There is something that has been troubling me for a very long time – something that has never felt right to me – and what I wish to say about it may seem controversial to some. But I feel it is important enough that I need to address it. That “something” has to do with the idea of “organized religion”.
It’s been something of a conflict for me because I’ve always had a love of the spiritual…a love of contemplation of the Divine….and an admiration for those drawn to spiritual lives. But I have also had a mistrust of “organized religion” and its structured hierarchy which ascribes individuals as spiritual intermediaries who are believed to have more knowledge than others about God and who are given a status of being able to speak for God. Such a structure, I believe, has the effect of separating individuals from their own divinity, as well as limiting the possibility of the full expression of the Divine which must be free to express itself through all creation. And further, I believe that such a structure creates an opportunity for evilness to manifest.
In an earlier post of mine, I mentioned that as a child of 4 years of age (I may even have been as young as 3), I was asking my mother questions about God. By the age of 5 or 6, I was becoming even more inquisitive about so many things I was observing around me. In some cases, I was sensing and feeling and hearing and seeing things that did not make “physical sense”, and, though I did not speak to anyone about them, I was aware that my thoughts and experiences were different.
I grew a bit older, always maintaining a religious contemplative focus. I enjoyed going to church as long as I was attending the adult services, because I could think about what I was hearing. I did not enjoy attending Sunday School. By age 7, I was praying each night that I would become “a servant of God” in some manner, and by my late teens, I was experiencing a strong “calling” to become a nun. But I was also conflicted, because I had been questioning my own beliefs regarding organized religion. There were things about organized religion that just didn’t make sense to me.
For one thing, I had a fundamental mistrust of males in positions of authority within the church (and it was almost always that males were in control). I noticed that, outside of the performance of their religious duties, they acted and spoke in ways that I did not consider any better than anyone else, and even in some cases, acted in ways that did not seem very spiritual to me.
I had also become aware of the fact that my mother, many years earlier, had sought to understand psychic experiences she was having by asking for guidance from different church leaders from different religious denominations, and that rather than helping her (though I’m sure they thought they were doing just that), they made her feel bad, uninformed, not religious enough and somehow exposed to evil influence. My mother, always a very kind, caring and loving, religiously focused person, was not the kind of individual they were describing, and I believe those serving organized religion made her question herself and had a negative impact on her self-esteem. For me, knowing this about her told me that they did not speak for God.
And my suspicion that religious authority figures did not possess any special divine power, was settled for me when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church at age 16. The entire confirmation experience (after 16 years of living within my own deep spiritually focused life) felt empty and meaningless and nothing at all like I imagined I should have felt if the Bishop was truly imparting the Holy Spirit onto me.
I thought further about the possibility of becoming a nun, but could not reconcile the idea of males in the Church having absolute power over females in the Church, so this concern strongly influenced my decision not to become a nun, despite many years of such a strong desire to move in that direction. It simply did not make sense to me that women did not have an equal voice in matters of spiritualty when they represented one half of all human creation, and when their whole existence was about caring for the physical and spiritual needs and well-being of others which the whole world depended on. Silencing and controlling women’s voices in the name of religion did not seem right to me.
So, in my late teens, I made the decision that I could no longer be a part of organized religion, because, in my mind, it did not properly represent the Divine, and, in fact, was prohibiting its full expression. This was reinforced again for me later, in my early 20s, when I came to understand that I was gay. Even before I knew that I was gay, I had experienced and witnessed the damage being done to gay people in the name of organized religion, and it troubled me to see it. Because of the strong influence of religion, even good and decent people found themselves siding with what organized religion told them about gay people, rather than what they may have felt in their hearts – so much so that many turned on those they loved and rejected them. And it was especially cruel for gay people (who were often kind, sensitive, caring individuals) to hear themselves described as lacking, because they also had been influenced by what organized religion had told them all their lives, and so they often internalized a hatred of self, as a result. Once again, it seemed to me that, if all creation is from God, then God exists in all creation, and therefore, there is a reason why some portion of creation in all cultures and in all time periods have been gay, and that, perhaps, organized religion in its suppression of gay people, was, in fact, prohibiting the full expression of the Divine, and therefore engaging in a deep moral harm.
I was reminded as I grew through my teen years and early 20s, that I had realized something when I was about 11 years old, that had always stayed with me. I had been contemplating all the wars fought in the name of a religion, all the damage done to indigenous cultures by missionaries who raped and murdered in the name of religion, and the horrible periods in history (such as the Inquisition and the witch trials) initiated in the name of religion in which great pain and suffering and torture were forced upon people by religious figures (ultimately to ensure their own personal consolidation of religious, financial and political power). What came to me as I contemplated all this was an understanding that there is an evilness that hides within organized religion. Because the organization itself starts from a place that is presumed to ally with God, and presumes that those who work within it speak for God, then its very existence is considered to be essentially infallible. Despite all the many atrocities we know of that have been done in the name of religion, we still continue to believe that religion is a good thing. Why is it that something with such an extreme track record for harm, is not seen as entirely harmful? Organized religion makes it very hard for a person – particularly a good-hearted person – not to feel as though they are questioning the very wishes of God himself if they begin to question their own religion or those in religious authority, so a great deal of personal power, thought and influence is willingly given over to the organized religious structure. And in my contemplation at that early age, I came to understand that, if there is such a thing as an “anti-Christ”, then the anti-Christ is organized religion itself!
We know now that it has been through organized religion that terrible physical and sexual atrocities have been inflicted on children (within Christianity, most notably in the past 100 years in such places as Ireland, Australia and the US by priests and nuns charged with caring for their welfare). What greater example of evilness than to cause harm to a child? Children are, after all, much closer to the Divine because they have not been so influenced by the world, so one has to ask why so much harm has been done to children by representatives of organized religion? And what greater place to hide than in the one place that goes unquestioned? It seems to me that if there is a dark effort to control, the most effective place to do that is to negatively impact the life of a child from a place that adults will not question or believe no harm can come from. The effect is a lifetime of fear and a separation from love. Anything that happens to a child affects them for the rest of their life.
Please understand that when I speak of organized religion, I am not referring to the great number of spiritual people who seek guidance from within various religions and churches. Further, I am not referring to church-goers as being representatives of “the anti-Christ”. What I am saying is that the structure of organized religion itself may well be the structure in which the “anti-Christ” resides. It hides there and uses the structure to control the thoughts and actions of the vulnerable, when it can, and it gets away with so much without ever being detected. And when harm is done, it is quickly forgotten as an anomaly, or is somehow justified as “God’s will”.
There are many spiritual people in all religions who truly live spiritual lives and who reflect the love and compassion of the Divine. In reality, they do not need a church or a religion “to make them” live spiritual lives – they already possess a spiritual foundation – their inspiration and divinity already comes from within them. However, they may also choose to be a part of a church or religion because it provides the avenue in which they find communion with those who share their values and which enables them to grow further. Also, so much more good can be done in groups of like-minded people. These are healthy people within healthy religious environments.
But those who lust for power and control can also find a safe place within organized religion, and can use that platform to engage in a form of deception and mind control that is damaging. And they can use the cover of “faith” or “religion”, to behave in ways that have nothing at all to do with religious beliefs or aspects of the Divine. There is nothing divine in proclaiming that one religion is better than another, or that one skin color is better than another, or that one form of love is better than another, or that one culture or language or customs are better than another. And there is certainly nothing divine in participating in the physical or sexual abuse of another. These are divisive and judgmental and lacking in love, and serve to prohibit the full expression of the Divine – they are anti-Divine (or within Christianity, they are anti-Christ).
This ability to hide within organized religious structures has enabled a fundamentalist arm of religion to begin to ally itself more closely with certain political structures that share a similar desire for control over individual human behavior and thought. It is responsible for the rise in terrorism and extremism all over the world. Notice that virtually all hate groups also claim to have some directive from a holy book or religious leader. They also share a desire to control women. In the US, it is fundamentalist religious extremists who have empowered a Republican party to support a sexual predator for President, support a fundamentalist pedophile for a Senate seat, steal a seat from a Democratic President to force a fundamentalist lawyer on the Supreme Court, confirm the appointments of fundamentalists to positions of power over federal agencies who wish to destroy education, science, the environment, and social programs that help those in need, permit the possibility for hostile foreign powers to take control over our elections without penalty or protection, deny full access to voting, access to healthcare, access to information, access to livable wages, and support the escalation of war – even the possibility of nuclear war. It would be harder to achieve such controls over people in a free society, were it not for the increasing influence of religious fundamentalism and its marriage to our political structures.
This is the issue that has been troubling me my whole life. And it is why, I believe, we have to ask ourselves the reason that we give over so much power to organized religion, when there is so much evidence of its long, historical connection to destruction and pain and suffering? The good that has been done in the world has not been done by organized religion. It has been done by individuals who carry love and light into the world – who’s hearts and minds reflect true aspects of the Divine that exists within all of us! These people may congregate at times within churches and within organized religious structures, but it is they who are doing good in the world – not the religious structure. We have to stop believing in a person’s connection to some organized religious group as a sign that they are incapable of doing wrong because of their affiliation, and instead, look to their actions and their goals.