I am Christian because I became aware of my own sense of spirituality through the study of Christian lessons in the Methodist churches I attended. As a kid I always wondered about the miraculous events as told in the Bible and whether or not they were literally true or just spiritually meaningful. However, unlike those children surrounded by Christian fundamentalists, as I grew up I was given the leeway to ponder these questions along with my family, friends, and Sunday school companions. When I became an adult I set aside any notion that my Christian beliefs had to depend upon superstitions that were irrational. The practical Christian lessons I learned have helped me deal faithfully with all the events I have experienced in life.
When you are allowed to develop your own awareness of the spiritual realities of life, then life itself can become its own ever-evolving miracle and fundamentalist dogma fades into the nothingness from which is was imagined.
Do we humans have a sense that there is a perfect relationship possible between ourselves, and the ultimate truth and power of the universe? Yes, of course we do. Our intelligence is part of that reality and we are capable of observations, rational thought, communication, recalling memories, and considering the unknown through imagination. These traits are what made our human evolution possible and so successful.
Do we also have instinctive, self-centered drives for sex, self-preservation, and survival? Of course we do. We are human animals and these foundational traits are embedded in our DNA. This fact is what gives the idea of original sin a sense of validity, but it, in fact, has nothing to do with the Adam and Eve story found in Genesis. That’s an imaginative story of explanation, not a history of human events. When we humans try to explain something beyond our current state of knowledge, we tend to create fantasy explanations and superstitions.
Ancient civilizations were impacted by natural disasters and warring conflicts among the various tribes, clans, towns, or nations. Always sensing there was a higher order into which everyone’s lives fit, they created stories suggesting that this higher order was one or more gods who were unhappy with imperfect humans so they punished or rewarded us as they deemed appropriate, based on our behavior. Their desires to influence this higher power created the superstitions that have been handed down for generations. The logic seemed to be, if humans sacrificed something of personal value to the gods or performed these or those rituals, that would appease the appropriate god's anger and the storm or volcano or drought, or attacks by neighboring tribes would end. When the crises did end, whatever was done prior to that our ancestors felt was the effective rite and they’d be prompted to do the same things again, when necessary.
Superstitious behavior is simply part of what we are and we need to learn how to deal with that. My solution is simple. Let’s be superstitious about what really occurs in the world and not about what we imagine to be cosmic super forces intervening in our world events. The human mind and soul has a spark of the divine in it, however you wish to describe it, and we are neither hapless nor helpless. How we view anything determines its impact on our lives. If you view yourself as an unworthy and perpetual sinner, that kind of thinking will draw your attention toward more and more opportunities to sin, whatever that means to you. If you view yourself as one in tune with the evolving realities of the universe, that will draw your attention toward new and more wondrous spiritual discoveries, day by day. Whatever is the focus of your mind and heart becomes the expression of your life.
For me, this, itself, is superstitious belief, but a superstitious belief in which I have developed faith. Time and again I have witnessed angry discussions that were tamed immediately by words of empathy and love. I have witnessed the moods of people racked with fear, doubt, or personal loss uplifted by someone else who simply cared about them. I am fully rooted in the superstition of offering unconditional love. Even in the midst of those who reject love and remain angry or cruel, I believe it is my role and an opportunity for everyone else facing such individuals to offer them a chance to see and feel differently. Everything in the teachings of Jesus points in this same direction.
So, you might ask, if I am like St. Paul and believe that Jesus was “…born of a woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4) like all other humans, then how can events like Christmas be meaningful? Well, Christmas is extremely meaningful to me for two main reasons.
One, Christmas stories do not have to be historically true to be effective and spiritually inspiring. I have no problem realizing that Jesus led such an exemplary life that his followers wanted to glorify his birth, life, and death. Let’s remember that 90% of the population at the time was pagan and the culture of the Greco-Roman pantheons of gods were known, worshipped and appeasing them was not only important, but also part of the legal system. There were numerous religious/political leaders (separation of church and state was an unknown concept at that time) who claimed to be divine and born of virgins so we should not be surprised that the writings about Jesus sound very much like writings of other leaders of his time.
Two, since it was through the stories and lessons of Christianity that I became aware of my own sense of spirituality, the Christmas stories were a big part of that. The Christ child will always symbolize to me the birth of divine thoughts in my own mind and heart for which I must provide protection and a place to grow. The Christmas star is the light of the teachings that lead me to love, peace, knowledge, and wisdom. The wise men indicate those of other cultures and faiths who are also seeking the same birth of love in their hearts. Mary and Joseph provided loving, protective care to the Christ child and what child at Christmas time, hearing these stories, is not going to feel and believe in the security and warmth of that love? Jesus became an eternal living expression of light and love and every Christmas is another chance to rededicate my life to this same purpose.
The question I have is why do so many feel that Christian, or any religious superstitions must be related to irrational beliefs? Why is it so important that Jesus, for example, be born of a virgin, or that he be the genetic son of God, or that he arose physically alive after dying from crucifixion? Why are irrational miracles more important than the rational miracles we experience every day in life? Life itself is a miracle because we cannot scientifically explain it or create it ourselves. Happiness, joy, and trust also perform miraculous feats in the lives of those who bring them into their way of being.
Changing our attitudes can completely alter our world-views and move us toward a unity of love and acceptance. Most homilies you’ve ever heard in church point to the importance of the practical demonstration of your spiritual beliefs in the life you live. Why is this not considered divine intervention in the affairs of mankind? Every time I witness loving righteousness in the actions of those around me, I’m in awe and no other proof seems necessary or even important. Let’s honor the perfection we each strive to express and not debate the various religious paths that inspired our individual journeys. God is great enough to hold all things, all thoughts, and all actions within the boundaries of eternal truth.
The only practical superstition that Christians or any other people of faith need to believe can be stated as follows:
To the extent we rely upon the spiritual reality of God for loving insights to guide our lives, we will be led toward fulfillment and often in ways beyond our understanding.