Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Social Justice & Liberation

Social Justice and personal liberation from suffering are at the heart of spirituality and therefore religion. Some may say this is a curious claim and I’ll admit that much of what humans have done in the name of religion is anything but just. However, there is much to recommend this point of view.

In studying the social context of most religions, those who are considered the founders of those religions came to create better lives for the people they touched. At the time of their coming, they were progressive for their culture. In large part, this is why the major world religions took fire and spread. There was an urgent social need for justice, fairness, or at least a way to escape the sufferings of the world by believing in something greater than what they saw around them.

Jesus came to overturn the harshness of the law and gave people hope of something beyond the military occupation and strife that plagued Israel. It is a sense of community and love that is at the heart of Christian revivals throughout the centuries.

Muhammad came to overturn corrupt tribalism that was, at that time, almost Darwinian and left those with the least the most vulnerable. He left behind a system of charity and community that helped so many who had no help before.

Buddha came to free people from the sufferings of the world by freeing them of the sufferings in their minds. He left behind a system of teachings and teachers that still thrives today as people seek a way to understand themselves and their place in world.

There have been many others who have responded to the need for something better. However, the point is that they came as reformers. They came to reduce the sufferings that we create for ourselves through unenlightened thought which becomes unenlightened action.

This is the essential spiritual urge, to free ourselves and others from the suffering we create through selfishness, ignorance or other causes. This urge, when heartfelt, is communion with God or Unity. However, once the founder has moved on, the teachings become codified and then, unfortunately and often, ossified. Codification of spiritual teachings is what creates a religion. In and of itself, this is not wrong. In fact, it comes usually from a place of service. It comes from a desire to share teachings that have reduced the sufferings of the convert or practitioner. However, often codification becomes about external conduct and is no longer about the spirit of the teachings. The idea of creating and sharing a way of life that creates liberation for others is replaced with a code that is intended to create a culture that reflects the codifier. Hence, the teachings of a reformer become the armory of the fearful. And, as we know, fear creates suffering and the need for new reformers and teachers.

This cycle of fear and suffering can be overcome. It begins with the recognition that all who truly love God or unity and their fellow human beings are committed to the liberation of others from suffering. They do not have to look a certain way. They do not have to use a particular language. Their prayers and ritual may not look familiar. However, we all share the same intent. It is our motivation that binds us together and can allow us to have respectful dialogue. In a Christian context, it could be said that the Holy Spirit animates all of us who love one another. Look beyond the words in the prayer. Look beyond the words in the books. Get deeper. Help others get deeper. Feel compassion for everyone. Help them move beyond fear and suffering. This is the heart of our shared spirituality and of all religions. We just have to remind ourselves… and each other.

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