The Religion of Experience

by Rebecca Bynum (November 2013)

 

There is nothing so formidable as the reality of religious faith. That is why men have sought to tame, harness and control religion throughout human history. The simple message of salvation through faith has never been left alone for long. Man has consistently tried to create human conditions by and through which the believer may be vouchsafed eternal safety. Rituals were introduced, various restrictions and taboos imposed, sacrifices required and a priestly caste enriched – all to create stipulations for salvation, conditions which may be humanly controlled in the never-ending comedy of men seeking to acquire the prerogatives of deity.

Nevertheless, there comes a time in the life of the spiritual seeker when his own experience transcends any consolation or sense of well-being that tradition or ritual may have previously provided. The verity of religious experience naturally becomes one’s central reality while ritual and dogma inevitably fall away like scaffolding before a building. These are no longer needed because the certainty of God’s actual presence has eclipsed all the steps which helped to bring the seeker to that point.

Nothing can compare with the thrill of knowing God, of discerning his will and endeavoring to carry it out. The certainty of salvation comes not through adherence to law, observance of ritual, sacrifice, tithing or good works. Only through the power of living faith does one become certain of eternal life and this certainty is the most powerful transforming reality known to man. Once one is certain of one’s place in the eternal kingdom of God, certain of God’s overshadowing watch care, then fear steadily vanishes into the primal mists from whish it came.

It is fear which constitutes the greatest stumbling block to happiness and achievement – fear which paralyses action. Religious faith unifies and integrates the entire personality and directs one’s energies toward ever heightening ideals. Divided loyalties and the stress and psychic disruption they cause gradually become a thing of the past. One’s whole self becomes focused on one objective: the doing of the Father’s will and that alone. Perspective is gained as the ups and downs of daily life, even major catastrophes, seem to shrink in significance as one raises one’s eyes to take the long view of life, even looking into the eternal and the greater destiny which lies ahead.

The salvation man attains through faith is not only salvation from the ultimate cruelty of the extinction of death: rather, the experience of salvation is multilevel and its fruits are tasted in the mortal life as it is lived now. Through faith, salvation is attained from emptiness and despair, from self-deception and the attempt to inflate self esteem. We attain salvation from the paralysis of fear and the suffering endured through personal isolation. We attain salvation from self-absorption and experience the joy of losing oneself in service to others. Faith grants salvation from self-destructive impulses. We even attain salvation from ugliness as the beauty of reality begins to dawn in our consciousness. For as fear dissolves away, much that may have seemed repulsive is revealed in its true beauty and harmony of form and color. Like observing the marvelous life of insects, the intricate world of those tiny, previously despised creatures engenders awe upon close inspection. Faith even brings salvation from oppression as the discovery of God’s guidance delivers us from social pressure to conform to convention or to bend belief to the tyranny of creed.

The constant adjustment made in decisions and one’s reactions to the innumerable challenges of daily life constitutes the real test of faith. The modification of one's actions and thoughts to reach for ever higher ideals reveals the truth of the growing soul and this is the mark of religious living. True religion is active and dynamic. There is no resting on one's laurels for the truly faithful – only continuous striving for an increasing approximation of perfection of thought, word and deed. And it gradually dawns on the believer’s expanding consciousness that there is no end to this striving, for there is no end to God. Finding him is one thing, but getting to know him is a never ending quest.

It is inspiring to ponder that as we live in him, so does he live through us. As we experience God, he is also experiencing a measure of reality through us. We provide him a unique perspective, the experience of a unique aspect of his creation, something precious and irreplaceable to him. Each human being is uniquely valuable to God and once this is grasped, the brotherhood of man comes into sharp focus – no longer a platitude, but as a living reality. It is this experience, this invisible church, which binds believers together.

Salvation through faith, that is, the actual experience of feeling the assurance of eternal life in God’s love which is somehow registered in the mind and stamped indelibly upon the heart, trumps all philosophic argument and reduces all ritual and religious form to child’s play.

“But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13)

That knowledge of salvation as attained through faith – living faith in our perfect creator – is ultimately all we need. Only through faith is the personhood of God experienced. Only through faith can man really approach God. Ritual, dogma and creed are not necessary and even if they may provide helpful intermediary steps toward living faith, they themselves are not faith. Faith is not material or philosophical, it is purely spiritual. Faith cannot be governed or limited, nor may it be given by one human being to another. Faith is a personal experience of God and with God. It is the open door no man can shut. Reason and philosophy may point toward God, but only faith leads to God. And this simple message, buried under centuries of tradition, philosophy, ritual and dogma, will surely be enough to revive our now sorely weakened civilization. Let the good news be proclaimed: Faith in the living God is all we need.

 

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Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.



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