Philosophy of Religion

For me, today, religion is more a technique than a belief system.  Religion is a set of tools to use to perfect the self.  My interfaith background has led me to this idea, and the practices I have gone through.

When I was young, and I think that this is appropriate for young people, I learned a lot of belief systems.  I had a real delight in ideas, truth, and doctrines.  Now, my concern is how the ideas I have learned work in my reformation process.  From this point of view, religion is the tools I use in this.

I recently experienced Vedanta meditation (philosophical Hindu practice).  Very briefly, very basically.  But having studied Vedanta in graduate school, I had an idea where the teacher was going during the meditation.  I have used the techniques he taught us on my own to good effect.  However, I have certain doctrinal disagreements with the theology behind Vedanta.  My main concern is with the idea of an embodied God.  As a Christian, my God is Jesus.  Yet in Vedanta, the Ultimate is pure Consciousness, Peace, Infinite and impersonal.  I believe that these qualities apply to Jesus–all except the impersonal aspect of the Ultimate.  There are other areas of intersection.  My Swedenborgian beliefs teach that self is ultimately an illusion, as does Vedanta.  The only Self is God, which fits  with Vedanta, if we call God Brahman.  Then I bump up against Jesus as embodied Deity.  These questions are in Hinduism, too, as there is a devotional aspect to Hinduism in the worship of Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti.  Devotional Hinduism sometimes criticizes Vedanta, too.  However, when I forget about these doctrinal issues, the meditation works quite well in calming my mind and elevating my consciousness, and relieving my base inclinations.  As a technique, as a tool for reformation, Vedanta works.  Works better than just Swedenborgian rationalism.

In another area of my spirituality, I find certain articulations in Taoism working better, again, than my Swedenborgian rationalism.  Swedenborg has a difficult concept called “proprium.”  Proprium means, basically, self-generated self.  Self-generated feelings and actions are the source of all evil.  Relief from self comes when we are moved by God’s Spirit.  Then, activity flows freely.  Explaining this and understanding it with linear language is difficult and inefficient.  I find that the Taoist metaphors of “the uncarved block,” “the way of water,” “the breath of the valley spirit” work well to illustrate how the Holy Spirit moves self without self-generated deeds.  Also, Taoist paradoxes work well, such as “action without action,” or “effortless doing,” what they call “wu-wei.”

When I was younger, I used to say I was sometimes Buddhist, sometimes Christian, sometimes Hindu, sometimes Jewish, depending on how I felt in the moment.  That was a kind of way of showing off my interfaith education.  Now, however, I find that all those doctrines I learned can help me in my spiritual growth.  I don’t have the arrogance to claim that I really am Buddhist sometimes, for instance.  But sometimes, Buddhism does work better in my life work of spirituality.  But it works as a tool, not as a concept.  So that is now how I view religion: in terms of a tool that will make me better, and of better service to the world I inhabit.

I kind of think that if people did view religion as a tool, and not as an exclusive world-view, there would be more religious harmony in the world; less fighting; better people.  I am aware that many people today don’t have a place in their life for religion.  But maybe that is because too often, religion is thought to be a belief system, and not a tool in the process of reforming the life.  In my experience, religion works!