The Limitations of Atheism and Extremists

I was participating in a discussion group a few years ago about the question of faith and belief in God. Although most people, including me, do believe in a higher power, in this particular group, I was in the minority. One member asked me in an incredulous tone, “How can a person as intelligent as you, believe in a superstition?”

I was reminded of that conversation this morning as I was reading a host of year-in-review articles.  Because of the extremist religious groups in politics, and throughout the world, a belief in God has come to be equated with ignorance and superstition.  I disagree. While there are a number of ignorant and superstitious people who hide behind religion to promote bigotry and hate, it has been my experience that a belief in God has broadened my mind.

My friend in that discussion group listed the many sins committed in the name of God as a reason for his disbelief. I agree with him. I don’t believe in a vengeful or punitive god, either, but I still believe God exists.

I certainly don’t believe in a God that favors a particular religion, and then penalizes people for not being members. The great spiritual teachers of history used their teachings to empower their followers to end suffering, heal the sick, and care for the poor and the elderly.  These teachings were later interpreted by their followers and evolved into religions. Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu the mission to end suffering is the same. The cultures that created these religions are varied, but the individuals genuinely practicing these belief systems are sincere in their desire to know God and help others.

Extremists do not negate the good religion does in the world, nor do they prove God is a superstition. They only prove they don’t understand the words they spout.

Atheists often demand scientific evidence of God’s existence and claim there is none. Some of the greatest scientists the world has known were men of deep faith. It was their faith that opened their minds and led them to the discoveries they made. There is no conflict between science and faith, but there is sometimes a conflict in the rigid interpretation of religious teachings and science.

The information I hold in my head is only a small fraction of the world’s base of data, discovery, interpretations and conclusions. How ridiculous is it to say that knowledge doesn’t exist because I am unaware of it. That’s the argument made by all extremists denouncing science.

It is also the argument made by atheism. It is just as ridiculous to say that if I do not understand God, God cannot exist. If God cannot fit into a set of facts I can understand, God does not exist.

There are many things I didn’t understand when I was in my 20’s. Thirty years later, things are much clearer. My knowledge of the world increased along with my understanding and competence.

A belief in God keeps my mind open to possibilities I am not yet able to see or know or comprehend. How limiting would it be to shut down any possibility, including God’s existence because I’m not ready to fully understand? It is just as limiting as demanding that God fit into the teachings of my culture and my religion. Both extremes are too limiting for me.

The Simplicity of Mastery

As a writer and content developer, I’ve worked in a wide variety of fields from personal growth and therapy, to forestry management and highway engineering. In my role as a human resources consultant, I’ve worked in the finance, healthcare, publishing, creative services, manufacturing, construction, private schools, retail and restaurant industries. What I’ve learned is that each industry, each field of study, has it’s own language.

Jargon is something that is created within a field of study to further define concepts that are only evident to the people who work within the industry. It’s a language within a language that describes nuances and details important to deeper work in that field. The first thing I do when I start a project is to learn the jargon, so I can better understand the concepts I’ll be using to complete a project.

Many of the projects I do involve translating the jargon into commonly used language for non-experts. However, knowing the language, in no way makes me a master in that field. Masters are the people who work in the field on a daily basis, using the concepts for a practical purpose. A master is recognized by how well he or she can explain jargon with clarity.

The Language of Spirituality and Religion

The jargon of religion is particularly interesting to me because of the number of words created that mean God. Some can be spoken and some can only be spoken under certain circumstances. Some can’t be spoken at all. These are words that exist for the sole purpose of not being used.

Spiritual pursuits also have their own jargon. What has always interested me about spiritual jargon is the number of words created to describe what many believe is indescribable. These are words such as isness, being, gap, oneness, no-self, no-mind, and many more. Unlike other fields of study where jargon is standardized, each writer develops his or her own jargon requiring the reader to learn the language before understanding the insights.

Spirit-Speak

How to Create a Happier Life with the Enneagram was developed using plain, common use language. The project was originally my husband’s idea. While he believes spiritual practices have enormous value, he has no patience for what he calls “spirit-speak.”  He pitched the idea for this project to me by asking me to write it for “regular guys” like him, who don’t understand spirit-speak and don’t want to learn it.

At first, I thought that wasn’t possible. Some things are just really hard to describe without jargon, if not impossible. Jargon’s sole purpose is to give a voice to those undefined concepts. And, there was the part of me that believed spiritual matters were a little too mysterious to be described plainly.  Besides, shouldn’t spiritual concepts sound inspirational?

Six years after my husband first mentioned the idea for this project to me, I’ve come to agree with him. In other fields of study, how well someone understands the concepts is demonstrated by how well he or she can explain them in simple terms. Perhaps, spirituality should not be an exception. Instead of making the concepts more complex so an interpreter is required, maybe they need to be simplified.

When these concepts are explained clearly, there is no need for a spiritual guide or guru. The teachings themselves are meant to direct people back to their own internal guide. What is important to take away from any spiritual practice is that you are the best guide for your life.

Many of the texts we hold as sacred were written more than 2000 years ago before the sciences of psychology, neurology, physiology or biochemistry. Perhaps, what may have been indescribable two millennia in the past can now be explained clearly, so everyone can understand and use the practices to create more happiness and life satisfaction.

The Simplicity of Mastery

The best teachings about spiritual practices are simple and clear. The greatest spiritual teachers in history kept their message simple. It was the people who came after the original masters who added the complexity.

Buddha instructed his followers with this advice, “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.”

Black Hawk, a Suak Holy Man, observed with irony, “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.”

St. Paul admonished early Christians to limit their language in church gatherings to only what benefits all members. Many of the early Christians sought the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues because it was a peak spiritual experience that seemed to bring them closer to God. Paul reminded his students that this was a gift that had no practical purpose in the service of others.  He encouraged them to instead seek the gift of prophesy, or teaching.

The message of Jesus was very simple and clear. Love God and love one another. When his disciplines argued over who would achieve the greatest glory in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus told them the one who is the least is the greatest in the eyes of God. He instructed his followers to become like a child in their faith and directed his disciples to actively demonstrate their faith by helping the sick, feeding the hungry and caring for the poor.

The Key to Mastery

Buddha taught, “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do if you do not act upon them?”

The pursuit of knowledge can be very rewarding, but I don’t think it leads to understanding or mastery.  The true masters of any field of study are the ones who put their knowledge to use with a daily practical purpose. Their growth is not measured by the degrees they hold, but by how well they can use complex concepts. Knowledge is only the first step to understanding and is worthless without action.

Spirituality and religion are the same as any other field of study. What I have learned is they have more commonalities than differences. The only level of development that really matters is your willingness to put your faith into action. Mastery comes from daily practice for a purpose, not from the accumulation of facts and jargon.

The Enneagram as a Process Tool

The Enneagram is a personality assessment system widely used by therapists, theologians and business consultants. It covers both the personality and spiritual aspects of nine basic personality types. The enneagon symbol dates back 2,500 years and has surfaced in many cultures including ancient Babylon, Greece and with the monks known as the Desert Fathers.

The symbol was one of a group of symbols known as “sacred geometry” by the followers of Pythagoras. (If you took high school geometry you might remember the Pythagorean theorem. Same guy.) These geometric symbols were used for charting and understanding concepts that were difficult to put into word.

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