Saturday, 13 February 2016

How religions tend to hold back spiritual growth

Lent 2016: Day Four

Organised religions are essentially about social control, using fear of God. "Do thus, and you shall escape punishment." Indeed, you will be rewarded with an eternity in Paradise for merely obeying the precepts of the religion you follow for one short lifetime.

And don't ask questions. Accept. This is rather stultifying.

Existence, conscious existence demands of us inquiry, which leads to far more meaningful spiritual growth than mere unquestioning obedience. As long as your inquiry is conducted genuinely, in good faith. It is better to spend a lifetime seeking answers to the eternal mysteries of the Universe than to be told what to believe and go along with that dogma. Surely God, the Universal Singularity, the Purpose, the One, would rather that we sought than just accepted?

I was once (or twice) told that like a good soldier follows orders without question, so a good Catholic follows the precepts of the faith in the same way.

But I believe in growth, in the endless journey of improvement (a view known as the Whig interpretation of history), in which Mankind is slowly moving away from the brutish towards the angelic. The road out of darkness towards light is long and often painful, but it is a road, an upward slope, it is a journey, we are all upon it. So for a religious leader to hold up a text written millennia ago and say: "this is it - the ultimate answer" denies us the journey. This approach enervates and removes the stimulus for growth. Growth comes from discovery of the new, within ourselves, within the Universe.

Poverty, suffering and disease should not be the default human condition, rather things from which we are moving away from. Thus should it be with ignorance.

Science has moved forward since the days of the mediaeval alchemists because of the questing nature of the human mind. The boundaries of scientific knowledge are being pushed ever forward. And yet the Dawkinsite orthodoxy of "the Universe just happened - there is no God (so don't bother looking)" is just debilitating to personal growth as any fundamentalist tied to the literal word of God as in their Holy Book.

It is hard for me to believe that there are people who believe that the world was created in seven days. Over 40% of Americans believe that the world was created less than 10,000 years ago. This is the result of accepting a text as holy truth and refusing to move on.

As a youth who spent seven years in a Roman Catholic grammar school, there was plentiful occasion to ask the tough questions. The stock answer for the toughest was 'it's a matter of faith'. Or - when I'd push the boat out too far - "the Devil makes you ask those questions". Constructing a massively complex theology around four Gospels leaves much room for questions. The Vatican's crack theologians are no doubt better prepared for them than the average parish priest, but even so, one knows where to draw the line, how far one can question, and when the questioning should stop in the interest of polite society.

Today, I would certainly not - out of basic human respect - take up the matters that I have been writing about under the 'human spirituality' label [see below] with any priest. Nor indeed with any other mediatory agents that place themselves as anointed intermediaries between God and Man.

But to someone else who genuinely seeks a higher understanding and spiritual growth, I am willing to discuss; with an open mind I am ready to learn from and share insights with those who are also on the same journey. This brings more benefit and enlightenment.

Tomorrow: prayer, meditation and human biology

This time two years ago:
When trams break down

This time four years ago:
Who are the thickies of Europe?

This time five years ago:
Oldschool Photochallenge: Response No. 2

This time six years ago:
Oligocene water from Jeziorki


adthelad said...

Dear Michael,

I am absolutely flabbergasted. Is that really You writing? No, surely not. You can't be that uninformed on the subject. It doesn't seem possible.

If, by some miracle, it is you who has penned this caricature, I strongly suggest you challenge your own preconceptions and do a little digging into the faith you've brought your own children up in, into general philosophy, predestination (materialist and religious), and into refutations of personal/detached spirituality.
Best regards,
P.S. this is such a 'temat rzeka' that re-reading what you've written and what I've written in reply makes me wonder if I'm just pissing in the wind. Oh well, here's hoping I'm not :)

Michael Dembinski said...


"I strongly suggest you challenge your own preconceptions and do a little digging into the faith you've brought your own children up in, into general philosophy, predestination (materialist and religious), and into refutations of personal/detached spirituality."

Preconceptions? No, this is where I stand today. Who knows where I'll be along the journey in a year's time. Did you read my Tischner posts from 2013? Over the past few weeks I've been accompanying my father to church. Re-reading Tischner, I cannot recognise the church as being the same one that Tischner talks about. It is still set in a pre-Vatican II mindset. From time to time the occasional insight. But no, Mass does not do it for me.

I was intending to go into Ks. Prof. Michał Heller's Filozofia Przypadku for this Lent's reflections. So I went to the church on Pl. Grzybowski to buy it. But the bookshop in the cellar was closed (remont). Turns out Empik has it in store.

What is wrong with 'personal/detached spirituality'?

We must get together and have a serious chin-wag about all this.

As for pissing into the wind, I fear - looking at the state of the Church in Poland, that dear old Ks. Tischner may have been doing just that - being far too clever for his own good when all the churchgoers really want is some comforting familiar ritual.

merdy said...

Greetings. I am an American (62) of Polish descent, raised with little ancestral cultural knowledge.

I've recently discovered that only antipopes have impersonated Catholics since 1958. See ...not my site. Are many Poles aware of this?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ merdy

I'm no longer a Catholic. Were I still one, I'd suggest you kneel and pray for forgiveness for even looking at such a website. But as I'm not - do what you will upon your personal road to spiritual enlightenment :-)