- At the Desert Retreat House -
A few days ago I came across an article by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in which he responds to a question from someone who is not “religious” but is thinking about affiliating with a more established religion. The rabbi (hailed as one of the best bridges between Eastern and Western wisdom) offered some exceptionally wise advice about what one might look for in choosing a religion.
As I see it, the rabbi’s sage advice provided one of the best articulations I have ever read about the “qualities” of all “authentic” religion. In fact, I believe that these qualities can be applied beyond established religious institutions to include any spiritual path. From my point of view, Rabbi Shapiro’s advice should not only be considered by someone who may be thinking of joining a religion, but may also provide helpful guidelines for people who are already “religious” or are already on a “spiritual path” - a lens for analyzing the truth of what any religion might profess.
In his advice about what to look for in “choosing a religion,” Rabbi Shapiro offered the following suggestions:
Choose a religion because its teachings point beyond themselves,
toward the Truth no religion can own.
Choose a religion that rejects the dualism of
chosen and not chosen, saved vs. damned, believer vs. infidel.
Chose a religion that rises above
tribe, caste, clan, race, ethnicity and nationalism.
Chose a religion that demonizes no one
because it honors and respects all life.
Choose a religion because it embraces rational thought
and scientific inquiry
without sacrificing poetry, imagination and contemplative practice.
Choose a religion that works to heal this world
rather than escaping to some other.
Chose a religion because its clergy empower you rather than themselves.
Choose a religion because it offers you practices that
open your heart, unclench your fists and uncloud your mind;
and because its fundamental aim is to
free you from ‘isms’ and ideologies rather than
stuff you into one.
I’ve spent the last few days reading and re-reading every single one of these helpful insights into what any religion and, in fact, any spiritual journey should be all about. They provide me with a compass to be sure that I am on the right path.
I also wonder what might happen if religious leaders and religious institutions would actually embrace these principles and take them to heart?