Religion Is a Human Thing

Previous – The Troubles With Old Religion

God has no religion, as the Indian activist, Mahatma Gandhi once said. Religions, in whatever form, represent humanity’s sincere attempt to grapple with the unknown and to understand the true nature of a dimly perceived spirit reality—a supermaterial dimension. Religion, rather than being ordained by God, is merely a human attempt to know God.

Religions often formulate a set of beliefs about the nature of God, but these beliefs may not necessarily represent any truth about God, partial or otherwise. And any claim that God is uniquely identified with a particular religion is merely wishful thinking. Religion is the human contemplation of spirit reality, just as astronomy is the contemplation of the stars, and physics the atom. (See The Troubles With Old Religion.)

God cannot be perfectly defined or understood by any religious formula, dogma, or creed. The true essence of an infinite and eternal Creator must be far beyond the time-space boundaries of human comprehension. Nonetheless, our understanding of the character of God is relatively true—it is always evolving, just as we are evolving. Religion, like science and philosophy, is the ongoing, eternal search for truth.

Political organizations, economic policies, and religious traditions can be either good or bad—it’s neither fair nor logical to tar all with the same brush. Progressive religion should be the eager pursuit of spiritual truth, not the formal definition of it. It should be founded on the highest moral conduct, not submission to ritualistic behavior. And it should be an intellectual quest for advanced spiritual meanings and divine values, not an adherence to fixed dogma.

A religious group should be able to enjoy the liberty of freethinking without having to become “freethinkers.” 103:5.12

– The Urantia Book

The fact that religions, or any form of spirituality, are so prevalent in every human society and culture strongly suggests that it is something more than a culturally determined phenomenon. Indeed, if numbers lend any weight to truth, it’s more likely that the persistent and prevailing spiritual drive so evident in most of us, is an integral and very real part of the human psyche, if not a reflection of reality itself. Religion, far from being a social aberration, appears to be quite natural and not a thing apart from the whole of human experience.

Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus.

– Karen Armstrong

True enough, some religious ideas are ignorant, superstitious, mythical, and delusional. But these defective traits are purely human shortcomings, ones that are not limited to religious institutions. Despite these faults, more progressive religions have the spiritual power to instill a sense of morality, selflessness, charity, fellowship, and service—traits that are not necessarily inherent in the principles and structures of economic or political institutions.

There are many spiritual paths and hundreds of religious beliefs, and they certainly do not agree on all points. But it would be unreasonable to dismiss any notion of God, spirituality, or the supernatural simply because we cannot reach agreement on such phenomena. It would be equally illogical to claim there is no such thing as love because psychologists cannot agree on how to define it, or that neither reason nor logic really exist because there are over 1,200 contending philosophical approaches according to Wikipedia’s List of Philosophies (2024).

Indeed, if we accept the fact that religion is a personal spiritual experience, then there must be about 8 billion experiences on the planet today (world population 8 billion in 2023). But no matter how many unique approaches or different definitions there may be, there is only one destiny. A religion of the spirit does not require a uniform approach but rather the recognition of a universal and divine goal—the perfection of spirit and the divine embrace of an infinite and eternal Source.

Do We Need Social Religion?

Despite the growing aversion to traditional religions, there is a great need for socialized religion. And by that, I don’t mean another authoritative organization to tell us what to do or what to believe, but rather a simple philosophy that acknowledges and accepts common spiritual goals and values, including the recognition of a Universal Source of existence and, on a planetary level, the essential social value of the spiritual fellowship of humanity.

A socialized religion should be greater in scope than any national identity or any particular belief because its objective is to inspire the whole of humanity to reach out for divine values—to make truth, love, goodness, and beauty the ideals of everyday life, not just for ourselves but also for our families and communities. When we are filled with the Spirit, we look for the commonalities among us, not the differences.

Traditional religions will survive as social organizations when they begin to appeal to the most advanced spiritual ideals, ones honestly reflected in their actions and policies. They should emphasize understanding, tolerance, cooperation, and common goals. Only through messages of love and compassion can religions ever hope to address the longings of those who seek true spirit contact.

Progressive thinkers have lost interest in pointless rituals, repetitious liturgy, mechanical prayers, and sacred writings. Instead, they desire real spiritual progress by contacting a real spiritual domain and by living real spiritual lives. They yearn to extol the supreme values of living, such as improving self-control, growing in wisdom, elevating the ideals of family life, encouraging friendship, and helping neighbors. They desire to cooperate, to be good people dedicated to the loving service of their fellows.

The purpose of socialized religion cannot be to support political agendas, debate economic systems, protest climate change, or advocate social policies. No doubt, these are important concerns, but they are material and social concerns, not spiritual ones.

The most important and valuable task of religion is to promote spiritual growth and divine values for the individual. When the majority of people come to revere the higher ideals of living, we will soon see politics, economics, and society change for the better. It’s the moral caliber of the people that defines the moral caliber of institutions and governments. Real change begins with the individual.

What can you do to promote world peace? “Go home and love your family.”

– Mother Teresa

This is not to say socialized religions should entirely ignore what is going on in the world. All religions should speak out against injustice, immorality, and violence whenever they occur. They should keep pace with developments in all other social institutions, not by actively participating in them or by taking political stances, but by persistently upholding universal moral values and providing spiritual guidance.

In these times of rapid social change and increasing social complexity, it’s easy to lose our moral bearings. Only a worldwide spiritual devotion to more meaningful ideals of living and a greater sense of morality can bind us together peacefully as we face a constant barrage of new social challenges.

Social divisions must end if we truly seek world peace. True world peace begins only when all social groups and all nations of the world begin to help one another rather than compete for dominance. Then we can turn our minds to even greater things—to unite on a planetary scale by realizing the liberating truth that we are all spiritual brothers and sisters of One God.

Without world peace, you can forget about all other global progress.

– Hans Rosling

And by “One God,” I don’t necessarily mean a Christian or a Hindu portrayal of God. We are all thinking of the same God, we just have different views about the true nature of that divine Being. We cannot impose our views on others by asserting another religion of authority. Instead, a worldwide social religion should promote spiritual unity for all by enabling and empowering individuals to progress in their own way, on their own path of spiritual discovery.

As long as any religion claims to be the only path to God, we will never have peace. As long as so-called religious people kill or persecute others in the name of God, views of religion will forever remain besmirched and darkened. Such evil cannot survive or persist in religions that honestly promote mutual love, compassion, and understanding.

Those who sincerely try to live spiritual lives know in their hearts that the true values of life embrace qualities such as love, kindness, truth, education, service, beauty, compassion, goodness, health, respect, tolerance, and cooperation. These are spiritual values originating from the Spirit of God within all of us. And by revering these progressive ideals, we not only transform ourselves but the entire world.

Personal Religion

Social religion has important purposes and functions but, if a spiritual life is to be personally meaningful to any degree, religion needs to be a personal spiritual experience.

True religion resides in the individual, not an institution. It’s time to take the religious experience out of the hands of organized religions, personality cults, and fanatical factions and put it where it belongs—in the hands, hearts, and minds of average, spirit-seeking individuals. Only when religion becomes an individual living experience that is both genuine and spontaneous can it ever hope to outweigh purely intellectual notions about God and spirituality.

Spiritual or religious living does not necessarily mean going to church or praying in the pews. Neither does it require meditating on a mantra or living as a monk in an isolated monastery. We do not need to be ordained by the church or have an academic degree in theology to know God or how to live the spirit way.

The essential thing to living a spiritual life is to improve your insight into spiritual and eternal values and, once identified, to cultivate these values within yourself (see Four Divine Values). It’s a process of incorporating divine realities—to make them an integral part of your inner life by recognizing in your mind and accepting in your heart all that is spiritually true, good, and beautiful.

I cannot prove the existence of God to you or to anyone else. It’s impossible for me to formulate a logical argument that proves the existence of either a spirit domain or an Eternal Spirit, just as it’s impossible for anyone to disprove their existence. Those who claim to know beyond all doubt that there is no God, cannot possibly know. There is no objective method to either verify or dismiss the reality of spirit.

Objective methods are premised on objective reality, which refers to all things in the outside world that, by means of the physical senses, everyone can observe and agree on (an empirical approach). But the very perception of that objective reality is a subjective (inner) experience, and only subjective experiences can validate the presence of God in our lives. Everything we know comes to us through personal experience, whether it’s intellectual knowledge, insight, experiment, or spirituality.

Subjective reality is not only real, it is really important.

– Daniel J. Siegel

No one can honestly discredit another person’s subjective experiences. If I am injured and feel pain, I cannot prove this pain to anyone—but no one can deny I feel pain. Even if someone touches me, I feel their touch but cannot share that feeling with anyone else, not even with the person who is touching me.

In the same sense, if I feel the presence of God in my life, even if I cannot prove this to anyone, I know it myself because I am experiencing it. No amount of intellectual force nor any web of sophistry could convince me otherwise. I know that I know. Only our very real personal experiences can ever validate the existence of God, regardless of what others may think or say.

Those who know God have experienced the fact of his presence. 1:2.8

– The Urantia Book

Spirituality & Religion

In a previous post, we questioned the differences between spirituality and religion. Overall, there can be little doubt that spirituality, in all its forms and variances, is alive and well in the modern age. But despite the growing aversion to traditional religions, we cannot entirely divorce spirituality from the long history of religious thought any more than we can separate religion from spirituality.

A religion is no more than a system of spiritual attitudes, beliefs, and practices. By definition, any spiritual creed, cult, doctrine, or philosophy is a religion. While beliefs vary widely, a notable difference between religions is whether or not they embrace any notion of a personal God, which brings up the inevitable question about whether it’s even possible for Universal Intellect, Infinite Intelligence, or Supreme Mind to function without personality. How could any Supreme Being do anything without first deciding on a course of action? And if this intelligence is volitional, conscious, and self-aware, then it must be personal.

Those who would invent a religion without God are like those who would gather fruit without trees, have children without parents. 102.7.3

– The Urantia Book

In addition to the purposeful and volitional nature of God, another significant distinction is whether spirituality is a religion of the spirit, always open to new truth, spiritual insight, and freedom of expression—or a religion of the mind, upholding a fixed and authoritative belief system that demands conformity without question.

A Religion of the Spirit

There are advantages to separating ourselves from formalized and authoritative religions. But this is true only if we can define a personal religion that completely satisfies our spiritual longings—one that sets out clear spiritual ideals, rewarding spiritual practices, and attainable spiritual goals.

In the ongoing process of spiritual discovery, it’s neither necessary nor desirable to discard all religious beliefs. In fact, most religions carry bountiful seeds of truth, even if some remain deeply buried in sterile doctrines.

Prudent spiritualists seldom reject all religious motivation just for the sake of rejecting all religions. This would be akin to throwing out the good with the bad, the irrelevant with the relevant, and the useful with the useless.

Spiritually liberated people are free to draw the best from all religions without having to adhere to the religious authority, principles, or rituals of any specific religion. Indeed, a religion of the spirit is not necessarily a matter of doing something—of performing the correct rituals and prayers—but of being something—being morally good, honorable, and faithful.

Spiritually motivated individuals, even though they may reject the well-intentioned but often conflicted teachings of traditional religions, continue to uphold and promote positive and progressive spiritual values in their everyday lives.

For all such people, religion is redefined as a personal experience within a universal spirit realm, or a personal experience with a personal God, a higher being with whom they can interact. It’s a religion without traditional beliefs, without preconceived notions, and without prejudice. It’s a religion of the spirit, one that stimulates genuine spiritual progress.

The religion of the spirit leaves you forever free to follow the truth wherever the leadings of the spirit may take you. 155:6.5

– The Urantia Book