My journey to liberation from religion ironically began with a man and a book, both having to do with Christian monasticism. At the age of 21, having completed a world tour by backpack, I felt the need to contemplate my experience and assimilate what I had learned. It was at that point I found myself living in New Mexico, where I joined the Monaster of Christ in the Desert as a postulant in the Benedictine order.
It was in the monastery that I encountered Thomas Merton and the Philokalia, not for the first time, but in far greater depth than I had done in the past.
Monasticism has always appealed to me, even from my youngest recollections. I refer you to my essay on solitude back in December 2012. I love being alone, not all the time, but for extended periods for recentering my mind and spirit.
The Buddhists have a symbol for this recentering. It is a wagon wheel. The first layer of meaning is that the spokes are paths to Enlightenment (the hub), and there are many of them. The important part of the metaphor is that all paths are connected to the hub. There is no one path that is more important than another, and the hub is the same for all of them. Furthermore, they are all connected at the outside, as well as the inside, because they all begin with the same questions.
Back to Merton. In Merton's later life, he spent a great deal of time in dialogue with Buddhists trying to reconcile Christianity (with a big 'C') to Buddhism. In front of Merton's hermitage in Kentucky is a simple sculpture he made with a wagon wheel at the base of a cross. It is a profound meditation for something so simple, and it calls to mind the Celtic crosses of my ancestors, which is what first caught my eye.
Reading Merton led me to delve into Buddhism. It is there that I came to the inescapable conclusion that true Christianity and Buddhism are inextricably linked. There are so many parallels between the Christ and the Buddha that it begs the question, "Are they the same philosophy?"
I say "philosophy" because the two paths are, in their purest forms, more systems of thought and action, rather than 'faiths', as we commonly call them now. Both are paths to achieve personal godhood. Buddha clearly stated that if one follows the path, one will achieve Nirvana, or a god-like state of being. Jesus plainly said the same thing, telling his followers that they could do everything he did and more if they follow the path.
I could go on and on about how both the Buddha and the Christ journeyed into the wilderness, met three temptations, chose 12 apostles, and preached nearly identical sermons, but I don't want to ruin your own journey into liberation.
This does, however, lead us to the Philokalia, which is a book(s). The title means "love of beauty". It is a collection of writings by Eastern Orthodox monks dating from AD300 to AD1400, and later assembled into a single collection in the 1700s. Most Christians have not read these writings, since they are primarily encountered in the contemplative life of monasteries. Many of the writings are very similar to Zen koans, short stories designed to give the student a 'eureka' moment after due reflection. Others are long dissertations on various aspects of the Christ and what it means to be Christian.
You see, in real Christianity, there are no 'saved' and 'unsaved' souls. The Christ came to redeem all Humanity in all places at all times. All humans are now saved and have been for the last 2,000 years. What we are left with are adepts and students. There is no need to be 'reborn', that was done for all time at the point the Christ died. The Old Testament and Original Sin were all abolished at that moment. There is no need for a place called "Israel" because now the entire Earth IS Israel. There is no single chosen people. Now all Humanity is the Chosen. The Second Coming is not some event that will happen at the end of the world, but rather the awakening of the Christ within each human on their journey to Enlightenment.
All the arguments over virgin births, resurrections and transfigurations are completely pointless. They have nothing to do with the true message. They are, in fact, add-ons from old mystery religions and so-called pagan faiths. They serve no purpose but to obscure and mislead.
In fact, there is no need for 'faith' because there is no illogical non-sequitur to overcome. Like Buddhism, Christianity is a clear path to a real outcome that uses reason and hard work to achieve. Everyone can do it if they apply themselves and seek true teachings. No hocus-pocus about it. Any one of several paths will lead the student to the hub, just as the wagon wheel and Celtic cross imply.
Into this very long history of Truth, dating from 500BC to present, comes a convicted felon and roust-about by the name of Cyrus Scoffield. Among his various money-making schemes was tent revivals, where he would fleece unsophisticated folk of their hard-earned money while preaching about Jay-zus. At one point, he was approached by a shadowy group of lawyers and banksters to write a version of the Bible that linked Old and New Testaments in highly questionable ways using translations and interpretations that were, at best, misguided.
It is from this so-called Scoffield Bible that we get the ideas of 'dispensation' and 'rapture'. These two ideas are completely antithetical to the thousands of years of thought and scholarship that preceded Scoffield. How can a select group of 'believers' be saved while the rest of humanity is doomed, when the Christ sacrifice saved all Humankind for all times and in all places?
Nevertheless, these egregious heresies caught on because they appealed to that distinctly American idea of 'exceptionalism'. This idea that America and Americans are somehow special and given of God to show the world how things are done mixed rather well with the idea of being part of a select group of 'saved' individuals. It appealed to the ego and made adherents feel as if they were part of an exclusive club ordained by God and sent to change the world.
And change it they have. The history of the world since the introduction of 'dispensationalism' and 'rapture' has been one of slaughter, mayhem and the destruction of civil society. The christians who bought into this heresy felt relieved of their responsibility to act Christian. They could now wreak havoc on the world with the idea that they would be pulled up into the sky with Jay-zus to watch the results of their handiwork from a safe distance.
The Scoffield interpretation also meant that a political state called Israel had to be called into existence and a third temple be built in order to foster in the Age of the Antichrist and the End of the World.
Stop for a minute and consider just how sick and horrifying this is. Here you have millions of people deluded into thinking the Second Coming is an event at the end of the world, that the timing of this event can be forced by meeting certain criteria, and that no amount of bloodshed and horror should be spared to achieve it because, Hey! We're saved and will be raptured out without having to suffer the horrors we created to get here.
Sick. Horrifying. Disgusting.
So, what does all this have to do with why I dislike and distrust religion? Glad you asked.
All religions everywhere are nothing more than institutions of control in which some elite, based on private revelations that can never be confirmed objectively, tell their followers what to think and how to act. When it is benign, religion can be positive and a good thing, but throughout human history, we have seen that any time an organization gains sufficient power over enough people, in steps a nefarious group of elites willing to exploit the unquestioning 'faith' of the followers.
This sort of blind faith is dangerous in any case and at all times. Demagoguery appeals to emotions, not reason. It is the antithesis of the Christ and the Buddha. It is, in point of fact, the Antichrist.
What truly amazes me is that the followers of this State Religion are warned constantly against being fooled by the Antichrist who will set up a world religion and deceive millions of believers, and yet they are the millions who have been deceived. And they fail to see the very thing for which they are to be ever-watchful. It is the ultimate slight-of-hand.
The purpose for all this is very simple. A group of lawyers and banksters chose a particularly charismatic con man, dictated the appropriate translations and interpretations they wanted to him. Then they supported, bia generous donations, any preacher and institution that promoted this heresy in order to spread it far and wide.
The goal was to establish a secular state called Israel that could be used to commit the most heinous acts of barbarism, and do it all with impunity with the full faith and support of millions of people. All of it was simply a means to take over the world behind the curtain of religion using an army of true believers who would do anything to achieve the goal while believing that they would be immune both from harm and Final Judgement because they were doing the work of Jay-zus.
Truly diabolical in its simplicity.
The remedy is equally as simple: go back and read the ancient practitioners who founded the Christian philosophy. Reading the Philokalia and early Church fathers awakens one to the truth of what the student must learn and understand. Following the example of thinkers such as Thomas Merton, who saw the link between the Buddha and the Christ, opens one's eyes to just how far off the True Path we have wandered.
What separates humans from lower animals is our facility for abstract reasoning and our ability to rise above mindless emotion. Once we have learned to think and control our emotions, we are ready to leave the outside of the wheel and journey inward to the hub. Where we embark on this journey does not matter. There are a thousand ports. What matters is the destination - the triumph of the Mind over Matter.
If the results of our beliefs are death, destruction and the lack of guilt due to feelings of superiority, then we are most certainly on the wrong path. Any religion that preaches immorality as a means to an end, and absolution from guilt because the ends will justify the means, is a vicious and diabolical system appealing to the emotions rather than the intellect.
Morality is absolute and does not need a vengeful and judgmental god to enforce. We know instinctively what is right and wrong, but we derail that instinct when we follow elitist leaders who preach that our immorality will be justified in the end by the triumph of doctrine over simple, pure Truth. This is nothing more than arguing that immorality is the path to true morality. In fact, they are mutually exclusive and can never be reconciled under any amount of 'faith'.
The hub of the wheel is the source of Life. A religion that promotes bloodlust, destruction and Death cannot lead to that place. Furthermore, any belief that requires the death and suffering of billions of people in order to prove its validity is, by definition, wrong.
In the end, I cannot follow or advocate any religion that requires blind obedience to self-appointed elite whose only authority is unverifiable personal revelations. On top of that, the True Path is the one that leads to Life, and the student cannot follow those who justify death and destruction to get there. Therefore, I have no use for 'religion' and 'faith'. The Path is self-evident and self-guiding. It does not need elite leaders and preachers. It does not require 'faith' in non-sequiturs and illogical assumptions as a means of achieving Enlightenment.
Most importantly, they told us that the Path was already inside each of us. We need only find it and start down it. To do that, we had to be quiet and listen.