Before I get to today's post, I have an announcement. The third story in my archetype series, "Trickster", has been published in Static Movement, an online literary journal. You can read Trickster here. It's actually my favorite of the 5 stories written so far.
Saturday’s blog posting “Rituals” generated some private commentary, and led me to an interesting question: Is a religious expression invalid if it is insincere?
The immediate thought would be “yes”. Religion is so connected to morality that we find insincere expressions to be hypocritical. Superficial displays of piety can be sickening; they are lacking in humility, which is supposed to be one of the most basic religious virtues. However, if you think about the question, it is not so simple.
Most people do not have deep religious experiences; our day to day lives are very removed from that kind of thought. The most common type of religious experience is the “conversion”. Whether a person is converting from one religion to another, or from irreligion to religion, that is the most common starting point when one turns their attention from the mundane to the spiritual. But it is only a starting point.
When someone begins a spiritual journey, a couple of things tend to happen. First, there is a sense of clarity, an enthusiasm—a feeling that everything now “makes sense”. Second, there is a disavowal of the “old” life, when one was “lost”. It is not uncommon to hear conversion stories from drug users, prostitutes, and criminals, who talk how lost they were, but now they are “saved.” Certainly in Christian conversions, this is followed by the sense that this new clarity should be shared, and that they now must “save” others.
In the first book on his encounters with Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda gives us Don Juan’s explication of the four great enemies of the spiritual warrior. Each spiritual attainment becomes an enemy, starting with clarity. Clarity is the first great enemy. Why? Because once you attain it, you think you’ve attained it all. Instead of instilling humility in the face of the Ultimate, it makes one egotistical, because now they think they “know” the “mind” of God. But it is a normal part of the spiritual journey, and as long as one moves past the initial experience of clarity, it is not a problem. My guru, Ammaji, is frequently approached by devotees who relate wonderful spiritual experiences that have changed them, and they want her opinion of the experience. Ammaji almost always replies, “It is nothing, pay no attention to it.” She is purposely bursting their bubble so that they don’t get hung up on the experience. We use our feelings as a gauge of sincerity, but in reality, feelings have little to do with it. Devotion is not an emotion.
Ammaji once said that if you don’t feel devotion, you should act as if you have it, even if it’s insincere, because at some point, the insincerity will be replaced with sincerity. It is difficult, though, because we don’t like to pursue things that we don’t “feel” like doing. One could then say that the “insincere” person is at least making the effort, even though they don’t feel like it. But I think insincerity becomes distasteful when it’s accompanied by self-righteousness. The holier-than-thou person is going to be called out for their fakery in a way that the wavering aspirant who is trying and not quite making it is not. Often, the insecurity is within ourselves; we need validation from others that we are really “spiritual”. This is the root of zealous missionary activity; indeed, there are some Christian sects who are built entirely on that need for validation from others. They are the ones who show up on your doorstep with pamphlets. They must convince you because they haven’t convinced themselves on some level.
Which brings us to disillusionment. When the convert sees hypocrisy in their newfound congregation, when they get worn out and find that they aren’t so sure of themselves, they may give up temporarily, or altogether. But it would be a mistake to see disillusionment as the “bitter reality”—it’s only the bitter reality of how humans behave in organizations, and it's good to know the difference between that and one's own spiritual experience.
So, maybe we should cut those who seem insincere a break. We’re all insincere to a point, since we tend to have a spiritual goal of always feeling “happy”, and it takes awhile to realize that the emotion of happiness is not the goal. There really is no goal. But that realization doesn’t make things any easier.