Gated Religions


For many years, literal belief in the doctrines of my religion (Christianity) was enough to satisfy my spiritual hunger. But the strain of containing my beliefs in a tightly enclosed, left-brained compartment labeled “Religion” while repeatedly coming up against a Mystery that encompasses the entire universe eventually wore me down. At the age of 37 my ego waved a white flag and surrendered its need to feel safe and in control. In leaving the gated community of my religion, I entered a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted nine years.
I returned from the desert with a new way of seeing and living. My mind had been redirected from needing correct belief to seeking truth; from preparing for an afterlife to living now; from pretending and pleasing to being authentic; from defending a God-image of judgment, exclusivity and stasis to embracing a God-image of inclusiveness, openness and change. When I could no longer go to church without getting a stomach ache, I stopped attending. I was by no means rejecting the Mystery, but only a local and, to my way of thinking, painfully confining way of connecting with it with which I no longer felt at home.
Sometimes I’ve been angry at organized religion but I’ve kept most of my thoughts and feelings to myself; partly because I didn’t want to offend or mislead anyone who finds hope and healing in their faith, and partly because I’m simply more comfortable with affirming than critiquing. But there’s also a deeper reason: I’ve been afraid of the backlash. Ultra conservative elements of all three patriarchal religions have a long history of persecuting “heretics,” and frankly, the rabid religious intimidate me with their polarizing prejudices; their obsessive self-righteous anger; their intolerance and lack of compassion; their willingness to turn on those who question their fear-based practices and beliefs; their ability to fire up masses of devoted followers who support them blindly; their indifference to the pain and injustice their inner Nazis inflict.
Peace-loving Muslims are getting a lot of flak these days for not speaking out against violent Islamic groups but are they any different from me? It would be easy to point fingers at them, but wouldn’t a more effective use of my energy be to address the destructive forces in my own religious community? How can I self-righteously blame members of a religion I know nothing about for failing to speak out against their fanatics when I’ve been afraid to speak out against mine? Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he criticized hypocrites for pointing out the motes in others’ eyes while ignoring the beams in their own? As my five-year-old granddaughter would say in mock exasperation, “Peepuhl! What are we thinking?”
When it comes to religion, many of us are not thinking, at least not with both sides of our brains. We’re reacting instinctively and emotionally. We want the approval of our tribes. We want to stay safe. And so we shut down the inner other who yearns for a freer, more authentic, inclusive and compassionate way to celebrate the sacred miracle of life, and we shut out others who are different. But we should be just as afraid of ourselves and our exclusive communities as of outsiders. The real enemy lives within our gates and the true work begins at home, in the place we know best and where we have the most influence.
The world is in trouble. If there was ever a time to think psychologically and live spiritually, it’s now. If there was ever a place to start, it’s with ourselves.
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0 Responses

  1. Jeanie: You nailed it!!! Well said in every way. I am so proud of you and grateful for your friendship!!!!
    This kind of writing needs to be shared in our places of worship. All too often people turn their brains off when they enter a place of worship, sadly because many times,what they hear does not require thinking!

    1. Charles,
      Your response, coming from a “man of the cloth” as it does, means more to me than you can probably imagine. I come from a religious tradition in which blind belief is the ideal and norm. I think you’re right about how hard it is for many of us to take the time to think and change and grow, spiritually or otherwise. I am very grateful that you are one of those who thinks and changes and grows. And I am doubly grateful for your affirming words. Thank you.
      With much gratitude,

  2. Jeanie, brilliant article. I applaud your intent and words. I am in accord completely with your feelings. I have stopped trying to figure out how the Mystery got subverted into mere history, how the Perfection could be turned to justify such an imperfect (global) civilization. I just join with others who are doing their best to return to the state of unity that the Mystery implies, to treat others with the quality of selfsameness that the Perfection implies.
    i came across this rather short-and-to-the-point website that seems to speak to this issue:
    let me know what you think of it…..
    If the Soul itself has a Shadow, I fear it is organized religion.
    More Of All The Best,

    1. William,
      I love your incredibly appropriate and gloriously succinct review of so much religious history in so few words! It’s totally spot on! And enormously affirming to me.
      I shall read and respond to your suggested website asap, and I could not agree more that the soul’s Shadow is organized religion. Another topic for a future post. You never fail to inspire me.
      Thank you dear friend,

  3. William,
    Wow! Double wow! I ‘ve read it. Those are powerful words, indeed. Fighting words. Heartfelt words. Soulspeak. Hearthopes. I wish I had said that.
    More inspiration for the mill….. may I be up to the challenge of adding something worthwhile to the mix.

    1. Jeanie,
      That’s just how I feel about it. It seems to be relatively new. I support its vision by directing folks there whenever it feels right. Its strong “truth talk” just mirrored your own!! So glad it rings true for you as well….

  4. divine…..let us research how the gated communities of all
    organised religion came into existence….
    going through the dark night of soul…..this is crossing the
    river of mind from left bank of logical intelligence to right
    bank of emotional intelligence…..the holy people who could
    cross …..tried to make a bridge so normal people could cross
    easily….these holy people in all the so called religion…were
    like gardeners….who had to work hard to keep this bridge or
    garden clean……these people worked for simple love….so
    masses started following them…….after some time following
    gardeners with logical intelligence came to manage the garden…
    now changes started coming ……these gardeners became watchmen..
    uniformed themselves……created massive walls around their respective
    gardens… gated communities of organised religion came into existence ……and to give a distinct identity to the followers….rituals
    came in… military training…….massive prayers places were created
    with great opulence …..and number game started …and fear psychology
    of sin and bad was introduced……..and this is going on even today in the
    name of God…..
    good thing change also is coming and original values of gardeners also is
    coming back….science is one of that and net is another…and many more
    like you to express it as a true human being….
    bless you with truth…my friend Jean raffa…
    love all…

    1. Dear Ram,
      What a treasure you are! Your brief history of organized religion is brilliant! The left and right banks, the bridge, the gardeners turning into watchmen, the uniforms and walls and military training and fear psychology couldn’t be more appropriate metaphors for what I’m trying to say! Thank you for blessing me with truth. May I be worthy of it.

      1. divine… must be your writings where
        comments appear ….silence….behind your words
        ….you are mirror of cosmic intelligence….as few
        only cross the dark night of soul….to be one with
        god…..many post before I wrote your original name
        has appeared in the beginning….of the film…
        so be blessed….divine Jean raffa…
        love all..

  5. Jeanie –
    I share so many of your thoughts about this topic. It often seems that organized religion does more to tear people apart and create divisions than it does to humanize and help each other through this life. Sometimes, finding the spiritual path is made more difficult by religion.

    1. Susan,
      I couldn’t agree more. In my case, organized religion jump-started my spirituality and was very helpful and nurturing for many years. The fact that it still is for so many people makes it doubly hard for me to address its flaws.
      But if we stay open to the reality around us we can’t help but see the huge obstacles to growth it eventually lays in our path when it clings to outdated traditions and refuses to open itself to change. That’s when it ceases to be part of the solution and morphs into the problem.
      Life is about change. To my mind, adjusting to growth and change so it can help others who are growing and changing should be one of the primary goals of organized religion.

  6. Jeanie,
    Outstanding post. Wasn’t it Pogo who once said, “I’ve met the enemy and they are us.”
    Your insightful writing helps reveal such truths. Blessings,

    1. Hi Sally,
      Your reference to Pogo makes me laugh. I haven’t thought about him in years. Yes, I think he was the one who said that.
      Thank you very much for your kind words about my writing.
      Blessings back at you,

  7. Divine……things change…..all spiritual practices turned into
    ritual practices….as all religions could not put to masses the
    true and scientific meaning to masses… ritual became
    heavy….the freedom was replaced by heaven and hell….
    we should understand those rituals were good for older time
    now one must look them in new light of understanding….
    so new way will be ritual to spiritual living….
    love all..

  8. Dear Jeanie, For me ,your blog is a place that I could pass through different rooms of one castle and still discover a new way to connect the rooms. Khalil Gibran has a note on religion that I felt might be interesting to share…
    **And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.**
    **Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
    Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
    Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
    The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.**
    Thank you again for standing in your own light and shining upon others path as well. Much love and gratitude. Serena

  9. Dear Serena,
    Yes. Yes. And yes to those wonderful words by one of the wisest sages ever. “Your daily life is your temple and your religion” sums it all up for me. Such a simple truth, yet so difficult to learn.
    Discovering new connections to different rooms of one castle is a marvelous metaphor for the Mystery. I’m imagining hidden stairways, trap doors, underground tunnels, revolving book cases, sliding panels, AC ducts……… I love it that my blog is like that for you. The more openings and connections we make, the more light we let in to the house of our soul.
    Thank you for the wisdom and inspiration.

  10. Jeannie,
    Amazing: I have felt what you stated most of my adult life. You have addressed the problem with organized religion today. Excellent writing. What do your dreams say about how you feel? Have they ever addressed this subject? Thanks!

  11. Hi George,
    Thanks for the compliment….and another great question.
    I stopped going to church shortly after I started recording my dreams. This was a really huge and scary step for me (I had been a churchgoer all my life) and my dreams in those days were filled with references to my new spiritual direction. I wrote about one of them called “Going Against the Current” in my very first post back in March. You can find it in the archives right under my picture on this page. That dream assured me that my change of direction was a very wise thing. Others pointed to a resurgence of energy and healthy new growth and life. I also had dreams of being in a foreign land and receiving help or gifts from strangers.
    A different class of dreams showed me how anxious I was feeling about leaving mainstream religion. In some I was escaping or being released from a prison camp or dangerous country and fearful of being recaptured. In a few I was involved in criminal activities (like driving a getaway car!) and feeling very guilty and worried about being caught by the police. These helped me realize how intimidated I was by traditional authorities (religious and otherwise) and how worried I was about rebelling against my old conventional, conforming ways.
    Those dreams gave me the courage to carry on. I never once had a dream that remotely suggested I was doing anything that was bad for me.

  12. Hi Jeanie<
    Great post! As a person who attended parochial school and came from a strict religious background until I "quit" at age 19, I relate with much of what you say. Later in my life I tried a non-denominational Christian church with a more metaphysical perspective from the religion I was raised in, but over time found the same deadening of the mystery for me. I now find that the most authentic spiritual path for me is self-exploration through dream work, meditation, writing, comtemplative prayer, relationship, and nature.
    Much love,

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