I exited Christianity in the late 1990s. The reason: over many years I had encountered numerous, negative church teachings, and encountered nothing but hypocritical and judgmental individuals in those churches. At the time, it was very heartbreaking to me. I searched out many different denominations in search of my spiritual home. But in the end, I was greatly disappointed and encountered many, many people who told me that my personal beliefs about God and Christ were wrong, evil, of the devil and not real Christianity. Every little thing was examined under a microscope and condemned. The people who were supposed to have believed like I did, had no problem scrutinizing my life and telling me how to live in order to be pleasing to God. It was exasperating. All of this took a toll overtime and I eventually left the faith.
Over the next decade or so, I traveled many different roads. I searched for spiritual truth in a variety of practices but often came to feel that something was missing. Here are some of those practices I engaged in and why I eventually found them lacking.
Buddhism – Now don't get me wrong, I love Buddhism and the Buddha. I learned many things on this road and wouldn't be the person I am right now if it were not for this particular faith. I will always carry the essence, and practice of Buddhism with me in my personal beliefs... But the one thing I found lacking after a while, was the absence of God. This is largely a religion that encourages one to look within themselves. That is an awesome thing for all of us to do, but, to whom do we turn when ourselves are not enough? And being one who always connected with the spirit realm, this path began to feel a bit desolate after while. Buddhism does not discourage anyone from believing in God, but it gives very little direction or insight to one who wishes to encounter the Divine Being.
The New Age - The New Age movement is a conglomerate of beliefs and practices. It's very interesting and kind of cool in many ways in my opinion. But where it came up lacking for me is in its Polyanna way of thinking. Some in the New Age movement would have us believe that we can simply think our troubles and sufferings away. By meditating, making affirmations and thinking right the universe will align to make everything just perfect. This is just not realistic thinking, and many have been disappointed to think that this is so. Some folks in the New Age movement are not very careful when it comes to encountering spiritual entities. They believe they are all good, and encourage their adherence to pretty much open up and except any paranormal being that comes along presenting itself as a teacher or a being of light. This of course, can be very dangerous, and I myself witnessed people getting themselves in a load of trouble by believing this form of spirituality without safeguards or education. The New Age movement can also be very politically correct. It doesn't like labels like good, bad or evil. Everything just is, and everybody's true spiritual essence rises into the paradise of the next dimension after they die anyway; or they perhaps reincarnate and have another chance to do things right the next time around. Serial killers, terrorists or whomever all eventually end up in the same place. So, many in the New Age movement are encouraged to just let everything be, just let it flow. Don't label because life is just an illusion anyway. So we can't really say that anything is inherently evil or wrong because it doesn't really exist. We're just all spiritual beings on a journey back to our divine selves. Everything that happens in between, is no big deal in the end. These are just some of the fallacies that made the New Age movement fall short for me. The individual practices that the New Age movement has borrowed from many other spiritual paths can be very enlightening and helpful. But the doctrine of the New Age movement itself is not realistic, and can even be dangerous in some instances.
Paganism – Ever since I was a very young child with any concept of God, I have always had my little paganistic beliefs. I always believed that the universe was a magical place; angels and nature spirits were real and every person, animal and plant had a guardian spirit watching over it. My travels down the road of paganism was like coming home to myself. Parts of it will always be a part of who I am, and it has helped me to return to my original beliefs about the cosmos and the world in which we live. It also helped me gain a great respect for our planet and grew my desire to see it treated better by those who live upon it. It has reestablished my love for ritual and the connection with God through such practices. Christo-pagan is not a bad term in my opinion, and I have probably been a Christo-pagan since I was about four years old! However, jumping onto the neopagan path had its shortcomings for me. The biggest and only one being that you pretty much created God in your own image in this faith. You are free to rifle through the many pantheons of gods and goddesses and chose the ones that appeal to you the most. It was kind of like going to the cosmic mall and picking out the god that stood out to you most on the shelf. And if that didn't appeal to you, well, you could just sort of make a deity up or have an amorphous idea of who your god and goddess were. That aspect of the path felt very contrived to me and just didn't feel real.
Sufism - This was the path that eventually opened the door that led me back home. Sufism is a very beautiful and mystical path, and I cannot really say anything negative about it. It can be very philosophical and satisfying on many levels. My issue on this path did not have anything to do with Sufism itself, but rather had to do with the Qur'an. The Qur'an is not taken literally in Sufism, and they read it with a more meditative and allegorical view. However, even in doing this, some things start to really stand out in the text. For starters, Allah can be quite an angry deity. Nowhere in the Qur'an does it ever say that Allah loves us; we are simply his servants and he only shows favor to the believers. If you're a nonbeliever or of a different faith, you are abhorred by this deity and promised a painful chastisement in the afterlife. The word love is hard to come by in the Qur'an, and this was a difficulty for me; because I have always experienced God as a very loving, personable and kind being. It was sometimes difficult to meditate on the Qur'an when the words were so stark and even angry sounding. When encountering such passages, my question always was, "how do I put this in context with a loving God and a peaceful life?" There were parts of the Qur'an that just made my soul feel uneasy and I could not contribute those words to the God I've always known. Even reading this book in a mystical and allegorical way, it was sometimes difficult to put some of its words into perspective.
Miscellaneous paths – There were many other minor paths that I had explored for shorter periods of time. All of them had interesting components, but they had many downfalls as well. Such as, worshiping their founders as prophets and gods. Telling their adherents how to worship or connect with the Divine, rather than letting them find God in their own personal way. Cruel practices like shunning others who decided not to believe the doctrines of the group any longer. The worship of inanimate objects, or strange alien space creatures that were said to live on some mysterious planet light-years away. The list goes on and on, and sometimes the ridiculous outshined the positives. I've always said that there's a difference between knowing God, and knowing about God. And many spiritual paths do just that. They define God for every individual and discourage any personal thinking or exploration. Thus, the followers of such religions and practices become spiritually stunted in many ways. And their actions begin to show that the love of God and a deeper spiritual knowledge is not present within them.
-TO BE CONTINUED-