This morning facebook greeted me with a picture of a native man on horseback and the quote: “Religion is for people afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there” by Vine Deloria.
Two thoughts battle for space in my mind. One is the thought that because it is a native person quoted and natives have been so awfully treated by colonial religious authorities, and it is a native person who posted the picture to facebook, that I shouldn’t comment on it. Native people’s religious beliefs have been bashed for way to long, and foreign religion forced upon them.
The other thought is that it such an awful description of religion. Now perhaps in whatever context Vine Deloria said it, it wasn’t. Perhaps it fit into the context and was part of a larger explanation, but isolated from its context, it attempts an arbitrary devision between religion and spirituality, redefining the words. It’s inaccurate. There are lots of religious people who do not believe in hell. There are lots of religious people who have suffered in many ways. There are lots of people who are spiritual who identify as belonging to a particular religion.
I am tired of people claiming the word “spiritual” to mean that they have a direct personal experience with the divine and claiming at the same time that those who are “religious” do not. It’s elitist and snobbish and nonsensical.
Some people use “spiritual” to mean “I make my own religion” and “religion” to mean “brainless follower of someone else’s teachings.” I think that’s idiotic, because religious traditions are the collected wisdom (and foolishness) of centuries. Religious people can and do struggle with questions, thinking deeply about their inherited traditions and how they apply to their own life. If someone thinks religion means brainless follower, they’ve only just scraped the surface of a religion, they’ve never wrestled with the great questions the religious thinkers wrestle with, and if they think there is something wonderful about cutting themselves loose from all religious tradition and just making things up on their own they’re losing out on so much!
Not all religions actions lead to good. Not all religious beliefs are true. It may be that very little is but I am tired of people claiming that religion is about dead beliefs. Religion is knowledge and tradition, some of it contradicting other parts and some of it repugnant. Still it can lead and guide us and provide fertile soil for our searches into what is true. Religion is about history and culture and tradition. Religion is about all those things the native people almost lost because someone else’s religion was forced upon them, their population decimated and their homes taken over.
There is a huge vast variety of different experiences in religion. There are lots of different religions and different organizations attempting to implement the religions in different ways. “Christianity,” for example, is a catch-all term for a huge variety of beliefs. So is Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Even within the same church or synagogue or mosque different people are going to experience religion differently depending on how they are treated there, and on who they are (male, female, child, adult, wealthy, poor, etc, etc). If you’ve had a bad experience with religion, challenge it. Challenge the way religion has been forced upon you, or how you’ve been exposed to it, or what it says about you. But challenge the specific experiences you’ve had, not make general statements claiming spirituality is somehow seperate and superior to religion.