What Do We Believe?
Advent 2014 this blog discussed over twenty-five various religions and spiritualties. Of recent years there has been much debate regarding religion and spiritual beliefs. Usually it is in the form of an opposing debate: religion versus spirituality. I always find this such a debate a bit confusing because the religious explanation(s) of the universe are derived from the philosophies of various spiritualties. Can one really separate religion from spirituality?
The country of India was the beginning of many religious traditions. The early civilizations of India all contributed their own versions interwoven with their specific cultures but most shared similar basic concepts. Today we know these as forms of Hinduism which believes in reincarnation. The samsara spoke of the cycles of life – birth, life, death, and rebirth. A person’s rebirth was based upon their living a good life and introduced moral philosophy as a basic part of religion.
Siddhartha Gautama was born in India during the sixth century BCE. Better known by most of us as Buddha, he introduced the Four Noble Truths. They included suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering. This Eightfold Path told one how to live a life of fulfillment and centered on the eight principles of right, mindfulness, right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, and right understanding.
Then a man known as Jesus of Nazareth was born and after living approximately thirty years began to spread his own version of philosophy around. He claimed no great title or crown but neither did he seemed to be confused about life – its origins, its purposes, its ending. He spoke of many of the same things Greek philosophers had wondered about and eastern spiritualties referenced. Thus it is no surprise that the teachings of Christianity dominated the philosophical world in Europe through the first ten or more decades ACE.
Questioning was not forgotten, though. The first noted Christian philosopher is considered to be Augustine of Hippo. Augustine’s mother was a proud Christian but he himself at first followed Manichaeism, a Persian religion. Intense and careful study of classical philosophy led him to his Christian beliefs, however. He saw no divisiveness between his faith and philosophy and wrote “The City of God”. In this book Augustine explained how one could live on an earthly place and also live in the heavenly world of what he called the kingdom of God, an idea he adapted from Plato.
While Augustine encouraged open thinking, he also warned against ego in one’s thinking. “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” All too often, we believe until it makes us uncomfortable or we believe only what we want to believe.
It is easy to believe in something that benefits us. The true test comes when we believe in something that might not give us everything we think we want or should have. “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” Augustine encouraged learning but lamented that many people saw this as an outward exercise, desiring only to learn about things and others, not themselves. “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”
Taking time to study one’s self or one’s life is tough. It truly puts the test of learning through its paces. After all, it is always much easier to see the dirt on another than on ourselves. I remember hearing a friend remark on her recent weight gain. Having been ill, she stayed inside recuperating. She knew rationally that her medications could result in weight gain but really had not given it much thought, that is until she needed to dress for an outing with friends. “I stood in front of the mirror every day, brushing my hair and teeth, putting on a robe, etc. Yet, I never noticed I had gained weight until my “going-out” clothes did not fit when I put them on!” From her perspective, the added weight was invisible until she had her eyes opened by a zipper that would not close.
Most of us know right from wrong. We know it is wrong to drive faster than the posted speed limit but sometimes feel our reasons warrant the infraction. Many people feel they can tell when they are inebriated. Sadly, the statistics on deaths from drunk driving prove most people cannot tell accurately. “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”
Life is about growing and growth comes from knowledge. Augustine himself explained life as a journey of hope. “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day. After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day. After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”
So we are now at the debate mentioned in our opening paragraph. Can there truly be a contest of “Religion versus Spirituality”? Perhaps the true contest is in whether we choose to believe in anything other than ourselves. What is our true motivation in life…To do that which is good and just or that which gains us the most profit here on earth? What and why do we believe?