Religious, Spiritual, or Both?

I was eating dinner at a restaurant with several new acquaintances. There were 9 people. We had just completed a tradeshow. At the table, some of the Christian old timers felt comfortable sharing anti Islam sentiments. To be more specific, they basically lumped all Islamic people into the category of “terrorist sympathizers.” The sensible young man next to me became terribly offended. He argued passionately to defend the religion and its followers. He argued that there are Islamic people who become “evil doers,” like there are people of every other religion who become “evil doers.” The conversation was on fire. “Have you read the bible?! Have you read the Koran?!” In a quick race to the bottom, the opposing teams were quoting passages pointing out the sexism, violence, and hypocrisy in both religions. I have no religious affiliations. I kept quiet while enjoying my meal.

Eventually, the woman sitting across from me shouted, “I don’t think people should be allowed to practice Islam in America.” This silenced the table.

I asked her, “Barbara, what is the point of your religion?” She looked perplexed and rattled off something about the 10 commandments. She didn’t understand my question. I asked it in a different way. “What was it that Jesus experienced? What did he wish to leave you with?” She understood and replied, “that there is something bigger than us.”

“I agree. Jesus was communicating his experience about being ‘one with’ something bigger than himself, what he called ‘the father.’ ‘One-with’ means unity, unified, whole. Becoming ‘one with’ is to no longer be aligned with self centered thinking and separateness. What happens when self centeredness becomes exhausted? What remains is the spiritual experience of love, compassion, and fearlessness. This is what I believe all religions are ultimately trying to teach us…how to accomplish this for ourselves.”

“How do we come to this unity utilizing religion? It is through devotion to God. In non religious spiritual practices, we may call it devotion to ‘the universe or reality.’ Through devotion we empty ourselves of all we deem ours. If we can empty ourselves completely, then all that remains is unity. Then, ‘you’ have been absorbed by the universe or by God. By offering the contents of our belongings, identity, hopes, fears, etc to the one thing that is bigger than us, our separateness begins to dissolve. The result? A state of peace. As this begins gathering momentum, we see that we are not only part of the universe, we ARE the universe.”

“The people whom our religions have made into transcendent Gods would be worthless if this end were not achievable. Through emptying themselves, these God-like humans have discovered the wisdom we wish to attain. This emptying of the self is what we have the potential to do, but how we do it is simply semantics: differing religions each have a position.”

“The primary intent of a religion is to bestow the great gift of divinity. What is divinity? According to Webster: (the state of being a god : the state of being divine.) All the bridges of religion aim to take you over the same waters to the same patch of solid ground. Some people make it across, the rest argue, shooting each other off each their respective bridges. The bridge is meaningless just as the menu at this restaurant is worthless paper, it’s the meal that matters. Humans need not be defined by their religions and differences but by their sameness. We desire to love, to eat, to be safe, and to enjoy basic human dignity. We are not Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. We are PEOPLE. People who may utilize such religions to attain the same end goal of spiritual divinity.”

Everyone appreciated my contribution. Passion became compassion. Situation diffused. We were able to eat in peace.

-Doug Siegel

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