We generally think of religious freedom in terms of coercion by others, political or social imposition of certain religious or irreligious beliefs and practices on people who would choose to believe and practice differently. That’s not what I’m talking about here. My concern is with the internal freedom people feel to practice and believe as they are drawn to do and the freedom they offer to others who might believe differently. The two are linked. I wonder if people who are highly critical of others’ beliefs can themselves be deeply free to practice and believe in the ways that might work best for them.
We don’t invent our own beliefs and practices from scratch. We take them, to one degree or another, from existing traditions. But no one simply practices and believes according to some fixed tradition — we discover traditions, interpret them, give them meaning for ourselves. As much as we may try to adhere to a fixed tradition, we end up mixing in bits we have made up ourselves or have taken from other sources.
The process of elaborating and living our own beliefs and practices is fluid, but it is liable to get blocked up. Aware of it or not, we experience certain restrictions in our ability to take in an external beliefs; or, having taken in an external belief, we get stuck in it, closed off from the possibility of changing it or adding to it in ways that might suit us.
Internal religious freedom involves two contradictory motions:
- Freedom to believe deeply and completely, to accept received wisdom, an existing tradition, in all its profundity, opening ourselves to all its implications, allowing it seep into every corner of our being and let us see ourselves and the world anew.
- Freedom to honor and play with other beliefs and traditions; to hold our own beliefs without denigrating others’ beliefs, without closing ourselves to others’ beliefs; retaining curiosity about others’ beliefs and exploring with an open mind where those beliefs accord with our own and where they do not; maintaining a willingness to question our own beliefs and adapt them to what we learn and resonate with when we expose ourselves to the beliefs of others.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
Written by Sigfried Gold.