There is an old idiom, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” It derives from the times in which people drew water, heated it, put it in tubs to bathe, and then tossed it out when the bathing was done. It means to retain the old values, those handed down from millennia, as the forms of things are so rapidly changing. The “baby” is the eternal values, the “bathwater” is the forms that no longer work. I am passionate about this. Of course, the forms need to change. If they did not, there would be no growth, and no growth means the end, death. However, that does not mean also abandoning the values and truths that those forms contained. One of the areas in which the baby is in danger is religion.
Religion is under attack. Although no one has proposed to abolish the First Amendment, laws are being advanced which require people to pay for and participate in actions which are contrary to their beliefs, and the public viewpoint of those who express religious beliefs is that these people are racist, biased, ignorant, possibly violent, and utterly unfit to hold public office; those who are supported by religious people are also deemed less desirable for office, as they are seen as being influenced by religious positions. The worst examples of those who claim to be religious are publicized.
Religion has a bad name with people who see religion as harmful, the cause of societal ills, and who choose to be either agnostic/atheist, or “spiritual” but claim no form and often no company or group/congregation. Religion is also under attack by the state, which would like to see all people believe and act the same because it is easier to govern that way. The state insists that any kind of religion not interfere with what the state says is right to do. Both, I believe, are confused.
Religion consists of two aspects, form, and content. Form is the structures in the physical world which define the expression of the content. Form codifies how a given people perceive and how they are urged to act upon the underlying aspects they perceive as eternal. Forms are human and belong to the physical world. Forms are many and varied and sadly, their adherents often tend to quarrel about which one is better. Forms are human; they exist in time and space and are amenable to the effects of each.
Content is the core reality, the unembodied source that form encodes. It is that core which mystics, saints, seers, master shamans, prophets, and bodhisattvas understand and have borne witness to for eons. Content is universal and crosses all expressions. Content is not judgment, punishment, or condemnation. It is loving, in an eternal sense. Content belongs to the realm which has no boundaries of time or space. Content is like water or air – here on Earth, it needs a structure or form to contain it. Therefore, in the physical world, forms, or practices, have been made to hold it. Some forms have lasted longer than others. Some forms have also altered over time, even shifting shape from the basic content they were designed to hold. Of course, change is necessary – but so also is continuity.
Many people profess a form and are sometimes quite active in it and devoted to it and are good people. Yet, if all they have is form, and they do not understand or connect with content, what they have is essentially an empty vessel. It is no longer the whole. An empty vessel, an empty form, is simply that. It is not religion as a whole. Empty form is not connected with the core which gives it meaning, and thus can draw people into conflicts, judging and behavior oppressive of others.
Some people have an understanding only of content – those who are “spiritual” without having either a private or collective form or practice in which to contain their content. For these, over time, the content tends to dissipate, as will air or water not in containers. These folks may have touched the essence of being and been thereby enriched, but without a container, a form, a practice, the essence will not be enduring for them.
There are many forms. Try the names of all the world’s religions. Privately created and regularly practiced forms are still others. Positioning forms as subservient to the state, or trying to eradicate them, serves to weaken that which contains the content. The content is essential to our survival and the survival of our planet. Happily, more and more people are beginning to seek for and connect with eternal content to fill their forms, private or communal.
There is no need to ban or weaken religion. There is also no need to agitate for the forms of one religion over another, or for the prevalence of the one position of the state. There are win-win solutions if we only look for them. Each faith form is an expression, in a different language, of the same essential and ethereal content. Better to recognize and respect all the forms and focus ourselves on perceiving and understanding the universal content and striving to live our lives accordingly. That is progress, not the requirement of the state (or, in a theocracy, one form which is the state) for all to think and act the same.
It is time for people to come together in cooperation and respect, and to heal the Earth and ourselves with understanding and the creative energy from which we draw our being. It is counterproductive to expect others to express their understandings in the same way we do, or to have the state decide and regulate expression of the truth.