In the past I have critiqued what I call institutional or “doctrinal” Christianity, that which seeks to control the movement of spirit and the forms of worship associated with the examples, teachings, deeds, and spiritual presence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I have shown how this oppresses the very people it is meant to redeem, and I have shown how it violates other religions and belief systems which may not assume any God whatsoever. I have shown how world-driven efforts to control the power of spiritual example leads inevitably to self-idolatry, the opposite of spiritual goodness and truth. Now it is incumbent upon me to appeal to inspiration to offer an affirmative alternative to the bigotry, abuse, violence, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and spiritual sickness that comes from self-idolizing attempts to enslave and control the image of the spirit.
I am not seeking to establish merely an individual belief system, but rather offer a possible communal spiritual practice. Therefore, I must clarify the difference between a worship community and “doctrinal” religious institutions. Worship communities (Christian and others), in the way I describe them, strive to democratically, spontaneously, creatively, and persistently express and support the movements of the spirit through worldly, social actions. Doctrinal religious institutions, on the other hand, appear to be dedicated to despotically stamping their particular notions of the spirit on the world.
As evidence, institutional Christianity, with its “church” and its doctrine, has developed politically-driven systems that assert themselves as “God’s plan.” Rather than the will of God, however, they are (in my belief) the historical articulation of laudable human desires to be near God, bent into twisted and idolatrous efforts to “be” God - replacing spiritual inspiration and uncertainty with worldly proclamations, conditions, and fundamentalisms. In many ways, looking at its philosophical and practical operation, this kind of Christian religiosity often proves itself profoundly anti-spiritual.
In matters of conscience (“Should we align ourselves with the persecuted Jews or tacitly support the Nazis?”), institutional Christian churches, for instance, have almost always chosen the worldly over the spiritual, siding with political power and expedience, as such churches did in Germany during WWII. There is an unfortunate but clear indicator of their character. The ostensible function of earthly religious authority is to serve the spirit in all matters and instances, and yet, when given the choice, that authority seems to always find some rationale to defer its immediate and urgent moral responsibility in order to “live to fight another day” by accommodating oppressive forces. It is no surprise, with these habits and taste for power, that churches themselves often become those oppressive forces.
I don’t have a sweeping solution to this conflict, except to say that a more universal, more humane, and more spiritually powerful form of Christianity (and other religions and schools of spiritual thought) must speak up. I do feel that the historical time may be right for such speech to be heard and translated into a powerful worldly force and creed. What might that look like? Well I’ve gathered some ideas and listed them intentionally as “commitments” not “commandments.” Both “commitments” and “commandments” are imperatives. They both rest on “shall”. However, commitments say, both “I shall” and “we shall” (think of marriage vows) while commandments say “you shall”.
In commandments the authority comes from an external demander. In commitments the authority comes from an internal voice. I think it is time we take spiritual responsibility and give to that “still small voice” inside us and that larger present connection between us their proper authority. It is time to decide that “I shall” and “we shall” choose for ourselves democratically what we might honor from the smallest and frailest to the biggest and most (seemingly) invulnerable.
I will attempt to state these commitments in a fashion that might be universally accessible, at times drawing out examples in the Christian tradition which is my home. This is meant to be embracing, an offering to my brothers and sisters of the world and a call to the larger religious institutions to open their arms and their hearts, reform their abuses, ask forgiveness, and rejoice.
Ten Spiritual Commitments
I and We shall be guided by the presence of spirit in all things. In so doing I and we shall channel and express the ineffable as familiar, as humble, as stillness, as interdependent being.
I and We shall love all unconditionally. In word, thought, and deed, I and we shall uphold equality and justice by loving neighbor, stranger, and enemy alike. I and we shall do so without judgment, but with discernment, that we may evoke life purpose, responsibility for suffering, and opportunity for joy.
I and We shall recognize the inherent goodness of God’s creation in essence and form. Diversity is therefore both the beautiful and necessary elaboration of spirit. Pluralism, embrace of diversity, is the law and the glad response to reality.
I and We shall not set the world against itself, nor heaven against earth. I and we shall renounce depravity (and its handmaidens authoritarianism and control) as the basis of human existence. I and we shall commit to healing all animosities between creatures of the world and between heaven and earth. Intolerance, vindictive or punitive conduct, and condemnation are blasphemies and forms of spiritual self-hatred, as we are connected to each other.
I and We shall not attempt to solely possess or claim God’s name, for I and we share that name with others. I and we serve God, not the other way around. God’s wisdom is available and accessible to all, and cannot be captured or held hostage to any ideology or doctrine.
I and We shall continually witness and confess our partiality, impermanence, limitation, and imperfection. Therefore no interpretation of sacred experience can be absolute. All human experience has context, historical and otherwise. Though we may strive to know the eternal, we ourselves are not eternal. I and we must accept with equanimity and gladness our mortality, our change, our growth, our learning, our transformation.
I and We shall not force our own image of God on others. Coercion is a serious and grievous spiritual sin. There is no faith without free choice, nor can authentic faith come from fear. Coercion prevents faith by replacing it with ideological “belief”. Persuaded belief serves not God but false prophets and human detractors.
I and We shall not seek salvation, nor any reward for belief, but rather turn ourselves toward grace and spiritual openness within which awareness, contemplation, and experience of God are properly rooted. Failing to recognize the presence of a loving God as its own good is to turn God into an instrument instead of an end, is to use God for our own desires.
I and We shall not worship our own individual or collective image of God or, in the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ. Understanding “What would Jesus do?” (or other respected divine teachers) is gained from studying in context and emulating in spirit and practice the movements of God and the presence, examples, teachings, and actions of that divine teacher. For instance, one cannot be a warmongering, money-loving bigot and claim to be a legitimate follower of Christ who was and is the Prince of Peace, the rebuker of the wealthy, and the champion of the marginalized and downtrodden.
I and We shall not pronounce another’s damnation before God. To do so is an acute insult to God and a blasphemous presumption of spiritual authority.