Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Disentangling spirituality from religion is particularly difficult at the moment because religion has become a creature of the corporation and the corporation has become entangled with nations, specifically Western nations and the troubles among the children of Abraham.  Worse than that, corporations are dominated by capitalism as the broadest common denominator and driving engine, and use the methods of bureaucracy to keep track of growth, catering to surveys of preferences.  None of this has anything to do with the organic roots of congregations which are family, clan and tribe.  THAT’s where it begins.  Not shares and board meetings, but in ecologically fitting personal spirituality. 

None of this devil’s bargain between temple and warehouse would be possible without writing and bookkeeping.  We still can’t quite see whether congregations will be exploded by the cyber-revolution.  Maybe it already has been in the form of “nones” (those who check the relentlessly Procrustean questionnaires with “none of the above”).

“Pure” spirituality is an individual human capacity, a “felt” state. a consciousness.  It’s not even love or compassion or generosity, though it may prompt those good things in time.  It’s something people describe as “oceanic,” or “transcendent,” or “mysterium tremendum et fascinans.”  An awareness of the totality of the universe and being part of it.  No morality.  Just existence infinite and splendid.

Most people are unaware of the three or four “polities” of Western-style congregations.  Each is a system of relationship and accountability.  Congregational polity means the group is accountable only to itself.  This is what UU’s, Baptists, and megachurches practice.  Some may form associations among themselves to fund specialized services.  This is close to cooperatives.

The Roman Catholics accepted the structures of the Roman Empire, which are hierarchical with ultimate authority at the top.  Sometimes there are voluntary hierarchies, or sometimes a major association may divide itself into territories.  There are two basic ways to group people into congregations:  a parish, which is an area where everyone in that area belongs to the church, sort of like a nation, except maybe more homogenized; or a voluntary association which is based on what is usually assumed to be beliefs and creeds.  In truth, most often the group is formed by socio-economic similarity: people who have about the same “lifestyles”, educational level, expectations about life.

Andromeda galaxy

Science has proven to be a time-bomb in that it groups people in this denominational "similarity" way, but pretends not to be “religious” though it is often deeply spiritual.  When Ken Patton had the Andromeda nebula painted on the inner wall of his church, he was claiming the cosmos as transcendent.  He never quite reconciled the tension between congregation and denomination, the same as the tension between science and religion is unresolved.

The concept of family is at the core of successful Christianity -- maybe all three of the Abramic streams -- which may suggest accurately that their wars are family wars.  Human family all over the planet is centered on reproduction, which hopefully is supported by nurturing and bonding among those who are related.  Projecting that onto the sky as though seeing star constellations gives us the source of God/Abba/Papa ideas.

Family corporations, including kingdoms, are the great preoccupation of our present media.  A few sci-fi series have tried to unravel communal colonies on new planets, but they tend to slide over into the same old corporate patterns, triggering hierachy struggles.  Maybe that’s just human.  What evolutionary mutation can change it?  Auto-secretion of ecstasy?

The US is specifically prohibited from conflating the government with religious corporations like the Catholic church, the hierarchical denominations, and so on.  This was to prevent situations like the Church of England, where the Queen is the equivalent of a Pope, but must govern for the good of immigrants with all sorts of religious frameworks.  The first Elizabeth was well-aware of this problem, since she had just narrowly survived religio-national war, and coping with it well was the secret of her success.  (It was tolerance, you elephants!)  But a shipping nation is always a mercantile nation and profit also grips that country.  Still, England allows women to scarve their heads, just as Elizabeth II does when she’s in the country with the horses and dogs.

Corporations, hierarchies and profit motives -- including their self-studies and marketing in the name of growth -- are snuffers of spirituality.  People who are selling t-shirts with “love” on them are being religious and saving the institution they may love, but they are NOT spiritual.  You don’t need a t-shirt or even love to be spiritual.  (Thank goodness cranky people can have peak experiences.  What they do with them is their problem.)  

Issues of birth control or abortion are religious in the sense of loyalty to the “mother” corporation, the brand.  They are NOT spiritual.  What IS spiritual is awareness of the molecular intricacy of process-design that creates a new human being.  Also awareness of the living connectedness of every human being of every age and condition.  Those “feelings” can strike one through-and-through with awe and humility.  They will not suggest how close to an abortion clinic you can stand if you’re in disagreement with their policies.

Spirituality is a condition of radical and transcendent unity.  Religion is an invented human system of values and practices.  Spirituality does not identify what is evil because it is beyond human values.  It does suggest that patterns of coming together and going apart are inevitable.  Religion tries to figure out what interferes with the status quo without improving it.  (Their own terms of what improvement might be.)  At its best, religion tries to get into alignment with “natural law” which is a matter of consequences as inevitable as those of gravity or wind.  But Mother Nature is far more cruel than God.
Abraham Maslow and his pyramid

The Great Eminence of peak experiences, which ARE spiritual, was Abraham Maslow.  He was right about almost everything he said, IMHO, but it’s unfortunate that he got entangled with that damned pyramid.  In the first place, it implies that a starving, unsheltered, unloved person cannot have a spiritual epiphany.  That’s not true.  It will be harder, because the person him or herself will be a dimmed instrument, but he or she CAN be made incandescent spiritually.  So I believe.  

Port Neches, TX.  The homeowner finally removed the screen door and hid it.

There are two problems:  one is that such a person will be considered better than everyone else, more enlightened; the other is that almost instantly he or she will become the precipitating crystal of a corporate body.  When someone finds the face of the Madonna or Jesus limned in rust on a screen door, it is at first a felt experience, perhaps intense.  By the time crowds are coming to see the image, maybe hoping to be healed, the spirituality is replaced by profit, status, exploitation, accusations, and so on.  The incandescent person becomes merely another light bulb.

The USA gives church corporations and even individual congregations (and their clergy) special consideration in the same spirit that they give breaks to married couples: the idea is that they contribute to the quality of everyone’s lives and improve society.  Clearly the extreme right is not doing that.  But you could argue that the liberals acting through demonstrations and the ACLU is not providing harmony and universal protection either.  All points on the continuum are acting like competing corporations determined to capture market dominance.  People are walking away from marriage the same as they walk away from religious organization.  Except for those who've been told they can’t have one or the other, which makes them instantly crave it.

Alban Institute work session

I just discovered that the Alban Institute has ended, its remaining assets carefully parted-out to responsible entities like the Duke University Div School. Details at  The Pacific Northwest District UU’s leaned heavily on Alban for advice and strategies for growth.  Alban worked hard for four decades to understand accurately what was going on in terms of process rather than dogma.  They were effective, honorable, and as responsible as corporate non-profits can be.  Not enough.   But no dishonor to them.  They knew they were doing an earthly thing for the common good and never claimed they were sacred.

Religion is the building; spirituality is the sky

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