by Rebecca Bynum (June 2012)
To me, it seems there are two types of religious leaders in the world: those who desire their disciples to emulate their every thought and deed as life’s greatest ideal and those who desire to inspire others to find God in their own way by giving them guidance, but not orders. Those who aspire to be the model for righteous conduct for all time doom their latter day followers to copy customs of another time and place, making them a curiosity (in the case of the Amish or Fundamentalist Mormons) or a serious threat to human progress (in the case of Muslims). Sadly, they must live within their own closed systems to which the wider world is ever a threat not a challenge.
Jesus demonstrated how it is possible for man to find God and to gradually become like God, even to become one with him, and to do so within the bounds of this short earthly life. He gave inspiration to men and women all down through the ages who desire to know God and grow in understanding of him. Never did he lay down a specific method, or decree that all who would follow him must re-enact his life’s forms to the letter. Rather did he show how the divine spark might enter a man's heart and develop within and that consciousness of God can grow to such a degree that a man’s every thought may eventually reflect the divine will.
Many human beings, however, want to be told exactly what to do in order to gain divine favor. I have seen people asking gurus what they should eat, when to go to bed, when to get up in the morning, what to wear and even how often they should have sex. Many people are distressed at having too much freedom and when given the choice, opt for security. These are natural human tendencies which unscrupulous religious leaders have always exploited.
There is also an unfortunate tendency among conservative circles to avoid the use of the word “spiritual” as if it were the plague. And yet all religion concerns spiritual realities and religion's primary duty is toward the human soul. (And the soul, being a spiritual reality itself, has likewise been banished from polite conversation.) Religion which concerns itself primarily with the mind, with constructing an ever more complex theological edifice, contains a very narrow appeal and is destined to divide men, not to unite them. On the other hand, religion that concerns itself primarily with good works and ministry to the body, fails in its duty to feed the soul and so fails to attract (or to hold) those seekers who hunger after righteousness and thirst for the living water of truth.
We live in an age of great spiritual blindness. A time when truth is relegated to a position of relativity and the eternal and infinite are banished from our thoughts altogether.
The question is this: Does the living spirit of God live within the mind of man or not?
If God’s spirit lives within man, then his voice is continually speaking and speaks to each generation, even if only a scant few ever hear it. God did not cease speaking after Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah or Jesus ceased their utterances. He speaks continually to the heart of every believer even if we seldom hear, or feel, the divine voice or impression. The word is not dead letters on a page, the word is alive, and is indeed the bread of life.
True religion is dynamic and liberating. The soul is a living, ever changing, ever growing entity that requires freedom to develop its own originality. Each unique human personality self-realizes in its own way and anyone who says there is only one way to achieve immortality of the soul is certainly in error. The goal (the realization of the fatherhood of God and the consequent brotherhood of man) is unifying in itself – how each person comes to this realization is precious and unique in the universe. No man may say, “I know the complete and final truth,” but each man may find his own portion of truth and this truth will lead to ever greater truth, but no two people will find it in exactly the same way.
If this is true, then shame on those teachers who would drag their charges back centuries and leave them in a world that no longer exists among thoughts that no longer pertain to man’s present condition. Shame on those teachers who force conformity on their followers and who require them to think alike; taking away their God-given ability to make moral decisions based on their own light of faith and reason. If God’s living spirit dwells within the minds of men then that spirit must be respected and thus each individual’s freedom must be honored.
If we believe in God, then we must honor him by disallowing religious coercion and forced conformity wherever it is found. Of course the mores will always come into play and social pressure will always be a factor in religious life, but it cannot be the final factor. Religious liberty means more than the ability to choose among varying creeds. Religious liberty is at the heart of freedom – men either choose to seek God and forsake self, or they choose to forsake God and elevate self. This is the very essence of freedom.
No one can force another to love. Conformity is no antidote to sin and forcing conformity is a sin in itself.
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