Ben Oofana

Lost In a World of Abstraction

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian environment had a profound effect on me. I was told at the age of ten that I had to accept Jesus as my lord and savior or I would be cast into the fires of hell to burn for all eternity.

Christianity always felt very foreign to me, but I didnít know that there were any alternatives at the time. For years, I had to endure going to church three times a week, nightly prayer and bible reading. Then there was the occasional evangelist who wanted to cast Satan out of me.

Our minister was a good friend to me. He was always very kind and supportive. Many of these people were doing the best they could to find their way in life. Some of the people were really nice. Most of them were educated. There were a number of doctors, attorneys, accountants and numerous other professionals in the church. Many of them had a very limited self-awareness. They attributed any unpleasant feelings or adversity in their lives to the devil.

Religious values infuse every aspect of our social structure. We internalize these values throughout our lives and then experience considerable shame and guilt when ever we violate or fail to live up to these standards.

Many of the people I grew up with in Texas and Oklahoma were making a huge mess of their lives. The guilt and shame would catch up with them at some point and next thing theyíre up in the front of the church getting saved or repenting for their sins. Some of them really cleaned up and seemed to be getting their lives on track. Others could only sustain the illusion for so long and would then "backslide" after some months or years.

Iíve watched people go through so many different kinds of conversions or religious experiences over the years. In some instances, they seem to become a different person. They would take on a whole new attitude or way of seeing the world. These experiences can facilitate some very positive changes. It may give these individuals a new sense of mastery over their problems. Such dramatic conversions can also be based on a need to be rescued or escape from oneís current reality. It takes a tremendous strength to maintain the illusion, but some manage to do so.

My feelings towards religion and spirituality are very ambiguous. Iíve had very positive experiences that have helped me to grow and I see the ways in which it helps people in their lives. Iíve experienced the negative aspects of religion and spirituality and I am acutely aware of religionís destructive impact within our world. Many of our wars have been fought on the basis of religion and millions have been murdered in the name of God. Then we also have saints within these same religions who work miracles and there are many ordinary everyday people who strive to make such a positive contribution to our world.

Before I go any further, I would like to say that I have no desire to offend anyone. Nor do I have any interest in telling you what to believe. I grew up amid the dramas and scandals of various televangelists. Some of these televangelists were raking in millions of dollars. Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard were so self-righteous, yet they were both soliciting the services of prostitutes. The medicine man I that I learned from self destructed a few years after I began to train with him. I have also seen the corruption and abuses of power of many Indian Gurus and other spiritual teachers. I feel that we need to acknowledge and really examine the aspects of our religions that are dysfunctional and work to create a healthier model. I like to see people and society evolve. I would also like to see people question and give more thought to the choices theyíre making.

I have friends and acquaintances from so many different religious backgrounds. Iím always curious to learn about their experiences and their perception of the world. The one consistent element that I find running through all cultures and religions is that there is a higher power that is there for us when we reach out to it.

Most of us were born into a particular religion, and we may have never stopped to question why we believe what we do or the belief itself. Thatís why the majority of people tend to stay with the faith or belief system that they grew up with.

People who suffer from poor self-esteem may be incapable of loving themselves and they often donít feel loved or appreciated by others. The perception of a loving and supportive God can help to nurture their self esteem. The belief that Jesus loves them helps to fill oneís need to be loved and valued.

We sometimes encounter tremendous adversity along the way and may have suffered profound losses. People who pray or have faith often see the hand of God at work in their lives. Beliefs such as "Öitís all in Godís hands" create a stabilizing influence in our lives that helps us to trust the natural order of things. Having faith in some kind of Supreme Being can help to give us a sense of power and control over what is taking place in our lives. Believing that God is on our side may give us that extra measure of security that can sometimes make it easier to cope with the stress and anxiety of everyday life.

Religion assigns meaning to the events of our lives. Meaning allows us to make sense of our suffering. It helps us to feel that we can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We may, to some extent, be deceiving ourselves, but all of us have a belief in one thing or another and it is to our benefit to believe something that will direct our minds towards creating some kind of positive outcome.

Our religions also tell us whatís going to happen to us and the world and that helps us to feel that we can predict and control our environment. Many people look to scripture to discover godís promise to them. It helps to create a positive frame through which they can predict and control their environment.

Many people experience a tremendous fear of death. Religion can help to alleviate that fear for many by offering the promise of an afterlife. Our religions give meaning to both life and death. Life is seen as temporal and death becomes a new beginning. Death is no longer the end, but a doorway to immortality.

Iíve had Muslim friends tell me "Öthis life doesnít really matter; itís the afterlife that counts". I always wonder how people with such strong beliefs would feel after they die if they find that life on the other side does not meet their expectations.

For years, Iíve hear people say that we should not judge. Judgment does have its purpose. Thereís an old Russian proverb that says "ÖMake yourself into a sheep and you will find a wolf behind the next tree." Failing to question, doubt and exercise basic skepticism is both an intellectual and moral failing. Itís in our best interest to critically examine all of our beliefs to determine which oneís serve us and which ones need to be discarded or modified.

We enjoy freedoms in our modern day world that were not widely available in times past. For many centuries, the clergy had the power to control the flow of information. They decided what would be would be made available for public consumption and what would also be withheld.

We now have the freedom to question so called authorities, institutions, established beliefs and ways of doing things that were just taken for granted for so long. We have a wide array of opposing viewpoints and philosophies to consider. We can openly discuss our ideas and we have the freedom to choose what we want to believe.

Sometimes we need to step out of our own framework to gain some perspective on ourselves and what weíre doing. One of the most disturbing aspects of fundamentalist religions is its rigidity. It generally does not allow any criticism or input from other sources.

The freedoms that so many of us take for granted are not available in some conservative or repressive societies. There are some Muslim countries where you can be sentenced for death for blasphemy for doing anything that would be considered an insult to the prophet Mohammad.

The restriction of ideas and dialogue maintains a level of ignorance that reinforces the backwardness of certain groups and societies. Such repression holds us back as it prohibits us from evolving as a human race.

There are genuine and kind hearted people of all faiths. But there are also individuals who present themselves as a man or woman of god, yet they lie, gossip, cheat, steal, and take advantage of others, molest children and even kill. We wonder how someone who professes to be so spiritual can do such things.

People generally want to think well of themselves. They consciously identify with a particular faith. But the more powerful subconscious mind which runs on a whole different track. The subconscious becomes this huge repository of toxicity when people do not learn to address their issues, resolve conflicts and digest their thoughts and emotions. Many try to resist, deny or disconnect from these parts of themselves. But all that toxicity leaks out of them through their worlds and actions. This is what makes them so incongruent.

There are tremendous differences in the various religions and forms of spirituality. Some groups are open and flexible. These groups tend to encourage growth and celebrate the uniqueness of each individual. People within these groups tend to embrace life and see themselves as part of the world.

Fundamentalism has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Fundamentalist religions are usually authoritarian in nature. One of the appeals of fundamentalism is that it offers a certainty with is dependant on its unchanging core belief. But it requires the sacrifice of oneís intellectual development to attain this kind of certainty.

The gods of these religions often have a stern, vengeful and punitive quality about them. People drawn to these religions are often preoccupied with feelings of guilt, shame and vivid fears of divine punishment.

Fundamentalists tend to be very rigid or absolutist in their thinking and see the world in terms of black and white or a struggle of good versus evil. They tend to hold onto overly simplistic interpretations of life events because they find it very difficult to tolerate the range and complexity of human experience.

The leaders of many of these groups claim to have some kind of special relationship with God. They think they know the will of God and they define morality for their followers according to their own version of truth. They also demonstrate a tremendous need to control the lives of others. This need to control is reflective of the discomfort these individuals experience with the aspects of themselves that that are not congruent with their idealized image of godly perfection.

Fundamentalists tend to see scriptural texts such as the Bible or Koran as the infallible word or God. Parts of the bible may be inspired, but how can it be infallible when it has been tampered with by kings, tyrants, fools and scholars?

Many of our humanitarian aid organizations are run by various religious groups. Some religious groups do a tremendous service for humanity by encouraging a spirit of altruism. They do this by instilling values of love, justice, compassion, grace and charity.

Family structures are breaking down in many societies and many people are alone. Our religions create communities to which we can belong and that helps to meet our needs for connection.

It can be difficult for adolescents and young adults to make sense of all the ignorance, confusion and chaos in our world. Our religions provide a positive role model or set of values that young people can identify with that often prevents them from abusing alcohol and other drugs.

Religion helps to meet the needs of many who have a strong desire within to experience a connection with the divine. The teachings and practices that our religions offer help many to deepen this connection. Others may turn to religion out of dissatisfaction with their life. Some may not feel comfortable with life in the body in this material world. People often turn to God in the midst of a crisis, but they may quickly forget about God once things start to go their way.

We do the best we can to find our way through life and somehow make sense of the chaos. Religion often serves as a guiding principle that gives some sense of meaning, order and direction in our lives.

Religion provides structure by telling people what to feel, think or believe. It gives us identity by defining our role in the cosmos. Religion may compensate for certain deficits in an individuals development. Some become so dependent upon the structure provided by religion that they fail to develop many of the internal resources necessary to become a fully functional adult who can stand on their own.

Some people chose to not think for themselves or make their own decisions. Others do not have to capacity to do so. Thatís why they need some absolute authority to spell everything out for them. They may also go to great lengths to conform to a system of beliefs and values, but in doing so they deny themselves.

I often hear people say things like "Itís all in divine order Öits part of godís plan". That may be true at times. There are instances where I experience synchronicities in my life. Sometimes one door closes and another door opens and that leads me to new opportunities. These experiences increase in frequency as one develops a stronger connection to the higher power.

Thereís also a lot of uncertainty in life and there are many things that we may never really know or understand. A certain amount of confusion, doubt and uncertainty are a normal and healthy part of the human experience. Itís not always pleasant, but I prefer to be okay with the unknown rather than think I know something that I donít.

Our beliefs determine how we move through the world. Thatís why we are responsible for what ever we chose to believe in. Remember the lead up to the war in Iraq when Bush and other members of his administration told the American public that we needed to invade Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction? There were no weapons of mass destruction, but so many of us bought the lie. Many thousands of people have died and who knows how much more death and destruction is yet to come.

Neuro Linguistic Programming encourages people to examine the ecology of their beliefs and actions to understand the impact they will have upon ourselves, others and the world in which we live. Many people never stop to examine the ecological aspects of what they do. American Indians recognized the divinity in all forms of life. Their beliefs allowed them to live in harmony with the forces of nature.

Biblical scripture says to be fruitful and multiply. That may have had a practical application at a time in history when the world was less densely populated and infant mortality was high. Such a practice is highly irresponsible in our present day world which is now dangerously overpopulated.

American Indians were traumatized by the decimation of their people and that left them open and venerable. Christian missionaries took advantage of this vulnerability. The missionaries often told the Indians that their native spirituality was of the devil and that their people had suffered because they had displeased God. Christian missionaries worked diligently to convert the many American Indians. These missionaries believed that they were saving souls. They succeeded in converting many native people, but in doing so they contributed in the destruction of a culture by driving the native people away from their own traditional spirituality.

Christian missionaries have traveled through many other parts of the world to spread their gospel. They actually bought conversions in countries like Sri Lanka. They think they are doing a service by spreading a message of salvation. They fail to recognize beauty within other cultures and ways of thinking and doing things. Their actions also show a tremendous lack of respect for other cultures and beliefs.

So many people fail to realize that that our mental-emotional health determines how we interpret and connect with the higher power. Our religions are, to a large extent, a reflection of where we are within ourselves individually and collectively.

People tend to disconnect from their bodies and emotions and avoid issues, so many of their internal conflicts do not get resolved. Our pain and confusion then gets projected out onto reality and that becomes the filter through which we perceive and interpret the divine.

Our level of individual maturity is also reflected in our relationship with the divine. Some people are waiting for God to come down and rescue them from life. Those who develop a spiritual maturity are willing to work collaboratively with a higher power to create what they want in life.

Islam claims there is one god who is Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. Literal minded Christians often tell us that Adam and Eve sinned; therefore we have to accept Jesus Christ as our lord and savior to be redeemed from sin or be cast into the lake of fire to burn for all eternity. These concepts were invented a few thousand years ago. Sin, getting saved and savior are all abstractions. Theyíre just concepts that some one invented. Many people base their entire lives upon abstract concepts.

The concept of original sin was originally introduced to the early church by Saint Augustine (354-430 CE), Bishop of Hippo and one of the four Fathers of the Latin Church. Augustine was known for his sexual impropriety before his conversion to Christianity. The extremism of Augustineís ideology reflected a discomfort with his own issues of sexual addiction.

Many of our religions operate from the premise that they are starting with the truth. They already have a conclusion and then they search for evidence to support this conclusion. Such a mindset precludes the possibility of any real learning, growth or evolution.

We need to ask ourselves who originally said these things and what special authority or knowledge did they have? How did they know these things? How can anyone ever really substantiate these claims? Thousands of these religions have come and gone through out the centuries.

Iíve been told numerous times that "ÖYou just have to believe Öyou have to have faith". There are millions of things we can chose to believe in. There are people believing that extraterrestrials are running our governments. You can believe anything you want. That doesnít make it true.

American Indian activist John Trudell said "ÖYou either know, you think you know, or you donít know Öto believe is to be part of the lie Öbe LIE ve. George Carlin went on to say "ÖPlease Ökeep your superstition to yourselves."

Even I think at times that it would be so nice to have all the answers. I wouldnít have to struggle with the kind of complex internal debates about honest moral choices that most of us face daily. I accept that there are so many things that we may never really know or understand. I rather honestly not know something than pretend I know something I donít.

Blind faith leads to fanaticism and that can become really dangerous. Thatís what motivates some people to go and crash planes into buildings or pack cars full of explosives and then blow themselves up.

People who have mystical experiences often feel that they are experiencing the ultimate reality. They may be tapping into a heightened realm of existence. There are some who seem to be genuinely inspired who make a real contribution to the world. Many others have the delusion that they have met with god and that they are tapped into the ultimate truth. Someone whoís had a mystical experience may have tapped into something profound, but we also need to keep in mind that an individuals experience of divinity is processed through all their cultural filters, ignorance, biases, confusion, pain and other limitations.

Iím very curious and I like to understand whatís going on. I find the study of the history of the various religions to be fascinating. Itís obvious to anyone who examines our religions from a historical perspective that many of the people who give birth to some of our religions are just as ignorant and confused, if not more so, than the rest of us.

Those who have mystical experiences are often intensely charismatic. They have a tremendous passion and conviction to spread their message and so many people get caught up in their enthusiasm. People didnít understand or even recognize mental illness or other forms of pathology in the times that many of our religions were founded.

Many Muslims regard the Hadith, which is comprised of accounts of the words and deeds of the prophet Mohammad to be a sacred text. The Hadith tells how the prophet Mohammad took six year old Aisha as his bride when he was 49 years old. Mohammad then consummated the marriage with Aisha when she was 9 years old. How can a self proclaimed prophet of God do such a thing?

People of so many religions deny or repress their sexuality. Some take vows of celibacy and then molest children. Parts of us that are repressed usually become perverted in one way or another. People of one religion wont turn lights on or off during their holy days. Then you have women going around in public wearing tents so that all you can see is their eyes. Why do we do these things? People live according to these austerities thinking that theyíre pleasing god. But what kind of God could experience so much revulsion for his/her own creation?

Sometimes I look at these people who live by such religious austerities and I donít feel the presence of any god. If anything, I feel ignorance, stagnation, anger and repression. Many of these people have such a narrow intellectual range. It feels as if much of their brain just shuts down because theyíre not taught to or allowed to think beyond certain confines. I sometimes feel as if Iím having difficulty breathing when Iím in the midst of some of these repressive religious societies.

We search for meaning and direction in our lives. But many of us have spent so much of our lives learning to disconnect from our bodies and emotions and that shuts down much of our internal feedback system. Our internal feedback system communicates to us by making us aware of our basic needs. It also gives us a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. Shutting down this internal feedback system chokes off our connection to source. It can leave us with a tremendous void inside and thatís why we feel so empty.

Many people try to compensate by aligning themselves with some religion, philosophy or other system of values. We fill ourselves with scriptures, prayers and chants. These things have their place, but we create more problems when we try to use them as a substitute for something that we need to find in ourselves. Abstraction of a supposed God can then become another distraction that prohibits us from ever becoming truly present with ourselves and addressing the deeper needs and issues of our being.

We develop our internal guidance system by learning to work constructively with our internal processes. This is what we do as we learn to digest our feelings, issues and life experiences.

Many of us hold a lot of doubt, fear, uncertainty, hurt, pain and confusion. We may feel lost and alone and weíre not sure about what weíre doing or where weíre going in life. We may also experience guilt and shame over things weíve done in our lives. Part of being fully honest with ourselves involves allowing ourselves to fully experience what ever we really think and feel. Those feelings can be very unpleasant, but itís crucial that we learn to work constructive with our feelings and issues, otherwise they will continue to surface in one form or another and sabotage our lives. Weíll also continue to create more wars, destroy the environment and do all the other stupid things we do to mess up our planet.

Changing the way we think about things can give us new perspective. But faith or beliefs can also be a means of controlling or distancing from our emotions. Prayer and faith are not going to exempt us from the processing that is a normal part of our human development. Doubt, fear, insecurity or feelings that we have made a mess of our lives are often signals from some part of our self. Sometimes we just need to breathe as we immerse ourselves in the feelings. Those feelings will gradually soften and diffuse as we digest them. Our thought processes will become clearer and that will help us to resolve our internal conflicts.

Thereís so much out there and it can be confusing at times. Some people can serve as guides along the way. Ultimately itís up to each of us to find our own way.

Iím always exploring. Iíve trained with a traditional American Indian doctor (medicine man). I spend time with Indian Swamis, Buddhist Monks and who ever I find along the way that helps me to grow. I do ongoing training with a Chinese Master. Itís all the things Iíve done to heal that make the presence of the higher power real to me. I feel this presence flowing through me as I work with the breathing practices. This presence continues to grow much stronger as a result of the healing sessions and vision quests I go through. I make every effort to live the presence as I move through the world.

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