Modern culture poses many challenges to people seeking a credible spirituality. Of them, two are proving especially difficult to overcome.
The first is that, as currently practiced, religion too often hinders rather than helps individual maturation, social well-being, and the transcending of tribal mentality. For example, when one religion teaches that other religions are worthy only of condemnation.
The second challenge is that faith too often substitutes clinging to childish fantasies for finding out what is truly worthy of human beings’ ultimate devotion. As in, by soothing oneself with the idea of a life to come surrounded only by people already known and loved.
Might it be, after all, that faith does little more than keep unrealistic hopes alive, despite ever-increasing evidence that they have no evidence to support them? Or that its practice depends upon a willful confusing of wishful images with reality-based perceptions?
It is true that our first images, ideas, and beliefs about sacred things are shaped almost entirely by what we want and need from those who offer them to us, and that the trust we place in them is inseparable from the trust we place in their mediators. And it is true that, throughout their lives, many people choose simply to take authorities’ words for it on matters of faith, because thinking for themselves arouses too much anxiety.
But the real hindrances to genuine spirituality are not institutional religion and idiosyncratic faith per se, but rather the traditions and practices which bind people to childish and unexamined forms of faith. Just as human beings are meant to mature, faith is meant to mature.
How? Well, for starters:
(1) Through prayerful inquiry which is bold enough to ask even about the meaning of prayer itself.
(2) Through allowing reason to do its proper work of bringing out the differences between wanting something to be true and wanting something to be genuinely worth wanting.
And (3) through remaining open to revelatory experiences which complement the dictates of conscience and the demands of logic.
The real challenge to faith is to align images of the heavenly things we most wish for with ideas of a Sacred Reality most worthy of being glorified. It is to reconcile our most cherished religious beliefs with the most profound thinking about the Ultimate which earnest seekers have found in the world’s major religions across centuries and millennia.