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Identifying "Spiritual Life Gone Wrong"

Today we begin a two-part series on something at the very heart of the issues of our time all over the world: what happens when religion goes wrong…


In its most extreme forms, we see the results worldwide every day – radical evangelicals preaching violence against gays, a papacy in deep denial over the scale of sexual abuse in its midst, mass rioting and random killings throughout the Muslim world at the mere rumor of an anti-Islamic publication in the West, and the list goes on and on.

Those extreme forms are just symptoms, though.  They’re symptoms whose causes remain largely hidden from us as a civilization because we no longer understand a fundamental truth – not everything that passes itself off as “spiritual” is good, healthy and beneficial.  Far from it…

In fact, as a civilization we’ve become so divorced from real spiritual life that our ability to sort out false spiritual paths from healthy ones is marginal at best.  We no longer know the distinguishing criteria of each, the questions to ask or the tell-tale signs of each.  


In reality, asking most people today to distinguish real spiritual paths from false ones is about as useful as asking a Kalahari bushman for advice on your next family car.  



The Vital Importance of Spiritual Resilience



To get anywhere close to figuring out what spiritual resilience means, we first have to define the word “spiritual”, which is no simple task.  


So let’s put it this way: just as resilience itself is a path toward maximizing your potential on all levels (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), spiritual resilience is the act of opening yourself to the deepest truths of your existence in this universe so that you can become everything you’re meant to be. 

Not surprisingly, you can never become truly resilient and fulfilled as a human person if you ignore your own spiritual dimension, since that is, in reality, the deepest layer of your own being.


What I’ve called “authentic ancient traditions” in my bestseller, The 5 Pillars of Life*, are ancient, tried and proven approaches for doing exactly this.  And, contrary to what we assume, they have a boatload of evidence to back up the authenticity of their discoveries.  



Religion vs. Authentic Ancient Traditions



Here’s a short excerpt from The 5 Pillars of Life* to help you wrap your head around the differences between what we usually call “religions” and something much deeper:


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All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.
– Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”[i]
Startling, isn’t it?  – A world-renowned Orthodox priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness”!  But he’s right – Orthodox Christianity is not a religion in the conventional Western sense of that word.  And for that matter, neither are other authentic ancient traditions.  What Westerners conventionally call “religion” is a term that applies almost exclusively to their own approach to life as it has developed historically over the last thousand years or so.
“Religion” in the Western sense the word has a number of particular traits.  And generally speaking these traits apply to the vast majority of Western people who “practice their religion”:
  1. Religious teachings are ideological statements divorced from real life and which people subscribe to based on emotional considerations.  Teachings of authentic traditions are based on an experience of true life, and practitioners adhere to them based on observable verification.  
  1. Religion provides psychological comfort and self justification in the face of its failure to cure psycho-spiritual (noetic) illness.  Authentic traditions take you from sickness to health; religions tell you your sickness is health.
  1. Religion shifts the blame for good and evil, and for the final outcome of life, onto a deity or process (saying, for example, that illness is a punishment from God or that God decides whether to forgive you and send you to heaven or to damn you to hell).  Authentic traditions know that the Absolute Reality never does harm and that the only real danger to us in this world or hereafter comes from ourselves.
  1. Religions and authentic traditions both have a ceremonial aspect or some collective manifestation, but the religious version exists to provide psychological comfort or aesthetic pleasure, whereas the authentic version is there to lead you to self-transformation.
  1. Religion is always reduced to a compartment of life, whereas training in any authentic tradition involves every moment of life.
  1. Religion’s “transformation” of human life is limited to the superficial aspects of the personality, is often based on a tedious list of prohibitions and is geared toward social acceptability.  Religion produces nice people; authentic traditions produce extraordinary ones.
  1. Real self-transformation is not a goal of religion; the knowledge and methods required for self-transformation are absent and there is no access to a lineage of transformed people.  Life degenerates into “salvation by association” (I’m saved because I’m part of the group) and “salvation by conviction” (I’m saved because I hold a particular opinion).
   
  1. Religion is ignorant of the technical terminology of self-transformation and interprets it in a general and nebulous way.  The religious version of a tradition will seldom have any real idea what the authentic version is talking about, even if they use the same language.   
 
  1. Religion is comfort-loving and presents no real challenge to its adherents, whereas authentic traditions take you beyond your comfort zone and into realms that religion knows nothing of. 
  1.  Religion abhors mystery and tries to explain everything with concepts.  These concepts can be controlled and manipulated by a cadre of “experts” for the good of the institution, whereas transformed people – saints, immortals or bodhisattvas – are notoriously hard to control.
Given these traits of religion, it is not too surprising that Father Romanides classifies religion as a “neurobiological illness”.  What this means is that religion has its origin in the fallen state – where the neurobiological malfunction characteristic of life in the fallen world has not been healed – and that it perpetuates this unhealed state as if it were normal.  So it is not surprising that religion prevents countless millions of people from finding true fulfillment and happiness.  And like all illness, it leads to untold suffering and misery.

[i] Pages 1-3.  The order of the elements in this quotation has been slightly rearranged for the sake of clarity.  Several Orthodox writers of the twentieth century noted that the word “religion” as commonly used among peoples of  European ethnic origin does not correspond to Orthodox Christianity. 
*The 5 Pillars of Life is available on the Amazon.ca website or through http://www.the5pillarsoflife.com
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Next time, we’ll talk about some of the real “dark side” of the religion and spirituality that’s out there now – how to identify it and avoid it.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 
 
























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