The Spiritual Nomad

Learning to embrace life, the universe, and everything

There are still quite a few people out there who consider themselves “followers of Jesus”, in some sense. There's no coherent way to refer to them anymore, though.

In 2021, “Christian” can mean anything from “homophobic nazi and/or rapist” to “philanthropic social justice activist”, and it's not always obvious who is who. Just look at any of the countless high profile Christians who have been outed as utterly despicable human beings, despite leading lives that appeared to be outwardly good for humanity, on the whole. Or the rampant homophobia, racism, sexism, and anti-semitism among so many people who identify as Christian today.

Look at Theodore McCarrick, the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church to be exposed as a pervert in recent years. Or Jean Vanier, who many followers saw as virtually a living saint. Or Jerry Falwell Jr., or Ravi Zacharias. Those are just the ones I can remember hearing about in the last few months. If you really want to see some horrible things people pull off in the name of Jesus start at /r/PastorArrested and follow the links. Beware the endless rabbit hole.

It's not surprising that people are horrible. Everyone learns that eventually. It's definitely not surprising that an organization selecting for charismatic, enthusiastic public speakers as leaders is a literal cesspool of perverts. What is surprising, though, is that the rank and file stick around. The average church goers. “Pew sitters”.

It's probably fair to say that the average church goer doesn't know much about the exploits of their leaders. A lot of pastors are worshipped as demigods, their words held up as divine ordinance, authoritative and true. Suggestions of impropriety are brushed aside, and people who know too much to ignore are threatened to stay quiet.

But there's too much evidence, now. Turning a blind eye has turned into willfully enabling it to go on. Every single one of the movements led by these disgraced perverts still has thousands of followers, if not more. They are exempt from the normal standards of decency we expect from secular society and permitted to continue existing, despite their indifference to the egregious obscenity they enable.

How have we not learned that the way we do church is fundamentally broken. We literally lift up the most odious individuals in society to positions of leadership, then let them exploit and abuse their power for decades with no accountability, no consequence except for a tarnished legacy. How did this emerge from a movement started by a desert peasant who just wanted to help the poor?

And where does that leave us? People who are actually interested in that pursuit, in the wisdom of the Jesus stories? Back in the desert, I guess.

My spiritual journey has been a bumpy ride. I've met people who went up for an alter call in high school and never looked back. Sometimes I envy them. Most of the time I just don't believe them, which is not cool but also if your life is so demonstrably incongruous with your professed faith that's kind of on you, no? Either way, I rarely hear about people whose faith journeys are messy, complicated, and disjointed, like mine.

I suspect that has a lot more to do with the stigma of real talk in religious circles than an actual lack of spiritual turbulence in the universe. But the effect is the same; a dearth of stories and resources for people who are trying their damnedest to pursue the divine but are also too old and jaded to buy the Sunday school versions.

I don't have any religious commitments or community who will judge me for being honest, though. Thank God.

For most of my life I just ignored and shut down anything remotely like spiritual curiosity. The claims of religion are internally inconsistent and externally useless (if the behaviour of followers is any measure). If it's not true and it's not useful, then what's the point, I always asked myself?

I still don't know, but I realized that whenever I pay any attention at all to the nagging sense I have that there's more going on here than we know, it gets stronger. The more I lean into it the more curious I get, and also the less I understand it.

There are some days I feel frustrated that religion exists at all and can't understand why anyone would believe such a load of utter nonsense. I find the notion of a “higher power” or “unsolvable mystery” absurd and easily dismissible. But there are other days I feel a sincere conviction that there is something more. As in more than pure materialism, more than the stuff we can detect with our senses. There is something mysterious about this universe, and not in an unsolved math problem kind of way. It's fundamental, and inherent to existence itself.

It's at the end of those days that I feel like I've lost a battle. I've given in to the Great Mystery and admitted I'll never understand it. It's like I step outside my rational self, leaving behind everything I know that makes faith irrational and dangerous, and admit that I have it. I don't know what else to call this urge to pursue this infinite mystery of the universe despite knowing in my heart that I'll never live to see the end of it. So I call it faith.

I grew up as an outspoken critic of religion, but I've been curious about spirituality and God for a few years now. I've realized that I still have all the same criticisms I had about religion, I just know now that it doesn't have a monopoly on spirituality.

Religion is an attempt to codify and describe a certain community's experience of God. Religions include descriptions of what God is like, advice for how to follow, and rules for deciding who's doing it right and who isn't.

But this is all fundamentally wrong. God cannot be described. If you could describe God that would mean you've managed to conceive of something describable, which God isn't.

God is too vast and mysterious for us to understand. That's the whole point. “God” is just the word some people use to describe the Mystery we can't help but be aware of. People from every corner of the earth in every era talked about being plugged in to something greater, aware of something beyond themselves. Some cultures call it “The Divine”, some talk about “Source” or “Ground” or “The Universe”. And some people call it “God”, but I'm convinced it's all the same thing.

The notion that one group of people from a particular time and place could ever finally get God right is delusional.

Some people have a deep psychological need for things to make sense. Religion caters to those people. That's fine; there's nothing wrong with wanting things to make sense and seeking systems and guidelines to give yourself a sense of order and meaning where there is none. But that's all it is; an illusion.

Leaning in to God means accepting the utter incomprehensibleness of existence, surrendering the need for certainty and control and answers. Realizing that no matter how hard you try you will never understand what the point is, why the world is such shit, or why any of us exist at all in the first place. Pursuing spirituality anyway in light of this reality is faith.

The point of spirituality cannot be to find the answers. To finally know for sure who's good and who's bad, who we should accept and who we should condemn. There's nothing wrong with these deeply human needs. But that's what they are. Religion is a construct entirely fabricated by humans out of un-managed anxiety about the world. There's nothing divine about it. It's no wonder, then, why it ends up being a force for evil instead of good for so many people who encounter it.

Certainty and answers are not available to us. Seeking God in religion is inherently futile, because religion — with its definitions and dogma and gate keeping — is the antithesis of Divine Mystery. What we do have access to is a medium in which to experience life and love and loss. An invitation to embrace the utter futility of existence and continue to do it anyway. A light to illuminate our path as we do our best to try. That's God.

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