The human concept of religious freedom is our acknowledgment that spiritual beliefs, practices, and understanding can be as individual as the number of humans. The recognition and respect for all individuals to freely express their personal beliefs are fundamental as breathing.
So, why do so many people participate in their spiritual development as a team sport? Also, why have many people allowed their personal spiritual identity to become entangled with a religious organization? Organizational religion has two main goals. One is to aid in the spiritual training of those that join its organization. The second is to transmit to future generations the teachings and practices that are part of the religious culture for which it represents.
Many Sunday morning worship services in America have morphed to resemble sports and political gatherings with people supporting their home teams. The Sunday morning gatherings in America used to be a time of spiritual devotion where any visitor could join the community practice. It was an opportunity for people to temporarily escape from of their personal lives to reflect on the actions they committed or omitted during the busy week. It was a time for quiet reflection while being washed in spiritual words of encouragement. It was an opportunity for personal transformation.
Do you gather in huge a stadium or do you gather in a smaller group, and is it with people and friends that have the same perspective or worldview? Is there time for quiet devotion and reflection or does the gathering put on a production and presentation to keep you excited so you will come back again? Is the overall point of view being shared one that says, there is only one way to God and all others perspectives in the marketplace need to be driven out, so the world can become transformed? If someone holding a different worldview happens to visit or is invited to attend your service are they accepted as they are if they never change, or are they made to feel especially uncomfortable if they fail to cheer on the home team and its perception of the world?
This may be fine for sport and political gatherings, but it violates the concept for spiritual freedom. Yet, religious institutions have adopted this format as a method to support and bolster its organizational goals. Religious institutions train their membership in groups to maximize efficiency, but they fail to reinforce the idea that a person’s spiritual identity is as personal as their fingerprint and that it belongs to them. More important and because of tradition, many members freely abdicate their responsibility for spiritual development and trade in their personal identity for a group identity. Many people do this in hopes that God’s heart is moved by numbers when standing in faith on an issue. Have you given over your identity in hopes that it will be used as a political force that can influence the material world issues in a spiritual way?
For many years religious organizations, worldwide, have been more than happy to let people give them their identities so they can be the ones representing their spiritual lives. Just prior to the Protestant Reformation in the Christian culture, the most popular religious institutions were accused of having to much power and abusing that power. Back then the power was in the form of a financial tax on individuals, and families. From birth to death these organizations formulated a strategy of dispensing and withholding blessings to influence and control various parts of a persons moral and spiritual life.
Today people volunteer to be members of their religious institutions and have the freedom to terminate the relationship whenever they want. However, for those that choose to evolve spiritually, most never do it outside of a religious organization. Therefore, today these organizations continue to yield tremendous power from birth to death. They do not directly tax individuals, but the relationship has financial obligations and when it comes to political power, they strongly influence the beliefs and thoughts of most of its members. There is a valid chicken and egg argument to be made, however, within the membership only a few members hold differing beliefs from the membership at large.
But be encouraged, many people are waking up to these trends as it concerns personal spiritual development. The Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) movement and specifically within Christianity the Emergent Church movement and the Red Letter Christian movement are examples of pushbacks towards this trend. However, just switching teams is not a solution to the trend of spiritual development being a team sport.
Only the act of taking personal responsibility for one’s spiritual training can truly reverse this trend. It does not require everyone to exit organize religion, but it does require everyone to set personal goals and partake of training materials that they have sought out. With the advent of human technological advancements, especially in the area of social networks, individuals in the western world are without excuse when it comes to seeking spiritual enlightenment. Do you avail yourself of the spiritual resources available on the social network at least once a week?
To remained pigeonholed into a way of thinking spiritually from birth to death reflects truly on one’s beliefs about all things spiritually. Fear is the primary tactic that keeps many people from exploring spiritually. In every other area of life, people exercise freedom except when it comes to their spirituality. It is kind of like when a stockbroker or a doctor discourage you from getting a second opinion, you should automatically know that something is wrong. However, many falsely believe they will be better off not knowing the truth.
Again, be encouraged that you will not be the first pioneer to strike out on your own and do something spiritually on one of the other six days of the week and still show up on Sunday for the religious pep rally. Odds are that there are more than a few members already doing it. Social media sites like Meetup.com provide links with information about meetings and groups that have planned alternative events for exploring and finding people with awakened spiritual points of view.
For every charlatan standing in the pulpits in America, there is probably one on social media with the fraudulent intents, and yet my experience over the last 5 years has been all good and left my desire to explore peaked and all the while feeling safe. As human understanding grows some religious tradition will not stand the test of truth. What is true is that our spiritual identity as a created child of God is secure as God’s very Presence. That is our spiritual heritage and it has nothing to do with human tradition or the team we choose for our spiritual training.
One reason that unconditional love is in short supply among the human population, is because love has been made conditional to the spiritual identity of the spiritual team a person trains with. Yet, the true source of unconditional love is God. This is the reason that Jesus made love the only condition for a true relationship. While the religion of Jesus day had 613 ways to break the relationship, Jesus made love the only condition for a relationship.
So, let each of us stay mindful that we have the right and the freedom to develop our personal spiritual training. If nothing else, explore the limits of your current training organization. Ask questions of God, your organization’s leadership and other members. Open your heart and spiritual ears to God and determine where you want to end up when this earthly life is finished.
Do you want a personal faith relationship in your spiritual team or personal faith relationship in God? There are 52 Sundays this year, will your personal spiritual development remain as the other team sport?