Saturday, January 1, 2011

The New Year, Resolutions, and Spirituality

Well, it's New Year's Day, 1/1/11. It is my understanding that this day rolls around about once every year. And it's a time when many people attempt to turn over a new leaf. Assuming, of course, that the old leaf was rotten. If not, I prefer to just turn that old leaf over one more time.

At this time of new beginnings, resolutions spew forth from so many people, you'd think we were in the halls of Congress. And these resolutions are generally kept with about the same frequency as are the Congressmen's promises.

Many of these New Year's resolutions concern doing healthier things like not setting on fire things stuck in your mouth, not super-sizing anything other than the occasional salad, walking more and talking less, etc. But some people look more towards the spiritual side of life, wanting to become more spiritual and more acceptable to God. But what does it mean to be more spiritual?

For people who share a common belief, the things that are necessary to become more spiritual can sometimes go unspoken. For instance, Christians generally consider a more spiritual life to consist of more time studying the Bible, praying, and seeking the will of God. For Hindus, it might consist of following more fully the four objectives of human life and practicing the four yogas to a greater extent. For Muslims it might entail following the dietary laws more faithfully, being sure to pray five times a day, and finally making that pilgrimage to Mecca.

What is interesting is how people in each religion see the spiritual actions of people in other religions as being unfruitful, perhaps even silly. For instance, a Christian may laugh at the idea of repeating a mantra, saying that repeating syllables do not carry any special powers and is not of interest to God. For a person steeped in a particular faith, the criticisms of other faiths by his fellow brethren seems so sensible. After all, he has perhaps been immersed in his beliefs for many years. All seems so clear from his perspective.

However, to a person standing outside any faith system, the whole notion of a person being able to speak definitively for God is nonsensical. Why? Because once God is thrown into the equation, anything goes. One person may criticize another person's belief in reincarnation, claiming it to be a ridiculous belief. But when you really think deeply about it, why is reincarnation any more ridiculous than resurrection? Both involve a dead person coming back to life in a different form. And why is repeating seemingly nonsensical syllables over and over any more crazy than speaking to God in prayer? Both involve speaking to a being that we cannot observe.

The bottom line is that if God (or a group of gods) exists, and if God (or a group of gods) is sovereign, then his actions can be capricious. After all, if God just exists, and there is no higher being to define good and evil for him, then God can act in any way he so chooses and no condemnation would be forthcoming. That means that God can choose spiritual things to be anything that meets his fancy. If he wants people to speak mantras, then so be it. If prayers, then so be it. If chants, then so be it. If God wants to reincarnate people, let him do so. If resurrect people at the end of this age, let him do that. Nothing can be proclaimed silly or ridiculous.

It is only when men look at these "spiritual" actions and practices and weigh them against the benefits that proceed from them, that we can say that some are useful while others are a waste of time. And when we look at the world, we find that some people are greatly benefited by practicing Christianity while others are greatly benefited by practicing Islam. Some people are much more fulfilled and happy by not practicing any religion. It seems that there is a belief or a non-belief for just about any type of person out there in the world. So, while it can be healthy to have serious discussions about the truthfulness of various beliefs when done in a civil manner, we need to guard against excessive bickering and all come together, cherish, and proclaim that which most of us have in common.


Be it resolved.

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