In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

“Spirituality” Versus “Religion”

William James (1842 – 1910)

One of the things my brothers in Seth and I discuss every now and then is the matter of whether we’re truly a “religion” or if we’re just a form of “spirituality.” My brothers prefer to say we’re the latter, while I prefer to say we’re the former.

Tony and Patrick both prefer to say LV-426 is just a “spirituality” because they feel “religion” involves dogma, moral laws and bureaucratic leadership. We practice and believe in spiritual things, but we don’t have a set of principles that are laid down as being “incontrovertibly true.” Rather, we have what we like to describe as “an atmosphere of best possible premises” that we agree upon and that are subject to review as necessary. Nor do we have any rigid moral laws, which doesn’t mean that we’re immoral or amoral. We believe morality is secular and that it has nothing to do with whether one believes in any God or not. We don’t need a list of God-given commandments for us to know that murdering people is wrong, for instance. At the same time, we don’t have a leader and we’re not large enough to have any bureaucracy. We make all of our group decisions democratically and by unanimous vote. We’re neither a congregation, a church, a coven nor a cult; we’re simply brothers in the Red Lord. For these reasons and more, Tony and Patrick both feel it’s more accurate to say that we’re “spiritual but not religious.”

Most people outside of LV-426 normally think of things like Islam and the Roman Catholic Church when they hear the word “religion,” and they’d probably agree with my brothers’ assessment. Yet I prefer to use an etymology for the term that’s taken from the original Latin religare (“to bind fast”). Back before Latin became a “dead language,” the word for “religion” referred to the very basic notion of a “bond between humans and Gods.” At its simplest, a religion is a relationship between one or more people and one or more Divinities. As far as I’m concerned, it makes no difference what that relationship is like, how many Divinities or people are involved, in what way the concept of “Divinity” is defined or whether the people in the relationship have any kind of power structure or not. For me, a religion doesn’t have to include dogmas, hierarchy, scriptures or moral laws; it only has to include some kind of bond between at least one person and at least one thing that person considers “divine” (whether it’s a Deity, an impersonal force or even just a higher state of consciousness). This is the definition of “religion” that William James used in his landmark work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and it’s good enough for me.

James also distinguished between what he called “institutional religion” and “personal religion.” The first of these categories refers to religions that are organized and regulated by powerful leaders who enforce official dogmas (and who often have social and political agendas). The second category refers to direct one-on-one experiences that occur between an individual and his or her concept of Divinity. In some cases, these two categories can overlap within the same religion; in other cases, they’re diametrically opposed to each other. People can argue that institutional religion is the only “valid” form of religion as much as they like, but the fact remains that all institutional religions began as personal religions. Islam, for instance, may now be counted as an institutional faith, but there was a time when it was a personal religion that was practiced only by its original prophet. The same is true of Judaism and Christianity. With this in mind, I would certainly agree that LV-426 is not an institutional religion, but this isn’t the same thing as saying it’s not a religion at all. It’s a strictly personal religion that’s utterly opposed to being institutionalized.

Nevertheless, my brothers are correct in that most people don’t make this distinction and think only of institutional religion when the subject of religion in general is mentioned. Personal religion is more often described as spirituality, mysticism or some other similar term. With that in mind, I’ve decided that I will go back through this entire website and replace every instance of the word “religion” (when it’s being used in reference to LV-426) with the word “faith.” I do this to honor my brothers, for while I might disagree with them on this particular matter, I’m not the “leader” of LV-426 and I must be as accurate as possible when speaking of us as a group.

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