Friday, October 7, 2011

Can Christians Become Enlightened?

As much as I love the Christian path there is a mindset common among followers of Jesus that really disappoints me. I'm finding this a little hard to put into words so please bear with me. 

What I have observed is that very few Christians appear to work on their spiritual health in any practical way. Often, they genuinely want to change but instead of doing work to help themselves they choose to put their faith in God. It's as if they expect God to flick a switch and make them better people. 

Some Christians believe that incorporating certain practices not only demonstrates a lack of faith but is potentially dangerous. Personal development resources (books, programs, counseling, etc.) are often viewed with suspicion if not fear. There may be the outright rejection of any spiritual teaching that is not found in the Bible or even hints at New Thought. (Ironically, sometimes the Bible says the same thing but frames it differently!) Self-help books, yoga, meditation, body work, cognitive therapy and the likes are often dismissed entirely as being too new-agey and therefore risky business.

Many Christians are afraid to claim their own (God-given) power. Afraid to even admit they have any. I happen to believe God created us in His image, with the divine spark, and capable of greatness. Our animalistic nature (what many would call our fallen nature) is a considerable handicap but I won't allow it to be the defining characteristic of my being. I am a child of God first; a creature of this world second. Can we overcome the flesh? Jesus did. He received a glorified body in its place. What if that is what the resurrection was all about? The overcoming. What if Jesus' death on the cross was a symbolic message rather than a substitute punishment? What if we paid as much attention to the resurrection as we do the crucifixion? 

What if God can only give us new glorified bodies when we have freely surrendered our earthly ones for crucifixion?

It's almost like Christianity promotes this fatalistic thinking that we cannot fix ourselves, that we are broken beyond repair, and our only hope is that God will restore us after we die. Although there is some truth in this we are allowing it to have too much power over us. Yes, as long as we remain in this world, in these (unglorified) bodies, we will be tempted and we will stumble. But is that evidence that we belong on the ground? No, even Jesus stumbled on his way to the cross.

Don't get me wrong, I wholly believe we need to trust in God, just not in the believe now so he can fix us later kind of way. God leads but we must listen and follow his directions. He gives us strength and wisdom but we must do the work. God empowers us, here and now, to be healed, to be transformed, to become (dare I say it) enlightened! To me this is the most beautiful message of any teaching in any religion. We can be born again and made anew. Of course we never do it alone. Aloneness is an illusion. Our spiritual nature is intimately connected with its source; it cannot be disconnected any more than an estuary can be disconnected from the ocean. All that craves God comes from God and is God. Deep calls out to deep.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is within and you know what? I believe him.

What do you think? Do Christians shirk spiritual work? Is the doctrine of original sin a self-limiting belief that prevents Christians from reaching their full potential?


Pippi said...

I think Western Christians certainly have that problem. They talk about faith but they have no spirituality, because they are afraid of it. So faith becomes just a mind over matter thing, instead of a genuine trust.

Sandra said...

I certainly saw this attitude growing up in fundy evangelicalism--our obligation to God is to act like a Christian (whatever that meant in our particular church--generally no dancing, drinking, smoking, card-playing, movies, revealing clothes .... --but our spiritual transformation was supposed to be something God did. Somehow, any spiritual practice was "works" but lifestyle changes were not.

I see it now on blogs and websites I run across while googling some topic or other--that walking a labyrinth is Pagan or using a rosary or memorizing prayers is "repetitious utterings" (or whatever that phrase is) and all bad, at best simply against the bible, at worst actually inviting evil into our souls.

I think that's just dumb. God already animated us from brainless, spiritless lumps of clay, why do we want to return to that like it is some holier state--to show more of His Grace? That's like when Paul talks about going about sinning so that God can demonstrably forgive more--and he condemns that pretty soundly. So why is any spiritual practice other than simply reading the bible (and certain approved study materials--which vary by church) somehow taking away God's ability to work in our lives? Why isn't it considered giving God something to work with? Why isn't it considered doing our part in meeting God--like not buying beer? Frankly, an hour of yoga does a whole lot more to make me available to hearing God than sanctimoniously bypassing the liquor aisle in the grocery store.

Brian said...

I think yes and yes.

At the same time, Fear has been a dominating force within the Church to "motivate" believers to stay away from practices others have found useful for a healthy spirit. There is a fundamental attitude that God is strong enough to send us to hell for doing yoga but far too weak to keep us from it if there's something inherently bad in its practice. (just picking yoga, could say meditation, or any number of things.)

Michelle said...

Pippi - Yes Pippi, I think you're right. Very well said.

Sandra - The world of Fundamentalism is so far removed from anything I've experienced that it never fails to shock me. I grew up in a home with an excess of drinking, smoking, card-playing, movies... and yet here you and I are, on very similar paths.

I've seen a few blogs like the ones you describe and it used to frustrate me but now it just makes me sad. (Ok, sometimes I still get frustrated.)

You said something that really struck me and made me think. What we do is more important than what we don't do. I used to think I couldn't come to Christ because I wasn't ready to "not do" certain things (like live with my boyfriend, stop drinking, etc.).

Brian - Good point!

jss said...

There are those who would say that our brightest light is hidden, and can therefore emerge from our darkest parts. I for one would not disagree. To ignore our 'fallen' self is to ignore one half of the whole.

Can Christians become enlightened? What exactly is our definition of enlightened? I suspect each of us has our own and I suspect that is the way it was meant to be.

Anonymous said...

Great post! This has been a great struggle for me and why I've always shrugged away from places of worship and God in general. My entire childhood, I wanted to be a "good", "God-fearing" girl. I don't even know where I came up with that desire as it wasn't pushed on me in home or my church. But I was very scared of God, if He existed and very certain that I wasn't worthy of Him and you all knew it. I've always been attracted to literature about all faiths and pagan lifestyles and intuitive healers.. and I thought that made me inherently bad. I thought I had to choose and I still struggle with that today.

Hm, your post is inspiring a post in me! Thanks! :)

Michelle said...

JSS - Whenever you write or comment I am reminded that I want to read "Map of the Soul" by Jung.

Cheryl - I so get that! I thought I had to choose to... and still struggle with that as well.

Anonymous said...

If thine light be dark, how dark is thine darkness?

I disagree with you.

I know how this works: So I will agree to disagree with you, now.

It often feels, looking back, as if God has "just flipped a switch." [Observe: I used the term feels, it is not a word I use much. If I can't think something, why say it? but it is why I disagree.]

Michelle said...

Tragedy - I haven't responded to your comment up until this point because I keep coming back to it and wonder what I'm missing. I don't understand what it is that you are disagreeing with.

Anonymous said...

Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. We cannot observe the spiritual health or the spiritual discipline of another person. Eastern spiritualism is not the only spiritual disciplines or practices on Earth. All beings with a spirit are inherently spiritual beings. All spiritual beings by their nature of having a spirit have spirituality. Their spirituality may take different forms and may never take an observable form. But just because it is unobservable does not mean that those beings are not exercising their spirituality. And it definitely does not mean they do not have spirituality.

And so I disagree with you.

I have never overcome the evil things I desire to do. As I study God - spend time learning of God, the evil things I once desired I no longer desire. It is not by some practice, discipline or exercise of mine.

So I cannot agree with you.

I cannot observe another's spiritual work. Therefore, I cannot judge it to be good or bad, dormant or active.

It makes no sense, if the things recorded in the Bible are true, to disregard what it has to say on this subject.

And if the Bible is not true, why believe what it says about Jesus Christ? I find no solid historical evidence for Jesus Christ outside of the Bible. If the Bible is not true, there is no evidence for Jesus Christ, in my opinion.

Phantasy Williams said...

To be perfectly honest, no. As much as I hate to be the one to say this, you can't be religious and be enlightened at the same time; enlightenment does not mesh with religion, nor do they co-exist. You see, the foundation in which enlightenment stands is the ability to think for yourself; meaning not to let anyone dictate how you live your life. Be the master of your own destiny, if you will. Furthermore, the very notion of enlightenment initially began with Guatama Saddhartha, better known as the foregoing enlightenment master, the Buddha, and in all technicality, his teachings are not religion; they are philosophy. Therefore, you cannot possibly be religious and claim to be enlightened because in all technicality, it doesn't work that way. When you are willing to seek your own truth, be your own salivation, and control your own destiny, is then that you will have your foot in the door of enlightenment. In all due respect, religion and enlightenment, as aforementioned, cannot possibly co-exist or correlate to one another; in conflicts in nature. Conclusively, no, Christians cannot be enlightened. Thank you. Namaste .