The terrorist attacks in Washington, DC and New York a few years ago have led people to wonder how religion could motivate people to commit such horrific acts. Such behaviour might lead one to reject any concern for what lies beyond mundane existence and live a dry secular life but there’s no solution to the human dilemma in this for we all will ultimately want to know what’s beyond our limited scope. First of all, even though the terms religion and spirituality are often used interchangeably the religion of the terrorists is of a particular common type: it is religion unsubordinated to spirituality. Religion and spirituality denote two distinct phenomena. If we are going to maintain an interest in the beyond we should ask what religion is and how it differs from spirituality.
Religion is a theological belief system and a code of conduct. Spirituality is the experience of love, compassion and unity . In contrast to religion which is mental, but often not intellectual, spirituality exists in the realm of feeling and can only be experienced to the degree that the mental function can be transcended. Religion legitimately achieves two purposes: providing a lifestyle in which spirituality can flourish and serving as a"finger pointing at the moon". In the latter case it points the metaphysical novice toward an experience of God by giving him an abstract though temporary way of percieving God.
The fact that 90% of religion has become an end in itself is an old story. The religion of the hijackers is cancerous in the sense that it doesn’t subordinate itself to spirituality just as cancerous tissue in an organism doesn’t subordinate itself to the higher needs of the organism. Much as malignant tissue comes to dominate an organism so does an attachment to religious doctrine or, for that matter, attachment to a secular credo come to dominate the soul and protect the believer from uncertainty.
Religion that subordinates itself to spirituality can be found in such practices as the sabbath when the sabbath is observed as a surcease from material concerns allowing the mind to rest on the spiritual and in moral codes that cause one to feel in balance with the needs of society and, hence more open to spiritual vibrations.
Cancerous religion can be seen in forcing others to observe the sabbath and other moral or religious practices beyond concern for what is hazardous to societal well being. The motivation comes from insecurity and fear and the result can even be harmful to society.. An example is the Taliban decree that no woman can work outside of the home causing thousands of war widows to starve to death. In contrast, the prohibition and punishment of theft, rape, and murder can from any reasonable point of view be considered justified and not based on malignant religion..
To the degree that religion becomes an end in itself what unconscious dynamics are empowering it? A good degree of the exploitive, cold uncaring hierarchical nature of society is merely the outward projection of the "ego" or, the neurotic character structure. This is the contracted egocentric structure of the "bound soul". If religion is not in service to peoples’ spirituality what other part of human consciousness is it in service to? I think we can see by the results in death and destruction.
One of the surest ways to know if a motivation is based on this malignant kind of religion is to what degree it focuses on belief.. As a central theme of most western religion, belief is based on ignorance and insecurity. You don’t know what you believe and you don’t believe what you know. The reason you want to believe it is to avoid feeling insecure. If you knew it you wouldn’t need to believe it. If you believe it it’s for sure you don’t know it and no matter how much you hide from insecurity in belief it is always there waiting for you.. We know a religion is full of spiritual ignorance and to what degree it is dangerous to others in the degree of fervor to which it concentrates on belief. Spirituality, in contrast, shows you how to face insecurity through direct experience of the void within. Better to face it than to force others to live in such a way as to enhance your fragile security.
One of the biggest examples of religion being an end in itself is where it exalts belief above the values it purports to uphold. In my Catholic childhood I was told that a nice guy who is an atheist was of a lower order than a cretin who believed. The atheist would never go to heaven because he didn’t believe where as the cretinous believer might slip in if he repented for any mortal sins he might have committed.
Of course in the West the inroads of rationalism have steadily eroded the absolutism of Christianity as the result of the renaissance and the enlightenment. Unfortunately Islam never had these two moderating historical events; hence we see belief leading to the mayhem in New York City and Washington, DC. Never the less while the West focuses on the Islamic world looking for allies in the war against violent muslim extremists the focus is on the more educated elites. The rationality these people have gained from secular education makes them more relativistic but there has always been another redoubt of tolerant relativism in the Islamic world, based on spirituality, the mystical Sufi sect, another source of potential allies.
As far as popular awareness is concerned we have two options: the absolutist religious fundamentalists who are all too ready to sacrifice you to their beliefs and the rationalist who, as a relativist, is tolerant. But the spiritual or mystical person is also tolerant and a relativist- on a deeper level. The mystic experiences a universe in which only the totality is absolute. Anything in it is only relative to something else. For example heat is relative to cold and good is relative evil. The beliefs of malignant religion bring its adherents into the perpetual struggle between two opposite principles trying to make one of them absolute. For example, if God, separate from his creation, is absolute good then of necessity there must also be an absolute evil which immediately makes the two only relative to each other but the average Christian thinks that God is absolute good in spite of this. The spiritual perception that God comprises all opposites making him beyond good and evil solves this source of endless conflict.
The fact that the rationalist and the spiritual person are natural allies is seen in a number of phenomena. Rationalism has found through science more and more complex ways in which even the smallest speck of matter animate or inanimate is in harmony with everything else suggesting an intelligence behind phenomena. The theory of relativity, in effect a pantheist statement, states that everything is energy. Einstein, himself, was not conventionally religious but communicated the perception that his endless scientific quest showed him more and more of God’s nature. The intellectual researcher is a truth seeker as is the mystic. The malignantly religious person is "sure" he has found the truth and need look no further. If he is a Presbyterian minister enunciating some Christian doctrine at the table he might just bore you to death with his "certainty." If he’s a Taliban militant he might actually kill you rather than tolerate any uncertainty.
These malignantly religious people are immune to the perception that you have to be empty and only then will God come in. Empty of materialism, empty of religious concepts, empty. Paradoxically, one of the biggest obstacles to an experience of God is a belief in God, as necessary as such a belief might have been in the beginning to motivate someone to seek God.
Since a spiritual person is a truth seeker he doesn’t blot out knowledge from outside whatever religion he is part of. For example, the population explosion and its resultant poverty, ethnic conflict and ecological crisis, the need for alternative energy to slow down the greenhouse effect and so on are realities that the spiritual person may allow into his mind and he may behave accordingly. If having large families disrupts the balance of nature and contributes to poverty and unrest then he may practice birth control. If the hybrid car pollutes less he may try to buy one, etc. If, however the cancerously religious person spends all his time reading the bible, koran or torah considering all truth to be therein then he may and often does contribute greatly to the problems of the world. In fact studies show that fundamentalist families tend to have far more children than other families and are oblivious to many social and ecological concerns.
Because self exploration is not part of the fundamentalist mind set the religiously motivated terrorist will tell you that he is willing to die because he is a selfless servant of God or the dispossessed. An exposure of motivations will show that the terrorist hopes to gain something for himself whether it be a special place in heaven or the admiration of his contemporaries.
It’s time that cancerous religion were taken off its pedestal and the motivations of religious fanatics were exposed. Whether it be terror or sociopolitical problems only reason and real spirituality with religion as a junior partner will provide any help.