Am I religious?

Someone asked me recently if I am religious and I struggled to answer them.

“Spiritual but not religious?” they offered.

But I don’t want to be a walking cliche either, and what does SBNR mean anyway?

From the perspective of an irreligious person I guess I am religious. From the perspective of a religious person I’m not.

Transcending religion

The problem is that I’ve read too much into multiple religions and tried to see the world through their eyes.

Like learning a new language, I know that people have different names for the same things, but they also have names for things that other languages don’t have.

They cut up reality in slightly different ways.

And so do religions. They talk about this one transcendent experience in different ways and translate it into different forms.

People get fixated on whether Buddhists believe in God or not; but people also get stuck on whether Christians from the same denomination worship the same God if they differ in their fundamental conception of Him.

Why not just say that Buddhism and Christianity both contain something transcendent, and they try to describe it in their own particular ways?

Wheat and chaff

But I’m making my own assertion here: that what is of value in any and every religion is the transcendent and otherworldly aspect of it. Not the afterlife so much as the new life, the qualitatively different experience of life in this world.

I have zero interest or time for a religion that is merely a set of rules unless those rules promise to deliver a tangibly improved relationship with reality.

It’s worth bearing that in mind, because to some people outward adherence to a creed or membership of a community is more important than some kind of obscure or, worse yet, esoteric experience of transcendence and joy that some people get and others don’t.

Some people don’t want religion to be universal unless it’s all under the one creed.

But my experience is that we are all operating on a personal creed, whether we admit it or not. And mine has evolved through familiarity with the thought of a half-dozen religious streams.

I don’t have the common ground of fellow-believers who sit together in their churches or mosques and provide a range of social reinforcements to their faith, but I probably don’t need it either. If I wanted to belong I probably wouldn’t have such a strong desire to explore and push past the boundaries of other people’s conventions and comfort-zones.

I can say for sure that life is meant to be enjoyed, and though i know that rubs some people the wrong way I have less and less concern about that.

Perhaps in writing this I’m letting myself have less concern about religion too; letting go of my awareness of all the varied and intricate issues within and around religious practice and belief.

Does it matter what I call myself or what others call me? Religious or not, the label doesn’t change anything for me apart from how I think others see me. And how I think others see me is…probably the least important question that could occupy my mind.

Waking up happy

I’d heard it could be done.

This morning I woke up, and my first thoughts were good ones!

Not even trying or reaching for anything, just the momentum of day after day’s focus on feeling better, suddenly paying off.

Seamlessly picking up where I left off.

And I noticed it. I appreciated it. And then I lost it as I got up to light the oven, have a shower, bake some bread, get the coffee ready.

Still, it was there! I’m so enthralled by the ease of it. I can’t even remember what the specific thoughts were, but in that dreamy state of wakening I was, without trying, thinking thoughts that felt good, and that makes me happy.

Tibetan dreaming

I don’t remember all of it, but before I woke feeling so good I dreamed my wife and I had become Tibetan Buddhists.

It was her idea (of course) and I was okay with it. Then it occurred to me that the spiritual practices we had been doing were Tibetan inspired anyway, so it all lined up.

My feeling was “well if we have to pick one, it makes sense to choose this”. I guess being spiritually eclectic I’d be happiest with a path that respects religious diversity.

I don’t think the dream is actually about Tibetan Buddhism, moreso about accepting that I truly am on a path, that what I’ve been doing these past two years is a path.

Stream-enterer

I love noticing omens in life, and dreams like this are big ones.

Together the dream and waking up happy remind me of the Buddhist teaching of Sotāpanna or “one who enters the stream”.

Wiki defines it as:

a person who has seen the Dharma and consequently, has dropped the first three fetters (saŋyojana) that bind a being to rebirth, namely self-view (sakkāya-ditthi), clinging to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa), and skeptical indecision (Vicikitsa).

I’ve been writing about learning to trust and let go and allow, and I’ve mentioned the Abraham-Hicks metaphor of letting oneself be carried downstream to all happiness and fulfilment of desires.

Well it’s not Buddhist teaching, but it’s a teaching (Dharma) I’ve embraced. And along the way I’ve definitely released my skeptic indecision, clinging to rites and rituals (of my own), and my old self-view.

I’m trusting in this stream that carries me. Each day I’m feeling good in new ways. My happiness is gently evolving, deepening, and giving rise to a new world of experience like I always dreamed I would find.

When I found God

“There is no better advice on how to find God than to seek him where we left him: do now, when you cannot find God, what you did when last you had him, and then you will find him again.” – Meister Eckhart

I found God many years ago. He wasn’t hard to find, though it took me a while to realise that “He” was more like an “it”.

I found Him easily.

But doubts came even easier.

Why didn’t God talk to me or give me directions like in the bible or in some people’s accounts?

And how could I reconcile my experience with my parents’ demands that I go to church with them, even though I felt no real connection there?

Many of the books I read said how hard it was to do what I was doing. So maybe I wasn’t doing it after all?

More urgently, my life didn’t change. What value was there in my experience of God if the rest of my life still felt like a hopeless and crushing ordeal?

Finding the answers

I have answers to all my questions now.

I know now that other people’s opinions and experiences simply don’t matter unless I make them matter.

No one else can live my life for me. No one else will take responsibility for my happiness. So if my experience of God doesn’t match their personal spiritual or theological or philosophical view, that isn’t my problem.

After all, not a single person thinks they might have it wrong after meeting me, and nor should they. I don’t expect others to rethink their worldview just because I don’t agree with them.

All of these doubts and second-guessing are typical of my internal struggle between how I feel about things versus what other people think. (I’ve discussed it before in MBTI terms as the dominant-inferior dichotomy of the INFP.)

I spent many years rethinking my experience of God, hoping to find answers that would satisfy everyone.

I literally hoped to find the singular common truths underlying different religions, but I can see now that I also sought to bridge the gap between how I feel and what others seem to think.

Change of plans

I don’t need to do this anymore, because I know that it’s not possible and it’s not really what I desire.

All I ever wanted can be found in my own experience of God. Trying to answer others’ doubts and my own was really just giving voice to my fears and insecurities.

I don’t need that permission anymore, and it was never enough anyway.

Gaining momentum

My experience of God is the lodestone of all that is good and uplifting and joyful in life.

It’s the centre of my happiness because it is happiness itself.

The only reason it seemed insufficient in the past was that I kept looking at the world around me, at the things I didn’t like.

I didn’t practice enough the presence of God in my life and so it always remained marginal and “not enough”.

My practice of happiness, joy, and satisfaction could not gain momentum so long as I continually looked around to see if my frustration, misery and hopelessness were still there.

The good that came

I could have been happy much much earlier. I didn’t need so many years of struggle.

But it’s still okay. The struggle gave me a desire for clarity, for certainty, understanding.

My search brought me into touch with perspectives of God from vastly different religions and cultures.

And my experience of God deepened and expanded as I found it again and again under different guises: in the emptiness and insight of Buddhism, in the Holy Book of the Sikhs, in the poetry and ecstasy of the Sufis, in the nonduality of Vedanta, in the metaphysics and liturgy of Christianity, and in the mystery and flow of Daoism.

I found God again and again and eventually I also found out why those encounters had never seemed “enough”.

If you want to let go of doubt, you have to stop picking it up.

It’s up to us to decide what we focus on. We can’t fill our minds and hearts with troubles and fears and expect God to make them go away.

My Happiness Challenge has brought this out of me, because at last I’m finally determined to feel good and be as disciplined and as focused as feeling good requires.

Killing the Buddha

If you meet the Buddha, kill him. – LinJi

The basic dichotomy of melancholic spirituality is that we are prone to despair and we require faith in providence to see us through.

But lots of spiritual teachers accentuate the suffering and disappointment in life, as if they are keen to get us disillusioned with worldly happiness and craving something more refined.

Buddhism hits the ground running with the first noble truth, frequently rendered in English as “life is suffering”, but with the more nuanced translation of “dissatisfying” also on offer.

In hindsight I don’t think melancholics need to be encouraged to view life as intrinsically dissatisfying. I don’t think it serves us to take such a negative principle on board as the premise of a spiritual path.

Killing the Buddha

The Zen Koan about “killing” the Buddha is a warning against religious idolatry, sanctimony, and the kind of spiritual practice that forgets the real meaning of the Buddha in favour of an image or a vision.

But today for me it means letting go of spiritual principles that don’t serve me – no matter how esteemed their author or noble their pedigree.

Is life suffering? No. Is life dissatisfying? No. It might have felt that way at times, but thinking there was something intrinsically negative about life and existence only made me feel worse about it.

Life is meant to be happy and joyful and satisfying, and if killing the Buddha helps me get there, I’m sure he won’t mind.

Sin and Feeling

One of the things that bothered me about the typical definition of sin in Christianity is the focus on actions and eternal law.

“Law” is a metaphor. God doesn’t have laws any more than our legal system has a “spirit”.

But it’s a strong metaphor because what we call “law” stands like a guide and a container for our actions and choices.

Perhaps you could say that human law, justice, judgement and punishment are a reflection of this divine thing that is properly nameless and wordless but must be translated into human terms if we are to talk about it.

Sin as action

Sometimes we do things that we know (or come to learn) are wrong, and we struggle with our own conscience over them. In fact moral theology has many caveats to this basic dynamic that include the formation or malformation of the conscience, the broader context of culpability, and so on.

A good judge takes into account all kinds of extenuating and aggravating circumstances.

But sin itself never really spoke to me in this context of action and law and judgement.

Sin as state

I’ve been thinking about it lately because someone asked me a question regarding sin, confession, and the problem of psychogenic illness and temperament.

I suspect the problem is that long-term anxiety and depression, and the temperament that predisposes me to these states, deny me any clear sense of the path before me, or that the root cause of my problems is ultimately my own transgressive actions.

If you can see the path, then yes you will know when you’ve deviated from it.

But if you can’t see the path, then being told that your actions are the root cause of your suffering is about as helpful as being blamed for being lost in a fog.

That’s not to say that I lack a sense of actions that are transgressive or immoral. Rather, the root cause of my suffering in life was not obviously related to any particular action or disposition.

It’s as if everyone was saying “just stay on the path and you’ll be fine. And even if you step off the path, you can return because God is forgiving”. Meanwhile I’m nodding politely while wondering where this path is exactly.

Finding the path

I think my temperament, and my Feeling function in particular, conceives of the world in a different way.

That’s probably why I was drawn to Eastern religions in my youth. Dharma is basically the same as Eternal Law, and the Dao is basically the way, but each has a richer, more substantial context in relation to the divine. Not that Christianity is really any different, it’s just a question of emphasis:

Do you emphasise God as judge and divine legislator? Or do you emphasise God as the path, the “way” itself, the outer boundaries of which are roughly marked with moral warnings?

Before I learned any Christian philosophy or theology, it seemed obvious to me that the moral law was the outermost perimeter of a deeper spiritual reality. Clinging to the moral law was like going to a beautiful mansion in the hills, and then stopping just inside the fence.

Yes, if you want to live in God’s house you can’t go outside the fence, but why on earth would you? Do you sit comfortably in a friend’s living room, loving their company, yet continually fretting that you might any moment fall off the edge of their property?

Private prayer

I think a lot of this goes unsaid in people’s personal relationship with God. People yearn to feel connected to God somehow, and that’s what is really important.

And some types or temperaments are completely fine with the idea that their actions help or hinder this relationship, and that confession or asking for and receiving forgiveness is the best way to remedy that relationship.

For these people, it makes sense to promote concepts of sinful action, eternal law, and forgiveness as the core dynamic of God’s interaction with the world.

But if you’re lost and living in a fog, it might be due to a number of factors that don’t necessarily fall under the standard definition of sin.

It might be the result of other people’s sins. Or it could be a kind of sin that isn’t commonly known or understood.

From a melancholic/introverted-Feeling perspective, there’s not much point trying to confess a Feeling. Yet this strong Feeling function so overshadows everything else that it not only blots out our sense of the divine, not to mention happiness, but it also obscures our own role in giving rise to this obstacle.

That’s what gave me this intense thirst for understanding. The hope of understanding my condition brought knowledge, insight, wisdom, to the fore rather than moral uprightness, sin, or forgiveness.

A person lost in a fog doesn’t need forgiveness, they need clarity. They need to know the lay of the land so they can stop falling into holes. They need a light, and in that light they can find the path.

Towards a spiritual psychology

I’m very slowly working towards a kind of spiritual psychology or anthropology, based on my reading and experiments over the years.

I hope it will take into account all the variables in my past experience: dealing with things like depression and anxiety, mysticism, cognitive and emotional states, and temperament.

It will be at heart a pragmatic approach, aimed at overcoming the suffering in my own life, and exploring the promises made by various religious teachings about the availability of love, joy, peace, and even bliss in this lifetime.

For me ‘pragmatic’ means I have a goal in mind. I didn’t go looking for answers out of simple curiosity, but because I sensed there was something wrong but had no idea what, how, or why.

So my approach will probably not appeal to many people, just as I’ve failed to find answers in the many popular approaches, theories, and methods available at present. The reason I haven’t become an exponent of any particular system or teaching is that no system or teaching has proven sufficient for me.

A quick sketch

Consciousness is something special.

In some religious systems, consciousness itself is considered divine – part of, or even all of God, right at the heart of your existence.

In others, consciousness is “close to” the divine, and is considered the “true self” or soul, in contrast to the false self, the ego, the accumulated thoughts and impressions that we usually treat as our self.

We could spend a lifetime trying to resolve and explore these theoretical differences, but remember this is a pragmatic effort. Regardless of the exact descriptions or definitions, consciousness is “special” in a good way.

The significance of consciousness is much more obvious in an Eastern context than in a Christian one, but we must bear in mind that the word “consciousness” has only recently been taken to mean what it means in this context. As “a state of being aware” it dates back only so far as the 18th Century.

Years ago I went looking for Aquinas’ perspective on consciousness, but couldn’t find it for the simple reason that Aquinas lived in the 13th Century, and for him conscientia would point to conscience, not consciousness.

In fact conscious is just a derivative of conscience. Both come from con meaning ‘with’ and science meaning “knowledge”. We could just as well say conscient instead of conscious, as in “are you conscient right now?”

The light in the darkness

In the context of mysticism, the specialness and significance of consciousness has been captured in the term “light”, as in “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”, which is not only a powerful spiritual statement, but also a pretty neat summary of contemporary philosophy of mind and the “hard” problem of consciousness.

Likewise: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”

We tend to think of evil deeds in concrete ways, as specific actions that contravene divine law.

But in the broader spiritual context it is clear that everything we do is corrupt and insufficient. It is ‘evil’ in a broad sense, and pragmatically this means our efforts are incapable of overcoming suffering or bringing us the happiness we seek.

We needn’t feel condemned for our actions, it’s enough that our actions cannot redeem us. Futility is an evil, just as much as malice.

The evil of human actions encompasses everything from the murderer and rapist all the way up to the proud and spiritually-barren Pharisees. That’s why Christianity presented such an apparent inversion of the moral order – because it doesn’t matter how well-behaved you are if you still have no love in you.

Some people think that light and darkness are metaphors for good and evil. I think it’s the other way around, in the sense that good and evil are ultimately grounded in light and darkness.

Light, love, and maladaptive defense-mechanisms

The ever-present light in us is also love, in that ‘light’ and love are attributes of God. Again, speaking pragmatically rather than seeking theological precision, this mysterious light by which we know the world and our own selves is also the source of divine love.

Yet instead of remaining in that love, we pay greater heed to the world, giving in to doubts and fears.

You can see this very clearly in children.

Young children are (all things being equal) loving towards their parents or caregivers. They give and receive love naturally.

Unfortunately, their parents and caregivers are not consistently loving in return. Our faults and foibles prevent us from responding to the love of our children perfectly.

Children experience this deprivation of love as a threat to their very survival. This makes sense on a biological level – since the child is entirely dependent on its caregivers for food, shelter, and security. But it also makes sense on a spiritual level, since we are told that love, light, and life all come from God.

In the face of this deprivation of love, the child invariably succumbs to doubt and fear, and immediately strives to regain the love it has lost.

This is the root of the problem: succumbing to doubt and fear, and thereby shutting down the immediacy of love in themselves, while then concluding that external conditions (the world) need to be controlled and rearranged before love can return.

In practical terms, this amounts to a child who stops experiencing love because of their parents’ implied or explicit rejection, and then seeks to find a way to regain that parental love and protect themselves from further harm.

The many layers of the psyche

Over many years of making psychological moves to avoid hurt and regain love, the child-teenaged-adult psyche ends up with many complex layers of beliefs, emotions, and choices that all originate in the choice of fear and doubt over love.

What this means is that in theory any of us can at any time feel divine love in our hearts. So long as the light (consciousness) is there, love is there as well. And the light is always with us.

But in practice our receptivity to this love is on a hair-trigger. We are ready to shut off the flow of love at the slightest hint of anything in the world of our experience that resembles the hurts, fears, doubts, and defense mechanisms that have shaped us over the years.

For example, many people develop perfectionist tendencies when young. Let’s say your parents were often depressed or angry, leaving them emotionally unavailable to you.

But then one day you get a good result at school or do well at sport, and suddenly your parents seem interested and engaged and proud of you. From your point of view, it’s as if they’ve said “Yes! This is the kind of behaviour and accomplishment we find worthy of love!”

Many children (depending on temperament and other circumstances) will form an intention to become as accomplished and successful as possible, because this is obviously what it takes to earn their parents’ love again. 

Conflating accomplishment and success with the supply of love is one cause of perfectionism.

Perfectionism can also originate in the inverse circumstance – where a child is told that they will suffer further rejection if they do not succeed in life.

Metastasizing fear

Becoming a perfectionist is one instance of a maladaptive response to fear and doubt. It’s mal-adaptive because it doesn’t really achieve the desired result (securing a supply of love) and it actually creates further conflict and harm.

Because after a while the child will begin to reflect on their perfectionist efforts. They will have further psychological responses to their perfectionism, such as: fear that they will not be able to achieve their goals, resentment that they must be ‘perfect’ in order to be accepted or loved, a sense of emptiness after finding that their accomplishments do not bring lasting rewards, and so on.

Again it depends on the child, but rest assured that they will make some kind of “move” to try to avoid further hurt and attain more love.

If, for example, the child feels insufficiently loved for their accomplishments, they will begin to feel angry and resentful at this injustice. Somewhere in the child’s mind they made an implicit bargain with their parents that they would be loved if they accomplished enough, or did as they were told, or didn’t rock the boat, or whatever particular issue first ruptured their sense of being loved.

But how will the child respond to these feelings of anger and resentment? Whatever they decide, it will be a choice that seeks implicitly to limit their hurt and attain more love, or as much love as they can hope to achieve in their circumstances.

These psychological developments go on and on. Some people have a few, others have many.

The more you have, the more likely you will develop outright internal conflicts between different “moves” or layers. Some people end up depressed or suicidal for no apparent external cause, because the layers of their own psyche create a kind of inner tension or turmoil that they don’t know how to resolve.

Finding the answer

That’s why the spiritual path is both simple and complex, easy and difficult.

The simple spiritual answers like “God is love” can be a source of great comfort, but not necessarily a lived experience. Can you just choose to be full of love, and then do it? Maybe you can, but many of us cannot.

So on the one hand we’re told that all we have to do is believe and we will be saved.

But on the other hand:

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”

Why this dichotomy? Because the simple truth is obscured by the many layers of our psychological defenses and accretions.

Defenses like turning to alcohol, sex, or drugs to try to relieve the inner tension, boredom, or suppressed pain which is in turn the outcome of other, more subtle defenses.

Defenses like intellectualising everything, shutting down emotionally, using dissociation or hypervigiliance to gain a sense of control over your own experience and environment.

Defenses like seeking out conflict and emotional turmoil, harming oneself or hurting others.

Nonetheless the answers are there.

The underlying, inescapable reality is light, not darkness, and it expresses itself in love, not fear.

On Trump’s video leak

My latest piece at Mercatornet examines the Trump video leak and his reluctant Christian supporters:

Having made the difficult decision to support a tarnished and disreputable candidate, the only consolation was that they were doing so with their eyes wide open. But even if you “hold your nose and vote”, Trump’s notorious video from 2005 has just demonstrated that your wide-open eyes might start to sting in his noxious atmosphere.

Nonetheless, many of Trump’s reluctant supporters argue that nothing has changed. They knew voting for Trump was going to be a bad deal, but like an urgent sale when you’re desperate for cash, they’ll take the best offer they can get.

http://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/democracy-and-providence-does-political-participation-trump-religious-faith

If thine eye offend thee…

My latest piece on MercatorNet looks at the extremely sad case of a woman who intentionally blinded herself with drain cleaner, and goes on to suggest that “transableism” and transgenderism alike are just the latest symptoms of an increasingly irreligious world that believes in the possibility and the proximity of worldly happiness:

Our society is increasingly devoid of the scepticism toward worldly goals embodied in the major religious traditions. We no longer have people telling us that the world is an illusion, a shipwreck, a “vanity of vanities”. We are lacking the kind of unwavering clarity that pours cold water not only on the outer-reaches of our struggles for worldly fulfilment, but the inner-reaches as well: wealth, career, social esteem, fashion, passion, and pride.

Our religious traditions are united in wishing to dispel the illusion that the world can grant us real happiness, whether it be through the accumulation of possessions or being called by the “correct” pronouns.

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/a-new-identity-will-not-make-you-happy

Nice, Western, Consensus Buddhism

Stumbled upon a couple of very interesting posts critiquing Western Buddhism:

Nice Buddhism

Niceness is a sleazy business. It is an unstated bargain: “I’ll overlook your bad behavior if you overlook mine.”

It is often kind to overlook other people’s bad behavior—but not always. There are times when the right thing is to point it out politely; to object firmly; or to suppress it violently.

The second half of the bargain is self-protective. “I’ll be nice to you because I’m afraid I won’t be able to cope, emotionally, if you draw attention to my selfishness.”

Within Consensus Buddhism, there is a huge emphasis on emotional safety. It’s non-confrontational, unconditionally supportive, peaceful, supposedly-inoffensive. This may be appropriate for children, or for people who are severely emotionally damaged. It’s repulsive and ridiculous as an approach for grownups.

https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/nice-buddhism/

 

From the same author, a little more intense:

What got left out of meditation

Buddhist meditation methods have been forced through a series of filters over the last 120 years:

  • Christianity: Everything offensive to Victorian Christian morality had to be removed, in Asia, in the 1800s.
  • Scientism: Meditation has to claim to be compatible with “science” and “rationality.” Popular ideas about what’s “scientific” have changed in the West over the past 150 years. What’s left of meditation has survived challenges from each version.
  • Romantic mysticism: Westerners thought the goal of meditation was a spiritual experience—oneness with all beings, maybe—through attention to the self. Meditation methods that weren’t about spiritual experience, or not about the self, got dropped.
  • Late 20th-century morality: Meditation had be eco-granola-consensus-therapy-correct in the 1970s through ’90s.

Only something extremely bland could pass all these challenges. That’s what we’re left with: modern “mindfulness meditation.” It’s relentlessly nice and couldn’t possibly offend anyone’s ideological sensitivities.

https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/what-got-left-out-of-%E2%80%9Cmeditation%E2%80%9D/

 

Contemptus Mundi

Mountain under heaven: the image of RETREAT.
Thus the superior man keeps the inferior man at a distance,
Not angrily but with reserve.

The mountain rises up under heaven, but owing to its nature it finally comes to a stop. Heaven on the other hand retreats upward before it into the distance and remains out of reach. This symbolizes the behavior of the superior man toward a climbing inferior; he retreats into his own thoughts as the inferior man comes forward. He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object. The superior man shows strength (heaven) in that he brings the inferior man to a standstill (mountain) by his dignified reserve.

Above is a passage from the Zhou Yi, the ancient Chinese book of changes which served as an oracle and a philosophical paradigm for generations of Chinese scholars.  I think this manner of retreat has been appropriate for religious people for some time, and will become increasingly clear in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage.

Most religious traditions contain moral and spiritual injunctions against homosexual acts as a subset of sexual discipline generally, and these injunctions predate and logically preempt both the concept of a homosexual orientation and the idea of same-sex marriage.

In other words, from the perspective of most religious traditions, the mere fact that same-sex marriage is an issue signifies that the secular culture is at least two steps removed from religious principles. Now that same-sex marriage has been effectively authorised by the Supreme Court, make that three steps.

It’s hard to argue against same-sex marriage when the underlying divisions cut so much deeper. Good arguments must start from common ground, but the common ground between religious and secular appears scant on issues such as these.

While some Conservatives appear to still be full of fight, I’m more drawn to aspects of my eclectic religious culture that reiterate the ultimate futility and vanity of vying with the zeitgeist, grasping at the levers of political or popular power, when the orientation of our religious program ought to render us almost totally dismissive of such powers.

If you find yourself in a position of political power, then your religious obligations ought to be clear; but that is not the same as having a religious obligation to pursue political power when those powers are hell-bent on an irreligious course.

I might be wrong, but my understanding is that the irreligious nature of “the world” is a given. Also given is that the answer to any religious fear or distress at a decadent social order lies in throwing ourselves deeper into religious practice.

While care for those led astray by the prevailing culture is a valid motive for making our objections known, I think a lot of the opposition to same-sex marriage is entwined with a less noble reaction to the loss of cultural and political power, and (I suspect) a kind of Conservative allegiance to American exceptionalism that is far too temporal for true religiosity.

This is not to say that religious people should disappear or isolate themselves as an end in itself; rather, I think that dismay at the Supreme Court decision and the desire to somehow regain control of the political and cultural order are at odds with a fundamentally religious sensibility. For too long, religious people have been indistinguishable from their non-religious peers, too comfortable and reliant on “the world”, and too narrow in their critique of mainstream society on particular issues as if phenomena like widespread abortion, or same-sex marriage were the causes rather than the symptoms of something terribly awry.

The “something terribly awry” is perennial in a religious outlook on life. It is, in a sense, the whole point of religion. The good news then is that the worse things become in the secular world, the more evident will be the finality of the religious response. Our goal and occupation should always be that supreme good, both transcendent and immanent, that wholly unique being which creates and sustains us, and has ever been the answer regardless of worldly distractions, errors, and cares.

Push far enough towards the Void,
Hold fast enough to Quietness,
And of the ten thousand things none but can be worked on by you.
I have beheld them, whither they go back.
See, all things howsoever they flourish
Return to the root from which they grew.
This return to the root is called Quietness;
Quietness is called submission to Fate;
What has submitted to Fate has become part of the always so.
To know the always-so is to be Illumined;
Not to know it, means to go blindly to disaster.
He who knows the always-so has room in him for everything;
He who has room in him for everything is without prejudice.
To be without prejudice is to be kingly;
To be kingly is to be of heaven;
To be of heaven is to be in Tao.
Tao is forever and he that possess it,
Though his body ceases, is not destroyed.