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Truth, belief and spirituality

11 June 2014, 11:13

Truth, religion and spirituality

Religion is a belief; spirituality is the realisation – a deep inner awareness – that our true nature is spirit.

Religion relies on external authorities and scriptures as the criteria for behaviour; spirituality recognises that all we need to know comes from within ourselves.

Religion always expects you to be ‘good’ in one way or another in order to please a god. This may entail sacrifices, good deeds, living according to a specified morality or ‘believing’ in a prescribed way.

Being ‘good’, even if this only entails ‘believing in Jesus,’ is rewarded with some kind of perceived happiness in life after life. Not being ‘good’ is punished.

Religion is therefore based on the necessity of judgement and the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Spirituality, on the other hand requires the relinquishment of judgement.

The need to be ‘good’ is not restricted to what is generally known as ‘religion’. It is deeply ingrained in humanity as a whole.

The mere belief in ‘good’ automatically suggests – and therefore creates – ‘evil’.

Governments function on the need of the masses to be ‘good’. We are told that paying our TV licences or e-toll is the ‘right thing to do’. Irrespective of the ‘objective’ fairness of a law, citizens are required to abide by that law. If they do, they are deemed ‘good’ and rewarded by not being harassed. If they don’t, they are punished with fines, jail or even death.

Only by breaking the law did the ANC manage to end Apartheid (with the help of other countries). The reasoning was that the laws that kept Apartheid in place were not fair. Who decides whether a law is fair or not? Is this not something deep inside ourselves?

The belief in ‘good’ and ‘evil’ tends to lead to feelings of superiority and inferiority. Religious people frequently tend to see themselves as better than others because they have the ‘right’ belief – whether they are Christians, Jews, Muslims or Buddhists.

However, the same holds for other belief systems. Atheists often deem themselves better than religious people because they believe they understand something religious people don’t understand.

Typical of any belief system is that its basic assumptions are not to be questioned. This includes the belief in scientism – the belief that only the scientific method can yield meaningful answers, which includes the assumption that nothing that cannot be perceived with the senses or measured in some way or another exists.

All belief systems, including religions, scientism, atheism and the like, tend to include the belief in the ‘god’ of ‘objectivity’ that rejects ‘subjectivity’. In religions scriptures and/or religious authority figures are deemed the measure of ‘objectivity’ to decide on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In scientism the ‘scientific method’ is deemed the measure of ‘objectivity’. No belief system accepts that truth may be contained within ourselves.

This is probably the major difference between belief and spirituality. Spirituality accepts that the truth is within ourselves.

This is probably also the reason why we westerners in general have been discouraged to trust our feelings from time immemorial and rely on our mind instead.

The problem that now arises, of course, is how do we distinguish between ‘subjectivity’ and ‘truth’ in an individual? Many people have claimed to have been told by God that their way is the only truth, frequently resulting in disaster. Many more claim to have access to ultimate truth by simply insisting that they are right and others wrong.

Here we get to authenticity, which has been discouraged from time immemorial. (Surely, if you are to be ‘good’, that means you have to deny, suppress or hide anything in you that may not be judged as ‘good’, which is the denial of authenticity and therefore hypocrisy?) The belief that we are inherently evil therefore inherently leads to hypocrisy.

The kind of truth spirituality encourages is honesty and authenticity. This must of necessity preclude judgement.

Our education systems are based on the belief that children are to be made ‘good’, based on the assumption that they are inherently ‘not good’. This is as valid in atheism as in religion. To teach children ‘morals’ is to teach them to be what their parents (society) believe they should be. As we clearly see in our own country today, this differs from culture to culture.

‘Progressive’ education (such as that based on people such as Dewey, Piaget and Montessori) recognise that children have within themselves a drive to learn: they want to learn the norms, values and practices of the culture that they grow up in. The problem, of course, is that they learn exactly what they see. If parents regularly say “Thank you,” they too will learn to do so. If not, not. And so education is often about getting children to behave in ways that fit a particular belief system, but is actually contrary to the way in which parents and society in general behave.  

Here we have a basic contradiction in human behaviour: all of us often feel, think or behave in ways contrary to the way we believe we should feel, think or behave. When this happens, because it contradicts our belief systems, we tend to suppress or deny such feelings, thoughts and behaviour. In some cases we manage to continue to hide our ‘inappropriate’ tendencies, in others the contradiction between how we should feel, think or behave and how we actually feel, think or behave is so powerful that we lapse into ‘criminal’ behaviour.

Carl Rogers made an interesting discovery: “The more paradoxical aspect of my experience is that the more I am simply willing to be myself, in all this complexity of life and the more I am willing to understand and accept the realities in myself and in the other person, the more change seems to be stirred up. It is a very paradoxical thing – that to the degree that each one of us is willing to be himself, then he finds not only himself changing; but he finds that other people to whom he relates are also changing; At least this is a very vivid part of my experience, and one of the deepest things I think I have learned in my personal and professional life.”

What this effectively means is that, to the extent that we stop judging our own or others’ behaviour, that behaviour changes spontaneously. This would imply a self-correcting mechanism in us that is inhibited by judgement.

Hence the saying, “what you resist, persists.”

One of the people on whom a religion (Christianity) was based expressly stated, “Do not judge.” Why would it be that the religion that claims him as its foundation turned out exactly the opposite of what he stood for? Jesus tried to point out the nature of spirituality; Christianity made him into a religion.

It seems clear to me that, to the extent that we allow ourselves to be who we are without judgement (in other words both ‘good’ and ‘bad’), to that same extent our behaviour tends to self-correct towards what is generally perceived as ‘good’. To the extent that we try to be ‘good’, however, and deny what we judge as ‘evil’, we manifest exactly that which we do not like in ourselves and therefore become ‘bad’. Because this contradicts how we believe we should be, however, we suppress or deny it.

There is one other thing. We tend to see the behaviour, feelings and ideas that we don’t like in ourselves, because they don’t fit our belief system (judgement), in others. This is called ‘projection’. Similarly we also tend to project things we would like to be or feel on others, seeing them far greater and better as they may generally be perceived by others. One such form of ‘transference’, as it is known as, is called ‘falling in love’.

Here we have what for me is the basic dilemma of humanity: we very easily see what is ‘wrong’ with others, yet seldom see what is ‘wrong’ with ourselves. When others point it out to us, we become defensive or aggressive, because our denial is threatened. When our denial is threatened, we actually feel guilty for being ‘bad’, though we would of course not admit that.

To get back to the ‘truth’ within ourselves: We can only discover the truth within ourselves by being completely honest with ourselves and not judging. To claim any such truth as a general truth (“God told me so …”) is a form of denial and therefore dishonesty.

And yet a person who lives in complete authenticity tends to be perceived as having integrity, and therefore being a ‘beacon of truth’ and ‘good’. Carl Rogers was for me a good example of this. Jesus another. Even Mandela. Because such a person does not judge, others feel free in her or his presence to be more authentic, and therefor to be more in touch with the truth in themselves.

When this happens, we tend to become the very society that our belief systems endeavour to create, but fail to do as a result of judgement. It is then that truth emerges of itself.

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