Every now and then I just HAVE to come back and see all the new graphics you've added to the site. Sometimes I look at the articles too, but the graphics are definitely the best part! Here's something you can post if you want to, and discard otherwise. I know you won't keep coming up with those great little pictures if we don't keep sending you material to go with them.
It's been two years now since I broke with organized religion, for the second time in my life. This second parting was on good terms, and because of that I doubt that there will be a need to do it a third time (a hint for those who have not done it before). It's been a bit lonely, but there are people who will "have you" without expecting you to subscribe to their belief systems. I have not yet sought them out.
The beginning of this third year of independence finds me reflecting on the subject of "self reliance." If there was one lesson I learned in all my years of religious education, it was that I was never to rely on myself. That was truly the source of all evil. That was where Satan went wrong, right? He stopped looking to God and went off on his own course.
Well, I don't know about that now. All any of us knows about Satan is a few paragraphs scattered here and there in scriptures. Who wrote those scriptures? What were their sources? Why do we call it scripture? Can these people be trusted? Did what I was taught and believed derive directly from those scriptures? If not, where DID my beliefs come from? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves, and they are the kind we are most likely to be afraid to ask.
What does it mean to rely on oneself, or to rely on God? First of all, what does it mean to rely on God? God has never spoken to me directly-has he (or she) to you? If so, how do you know who was really speaking? If a voice were to speak to you in a miraculous way, would you attempt to authenticate what you were told? Do you understand that "miracles" of this sort can even originate in your own brain-that it is possible under the right (or wrong) conditions for your thoughts to feed back directly into your senses? Apparently when this happens (I've never experienced it myself), it results in a "message from God" experience in that self-originated messages tend to be accepted as authentic, without question, for immediate action.
So then, if I received a self-originated "message from God" I probably wouldn't question it either. Thankfully, that is not happening to me. But suppose I got a message that seemed to be from God and I WAS able to question it. What questions would I want to ask? Well, for starters I would ask myself if I were dealing with some sort of technology that I was not familiar with. Humans have experimented with technology that impresses signals directly on the brain. Do humans possess the only advanced technology in the universe? Hardly. Life itself is technology that is vastly beyond our own, and we find it everywhere we look. So if I did get a message from God, I think I would need to ask myself some very basic questions about the motives of the messenger, and my own. One could get the impression that this planet is in a mess, and one could legitimately have a few doubts about anyone claiming to be responsible for it, if one weren't deathly afraid to have such doubts.
OK, so lets assume that most of us have not received direct, unambiguous messages from God. The question, again, is "What does it mean to rely on God?" What are we really relying upon? I can tell you what I was relying upon-the word of parents, ministers, and other would-be teachers. Why did I trust them? At first I had to. Then I failed to learn to question what I was taught-I didn't want to rock the boat. Once I learned to rock the boat, a large part of the "wisdom" I had been given washed overboard. But not all of it. I found that I had to repeatedly test EVERYTHING. (Hey, where have I heard that before?) Testing doesn't mean "thinking about it," though. For me, testing means applying it and carefully examining the results. If it isn't something that is subject to testing then I guess it doesn't have any results to speak for it. What a concept!
As I got older, I got a little more sophisticated. At some point while testing and examining I had a "religious experience"-what Christians call a born-again experience. Other cultures have other names for it. I happened to be studying the New Testament at the time, so I had a "born again" experience. I still didn't get any clear, unambiguous, direct messages from God but now I thought I had to the answer to that problem-the Bible. I might not be able to rely on what people TOLD me God was saying, but surely I could rely on what God said directly in the Bible. Right? In fact, with the Written Word it was no longer necessary for God to speak directly, I supposed. Or so I was told.
Well, one problem. How do we find out that the Bible is "the Word of God." Other people tell us so, of course! Born again or not, I recognized that there was a potential problem here. My thinking was pretty clouded from coming of age in Worldwide Church of God (I was involved from age 11 to 21), but my brain still worked. I determined to forge ahead, applying what the Bible said to do and examining the results.
There was just one more problem. Mostly the Bible didn't tell me what to do. I know: I proceeded to read it seven times or so in a row, without the help of study guides. I just read it. Sometimes I studied it, looking for answers to challenges that other people presented me with. That was especially revealing. None of my favorite cult-specific beliefs were anywhere to be found.
In once sense the Bible is just full of things to do. The Old Testament in particular is chock full of laws. But where's the application? If I couldn't apply it and examine the results, what good was it? Much of the OT law depended on a priestly system that was destroyed many centuries ago, and I couldn't try it if I wanted to. The only thing surviving was peoples' interpretations of how we should do those things now. Back to THAT problem again.
In fairness, I did find plenty of things to apply and examine, in the Old Testament and in the New. Some stood up, some didn't. No problem here, except... The things that stood firm under testing are not especially unique to Christianity. In particular, I was already somewhat familiar with Buddhism, and I'd go so far as to say that Buddhism told me where to look in the Bible for things that would stand up under scrutiny!
Back to the question, what does it mean to rely on God? So far, it seems to mean blindly following human traditions, either about God or about what the Bible really meant to say. We can take things a step further, and examine what the scholarship of the last two centuries has revealed about the reliability of the Bible itself and the claims made for it, but let's not even go there. To summarize, the scholarship doesn't offer a lot of hope in that area.
If you stay with this process, at some point you've GOT to start asking yourself-gasp-if maybe it's time to start deciding things for yourself. It sounds an awful lot like self-reliance, and we know how deadly that can be, but what's the fundamental difference between relying on your own opinion and relying on that guy's over there? Which is, to a large degree, what we've really been doing when we said we were relying on God.
So let's look at this "self" thing. But lets start at a slightly higher level-"The Church." Now right here at this point I don't mean some mystical concept about the greater body of believers (that may or may not include nonbelieving Buddhists). I mean THE Church. Our Church. Oops, I mean GOD'S CHURCH-the Worldwide Church of God (or RCG as I was when I first learned of it-not sure now which one is the TRUE CHURCH NAME). Let's look at this greater "self" first.
What exactly was this wonderful Worldwide Church of God that we so fondly remember? My first encounter was with the radio broadcast. Was the broadcast the church? No. My next encounter was with the literature. Was the literature the church? No. Eventually I found out that there actually were church congregations, and after several more years I actually got to attend one. Were the congregations the church? Surely we must be getting closer...
A couple of problems, though. For one thing, I left and came back nearly 2 decades later to the same congregation and lo and behold, I didn't recognize a single person. They were singing the same hymns, though, and the sermons resembled what I remembered. Soon I found someone I knew in congregation that had formed nearby-or they found me, rather. Later, a second person I knew that had also left came back. Yet I could tell this was same church, so whatever it was, the congregations were not the church. Besides, lots of different ("pagan") churches had congregations and they weren't THE church.
So what was it? Were the hymns the church? No, and besides it turned out they had changed after all. Were the sermons the church? No, and they had changed too. The doctrines? Well, that seems to be getting warm again, but they had changed too-by quite a lot, I soon discovered. How about HWA-was he the church? Well, that just might be getting close, finally, except that he was dead when I returned, and yet it was still Worldwide Church of God. And even before, I had only seen him in person a handful of times between 1968 and 1971. It was still Worldwide Church of God when he wasn't there.
What, then, was Worldwide Church of God? Is it possible that it was just my memories and perception? Now we're getting hot. This is the only thing I can point to that was MY Worldwide Church of God. Your Worldwide Church of God may well be different, but then that's the point! There were as many Worldwide Church of Gods as there were people who came in contact with it. Ever get into discussions with other people about what the church really used to be like?
So the church that I relied upon to deliver and explain God's will was actually my own creation! Talk about self reliance. But we're not done with this yet. Back, now, to that word "self." I referred to MY Worldwide Church of God. Whose Worldwide Church of God is that? Who's me? Is it this body? Well, with the exception of some neural tissue all of the cells have died and regenerated many times, somehow preserving the general form. So is that neural tissue me? No, I don't THINK so, though it helps "me" out sometimes. Is the form me? No-it changes. Is my soul me? Well, what exactly is a soul, how do I know if I have one, where does it reside, and how can you tell one from another so that I know which one is me? To ask just a few questions. If I am a soul, I don't really seem to know it.
So, who am I? My name? Nope. My beliefs? Nope. My ethical rules? Nope. God's child? Give me a break. Am I my thoughts and memories, like Worldwide Church of God is thoughts and memories? Again, I don't THINK so, although in my thinking sometimes that is indeed who I think I am. But that is just convoluted thinking.
OK, now given that little exercise, what exactly then is "self reliance?" I've gotta say I don't know. Somehow it doesn't seem as dangerous, though, as it did at first. What do we mean when we use the term? Good question. Perhaps we really mean "making bad choices." If we think of ourselves as "bad," as we often do-tradition tells us that--then bad choices must come from "us" and good choices must start with some other "good" source. Hmm, sounds suspiciously like another belief system. Is this true? God only knows.
What happens when we start relying on ourselves to discover what life is about? I could say that it depends on one's intentions, but in my experience what really happens is that we indeed start to discover what life is about! This is scary stuff, but that's what happens. It's what we avoid by getting involved in religions and letting people think for us, although we don't avoid it altogether-it slows us down.
If we start this process in a fairly covert and dishonest state, which is where most of us have to start from, the answers we get at first won't be so straight either. At each stage, though, we get what we need to move on. Whether we move on or not is our choice. That's really the way it has always worked. The only thing I'm aware of that changes is that at some point we can make the choice to pursue life's questions consciously, and as each new revelation comes we can choose consciously to move on, if that is what we do. That quickens the pace. Religious participation is, in contrast, largely unconscious (but not totally so), and conscious choice is feared (after all, look what happened to Adam).
I find it instructive to look back at the last two years and see what has happened to "me." It's been an interesting two years. It started when I came to face what I already knew, that the religious system I was still participating in two years after leaving Worldwide Church of God was not teaching the truth. If sincerity were truth, they would have been doing OK, but they were sincerely teaching untestable doctrines, and in some cases they were ignorantly perpetuating myths. They had a nice church building, I enjoyed singing in the choir, and the potlucks were pretty good too, but there were serious problems with the message.
The alternative was letting go and heading into the void, to see where I would be next. An interesting thing about truth is that if you let go of it, it's still true. So you don't need to cling to it. If you know something will come apart if you don't hold tightly to it, guess what that says about its truth value.
Two years ago I had one of my "flash visions." Not a vision in the traditional sense, they come and are gone in an instant. I saw that everything is working out as it should-everything is OK, even the bad stuff. I saw that, ultimately, there was nothing I needed to worry about.
I then went into religious withdrawal. This is the state that a religious addict finds himself in after he finally decides to quit for good. I went through nine months of it. Rough. And then I came out of it. Not that I just sat around and cursed God for nine months. I saw severe depression setting in, so I got help for it. Funny thing about that-when you start to act you may just find that the problem starts to go away, even before you've actually done anything. The intention to act responsibly is a powerful force in itself. I've seen this especially where the mind is concerned, but I've seen it influence events in the physical world as well.
From there, one thing led to another and after nine months I found myself on a "new" spiritual path. Actually, it was an old, familiar one that had not worked for me previously. Only now, with my cult-related mental problems mending rapidly, it was working. And then the "plan" became clearer. I had tried this path before and seemingly failed. The ensuing depression led me back to Worldwide Church of God. That, in turn, led me to discover why things were not still working for me even after all the work I had already done-the after effects of growing up in Worldwide Church of God. Furthermore, since I went back to Worldwide Church of God just as it began to crumble, and I went back with the intention of putting its teachings to the test, I was able to uncover the truth and then immediately have it confirmed by the Worldwide Church of God leaders themselves. The result was a powerful deprogramming effect. It took a couple of years even after that, but then my religious belief system crumbled-I was being "called" back, now that I was ready.
Sounds kind of religious, doesn't it? Well, I had noticed the pattern when I first returned to Worldwide Church of God. It looked like the events of my life were being orchestrated somehow, and it didn't matter what my attitude was to God at any given stage. Whatever was being done "for" me was being done with no strings attached whatsoever. This was not God acting as I had come to understand God.
Who, then, was doing this. God? Me? Is there a clear differentiation-let alone total separation--between the two? How would I know? Why would I think we are separate? Questions like these make the search a LOT more interesting, once you dare to ask them. All I can tell you for sure is that I have never come across anyone yet who was hit by a bolt of lightening as a result of asking.
The path I am on now doesn't have any particular name, other than perhaps "awakening," used in a generic way as it is in spiritual circles. There's no membership, no dues. No rules, really, except to remain aware, be responsive to what happens, and develop awareness. A key concept is "I don't know." If you can learn to say that, you can open up to what there is to know.
Things are always happening to move the process along. Some call that "synchronicity," although that's a big word and not the one I learned. I learned to call it "messages" and that's still what I use.
There are books that teach many of the ideas I draw upon, but I didn't get my ideas from books. Most of it came from directly or indirectly from "the source," though I could never quite say what that was. I notice that other people use the same term the same way. I didn't get it from them and they didn't get it from me. A few things come through "flashes." Many come through "messages," or perhaps flashes triggered from messages. I'm not sure-new information comes in at the edge of my awareness, and then I must validate it. I'm open to sharing information, but it is essential that each person experience their own ability to discover the important things for themselves.
My initial information and experience and awakening came from, of all places, Worldwide Church of God. The Worldwide Church of God/HWA experience taught me to question, but not to question EVERYTHING. I also learned to say "I don't know"-it came to me from the source--but it wasn't safe to say it publicly and again, I didn't learn to apply it completely.
I received a powerful lesson about how the mind works through HWA. It came from observing my own mind as we went through "doctrinal changes" like the "divorce and remarriage" change. I found that my perceptions changed as I made changes to my belief system in conformance to church teaching. My perception of reality was being externally influenced, by a man who was only guessing at the truth (because he had to keep 'adjusting' it)! Think of the potential for abuse... I did.
My formal schooling in awareness, however, came from participating in what have come to be known as LGATs-Large Group Awareness Trainings. The program I was in is no longer around-it self-destructed in the early 90s-but it was a derivative, somewhat 'humanized' version of est. If you really know what est was, I don't need to say more. Otherwise, have a look at "The Awareness Page" at http://www.clever.net/ozark/awareness. In brief, it provided guided experiences and lots of good information in a coercive, authoritarian atmosphere, complete with high-pressure sales tactics, that Herbie would have loved if he could have owned one of his own. Today I get my lessons from life. Watch what's happening. Observe my thoughts. Read things that come to me to read. Make changes that need to be made. Notice what happens then. Question everything. Pretty simple, but highly interactive. Not very predictable.
There is a higher state of being that is available to us now, if we choose to pursue it. You probably won't find it coming from a "grace vs. works" mentality, because it's all grace and all works. If you start out thinking about grace and works, and then let go of both, it's there, somewhere.
Something I have found very helpful in these recent months is a mailing list known as Eman8tions. You can read some samples and get the author's email address at
I recently came across a book that describes my approach to spiritual practice very well. It's called "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" by Stephen Batchelor. I got it from Amazon.com. It's good reading for people who want to give up religion without giving up altogether! I highly recommend it.
There are other suggestions and recommendations at my own web site, http://pobox.com/~res
In particular there is a "Bookshelf" page at http://pobox.com/~res/bookshelf.html
and a links page at http://pobox.com/~res/living.html.
There is also my "basement" at http://pobox.com/~res/basement.html
One thing you won't find on my web site is answers to life's big questions. You must find those for your "self," after you figure out what THAT is. Good luck trying!
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