October 31, 2018
We all know and roll our eyes at the type – the zealous god-fearing theist who has large forbidding crosses or knobby strings of mala beads decorating their homes and cars. The one who always attends church or the temple like clockwork, the one who constantly prays or meditates. The one who is somewhat “in-your-face” with their religious beliefs and practices. I am not talking about those fake hallelujah fanatics trying to deceive others with their behavior. No, I’m referring to the true believer, one who sincerely worships a higher power and invests alot of their time in religious thought and deed. The one that might make us feel a bit guilty about our own materialistic greed until we realize something.
We realize that although there is a category of people who might be truly god-fearing, there is a subcategory within whose main reason for such devotion is themselves and their own salvation rather than compassion and true enlightenment. Although they may be pursuing all the right avenues and actions, it is being done for all the wrong reasons.
There is no doubt that saving our own soul is a very important reason to pursue spiritual knowledge. Oftentimes that is how the quest begins – when we’re in a puddle of tears and shoveling raw cookie dough down our maw. We may have gone through one too many wrinkle cream purchases or endless commutes or post-it break-ups and suddenly run out of steam. We may experience episodes of depression or disillusionment and are driven to search for the meaning to life and all that is being endured. This is the most common start to most spiritual journeys.
But if a true awakening has taken place, soon enough we start realizing that our self and our beloved ego are just a temporary, illusory blip in the universe. We begin to see past our own souls to the many suffering and saintly souls that surround us. We begin to see ourselves in others, because everyone has the same dreams, hopes, and fears. (Like how I see myself in Amal Clooney.) We realize that our friends could be strangers in a next life, and vice-versa. We begin to feel attachment towards no one but everyone at the same time. The candle of compassion and love is lit.
This is what happens when a seeker is truly moving along the path to enlightenment. But I believe there are those who start up the path, then get distracted on the way by some pretty flower and sit down to pluck its colorful petals. Their journey stops there. To everyone else it looks like this person is saying and doing all the right things. But a deeper look shows otherwise.
This person will lack empathy for others they may meet in daily life – the cashier, postman, colleagues, or even friends. They will not be courteous in line or in traffic. Perhaps they won’t go around kicking their cat, but they’ll always be slightly stingy with their time, money, or affection. Even though they make a big showing of charity at Xmas time or other rare grand gestures. But on a daily basis, this person will always talk about meditating for their own peace of mind and to improve their own focus. Or they will talk about wanting to do good to win brownie points with God. But they will never talk or act in a way that shows a broader spiritual awakening beyond themselves and their nuclear family.
Some of them – not all, but some – may have a “holier than thou” attitude where they look down upon those less “religious”. Their arrogance is evident to all but themselves. One pompous acquaintance of mine constantly talks about how he “transcends” the mundane fishbowl in which we all swim. He’s one of the most selfish people I know and I feel like smacking his smug mug every time we cross paths. (I’ve got a loooong way to go on the enlightenment trip myself, as you can see!)
Others may not be arrogant at all. They may even be humble. But they are still delusional.
They may claim that they reached a state of ultimate meditational bliss, one where they became one with the universe and experienced God in all of his glory. Where they were neither in nor out, up nor down, and unicorns pranced across rainbows. Or something as magical as that. They swear they’ve made contact with the mysteries beyond, yet as soon as they return to their daily chores, the same old dissatisfaction, material goals, and petty worries come roaring back.
What I don’t understand is that if one truly has seen or connected with a magnificent power that transcends our current lifeform, why wouldn’t that reflect in their daily actions? I’m an Agnostic, so I don’t claim to have experienced any such wonders. But I always feel that if I WERE to come into contact with proof of God, or the supernatural, it would change me forever. I would never be the same again. First of all I’d probably float around, hugging everyone with a moony smile, somewhat akin to a happy drunk. I imagine I’d be so blissful. I could never return to my mundane worries and chores, I would be compelled to find a way to return again and again to the ecstatic state that I now know exists.
I have a hard time believing that true believers – with no doubt at all of a God – can act the way they do. I mean think about it – if tomorrow God were to come to Earth and give us a miraculous display of proof that he exists – perhaps by bringing us broccoli that tastes like chocolate – do you think any of us would really return to washing dishes and paying bills and clipping toe nails? I wouldn’t.
I once argued with a very religious friend of mine on this exact point. He was the type to say a long, ten minute prayer before eating any meal, and he made a great show of performing other rituals publicly. But he also drank, partied, and did other activities which would normally be acceptable, but seemed to contradict his fervent beliefs. It took many hours for me to wear him down by pointing out numerous contradictions, when finally he broke down and had to admit that he did have a small doubt about the existence of God. AHA! I knew it! I still respect him for his pious efforts, but I would prefer that he be authentic rather than put up a phony, perfect façade.
I’m not implying that every theist is a complete hypocrite. Indeed I’d say most are just good souls with shades of self-delusion mixed in as to the extent of their own doubts. They take up the middle 80% of the bell curve.
In addition, there are many admirable examples of self-realized souls who radiate compassion and truth, and make up the top 10% of the bell curve. Monks, priests, swamis, nuns, imams, Mother Theresa, along with everyday people who are kind, generous, and loving, exhibit an attitude and behavior that matches their claims of religious devotions. There are many glowing role models who seem true to their word.
The bottom 10% are what I call the Ungodly God People. Those who take refuge in religion to better only themselves and their happiness. Who have no genuine compassion or love for those around them, though they may be the ones most visible with their prayers, rituals, and donations. If only they realized that they are simply fooling themselves.