Culture, Religion and Sp[irituality
Culture, Religion and Spirituality
CULTURE, RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY:
CULTURE is the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a Society. There are many different definitions of Culture however we will limit it to the American one. The ethnic “melting pot” that makes up America has brought together a plethora of cultural practices and customs. This ethnicity produces lines of belief and behavior that are not homogenous to America but rather creates enclaves of special interest groups. Our Culture is further divided by absolute and relative values.
Relative values are those that are subject to situations, ethnicity, viewpoint and opinion. They are in a constant state of change from person to person. Relative values states “it is what I think it is or want it to be”. An absolute value is that the Earth was round and relative value was when everyone thought it was flat. This is an example of how absolute and relative values collide. Relativity has led to a Culture that has misplaced and corrupted its values. Relative value has caused the rise of denominationalism by people who differ in opinions, viewpoints, beliefs and general disagreements on what and how to believe and to practice that belief.
Absolute values are those that God established through natural laws that do not change with a society. Absolute values states “it is what it is”. These laws of nature are immutable and unchangeable. One cannot break or change these laws but will be broken by them when they are violated. The Laws of God are absolute. These laws apply to everyone and everything. If a man was falling in space he would have no more chance to override the law of gravity than would a stone.
Religion is a belief in a God, Object(s), Person, Phenomenon or whatever one chooses to believe is God which involves obedience, reverence, worship and adherence to a prescribed life style. There are ideologies and philosophies that co-mingle with Religion and are difficult to separate and not all are represented here.
SPIRITUALITY: The most important thing to all human kind is to establish a proper relationship with God. Neither Culture nor Religion can establish this relationship. The only connection we can make to God is with the Holy Spirit which resides in the Heart of all Christians. This is why spirituality is separate from any other elements of religious practice or cultural structure. Neither the highest culture nor most fervent religious practice will establish this relationship with God, only individual acceptance of the Holy Spirit into our hearts will do it. Seeking a spiritual relationship with God begins within a religious experience or environment such as Church attendance, Bible study, Prayer and association with Christians. Jesus commands us to “seek ye first the kingdom of God”.
John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him 24 God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.
The abode of God is in the Spiritual world not accessible from the world in which we live except through the “Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is the third entity of the Holy Trinity and is the connection we have to God. Flesh and Blood cannot bridge the gap between Earth and Heaven. Only the spiritual part of our being can do this. In order for us to make this trip, we must be endowed with the Holy Spirit who will take our soul on our trip to Heaven at the time of our physical departure from our earthly body.
There is an old gospel song (Lonesome Valley 1927) that has a stanza in it that says: “nobody else can go there for you, you got to go there by yourself”. A most awesome sense one can feel is the realization that we are solely responsible for our relationship with God. This relationship does not start when we die; it starts when we become a Christian and continues on through death. Being “born again” means we have started that journey. At death we simply change form from flesh and blood to spirit which is the only way we can cross that bridge into the hereafter.
It has been said that “going to Church does not make you a Christian any more than going to a garage will make you a car”. It sounds like the wisdom of Charlie Brown’s Snoopy but does make a point. How many people think that Church attendance or following some ritualistic practice or travelling to some holy place or placing themselves in some position of prayer or supplication or some other religious or cultural practice makes them a Christian? Consider what Jesus told us in Matthew 7:21-27.
Matthew 7:21 Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
This scripture teaches us a very “tough love” lesson. Not all who proclaim to be Christian will go to Heaven but only those who do the will of God. We hear and read the words of Jesus but do we do them?
This scripture is also chosen to explain the only way to be a Christian is to hear the words of Jesus and to do them. Jesus explains with a simple parable of a wise and foolish man. The wise man who built upon a rockis symbolic of those who hear the words of Jesus and does them. The foolish man is symbolic of those who hear the words of Jesus and does not do them. To apply this parable to our own lives, we must decide if we are the wise or foolish man.
The symbolism of building on a rock is to build a life with a solid foundation rooted in acceptance, obedience and reverence in the word of God while the Holy Spirit provides us the guidance and support we need. This house can stand against the storms of life.
The symbolism of building on sand is to build a life with a weak foundation rooted in adherence to a social, cultural or religious practice but without the spiritual relationship with God. This house cannot withstand the storms of life.
Religion vs. Spirituality:
Religion is a specific fundamental set of beliefs, practices and ritual observances containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. Religion is a gateway to a spiritual relationship with God but it is not to be considered a substitute for spirituality. A simple comparison of experiences can illustrate this difference.
When Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Commandments from God he was involved in a spiritual relationship with God. When he returned to the Israelite camp with the commandments of God etched in stone; he found them worshipping idols as they did in Egypt. That was religion. Most people seem to substitute a religious experience as a spiritual relationship with God. Going to church or engaging in some religious activity suffices for their spirituality.
Spirituality is a state of being that transcends the practice of religion and brings one into personal contact with God. We connect with God through the Holy Spirit which dwells within those who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and live by his teachings. Within our soul is where the connection is made. In other words we talk to God inwardly. He knows our needs because he lives within us.
Luke 17:20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
There are hundreds of living religions in the world. (There are reported to be about 2600 different Christian denominations around the world.) Some do not believe in a monotheistic God. Some believe in an unlimited number of Gods. All have differences that separate them. Since one cannot belong to all of these religions they must settle on one or none. Only Christianity will provide the promise of a life after death from the sacrifice of one man and by following a path of righteousness.
It would follow that the path to a spiritual relationship with God would start in a religious environment. However the rituals employed in a religious service can become a substitute for spirituality. Dependence on these rituals and practices can become a sacred idol themselves. The experience of “routine and ritual” can become the focal point of one’s religious experience.
Consider the order of the Jewish Pharisee in the days of Jesus. They were the keepers of the laws handed down by Moses with many oral traditions having been added. Jesus was condemned by these religious leaders and ultimately crucified by them. They had become corrupt and estranged from a true relationship with God. This is the major reason Jesus had to come to restore true worship of God and set man free from them.
Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Also consider the importance of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Religion. Worship of Mary has risen to the point that someone coined the phrase “Maryocracy”, The Queen of Heaven. Consider the fifth mystery repeated in the rosary (Prayer). This is a ritual that can be substituted in the minds of many for worship of God. It emphasizes Mary as the intercessor for our prayers to God even though we should pray directly to God. Jesus taught us how to pray and that made no mention of Mary.
We have no record of the young life of Jesus except a glimpse of him at 12 years old. Consider how he addressed her on three different occasions. When he was 12 years old he was left behind in the temple. When his Mother and Joseph found him he told her the following;
Luke 2:49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
In fact Jesus treated Mary as his earthly Mother and not as an iconic figure. She became the mother of 4 boys and some girls. The Bible mentions 4 brothers and sisters of Jesus as follows;
Mark 3:31 There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. 32 And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. 33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
In fact his family was offended by him when he was teaching in the synagogue. Even they had not yet realized who Jesus was. This is a long text but is necessary to clarify this comment;
Mark 6:1 And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him 2 And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing [him] were astonished, saying, From whence hath this [man] these things? and what wisdom [is] this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. 4 But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed [them]. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. 7 And he called [unto him] the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
And again note the way he addressed his Mother at a wedding feast in Cana when he was told by her that they had no wine. He addressed her as “woman” not Mother. It appears he had separated himself from his family and ready to start his ministry.
John 2:1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: 2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. 3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
Now consider the way the Catholic Church treats Mary today. She is lifted to nearly the same level as Jesus. While not admitting as much, their obvious reverence of her speaks for itself. The “Hail Mary” prayer asks Mary to intercede for forgiveness of the sins of the one praying. Jesus told his Disciples (and all of us) how to pray and it was addressed to “our Father” not “Mary”. Consider the “ritual” of the Catholic Rosary;
The Catholic Rosary:
1. Make the Sign of the Cross and say the "Apostles' Creed."
2. Say the "Our Father."
3. Say three "Hail Marys."
4. Say the "Glory be to the Father."
5. Announce the First Mystery; then say the "Our Father."
6. Say ten "Hail Marys," while meditating on the Mystery.
7. Say the "Glory be to the Father."
8. Announce the Second Mystery; then say the "Our Father."Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with Third, Fourth and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
Hail Mary Prayer:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The Apostles Creed;
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and lifeeverlasting. Amen.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen.
(Note; The last verse is omitted “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever, amen.) Perhaps a subtle redirection from God to Peter and Mary and the Pope.
Glory be to the Father;
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The Fifth Glorious Mystery;
The coronation of Mary:
As Mary enters heaven, the entire court of heaven greets with joy this masterpiece of God's creation.
1. Mary is crowned by her divine Son as Queen of heaven and earth.
2. More than we can ever know the Hearts of Jesus and Mary overflow with joy at this reunion.
3. Only in heaven will we know the great majesty of that coronation, and the joy it gave to the angels and saints.
4. Even the angels, who by nature are greater than humans, hail Mary as their Queen.
5. Mary shares so fully in the glory of Christ because she shared so fully in His suffering.
6. Only in heaven will we see how central is the role of Mary in the divine plan of redemption.
7. The angels and saints longed for the coming of her whose heel crushes the head of the serpent.
8. Mary pleads our cause as a most powerful Queen and a most merciful and loving Mother.
9. A great sign appeared in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
The above outline of the Catholic Rosary is to illustrate the role of Mary in the worship process. This is what is meant about substituting religious ritual for spirituality. It is a good example of conscience control in the religious world. The Catholic can place as much or more importance on the “ritual” as they do on a personal relationship with God. The sense is that performing the ritual is a religious duty and becomes an end in itself.
These comments are made about the Catholic ritual as being a possible diversion of dedication to the Church rather than a personal spiritual relationship with God. There are many deeply spiritual people in the Catholic Church and their works are legendary. On the whole those that genuinely love God and serve him are not diverted and affected by the religious ritual that leads them to that relationship. However; there are some that feel their observance of religious ritual is all that is needed to have this personal relationship. It is somewhat like getting your ticket punched for showing up.