Updated: Jun 2, 2020
The greatest imposter to authentic spirituality is religion. However, attacking religion today is easy to do, its low hanging fruit as they say. We mostly attack religion because we feel if we are hard on religion it will somehow prove we are not religious. Or we indulge in carnality to prove we are not religious, which does not prove anything but our ignorance. However, religion is within everyone at varying degrees. As one philosopher stated, to be human is to be religious. There are reasons for that impulse toward religion. Religion is profoundly embedded within human consciousness but does not have the power to bring life. It is the product of the wrong tree (the tree of knowledge of good and evil).
The Authentic Exposes the Imposter
During one of the high Jewish holidays, the Feast of Dedication, which was a celebration of rededicating the temple after the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire (167 BC). Jesus was walking on Solomon’s Porch in the temple, the oldest portion leftover from the Babylonia exile and destruction of the original temple in 587 BC. The Jews strike up a debate with Jesus wanting him to declare whether or not he is the Christ so they could accuse him of blasphemy (Jn. 10).
What Jesus explains next is the contrast between the authentic and the imposter. First, Jesus begins by saying to the religious crowd that “his sheep” have the ability to hear his voice and the stranger’s voice they won’t follow. Another way of saying this is Jesus’ words resonated within the hearts and spirits of those who have ears to hear, who possess open hearts for his words. This discussion with the Jews was an ongoing discourse of Jesus’ teaching about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, and everyone else who comes into the sheepfold another way is a thief and a robber. Further, Jesus stresses how the purpose of the thief was to steal, kill, and destroy. I used to read this passage out of John 10 and think, "that's right; the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy." Even though that may be true about the devil, the devil is not precisely what Jesus is directly referring to as the thief in this passage. Here is our first clue; it is not an accident that Jesus is bringing up the Good Shepherd vs. the thief while in the temple on the day the temple is celebrated. Context is everything in identifying the stranger’s voice. John, the author of the text, was helping the reader make the connection that the thief /the stranger’s voice is religion.
As Jesus continues speaking, the crowd grows increasingly more agitated to the point of picking of stones to kill Jesus. Why? Self-preservation is the impulse of all institutions, religious or otherwise. Therefore, Jesus was directly opposing the religious institution, quite literally offering a different voice than that of the stranger’s voice; they were so accustomed to hearing. Jesus’ authentic voice contained the content of sonship and union with the Father, which always disturbs religion because religion thrives off of the illusion of separation and our desperate need to make ourselves righteous and acceptable to God. The Jewish hearers were offended at the notion that someone would claim to be one with God, which in their minds meant that person was equal with God.
To be clear, the thief and the robber that steals kills and destroys that comes through the sheepfold another way is religion. The stranger's voice that Jesus was referring to are ideas, belief systems, indoctrination, and perspective that contrast the Good Shepherd's voice, the sound of love, union, and sonship. The Good Shepherd’s voice pierces through the illusion of separation.
Whose Voice Are We Agreeing With?
Religion is the cunning and deceptive voice booming loudly out of the illusion of separation, reinforcing our feeling of a deficit. Religion drives the deception that right behavior gains God’s affection and approval, that God is fickle and capricious. All one has to do is listen to our language; it will reveal whose voice we are listening to and repeating. It may come as a surprise how often we are repeating the stranger. And the problem is we are unable to discern between voices. For example, the stranger's voice comes from the vantage point of striving and striving to know God, to get in faith, to believe more, to gain favor and blessings, approval, acceptance, love, righteousness, holiness, and the anointing. Right behavior is the necessary emphasis on receiving God's affection and approval. Anytime someone speaks of love and grace, the religious mind will want to balance it with holiness, by which they mean you have to live right to have love and grace. It can't be free. One has to earn it.
We say we are not legalistic, but we place our particular church's list of behavior demands on people. We expect people to read their bible more, pray more, give more, you name the performance standard, it's all necessary when you are on the hamster wheel religion. Nonetheless, it is the essence of the stranger's voice. All of this reinforces separation from God; therefore, we are working to get to union or gain something we think is missing. Further, we hear it in our prayers looking up at the sky god who has a white beard, poised to throw lighting bolts, sitting on his throne in a distant realm above us, begging him to come down and do something in our earthly realm. Don't get me started on spiritual warfare, which is separation and dualism at its best. Additionally, our worship reinforces this separation consciousness by singing to a god who is far away or lyrics that piously devalues and degrades humans as nothing. It sounds spiritual, but it is not the truth of who we are. We don't honor God by dishonoring ourselves. Especially when God has called us His Own and has invited us into the Trinitarian relationship. It’s time to mature in our imaging of God. Revelatory updates are available.
Deconstructing the Voice of the Stranger and Why It Resonates
I think to understand better religion; we need to deconstruct it. Religion is a word derived from a Latin word “religio" which means to bind back or yolk. Literally, it is the human impulse and corresponding actions toward reconnecting oneself back to God, based upon the feeling and perspective of disconnection. Therefore, religion thrives off of separation. The primordial human longing is the connection to the dimension in which we came from, the transcendent, or dimension of spirit. The truth, however, is humans have never been separate from their Source. So what’s the problem? One of the main problems arises when we attempt to locate God outside of us rather than within. But when we look within, we often make the mistake of trying to find God in our emotions, which is not an excellent guide for anything. The Apostle Paul called this felt sense of separation of the humans experience “alienation in our minds” (Col. 1:21) What he means is we have a separation consciousness that is a direct consequence of the first Adam’s fall. Humans emerged from the Garden in Eden with a profoundly different consciousness with a new center, self. Therefore, the emergence of self-consciousness resulted in a defiled conscience manifesting as a felt sense of separation, fear, shame, and self-will.
Religion is the offspring of the emergent sense of self absent of love and belonging and feeling separated from its Source. With the defiled conscience came the human’s need to cleanse and purge through sacrificial ritual. Humanity has struggled from that point on to realize their original environment, which is union with Father. The ripped temple veil at the crucifixion of Jesus was a symbol that the illusion of separation is exposed for the sham that it is. As a direct consequence, the voice of the stranger is laid bare along with it. When a God-consciousness replaces a sin-consciousness, union with God is the only perspective that resonates. No more separation. Therefore, the voice of the stranger no longer resonates with your heart, and Jesus' words become a reality, "My sheep hear my voice and a stranger they will not follow."
The voice of the Good Shepherd
The revelation of the Christ is clear; the days of the performance hamster wheel religion are over. There is nothing you can do to gain union or lose union but “be still and know” it. It is your birthright, your inheritance, your current reality. You have the fullness; nothing is missing. You cannot get closer to God because your life is already hidden with Christ in God. Enjoy the journey of maturing into what is already yours. As the great Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr, states, "We cannot attain the presence of God because we're already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” Awareness/awakening is removing separation consciousness and bringing us into God-Consciousness.
Let me be clear; I don't think there is anything wrong with religious rituals such as prayer, meditation, reading scripture, going to church, and so on. These activities can be openings or graces to tune in to the Presence. They become religious when they are done from the wrong center, attempting to get closer to God (Old Covenant language and idea). In other words, there is a difference in doing those disciplines from union or a position of fullness versus doing those things to gain union and to complete what you are lacking. Though the differences may appear subtle, they are profound. Authentic spirituality is fluid, dynamic, and progressive. Religious institutions typically feel threatened by movement. Religion loves control, predictability, absolutism, and certainty. Spirituality does not value the same characteristics. Therefore, religion and authentic spirituality are opposing forces. One fights to protect itself, and the other refuses containment. You are uncontainable.