Religion and Healing: a True Paradox

Religion. Just the word itself brings a palpable, observable quake to most thinking persons’ systems. Even those who acknowledge the numinous quickly clarify, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” Who can blame them? We live in an extraordinary country, one founded on religious freedom; yet historically, religion in this country has been used to control, to justify discrimination, even its most heinous expressions, from the KKK to cults. Those of us raised in religious households are particularly prone to eschewing religion, it’s shoulds, it condemnations of particular “lifestyles” (love that euphemism for being non-straight, in any sense of the word), its adherence to recently conceived conventions such as the nuclear family as if those cultural quirks were the way everyone always lived.

Given the odious weight of religion, one might have a hard time imagining any good reason for Buddhism/Christianity/Judaism/Hinduism/Islam…. being founded in the first place, much less any real benefit to any of them (although Buddhism seems to be the most palatable to the spiritualnotreligious folks). Yet this blog series is going to explore just that, not only from my point of view but from the viewpoint  of some very intelligent people, not at all reflective of the religious stereotype, who benefit from theirs.

And where it all went wrong. The question I’m posing, and hoping you can help me, if not answer, at least articulate more clearly…Can religion be saved?

I know, I know….I’ve probably lost at least half of you by now. Religion as you’ve experienced it, as you may, given the present sociopolitical climate, still experience it, has caused you so much pain, so much shame, that it, for you, is the thing you need to heal from! Let’s call that what it is, religious trauma, and its most damaging impact that I’ve observed in my practice, is that it keeps us from freely exploring our spirituality, because, damn it, much as we’d like to tell ourselves otherwise, spirituality and religion are linked in much the same way as the bell and meat to Pavlov’s slobbering dog. It’s one thing to intellectually appreciate the beauty of life, and our interconnectedness, but real spirituality involves a rapturous energy that transports, and that begins to feel exactly like the religious fervor that wounded us with its irrational judgments and justifications.  Can real intelligence and energetic power coexist? While most of us would like to believe that that is possible in theory, we have a hard time imagining what that would actually look like.

And yet…when my clients heal their religious trauma, and are able to move fully into their spiritual selves, either via some understanding of a Sacred Spirit, aka God, or simply acknowledging that a natural sacredness permeates the world, they open a gateway to healing beyond reliance on me, and beyond material limitations or past stories. No, the healing continues…people still have to do their work. But with access to a greater sense of Spirit, that work goes faster, deeper, and the effect more complete.

Some of you may want to avoid this series altogether, and I don’t blame you. I’ve witnessed fifteen years, and more, of people in profound pain as a result of their brush with organized religion, and am not beyond being shocked even now at how twisted some of these beliefs, begun with the best of intentions, have become. What I would encourage you to do, if you feel so tempted, is to simply read with a measured grace, as none of this is intended to proselytize to you. All healing involves the willingness to be challenged, to push at the boundaries that circumscribe your life and maybe at least enlarge the circle a bit.

Next week: If spirituality is what feeds us, why did we come up with religion in the first place?