The problem with world religions is that deep truth is often mixed up with the out-dated thinking of old conservative men. As I said to a gay Muslim girl, “What men say God thinks isn’t necessarily what God thinks”.
How do you keep the best of the tradition you were born into while rejecting fundamentalism and ideas that go against the modern values of human rights?
Here is a method that combines a post-modern approach with Buddhist philosophy. Be warned – it can be a scary, painful and even costly process as well as liberating. The same approach can be applied if you are fundamentalist about science and take an ideological approach called “Scientism”. More on this later.
- Make a compassionate aspiration about why you are doing this: for example, “so I can have a more meaningful life”, or “so I can make a greater contribution to the world” or “so I can be peace with the difficulty of life”. This step summarises the Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhist view that before you are ready to deconstruct the external world and yourself you need to have spent many years practising compassion and experiencing compassion. Otherwise, you may deconstruct everything into meaninglessness and get stuck in nihilism (“What’s the point in anything?”).
- Deconstruct the religion or ideology: take a long hard look at your religion and cut away all the parts that are contrary to the heart of your religion and its purpose. Which spiritual practices support or deepen your lived experience of this? Also review the consistency of your religion with the modern values of equality and tolerance (see the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights). For example, sexism, discrimination against LGBT, devaluing of other religions and ideas that are contrary to science, medicine and psychology. Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction can be described as follows: “Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell—a secure axiom or a pithy maxim—the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquillity…One might even say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is”. In Tibetan Buddhism, deconstruction is called Trekchö – cutting through.
We also need to look at our religion with a careful use of the scientific method. Science can sometimes be used by fundamentalists who have an excessive belief in science: this is “scientism”. Science is important when it provides empirical evidence to prove something. But just because science cannot prove something doesn’t mean it disproves it. Science has clear theorems about the mechanics of the physical universe and of evolution in biology, but has no evidence about whether God exists or not. A close Christian friend of mine wrote to me saying “If I were to cut away everything in my religion that wasn’t supported by modern science or medicine I would have to cut out the mysterious things science cannot explain – including the resurrection of Jesus and the possibility of being indwelt by God, on which my faith and my spiritual practice stand.” Science is continually updating itself based on research. Today, a professor and cancer specialist at University College London Hospital who has always poo-pooed health supplements for cancer, told me that tomato extract has a good track record for reducing the likelihood of cancer reoccurring in non-aggressive cases. So, while evidence may prove something, lack of evidence doesn’t prove anything. Equally important is that the human soul needs more than rational thinking: as Gregory Bateson said3 “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a metaphor?” Poetry, art, aesthetics and religion are all important to the human soul. “Soul or psyche (Ancient Greek: “to breathe”) comprises the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking, etc.”4
Finally, arrive at principles and practices that express the heart of your religion and its purpose; modern standards of human rights, science and aesthetics. Discard everything else.
- Construct your own spiritual model with practices. Draw together all the elements that work for you. Find spiritual practices that support your approach. Look for spiritual or religious leaders who have similar values to yourself. In psychology, Constructivism suggests that “it is the human mind that actively gives meaning and order to that reality to which it is responding”.2
Spirituality is both how you create meaning and purpose; and more important, the way you experience your connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” 5. Use spiritual practices to deepen your experience of the sacred.
- Derrida, J. and Caputo, J. (1997). Deconstruction in a nutshell. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.
- Balbi, J. (2008). Epistemological and theoretical foundations of constructivist cognitive therapies: Post-rationalist developments. Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences, [online] pp.15–27. Available at: http://www.crossingdialogues.com/Ms-A08-01-6.pdf [Accessed 15 Jul. 2019].
- Bateson intentionally misquoting lines from Robert Browning’s poem Andrea del Sarto “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
- Soul. (2017). En.m.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 17 July 2019, from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul
- Puchalski, C. (2019). Quoted in What Is Spirituality? | Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. [online] Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. Available at: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-spirituality [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].