Saturday, April 14, 2012


This is a response I wrote to an article by Natalie Reed at FreeThoughtBlogs.Com. Hers is a thoughtful and well-written piece about God, religion and skepticism, with over 170 comments from readers. But I was surprised that there was absolutely no mention of spirituality, as opposed to religion. Where were all those people claiming to be "spiritual not religious?" Anyway, here's my response, slightly edited from the original. 

Excellent piece, Natalie. I agree with every word. As well as most of the words of the responders.

A couple of thoughts:

There is one word that is strangely missing from this entire conversation (unless it whizzed by me unnoticed). That is the word SPIRITUALITY.

As many of you are aware "religion" and "spirituality" are even more different than "sex" and "gender."

Religion has been defined, I think quite accurately, as "institutionalized spirituality." And what are institutions? Big. Rigid. Conformist. Authoritarian. Ugly.

But spirituality, ah, that’s something entirely different. My definition of it is: "bonding with the universe." You are free to define it as you choose.

In every human culture, present and past, there seems to have been some component of spirituality. I can’t say it’s a strictly human characteristic. Animals may share this trait, as they do a sense of morality/ethics/compassion/empathy/sense of justice – MORALITY IS NOT AN EXCLUSIVELY HUMAN TRAIT. Indeed, as Mark Twain so eloquently said, man may be the least moral animal!

So we don’t need religion to be moral. Perhaps, as many of you have suggested, we need to supercede religion to be moral.

Spirituality perhaps is still closely associated with religion and/or mythology, but it is far larger than these human creations. Reason and science may offer even better portals to spirituality. The more we learn about the universe, the more wondrous it seems. Not fear and awe of the supernatural. But amazement, enchantment, and love of the natural ALL.

What we see in the structure of the microcosm and the macrocosm is energy seeking order, emerging complexity, inconceivable beauty and vast oceans of that which is still unknown. Marvelously unknown. It’s the Great Mystery. But unknowable? I’m not sure I would go there. Aren’t we the universe coming to know itself?

Science itself now points to a universal energy – the quantum field – that connects everything, so that electrons light years away from each other "know" what the other is doing. There is a unity. There is form, and order, and beauty. And all of this is, to use a loaded word, "sacred." To me the entire universe is sacred, and filled with meaning. There is no such thing as meaninglessness.

I am not willing to abdicate the word "sacred" to the religionists. Nor "spirituality." Nor even "faith." I can’t fully explain gravity, no one can. But I have faith in it. I have faith that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. I have faith in myself, and in my true friends. So you see, I have rational faith. Believing that "God" came to earth 2000 years ago through a "virgin birth," was crucified, died for my sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, and now is my lord and saviour is mythological faith.

They can have the word "religion." I have no use for it. Nor any of their dogma. If they would like to meet to discuss the golden threads that run through all religions of: love for one another, forgiveness, non-judgment, justice for all, and unity, I would be more than happy to share in that conversation regarding universal values. But I walk away when they get divisive talking about chosen people, and final prophets, and the only way, and heaven and hell, and original sin, and only-begotten sons, a worldview based on dualism, and literal readings of ancient myths.

These are the components of religion that do not lead to spirituality, they lead away from it. Only the pathway of reason, which is another word for "truth," leads toward real spirituality. And then, as you go through the portal, reason itself is transcended and you merge with the ALL, perhaps just briefly, but that’s enough to change your life. That’s the dark night of the soul. That’s looking into the abyss. That’s touching for just a moment the field of the eternal. It’s something that should be done by yourself. No intermediaries. No priests. No rabbis. No gurus. No self-help authors. Just you and the universe, one-on-one.

If you make it back, you’ll have a spirituality worth talking about.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Arapaho Eagle Killers

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has granted permission for the Northern Arapaho tribe of Wyoming to kill two bald eagles annually for religious purposes. Eagle feathers, feet and other parts are used in sacred rituals, including the Sun Dance. A tribal member was arrested in 2005 for illegally killing a bald eagle, and the legal battle ensued. It is believed that this is the first time that the ban on harming or killing America's national symbol has being lifted. The tribe has hailed the decision as a victory for both tribal sovereignty and religious freedom.

Eagle feathers and parts are available from a federal government repository and birds that were found deceased, usually following encounters with power lines. But the tribal members say that having to request these sacred items from the government is demeaning.

“How would a non-Indian feel if they had to get their Bible from a repository?” asked one of the tribal leaders.

"It has been since the beginning of time with us, and we respectfully utilize the eagle in our ceremonies. We get to utilize the eagle, which we consider a messenger to the Creator," explained another Arapaho leader.

The Eastern Shoshone tribe share the Wind River Reservation with the Arapaho, and oppose the killing of eagles. Response from other tribes has been mostly muted, though the Arapahoes have received some support from other Indian tribes and officials.

Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based American Indian rights group, says that the Fish and Wildlife Service did the right thing. "It's a good step in the direction of the United States trying to make amends for things that they did all too well to suppress Native American religious freedom for so long."

A tribal leader of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico said, "The common theme for a lot of indigenous peoples is that the bird, it brings not only strength and courage, it's just one of those creatures that still brings awe to many, many people. I think because of ceremonies, our language has survived, our communities have survived, and I think that is one of the keys for endurance of Native American culture. So if again, other tribes harvest birds for sacrifice in the name of ceremony and tradition, and longevity and health, I guess it makes sense."

I disagree completely. I have Cherokee blood, so I deeply respect the native religions and spirituality. I believe that in sum they are far superior to that of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. The core of that superiority is the shared deep respect for nature of native spirituality.  

That ethos is perverted by such a killing of eagles, or any animal, for the purpose of sacrifice or ritual. Such a ritual is not core spiritual truth, but divisive and ignorant religious dogma. It is a custom, a tradition, a belief and behavior that is out of sync with rationality, morality, compassion and, certainly, modernity.

The eagle is "a messenger from the Creator." So it must be killed!

The eagle is an emblem of strength and courage, and "still brings awe to many, many people." So it should be destroyed!

No, this is perversion. This is sacrilege. This is an outrage to all who love nature, to all who honor life, to all who value beauty, to all who demand justice.

Spirituality, by its nature, is uplifting, affirming and uniting. Religions, by their nature, are divisive, and sometimes incredibly stupid and cruel. This is an example of such a religion.

In this world that we live in today, we lovers and defenders of nature, we who will be the Rainbow Warriors of the old native prophesy, look forward to a time when the divisive, stupid and cruel religions of the world have been overthrown, and the rainbow tribe comes together in cooperation, affection and sanity. The Arapaho eagle killers spit upon that rainbow vision.

I ask the Northern Arapaho tribe, who among you wants to kill eagles? Who needs to kill the prince of the sky? Is it the women? Is it the children? What say the council of elders? Is this a democratic idea? Or is it some macho bullies among you who just want to murder something?

What needs to be killed is this custom, this tradition. There is much that is beautiful in your traditions. They will survive without having to kill eagles. Preserve the beautiful and the unifying. Phase out what is disjointed and divisive. Just because something is old doesn't make it good. In this case, it is very definitely not. I say to you Arapahoes, tame those among you who have this very bad idea.

Those individuals, the gang with the blood-lust, are about to bring shame upon all of you. Such a killing does not feed your spirit, it feeds their ego. If you kill the eagles, you earn the dishonor of being called "eagle killers." You earn disrespect and hatred from millions, perhaps billions, of people around the globe. To us, these eagles are our brothers, our sisters, our children. So from our perspective you might as well desire to be "child killers."

Where do you get the idea that the eagle is yours to kill? What "holy" cause requires that its life be sacrificed so you can prance around with feathers and claws that are not yours? What crime has it committed against you that it must be so punished? It has never harmed you, never taken anything from you. It is not your eagle. It belongs to Mother Earth and Father Sky. Do not lie to yourself and say that it gives itself to you. It flies away from you because it senses your bad heart and mind and spirit. 

In killing something you do not need to kill, you become like the Wasichu. They, too, gave "religious" reasons for their wanton killing and abuse of animals (and Indians). Like the Indian, the eagle was pushed to the brink of extinction by the stupidity and cruelty of the Wasichu. Now brother and sister eagle are flourishing, and it is you who seeks to persecute them. Now it is some Wasichu who are more in accord with nature than you!

When you kill an eagle, you are also breaking the heart of another eagle, its mate, who may never recover from the wound. So your act of dishonor and disrespect to the one you kill extends to the living eagle nation as well. The Great Spirit is not pleased. It is a vile act you are considering.

I say to you sincerely that the time for animal sacrifice, whether whale or dog or horse or eagle, is over! This is animal cruelty, plain and simple, no matter whether it is pawned off as "scientific research" or "religious ritual." Animal cruelty has no place in the modern world, in moral conscience, or on the good red road. On this road, the people, the horses, and the eagles are all happy, not killing each other.

Spirituality/religion must evolve to take into account the accumulated wisdom of all the people, not rigidly stick to only the old ways. If it does not live and evolve, it ossifies and dies, simply because it becomes more and more out of step with truth that we - the new people - have discovered. Killing eagles is an old way that must be stopped. If you do not stop it, your grandchildren or great-grandchildren will, and they will look back on your deeds with shame and sadness.

Arapahoes, take your great victory... tribal and religious rights... and proclaim that even though you have been given the right to kill eagles, you will not do it. Say you will defer to love of nature, not violence against the Great Mother. Show the world the sacredness of the good red road that seeks to unite, not divide, that seeks to create community, not render it, that seeks to affirm our kinship with all life. Say you will embrace compassion, not aggression. Say you wish to join hands and hearts with the vast number of humankind that at long last is coming around to the profound truth of native spirituality, that which lives in accord with the energy of the universe. If you follow this pathway of unity, of compassion, of adhering to higher values, you will be cheered and celebrated around the globe, and the spiritual lesson you provide will be one for the ages.

But if you do not, if you willfully choose to become renowned as the "eagle killers," I warn you my brothers and sisters you will have chosen a bad road, and you will reap the whirlwind of disdain. Think carefully, friends, before allowing one of your blood-thirsty punks to pull that trigger. When a bullet or hail of shot rips through this greatest symbol of beauty, freedom, courage, power, wildness and goodness, its holy body falls into the dirt and the light in those magnificent eyes turns to dull glaze, your tribe has just purchased infamy. You do not gain the eagle's power by killing it, you become antithetical to it. You have set yourself against the goodness of the world, and now you are the ignorant, the backwards, the cowards, the slaves, the weaklings, the evil-doers, unable to control those few among you with bad spirit. The spirits of the eagle nation and the nation of eagle lovers will turn against you for generations. And you will deserve all the scorn you will receive.

How much better to let the eagle fly free, our spirit elevated to transcendence as we adore and revere it as the Good Mother intended, soaring and trilling through the wild, blue yonder.