Spirituality vs. Religion

Religion is for people who fear hell, spirituality is for people who have been there. – Sioux Proverb

Alfredo Fernandez

Illustration: magdalene.co

HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago, I read online that the World Health Organization (WHO) was on the verge of adding religious fanaticism to its list of mental illnesses. I stand by this decision 100%, in fact, I was taken aback as I had no idea that the WHO was so up to speed with the issue, which while it seems obvious to me, still hasn’t caught the attention it deserves from governments.

For the past six years, I have been living in a country where religious fanaticism is something that I have to deal with on a daily basis. Seldom is the day when I’m not invited to a Christian-related cult, one of the many that are multiplying in Quito, or the day when cult members from the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t come knocking on my door. On the other hand, the Mormon church is also on the rise in the country, not to mention the firmly rooted Catholic Church with its countless devotees.

While all forms of fanaticism are unfortunate, religious fanaticism is even more so, as the religious fanatic has no problem in making their victim (who is normally anyone) feel stupid if you don’t follow them. They insist to death and their conversation (which is almost always a monologue) never strays from how urgent it is to convert right away.

I’m speaking from experience, as I have been a victim many a time of religious fanatics and, I can tell you in all honesty, that they don’t miss a single opportunity; they don’t care if you’re in a rush, if you’re getting on a bus, or if you’re waiting in a long line to pay the electricity bill… they just don’t care. Whatever it is they have to tell you is so important that’s it worth you going out of your way.

According to more than one expert on European spirituality, Religion’s days are numbered. It’s great they are saying this in Europe! If only they’d come to Latin America, or travel about Africa, they’d see how new churches full of members are springing up every day. Every one of them with their own personal interpretation of the Bible.

Generally-speaking, economic need plus a low educational level are the key ingredients for religious fanaticism to sprout. So, it’s not strange to see them wriggling about in the ground while they “expel demons” (according to them), they even faint, and all of this to receive the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, they even vomit.

I don’t need to tell you that they hate gays, not to mention abortion… Nobility obliges and the pastor rules, he decides who you can be friends with, what clothes you can wear and he reminds you particularly of the need to decimate, everything so that God doesn’t get angry.

I am worried about how many young, 20-something-year-olds are mixed up in these sects where spirituality has been replaced with religious fanaticism, where the space for inner reflection about the meaning of life, has become a silent acceptance of another human being’s decision, regardless of whether they are called pastor, priest, old person or imam.

I firmly believe that the path to solving personal problems has to pass by a close introspection where a person takes their ego out of the equation and finds themselves, redeemed, their true selves.

I don’t believe that there is something that can replace our own self-healing process. I do believe in spiritual books and guides that can help us to get in touch with ourselves, but I don’t believe in fraudsters who say that God sent them to save the world from its problems.

While religion is articulated via religious institutions; Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many other sects; Spirituality is secular and, therefore, on the margin of this kind of society.

One of the greatest issues I have with religion, when it comes to solving humans’ problems, is that religion is theistic, that’s to say, there is a God, creator of the universe, and dualities stem from this idea, such as: good or evil, inside or outside, better or worse, rich or poor, etc.

Spirituality has a pantheistic character, where everything that exists is God, just like God is everything that exists. As you can see, spirituality doesn’t create a duality, God is everything. Mysticism lies in the union between God and the universe.

Religion comes from outside, via rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices, cults, etc., and you almost always live another person’s experience.  However, spirituality is an inner experience, where you discover your own truth.

Unfortunately, though, when religion became institutionalized, it needed intermediaries between you and God; priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, elders, etc. While spirituality is free and, therefore, there is no need for any intermediaries. On the other hand, and this is what really concerns me, religion encourages sleeping believers who wait for someone else to come and redeem them. On the contrary, spirituality encourages experimenters who gain consciousness themselves first, and then wake others, using their own experience.

I hope that the WHO on the verge of adding religious fanaticism to its list of mental illnesses isn’t more of the fake news we see on social media every day. God forbid!

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.



10 thoughts on “Spirituality vs. Religion

  • This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read
    Uwe

    Reply
  • Religions are beliefs without being substantiated – when was a report last given from “heaven”, and by whom? For answers, contact Fox News!

    Reply
  • Brilliant perceptions about religion vs spirituality. Thank you Alfredo Fernandez !

    Reply
    • God is conscience I believe John Lennon of The Beatles was quoted as saying when asked.

      Reply
  • I am always amazed, although I shouldn’t be, at the dearth of understanding as to what is intelligent, progressive, Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Maybe because we don’t make so many headlines for being ridiculous, or because we are the minority in all 3. But I do appreciate that you have qualified most of your comments about religionists with “fanaticism.” The progressive Protestant churches in Cuba (especially the Presbyterian ones I am familiar with), IMHO, are to be appreciated and honored for their courage in the face of decades of terrible challenges, and for their hospitality and embracing of ALL human beings. Read: no discrimination of any kind. Lastly, each requires years of professional study in several areas of preparation.

    Reply
  • I find it incredulous that some who campaign so hard for personal liberties, openness, tolerance, and freedom of speech can flip-flop so dramatically and have problems with others religious choices.

    Reply
  • Absolutely fantastic. Thank you SO much Fernando, for encapsulating so vividly and succinctly what I have been feeling and saying for decades. Share, share, share, share, share!

    Reply
  • can you please give us the link where you read WHO was about to add religious fanaticism to the list of mental illnesses? thanks

    Reply

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