Religion Vs Ancient Traditions


“My religion is compassion”  Dalai Lama


Dr Symeon Rodger’s book “The 5 Pillars of Life” 


“All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.”

- Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”

Startling, isn’t it?  - A world-renowned Orthodox priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness”!  But he’s right - Orthodox Christianity is not a religion in the conventional Western sense of that word.  And for that matter, neither are other authentic ancient traditions.  What Westerners conventionally call "religion" is a term that applies almost exclusively to their own approach to life as it has developed historically over the last thousand years or so.

Several Orthodox writers of the twentieth century noted that the word “religion” as commonly used among peoples of European ethnic origin does not correspond to Orthodox Christianity.  "Religion" in the Western sense the word has a number of particular traits.  And generally speaking these traits apply to the vast majority of Western people who "practice their religion":

1.       Religious teachings are ideological statements divorced from real life and which people subscribe to based on emotional considerations.  Teachings of authentic traditions are based on an experience of true life, and practitioners adhere to them based on observable verification. 

2.       Religion provides psychological comfort and self justification in the face of its failure to cure psycho-spiritual (noetic) illness.  Authentic traditions take you from sickness to health; religions tell you your sickness is health.

3.       Religion shifts the blame for good and evil, and for the final outcome of life, onto a deity or process (saying, for example, that illness is a punishment from God or that God decides whether to forgive you and send you to heaven or to damn you to hell).  Authentic traditions know that the Absolute Reality never does harm and that the only real danger to us in this world or hereafter comes from ourselves.

4.       Religions and authentic traditions both have a ceremonial aspect or some collective manifestation, but the religious version exists to provide psychological comfort or aesthetic pleasure, whereas the authentic version is there to lead you to self-transformation.

5.       Religion is always reduced to a compartment of life, whereas training in any authentic tradition involves every moment of life.

6.       Religion's "transformation" of human life is limited to the superficial aspects of the personality, is often based on a tedious list of prohibitions and is geared toward social acceptability.  Religion produces nice people; authentic traditions produce extraordinary ones.

7.       Real self-transformation is not a goal of religion; the knowledge and methods required for self-transformation are absent and there is no access to a lineage of transformed people.  Life degenerates into “salvation by association” (I’m saved because I’m part of the group) and “salvation by conviction” (I’m saved because I hold a particular opinion).

8.       Religion is ignorant of the technical terminology of self-transformation and interprets it in a general and nebulous way.  The religious version of a tradition will seldom have any real idea what the authentic version is talking about, even if they use the same language.  

9.       Religion is comfort-loving and presents no real challenge to its adherents, whereas authentic traditions take you beyond your comfort zone and into realms that religion knows nothing of. 

10.   Religion abhors mystery and tries to explain everything with concepts.  These concepts can be controlled and manipulated by a cadre of “experts” for the good of the institution, whereas transformed people – saints, immortals or bodhisattvas - are notoriously hard to control.

Given these traits of religion, it is not too surprising that Father Romanides classifies religion as a "neurobiological illness".  What this means is that religion has its origin in the fallen state – where the neurobiological malfunction characteristic of life in the fallen world has not been healed – and that it perpetuates this unhealed state as if it were normal.  So it is not surprising that religion prevents countless millions of people from finding true fulfillment and happiness.  And like all illness, it leads to untold suffering and misery.

A quick look at the news is all you need to convince you that what we conventionally call "religion" can be a pretty scary thing - right wing fundamentalists condemning minority groups or telling their people how "God wants them to vote", Muslim demonstrators carrying placards saying, "Behead those who insult Islam!" are just the tip of the iceberg. 

People in our culture these days tend to think religion - the institutional version - is bad, whereas "spirituality" - the individual version - is good.  Reality is not quite so simple.  So how do you tell the kind of spiritual approach that will transform you into a saint / Bodhisattva / immortal from the kind that will transform you into a neurotic, a terrorist or a self-righteous jerk?

Powerful Questions to Ask About ANY Spiritual Path:

1.       Does it insist that the only way to be saved or avoid eternal torture is to become a member and / or believe in its creed?

2.       Does it tell you that God is angry, judgmental and is basically just waiting for you to slip up so He can punish you?

3.       Does it give rise to a culture of guilt and shame?

4.       Does it teach you that God hates "unbelievers" or that you need to convert them by force or otherwise oppress them?

5.       If you try to leave this spiritual path, will your life be in danger?

6.       Do its teachings give rise to large scale emotional dysfunction?

If you're involved in or thinking of becoming involved in any spiritual path where the answer to any of these questions would be "yes", then I'd suggest you run screaming in the other direction... fast. 

In general, any "spiritual" path advocating violence is simply an extremist ideology masquerading as the will of God.  Those that have moral teachings that produce emotional dysfunction are usually distorted versions (religions) of earlier Authentic Ancient Traditions. 

Unless a tradition meets the following criteria, it's highly likely to be either a dumbed down version of an authentic tradition (i.e., a religion) or simply a fake from day one.  Here's what every legitimate spiritual path must have or do:

1.       It must teach that a total mind-body transformation of the human being is possible, that it can begin in this life and that every human being, here and now, can come to a direct experience of the Absolute Reality (God or whatever the name might be).

2.       It must possess a deep spiritual teaching that includes meditation and / or noetic prayer.

3.       It must be able to prove that there is an unbroken lineage of transformed people who have put this teaching into practice, been transformed by it, and can pass it on.

4.       It must be able to prove that it gets the results it claims, preferably by demonstrating this across multiple cultures for several centuries.

5.       It must value love, compassion and humility above all else and teach forgiveness. 

These simple criteria will enable anyone to get to the truth about any tradition in short order. 

History proves that many religious movements have existed for over a millennium, with hundreds of millions of followers, and that these same movements have given rise to near constant strife, killing, emotional dysfunction / neurosis and endless misery. 

So be really careful before you commit your spiritual future to anything.  If you apply the simple criteria above, though, you'll be just fine.

"You can be sure your religion has gone off the rails if its 'god' hates all the same people you do!"

And that pretty well defines what the media usually labels, though somewhat simplistically, as "religious extremism" or "religious fanaticism".  Whatever you call it, though, it's all around us today and it's attempting to redefine our world, often through violence, coercion and intimidation.  Let’s look at the five main symptoms or manifestations of this kind of "perverse spirituality".

Just before we get there, though, I thought you'd enjoy this break with British comedian John Cleese, who explains very clearly why being a religious nut-job is just so much fun:


So just what are the five main features of religious extremism?

1. Divine Fascism

Divine fascism is the ridiculous belief that the divine being is so insecure and neurotic that he has to demand total conformity from you in all aspects of your life and will punish you if you don't. 

Contrast this with the viewpoint of Authentic Ancient Traditions that the divine being or Absolute is overflowing love.  As St. Silouan of Athos (d. 1938) put it, based on his own mystical experience, "God is love insatiable".

If you belong to a religious group that preaches "divine fascism" and you're using it as your personal worldview, then you must believe that:

•        Your religion is totally, 100% correct and those who don't follow it are somehow lesser human beings

•        Your mission is to bring these lesser human beings under your religion by whatever means you can

•        For anyone to deny the truth of your religion is an insult that your (insecure and neurotic) god can't bear - they must be punished

•        Everyone within your religion must conform rigidly to its norms of behavior

•        No one is allowed to leave the group - there are severe penalties for "apostasy"

All of these presuppositions set the stage for the next feature of religious extremism:

2. Religious Violence

Once you subscribe to religious fascism, it's a very simple leap of logic to convince yourself that you're doing God's will and creating God's kingdom on earth by using violence to get your way.  And there are many forms of violence, including intimidation (making people afraid to speak out), direct threats, verbal violence and, of course, physical violence itself, whether that's organized military violence or not.

Not surprisingly, a good deal of the violence inherent within religious fascism is actually directed within.  And here we're not talking about the good and beneficial violence of spiritual struggle you find in authentic traditions.  Instead, this violence is about enforcing conformity within the group, keeping the group's social order and putting down any tendencies toward asking the wrong questions or other forms of "free thinking".  Naturally, most of this falls upon the most vulnerable segments of the group's own population - women, children and minority groups like gays, intellectuals and dissidents.

Notice that authentic traditions create an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance, and their most serious ("extreme") practitioners are deeply humble, whereas religious extremists have a strong tendency towards arrogance and violence.

3. Victim Syndrome

This tendency towards violence is helped along by the group's standard narrative, which is really good at establishing the existence of strong and powerful "enemies" that are out to destroy the group.  And since the group is somehow chosen by God above the rest of humanity, this forms a kind of siege mentality where everything that goes wrong for the group, all of its intractable socio-economic problems and the rest, can all be blamed on these powerful "enemies".

So it really is just like John Cleese says: when you've got your list of enemies, you can start blaming them, abdicate all responsibility on your own part and start the violence.

4.  Sexual Repression

Another frequent manifestation of religious extremism is its total inability to deal with one of the most basic forces of real human life - sexuality.  Since the group narrative often puts forward a divine basis for circumscribing human sexuality and confining it within some socially acceptable boundaries, any attempt to question these boundaries or break out of them is seen as pretty close to apostasy.

This is very convenient too, because when the group's sexual norms are different from those of surrounding cultures, the group can paint those surrounding cultures as licentious and immoral, further reinforcing their own siege mentality and sense of victimization.

This repression of sexuality has some hideously violent outcomes around the world and is creating untold misery on a daily basis.  These outcomes include:

•        Forced marriage (where women have no say in deciding whom they will marry)

•        Violence against women (regular beatings sanctioned by the religious group)

•        Female Genital Mutilation or FGM (surgical removal of the clitoris and labia in a usually unsuccessful attempt to remove female sexual desire and capacity for pleasure.  This is usually performed on young girls without their consent, without anesthetic and in a non-sterile environment)

•        Honor killing (where male relatives will murder a young woman for losing her virginity, having a boyfriend or otherwise violating the group's sexual norms)

•        Sexual neurosis (repressing sexuality always leads to significant neurosis, as it is deeply disruptive to human emotions and the human energy system)

5. The Vice of "Identification"

The neurosis of identification – the psychological need to belong, to be validated, and to identify with one’s own culture, which is the matrix of opinions, attitudes and values comprising the worldview of those around you.  But as for the inability or unwillingness to understand others, the psychological need to be right and have others be wrong - the life of spirituality is directly opposed to all this.

Being against this is not the conscious and deliberate adherence to an authentic tradition.  It is only against a semi-conscious, neurotic, ego-driven and insecure identification of self with any given set of values, attitudes and opinions, however “right” it may be.

So "identification" is essentially a neurosis where you have a deep psychological need to belong, but also a need to be right and therefore have others be wrong.  In other words, you need an external enemy to validate your own victim status. 

Look closely and you'll see that religious extremism ALWAYS has external enemies whom it blames for everything from its own poverty and powerlessness to the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami.

All of this begs the question: "If your god is as angry as you say he is and as powerful as you say he is, and if you're as righteous as you say you are, while your enemies are as evil as you say they are, then why doesn't you god just ZAP the bastards and be done with it??"  Since this isn't happening, could it be that the universe is just a little more complex than you think?


The ONE Thing No Society Can Tolerate

Tolerance is a great virtue.  Truly.  For all its faults, Western civilization is the beacon of hope to the world primarily because it has set up not just a prosperous economic framework, but a political model that allows you to be who you are and to put forward your viewpoint without fear.  However, there is still one thing that Western civilization cannot be expected to tolerate - the existence within itself of religious or any other kind of extremists who do not accept the fundamental values on which it is based, including individual rights, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and equal rights for all social groups. 

Tolerating intolerance is NOT a virtue; it is a fundamental stupidity.

For anyone interested in further reading the I would suggest purchasing Dr Symeon Rodger’s book “The 5 Pillars of Life” and it can be purchased at Amazon.


“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.  And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

-Dalai Lama