PART ONE: DISTINGUISHING RELIGION FROM SPIRITUALITY
It has been said that there are as many recipes for borscht as there are Russians. Of course, borscht is a matter of personal taste, and only really important to beet fanciers. If there are any wars fought over which borscht is best, they are probably very small, and go unnoticed in the world at large.
Religion is not quite such a local phenomenon.
Differing definitions of gods or ‘God’ have moved vast armies across the face of the world, generated suffering and grief, have driven uncountable numbers of people away from the very idea of certain definitions of ‘God.’ People have justified terrible things in support of their meaning of ‘God.’
Any useful discussion on the topic requires defining of terms, just so that those involved can be sure of discussing the same thing: Assumptions are the seeds of war!
My simple definition of ‘religion’ is that which is the packaging of spiritual information. It is the body of the spirit of connection with the Divine. As a body, a religion fears its own extinction, it strives for its own advantage, it reads its power from the numbers of its followers from whom it gathers in what it needs to survive in the temporal/physical world. These needs range from money to buildings to bodies. The power of a religion to control resources–like followers–is generally based in the fear/love spectrum.
Spiritual revelation is the content of that packaging. Revelation… understanding… epiphany… all are part of what the package dresses itself up for. But all the glitz and awe and pageantry that go into attracting followers, especially followers not informed enough in their lives to see deeper than surfaces, creates a body of followers who are so distracted and cheered by the packaging and never take note of the content.
Religion is also a tool of spiritual revelation, once it gets past its own survival issues. The rituals and words serve to help all those body-bound followers–people used to seeing themselves only as physical beings–to experience the realness of spirit. It is by way of entrancement that we shift from a body-consciousness to something higher.
Entrancement is that state in which we engage with a good book or a movie, losing our sense of self, of time passing in order to ‘be’ in the story. It is a kind of hypnosis that we experience when our thoughts extend beyond whatever is happening in the immediate world around us–as when we are driving, or sitting in a boring meeting. It is a dream state-of-consciousness, whether simple distraction or deep sleep dreaming.
Trance is induced by simple things. For instance, information suggested to the senses, or to the part of the mind that processes senses: when more than three senses are given information to work with, the mind believes.
Trance comes out of numbing of the feelings, too: giving the sense-mind more than it can process. Babies, when overstimulated, fall asleep. Boring the mind also works: Chanting uses both tone and repetition–repetition of tones moves the mind right on out of its body-consciousness.
The incense, the chant, the liturgy, the motions, the surroundings are all controlled to make that happen, to allow people who only know themselves as physical can feel that disembodied reality. For some, this is a doorway to a truly spiritual experience. For many, it is what they learn to identify as spiritual experience. These are the ones who celebrate the packaging as the Truth. They absorb the teachings of their particular religion as Truth, with no application of critical thought, while those who went through that doorway, who transcended the packaging, tend to see beyond the packaging, become aware of the false advertising, the vanities of the lures and promises.
When a religion is deliberately built to create followers, to build wealth and power, the tactics are the same, but there is no content. There will be the suggestion, some sort of construct meant to look like spiritual content, but it is all part of the control strategy. This is my definition of a cult.