Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Place Where Spirituality and Religion Meet

In response to my recent Start Whole post, Roy made the following comment that I'm excited to address.
I'm really struck by how these are polar opposite to mainstream Christian beliefs--the statements that: a.) sin is not necessarily an act of evil; and b.) we are fundamentally whole.

Christian belief of course, starts with the assumption that all people are broken and thus require a savior.

On the seven deadly sins, I think when the early Christian scholars enumerated them, they already considered these sins as sins in their modern meaning, i.e., acts of evil. Thomas Aquinas, I believe, called them the capital vices; he considered them not very gravely sinful, except that they lead to many other sins.

I find this really fun to discuss. I have been raised Christian by a Syrian Orthodox father and a Roman Catholic mother, both wonderful and loving morality teachers. I was baptized Syrian Orthodox, then I went to Sunday school (CCD) in a Roman Catholic church where I received my First Holy Communion, attended mass regularly, memorized my prayers - and even tried to say them with feeling instead of rote recitations droning on and on, enjoyed confession (will write about confession later), and undertook Confirmation in the church. I have been blessed that family members considered me a decent enough spiritual role model to be a Godfather thrice over. As a child, I held strong, self-motivated beliefs in the church and when my parents could not make it, I rode my bike there by myself on Sundays. When I could drive, I even explored other churches in the area. A friend and I were founders of a Catholic youth group, where we spoke about the practical role of religion in teenagers' lives.

I see almost all religions as having the same moral ideals, just different details and rituals. As a teenager my take was that "Most religions [yes, there's a caveat to exclude things like devil worship and cults] have the same moral principles. They are likely by the same God who is intelligent enough to present himself to different peoples at different times and in the ways that are most effective to them. The people inevitably added some politics to the message, but the same core message of loving thy neighbor holds true across Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Native American traditions, and so on." I read the dictionary (
I read the dictionary often) for terms to describe different belief systems and found some resonance with the terms pantheism and deism. In grade school, I proposed a school project exploring the similarities amongst the world's religions and ethical systems. I planned a 'round-the-world tour of major religious sites (I've still never taken it). When I write in my blog about my spiritual journey, I write it with love and respect for all religions and the lessons that they teach. I also view these with what I find to be a healthy degree of pragmatism, as I realize the humanity that has shaped them throughout the ages.

Lately I write a lot about Buddhism and other spiritual practices, because they are new to me and I keep finding a lot of wisdom in their lessons. Here, I aim to write an open account of my spirituality and how it is compatible with Christianity, despite the apparent contradiction between my beliefs and Christian beliefs.
Discussions on religion are always so sensitive... I hope to not offend anyone, please read with an open mind and understanding of my love for all morality-based religions and philosophies. Here goes...

I totally agree that some mainstream interpretations of Christian beliefs are antithesis to the comments that I make in the post. Though, I find that my perspective still aligns with the core teachings of Jesus. It is necessary to look at the teachings of our religions and see what is truly helpful & essential and what is centuries worth of accumulated detritus.

Nowhere in the Gospels have I found Jesus perpetuating the conflict of Good vs. Evil. Jesus talks about what will get us into Heaven and bring us closer to God. Jesus also talks about a Heaven on Earth and how we can get there when we are away from sin.

I interpret this as Heaven being the mark, and our sins as keeping us away from the mark. In this sense, sins are just misguided living. This feels true to me. Heaven is available to us on Earth all the time. If one follows the Beatitudes taught by Jesus, one will find Heaven on Earth. "The Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, relates a series of 'Thou shalt nots,' evils one must avoid in daily life on earth. / In contrast, the message of Jesus was one of humility, charity, and brotherly love. He taught transformation of the inner person. Jesus presents the Beatitudes in a positive sense, virtues in life which will ultimately lead to reward." [] This view is also consistent with what I have read of St. Thomas Aquinas.

When I read the bible, I cannot help but see Jesus as an awakened individual, an individual filled with God and an understanding of a clear path to Heaven. I believe that the original Christian teachings have been distorted throughout the years by a combination of incorrect translations and people who did not fully "get it". I see Heaven as a state of Being, not a place. And the Heavenly state of Being comes through Salvation.

I see parallels between spiritual philosophies. As example, here are some mappings that I see between Buddhism and Christianity: Nirvana as equivalent to Heaven and Enlightenment and Awakening as equivalent to Salvation. Look closely at Buddha's teachings on the cessation of suffering and compare them to the Beatitudes of Jesus. Uncanny. All wise spiritual paths teach us the same lessons, but they are often shrouded in clumsy rituals and misguided dogma. We need to learn how to chip the debris off of the jewels. If you're interested in exploring a little further,
Eckhart Tolle writes about specific passages and how they are consistent with this interpretation. I am still Puzzling Over Tolle, though find his writings to be quite meaingful and heartfelt. I really recommend A New Earth to learn even more.

I'll give another comparison based on Original Sin, which Roy alluded to in his comment. The Christian Church teaches that with Original Sin, we start unwhole, and this can only be washed away by Baptism. The gift of Baptism is a way of removing feelings of guilt, showing that something as simple and clean as water can absolve us of sins. If we look a little bit at what actually happens, there's a room for a luss judgemental interpretation that I find more wholesome and wise. Jesus allows John the Baptist to baptize him in order to show us that anyone can absolve us of guilt. That sin is not such a deep mark that it cannot be absolved. Just plain ol' water can do it in anyone's hands. We can even do it for ourselves once we recognize that water is a placebo. It is the intention that is important, and a ritual such as Baptism is a means to seal that intention. With this, we also reconigze that we were whole all along, we just believed that we were unwhole. The ritual also helps us shed those beliefs for ourselves (rather than doing it for us). One just has to set aside sin, and by doing so, can enter Heaven.

One theory that I have is that Christian Church in Europe became a power play for the intelligent peasants to make their way out of the serf class and for the younger sons of nobles, who would not inherit title and property, to stay elite. In order words, it was more about power and politics than piety and compassion. This thirst for power is not compatible with the awakened teachings. So the heart of the religion was eventually plastered over sloppily with interpretations from less awakened people. This pattern can be seen across the world's religions.

At the root Jesus is still the Son of God and Man, and his teachings are wise and pure. There's a part of my being that knows this to be true. That same part of my beings knows the cores of other religions to also be true. There are definitely more similarities than differences, and they are the same cores, only interpretations differ--understandably so.

I dedicate this post to my co-worker Roy who engages me with deep thoughts, a curious mind, and a generous heart.

Request for respectful


  1. Thanks for the dedication! Random thoughts...

    * You *liked* confession?!

    * Things that keep us away from heaven is what many theologians call "evil"

    * I like the idea of baptism as a symbol of how simple it is to wash away our sins

  2. You're welcome, Roy. Thanks for the motivation and continued discussion.

    Re: liking confession - Confession is going to receive it's own post in the near future. I recommend watching Gran Torino if you have not already, there's an excellent scene around confession. I like the idea of how we're encouraged to talk about our mistakes and just let them drop, rather than harboring guilt over them.

    Re: "evil" - "Evil" is typically viewed as a moral judgment. Moral judgments are not something that I find valuable. It implies that we are doing things particularly to avoid such judgments or in order to make it into Heaven. I instead feel it to be true that when we are free of judgments and delusions that lead to suffering, that we are then in Heaven. If there's a definition of evil that means just that, in much the same way that I'm comfortable with a different definition of "sin", that works for me, too. In one sense Words are just strings of letters, and I don't want to get hung up on the meaning of them. That's where communication breaks down.

    Re: baptism - :)

    In general you probably see my theme here. The theme of where spirituality works for me. It's a view without the ham-handedness of moral judgment. I argue that this is just egoic trappings that actually are their own devices to keep us from Heaven. Seeing things as "right" and "wrong", "good" and "evil", is it itself a sin by the original, straight-from-archery meaning.