Post by Ash
This is never an easy topic to mention, especially it seems if you`re a bloke. I`ve lost count of the number of times over the years I`ve been told that "I don`t do religion". Often I`m in somewhere like a pub with friends, or at a party or a football match, and it`s generally a male response to those convivial conversations we all find ourselves in from time to time about a `better way of life`. I rarely raise the issue myself but if ever I rise to the bait there`s usually the "but with respect" rider, and the earnest reminder about the bad that religion has caused.
Religion as the organised arm of spirituality has, it`s true, something of a historical and burdensome backpack. But that should never distract from the overwhelming desire for good that it radiates, and for the potential joy of discovery and development of our spritual self. We all have one after all.
So what is this thing called spirituality, and what`s all this about ethics and values ? There`s a lot of very earnest discussion and writings about these matters, but is it really that complicated ?
I`m lucky. I know from personal experience that my spirituality or inner peace, for example through prayer, actually works. Obviously not all the time, and yes, impossible to prove to those who may wish to challenge the assertion. But simply and humbly I tell you that my life has been immeasurably improved by the acceptance that the prayers I give and the prayers I have received do make a difference. Similarly I am now more able to appreciate the great spiritual joys in the more reflective elements of life; the magnificence of the natural world, the quiet moments of contemplation, the acts of goodness by so many, indeed the vast majority of people around me. These have all impacted upon my own spiritual self, and shaped my personality hopefully for the better.
Where did this spirituality come from ? Same place as yours I guess. I was beautifully guided in life by patient and loving parents. I was influenced as a student by the stories I read from the worlds of religion, philosophy and literature. Most importantly, I learnt from those great role models, internationally, here within the UK, and from within my own peer group. And as my moral code-call it personal ethics and values, stumbled into some form of semblance, so did the questions and dilemmas. What is a just world ? Can there ever be peace without war ? How do you explain a loving God to the tragically bereaved ? No matter how I try I realise that I will never have easy or even effective answers to such issues. My spiritual values I believe do help. But of course I also have to survive through suggestions, doubt and faith; and accept that this is the normal human condition.
What about those contemporaries whose parents weren`t loving, who hated their education, and whose peer group was not necessarily an influence for the good ? Some will undoubtedly have struggled to identify anything positive about their inner spirituality, and indeed may possibly have even denied its very existence. Others may have felt singularly disadvantaged by their circumstances, and view dwelling upon this issue as a luxury they can ill afford. But most I`m sure will have triumphed no matter what their situation, even if they felt it was against the odds; such is the strength of human will. In fact, some of the wisest, most divine (spiritually that is !) people I have known have certainly not had the featherbed advantages I`ve experienced, and have also most likely been completely unaware of the influence they`ve had. So I accept that acknowledging and developing our own spiritual journey is not necessarily a pre-requisite for a successful life;but I do sincerely believe that it will help us achieve a happier one.
Liberal faiths such as Unitarianism seek to support individuals who wish to make some deeper sense to their lives. Their welcome extends to all comers, no matter what their beliefs or disbeliefs may be. The Unitarian acceptance that there is so much more in common between the world`s major religions than that which divides, encourages unprejudiced exploration of belief and spirituality. We should celebrate our diversity, learn from each other, not squabble or point score.
This belief that everyone is entitled to make their own spiritual journey, doubts and all, and at their own pace and on their own terms, convinces me that here is an opportunity that`s too good to miss. So next time someone tells me that "with respect" religion has nothing to offer but guilt and division, I`ll mention the `S` word and invite them to New Meeting. And perhaps "with true respect" we can discover that the spiritual self, true values and personal ethics are more than just some pretty big words on a page. And that like so many of the best things in life, the journey is free; even for blokes!
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