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Spiritual Evolution

How Traditional Christianity is Holding Us Back

 

For many people, our spirituality is fundamental to who we are. Our spirituality can have profound effects on how we perceive ourselves and the world. Our spirituality can be a source of encouragement or anxiety. The foundation of our spirituality hinges on our beliefs in God. These beliefs are typically shaped by the religious tradition we are raised in.

Do you believe in a loving God?
Are there limits to God’s love?
Does God love one person more than another?
Can we make a mistake that is so egregious God will not love us?

This essay is meant for those who are not completely satisfied with their current spirituality. The concepts will be unsatisfactory for materialistic reductionists, theologians or people completely devoted to a religion. If you are confused or unsatisfied with how a religion has nurtured your spirituality, you may want to consider the ideas offered.

Science talks about evolution in nature, but what about humankind’s spiritual evolution? Where are we going and why? Our spiritual nature draws us towards God. There is something inside each of us that is aware of our evolutionary journey and seeks the path. God is summoning us, shining a light on the path. God’s love for you is the beacon. Accepting God’s limitless love is the first step on the journey. When you accept that God always has and always will love each and every one of us, no matter what, it will feel as if God has lifted your burdens from your shoulders. With the assurance of God’s love, loving your neighbor as yourself is attainable. Life’s challenges become more manageable.

When we think of evolution, we may imagine an endless series of changes leading to an unknown result. Humankind’s evolutionary journey has an endpoint, a goal. Jesus taught us that the goal is to achieve the image and likeness of God, to love each other as God loves us.

Spiritual evolution, like natural evolution, is both an individual and societal occurrence. We grow, change and adapt as individuals and then collectively. As in nature, how we interact affects society. As more people move towards image and likeness, societies improve. This in turn helps individuals move towards image and likeness.

The evolutionary journey requires effort. We must commit to the journey. We must recognize and take advantage of opportunities to love our neighbor. When we love each other, we strengthen the network that connects all of us to God. Spiritual nourishment will strengthen us for the journey. Spiritual nourishment is available in many forms; prayer, meditation, nature, music, art, gathering as a community, serving others etc. Growing closer to God reveals the path and makes it easier to love your neighbors. Our spirituality matures as we advance along the evolutionary path.

While we are on the journey, we are also living our lives. Life can distract or lead us astray. It is important to remain true to your spirit. Those who walk the evolutionary journey in falsehoods are on a treadmill, they are going nowhere. We advance each time we share God’s love. The world improves when we incorporate the spiritual lessons we learn into our everyday lives.

Our life’s mission is to recognize the evolutionary journey and live our lives so we advance humankind along the evolutionary path. Our mission is not singularly focused, it is not all about us. Life is not about learning a story or passing a test. Life is a very short opportunity to expand God’s love. Our mission, the reason we are alive, is to recognize God’s love and learn how to live in that love. We are moving towards a point where we will be able to love one another as God loves us. That is our evolutionary trajectory.

This essay is meant to be thought provoking. Give yourself permission to take a step back and get in touch with your spirit. Loosen the bonds of your religious upbringing. God has provided you with the ability to find the evolutionary path and determine how you can contribute to the journey. In some cases, you may find that your current beliefs do not align with the evolutionary path. Do your beliefs limit God’s love? Can the evolutionary journey be completed with a limited love?

A religion should teach us about the evolutionary journey and support us as we struggle with life’s challenges. A religion does not have to point out that we are human and evolving and it certainly does not have to chastise us for working through our struggles.

This essay is focused on Christianity but may be applicable to other religious traditions. The material will describe what the origins of a modern Christianity may be like and differentiate modern from traditional Christianity.

The term “traditional Christianity” is not meant to be derogatory. Traditional Christianity has helped millions of people advance on the evolutionary journey. Many traditional teachings support the evolutionary journey. However, some traditional teachings are holding us back.

The term “modern Christianity” is used to affirm that Jesus taught us about a loving God and provided insights to the evolutionary journey. The evolutionary journey and all it entails has been overlooked by traditional Christianity. “Modern” is used to recognize that the spiritual evolution of humankind requires a religion that releases its firm grip on the past, determines how to apply God’s love in the present and looks to the future. Modern Christianity will learn and evolve.

Some traditional Christian concepts are confusing, even to those who have practiced the religion for decades. As described in the “humility” section, such lofty subjects require a willingness to acknowledge our limited understanding and be open to debating what has been labeled the Truth. Aside from affirming the loving nature of God, modern Christianity will not claim to know what God wants, how God thinks or acts.

There are millions of people who consider themselves spiritual but not affiliated with a particular religion. This shift towards spiritual but not religious is indicative of the awakening to spiritual evolution. Traditional Christianity is unable to nourish the soul for the evolutionary journey. Many Americans identify as Christian but the demographics are shifting. According to a Pew Research Center Survey in 2021, “currently, about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. Self-identified Christians of all varieties (including Protestants, Catholics, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox Christians) make up 63% of the adult population. Christians now outnumber religious “nones” by a ratio of a little more than two-to-one. In 2007, when the Center began asking its current question about religious identity, Christians outnumbered “nones” by almost five-to-one (78% vs. 16%).”(1)  Religiously unaffiliated Christians may find the answers their spirit longs for in modern Christianity. This material is meant to pique the interest of those who may have lost their religious conviction or those doubting their religious leaders.

There is joy in knowing that humankind is on an evolutionary journey that meets God’s purposes. However, evolution can create tension. Forks in the road may create conflict. When our core beliefs are challenged, we become anxious. We pushback against the new narrative, put up defenses and affiliate with people who share our beliefs. Leaders become nervous and increase the demand for allegiance.

Can you sense the evolutionary process?

Humility

When attempting to hypothesize about God, is there any other starting point than with the utmost humility? The Bible says in Isiah 55: 8-9 “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Also, in Proverbs 11:2 “when pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom.”

A modern Christianity does not have all the answers. The people of God must learn together, from each other, guided by the spirit of God. We need each other to advance on the evolutionary path. We cannot walk it alone. We must lovingly challenge our assumptions, question our beliefs and learn as humankind.

Only God has all the answers. As Pope Francis says, “If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.”(2)

Some religious leaders may tell us we are sinning if we question dogma. They may cast dispersions on those who question their teachings. They may pull rank or refer to their theological credentials to snuff out the voice of the ordinary children of God.

Curiosity, doubt and questioning are not sins. God created us as an inquisitive people. Every person and each generation have an inalienable right to strive for a more comprehensive understanding of God. The journey to a more complete understanding is the evolutionary path. God is subtly nudging us along. Many great spiritual leaders have pointed us in the right direction and warned us about going astray. They have often been the harbinger of difficult changes; changes that will cause us to rethink who we are as individuals and societies.

Humility allows us to love broadly. Jesus demonstrated this by washing his disciple’s feet. History has shown that it can be difficult to love others if we place ourselves above them. A modern Christianity listens to and learns from everyone. We move forward with humility and strength of conviction built on God’s love.

If we follow the breadcrumbs of God’s love, we will remain on the correct path. If we let our vanity lead us, we will get lost. We must remain humble as we move forward with a modern Christianity.

Traditional Christianity

Traditional Christianity has a firm hold on the past. Doctrinal applications are viewed through a historical lens. Responses to modern challenges may be complicated by the requirement to apply ancient rules which have various interpretations. Some interpretations appear to benefit religious leaders, not God’s children. Application of such rules may result in teachings or policies that perpetuate man’s desires and not those of a loving God.

Traditional Christianity bristles and, in some cases, lashes out at those who question long held beliefs and traditions. Traditional Christianity is not above using guilt and eternal damnation as encouragement to accept beliefs and practice the faith. Traditional Christianity holds parents accountable for passing on the faith. Parents may be considered a failure if their children stray.

Cognitive dissonance is a hallmark of traditional Christianity. Some historic teachings are counter to a loving God, the Old Testament, for example. How many people did God kill in the Old Testament? Traditional Christianity is confused, it does not align with God’s love. Purveyors of traditional Christianity attempt to explain how a vengeful God is congruent with a loving God. Often times their apologetics rely on the Bible or accepted doctrine, neither of which resolve the contradiction. There are several versions of the Bible, can any be read literally? Some denominations pick and choose which verses are literal. Is this relativism?

Some religious traditions say that God’s love is beyond comprehension but then place limits on God’s love. Traditional Christianity diminishes the application of God’s love by filtering that love through teachings and practices which are tainted by man’s rules.

The traditional Christian story has a fixation on sin and salvation. Has this obsession with our broken human nature damaged the human psyche? Is it the instruction or the message that has caused so many to look for other answers?

In traditional Christianity, getting to heaven is like winning the lottery. You have to learn about and accept the traditional Christian story and then live your life well enough to pass the test. If you are lucky enough to be born into the traditional Christian faith, you have a lottery ticket and your odds of getting to heaven are greatly improved.

Traditional Christianity is focused on maintaining membership and converting those who are uninformed or misinformed. Traditional Christianity emphasizes the need to educate and save people. Spreading the good news does not require grabbing people by the arm and dragging them to the path. Patience and understanding are needed, not threats and admonitions. The intrinsic simplicity and logic of modern Christianity along with our loving acts will ignite the spirit in others.

Various Christian denominations have identified specific teachings which they consider to be fundamental. One of the evolutionary challenges is to identify teachings and beliefs that align with the path to God. Knowing the end point of the journey allows us to test teachings and beliefs by working backwards. If the teachings and beliefs will lead us off the path, they should be corrected or abandoned.

Traditional Christianity focuses on our mistakes, our sins. A fundamental tenet of traditional Christianity is that God’s son died so that our sins may be forgiven. The teaching continues that Jesus rose from the dead, conquering death. Does God really need the brutal sacrifice of his son to forgive sins? Is it possible that Jesus’ death and resurrection is not related to the forgiveness of sins? Is the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the forgiveness of sins manmade? Jesus would be resurrected regardless. Jesus’ crucifixion appears to be an ancient sacrificial ritual not a requirement for an omnipotent, loving God.

Faith statements remind believers that they sin regularly and need rituals to be saved for eternity. Traditional Christianity also teaches that those who reject God will spend eternity in various states of torture or will be annihilated. If God has a heart-to-heart life review with each of us when we die, is it conceivable that anyone who is no longer limited by their human nature would reject God? God understands our human nature better than any person can. Knowing the trials and tribulations we each experienced in our lives, how can a loving God do anything but heal and welcome us?

Traditional Christianity can be well meaning. If we acknowledge the teachings and lead a good life, we may join God in heaven. Helping people get to heaven is great. Things become a little dicey for those that do not know Jesus or maybe don’t fully accept the teachings of traditional Christianity. There is little room for error in traditional Christianity.

Religions can help people advance on their spiritual journey but they can also derail us by leading us down the wrong path. Does the path of your religion lead to a loving God or has it been designed for other purposes?

Now, take a step back and allow yourself to connect to God through your spirit. Set aside the teachings of your religion for a few minutes and ask yourself these questions:

Do the teachings of traditional Christianity align with a loving God?
Does your spirit align with a loving God?
Does your spirit align with traditional Christianity?
Do you believe God will abandon some children because they could not pass the test during an infinitesimal lifetime?
Why do you believe in Hell?
Do you believe God killed people?
Is your religion open to new interpretations and applications of God’s love?
Is your religion patriarchal?
Does your religion confuse you?

If you answered yes or could not answer any of these, please consider reading the remainder of this essay.

Modern Christianity

Why “Christianity?” We believe Jesus taught us how to love each other as God desires. Jesus is the image and likeness of God. He is the model of how we are to love each other. Our goal is to strive for that image and likeness. You cannot achieve image and likeness until you are able to love everyone unconditionally. This was the lesson Jesus came to teach; the essence of God.

Why “modern?” Our understanding changes as we learn new facts and have new experiences. Our knowledge, understanding, faith and beliefs in God do not have to remain stagnant. In fact, evolution requires that we learn and adapt to grow closer to God. If we do not learn and grow, we will not advance on the evolutionary journey. Generations build upon what their ancestors created. How have we built upon the religious or spiritual foundation? Are we making it better, gaining a deeper understanding? Growing closer to God?

History has shown that humankind can be led astray. We must step back, review our actions and question current leadership. In order to cleanse ourselves, we must affirm our inalienable right, as God’s children, to find God. Leaders are often focused on their personal gain not image and likeness.

God’s love is eternal and speaking to us all the time. The Bible says in 1 Kings 19: 11-12 “the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

Listen for God in that still, small voice. It does not take special skills; everyone has the capability. Quiet your mind, say some prayers, meditate or simply have a conversation with God. God may reply when you are not expecting it, in subtle ways. Do not pressure God for an immediate response. Do not mistake your desires for God’s voice. Be skeptical of those who claim to speak for God. God’s message may contradict what has been taught as fact. Be open but discerning.

The litmus test is image and likeness; unconditional love for every person.

How do we identify beliefs and traditions that deserve to be questioned? When a belief does not ring true with God’s love it is false. Are some of your beliefs counter to a loving God? For example, hell and heinous acts attributed to God in the Old Testament. Why are we holding onto a tradition that restricts God’s love and is opposed to our core being?

An omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent loving God is at the core of modern Christianity. If God is not the truest, purest form of love we can imagine, then what’s the point? We can rely on a loving God waiting for us at the end. A loving God is there for every one of us, not just people that were able to pass the test. We are the ones who force others to pass a test, not God.

If you spend any amount of time trying to comprehend infinity and then think about how infinitesimal a human lifespan is in comparison, why is it reasonable to think that what happens in that blink of an eye determines our fate for eternity? How can God possibly hold people accountable for what they do in a lifetime that is cosmically insignificant?

Would God really set us up like that? Would a loving God place children into a morass like our lives and hold us accountable? It is not logical. It’s not loving and, therefore, contradictory to God’s nature.

How can God not welcome ALL into heaven? Surely God has the capability to forgive any sin whether we are repentant or not. God can correct all of our errors. Losing one child is excruciating for parents. Do you honestly believe God would not want to be with all her children for eternity? How can a loving God, who knows that people cannot always control what they do, live with herself after some of her children are cast aside? If hell existed, it would break God’s heart. Hell is the antithesis of a loving God. Why does God need hell? Could you forsake, or worse, torture your child for eternity? Would a loving God deny us eternal love?

A modern Christianity questions why God would allow hell to exist, to what purpose? Some traditional Christian believers say hell exists as the ultimate incentive for good behavior. Universal salvation is too easy and undeserved. Traditional Christians use the metaphor of a loving father who disciplines his children. A loving father educates rather than punishes.

Our souls, our essence know the loving God. We are searching and yearning to be joined with the loving God. Our mistakes, our sins, create a barrier between us and God. Our mistakes and sins, increase our desires for earthly power and possessions while decreasing our spirituality. When we sin repeatedly, we wander further and further off the evolutionary path. This is harmful for each of us and those around us. We not only create a discontinuity within ourselves but the effect will travel like a wave, sweeping up others. These actions derail humankind and our efforts to move forward.

While Jesus may be the pinnacle, he is not the only teacher. Modern Christianity is open to other traditions. Gather God’s graces from all her children and use them to create the mosaic puzzle. Some people are deeply imbedded in their traditional faith. We must provide them time and space to find the evolutionary path in their own way. Even though it was within his power, Jesus did not force people to believe. He drew them in by explaining and demonstrating God’s love. He took people to the edge of the path and let them begin their own journey to God. Let’s follow Jesus’ example.

Modern Christianity does not pretend to know what God thinks, how God acts or speaks. Modern Christianity does not consider the Bible to be entirely inspired by God; it is not infallible but it does contain wisdom from Jesus. We are being challenged to understand the depth of God’s love. This will require that we apply current knowledge and move beyond the limited understanding of previous generations.

The misinterpretations inherent in traditional Christianity obscure our vision, God remains veiled. Leaders of traditional Christianity contribute to that obscurity. Modern Christianity works to remove the veil; listening, learning, loving. Modern Christianity believes in science, welcomes everyone and is neither hierarchical or patriarchal. Modern Christianity is a democracy not a dictatorship. The message of modern Christianity is logical and liberating.

Modern Christianity aims to create a society that focuses on evolution not retribution or salvation. The beliefs of modern Christianity will permeate society, they do not have to be forced. A democratic society dovetails with modern Christianity.

We should not have to bury or deny parts of our spirituality. Our spirituality should be congruent with our religion. The evolutionary process requires a recognition and reconciliation with our true spiritual nature.

What does a Modern Christianity look like to you? Will you help build it?

Logic and Science

Can we apply logic in our search for God? In such lofty matters, is using logic antithetical to humility? What is logic? One definition is “interrelation or sequence of facts or events when seen as inevitable or predictable.”(3)  Some may believe their religion is logical. Are the foundational beliefs based on facts? Can they be? A modern Christianity begins with a profound but simple assumption. The term assumption is used rather than fact because a “fact” implies thorough knowledge, acceptance by the community, an undeniable truth. As witnessed in our current times, some people claim an understanding or even a historical event as fact while others argue the opposite. Facts are treated as subjective.

The fundamental assumption of a modern Christianity is used as a building block for other beliefs. The fundamental assumption of a modern Christianity is the presence of a loving God that is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. God always has and always will exist. The goal is to use logic to build from the fundamental assumption. We check our hypothesis and results against the fundamental assumption, which is the true north for our belief system. Since we are not omniscient, we are bound to make errors in our logical journey. We must be willing to accept this inevitability, identify them as quickly as possible and take corrective action. The evolutionary path is our logical roadmap.

Logic requires that we break down the barriers between mysticism and reality. If an experience is “real,” eventually we should be able to understand it from a scientific perspective. Science will help us navigate the evolutionary journey. An example, improving our understanding of consciousness and how the brain functions. If people do hear whispers from God, how does that happen? Our brains process all of our thoughts. Can we determine how God communicates with us?

Some people believe that faith in God and science are diametrically opposed. A modern Christianity engages science along the journey. Science is a tool for increasing our understanding of mysteries and miracles. However, science also requires humility. Even a scientific “fact” may be better understood or disproven. Science is a tool; it can never replace the knowledge and wisdom that God possesses.

There are scientists who advocate for the coalescence of science and spirituality/religion/theology. Will there come a time when science and spirituality cannot stand on their own?

God wants us to continue searching and learning about him and ourselves. This is key to the evolutionary path. Traditional Christianity, by being stuck in the past, is holding us back. Science has evolved over the centuries, has theology? Christianity is alive, just like nature. Science adapts as it learns more about nature. Shouldn’t theology do the same? Science is corrected with new understanding. Can theology ever be corrected?

Religion

At its core, a religion is a group of people that share common beliefs in God who join together as a community. Religion also implies some hierarchical structure that administers and oversees the practice of the community. A modern Christianity requires an inclusive community. Leadership is measured by spirituality, not education or lineage. Leadership must be dispersed not concentrated. Building a modern Christianity will require listening to God, discernment, humility, participation and constant validation against the evolutionary path.

To achieve image and likeness, humankind has to rethink our religions. Is your religion open to new whispers from God? It seems that God is attempting to reveal herself to humankind, but religions have created a limited understanding of God. Religions have put God in a box, a box that suits their needs. These limitations have created deep seated biases which separate us. God’s children will not unite until they set aside their complicated religious dogma and replace it with the Golden Rule. A rule which has no biases.

Evolution requires casting aside our complicated, patriarchal, authoritarian attempts at theocracy in favor of a simple, all are welcome because all are children theology. Are we willing to set aside our religion so we can all create a better spirituality? Spreading God’s love is more important than preserving a religion’s dogma. Religions, like many people and institutions, are bending under the strain of evolution. The next generation of religions will focus on God’s children, not protecting the faith. Will religions find the courage to step back and reimagine their role or will evolution make them irrelevant?

God, not man, dictates the terms of her love, recognizing that everyone truly is a child of God. Prejudice, violence, economic inequality, climate change, abortion, politics, pandemics, hunger and inequitable health care are all opportunities for humankind. When we learn how to love each other through these challenges, we will be on the correct path.

People gravitate towards the faith community that most closely aligns with their spirituality. Because modern Christianity is the essence of our being, it will become self-sustaining. A modern Christianity measures success by growth of the community towards image and likeness.

Modern Christianity considers traditional stories and practices in light of current understanding, measured against image and likeness. Modern Christianity will grow and evolve as new knowledge is gained and new challenges arise. Modern Christianity is alive. Learning requires openness and a willingness to correct based on new knowledge and experiences. A modern Christianity builds on aspects of a faith tradition that exemplify image and likeness.

A modern Christianity uses the teachings of Jesus as the basis for belief. Love your neighbor as yourself. This teaching takes on new meaning if we view each other as children of the same God. Children brought to life by God for the purpose of increasing God’s love as we journey along the evolutionary path.

Religions are typically handed down from generation to generation. Many of us are raised in the religion of our parents. What type of religion do you wish for your great, great grandchildren? A modern Christianity will pass on a religion built on the understanding of God’s love and our interrelationship with each other. God’s love connects us. When we see each other as another child of God, we will see a love that unites.

A religion based on God’s love is not focused on salvation or preoccupied with sin and guilt. A modern Christianity focuses on God’s unfathomable love; loving each other and creation, learning and growing, evolving in God’s love. That is our mission, that is why we exist.

A religion with a solid foundation embraces science, logic and reason as mechanisms to learn more about God. A resilient religion does not have to rely on ancient texts, stories and mysteries.

If the traditional Christian God of the Old Testament existed, I would say “watch out, people in power, God needs to make a course correction and you are in her way.”

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About the Author Bill McNary

Former lifelong Catholic looking forward to a transformed Christianity, one focused on the evolutionary journey to the image and likeness of God, not damnation and the need for salvation. Our life’s purpose is to recognize the evolutionary journey and live our lives so we advance humankind along the evolutionary path. Life is a very short opportunity to expand God’s love. Author of Our Future, The Evolutionary Journey to the Image and Likeness of God.

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  1. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/
  2. A Big Heart Open to God: An interview with Pope Francis, Antonio Spadaro, S.J., September 30, 2013
  3. Merriam-Webster

 

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