The last few months have been quite a turmoil for me. Losing faith in a religion I have held since childhood has thrown me for a loop. There are several things I've had to reconcile in my brain in order for it to be at peace with the situation. I needed to know what makes humans behave the way we do, what makes something morally right, and where spirituality and spiritual experiences fit into the picture.
I have researched on the internet, read blogs and forums to see what other people believe and why. I've thumbed through books, read parts of others, and read all the way through a couple. Two of the books that made the most difference are The World's Religions by Huston Smith and The “God” Part of the Brain by Matthew Alper (there is a video on youtube on this subject that I find equally interesting). From my studies I have reached some conclusions that have brought me peace.
Spirituality is universal to humankind. I find joy and wonder in this truth. Not everybody is the same, and some people seem not to have profound spiritual experiences, but overall humans are very spiritual beings. This spirituality inspires, guides, helps and warns. It comes in the form of feelings, thoughts, a voice, and visions. Some of these avenues are shaped by the world around us as to what we expect, but overall are very similar across the board. It creates within us peace, hope, and empathy.
Sometimes spiritual experiences prompt us to do things we wouldn't otherwise do. They give us courage and reason to do something that we are afraid of. I've read of people who uproot their family for a move across country, because a spiritual experience told them it was the right thing to do. Most of the time, everything works out just fine. It probably would have without the spiritual prompt, but the person wouldn't have done it otherwise, thus a prompt was needed. It find it amazing that we humans are wired this way.
I love how the human mind works, constantly filtering and gathering information from our surroundings. There is so much at play that we are not aware of, and I find it fascinating. I can see how a person can pray for somebody, give a blessing, or deliver a message that is exactly what that person needs at a given time. I believe this is possible from subtle clues our bodies pick up on and our minds process subconsciously. Now, I'm not saying there isn't some outside entity that watches over us and gives us what we need through spiritual sources, I'm saying that there doesn't need to be. We humans are wondrous, and though we have found and proven a lot about ourselves, we don't know everything.
As much as I want there to be a God and an afterlife, it doesn't matter if those things are made up in our minds. The thought can give us comfort and peace, and it serves its purpose. I don't know if we can ever truly know.. Probably the biggest thing besides hope and peace these thoughts give is the difference in how we might live our lives. It may take away some of the fear of dying or the despair when we lose a loved one. It might also encourage us to not try harder to do something, to not stand out, to not explore ourselves or the world around us. We might think it would be OK, because we can do it in the afterlife, that we have eternity to become more fully who we truly are. The belief in an afterlife may give us peace, but it may also hinder our development of ourselves. When we know how our thought processes affect us, we can change our behavior to counter the negative and be better people now.
Religion is the interpretation of spiritual experiences for understanding and deeper meaning. Promptings, warnings, visions, and voices are given names and deeper meanings. Stories are told and rituals held in the hopes of encouraging these experiences. Drugs, meditation, music and prayer are all used as avenues to understand the will of God and encourage communication. Religion is so closely tied with spirituality that it is difficult to separate the two in the minds of most people. Doing so causes great distress. This is the reason the challenge to any religion causes extreme emotions. People feel their personally spirituality is challenged with any challenge to their religion. I have to admit this has puzzled me, and as such, in my ignorance, I have stirred up some unpleasant emotions in others. This is also probably, what has caused and continues to cause many wars and conflicts in the world. It is sad to me, and at times distressing. I don't mind discussing spirituality and/or religion, but for the mental sanity of the people around me, I am going to attempt to keep all discussion of religion out of the public forum in the future. I think it is OK to discuss spirituality publicly, because it is so universal, but discussion of religion seems to breed monsters. Again, I don't mind discussing religion and how I have come to my views and conclusions, but it seems for a civil discussion to ensue, it needs to be done privately.