A Breeze Which Does Not Blow


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This is another oldie of mine, from about ten years ago.


"I am a very spiritual person, but I don't care for religion."

We've all heard statements like this. Perhaps we've even said something like this ourselves. But do we really mean it? Is such a thing - the divorce of spirit and religion - even possible?

I maintain that religion is the natural result of spirituality. Although it may be possible to be religious without being spiritual, it is (I think) very unlikely that a person can be truly spiritual without, in some way, being religious.

Let's begin by taking a look at the origins of the words religion and spirit:

Spirit is derived from the Latin word for breath, breeze or wind - SPIRITUS. In the Bible, the words which are usually translated as spirit are the Hebrew word ruach (or, sometimes, neshamah) and the Greek word pneuma (sometimes pnoe), which also mean breath, breeze or wind.

From the time of their origin, in all three of these languages, the word which is known to us today as the supernatural thing which we call spirit was also used to describe the natural things which we call breath or wind.

Why should this be? What does a breath or a breeze have to do with a spirit?

The connection should be as obvious to us today as it was to the ancients: A spirit is like a breeze because neither can be seen, yet both can be sensed - both can be felt. The wind can be gentle, and it could also be powerful. Because it was unseen, it was also mysterious. As a breath, it gives life to man. For the ancients (as well as for us today) a breeze or a breath provides the perfect metaphor for spirituality - which can also be peaceful, profound, mysterious, and life-enhancing.

So, we see that the transition in meaning from a simple meteorological or biological phenomenon into the word we know today as spirit was a rather natural and logical one. The word religion, however, is a bit more tricky, as its original meaning (at first glance) seems to have very little to do with what we call religion today.

Religion is also derived from a Latin word - RELIGIO. Whereas SPIRITUS was a noun (a thing), RELIGIO was a verb (an action). The action, in this case, involved the binding of separate things together so as to form a single thing. RELIGIO was, most often, used to describe the process whereby individual stalks of grain were bundled together in order to form a sheaf. A single stalk of grain was not a RELIGIO, nor was an entire bale of wheat a RELIGIO. Rather, it was the process of RELIGIO which transformed the former into the latter. It was what we, in our day, would call the organizing principle - the action which, for example, changes separate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into a completed picture.

(As an aside: The term "organized religion" would seem to be rather redundant, since religion cannot be anything other than organized - at least as far as the original meaning of the word is concerned.)

Given what we know about the etymology of the words spirituality and religion, what can we say about the relationship between the two? Simply stated, it is this: Religion is the visible action whereby invisible spirituality is made manifest. Or, to put it even more simply: Spiritual is what you are; religion is what you do.

This is why I say that a religious person may or may not be spiritual, but a spiritual person cannot help but be religious. It's quite possible for someone to perform certain rituals, or take part in a religious ceremony of some kind, and yet not be spiritual. In fact, it is just this kind of hypocritical, going-through-the-motions type of religion (which many confuse with genuine religion) that is the reason why many folks find religion to be so distasteful. However, a spiritual person will feel naturally compelled to do things which reflect his spirituality. He may pray, or meditate, or perform acts of kindness for others, or a host of other things (whether they are ritualized or not) which his spirit leads him to do. These things - these actions - are religion. And the absence of these actions is proof of a lack of spirituality.

To make this a bit more clear, let's look at two people who both claim to be athletes. The first athlete enjoys sports, takes part in physical activity (exercise), and has a healthful lifestyle. The second athlete can't stand sports, hates to exercise, drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and eats like a pig. Exactly in what way is the second person - by any stretch of the definition of the word - an athlete? Merely because he says he is? Because he occasionally feels athletic? No, of course not. Unless that athletic feeling which he claims to have prods him into some kind of athletic action, then he is just a hypocrite - a poser. He is lying to himself.

As are we, when we glorify spirituality while denying religion. Whether we deny our own religious tendencies or scoff at the practices of others, when we try to separate spirituality from religion, we are like the non-athletic athlete. We are like a breeze which does not blow.
 
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Addendum: The Cicero Syndrome

Most of the time, when I use the word religion, I mean it in the sense I stated above. That is, "actions which are performed due to the compulsion of one's spirit". However, I realize that most people do not see religion in this way, but rather as some form of meaningless, archaic ritual or some kind of rigid adherence to dogma - in short, that thing which most people call "organized religion". It this were all that I thought religion to be, then I would also find it to be something which should be avoided.

However, let us be honest. Most of those who claim to despise religion are really only showing their displeasure with some particular aspect of religion, rather than with the concept of religion itself. They may, for example, be repulsed (and rightly so) by some of the acts which have been done in the name of religion, or perhaps they bear some personal animosity toward certain religious individuals.

Also, when more closely examined, many who say they abhor religion are really only showing their disgust for a particular brand of religion.

In the West, for example, the spiritual folks who claim to be anti-religious tend to reserve their hatred for the Judeo-Christian tradition, while often embracing some of the tenets of Buddhism, Hinduism, or some other, more exotic tradition. So it's not that these folks hate religion. It's just a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

(An example of this: If a man quotes St. Paul's warning to the Galatians that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap", then he will be thought of as a Bible-thumping rube. However, if another man mutters the word "karma", then he will be thought of as holy and wise. Yet both men are saying practically the same thing. I have sometimes wondered: Do young Hindus or Taoists who become disillusioned with how they were raised seek to show their rebellion by embracing Christian or Jewish concepts - just as many young people in the West adopt foreign religions? Are they sincere, or do they just want to piss off Mommy and Daddy?)

One of the reasons why many reject the already-established forms of religion has to do with what I call "the Cicero Syndrome".

In Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, there is a scene in which the conspirators who are plotting to assassinate Caesar are meeting in the home of Brutus. One of the group, Cassius, asks if Cicero should be recruited to help in their undertaking.

CASSIUS: But what of Cicero? Shall we sound him? I think he will stand very strong with us.

CASCA: Let us not leave him out.

CINNA: No, by no means.

METELLUS: O, let us have him, for his silver hairs will purchase us a good opinion, and buy men's voices to commend our deeds. It shall be said his judgement ruled our hands; our youths and wildness shall no whit appear, but all shall be buried in his gravity.

BRUTUS: O, name him not! Let us not break with him; for he will never follow anything that other men begin.

(Julius Caesar. Act 2. Scene 1.)

For some, it is this Cicero Syndrome - this unwillingness to become a part of something which has already been established by others - that is at the root of their distaste for religion. Those who suffer from this syndrome can only find joy in a religious practice in which they themselves are the central focus, and oppose any religion in which the rules have been laid down by someone else. The Cicero Syndrome is, of course, nothing more or less than egotism, yet those who suffer the most from it also tend to deny it the most.

Then, too, there are those who reject religion (in the popular meaning of the word) not because it imposes standards which are set by another, but simply because it has standards at all. Such people feel that the discipline exacted by a religion is in direct conflict with their personal freedom. And yet, the very same people who may reject, for example, a Christian ritual or regulation because they find it to be too confining or too regimented seem to have no problem at all when strictly following a meditation technique, or a step-by-step procedure for producing a lucid dream, or taking part in some even more elaborate and arcane occult ritual of some kind.

In such cases, it is perhaps better to simply admit our preferences (and our prejudices) rather than make up fatuous excuses as to why we hate religion.