“Do all roads lead to God or must you believe in a specific faith to have your prayers answered and your dreams come true?”
A friend asked me this a while back, and I thought I would share the answer I gave her.
“I’ve found myself in this very dichotomy for a while now – partly because I came from a Christian background – it’s where my spiritual path started, many years ago, and so it ends up being my heritage. I probably relate to the Christian traditions more than to any other, even if my path is different now… but there are some key things that Christians believe that do not sit well with me. I have come to a place of peace in my personal faith, which is continually evolving and changing – but I am convinced that the only real teacher is the one inside, and the only place of truth is that which emerges from within. And so I don’t ask you to believe any of what I say – but simply to trust your own heart. Our heart is a wiser source of truth than we credit it with. And in the end, the big question – perhaps the only question – is ‘does this belief serve me?’ Does it produce the effects that I want in my life? If so, it is of value. If not, then I will choose to hold that truth more loosely and find another that does.
I have no way of verifying what I believe. All I know is that when I believe what I believe, then my life is better, of more value, and more meaningful – I am happier, more peaceful, more alive.
And I also know that I am not being judged on whether I get these beliefs right or wrong – or even whether there is a right or wrong. There is just ‘what works’ and what doesn’t. A bit of me even suspects that ‘truth’ is a far more flexible thing than we can guess at – that seemingly different and contradictory truths may both be real.
So… where to start?
I believe that Christians are hugely correct with what they believe – and hugely wrong at the same time. For me, God is. There is nothing else. You, me, everything around us is that which we call God – or I prefer, somehow, Oneness, or Love, Infinite Intelligence, or the Universe. For me, in my head, somewhere in all of this ‘God’ has become this patriarchal entity in a robe and a beard.. and so it doesn’t help me particularly to use that word. Unless it does.
So when Christians refer to Jesus as the Son of God, I identify with that too… as a Son of God myself. I think that Jesus got further than most of us (maybe all of us) in terms of understanding the reality of that, and that’s why he could say ‘no-one comes to the Father (the source) but by me’ – by becoming as he was, by recognising the same within ourselves as he recognised within himself.. that ‘I and the Father are one’. (Now, to break my own rules (because I can) I think it’s clearer for context for me to carry on using the word ‘God’ here – but replace it if you will with anything that works better for you.) Because Jesus could see who he was, then he had the power to change reality.. but this is something that’s possible for each of us too.
Does that mean that God is strictly impersonal? No, although I think that there are principles of Life/God/Goddess that are pretty much as iron clad as gravity. So for me God is at the same time principle and personal. The more I explore this, the more I find myself stepping into a dichotomy… and I have learned to hold those dichotomies loosely, exploring what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I envy the absolute and inherently simple faith of the atheist… and yet that doesn’t work for me. Because although atheists would say that the burden of proof lies with the believer, I think that’s just a case of perspective.. because I need something to explain what I feel in my heart – and to explain some of the strange things that seem to be true.
Now, I’ve always been frustrated by the fact that we were supposed to live lives that were as good as Jesus’ – but he had that one single advantage of being divine- of being the Son of God. No fair! But if we are all divine creatures.. if we are all One with a Universal power – then for sure, we can do more than Jesus did – as he promised we would. The clues are all there in the Bible: ‘I have said, you are Gods’…’all creation waits for the Sons of God to come into their own’… but it seems that the Church has diluted this truth, doubting what was placed in our hands, and giving it back to some super power outside ourselves.
This may have been to exert control over the masses, and turn faith into some sort of frequent flyer programme – do enough good works, live a life that’s good, believe the right things…. and you’ll get to heaven. But it seems to me that heaven is already here, when we look…
For me, we don’t need ‘saving’ from some sort of ‘sin’. They surely can’t mean that I am cursed by the behaviour of two people who lived many many thousands of years ago? They surely can’t be implying that anyone who doesn’t believe the Christian way is cursed to a life of eternal separation from God? I cannot see this as the behaviour of an infinitely loving God. For sure, Christians will talk of how this is the only thing God can do, given mankind’s free will, but I don’t buy it. It all sounds like a control system to me… you can’t be happy now, but in a future life, if you behave yourself…? So I don’t see the need for ‘salvation’ to get me to heaven.. I do see there are ways that I have ‘missed the mark’ (the original meaning of the word ‘sin’) and failed to achieve what I set out to… but what I do see is that no matter what has happened or where we have failed, there is the opportunity to put that behind us and start again.
Your average Christian will respond to the question ‘how do you know these things are true’ with ‘because they are in the Bible’. There seems to be an awful lot of stuff in the Bible that they choose not to believe too, or that is in direct contradiction with other stuff…and so for me the only true frame of reference is what works for me. I think that’s the journey that everyone is on, by the way…
We don’t get to be ‘more spiritual’ by a relationship with Jesus. We are already spiritual. It is our nature. We are without the need to be ‘saved’ or to ‘see the light’ – we are powerful creative, spiritual creatures by our very nature, by virtue of being human. While a particular spiritual path may help in terms of a context for living, it’s not required. Each one of us has everything we need.
So, I am not sure how I see the difference between the need for ‘a relationship with Jesus and worshipping God’ to get what you want.. or the concept of a fairy god mother. Is it that different? I think it was Cinderella’s relationship to the fairy godmother that allowed her to go to the ball (and, honestly, there’s an awful lot of spiritual truth in stories like Cinderella too).
I guess it’s easier, isn’t it, to say “God always answers prayer: he says ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘not yet'”… that’s so much more palatable than to have to try and work out why a seemingly impersonal law like the Law of Attraction isn’t working?! Sometimes this Christianity stuff seems a lot easier than working things out for ourselves.
I guess if you contrast Christianity with The Secret, the Law of Attraction, or a whole raft of New Age beliefs… then those ‘New Age’ beliefs seem to put our power outside of ourselves, reliant on ‘The Universe’ or some impersonal ‘Law of Attraction’ to get the results we want. And I think there is some truth to those principles too… and yet by putting the power outside ourselves, we miss the point. Again. I think it’s true that what we think of tends to be drawn into our lives… although I do think that what we think we’re thinking may not be as clear cut as we think it might be. If we think about being rich, or being in a relationship, then what is at the heart of that thought is often the absence of that thing. Even when we use affirmations like ‘I am enjoying the relationship of my dreams’ there is a huge part of our being that says ‘ahem. No you’re not.’
And we put our power outside ourselves in practical terms too. We look at the statistics that say things like ‘99% of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population’ (or whatever the latest statistic is). So, surely that 1% should divide their wealth more fairly? Hold on…I can’t find accurate statistics, but some research I did suggests that I am actually richer than 97% of the rest of the world. So maybe I need to work harder at making things fairer. We look at the hatred and violence in the world, but fail to recognise the same in ourselves when we get angry with those that have ‘done us wrong’. The power to change the world on those simple terms lies inside me – and the same power rests with 7 billion others.
I don’t think that God wants our worship (and I don’t see why that ‘worship’ has to be of a particular form either). I don’t actually think God wants or needs anything. There is a wonderful book by Neale Donald Walsch called ‘What God Wants’. He promises that Chapter 13 will go into detail on the subject of ‘What God Wants’ – and on reaching it, the chapter is blank.
I have a lot of time for Neale and certainly the first Conversations With God book, which blew away many of the cobwebs around our perceptions of God (as God himself says in that book ‘You got me all wrong’). As you might expect, I find some of his other thought at variance with what I feel.. but CWG book one and What God Wants are very helpful, as is Neale’s take on ‘The Secret’ called ‘Happier Than God’. And yet at the other end of the spectrum I have a huge amount of time for a pastor from Houston, Joel Osteen, who is very much a traditional bible believing ‘come to Jesus and be saved’ kind of guy – because, once I take that concept out of his language, much of what he says still makes sense, and fills me full of faith and hope.
Two men, from different ends of the spiritual spectrum – and yet both of them can speak to my heart and to the depths of my being. Both of them make sense to me (and yes, sometimes both of them contradict each other).
I see attempts to explain God in terms of quantum physics, and to show that perhaps quantum entanglement explains psychic phenomena, or the quantum observer effect explains how we affect our reality, or ‘everything is energy’ explains how we can attract what we want… and I think to myself that there’s actually more value in accepting that something much bigger than our science can perceive is actually running the show… that somehow what we perceive in terms of ‘energy’ is just the tip of an iceberg that we don’t have a frame of reference for.
I do think that one of the laws of life is the law of karma – perhaps not the Buddhist belief that we have to work off our karma over many lifetimes before we reach nirvana – but the concept that we get what we give. So yes, I do believe that if we devote our lives to giving to others, then we will find that we get more of that. Some of the happiest people I know are those who are giving to others selflessly. And that includes Christians and atheists alike. And that’s one reason why Christianity produces happy content people.. because it produces people who are giving. (It can also produce people who are hugely guilty, too, as they fail to meet what they perceive as God’s standard. And that really is one thing I hate about it – this concept of ‘the sorry sinner’)
I think what Christianity and other faiths have done is to create a framework that allows peace and happiness – to find a place where someone can ‘fit’ and explore a set of beliefs that give an opportunity for them to grow and become at peace with themselves. But if that framework doesn’t fit for you… if it doesn’t match what you hear yourself, and your own truth – then I think you are free to find something that does work. Take what serves you, let go of what doesn’t.
And in many ways I am drawn to a concept of magic… and I use that word because I can’t find a better one… that resides in each one of us because of our Divine nature, because we are each of us God incarnate. And I find that the less I have ‘wants’ then the more magical I become – it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my financial problems have given me the freedom to be happier than I could have been chasing the dollar – that I have a huge freedom to do what I want, to explore some of this stuff. I am drawn to a concept of simply choosing to be at peace – not because I am meeting someone’s criteria for good behaviour, but simply because I am choosing peace. And that is magical.
I can choose to be happy once I place my criteria for happiness inside myself and not outside. As a friend of mine once said, ‘in Miami, the perfect summer’s day is when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.. when the breeze is just enough to cool the skin yet not to make you cold.. when the sun is just that perfect warmth – in London, the perfect summer’s day is when it’s not raining.’ Or, in other words, choose to have easy to meet criteria for happiness… not necessarily that I don’t have goals to be wealthy, healthy, to have adventures, to travel, whatever… but that not having those things does not affect my happiness. In this, I simply choose to be grateful for what is, knowing that everything is working out perfectly, that the path I am on is, even in its seeming imperfection, absolutely perfect..
All of those things I think is the long way of saying that I’m closer to a simpler understanding of spirituality then I am to the Christian dogmatic approach… even Christians find themselves struggling to explain a God who seems to have changed his character from Old to New Testaments – from a God of brimstone and retribution to a God of love and forgiveness. I do think we have to look below the stories to decide for ourselves what is true for us. If we’re happy with a ready made off the peg belief system, then awesome. Start living it. And some of us will be looking for something that fits our understanding better – that answers the tough questions each of us have.
Does that mean that I am picking and choosing the bits of the Bible that I believe? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. And for my precedent I cite the Church fathers at the council of Carthage who decided that the gospels of Mark, Matthew Luke and John were in, but the gospels of Thomas and Judas were out. I have tried to take my experience, my history, what I have read and heard and experienced, and create a synthesis that I can personally trust – something that has its own personal integrity – not taking the shortcut of a ready made faith handed down by someone else who has gone before – but by working hard at understanding what I personally believe to be true.
So I live in a dichotomy – a space where I believe in a relationship with a personal God, a world of miracles and magic, of the impossible and the unexpected, and where I also believe that there are clear rules that run the Universe, principles which if we use them produce effective consistent results that are not at the behest of a capricious deity. I personally don’t feel the need to be ‘Christian’ or to comply with a set of beliefs and behaviours to be happy.. although I do know that when I make decisions and follow behaviours that seem to come from my heart and from a place of love inside myself, then I feel happier, more at peace, more fulfilled, more powerful, more magical, more alive, more ‘me’ somehow….”
Find out more at www.timhodgson.org