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Every Time I Feel the Spirit

By Carl S ~

Oh, to see the contentment and sometimes jubilation of the true believer‘s countenance! Is it any wonder that the downtrodden, the jaded with life, or those looking for meaning to their lives are attracted, like moths to a flame, to these believers and want to belong where they are? It should come as no surprise that religions stridently seek out the disenchanted with life, or those going through frustrating and confusing emotions, such as teenagers.

I needed no overt proselytizing; it was sufficient to read and to look at the photos in the monastery’s book. I saw the lifestyle of meditation, of order and calm, of peace there. It never would have occurred to me then that others like me were equally enticed by the religions they were raised to believe in, whether Buddhist, Muslim, evangelical, or any other cult lifestyle, with the same ardor and dedication, that same absolute certainty that they had arrived where, “We were where we belonged at last, among others who had found peace and joy which the world could never provide.”

Being surrounded by the contented, and comforted by God, via prayer and assurance of love both divine and brotherly, I threw myself wholeheartedly into self sacrifice, cheerfully given. (Hmm... I wonder if those constant appeals to self- sacrifice in all religions are made to sanctify masochistic tendencies in human nature.) It became my inner drive to do ever more, to excel in faith and commitment. I was ‘in love‘ with the whole Jesus and mysteries of faith atmosphere. It was too good to be true and I was trying to adapt to other-worldliness.

All was not as it appeared to be. In fact, all was illusion. By and by, l became worn out emotionally and ‘spiritually,’ despite the uplifting entrancement in ritual, the lullaby-soothing repetition of chants, and the intoxicating effect of incense on high feast days. God and the spiritual did not compensate for the deprivation of sensuality. I was lying to myself and reality-denying by accepting and pursuing otherwise. Retreating from life is retreating from living, if it‘s a constantly reinforced choice; so is putting one's emotions and individuality on a god's altar for his priests to carve up. I came to understand (as Mother Teresa understood) what another monk told me: “You can be in turmoil of spirit, extremely depressed, and look in the mirror to see a contented you.” This is what everyone else saw, wanted to see, and accepted.

Appearances deceive. There was no way I could express what was going on to those who could accept their life-faith as holy and inspired and far above human nature. Life to me was personal, not something they could manipulate with doctrinal fabrications or by-the-book answers. There was no god there. Prayer didn’t change anything, nor did the increasing self sacrifices I made. My feelings were, and still are, completely natural and the opposite of an ascetic, sacrificial life. I selfishly expect love in return for the love I give. Why should I or you have to keep telling yourself you’re getting love in return when you aren’t‘? (Does the love you expect involve masochism?)

Those in power were not pleased. My depression grew gradually stronger and sapped my energy. I was unable to keep it up or to turn back. For this I was publicly humiliated. At that time, they quoted for all to hear, the words of St. Paul, “If a man does not work, neither should he eat.” Obviously, the saint or his quoters had no understanding of severe depression. I was that teen the abbot had bragged about publically in a speech, the teen he quoted as saying that his reason for entering that monastery was, “Because God is here.” But there was no announcement that I was now outside the walls; no asking, “So where did God go?” Like Santa, there really was no God there.

Over time came reality. A year after leaving, I went back and talked to my novice master. He was only an ordinary man after all, and a bag of wind, with his own personal demons and hypocrisies. The entire abbey itself was an empty shell, as unemotional a place as ancient temples dedicated to bygone gods, and for the same reasons. They all required emotional involvement to have their spiritual power and significance, and without that involvement, they are only blank buildings

I came to understand that the whole “spirituality” of all religions depends on keeping up an illusion of an other-reality, of holy things and holy people who DON’T exist in reality, who exist only in the wishes and imaginations of their believers, through the continual reinforcement of those wishful thinkings and controlling of those imaginings. This is delusionary and feel-good manipulation. These are the operations of a cult. Every religion I now look upon as a cult.

But now, in retrospect, I see things about the monastery and religions I never saw before because I was too much involved in them. First of all, the monastery as depicted in its propaganda book of words and pictures, was a façade, and perhaps even the compilers were aware of this, perhaps not. Everyday life dedicated to prayer, fasting, meditation, all that was true. But, in reality there was the hierarchy between priests and brothers. The priests prayed and meditated; the brothers prayed and worked because the monastery was “self-sufficient,” and guess who made it so? I was part of religious history!

Monastic life is a microcosm of religious history, for in every religion throughout cultural history we see hierarchical layering and domination. Priests of the god are privileged and revered, while the “faithful” do the work for them, obey the rules of the god, give freely of their time, and pray. Some clergy, I will venture, ascend the hierarchal ladder while still keeping their dedication to others and morality. (They are part of the system enabling those who do not, and they are great cover.) But, a great many clergy self-exempt themselves from the rules of morality which they insist the faithful must obey, whether they are heads of major religions or minor cults. Their status, coupled with the fact that others do the bread-winning for them, enables the god's reps a tremendous amount of leisure time in which to do all manner of nasty and hanky-panky deeds, trusted by their emotionally involved, gullible respecters, and under the radar.

Last year, in Washington, D.C., President Obama attended a Catholic Charities benefit lunch. By his side was an archbishop representing the organization, who was toasted and addressed as “your eminence,” in spite of the reality that he is neither working for, nor contributing the monies. In fact, he is one of those bishops dictating that none of the money will be used for birth control. The archbishop’s status as a “moral” spokesman for the President's and Congress' god, is absolute and unquestioned by them. He is also likely one of many bishops throughout this world who have covered up the rapes of thousands of children. All of these things are funded by the money from hard-working families and taxpayer dollars to use as he sees fit. And so, the religious tradition continues. I was gullible as a teen, but what‘s THEIR excuse?

What are the believer's excuses? I ask you: What does “spiritual” have to do with religious systems? What has “love” to do with it? And every time I think about these things I feel the spirit, the passion, to speak out! I guess it's time to make another contribution to SNAP, and UNICEF, and Planned Parenthood. . .
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