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  Home  > Helping Professionals  > VII. Religion and Spirituality

VII. Religion and Spirituality

Religious symbols shape a cultural ethos, defining the deepest values of a society and the persons in it. Religious systems focused on male images of divinity cannot help but legitimize patriarchy--the rule of the Fathers.

Patriarchal monotheistic religions, which we have seen to be a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of humankind emerging initially as Judaism, Islam, and later Christianity, defined those who did not worship their god with derogatory names such as gentiles, infidels, witches, or heathens. With the exception of Judaism, most of these religions have sought to impose their beliefs on everyone with holy wars, crusades, inquisitions, and burnings.

Until the time of Henry VIII, the clergy had more power than most of the secular leaders of the lands of Europe. The Roman Catholic Church still owns more real estate and controls more lives than any other organization on earth.

Despite the tyranny of authoritarian-oriented religions, alternatives to them somehow survived their rule into the present day. George Fox is one of the best-known founders of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Perhaps more than any other group they have kept alive a flame of honoring immanent worth and practicing consensus decision-making.

In the early part of this century, Pierre Teillard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man), a mystic and defrocked Roman Catholic priest, anticipated findings that would integrate science with religion and consciousness. His concept of the npesphere predates similar ideas from science, such as Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields and Bell's Theorem (see above), by many years.

A late nineteenth century movement known as the "New Thought" religions arose alongside traditional forms. Key figures included: Phineas Quimby, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Ernest Holmes, and Charles Fillmore. From them arose both the Unity Church and the Church of Religious Science as well as many other smaller groups.

Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science Church about the same time, and was influenced by the same thinkers

All were forerunners in defying the tenets of the nineteenth century materialistic view of the world, and today have led the way for more mainstream churches to develop wellness focuses. Many confuse them with New Age philosophy, but they preceded this by nearly a hundred years.

One of the first holistic medical centers in the US began in Hinsdale, Illinois. Founded by Granger Westberg, MD, the center used several churches for its facilities. Howard Clinebell at The Institute for Religion and Wholeness in Claremont, CA, trained pastoral counselors and presents national conferences on wellness for ministers and lay people.

Eastern religions have moved into the stream of Western culture. Eastern mystics and religious leaders had been introduced to the West before the latter half of the twentieth century (P. Yogananda, Alice Bailey, J. Krishnamurti), but it was not until the 60s that Eastern religions and practices became popular in the US. Gurus began filling the void that churches had left for many of the youth of the day. Realities posited by Eastern religions began to become integrated into mainstream culture with movies like "The Karate Kid" (1984) and books like Zen and the Art of _____ (you name it)___. The now popular practices of yoga, vegetarianism, and meditation drawn from Eastern spiritual disciplines, bring with them a clear holistic orientation. While far more holistic than traditional Western religions, most Eastern religions are still strongly patriarchal, often with a guru replacing a priest. However, many people have found them supportive in accessing their inner divinity and in transforming their reality to include transpersonal states and a global consciousness.

Residential centers teaching spiritual and holistic healing practices from the East are found throughout the US. One example is the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, in Lenox, Massachusetts, which operates a beautiful holistic residential facility with an impressive health and medical staff. Their early work with a powerful but low-key, non-dogmatic approach helped introduce Eastern ideas to many relatively mainstream people.

Swami Rama founded the Himalaya Foundation in Honesdale, PA, where Rudolph Ballantine, MD(Diet And Nutrition), directed a residential healing retreat program with a strong spiritual component.

Not a religion, but frequently claiming a spiritual nature, trance channeling has come to the forefront of mainstream awareness this decade, largely due to Shirley MacLaine's bestselling books. Channeling is a phenomenon in which a person receives messages from a source claiming to be from some other dimension or level of reality. The person is the medium or channel for the communication.

Channeling is not new. It permeates the history of humanity. Channels have been called at different times shamans, witches, witch doctors, healers, gurus, saints, and mystics. With the resurgence of channeling, people are being challenged to consider the nature of reality and our human potential to access universal truths. The material speaks consistently of our being One and of our needing to recognize and reunite with the Goddess/God/Source within.

Edgar Cayce, who died in 1944, is probably the most widely known American channel. He could "see" into the distant bodies of strangers seeking his diagnosis and advise them about their health. The Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) maintains a complete record of his work in Virginia Beach, VA, and an ARE medical clinic based on his teachings operates in Phoenix, Arizona.

Jane Roberts (The Seth Material), explored spiritual truths with the apparent help of a discorporate entity named Seth, one of the best known of these entities in the twentieth century. Jane began channeling in 1963. Having had only fleeting psychic experiences prior to this time, she was initially overwhelmed by the experience but continued the work until her death. Seth's basic teaching is that we create our reality by our beliefs and wishes, and that each of us is part of a larger personality who is also learning and evolving.

In 1965, Helen Schucman, a Columbia University psychology professor, began hearing a discorporate voice. She thought she was going insane and went to her department chairman. He ended up transcribing her sessions with the voice that were published a decade later as the three-volume A Course in Miracles. It has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The central theme is "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God." It presents the ego as an unreal, artificial, transient presence within the larger spiritual reality in which our true nature resides.

In the mid-seventies, Pat Rodegast (Emmanuel's Book), began channeling an entity named "Emmanuel." Ram Dass (Be Here Now and The Only Dance There Is), one of the leaders of the spiritual revival of the late sixties, became very supportive of Emmanuel's teachings and has helped spread Emmanuel's message. His teaching is that we are evolving, spiritual beings at one with the universe. We have within us the ability to access all that we need from our deeper selves and from the universe as "God/Goddess/All That Is."

While there are undeniably authentic and potent channels, it is important to remember that the message is only as good as the medium. A "dirty" channel gives cloudy information, at best. Again, the responsibility lies with each of us. If we aspire to channel, we must prepare to be as clear a channel as we can be. In seeking the advice of a channel, we must trust our intuition and remember that the final choices and outcomes are ours. It is important to be aware of the patriarchal mentality that has been the root of our separation from what we are attempting to reclaim.

It is the contemporary womanspirit movement that addresses most directly the core of the patriarchy. The works of those who have most directly influenced the authors and whose writing has been quoted at various places within this book, include Maria Gimbutas (The Language of the Goddess); Rianne Eisler (The Chalice and the Blade); Starhawk (Truth or Dare); Vicki Noble (Motherpeace); Hallie Inglehart (Womanspirit); Carol Christ (Laughter of Aphrodite); and Charlene Spretnak (The Politics of Women's Spirituality).

The most obvious differences among feminists working in a religious framework center on the question of allegiance to Biblical tradition. Some work within Biblical institutions to change them to reflect a feminist vision of female divinity (which need not exclude the co-existence of a male divinity). They believe that traditions can change. Others believe that women can never find legitimacy and power within the existing traditions. They base their belief on the effect of the core symbolism of Biblical tradition, which means that even those who do not believe in God or participate in "His" institutions, may not be free of the symbolism.

As Carol Christ writes in Laughter of Aphrodite, "Religious systems focused around exclusively male images of divinity create the impression that female power can never be wholly beneficent."

Other reasons for these women rejecting the god of patriarchal culture include his warlike nature and the reinforcement of a religious intolerance that legitimizes violence to people of other spiritual perspectives.

The contemporary Goddess and feminist Wiccan movement are branches of spiritual feminism critical of patriarchy. They celebrate women's (and men's) connection to nature and encourage women to own their "non-rational" powers, to give voice to women's visions and values long denied in patriarchy. Given the years of repression, it is not surprising that it has not been their priority to figure out how men fit in. However, some feminist groups (all of which do not exclude males) are beginning to give more attention to issues of males and male symbolism.

Using the Greek gods as cultural images of various male archetypes that represent different qualities in the human psyche, Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, in The Gods in Everyman traces the inner patterns--or archetypes--that shape men's personalities, careers, and relationships. (While the male deities exist in all of us, they tend to be more influential in a man's personality, as the goddesses are in a woman's.) From the authoritarian, power-seeking gods (Zeus, Poseidon) to the gods of creativity (Apollo, Hephaestus the craftsman) to the sensual Dionysus, Bolen shows how we can identify our ruling gods, decide which to cultivate and which to overcome.

Men, too, are taking an active role in addressing their woundedness, in searching for healing images, and developing powerful positive male qualities drawn from deep within themselves, rather than perpetuating the violent and emotionally crippling stereotypes that exist for males in our culture.

Matthew Fox (Original Blessing), a Dominican priest, challenged the patriarchal god of the Roman Catholic Church. He was silenced by the Vatican in 1988 for developing a Creation-Centered educational program at Holy Names College in Oakland, California, and later excommunicated. A colleague in that program, Brian Swimme, PhD, (The Universe Is a Green Dragon), a physicist, draws on the work of Thomas Berry, PhD, to put forth a theory (somewhat like an expanded version of the Gaia Hypothesis) that the entire universe is a living entity that is actively evolving.

On the other hand, various right wing and fundamentalist religious groups are fostering a backlash movement that also fills some of the void that has appeared as traditional values have been left awash. To these groups a rigid adherence to values of the past ("family values") is seen as the path to salvation. Often distinctly unloving attitudes or fear tactics are used to raise money and coerce people to act according to certain preachers' wishes. The very existence of such reactionary groups is evidence that a significant shift in the status quo is occurring.

Clearly, the same movement that is sweeping through society at large has been sweeping through "religion." Many people are acting independently of the organized churches of patriarchy and are reconsidering their relationship with spirit. People are re-claiming their right to access divinity within themselves and re-cognizing as they do this that they are part of something more than they ever imagined possible.

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