When a person maintains a website devoted largely to issues pertaining to religion and spirituality, the question often comes up as to just what I, personally, believe about these things. I suppose it's a way of gauging where I'm at intellectually and spiritually as a way of determining how trustworthy I am. In other words, people sometimes want to know what I believe as a way of deciding how to interpret my various writings.

I have no problem with this, of course. I, too, often like to know where a writer is coming from when I read their work, so I think it's only fair to put my opinions down on paper (or, in this case, in cyberspace) and let the reader make their own judgment as to whether I'm a reliable—or spurious, for that matter—source. However, it's important to realize that the opinions expressed here are just that—opinions—and further, that they are subject to change as my spiritual and religious beliefs evolve over time. Think of these, then, as a type of "snapshot" that tells you were I am today; I may alter my opinions dramatically in the future. Additionally, since Christianity is the faith with which I am most familiar with, my questions and answers will be built mostly around Christian concepts and ideas (as opposed to Moslem or Hindu concepts, for example). Some of them, however—such as the question of angels and demons and heaven and hell—are common to several faiths and so may appeal to a broader audience.

Finally, as always, I would be glad to discuss my opinions with you as long as we can keep any exchange civil and mutually beneficial. I welcome all constructive debate but please don't try to "convert" me to your point of view. Like I said, I'll be glad to discuss our differences, but it is bad manners to make someone your "project" in an effort to save their soul.

HOW DO I DEFINE RELIGION? Religion is a man-made effort to access or understand the Divine (or God, if you will). In effect, it is a series of beliefs or opinions penned by usually persons unknown regarding the nature of God, the universe, and eternity as they understand it that are then embraced by large numbers of people. All religions have in common the following elements:

  1. A precise and specific set of doctrinal beliefs or tenets of the faith it is incumbent upon the believer to embrace in their entirety in order to be considered a "true" follower of the faith. Of course, what qualifies as imperative or "orthodox doctrine" may vary even within the same faith or denomination, with some faiths and sects being more flexible than others.
  2. A set of writings that promulgate the core beliefs of the faith and/or record the main teachings of a faith's founder or senior leaders. Often these writings are considered infallible or, at a minimum, divinely inspired and so are to be considered reliable in terms of their basic message. Often these writings are of uncertain or unknown authorship.
  3. A sense that it holds-if not the "only" truth in regards to the nature of God, the universe, and eternity—at least the most superior or complete understanding regarding these issues. As a result, most religions foster an "us" versus "them" mentality, whether they hold such opinions either consciously or unconsciously.
  4. A belief in some sort of afterlife or post mortem existence the believer will experience upon death, be it Heaven or Hell or reincarnation. This often results in an unconscious tendency to see people as "saved" or "unsaved" depending upon their religious affiliation (or lack thereof).
  5. The belief that humans require an intermediary to access God such as a priest, a pastor, a rabbi, a mullah or other religious figure.
  6. A belief that humans are inherently "sinful" and are required to perform certain acts or believe certain things to be "acceptable" to God, without which they may be punished.
  7. A tendency towards proselytizing—either overtly through missionaries or covertly through cultural assimilation—as a means of maintaining significant numbers of followers.
  8. A hierarchal structure of leadership headed by a supreme leader or council. Many younger religions may be led by a single leader who is looked upon as their founder, a prophet, or chief source of inspiration.
  9. Religious institutions are usually subdivided into different denominations, sects, or "schools of thought" that are often at odds with each other and, sometimes, even hostile to one another.

Not all religious maintain all of these characteristics, of course, but they will invariably demonstrate most of them, especially over time. Usually the older the faith, the more likely it is to possess all nine of these characteristics.

DO THE TERMS "RELIGION" AND "SPIRITUALITY" MEAN THE SAME THING? No. I believe they have very different meanings. I've already defined "religion"—see above—and define spirituality to be that which transcends mere religious belief. In effect, spirituality is the ability to perceive the Divine in everything we see and do, regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack thereof). I also believe that some religious people can be quite spiritual while some spiritual people can be completely irreligious. (See my Spirituality Q & A for a more complete definition of "spirituality.")

DO I BELIEVE RELIGION TO BE "GOOD" OR "BAD?" I believe it is both. Religion has shown itself to serve as a powerful catalyst for positive change (such as the abolition of gladiatorial games and slavery) as well as the impetus for some of the darkest chapters of human history (the Inquisition, Crusades, and various religious wars). I've seen it make both saints and monsters out of people, though I suspect there are other factors involved in determining which they will be. For example, I believe people who are inherently "good" will gravitate towards those faiths that emphasize forgiveness and compassion, while people who are intrinsically "bad," will be attracted to those faiths which emphasize judgment and control. In effect, I believe its up to the individual to make their religion either "good" or "bad."

DO I BELIEVE GOD TO BE A "PERSON?" I don't believe in a personal God as defined by Western religion, which I consider to be simply an attempt to anthropomorphize spirit by giving it human—and usually, male—attributes and calling the final product "God." While I believe this inclination to see God in very human terms to be natural and, perhaps to some people, invaluable to their understanding during the earliest stages of their spiritual evolution, it also tends to result in perceptions of God as being judgmental and, at times, even cruel (precisely as is "His" creator.) I reject the notion of a personal God, then, instead preferring to see this thing we call "God" to be but another name for a cosmic intelligence or "presence" that permeates and animates all matter. In this, I am more closely associated with deism or panentheism than I am with theism.

DO I CONSIDER MYSELF A CHRISTIAN? Depends on how you define "Christian." If you mean by "Christian" do I agree with and try to apply the fundamental moral and ethical teachings Jesus taught his followers, then yes, I am a Christian. (The term "Christian" itself means, simply, "Christ ones" or followers of Christ.) If, on the other hand, do you mean do I embrace the orthodox position that Jesus was God incarnate who came to Earth specifically to die for our sins on the cross, thereby absolving us of our transgressions and making us worthy to God the Father, then no, I am not a Christian.

DO I BELIEVE IN THE DEVIL? While I am open to the possibility that there may be negative energies that inhabit the spiritual realm, I do not believe these energies have a "leader" or that there was once an archangel named Lucifer who was cast from Heaven and became Satan. (I interpret the Biblical story of "Lucifer's rebellion" metaphorically.) I do believe, however, that these entities are attracted to negative energy in the physical realm and that they can be dangerous and even intelligent, which, I suppose, would be a pretty good definition of a "demon."

DO I BELIEVE IN ANGELS? I believe the spiritual realm to be populated by many different kinds of entities--some positive and some negative-and that some of these disembodied intelligences may interact within the physical realm on occasion in a positive or helpful way. I don't believe they have a hierarchy or a leader, however, but that they essentially work alone (or in groups) to bring about positive change or assist with humanities' spiritual evolution. I don't have a problem with people who use the term "angel" to describe these entities, though I personally prefer "spirit guides" or our "higher self" to describe them.

DO I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST? I believe there was an itinerant, first century Jewish rabbi who served as the basis for the man known as "Jesus of Nazareth", though I suspect that much of what this individual actually did or taught has been lost to history or has been misinterpreted. I believe this man to have been an "avatar" or highly evolved spiritual teacher who was eventually crucified by the Roman authorities because his growing following was perceived as a threat to Roman rule over Palestine. I don't necessarily believe his name was really "Jesus" or that he was from Nazareth, but I do believe he existed in some context. I am also leaning towards the theory that he may have been an Essene, as many of his teachings closely echo Essene philosophy. I find the theory that he traveled to India to acquire his ideas to be unnecessarily complex and unsubstantiated, however.

WHAT DO I BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS SPECIFICALLY? I don't believe Jesus was born of a virgin, that he walked on water, raised Lazarus from the dead, or performed many of the miracles he was credited with. I do believe, however, that he taught and lectured throughout Palestine and may have inspired some spontaneous and seemingly miraculous healings through the power of suggestion and by showing people how to activate the inherent healing powers contained within the mind-body connection.

DO I BELIEVE THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD? I interpret the resurrection metaphorically—not as a literal historical event, but as a metaphor for spiritual awakening. In this, my beliefs closely align themselves to Gnostic teachings and concepts.

WAS JESUS THE SON OF GOD? Yes, but not exclusively. I believe his divinity was inclusive-that is, that he was expressing the idea that the Divine resides in all men (and women). I further believe this teaching has been badly misinterpreted over the last 2,000 years, thereby stripping Christ's basic message of its real meaning and power.

DO I BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED FOR OUR SINS? I believe Jesus came to show us a better way back to God and died as a result of making that message known to a society that was largely incapable of or unwilling to embrace it. As such, while I believe his death can serve as a source of inspiration, it was his attitude about his impending death that is most instructive. The man lived fearlessly—even to the point of death—which demonstrates the power of love operating in his life. I don't believe his death was a sacrifice God required of him in order for Him to be able to overlook or "pay" for our transgressions, nor do I believe that only people who embrace this fact can be saved.

DO I BELIEVE IN THE SECOND COMING? No. I believe apocalyptic writings contained in the Bible were either postdictive interpretations of already realized historical events or were simply false.

DO I BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS DIVINELY INSPIRED? Depends upon how one defines "inspired." If meant to imply that it was written at the direct behest of God and contains God's actual thoughts, words, and opinions, then no, I do not believe it to be Divinely "inspired." If by "inspired" you mean that the Divine served as a source of inspiration to its authors, I have no problem with that. In fact, using that definition, there are literally thousands of books written throughout history that could be considered "Divinely inspired."

DO I BELIEVE THE BIBLE TO BE INFALLIBLE OR INERRANT? No. Numerous small but significant historical, scientific and factual errors have already been shown to exist in the Bible—along with a few apparently contradictory statements—for it to be considered without error (or infallible). That being said, it remains a remarkable and inspiring collection of writings, some of which contain a powerful and often life-changing message that continues to resonate to this day.

DO I BELIEVE CERTAIN "HOLY TEXTS" TO BE "OF GOD?" In that all sacred writings are penned by emanations of God in the form of men, all writings reflect the Divine to some degree. However, I believe these writings are of spiritual value only insofar as they agree about the need for compassion and forgiveness or in those parts that are uplifting, beautiful, and wise. I also consider some holy texts to possess historical and cultural significance, especially in that they serve as an invaluable and fascinating window into the past. Finally, I consider some texts to be spurious and outright dangerous if applied or taken literally.

DO I BELIEVE IN HEAVEN? Not as a place but as a circumstance or, more accurately, a perspective. In other words, heaven-and hell, for that matter-are conditions we experience here on Earth as a result of the choices we make and our level of spiritual development. This is what I believe Jesus was talking about when he said that the Kingdom of Heaven was "at hand." He wasn't talking of some future estate, but of a present reality that could be realized at any time by simply changing one's perspective on things and in doing so, perceive the love and joy of the Divine all around them.

DO I BELIEVE IN HELL? Just as I believe Heaven to be a condition one experiences here on earth, I believe the same it true of hell-which is actually just the absence of perceiving light and seeing only darkness. In effect, I believe hell is being trapped within our own sense of separation and seeing that as "the way things are" without being able to recognize the divine all around us. Fortunately, I believe this experience to be temporary and something we can walk away from if we choose to do so. The problem is that most people don't realize they have that option.

DO I BELIEVE IN A FINAL JUDGMENT? I don't believe God judges us for our "sins," but that we judge ourselves, which can have hellish repercussions. In effect, I think we need to forgive ourselves—and others—before we can move on spiritually. I also believe this traditional, religious concept that we are judged by God to be the greatest single roadblock preventing us from perceiving the Divine and finding peace in our lives.

DO I BELIEVE IN ORIGINAL SIN? I believe we are all born into spiritual unconsciousness and a sense of separation which makes our lives difficult and a source of great frustration, unhappiness, and fear. Personally, I prefer the term "original error" rather than sin, but I suppose the terms could be used interchangeably. I also don't believe it is something that needs to be "forgiven," but that it is a natural element of our spiritual evolution.

DO I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT? I believe divinity resides in all nature and that the underlying consciousness behind it can be accessed personally at any time and under any circumstances. I call it Divine wisdom or "The Source" while others call this cosmic awareness the "Holy Spirit" or the "Christ consciousness." It's all the same thing. Where I disagree with traditional Christianity is in its insistence that this power can only be acquired through the "laying on of hands" or by being "baptized in the Holy Spirit." In effect, I believe that when someone "receives the Holy Spirit" they are simply receiving something they already had beforehand but didn't recognize as such.