I felt the need to replace Mormonism when I left it behind. I found myself saying to people, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in karma. I believe in some spiritual force among people.” And I did believe that at first, but after awhile it became clear that I had replaced one cosmology with another. I’m not sure what the difference is between religion and spirituality. By which I mean that they are after the same result. Systems like religion and sports and narrative provide the illusion of order and comfort. They overlay beginnings and endings, rules and penalties, onto chaos and randomness.
I don’t kid myself that I am wiser or better than people who turn to religion or yoga to create meaning and comfort ; I love fiction and art and music and sports, so I participate in that sort of self-deception too. What I have a problem with is when people use a false construct of reality like religion or spirituality to control and judge other people.
Yoga and meditation cults are rampant in Los Angeles. Other cities too I’m sure — the same ascension to power on the backs of the believers that you find in religion. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good noble people who want to bring others up a level. It just means they are very few. And far between. I meditated for a number of years — Vipassana meditation, Dzogchen meditation — but I found that I was using meditation to create the illusion of calm and peace, neither of which are very useful in the world. Instead I felt removed, blissed out, and my emotions felt inaccessible. If that’s a taste of nirvana, I’ll stick with the brats and beer. I’m sure I was doing it wrong, but I prefer not to strive to quiet my mind. Religion and spirituality seem designed to pull us from our brains and put us in touch with other mysterious organs : trust your ‘gut’, listen to your ‘heart’, cleanse your ‘spirit’. These don’t exist. They are metaphors for “instinctive behavior free of rational thought.”
Sometimes instinct is important — fight or flight responses, for example. But how can anybody really say that the big problem with people is that we think too much ? We do everything we can to avoid reason and careful deliberation — we want to be instinctive, to see with our third eye, to discover the goddess within, to walk in faith. But none of that is real. It’s just a way of saying that some problems are hard to reason through and synthesize. The harder, more honest path is to see all the misery, inequity, cruelty, foolishness, and sadness in the world, to see all the sweetness, the love, the triumph, and the happiness in the world without immediately assigning meaning and causality — to see the world without serendipity, karma, fate, blessing, luck, reward or punishment.
I’ve never loved life more than after I dismissed religion and spirituality from my mind. Each day is sweeter, each touch more memorable, each meal more delicious. Each book, song, photograph, painting has more value because they are complete in and of themselves. They don’t lead me to a well-hid secret about the soul. They don’t reveal God’s finger touching my heart. They are and then they aren’t. So it’s important to make the most of them, and us, while we are and before we aren’t.