Much of the religious discourse that has occurred in the Voice of the People I would categorize as early stage religion. It is characterized by following certain laws, accepting certain biblical passages or believing a particular creed.
It satisfies our need to be right, to feel morally superior and to feel safe. Underlying this type of mindset is usually the fear of eternal damnation and our obsession with getting to heaven. When we are in early stage religion, we tend to carry an abundance of destructive guilt and pain that we tend to project upon others.
There is nothing wrong with early stage religion.
It is a necessary step in the process of spiritual development but it produces an ego-centered, privatized (Jesus and me) spirituality that helps us to feel good about ourselves, but is ultimately deceptive. It creates the false impression that we can actually can do something about our personal salvation; creating a religion of merit. I worship weekly; I pray and read my Bible daily; I obey the Ten Commandments and I accepted Jesus as my personal lord and savior. All of these are good things but can blind us to the reality of God's grace which is freely given without conditions.
Early stage religion is primarily a conceptual rather than a relational spirituality. This is why so much of our religious history is condemnation of those who do not accept our interpretation of the Bible or our beliefs, as secularists, heretics or sinners. No one has ever been condemned for their failure to care for the poor, reaching out to the marginalized, or advocating for non-violence. Early stage religion is dualistic in outlook. It views the world and people as good or bad, righteous or unrighteous, pure or impure.
Pope Francis has recently stated that we need to use religious language that speaks to the heart not the head.
He was expressing a spirituality that unites rather than divides. Later stage religion is more mystical than intellectual. It recognizes our connection to all people and things. Later stage religion experiences the divine indwelling and can identify with the pain of the global family.
It responds to the needs of the people we meet each day expressing compassion and forgiveness rather than righteousness and judgment.
In later stage religion we begin to die to our ego-centric selves and understand our communal nature, reflecting the divine energy that flows through all living creatures.
Later stage religion is not about getting to heaven because it understands that heaven is simply the experience of being connected. Later stage religion knows that there is no after life separate from this life.
Life is simply experienced as a different dimension. This was the experience of the prophets, Jesus, Paul and the mystics throughout history. This is also the great awakening for so many people approaching death.
They finally break free of their conceptual imprisonment and become conscious of a whole new aspect to reality.
Later stage religion understands there is no "here" and "there." All of reality is one.
Peter J. Carli
Spread Eagle, Wis.