A very well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyäm Trungpa, wrote a book entitled, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It is a book that warns its readers not to become overly attached even to our spiritual journeys.
Trungpa recognized that, given human nature, people will sometimes dive into their spiritual practices and journeys with the obsession of an addict for their booze, their sex, their food, their relationships, their cars, their houses, their clothes.
In doing so, spirituality then becomes nothing more than an out-of-control passion for some material good that will always give the first-fervor rush of satisfaction. But then, in the case of an excessive spiritual practice, the satisfaction often morphs into ritual and self-preserving affirmations divorced from any real transformations.
Or spiritual, even religious attachment, can take many other forms. It can create an illusory net of co-dependency. Take away that net (a Sunday service, a healing session, a sacred text, a clerical intermediary, a meditation practice, prayer) and the spiritual co-dependent feels lost, abandoned, empty, devoid of any safe moorings.
An over attachment to religion and spiritual practices can also lead to self-righteousness. It is not unusual to hear clerics, for example, speak from a pulpit with absolute certainty that what they are preaching is both universally true and without any shades of gray. Conviction often morphs into words. Words captivate. And pretty soon even the preacher descends into ritual, performance, vacuous repetition, and raw ego.
And, in the worse-case scenario, religious fervor can lead to actions in an attempt to annihilate all spiritual or religious competitors (Many of us have not forgotten the Inquisition and are currently observing the harrowing threats and executions that have been faith-driven among extreme Islamic jihadists).
Who would have thought that one could have a co-dependent relationship with a religion or a spiritual practice, a relationship that can become so rigid and all-encompassing that it begins to narrow the window through which we perceive reality?
Religious attachments can also morph into defensiveness and over protection. I’ve been around even some Buddhists who will launch into ancient esoteric jargon that has little or nothing to do with trying to lead an emotionally stable and ethical life. It becomes more about the mystification of their sect in order to give that sect a privileged position above all the other faith-based journeys.
Theo-centric religious fanaticism is also easy to camouflage with rationalizations. One of the more common of those rationalizations is the belief that a religious fanatic is following God’s Will.
The problem with that form of apologist thinking is that it can’t be disproven, unless the enthusiast cherry-picks a sacred-text justification. However, these passages, often from another era and another culture, tend to ring hollow, if not pathological, when juxtaposed to the realities of an ever-evolving modernity.
And, more significantly, our ever evolving experiences.
Not to mention the fact that every so-called “word” of a divinity is often mediated by a messenger (Muhammad, Moses) or, in the case of Christianity, by a sacred-text writer almost a half-century after Christ died (the first New Testament gospel was written at least forty years after Christ’s death).
These messengers are often “anointed” after-the-fact and gain status by rote affirmations of that anointed status over centuries by an inside club of enthusiasts who, simply, do not want a religious movement to have a short shelf life. They have a vested interest, after all, in keeping their names permanently etched in the annals of history.
Or, in many cases, religious fanatics can just assume they’re doing God’s will and let the chips fall where they may. If they’ve inherited their hierarchical roles because of some pre-ordained protocol or family name, then of course, nothing else matters. God’s will comes with the inheritance.
I do not mean to demean those beliefs and sacred texts that help to make humans more compassionate, more altruistic, more forgiving, more tolerant. I think even hardened atheists would agree that ethical and moral behavior are ideal goals.
But I have noticed among many religious enthusiasts a passionate attachment to a religious ideology that, in my judgment, is no different from our attachments to any of those old seven deadly sins. It can lose proportion. It can blind us to what is going on in our own experiences. It can lead to self-absorption. And it can give us a false sense that all problems can be solved with one solution: faith
Faith, like hope, of course, can give us stamina. It can sustain us through hard times. It can nurture us through the dark periods of our lives.
But blind faith can often dig us deeper into denial. After all, we still have to pay the rent. We still have to eat. We still have to pay doctor bills. We still have to provide for our kids.
Not that faith and responsibility have to be mutually exclusive.
I am not arguing for the end to all faith. But I am arguing for a more balanced view of life and the world we live in. Any extreme attachment can take us away from that balanced view. And extreme religious attachment is no different.