I remember a late-night conversation with my friend once, as we sat in my '97 Astrovan (read: my house), drinking vanmade coffee and shoveling beans and salsa out of aluminum cans. I finished my large bite of hoborrito and looked out the dark window at a light on a distant hill. “I don't think I'm a Christian any more.”
He wasn't as surprised at my comment as I'd expected. He knew that I still held the teachings of the vagabond messiah as sacred. But he went on to tell me why, by rejecting Christianity, although I maybe wasn't rejecting Jesus, I was rejecting the community of other Christians. “I don't want to except myself from the Church,” he said. “I want to stand with my brothers and sisters as an equal, as someone they can relate to – even if they sometimes do things that I'm ashamed of.” We stayed up until about 3 AM discussing (more like monologuing - I don't think i said much after the initial statement) the necessity to identify with Christianity if I want to be able to encourage and have camaraderie with Christians. As he talked to me, I found myself falling in and out of sleep, as I'm known to do (narcoleptic confession). But after I finally hung and crawled into my precarious hammock and put out the solar lights, I suddenly wasn't sleepy anymore. I lay awake for some time thinking about what he'd said.
I saw his point. In fact, I saw it so clearly that I followed it to it's logical end. If the best way to relate to Christians is to be a Christian, then I want to be a Christian. If the best way to relate to Hindus is to be a Hindu, I want to be a Hindu. If the best way to relate to Buddhists is to be a Buddhist, I want to be a Buddhist.
I spent the next two years studying Hinduism, Native American and other indigenous peoples' Spirituality, and to a lesser extent, Buddhism and Jainism. I've introduced myself at different times as a Christian, a Buddhist, a Bhakti, a Christian Hindu, and an Earth child. There were periods of time that I'd meditate for several hours every day, fast several days a week, and I almost had the Bhagavad Gita permanently emblazoned on the whites of my eyes for all the time I'd spent poring over it while whispering "Om... Shanti. Shanti. Shanti." I'd put feathers in my hair and sing the Cherokee Morning Song at an ancient Native American red rock sanctuary for hours many mornings beneath Colorado's fiery sunrises.
I had figured out the secret to personal happiness. That much is certain. I lacked nothing, I wanted for nothing. But it was all internal. It was all in my own thoughts, my own personal experience. These ideas were Beautiful, and they were outstandingly personally enriching, but they were inaccessible to all who couldn't see inside my mind, or smoke from my homemade recycled trash pipes (if you're from Colorado, you'll understand).
One of my greatest critiques of atheism is that it's a belief system of privilege, wholly unfathomable and undesirable to those who haven't spent their lives in the halls of universities or under the tutelage of wealthy capitalists. But I found myself having a religion which was probably equally unfathomable to those who were caught in the wage slavery system or the third-world agricultural prison, and barely had enough time to put food on the table, take care of their family, and still get sufficient sleep. They didn't have time to meditate naked in quiet streams or pore over ancient scriptures, but instead found themselves meditating on the mercilessly slow punch-out clock, only to go home and pore over unpayable bills and eviction notices.
I'd love to live in a time where I needn't have a care in the world. I'd love to be spend the rest of my life in such an accelerated and dreamy state, focusing on the Life inside of me. But what of those who haven't been afforded the same opportunities that I have? Shall I forsake them to focus on my own spirituality?
In Search of a Relatable Spirituality
We all must ask ourselves how our belief systems might affect those around us. We must be willing to give up some of destructive and alienating beliefs such as those of an angry god, or an eternal hellfire. Sacrifice some of our impractical beliefs such as either of the extremes of abstinence from all carnal pleasures or the posh, comfortable lifestyle of the West, both of which are completely inaccessible to the majority of the world. Give less credence to some of our lofty and unfathomable beliefs such as excessively deep and celestial theologies and philosophies which have no pragmatic application to all the other beings which live in, on, or around this hurtling rock, Earth.
For those of us who find ourselves with white skin, two-car garages, Macbooks, sprawling green lawns, pristine churches, shiny automobiles, or even refrigerators with cold-water and ice dispensers, it can quickly become easy to develop religious and philosophical worldviews which relate only to that minute sliver of human population which can afford such affluent beliefs and heady doctrines.
But what if our gifts are not given only to bless ourselves? What if the gods have bestowed upon us these conveniences not so that we could bask in our removed and more perfect world, but so that we could instead share with those who haven't been given the same opportunities or choices that we have? (I realize that it has little to do with 'the gods' and more to do with exploitation and thievery, but that's for another discussion.) What if we didn't spend our precious time and energy developing self-enriching religion while the world around us perishes into a very real and present hell, but instead we spent our time developing Earth-enriching philosophies? What if we could dream of a God who came not just to save our personal soul, but to save the souls of our human sisters and brothers and, dare i say it, even our non-human brothers and sisters? What would that look like?
It would probably look something like the ideas proposed by political theorists, activists, and revolutionaries of recent history, in that it would start with practical and tactical doctrines and manifestos on how to set free the oppressed (and the oppressors) in our own families, cities, and national parks. It might involve the destruction of some dark and destructive demons such as Capitalism, Patriarchy, White Supremacy, or the smaller ones such as Goldman-Sachs, Walmart, Monsanto, and The United States Military.
It will definitely involve dreaming of a heaven. But unlike the religions most of us have known prior, the dream will preclude the construction of that heaven. No longer will we be content to talk and dream of Big Rock Candy Mountain (read: Heaven). But we will start assembling this heaven, starting with the equalization of wealth, equalization of power, release of both economic and political prisoners, and mutual respect and Love for all beings.
Can we dream of a religion which includes insects, mountains, and elephants? Inuit, Turk, and American? Felon, pastor, indigenous medicine man, and rice farmer? I believe we can. I believe that's the only thing we can afford to believe in anymore.
"Then you will know what Love has done with you,
what Love has bestowed upon you,
what Love demands from you."