the head and shoulders to literally form a private space for the person to address the Divine Being. Muslims must pray in a clean place and spread a prayer rug to use between themselves and the ground, thus creating a place set apart for praying. Nowhere in any of the three great books of the Abrahamic religions does it state that anyone should stand up in public and shout out the Name of God. Rather, there are plenty of verses that advise the contrary. Time spent between you or I and God is not only sacred and should be set apart, it is not to be done to showcase our religious beliefs in front of others. Which is exactly why I am stymied when I hear about situations where there has been a conflict arising from public prayer where a specific Name of God has been invoked prior to a municipal or fraternal meeting (And usually by monotheists, and most specifically, by Christians.)

I was raised in the Christian Church, and that is where I first met God. I am not anti-Christian and I do not hate Christians because I do still hold the teachings of Jesus to be sacred among those of others. Over the years my religious beliefs have changed and I now embrace a more universally spiritual understanding which is not only non-denominational, but interfaith. It transcends the limitations of Christianity and monotheism. There is much to learn and apply spiritually from all forms of religion, as well as from the Humanist and Atheist Traditions. Together they make a beautiful bouquet of knowledge and understanding. We can apply this toward the work we need to do toward tolerance and inclusion. My own personal belief is that the Imminent Divine-whatever you prefer to call the Source of your spirituality-is not one that exclusions others from the table of the Universal banquet.

I may not believe the same things you do, but I most certainly will not discount it and I will respect and defend your right to whatever you believe. What I will not do, however, is defend those who self-righteously stand before an assembly and assert their religious dominance.Assuming that everyone in the audience believes the same as you- or should- is simply the height not only of arrogance, but ignorance. The First Amendment to the Constitution-what is commonly known as the separation of Church and State-clearly says that making of any law establishing the creation of a federal religion ( an official religion of the State) is prohibited, and guarantees the free exercise of the religion of choice among the people. Well meaning individuals who insist that this is a nation founded on Christian values are mistaken, because that was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution.Many, who like Jefferson and Franklin, were non-Christian and in fact were Deists who believed that reason and observation of the natural world was sufficient to prove the existence of a Supreme Being. There was nothing implied in favor of nor against the supposed divinity of Jesus Christ. What it did imply, however, is that any federally supported institution or other entity would be religiously neutral under Constitutional Law.

Some members of religious sects-specifically ultra conservative fundamentalist Christians-are historically bad at recognizing this, and their interpretation of the First Amendment is bent in ways it was never intended to support their personal belief system at the exclusion of all others. Essentially they believe their concept of how and whom to worship is the only way, and many of them will attempt to persuade others not only through vigorous proselytizing, but by any force available to them, including emotional and psychological manipulation. ( On the other hand, according to the Book of Acts in the Bible, when Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, it was to offer a message of hope through a New Covenant with God-not threaten or force others to submit to religious cohesion. In fact, he pointedly instructed that if anyone rejected the Gospel, they were to be left alone and the disciples were to depart that place in peace.) So, in effect, what this particular group is actually doing is being disobedient their own God, and denying His words of instruction. They are willfully acting of their own accord and outside the Gospel they hold so near and dear.

Now I'm going to tell you about one of the things I don't like about living here.This part of Appalachia is host to a cluster of ultra conservative fundamentalists. Even as traditional mainstream denominations are shrinking at an alarming rate, these small autonomous groups have taken a foothold under the premise that THEY are not only the true (and only) definition of what it is to be Christian, but of what it is to be American. I don't mind telling you that I am personally sick and tired of the hubris and noise these people make when-like spoiled children- they don't get their own way. Their favorite battle cry is, no matter the situation, if you disagree with them you are not only discriminating against the Christian,s you are also being un-American in the process because America is a Christian country. Nothing could be further from the truth, and furthermore, it never was intended to be. This is a country that was founded on the idea of equality and justice. The only reason religion was ever mentioned in the  Constitution was because a provision for the separation of the United States as a country from the Church of England as a political entity had to be noted; the King/Queen of England rules not only the country, but is the titular head of the church as well. The framers of the Constitution wished to make clear that not only did Americans not want a monarchy, they also didn't want an official state religion.
America is truly a melting pot of many cultures and faith traditions. We are free to worship as we choose as long as we don't infringe on the rights of others in our society. That includes those who eschew religion and choose to decline affiliation with a specific religious denomination, those who wish to identify as "spiritual" (whatever form that takes), and even those who choose to not believe in any deity at all.