“We each have an obligation to analyze our faith, study our religion, and periodically update our belief system as we grow and learn new spiritual truths, even if those truths come to us from sources outside of our inherited or chosen religion.”-The Truth: About the Five Primary Religions by Laurel.[Note: I've been meaning to wrap up my review on The Truth but I've been considerably busy with final projects, the kids, and moving into our new home in Chattanooga.]
In Chapter 3 Laurel introduces the reader to the 7 good rules of religion, which if followed will lead mankind into the next spiritual paradigm and guide man back to the divine: Philosophy, Science, Morality, Justice, Inclusiveness, Openness, and Spirituality. As soon as Laurel described the rules I knew she was right, our religions have failed us. A religion is only as good as the people upholding its noble Truths.
Yet where our religions have failed us there are movements within each which have been wrestling with their own faith's failures. A battle for self-identity is being fought within the 5 major religions as future generations carry on the faith. What does it mean to be a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, and who defines these labels? Can you truly be a faithful Christian and still be open-minded, how much of our traditions must we sacrifice in following these rules? The Seven Good Rules are more like seven noble goals instead of rules for the development of our individual and communal spiritual journeys. Noble goals to which, as Laurel will explain in detail in chapter 4, all religions have failed. So before jumping into the deep end of how they've failed us (which all of them have) let us go over why we feel religion is still important.
Religion began as our early attempt to explain the mysteries of the cosmos and helped to foster the development of civilization and safeguard our tribal survival. The ancient world must have been an extremely fearful environment for our ancestors battling with the wild forces of nature. Religion was the glue which kept communities together (live together, die alone), fed our wildly imaginative and creative impulses, and structured a sense of connection with the world and the divine. We eventually began peeling back the layers of fog blanketing the unknown to discover the actual mechanisms of the universe itself instead of continuously placating the gods to protect us from the elements, praying for blessings to rain down from on high. We discovered that there was not only a structured order to the universe but that we could work within that system to our benefit (navigation, metallurgy, biology, etc). These discoveries began to undermine the truths long held by the religions, which claim divine (or higher) revelation as their sources. Some, like the New Atheists, would say that since we have made long strides discovering the inner workings of the universe we no longer need religion, which was helpful at first but is now keeping mankind from progressing forward. I both agree and disagree that religion is broken and serves to be only as useful as a paperweight. The establishment and traditions of religion have become antiquated and now serves mostly to keep the clergy in power. Period. This is why people feel disconnected and are seeking the sacred outside of the established sacred places.
What has resonated with me the most and which I have found to be the best description of this tension between those inclined towards religion and those towards spirituality is best displayed by this crudely drawn graph.
Human beings crave connection, love, and interaction with each other, but we can't connect if we can't get along. Any religion which strays from these 7 goals are not only attempting to ensure its own survival they are inflicting harm to Man's spirit. The graph above is meant to illustrate that religion only serves to make you a better Hindu, Jain, Muslim, or Jew spiraling inward towards the center. And I have nothing against being a better Insert Faithful Believer Here, but if you're only spiraling inward towards a single faith there will be contention with followers of other faiths. Spirituality, or spiritual growth described as the Saddha Process by Laurel, on the other hand seeks to always grow outward regardless of your religious background. This is why the Seven Good Rules can never be followed by a practitioner of a faith because the clergy will not consider any change which might disrupt their power base. Is religion salvageable or should we follow the advice of the new Atheists and throw the baby out with the bath water? I believe, or hope, we can save religion, but for our religions to survive they (and the men who control it) must be open to radical discovery, radical change, and radical love.