Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Religious Dysfunction

One problem with a large segment of modern Christianity is that it is a dysfunctional system.  It tells you to believe in Jesus as your savior, and that will release your guilt for your sinful nature. It uses guilt to relieve guilt, which doesn't work.

Jesus suffered on the cross and died for you, so you should be grateful and accept him. God is angry at people for being sinners, so he required a blood sacrifice of his only son, so you should be grateful to Him for that. In this system God and Jesus are saying "Look what I've done for you. You better appreciate it, or there will be Hell to pay."

This God demands your belief, and that you follow his rules. He expects you to please him. You are a hopeless sinner, but by his grace, you are lifted up. Even though you don't deserve his love, he will give it to you anyway because you accept Jesus as your savior.

Even though the message of Jesus was love, this version of Christianity is based on fear. If I do this...then this will happen. Sinners and non-believers are punished.

There are other ways to be a follower of Jesus. None of this is needed to have a relationship with God, however you perceive God to be. None of this is needed to have a relationship with Jesus if that's what you want. The way to release guilt is to learn how to forgive yourself and others, and to become the person you aspire to be now.

Spirituality is not about belief in a distant God who requires you to please him. It is about asking the questions: "Who am I? What do I want? What do I need most to learn right now?" It's about looking at yourself, making no excuses, and being willing to be transformed. Simply go into prayer and say: "Reveal yourself to me?"  Keep asking. Be willing and open. Make prayer, meditation, or contemplation a daily habit. Focus on finding answers. They will come to you.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Persecution, Heretics, and Respect

A belief system is a way of seeing the world. There are many belief systems, and many ways of seeing the world. The people in each system tend to think their way of seeing the world is the right way for everyone. This is true in both religion and politics.

Most Christians will state their core belief as: "Jesus died to save us from our sins." Yet, there are many followers of Christ who do not believe this. These outliers have been referred to as heretics or as cults. Throughout most of Christian history, heretics were killed, or otherwise silenced. When Constantine sought to solidify his rule of the Roman Empire in 325, he used Christianity as a tool. The Council at Nicea was to create a consistent belief system. Books for the New Testament that aligned with the belief system that Constantine and most bishops wanted were put into the Bible. Those that did not align were destroyed. Fortunately some were hidden. The Christian Bible was created out of a political need to secure power. To be clear, it's not that the Bible was bad, it was limited to those teachings the majority of bishops and politicians wanted people to believe.

There were other ways of following Jesus, but people were not free to practice those. By 380 Christianity was declared the religion of the empire. From that point on heretics could be excommunicated, imprisoned, or killed. The first heretic was executed in 386. The religion whose members had been persecuted then became the persecutor. For the next 1600 years millions were killed in the name of Jesus.

Once the Reformation took place, Protestant authorities followed suit burning and hanging accused witches and conducting pogroms against Jews, who were considered heretics by Marin Luther and others.

Today we see Islamic countries making blasphemy against the law and punishable by death. People who have opposed the prophet Mohammed have been condemned to death or attacked and killed. Example: Salmon Rushdie (condemned)  and Charlie Hebdo (Attacked and killed). Fortunately, we seldom see Christians killing others because of opposing beliefs, with the exception of skinheads and the KKK. However, it has only been twenty years since it stopped. (Serbian Christians killed and raped their Muslim neighbors in Kosovo in the 1990's.)

Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want. When your beliefs turn into an attack on others, whether that attack is in words, physical violence, or using the law to exclude people from their rights as citizens, it is still an attack. The Bible, the Koran, and the Torah were not meant to be weapons to destroy non-believers. They were to guide people into a closer relationship with their Higher Power. They are pathways to God. Follow your own path, and let others follow theirs. You have no idea that your path would be better for another person. You certainly may invite them if they are in need.

It's time we moved beyond spiritual and religious arrogance and focused on living as our best selves and challenging ourselves to grow spiritually. We don't need to respect each others' beliefs, but we do need to respect each other. I may think  your beliefs are insane, but I can still treat you with great respect. I can choose to see you, and everyone, as created in the image of God. There are no heretics. There are people, and we disagree. As long as disagreement doesn't have you harming others, it's okay.

William Frank Diedrich
Author of Human Adulthood: A Spiritual Romance

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Belief, Questions, and Lectio Divina

Spirituality is not about having a belief system that gives you all the answers. It's about questions and experimentation. Rather than accepting a belief you read or that someone has given you, test it. Contemplate it. Pray about it. Meditate on it. See what comes to you.

The New Testament says to seek first the Kingdom and that everything you need will be given to you. Buddhist teachings say to practice non-attachment. Neither of these are beliefs. The idea is not to believe it, but to test it. What would your life be like if God, or your Higher Power, or Truth was  your number one priority? What would it be like to let go and not be attached to any specific outcomes?

What if your only response to life was "Thank you?"  What if you trusted in God, or the Universe, or your Higher Self--or however you name it, and offered gratitude for everything? What would that be like?  I can't give you the answer, because that's what I'm doing.

For example, yesterday I lost a speaking engagement. I was disappointed at first, but then I said "Thank you."  The first benefit I recognize is I'm not dwelling on it, or mad about it, or wishing it was different. I'm trusting that all is well.  See, I feel better already.

This is not a belief. It's an experiment. I've had indicators in the past. In my business, I created poor results when I played salesman and pushed for more  business. On the flip side, often business came, and it had little to do with my efforts. Big projects arrived, unexpectedly. Most often this happened when I was not fearful, but felt confident that opportunities would come. It happened when a phone call came or an opportunity made itself known--I had to act on it.

Beliefs don't bring you enlightenment, or awakening, or salvation, or wisdom. Belief systems and religions are supposed to be maps--something that helps point you home. Ministers, teachers and priests are midwives who help others give birth to the truth within themselves. Humans make the mistake of worshipping scripture and teachers, making them special, exclusive, or the only way. The map is not the territory. The midwife does not give birth for you.

Anyone can quote a scripture. The real value in it is not that you prove anything, but in what that scripture or teaching says to you. In the 12th century a monk defined a way of reading scripture called Lectio Divina, which means "Divine Reading."  Pick a short reading and:
1. Read it slowly.
2. Reflect on it.
3. Respond by leaving your thinking aside and letting your heart speak to God.
4. Rest--let go of your own plans and agenda and listen at the deepest level of your being to the still small voice.

No person or belief system can give you wisdom, or enlightenment, or spiritual knowing. These are the treasures that are already within you. But don't believe me. Look for yourself.

by William Frank Diedrich
Author of Human Adulthood: A Spiritual Romance

Monday, June 15, 2015

Punishment, Forgiveness, and Salvation

The belief that there is a Heaven and a Hell and that we are judged, and then sent to Heaven if we are good and Hell if we are bad is a childish belief. We are not punished for our "sins," but by them. There are natural consequences. This does not mean we don't need rules, courts, police, and jails. People need to be held accountable, and there needs to be a measure of social justice for those who are hurt by others.

Psychological studies show that punishment is not an effective way to shape positive behavior. For example, the USA leads the world in the number of people incarcerated, and most prisoners, when they are freed, soon return to prison. The idea that "God" would threaten us with eternal punishment when He/She knows darn well it doesn't work, makes no sense.

We ultimately punish ourselves with guilt. The lesson of great teachers like Jesus, is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a grown-up thing. It is the ability to let go as if the hurt never happened. Forgiveness is a process leading to a decision. It may begin with anger and hurt, feeling victimized, but it ends with letting go. It may begin with defeat, but it ends with victory.

Our need to see others punished says something about our own inability to forgive ourselves. Heaven and Hell are choices we make. Life is Hell--or it's Heaven. Forgiveness is Heaven. Remembering Dante's allegory, in order to get to Heaven we need to walk through Hell. Rigorous self-reflection is Hell. It is the hero's journey where we slay our personal dragons and find the treasure (Heaven) within. No one takes this journey for us, but many have taken it before us.

Jesus didn't die for your sins. He died to teach you about forgiveness--that people can do the absolute worst to you, and yet you forgive--you see that it means nothing. There is no original sin, only original blessing which we are in the process of reclaiming by waking up. Allegorically speaking, God didn't kick Adam and Eve out of the garden. They fell asleep and dreamed they could make it on their own.
Jesus woke up, and saw that it was just a dream.

No one will save you, but you can look to the example of those who have saved themselves. You can boldly step forward in your own journey, surrendering to your Higher Power, knowing that you will receive what you need to complete your journey. Salvation is remembering who you are.

William Frank Diedrich,
Author of Human Adulthood: A Spiritual Romance

Saturday, June 13, 2015


We are all caterpillars, and Jesus was a butterfly. He tried to teach us how to fly,  but the people of his time weren’t ready, including his disciples.

So, caterpillars wrote the New Testament. They copied down the Butterfly’s words, which are helpful, but much of the New Testament contains the words of caterpillars (like Paul, and the church leaders who selected which writings would be included and which would be burned) who turned His wise words into a belief system—one that keeps us on the ground and under control. The caterpillars teach that heaven is a place where you go someday if you are “good” and if you believe the right things. 

They created a religion of fear. The Butterfly taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, within us, at hand. Wings (freedom and heaven) are not something you get some day when you die. They are available now, but first, you have to stop thinking like a caterpillar.

Note: If you are a Christian, I am not saying to stop being one. I am saying--challenge your beliefs. Read what Jesus actually said. When you read your Bible, ask for guidance for what the words mean to you--rather than accepting what all the caterpillars have said.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Beliefs Limit You

Beliefs limit you. 

What do you believe about yourself? Most of us carry a story that says “I’m not good enough.”
The story is a belief and an identity that kicks in, in certain situations, and for many people, in every situation.
For example: If you are looking for a relationship and you have the belief that you are not good enough  (not good enough to be loved, not attractive enough, etc.) you will carry yourself as someone who is not good enough. Posture, facial expression, speech, and conversation will all be affected.  You will make yourself unattractive and teach others to treat you as unattractive—and the image you believe in will be reinforced. Such is the power of a belief.

It’s only a belief, and therefore real for as long as you subscribe to it. If you find yourself playing the “not good enough” role, identify it and accept it.  Sit with it and realize that you created this belief.  Next, change your posture. Breathe deeply. Speak with authority. Be who you want to be. Practice being worthy by playing the role of one who appreciates him/herself.  

When you believe that someone else is not good enough, or foolish, or incompetent, or any critical description—that’s what you will see. They won’t have a chance with you, because your belief prevents you from seeing who they are. Your belief in their low status will encourage in them the very traits you dislike. For example, if you think someone is  a fool, you will talk to them as if they are a fool. This creates a dynamic where your way of being encourages them to be a fool. In other words, the more critical you are of someone, the more they will live down to your low expectation. Set aside your negative belief.  

Several things you can do are:
• Look for qualities you can appreciate in the other person
• See God in that person
• Pray to your Higher Power that you may see this person clearly (To use a New Testament reference: Ask that the beam be removed from your own eye that you may see more clearly.)
•  Recognize that whatever you are reacting to in them is actually projection. It always is. That is, something in them reminds you of some part of yourself that you don’t accept.
• Ask them how they feel and what they want. Ask them to tell you about themselves instead of assuming you already know.

What do you believe about human existence? Are we all sinners who must be saved? Are some people better than others because they have more talent or more money? Are certain ethnic groups or races more important than others?  Are people who disagree with your politics stupid? weak? evil? foolish? deluded? Are people who don’t follow your religion condemned or somehow less worthy than you? These beliefs create communication barriers between you and other people. They limit what you can achieve and serve to limit others, too. They are illusions. 

Beliefs limit your growth. Spiritual growth and human adulthood are not about creating more beliefs. They are about undoing the many false beliefs we hold. Zen Buddhists call this “Shoshin.”  It means "beginner’s mind," and it refers to frame of mind where you are open, eager to learn, and have no preconceptions. Belief gives you the illusion that you already know. When you “already know” you are blind and deaf. What you see and hear takes place in your own mind and is projected on to others and into your world. If you must hold beliefs, hold them lightly. Practice seeing the world, yourself, other people, and God as if you are looking for the first time. This is humility. This is wisdom. 

By William Frank Diedrich
Author of Human Adulthood: A Spiritual Romance
and a few other books.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Belief in God, (Or Not?)

A friend of mine told me he was an Atheist. I asked him what that meant. He said: "It means I don't believe in God."

I asked him: "What do you mean by God?"

He said: "A divine being who created the world and who judges us."

I responded: "I don't believe in that god either, but I'm not an Atheist.

When someone asks me: "Do you believe in God?" It doesn't compute. It's like asking me if I believe in that tree. God is obvious to me, not something I need to believe or not believe in.

Were I to say what God is, I can only offer: "God Is."  The moment you start adding adjectives you create limitations and you make God smaller.

The god(s) that most people believe in is(are) very small. This is because people create god  in their own image. So we end up with a god who is opinionated, who holds grudges, who will forgive us if we believe the right things, who accepts us into some transcendent paradise if we are "good" and sends us to Hell if we are bad.

In some belief systems (Christian, Islam, Judaism) god has been known to send us into battle to kill the non-believers or anyone he is displeased with. In older versions of Mormonism god tells a forty year old man he is supposed to marry a fifteen year old girl and add her to his group of wives. The god of human beings tells people all kinds of crazy things to do and say that are hurtful to others. Humans justify killing, rape, stealing, bigotry, and rude behavior all in the name of "God."

If you believe in a god who judges, then you tend to judge, too. It's a game of who is in and who is out, who is saved and who is damned. If there were a divine being who thought that way, I would just as soon not be in this universe! Fortunately, there isn't. All we have are images made up by people who think the images are real.

Strip it all down and take it into contemplation, or prayer, or meditation, or art, or music, or walking in the woods. What do you know for sure?
• God is. (That is, there is some greater intelligence than my own little mind--there is something going on--some creative intelligence.)
• I am.  Since I am conscious, odds are that I exist. But who is this "I" that I'm identifying with?
• Death is a sure thing. Someday this life as I know it is going to end.

I know. It's easier to find some belief system and latch on. Then you don't have to think. Someone else will tell you what to believe and what to do. You just have to show up and follow the rules. You don't even have to show up--just say you believe. No proof is needed.

I don't "believe" in anything. I don't "believe" in God--at least not the one that everyone talks about. I'm not an Atheist, because an Atheist "believes" there is no higher power. That makes no sense at all, but I respect Atheists for at least beginning the process of challenging beliefs and thinking for themselves. I love Agnostics, having been one, because they admit that they just don't know. Most of us are DK squared. We don't know what we don't know. So we pretend that we do know, and we convince ourselves it's true.

In the New Testament there is a quote: "Seek first the Kingdom...and all else will be added." To believe in this statement means nothing. The verse is talking about surrender. In eastern religions it would be framed as non-attachment or non-resistance. Don't believe in it--just do it. Test it. Create the working assumption that there is an Intelligence greater than you and that It knows more than you, and surrender to it. Let go. Have goals if you want, but release your attachment to outcomes. See what develops. Work on trust. Accept what is and keep moving forward. None of this is about belief. This is spiritual practice. It doesn't involve any special rules or ritual, no god you have to please, no hell to avoid or heaven to hope for--just you present in this moment listening, feeling, sensing what God, the Universe, or whatever name you prefer, is nudging you to do.

by William Frank Diedrich,
Author of  Human Adulthood: A Spiritual Romance,
and a few other books, too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I will never find fault with spirituality. Spirituality has to do with a person’s 
relationship with a Higher Power, whether you define that power as a Divine Being, 
Higher Self, the Universe, Life, or Creative Intelligence. Spirituality is about seeking and knowing. Spirituality is not about belief. It is about feeling, and knowing, trusting, and seeking to unify with something greater than our respective personalities. Spiritually, everyone is on their own path, and each path has validity for the person who walks it. 

Religion is based on beliefs. Beliefs are not facts, and most, if not all  beliefs are not true. They are just beliefs
Beliefs are places of refuge where we cling during times when we aren’t seeking and growing. Beliefs are about having the answers, but spirituality is about questions. 
Beliefs create separation, and believers see their own system as superior. It isn’t.  Beliefs cause conflict. People tend to impose their beliefs on others. Strong religious beliefs are a hindrance to spiritual growth. How can you receive inspiration or knowledge if you think you already know everything via your beliefs? If your cup is already full, nothing new can be added. 

Who are you? What are you? What do you want? Beliefs provide easy answers to these questions, but they are someone else’s answers—not yours. What if you asked these questions and contemplated, or meditated, or prayed about them. That is, leave a blank and see what gets filled in.  What new thoughts might you receive? What insights? Inspiration? Ask, and you will receive. An empty cup yearns to be filled.

William Frank Diedrich
Author of Human Adulthood: A Spiritual Romance