Spirituality and religion (and morality): everlastingly sectarian

Also published on Wordpress.

Here I go. So contentious, even the mere mention of those words trigger the delicate snowflakes out of most people. Obviously, I should boost the triggering by defining what spiritual and religion are.

Spirituality has a myriad of definitions. Some see it as the synonym for religiosity. Others see it as a process of fathoming either the universe, the self or both. Others also see it as a guide to find meanings in one’s lives, intrinsic and acquired. Some even believe it is the state of being irreligious. Predictably, they are all personal and abstract. Different case with religion.

Yes, some people do have equally personal and abstract definitions for it. In multiple occasions, Reza Aslan described religion as a language to describe the ‘indescribable’ and the divine. I used to define religion as the literal bridge between the earthly and the spiritual; some people I know still believe that. But, it’s also possible to shape more clear-cut characterisation.

Religion can be understood as a set of ideas and rituals to achieve what the worshippers deem as ‘spirituality’. It can also be seen as a tool for social control, consciously and subconsciously coaxing every reachable feature of a society. Such characterisation is observable in real life. It’s very apparent how universally-accepted definitions are unrealistic. But, instead of reducing our sectarianism, we are increasing it.

Fanaticism. One of mankind’s greatest and most harmful sins. We are extremely in love with our own convictions. Anything that negate them even in the slightest will be dealt with staggeringly-fierce hostility. Seeing the title, you know what kind of fanaticism I’m referring to here. I’ll begin with the one that I used to be guilty of as well: thinking religiosity and spirituality are literally the same thing.

I had that mindset because I was so in love with restrictions. I believed not religiously restraining ourselves in every single aspect of life was a sign of serious moral decay. Of course, I was a hypocrite as my lifestyle was very self-indulging. I also willingly ignored what the other sides had to say.

We often reject the existence of the unedurably suffocating nature of strict religiosity. Even religiosity as a whole can appear so for many people. Like it or not, religiosity has harmed countless individuals, physically and emotionally; the injuries are difficult or even impossible to heal. It’s easy to hate on the so-called ‘infidels’ when you’re not the one being harmed.

We cannot simply dismiss those traumatised people as ‘haters who don’t want believers enjoy profound spirituality’. Our positive experiences are unique to us and not to be used to ‘evaluate’ fellow human beings. Before you accuse me of atheism (as if that was a bad thing in the first place), I’m not completely siding myself with non-believers.

In fact, I still consider myself religious. I also loathe the idea that true spirituality is inherently irreligious. Some unbelieving individuals miserably fail to realise how their positive experiences with irreligiosity are unique to them. I believe them when they say religions repress them. But, I can’t listen to them when they say believers love being repressed.

Some of us genuinely feel religiosity is liberating, not suppressing. Often times, we feel empty and go astray in the world. Religion can be an emotionally-benevolent counsellor, bestowing us the liberty from the worldly abyss and sense of lost. It has nothing to do with loving oppression which, believe it or not, we also loathe as ungodly immoral.

It also has nothing to do with our loathe of reason and science. Some of us still love both. We still use them to understand our earthly surroundings and to intellectually challenge ourselves. Their duties are different from the ones of our beliefs. For us, they cannot be fused together. But, they can make great allies that enrich our innermost lives.

The segments above show my attempt to articulate the contention of spirituality and religion, as objective as I possibly can. Just kidding! I’m neither a journalist nor an academic. I barely made efforts to filter my own biases. So, that being said, I should continue by recounting my personal experiences and pretend they are universally relatable. Let’s start with the ignorance and hypocrisy of my fellow believers.

‘You are not spiritually enlightened!’

‘You are an atheist!’

‘You are immoral!’

There you go. Three of the most common sentences my fellow believers have said to me. If you are open-minded enough, you would immediately notice the problematic nature.

Once again, they’re unable to acknowledge their experiences’ lack of universality. The annoyance become harmful when they start ‘evangelising’. When I said ‘evangelising’, I meant harassing and guilt tripping their victims who have no time for narrow-mindedness.

Also, they use the word ‘atheist’ as an insult. The notion that disbelieve is related to lacking enlightenment and morality is ill-founded. In fact, many atheists have proven themselves to be more enlightened and more moral than those self-righteous believers. Many great thinkers, scientists and artists of the contemporary world are atheists. I’ve never heard of atheists who kill in the name of atheism. Never.

I should be more detailed with this farcicality. I always disclose my Islamic identity and agnostic theism (yes, that’s a thing). Even then, I only do so when it’s relevant to the topic of conversations. I’m muted about my spiritual life. I did try to explain in full details. But, I ended up babbling incoherent assortment of words and feeling extremely naked for exhibiting an intimate aspect of my life. This shows how my spirituality is both inexpressible and private.

Sermons, inspirational stories, joint rituals. Inspiring to me, they are not. Why would they be so? As an individual, I’m free-spirited enough to not fall for superficiality, gooey sentimentality, cliches and guilt-tripping. Free-spirited enough to know what’s spiritually good by myself, without getting dictated by humans who have skin-deep judgment of the true me. Of course, that makes an outcast out of me.

Some people I know believe spirituality is all about bragging and getting easily awed. Don’t do either one and they will accuse you heresy or, in my case, atheism. They think they are shaming me for being a bad person. But, in reality, they are shaming me simply for being different. As always in the case of religious people, there’s hypocrisy.

Those believers are the same ones who condemn extremists for their intolerance of human differences, for their supposedly ‘heretical’ and ‘ungodly’ treatment of fellow human beings. Yet, they shame people like me for having the gut to call ourselves believers. What can I expect living in a country where religiosity is almost inborn?

I have never met openly anti-religious individuals offline. Only met them online. Because of that, my negative experiences with them are lesser in quantity. But, the annoyance and nastiness still disturb my psyche. Yes, like religious people, they can also be hypocrites and zealots.

The hypocrisy arises every time they label religiosity as irrational. Admittedly, there’s a truth in the accusation. But, it’s very hard to take them seriously when they themselves suffer from scientism. They believe science is an authority figure who has all of the absolute truths on its hands. That’s not what science is.

Science is a set of instruments and theories used to methodically study the observable and measurable universe through experimentation; if repeatable, its results may end up as new scientific theories. My definition is unabashedly schematic. But, that’s the best I can do. Besides, if you compare mine with the ones you find on google, you can tell I make out the nitty-gritty.

In principal, science does not manifest and believe in absolute truths. Science is indeed the best medium out there to grasp our material world. But, it is not perfect. The instruments and theories which shape its foundation are — and need to be — upgradeable. If the new ones are more orderly and more sound, why stick with the old ones? Perpetual self-enhancement. That what makes science beautiful.

In case you forgot, what is now pseudo-science wasn’t so long time ago. Geocentrism, astrology, numerology, phrenology, alchemy. At one point in human history, they were all regarded as scientifically valid. Science started as philosophy. But, thanks to all the refinement brought by dedicated and inquisitive scientists, they were all replaced by more solid disciplines. It’s a history rejected by those so-called ‘rational’ disbelievers.

For them, science is an entity whose essence is fixed from the very beginning and will remain so. Those individuals accuse believers of zealotry towards their own beliefs, not realising they are guilty of the same thing. They refuse to acknowledge the existence of critical-minded believers. Yes, we do exist. Believe it or not, some of us are not fanatics. Irrational and hypocritical. Add self-righteousness to the disbelievers and the set is complete!

I will dedicate the next segment on anti-religious atheists. Judging from my personal experiences (emphasise on the word ‘personal’), they are the non-religious individuals who are guilty of this sin the most.

Again, like believers, some of them love to claim higher moral standing. As stated before, I’ve never heard of atheists killing in the name of atheism. But, if you want to claim something that loaded, make sure that it is an actual reality.

Just give me one evidence that supports such assertion. No, the atrocities committed by believers is not it. The sins of your enemies do not warrant your supposed morality. How you treat your fellow human beings does. Oh and I can prove that immoral atheists exist. Just take a look at communist countries. You know, those officially atheistic countries.

They were good in discriminating, imprisoning and killing anyone not in line with government-approved ideals. As religiosity was not one of them, religious people were among the victims. At certain periods, they were treated like atheists in Muslim countries. Surely, you cannot deny this part of human history.

Yes, I know it’s history. I know we should move on instead. But, history isn’t meant to be forgotten; it’s meant to be a testimony of the true human nature, a testimony in which we can learn a lot from. If you’ve learned from it, you would not quantify a person’s morality from the identity he/she associates with. If you equate atheism with morality, you are on the same league with those religious zealots. No, I won’t stop making that comparison.

Even though I’ve interacted with many anti-religious pricks online, I’ve received only encountered one attack targeted personally to me. One person premised how people have used religions to justify their acts of inhumanity. Therefore, he concluded that every person who still observe a religion willingly tolerate or even partake in inhumanity itself. Yes, he actually said that.

That’s what we call Guilty By Association, which is an actual fallacy and that invalidates his argument. No, I’m not committing fallacy fallacy which refers to invalidating true conclusions based on false premises. In this person’s case, his true premise was followed by a false conclusion. But, this is not what agitates me the most.

He also carried out a nasty ad hominem against me. What he said seemed impersonal. But, he blurted that out while we were having a one-on-one conversation and he specifically said the word ‘you’, insinuated that I also tolerated and partook in religiously-motivated inhumanity. Well……..

People who actually know me will immediately scream ‘bullshit’. I’ve condemned so many forms of religious bigotry and violence. Often times, I’m very vulgar with my condemnation to the point of aggravating religious apologists, who declare non-existing perfection of their religions and religious communities.

Also, I’ve done many bad things in my life, motivated by nouns that end with ‘-phobia’. But, not once I harmed my fellow human beings in the name of Islam. Not even when I was a backward-minded believer! Once again, my religiosity is personal and it never dictated how I treated others. So, what he said about me was false. Yet, his words affect me to this day.

I don’t know why I’m still hurt. I am indeed insecure about myself. But, when it comes to my morality, I am the complete opposite. I also welcome the possibility of me being the immoral one; if you hate self-righteousness, it’s hypocritical to announce yourself as entirely and absolutely moral. Once I detect a hint of immorality in me, I should thrive to eliminate it. Maybe the exasperation I’m having right now is the result of the insult itself.

Well, not really. I’ve been called with many things in my life. Being a loser means abundance of verbal abuse is expected in one’s life. But, admittedly, a handful of them are extremely hurtful. I haven’t found the ‘hurt’ factor yet. But, I often assume the insulters aren’t just trolls. They are genuinely mean-spirited individuals who have deep-rooted desire to make me see myself as a subhuman they think I am.

But, in the end, my own religiosity and spirituality are and will always be my personal matters. No one, not even powerful religious organisations, have the right to intervene. My morality does affect others. But, as long as I’m willing to clean mine every time it gets dirty, I don’t think I have anything to worry about at the moment.