Believe What You Will
The “Ultimate Reality” is my favorite term for, among other things, the force which many refer to as “God.”
To me, these two words together are a statement that says: “Whatever God really is (or isn’t), that’s it. I accept reality for whatever it ultimately is.” The term also acknowledges the possibility that there is no God. Any truly unifying thought should have room for everyone.
There are many who feel that their beliefs about the Ultimate Reality are the correct ones. Some are curious about the beliefs of others, some utterly reject all opposing thought and its thinkers wholesale. But everyone has his or her own opinion about how reality truly functions.
Who is to say for certain that we don’t just become dust in the end with no purpose? Who is to say that we don’t participate in an eternal cycle of reincarnation? Who is to say that either heaven or hell exists?
Many of us believe. None of us knows. And once we find out, it’s pretty difficult to report back in a way that allows for any real consensus.
What do you believe about the Ultimate Reality? Who told you what to believe about it? A person? A book? A vision? An inner voice? This is not a test. It’s an inner survey. There is no wrong answer. Only knowledge.
Whatever it is you have ended up believing as your truth, what was it that convinced you it was true when you first heard it?
Where do your beliefs come from? Do you remember? What ideas have you just accepted because you grew up with them?
Ask yourself this question: What do I really think happens to us when we die?
This is not a 10-minute quiz. This is an inventory of what you believe on a deep, exploratory level. It takes some time.
Listen to what you’re saying when you talk to others and how you respond to them -- not just about what you believe regarding faith, but anything. Be radically curious about everything you say or feel or believe for a little while, and see what you learn.
Measure what you find out against one rule. Is it loving? How? In what ways am I living up to the life practice of being loving and ridding myself of judgment? In what ways am I not?
There is no religious belief that cautions against being compassionate and welcoming. There is no rule of enlightened society, spiritually minded or not, that encourages us to exclude others. So notice first the parts of your belief and behavior that do. Subject them to inquisition. They will not hold up. Thank them for their lessons, and let them go.
After cleaning house, believe what you will. Decide for yourself how, or if, a loving God exists and what It encourages us to do. Even if agnostic or atheist, recognize the social benefit of treating your neighbor with respect or empowering those who have lost their own. Don’t judge people for what they do. Just love them right where they are. Jesus didn’t rebuke and scold sinners, he simply had dinner with them. Emulate no Christian who isn’t willing to do the same.
Whatever is true is true, with or without your belief. All any of us can do is our best with the fragments of distorted information we have. It’s impossible to see correctly through the wrong end of the binoculars. Be OK with that. Remain humble. Take a deep breath, and allow others the freedom to exist just as they are.
You’ll find we all pretty much believe the same things in the end. Just in different ways.
Limit your definition of God to an experience of mystery, wonder and gratitude. Refuse to define It any further. Once you concretize God into a fixed and immovable form, you have made for yourself an idol.
Fix your attention on what the ancient stories really teach us. Not just Christianity’s, of course, but those of every faith, belief, philosophy and doctrine. You may be surprised to find they have certain categories where they all agree.
This isn’t an encouragement to disbelieve in God or change your faith. It’s an empowerment to comfort yourself with unknowing. Be OK with others who think differently than you do. Assume we were not created to think the same on purpose. Perhaps that secret purpose is the very cheese in this labyrinth.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is spiritual coordinator at First Parish Church of Fitchburg and director of the Tribe Mentorship Project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinking world.blogspot.com .