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.

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 SPIRITUALITY? Spirituality is the ability to perceive the Divine in everything we see and do, regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Spirituality has in common a set of core beliefs or perceptions such as:

  1. The belief that conscious intelligence permeates and animates all matter, but that it has no single source from which it emanates.
  2. The belief that all human beings are one and a part or reflection of "God" or "Divine Consciousness"--in effect, spirituality teaches that all humans are, in essence, "cells" in "God's body."
  3. The belief that humans are immortal and eternal spiritual entities that come into the flesh as a means that "God" uses to perceive itself.
  4. A belief that all human misery and fear is a direct and inevitable byproduct of the sense of separation we naturally inherit as a result of coming into the flesh.
  5. An understanding that the while our basic nature is immortal, our physical body and individual ego or personality, is not and will be reabsorbed back into the divine consciousness upon physical death. The experiences that the ego had, however, are retained as "memories" by the greater whole.
  6. The understanding that what we refer to as "death" is an illusion created by the ego in an effort to transcend its own mortality, resulting in a natural fear of death and its perception of death as being "the end."
  7. The recognition that what we call "the world" is actually part of a shared illusion or dream that can be altered when we change our perceptions and understandings. This process is known as becoming "enlightened" or "conscious."
  8. A belief that humans may access to the Divine Mind directly without precondition or an intermediary.

Spirituality shares a few things with religion, mainly in the fact that it too usually has its own set of "inspired" writings or important texts as well as spiritual leaders or gurus. The difference, however, is that the writings are not considered infallible or necessary to achieving "enlightenment" but instead are merely considered to be helpful insights designed to assist in one's understanding. Likewise, those who are looked upon as enlightened leaders are not to be considered as "authorities" or otherwise thought of as being in charge, but are to be looked upon as way-showers sent to help others find their way.

Further, I recognize that not everyone who considers themselves "spiritual" necessarily embraces each and every one of basic characteristics I've outlined above. Further, some may even see several elements I've missed entirely, and that brings us to our final characteristic: spirituality is an individual journey of discovery specifically crafted for each unique person. In other words, no two people are going to take the same journey simply because no two people are exactly alike, and as a result elements that seem especially pertinent to one person may be minor to another, which is as it should be. In contrast, religion demands that everyone read off the same page; spirituality, in comparison, invites you to write your own book.

DO THE TERMS "RELIGION" AND "SPIRITUALITY" MEAN THE SAME THING? No. I believe they have very different meanings. I've already defined "spirituality"—see above—and define religion as any coordinated man-made effort to access or understand the Divine (or God, if you will). I also believe that some religious people can be quite spiritual while some spiritual people can be completely irreligious. (See my Religion Q & A for a more complete definition of "religion.")

WHAT ROLE DOES RELIGION PLAY IN SPIRITUALITY, IF ANY? I believe that religion can be useful and, in some cases, even invaluable in introducing people to a broader world view in regards to God, the universe, and the nature of reality. In other words, I perceive religion to be a useful ally in introducing people to the idea of "God" and, in so doing, making them aware of the greater spiritual dimension of reality. However, I also believe that some religions can be an impediment to spirituality-especially those that are more doctrine heavy and fear-based. As a result, I believe that to find spirituality some people need to first find religion, while in order for others to find it, they need to first get away from religion.

HOW DO I DEFINE GOD? I don't believe in a personal God as defined in Western religion, but 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.

CAN ONE CONSIDER THEMSELVES A CHRISTIAN AND STILL BE "SPIRITUAL?" Depends on how you define "Christian." If you mean by "Christian" one who tries to apply the fundamental moral and ethical teachings Jesus taught his followers, then yes, one can be a Christian and maintain a number of spiritual beliefs. In fact, many people in the "New Age" movement embrace Christ, seeing him as an "avatar" or highly evolved being and find in his teachings many of the spiritual concepts articulated above. On the other hand, if you embrace the orthodox position that Jesus was God incarnate who came to Earth specifically to die for your sins on the cross, thereby absolving you of your transgressions and making you worthy to God the Father, then you will probably find most of the spiritual concepts outlined above difficult to accept. (For my opinions on who I believe Jesus Christ to have been, please go to my Religion Q&A Page.)

WHAT DOES "BEING SPIRITUAL" FEEL LIKE? If one is truly accepting of the fact that everything is an emanation of the Divine and can stay grounded in the presence of Spirit on a regular basis, one experiences life on a different level. Instead of problems, they see opportunities for growth; instead of dividing people into "winners" and "losers," they see everyone as a reflection of God; instead of feeling frustration, regret, anger, and boredom, they feel only the joy of living and a deep-seated contentment that seems almost unrealistic, but is more "real" than anything they have felt before. In effect, being "spiritual" feels like you can finally stop struggling and embrace all of life—with both its problems and its joys—as part of the Divine experiencing itself. You are, in essence, at peace—with both yourself and the world around you.

WHAT DO I BELIEVE HAPPENS TO US WHEN WE DIE? Putting aside the fact that the thing we call "death" is a mind-created illusion, I believe that when we transition out of our physical bodies at the end of this incarnation, we return to "Source" as a being of light and love, finally free of all the encumbrances of living in the world of flesh. At that point, I believe we have a number of choices to make, such as whether we want to return to the flesh and relive the life we just had but under different circumstances, reincarnate, or move on to other dimensions of being.

DO I BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION? I believe it is one option of many we may experience from the realm of spirit, and an invaluable tool in our spiritual awakening. I also believe that most people have reincarnated, many of them scores or even hundreds of times before though, of course, few of us have any conscious memories of any of these past lives. Even though we may not remember these past incarnations, however, doesn't mean they don't impact us in subtle ways during this present incarnation.

DO I BELIEVE IN "EVIL?" Many spiritual teachers maintain that what we call "evil" is a mind-created delusion resulting from the ego's natural inclination to label everything either as "good" or "bad." Others teach that what we call "evil" is a necessary force in our spiritual growth, both personally and collectively, without which we would be unable to evolve spiritually. My position is that "evil" does exist, but it is an unavoidable by-product of our sense of separation that manifests itself in the form of fear, hatred, and violence. The real "value" of evil-if that's the right word-is that it serves as a measuring rod by which we might gauge our own spiritual progress and forces us to face it when we encounter it in ourselves. I tend to imagine we are all equal parts both "good" and "evil" with one or the other predominating in our lives while the other remains mostly dormant. In effect, within every saint is the seeds of a sinner, and within every sinner, the potential to be a saint.

WHAT DO I BELIEVE HAPPENS TO "EVIL" PEOPLE WHEN THEY DIE? Most people, I think it is fair to say, prefer to imagine that Adolph Hitler or some other "evil" person went to hell when they died, but in fact, just the opposite is true. When they died, they actually left hell, for that is what their life on earth was. Once in the realm of spirit, however, the corrupt, darkened ego falls away, revealing the light of the Divine that lived beneath it, and they move on to their next spiritual adventure (maybe even choosing to reincarnate as one of their own victims, perhaps). Of course, this is rejected by many people as being an "easy out" for history's most heinous criminals and sadists, but I believe the desire to see another suffer for their "sins"—usually perceived as seeing them be tortured forever in hell—is itself evil. In other words, when you try to punish evil with evil, you fall into precisely the same trap a Hitler or a Stalin or an Osama Bin Laden fell into, and often suffer the consequences as a result of it.

AM I SAYING THAT "EVIL" SHOULDN'T BE RESISTED BUT SIMPLY ACCEPTED? Evil is resisted with love. In fact, it cannot survive in its presence and will flee from it. That being said, there are situations while we are in the flesh when it may become necessary to restrain or isolate an individual bent on destruction, either out of self-defense or, more often, in the defense of others. This could, in the most serious cases, even result in the taking of a life in much the same way it frequently is necessary to remove healthy tissue in an effort to eradicate cancer cells. The key here, however, is in understanding that when such actions become necessary, it is incumbent upon those who are spiritually aware to not become caught up in the evil themselves, which is much easier said than done. Evil emits a powerful negative energy that feeds off like-minded energy, making it important it be faced without being resisted with more evil, which only empowers it.

WHO ARE MY GREATEST SPIRITUAL INFLUENCES? When I was an active Christian, I very much enjoyed the writings of C.S. Lewis, especially Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. More recently, my inspirations have come from the writings of M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled), Neale Donald Walsch (The Conversations with God Trilogy), and Ekhart Tolle (The Power of Now and A New Earth). My silky terrier Charley also continues to have a profound spiritual impact upon my life. (Click here to view the profound wisdom contained in the Book of Charley.)