First DraftJerry Gifford-WebMaster of Myths-Dreams-Symbols Spirituality vs. Religion
In My Opinion-Jerry M. Gifford

For the past ten years or so I have spent a lot of time trying to reconcile my feelings about my spiritual/religious condition. Anyone having studied Jung understands that this is a normal experience at mid-life, and a healthy one at that. But the questions were there, what are my spiritual beliefs and how do they to affect who I am. I have come to realize from those years of reflection that I am indeed a spiritual person, but not really a religious one. How can I be spiritual and not religious? Aren't they the same thing? My conclusions are of course not. I believe in the metaphors, strive to make a place for them in my life. But the literal attempt in explaining spirituality doesn't fit, doesn't work, for me. Once it becomes a religion it puts limitations on my personal growth, as the social being as well as a spiritual being.

I guess the best way to understand how I feel/felt about my spiritual condition, before I realized I was not a religious person, is from my experiences with religion. My first experiences came when I was a young boy, 6-7 years of age. My mother, a true heroine, use to make me go to church, when I had rather be playing. The Baptist church in Chattanooga I attended was huge and when I went {often alone} I was shuffled off to Sunday school classes where I received a 'proper' Christian education. I will never forget some of those lessons, and the questions my little psyche had even then, about what was real and what was, well, unrealistic.

One lesson that befuddled me was the story of Shadrack, Meshach and Abed-Nego being thrown into the fiery furnace. These guys weren't about to go along with King Nebuchadnezzar's program of worshipping idols so they were thrown into the fire, but they didn't burn. I understood what was being told to me by the Sunday school teacher. One, you had better believe in God {of Abraham} and obey him, and two, if you do God won't let you burn. But I didn't understand how I would survive being burned if somehow I committed such a sin and was thrown into a fire. My little mind kept asking, 'If God was so loving why would HE let this happen to 'me' in the first place'? Perhaps unconsciously I felt God was more like my real father, ready to punish for not obeying, than a 'Father' who would protect me. It was a time for which I needed a loving father {as we all do} to imitate and appreciate. Now some 45 years later I understand those feelings, those emotions, and the real comparison of God to my real father {who abandoned 4 children and my mother at the age of 7}. Now I thoroughly understand the 'unconscious' aspect of those feelings. It also left an imprintation upon my psyche that today influences my connection to a 'spiritual' plane of 'knowing' and my religious opinions. {I will explain later in my presentation}.

My next real encounter with religion came when I was in my mid-teens. Having chosen not to go to church unless I was made to go throughout my early childhood years, I found a real interest in a local Church of Christ and it's young minister. I remember how uplifting it was to hear him speak about Jesus and love and not how I should be afraid of God. But that experience was short lived when he left the church, to my understanding because the church would not support his missionary to Africa as had been promised. Again I had questions about God and church and religion, but believing in what was taught to me I went along with the program.

I continued to attend the same church and when the new minister came to my home to talk about religious stuff, I felt important {remember I was only in my mid teens}. I remember some of his questions, and his manner in asking them. He was very authoritative in his approach and when he asked him where I was baptised I readily admitted to being baptised in the Baptist church in Chattanooga {at the age of six}. His response was immediate, 'Well Jerry, you will need to be baptised again in our church'. Why? Was my response. 'Because, WE {the Church of Christ} don't recognize baptism in any church but the C of C'.

That ended that. I was completely taken aback by his answers and from that day forward until I was 42 years old I decided religion and church were not something I had to have or really needed. This didn't fit in my concept of what God should be, it seemed so arbitrary on the church's part. Sure, God was in heaven but since I was a basically a 'good person' why should I concern myself with beliefs that ran contrary to good common sense. And there was these 'inner' questions I had, and nothing in scripture or my Sunday school classes really addressed that. Religion became a dormant quality in my life, there but not really there as that positive influence.

Mid-Life

Skip forward to 1992. I was at the end of my third marriage and at a crossroads to what life had in store for me next. I had this 'inner burning', something was missing and no matter what I did I couldn't seem to find what it was. I had had three wonderful women in my life but I chose to leave them behind for something I consciously didn't understand. Religion wasn't an option, I had grown enough to realize that there was something more than just one truth, intuitively and consciously. I didn't need faith, I needed to learn to understand the questions first, and then seek answers that fit my life. Faith in the masculine had a betrayal aspect, both from my experiences in the church and with my paternial father. As it is so often in life fate showed its hand and provided clues to what 'that hidden thing' was. In so many of the myths, as well in most of our lives, there is 'that one hidden thing', something within ourselves that requires discovery. My discovery began when I first encountered Joseph Campbell.

Joseph CampbellJoseph Campbell and 'The Power of Myth' has influenced many thousands of lives since it was first broadcast on PBS in the late 1980's. I won't dwell on the psychological impact it has had on me as much as I do the spiritual {Jung is the difference in understanding my own persoanl psychology}. Of course it is a psychological undertaking in discovering the spiritual identity, but I want to address the true spiritual content of knowing the 'inner self' as opposed to the religious attitudes most Westerners seem to hold on to and of those taught to me earlier in life. In many ways it is the 'Jesus' aspect vs. the 'God' aspect. Campbell knew God, all the Gods throughout history. But his emphasis was on the hero path and the rewards that are provided when one follows the patterns of a 'spiritual' life. Jesus was/is the ultimate hero path and using the metaphors provided by Campbell I began to understand what it meant to live from the 'Christ within'. God is so adament in his patriarchal attitudes that the feminine qualities that Jesus exemplified are benign. My personal experiences with 'the father' naturally lead me to listen intently to what the myths had to say about God and spirituality. And when I had consumed enough I began to understand that the 'feminine' qualities within the psyche were the qualities inherent in Jesus. The Gnostics understood the 'Christ within', metaphors for those aspects of compassion and love, acceptance without conditions, not to judge but to give of oneself to the other, examples that Jesus laid out in his own short life. In Western thinking the feminine is sub-ordinate to the masculine. Western religions are patriarchal and lay blame on the feminine for many ills that befall man. It was Eve who tempted Adam, and from there to this very day Western religions tend to denigrate the feminine so to uphold the causes of the masculine church and the power it holds. This is intuitively objectionable, for me and the collective psyche. This is also the reasoning behind the separation of 'God and nature'. 'Mother Earth' is antipathetic to patriarchy, she provides legitimacy to the feminine. So too does the Goddess in myth. The church and its dogma has to denigrate the feminine so to hold on to the power structure within the religious structure as well as the social community. But this attitude itself is antipathetic to the psyche. Intuitiveness is inherent and to deny this feminine trait is to deny oneself of the regulating forms that are needed to fulfill one's life and to give it balance. Jesus' life was predicated on feminine principles and his masculine physical body was secondary to those feminine principles. To act like God invites us to imitate God. We need only look at the world around us to discover what lessons are gained from that attitude; religious wars and strife with little hope of reconciliation.

In Conclusion: Spirituality, Not Religion

You feel your way in spirituality. It runs on instinct, it tingles down the spine. Religion is what happens when we try to place our soul within a strict structured framework. Religion is what we try to impose on others, to make it sterile, to make it acceptable, to make it universal. Spirituality is an 'inward' thing, religion an outward appearance. Spirituality connects with the world around you, religion connects with a doctrine void of feminine qualities. You find spirituality when you venture into the forest and come in contact with all that is within nature. You find religion by association with material self worth and ego influencing attitudes. Creativity is a spiritual aspect. Religion decrys that all creativity is the work of one individual masculine God. Spiritiality expands your horizons, religion limits your potential. Jesus, and neither the Buddha were religious. Their spirituality showed through with every individual they came upon, no judgement, only love and compassion. That is the kind of spirituality I try to live by. If I am to be judged let it be by my actions and not my beliefs. Judgement day comes with every sunrise. I want to live within the moment and by doing as Jesus would have to me to I need not fear God. I bring God out of my own life, not into my life. And as I have learned from my spiritual search of the past 13 years, the spiritual path is as much psychological as it is physical. Turning inward is purely psychological.
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