Life After "God" (post-religion spirituality)

Updated: May 15, 2019



What follows is a five-part series I recently wrote, addressing some issues that come up as people shed religion and begin to cultivate a non-religious spirituality.

LIFE AFTER “GOD” PART ONE

The typical concept of God does more harm than good

JIM PALMER

In my own experience I have found that belief in the God of religion does more harm than good. You may ask, "Is there any other "God" other than the "God of religion"? Conceptually, people deconstruct their idea of "God" and reconstruct something that makes more sense to them, typically by jettisoning such ideas as a judging and condemning God and the belief in hell.

Most people are favorable towards the idea of a "God" who is accepting and loving, and has some sort of plan or purpose that is guiding a long human existence toward some meaningful culmination. However, as you know, no concept of God can be proven with any certainty, at least not the kind based on empirical evidence. So, there may be a God other than the God of religion conceptually, but we have now way of knowing if this is true factually, either way. I said that belief in the God of religion does more harm than good. This has been true in my own life and I have written five books, sharing how this has played out in my life from the beginning of my departure from religion.

The typical concept of "God" does more harm than good because the fundamental teachings that comprise the belief-system associated with this "God" are detrimental to central aspects of health, wholeness and well-being such as self-acceptance, self-trust, self-actualization and taking personal responsibility for one's life (to name a few). I have spiritual direction practice, helping people disentangle themselves from the harmful messages of religion and also created an online course that addresses this.

I have found that the following elements are almost always present in the lives of people who are happy and fulfilled:

1. A underlying sense of self-worth 2. Healthy and loving personal relationships 3. The actualization of one's nature, potential and individuality

None of those are contingent upon the typical notion of "God," and in fact in my opinion, actually undermines these things. People are used to deriving a sense of meaning, purpose, happiness and fulfillment from a source outside themselves such as "God," and we are very inept and generating these realities from the inside out (hence my Life After Religion online course). But these kills we must learn, practice and cultivate in our lives. It's not complicated but it's not easy because we have been programmed to over-analyze, over-theologize, and over-spiritualize life.

In my next post, I'm going to share some simple and natural ways of creating and living a meaningful and fulfilling life that don't require belief in "God" or elaborate theories of enlightenment.

LIFE AFTER “GOD” PART TWO

Religion's idea of heaven is problematic

JIM PALMER

Heaven – forget about it. Drop it, starting right now. Do you have empirical evidence or proof beyond doubt that there is a Heaven and that you will go there when you die? No, you don’t. As far as I know, no person has ever gone to Heaven and returned to verify its existence. We know there’s a moon because we can see it and people have gone to the moon and returned with evidence of its existence.

But not Heaven.

Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” As a way of escaping the harsh reality of their times, Marx said people went to church to hear that their suffering was worth it, even storing up for them an eternal reward, and how one day they would enter a paradise of perpetual happiness and the absence of all hardship. It was also a way that the ruling class kept the proletariat from getting any wise ideas like actually changing the circumstances that were at the root of their misery.

My point is not to argue against Heaven. I cannot verify its existence or non-existence. What I know for sure beyond any doubt is that you and I have life right now. That’s not in dispute. That’s what’s real. There are those who had life, died and no longer have it. But not you. If you are reading this, you still have it. Life. Your life. Now.

Religion’s idea of Heaven too often is a rationalization for not:

Fully embracing the life you have now.

Taking responsibility for your own happiness.

Accepting the unacceptable about your life or the world.

The rationalization goes something like this:

“My 80 years on earth is a blip compared to all eternity in Heaven. If I half-ass my way through this life, I still have my eternal existence that is perfect and where all my dreams and desires are served up on a silver platter through no effort of my own.”

This is why, contrary to popular Christian belief, many Atheists have happier lives than religious people. It’s because they are not holding-out for some better eternal future and instead, making the most of the time they have now. Jim Morrison was right, “No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.” I’m not sure Morrison even believed in God, but the point of his statement is that it is unforgiveable to squander the present because of some religious notion of the future.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth – God is not going to swoop down and solve your problems for you. Divine intervention is not the secret to a life of happiness. The gift you have already been given is the capability of consciously guiding your life in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling to you. You are responsible for your life.

“But Jim, what about the people who are not capable of this because of any number of mental disorders and psychological maladies? And what about the people who are victimized and oppressed, and are forced to do things under coercion that they wouldn’t otherwise do?”

Is that you? Is that your reality? Why do you want to use situations that are not indicative of your own as some argument against how you are not responsible for your life? If you are concerned about situations such as those mentioned, you are free to choose to offer your own help, support, expertise, intervention, compassion and love.

What are the problems in your life that YOU need to address or solve, even if it involves asking someone else for help or support?

What realities are you currently accepting in your life that do not promote your happiness and well-being, which YOU need to change?

What people have you given permission to influence your life in negative ways that YOU need to distance yourself from, remove, leave or significantly change the nature of the relationship?

What are the interests, desires, pursuits, needs, aspirations and dreams that YOU need to take direct actions to fulfill?

God is not going to do any of this for you. Either YOU are going to do it for yourself or you’re not – that’s all.

There’s this strange way that religion prevents a person from accepting reality. That’s why Marx said what he did. We would rather people lie and make us feel good, even temporarily, than look reality straight in the face, accept it, and deal with it.

LIFE AFTER “GOD” PART THREE

Is it okay for Jesus to be dead?

JIM PALMER

(For the purpose of this post I am accepting that there was an actual and historical Jesus of Nazareth who existed and that one can decipher in the four gospels of the New Testament a consistent and underlying theme to the life and message of Jesus, even if you do not believe in the supernatural-type occurrences that are ascribed to him.)

Can we let Jesus be dead? Do we need him to be alive in bodily form for him to matter? In my view, religion created a problem that doesn’t exist (namely that humans are inherently sinful and separated from God), and then put Jesus on the cross and rose him from the grave to fix it.

The underlying premise that human beings are born with a sinful condition is suspect. What exactly is this “sinful condition”? What evidence do we have that it exists? I am nearsighted. That is a condition I do have. I have proof. When I remove my contacts, everything beyond a few feet in front of me is one big blur. What indisputable evidence is there that we have a “sinful condition”? No other field such as biology, cognitive science, or anthropology collaborates this claim. Where did this sinful condition come from? Christianity asserts that there was a literal Adam and Eve whose act of disobedience against God resulted in a condition that is passed down to all humans through childbirth. There’s a lot going on in that narrative that doesn’t make sense that I will cover in another post.

In my view, there is no “sinful condition.” There is, however, a human condition, which is neither good nor bad. The human condition is both. We have the capacity to do good, loving, kind, compassionate and caring things. And we have the equal capacity to do harmful, hateful, destructive, cruel and heartless things. I have evidence that this is true. No human being is “bad” or “good” perpetually. Every human being does both bad things and good things. Even human beings who do reprehensible things also do virtuous things. How much of either a person does is influenced by a myriad of factors, including and perhaps most importantly their own choices.

The Christian religion teaches that Jesus had to die on the cross and rise from the dead in bodily form as a remedy for this “sinful condition.” Otherwise, people would be separated from God and banished to eternal Hell. The further explanation is that God is said to be perfectly holy, and therefore cannot be accepting, tolerant or otherwise joined with anything less than his perfection, which rules out human beings. Hence, the death and resurrection of Jesus as the only solution.

Even if human beings were afflicted with a “sinful condition,” it’s not clear exactly how Jesus’ death and resurrection would resolve it. I have a Master’s Degree in theology and learned quite an elaborate explanation with respect to this. The idea that Jesus somehow took onto himself the past, present and future sins of the human race as a result of our sinful condition, and imputed his own righteousness upon us so as to make us suitable to be joined with a perfect God… is quite a convoluted and incoherent contrivance, but that’s the subject of a future post.

But since there is no real, factual or verifiable “sinful condition,” it cannot be that Jesus died to resolve this problem. As stated previously, religion created a problem that doesn’t exist, and then put Jesus on the cross and rose him from the grave to fix it. But without the problem of the sinful condition, there’s no reason to insist that Jesus be alive in bodily form, and we can allow Jesus to be dead. In fact, Jesus told his disciples it was necessary for him to die to prevent them from making a religion out of him personally, as opposed to simply embracing the truth that he demonstrated and bore witness to. Unfortunately, the Christian religion snatched Jesus from the grave and made a religion out of him anyway.

Here is the plain and simple truth: Jesus did not die to remedy humankind’s “sinful condition” and separation from God. There is no sinful condition. There is no separation from God. The God of religion does not exist, neither does some place called Hell where sinners are banished to conscious eternal torment. What’s real is that Jesus was put to death because he was Public Enemy No. 1 to the religious and political establishments of his day. Jesus did not rise from the dead in bodily form. He is not one day coming back. There is no physical Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2,000 years ago is dead.

Until that fact sinks in you are never going to be able to fully embrace and live what’s real and true. Everything Jesus needed to say he said. Everything Jesus needed to do he did. There is nothing more for Jesus to say or do. Jesus is gone. He is not coming back. We can let Jesus be dead.

Once you allow Jesus to be dead, the religious edifice attached to him comes tumbling to the ground. That’s what you want because that Jesus-narrative and the religious edifice attached is construed with countless false notions and imaginary realities that are preventing you from living a truly healthy, whole and meaningful life.

You were born with the human condition. That means you have the proclivity to be an extraordinarily loving, wise, powerful, creative, courageous, intelligent, and profoundly beautiful person. You are born with the potential to be fully alive, fulfilled, and to consciously guide and direct your life according to a higher meaning and purpose that you create for yourself. Having the human condition also means you can be a hateful, destructive, ugly, shallow, manipulative, and selfish person who chooses to squander the gift of life you've been given. It's up to you.

Once you allow Jesus to be dead, the religious edifice attached to him comes tumbling to the ground. That’s what you want because that Jesus-narrative and the religious edifice attached is construed with countless false notions and imaginary realities that are preventing you from living a truly healthy, whole and meaningful life.

The Jesus of Nazareth from 2,000 years ago does not need to be alive in order for you to make these choices. He made his. You make yours.

(I cover all of these and related themes in detail in my most recent book, Inner Anarchy.)

LIFE AFTER “GOD” PART FOUR

The problem of "relationship with God"

JIM PALMER

Shedding religion is typically a volatile but liberating experience. Many of the religious beliefs and practices that people leave behind open new doors for personal growth, and a more authentic and meaningful spirituality. It can also leave a void. Some people express missing the closeness and intimacy they once felt with God.

For example, “relationship with God” was the centerpiece for many people involved in Christianity. The idea is based on the premise that God is person/human-like and relates to people directly and individually through the avenue of interpersonal relationship, which includes elements such as two-way communication, the expression of love and caring, and a mutually satisfying and intimate closeness. Over the years there has been many people who have shared with me the feelings of shame or failure they felt because they were not able to experience "relationship with God" in ways that were described or told they should.

People who shed religion often deconstruct their idea of “God” in a way that no longer makes “personal relationship with God” a reasonable proposition. However, it should be noted that even the Bible itself refers to God as spirit, and many people understand that the anthropomorphic descriptions of God in the scriptures are not meant to be taken literally.

This discussion begs the question of the veracity of the “personal relationship” experiences people purport to have with God. The options are:

1. God is a human/person-like being and these experiences are real. 2. God is not a human/person-like being and these experiences are imagined or fabricated. 3. God is not a human/person-like being but these experiences are real and valid to the person.

A further explanation of #3 is that people equate spiritual experiences of love, peace, serenity, comfort and belonging as an encounter with a human/person-like God. People are taught to seek these experiences through practices such as prayer, Bible study, other spiritual disciplines and church worship. In the context of these experiences, people often have feelings of peace, belonging, comfort and love. Regardless of whether these feelings are the result of a direct encounter and experience with a personal God, it is real to them. In other words, in those moments when people have these meaningful and profound inner experiences, they take them as God directly and personally relating to them.

The purpose of this post is not to judge whether a person’s God-experiences are real or not real. One cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, which means you can’t prove or disprove one’s experiences of God.

This post is for people who no longer believe in the notion of God as a person or human-like being, and feel a void because they were conditioned into having their core emotional needs being met within the framework of “personal relationship with God,” which they no longer believe exists.

An alternative is to open oneself to deeply meaningful and profound experiences of love, serenity, peace, comfort, connection and belonging along the everyday paths of life. These can be felt through everyday experiences if a person is present and open to it in any given moment. I enjoy photography and have found that the most ordinary scenes or subjects can produce a sense of joy, beauty, wonder, serenity and a deep sense of connection with other humans, nature, the universe and all living things.

I have found that the source of love, peace and wholeness is not a supernatural human-like religious God up in the sky who comes to me in the form of an interpersonal relationship. Instead, I have found that the most sacred, divine, deeply meaningful, and profound experiences I have, come to me as a natural part of my human experience. Jesus himself blurred the lines between what is “divine” and what is “human.” He said he was both all at once. Whatever “God” is or could be, it’s not a religious compartment or located in some being up in the sky or separate from my experiences as a human being.

The possibility of these experiences is always available, and the deciding factor has to do with my openness, and awareness of how life comes to me in the present moment. Having said that, we can get carried away with some elaborate explanation about how to “be present in the moment.” It's not that complicated. We can also falsely assume that life should be one love or serenity experience after another. That’s not real. Life is also sadness, sorrow, hardship and difficulty. They are also the human moments that shape and deepen us.

LIFE AFTER “GOD” PART FIVE

Do you have to answer life's existential questions

JIM PALMER

On the other side of religion, a person often feels a bit destabilized. You no longer believe in the "God" of religion that was at the center of a belief system that answered all the important existential questions of life. Now these questions are back on the table with no certain answers, which can feel scary. What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Where is all this heading? Is there a purpose to my being here? You have two options:

1. Don't build your life around these questions and answers.

Who says you need answers to these questions to live a deeply meaningful, fulfilling and whole life? Not all human beings fret or feel the need to answer these questions. The Western world is much more caught up in philosophizing and existentializing life than other peoples around the world. A way to explore this option is to experiment with finding meaning in the moment, what's right in front of you, and responding in grace as each situation of life requires.

2. Create your own meaning.

Maybe the point of being a human being is that we are free to create our own meaning for our lives, and supply our own answers to the existential questions. Perhaps there is a way of approaching your life that inspires and fulfills you. Maybe there is an overarching principle or mindset that infuses your life with meaning and fulfillment. For example, love. Lately I have been simplifying my approach to life with the idea that I'm not here to get love but to be and give love.


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