When it comes right down to it, healthy spirituality is about the practice of letting go. Of course, much religion seems to want people to hold on tighter as if they were squeezing the last of the toothpaste out of a nearly empty tube. They twist, the fold, they roll, they shake, they push the end of the tube back on itself in hopes of getting more out of life. In the end, like that tube, they are left a twisted wreck. It’s the difference between a spirituality that sees as its goal avoiding the wrong actions and a spirituality that encourages the right actions.
We all know religious people, especially conservative Christians, who are obsessed with avoiding “sin” because they see sin as something that fractures their relationship with the Divine. Never mind that it would be completely inconsistent for a God who created people who were prone to sin to be angry with them for sinning, but that kind of abstract thought escapes people who are attracted to negative spirituality. They so need certainty, so need control, that they go to any lengths to persuade themselves that they are in control. Then when bad things happen they feel abandoned by God, largely because they have created a fictitious world in which God somehow turns bad things away from some people but not others. Of course, rational people know that such a God would in fact be no God at all, but rather a human ego maniac writ large. That kind of God is a projection of the worst of human behavior onto God because concrete thinkers cannot imagine anything bigger than themselves. That kind of God is so small that It allows humans to be in control of Its actions. That kind of God simply doesn’t exist.
On the other hand, there is a kind of spirituality that I call positive spirituality. Rather then seek to avoid certain behaviors, it cultivates positive qualities and attributes such as compassion, kindness, love, charity, community building, and a host of others. This spirituality recognizes that the person who is compassionate isn’t very likely to cheat or steal, that people who love are unlikely to hate, that people who are kind are unlikely to be rude. Because it doesn’t seek to drive out co-called negative behaviors or sins – an effort that only causes us to act out more because all of our attention and energy work as a reinforcing tool on those behaviors – this positive spirituality instead produces positive qualities that of the own accord replace them. It also acknowledges that reality is what it will be, and we can no more control it than we can stop the waves from reaching the shore. Rather than attempt to control reality, this perspective gives us the tools to cope with reality. People who cope with reality are much happier than people engaged in a never-ending and never won struggle to control reality. They can actually attend to their lives without being worried about what comes next because they know they cannot control it. They live in the present moment, the only moment there is.
Ironically, it is by letting go of the need for control and certainty that true freedom is found. Somewhere along the way people got the idea of sin so twisted and distorted that it is beyond reclamation. Sin is an archery term that means “missing the mark,” but we have turned it into something that means, “guilty and going to hell.” These kinds of beliefs generate bullies who pick on other people and attempt to argue them into submission. They fixate on sexual orientation, contributing to the high levels of suicide among LGBT youth and adults. They ignore Jesus’ admonition to care for the poor and instead turn their wrath on them, characterizing them as lazy and good for nothing. Is is any wonder that the name Christian has such a negative connotation?
Rather than producing hate filled bullies, positive spirituality creates well-adjusted human beings, who might just be the last hope for our angry culture. It’s hard to be angry when you accept things as they are.