Thursday, March 12, 2015

Zealous or Jealous?

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness

There’s Only One Right Way to Live.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic. I received 12 years of Catholic education; I went to Mass nearly every Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation, and a few other occasions throughout the year for the first 24 years of my life; and I was an altar server for several years.

I am thankful for this because I could have been raised in complete religious/spiritual ignorance instead. I feel that a religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical base is important for every child to grow up with. Experience has taught me, however, that when something as central to life as religion is not taking us forward, we need to move on and try something different.

In the following story, I was not moving forward. I didn’t know that I could move forward. For that matter, I didn’t even know what “moving forward” meant. I was just doing what everyone else was: living life in what I perceived to be in conformance with all schooling, religion, and family had taught me was “right.” Also at this time, I was of the (unconscious) mind that religious was synonymous with spiritual, and the Church need not justify its actions because, hey, it was the Church—I need only follow…

When I was in my mid- to late teens, I wasn’t hardcore about following the Roman Catholic teaching as in going to Mass every day or going on retreats. But without recognizing it, I was influenced to believe that my religion was the be-all, end-all. Because of that, I lived in such a way that I would tell people what was wrong with them and that they shouldn’t be behaving in the ways they were.

This had only happened with a few people, but it was a few too many. Though I am now, to a greater or lesser extent, once again friends with these people, I had ruined friendships (sometimes life-long) for my mistaken belief that I’d known better than anyone else.

One of the worst things about this zealotry was that I’d been a complete hypocrite and didn’t even know it. Others would do something disagreeable, and I’d feel that it was my purpose in life to point out their “wrongness.” Yet I certainly had not been free of ever having done many of those things myself. My own behavior was proof of how useless the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do,” really is.

Probably the worst thing, was how sometimes my arrogance would just turn into a power trip, where it wouldn’t end up being about wanting these people to act in a “proper Christian way” but falling to the level of picking apart specific items in an individual’s personality, as if those things were ever any of my or my religion's business to begin with.

One thing I do not understand was my selection of the people I’d felt the need to attack. I can’t find a correlation between any of them. All I know is that something about my zealotry told me that these people must be “righted.”

Looking back, it's evident that I'd been brainwashed. (Heavily fear-based teaching does this, you know.) I would think about what I was going to tell a person over and over again to make sure there were no holes in my argument. Unfortunately, I was so one-track-minded, focusing solely on what I believed was right, that I didn’t recognize my argument had no holes because it was, in itself, one big hole.

One of the individuals to whom I’d given a hard time (to say the least) was a longtime friend. After two fits of zealotry and two years of avoiding each other, we slowly began talking again. A year or so after that, we were out on his porch chatting when I apologized to him for being a jerk a few years earlier. He told me not to worry about it. He also said something that really struck me because, by that point, I was able to see my old, big-headed ways in so many other people. He said:

I’m glad you changed. I didn’t really know what was going on at the time, but I knew it wasn’t you. I knew that it was your religion talking; it wasn’t really who you were. It seemed like something you didn’t want, but it had control of you and you didn’t know how to let go of it.

Well-spoken. I had identified with something, I let that identity shape my ego, and I let it control me.

Overall, as much as there was some kind of crazy zealotry, there was also a large degree of embarrassment. I didn’t like having in-depth religious conversations with other Catholics; I didn’t like going to work on Ash Wednesday with ashes on my forehead; I didn’t like telling others that I couldn’t go out with them on a Friday night because I had to attend a “Holy Day of Obligation” night Mass. While part of me wanted to condemn and “right” others, part of me found my religion to be a major source of shame.

Although this may sound bizarre, it’s really not. People do it all the time. (Perhaps even you, the one who is reading this right now, thinking: This could never be me.)

The reality was that I didn’t believe what I professed to believe. I tried to force it on others in hopes of selling it to myself; in hopes of avoiding notice that the finger I was pointing at others was actually curving back around at my own self.

Zealous or Jealous?

If a person wants to follow a given religion, I really don’t care. Religion doesn’t work for me, but if it works for the next guy—great.

What I do care about, because it has adverse effects on us all, is when religion is followed zealously: when religion is not used as a pathway to God (though it is often viewed as such) but as a weapon of self-righteousness.

…What’s the problem?

If a person can live their life in love, joy, compassion, generosity, gratitude, non-interference, and whatever other great and good quality that any and all of the big name spiritual figures have spoken of, why is there still a need for any specific middleman and/or belief structure between one’s self and the Eternal?

I mean, aren’t all of the qualities exhibited by the “Masters” just, say, of an “absolute” rather than a “sometimes” nature? And aren’t we, as average human beings, when we ardently strive to turn a “sometimes” quality into an “absolute,” indeed able to make it as such? Or at least pretty damn close, contingent upon the area of cultivation and various other conditions (e.g.: the natural physical and mental degradation of aging)?

Yet spiritually, morally, we so frequently pass up responsibility. We carry many of the same burdens with us straight through life, from childhood to death. We so frequently pass up putting in the necessary personal effort to fully remove ourselves from the negativity both given and received in daily life. It’s just the way it is, we justify. It’s just a character flaw, we defend. Surely, absolute spirituality is only for the ‘The Holy.’

But how do we know? Have we ever tried to reach that spiritual state ourselves? Or have we preferred to have someone else, who’d learned 72nd-hand from someone else, tell us about another “One-of-a-Kind” someone else who had lived way back in the day and, so it is said, had been endowed at birth will every quality already intact as an absolute?

My Spidey sense tells me that the latter is most often the case.

Because few of us endeavor into the personal, inner arena to see what really makes the self tick. We would rather fool ourselves into thinking that those of dissimilar belief are “wrong” as a means of placing the pressure of our own uncomfortable and uncertain faith on an outside source.

To my original question, then: I don’t see that there is a problem, at least not in the way the zealous would like to believe.

Instead, the problem lies in the fanatical need of the zealous for religion to be forced on others in order to affirm it for the self. In other words, the zealous are jealous.

Commonly, yes, jealousy arises when one is envious or desirous of that which is had by another. Less commonly used, however, is jealousy’s meaning as: The state of fear due to the influence of another.

I think the latter definition sounds more appropriate. For if the one in the aggressively defensive position has no fear of having their beliefs influenced, their faith shaken, their ways questioned, what need would there be for the aggressor—the zealot—to actively slander the alternate beliefs of another?

Note: This text is a modified version of a post originally published on 12/7/12 to former personal blog “Without a Story.”

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