Essential Tips when Choosing between Religion and Spirituality

Religious, spiritual, or neither? Explore your divinity. Overcome insecurities on the spiritual journey in a modern world.

This show tackles the thorny issue of whether you should be religious, spiritual or neither and it will help you to understand what it means to pursue your own divinity. To be spiritual (or religious for that matter) often makes one feel bashful and insecure when sharing your journey with others, particularly in a modern world that is driven by consumerism, science and technology. It's easy to feel awkward and out on the fringe when you indulge in your spiritual awakening. We'll also define what is meant by being spiritual and I shall leave you with a handful of essential steps you'll need to take to embark on this journey of self-discovery.


Thomas Budge asks the awkward questions you would like to ask, he pokes holes in rigid belief systems, and challenges the way the world taught us to think. His aim is to stimulate debate and encourage lateral thinking, so it's okay if this podcast occasionally makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

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It's interesting to look back at this show's listenership statistics and one soon sees a fascinating trend. Besides the weekly broadcasts on GaySA Radio and the listeners that channel attracts, there is also an enormous, growing worldwide group of people who regularly listen to this show as podcasts. I receive listenership statistics arranged the episodes from the least to the most popular shows.

One show that continually surprises me because it sits firmly at third place is, Soul Searching Episode 20, "The Star of Bethlehem and Jesus' Actual Birthday." It was a fun show to produce and present because it combined my spiritual knowledge with my astronomical knowhow. Having lectured at the Planetarium at Wits University for about twenty years, the full houses for this lecture every Christmas, amazed me.

In second place is Soul Searching Episode 22, "The Emotional Damage of Child Sexual Exploitation." It's easy to understand how emotive this topic is. Many of my therapy sessions address client childhood abuse before the victims can find freedom as adults. Child sexual exploitation is endemic in the society around me here in Johannesburg, not only amongst the many impoverished communities but in the affluent ones too.

Ranked by popularity and in first place, is Soul Searching Episode 7, "Reconsidering the Forces of Evil versus the Forces of Good" which looked at Pastor Steve Anderson's banning from South Africa because of his hate-speech views on gay people. In the show, we examined a few examples, like the way the Mormon Church backtracked on their anti-black, racial policies and the way Afrikaans churches in South Africa revised their opinions and teachings after the collapse of Apartheid. It's sobering to realise that religious interpretation of scripture is fallible and open to review.

The bulk of these podcasts drift up and down my statistical charts, like songs on a top twenty hit parade. What I see in these statistics is your need to define your place and purpose in this universe, to find practical ways to improve your spiritually and methods to be courageous in a world of fluctuating values.

Sometimes we use the word 'spirituality' far too glibly without really knowing what it means. Larry Culliford, writing for the Psychology Today website, says, "Spirituality is like an adventure park waiting to be explored." He continues to say, "It is not ideal to consider spirituality as a thing, an object. It does not have the nature of a specimen that can be dissected and analysed. Spirituality is better thought of as a boundary-less dimension of human experience. As such, […] it is not open to the normal methodologies of scientific investigation. It cannot completely be defined. It cannot be pinned down. Firstly, you don't have to give up [seeking it because it is so elusive]! […] It is possible to look at spirituality another way, as something free of institutional structures and hierarchies, not so much about dogma and beliefs as about attitudes, values and practices, about what motivates you […] at the deepest level, influencing how you think and behave, helping you find a true and useful place in your community, culture and in the world."

Spirituality and science are very different things. Science thrives on objectiveness and rigorous substantiation of what is proposed. Because of this, it tends to devalue your place in this universe to one of 'parasitic host used by your own DNA to improve and propagate itself through your reproductive processes' — now that's a bleak thought, isn't it? Spirituality on the other hand is a deeply personal, subjective experience, like art, dance, creativity and music and they will always defy science's demanding quest for theories and proofs. As an example, science can never have an objective statement about Michelangelo's motives for painting the Mona Lisa but that doesn't invalidate the piece, which still ranks among some of the most famous artworks of all time. However, as a human being, you have the capacity to be both scientific and spiritual — at the same time! They are not mutually exclusive facets but wholly inclusive of who you are. Yet, in an objective world, being spiritual is often seen as weakness, a neediness to cling onto some crazy idea of a higher power to find universal context for yourself. Declaring your spirituality to others could lead to ridicule and ostracization.

Charles Tart, in his 2009 book, "The End of Materialism" describes those feeling of stupidity this way, "This all-too-common situation easily makes for an ineffective and stuttering kind of spiritual search, two or three steps forward (that spiritual idea or experience rings true in my heart!) and two or three steps back (scientifically ridiculous — I must be stupid or crazy!). One day our heart and head open towards the spiritual, and then the next day our (apparently) scientific mind rules it out as an illusion and delusion." Science and spirituality need not be mutually exclusive aspect of your being, they can and should co-exist as do art, music and other forms of creativity in the presence of analytical, objective reasoning. Tart goes on to say, "So here you are, a human being with a yearning for something higher than simple material gratification, something 'spiritual.' Yet modern science, the most powerful knowledge-refinement system in history, which has led to enormous power over the physical world, seems to tell you in no uncertain terms that you yearn for nothing but fantasy — superstitious, outmoded nonsense that will make you feel less fit to live in the 'real' world …. [Yet] something in us yearns for the higher thing we vaguely call 'spirit,' but we don't want to feel stupid or crazy …. I've talked to innumerable people who consciously thought of themselves as spiritual seekers, who were often quite knowledgeable about spiritual matters but, nevertheless, had something in them holding them back, doubting, sabotaging and invalidating their own spiritual knowledge."

The University of Minnesota says, "Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience — something that touches us all. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness." They also say, "While spirituality may incorporate elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, nor are they entirely distinct from one another." The university concludes that, "Spirituality is about seeking a meaningful connection with something bigger than yourself, which can result in positive emotions, such as peace, awe, contentment, gratitude, and acceptance. Emotional health is about cultivating a positive state of mind, which can broaden your outlook to recognize and incorporate a connection to something larger than yourself."

Howard Clinebell believes that humans have seven spiritual hungers in common. As I share them with you, check whether they resonate with you or whether you find them too schmaltzy? Common spiritual hunger number (1) is, we yearn to experience the healing and power of love; (2) we wish to experience expansive moments beyond the immediate sensory spheres of life; (3) we want to have vital beliefs that lend meaning and hope in the midst of loss, tragedy, and failure; (4) we wish to cultivate values, priorities, and life commitments centred on issues of justice, integrity and love in personal and socially-responsible living; (5) we wish to discover and develop our inner wisdom, creativity, and love of self; (6) we wish to cultivate and deepen our awareness of oneness with other people, the natural world, and all living things; and lastly, number (7) we wish to have inner resources to help heal grief, guilt, resentment, unforgiveness, self-rejection, and shame and to deepen our experiences of trust, self-esteem, hope, joy and love of life.

Droves of people are leaving formal religions today in search of something more meaningful and personal. Religions might offer you a surrogate family of co-worshippers, people with whom you can resonate, ones that think the way you do. religions may prescribe a host of rituals and practices designed to comfort and uplift you. Many of the folk leaving religious organisations however, do so because they are deeply disillusioned and have lost hope. Many go cold and embrace the sensory pleasures of life with justifying one-liners like, "You only live once." Others seek new truths, meaning and purpose. Very often during your process of rediscovery, you may find yourself alienate from friends and family. They might not know the new-you. They could even feel intimidated or judged by your newfound philosophies and practices. Secular friends and acquaintances can also feel a bit awkward as contrasts begin to show as you choose to pursue your highest virtues instead of your sensory and materialistic ones. This is a commonplace occurrence that often leaves the spiritual seeker in a state of quandary. Do you satisfy your spiritual yearning and run the risk of being an outlier or do you stay put and cauterise your spiritual hunger?

Spirituality differs from religion in so many ways: Spiritual hunger is not a pulling force, an external godhead demanding your loyalty, but an internal force, a nudge or push that drives you towards your highest self. Most religions support the idea of an externalised god, whereas spirituality begins with the quest to find the god within. Through this awakened awareness of your inner god, you find your pathway to the external universal godhead. Where religion rigidly adheres to strict beliefs, traditions and rituals, spirituality is much more fluid allowing you to scope out your own parameters of what it means to strive for personal holiness. I suppose that one could argue that ancient shamanic, wiccan and other ancient traditions were early forms of religion but their focus was still deeply spiritually inclined. They served the people by encouraging them to reach inwards and upwards to find that inner interface with the rest of the universe. Spirituality is about oneness and not about separateness. Many religions keep their followers in captive servitude with fear and under the yoke of an erroneous belief that they are in need of redemption, waiting for the external God to reach out to them by offering them a few crumbs from His table.

By the way, I'm not saying that religions are all bad — they should and can be impressive forces to help you to realise your fullest possibility but I think they have strayed somewhat from their ancient objectives. Only you can decide whether your religion is aiding you in reaching inwardly and upwardly or if it is suppressing your highest potential and keeping you trapped in notions of sin (not that such a thing exists, except in the human mind of course).

We all know what we mean when we speak of an external god. It is the almighty being who exists outside the sphere of this world, 'above the clouds,' in a place called Heaven. There, He (this masculine anthropomorphism) has omnipotent and omnipresent powers over all creation — no wonder we're left in awe of Him and never seem to see ourselves as anything more than insignificant creatures on this tiny blue dot in space. If it is fair to seek the external God, then it is equally vital to ask, "What or who is my inner god?" Before you can ask this question, you must first realise that you are unlike any other creature on this planet. Ever since our cortex and limbic brains developed many, many centuries ago, we forever separated ourselves from all other creatures. You have emotions, a propensity for abstract conceptualisation (like art and music) and incredible powers of deduction and reasoning. You are no longer a reactive being, driven by fear and instinct; you are a powerful co-creative force in this universe. Revere the things we have achieved as a species, not that we have always gotten it right and we regularly make awful mistakes with far-reaching consequences, but notice the way we've sculpted earth in incredible ways. With rational and emotive addons to our brains we figured out right from wrong and entrenched these principles in the fabric of our social structures. At a collective level, we have all bought into these ideals in some way or another.

Carl Jung theorised that archetypes form the structure of the collective unconscious. Archetypes are your innate tendency to assimilate primordial images which then mould and transform your individual consciousness. In a mother-child relationship, it is the mother archetype that governs the unconscious, as does a father in a father-child relationship. Jung said that birth, death, power and failure are all controlled by archetypes. Archetypes also govern your religious and mystical experiences too. But, what is it that holds society together? This was the central question that preoccupied Durkheim as he wrote about the new industrial societies of the 19th century. By considering the documented habits, customs, and beliefs of traditional and primitive societies, and comparing those to what he saw around him in his own life, Durkheim created some of the most important theories in sociology. He concluded that society exists because unique individuals feel a sense of solidarity with each other, allowing them to form groups and work together to achieve community and functional societies. The collective consciousness is the source of this solidarity.

Archetypical religions are collective consciousnesses that keeps those societies together, whereas spirituality is your individual and unique consciousness, your personal awareness of self and knowing your rightful place in this universe. Religion and spirituality are two very different things. Collective consciousness fluctuates as people's individual consciousness changes within a society. Sometimes the collective-change happens over wide spans of time, at other times, change happens rapidly. My parents' archetypes which formed the foundations of their views about relationship structures are no longer the same ones that drive me today. This mindset-change occurred in the space of one generation. Society's collective consciousness about intimate relationships has changed from the conservative structures that governed the way Mom and Dad conducted their marriage which later morphed into the more fluid collective, gender-irrelevant consciousness governing relationships today. It is important to remember that a change to your consciousness ripples out and disturbs, then reshapes the consciousness of the society within which you live. The collective consciousness is the aggregate of all individual consciousnesses within a given society. A person's standing within a society adds weight to his or her influence over that society. Nelson Mandela is a good example. Agree with his principles or not, he was very influential in reshaping the world's collective thinking. But these changes are not always permanent, irreversible shifts. They wane over time and need constant compounding and reinforcement. Take the shenanigans that is happening in the ANC now and you'll soon realise how the mindset of its present leadership ripples into the organisation which embraces these new archetypes of endemic corruption and thuggery. To change the world's collective consciousness, you must begin by first examining your own and challenging your personal role within the wider context of your society. When you begin to shift towards the achievement of your highest spiritual-self, you will not only have started your spiritual journey but your consciousness will begin to act as a catalyst for change in the society in which you live. Once your personal change affects your localised society, it will in turn affect its superset consciousness, which in turn will eventually alter world patterns of thinking and behaviour. It all starts with your own striving for spiritual greatness.

What then is so embarrassing about pursuing your spirituality? Why should you cringe away in fear?

To be spiritual is to be individually aware while honouring the universal oneness. To take this concept and implement it in your reality needs tons of humility and meekness — the very things Jesus admonished us to do. Crusading for converts is the business of religion but because awakening to your spiritual awareness is so personal, there is no need for you to seek followers. It is nice to inspire others by sharing your ideas and beliefs with them but the greatest complement you can get is when notice your spirituality shining through in your actions, words and deeds. It was Gandhi who made the following statement but I can't recall the actual context in which he said it. Howsoever he came to say it doesn't really matter so, I'll tell you the version that I know. Gandhi boarded a train one afternoon and took a seat next to an open window. There were many of his admirers on the platform to bid him farewell but one man kept asking Gandhi for some pearls of wisdom, "Please, please Mahatma-ji, give me a message of hope and inspiration." The noise in the station was high and so the devotee took out a used envelope and a stubby, blunt pencil and handed them through the window to Gandhi just as the train started to pull out of the station. Gandhi quickly scribbled a few words on the paper and handed it back to the person as the train gathered speed and left. Gandhi had written just five little words, "My life is my message."

There are many steps you can use to fully awaken to your true nature. Here are some of the essential ones:

  1. Learn to live through love not fear;
  2. Have the courage to surrender;
  3. Find your place in the universe;
  4. Shed the layers;
  5. Learn to forgive;
  6. Know that only your thoughts can harm you;
  7. Break through your limiting beliefs;
  8. Set aside all forms of judgement;
  9. And, learn to be mindful and to meditate.

These nine pointers are pearls of wisdom.

Learning to live through love and not fear is key to your spiritual awakening. Fear is a dominant driver in many cultures around the globe. There's a growing fear of harm from thugs and religious zealots. We live in fear of poverty and ill health and are strongly motivated by the fear of death. A large insurance service provider in South Africa, Clientèle, uses fear as a sales and marketing motivator. Here's an introduction of theirs found on their website, "Losing a family member or someone close to you is one of the most difficult things anyone can deal with." That's fear number (1). They go on, "If that person did not properly plan ahead to cover their expenses they leave a tremendous burden for their loved ones." There's fear number (2). Their next sentence contains fear number (3), "The grieving process is difficult enough, only to be made more complicated when financial issues become involved." And their sales clincher, fear number (4), "The last thing someone wants to be remembered for is not properly planning ahead."

Having the courage to surrender is very important too. But what does it really mean to surrender? Do you have to be weak and ineffectual to surrender? Certainly not! Surrender is a strong spiritual virtue. Many holy texts urge us to surrender unto God. Ram Dass (my spiritual teacher) once told me, "Fully surrendering to God means that you are no longer in control of anything." If success comes your way, then it's attributed to God and not you, God must take the credit, not your ego. If ill befalls you, then it is again part of the divine plan and you cannot be held responsible for any outcomes while you are in a state of surrender. It's God who takes the blame. This sounds weak and a bit pathetic but only if you hold out the idea of an externalised Godhead. Surrender seems to imply that you are a puppet and God is the puppet-master. Surely, if you are given freewill and autonomy, you shouldn't abdicate your responsibilities for God to manage. This may seem true until you flip the frame around and realise that surrendering to God need not only be to an external Godhead but it also means that you can surrender to your own inner self, the divine within, that pinnacle of who you can be. Surrendering to your inner-god suggests that you should always trust your intuitions. It means that you must set your ego aside to allow the nobler, highest self to guide your path.

Finding your place in this universe isn't as difficult as it seems. If it is true, and I suspect that it is, that you have always been a magnificent being of light and love (which is meant when God said He made you in his likeness and image) then your incarnation as a human, with all your human needs, is just a fascinatingly complex game to play. No matter how rough the game gets, no harm can come to your true-self, the magnificent spiritual being that you are. It always reminds me of the Shakespearian minstrels who toured from town to town putting on their plays for the townsfolk. No matter how violent their play, and Shakespeare included gruesome murder in some of his works, once the actors exited the stage and returned to their dressing rooms, there were no feelings of animosity towards the actor who took the role and murdered your character in the play. Quite the opposite, the actors would give each other a high-five and say, "Well done, you played your part superbly."

Time does not permit us to cover each of these nine essential steps in detail in this show but we shall be doing so in later episodes. Their gist is that you should look inward, in mindful meditation, to befriend and surrender to your inner god. By learning to shed your layers of fear, doubt, egotism and misinformation, you begin to find a clear space of bliss within. This inner god-like core of your being is an ever-present observer, always there as a source of pure love. From this source, flows everything else. It is the capstone on the symbolic pyramid, the point where all the lines of the pyramid's edges meet. This is your contact point with the rest of the universe in much the same way as the converging lines meet at the pyramid's apex and extend out into space above it, forming an invisible, inverted and infinitely large pyramid in heaven.

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