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“Eleven and a Half Steps to Enlightenment”

Does that title catch your attention? Disclaimer: this essay will not provide the reader with either happiness or enlightenment. However, who can say what may happen while reading?

I’m sure you’ve noticed the propagation of books and videos that claim that taking a certain amount of steps will “change your life,” bring you to bliss or even lead to God.
Think of the most popular: Three easy ways to [whatever]. Seven paths to peace. The eight-fold path [Buddhist]. The ten commands [Jewish] or the two commands [Christian—love God and love neighbor]. And, of course, the twelve steps [AA].

Ever wonder why no one has gotten rich with a “One Step” program? Give me your money and go take a leap.

Mocking? No. Poking? Yes. Disrespectful? Only if a person thinks that an assortment of questions served on a plate of humor are not respectful. Then again, should absolutely everything in the realm of religion be off-limits to critique and question? How’s that? Who decided that?

Observing the continual controversies over “phobias” I wonder if we can ever get beyond feeling “attacked” or “persecuted” when someone no longer thinks or believes the way we do. Someone tells their story, how they feel a sense of liberation, freedom and relief leaving their faith. Others respond with anger: You’re being disrespectful! You’re attacking my faith! You’re giving fuel for people who hate me for my faith!

I understand the feelings, but not the reasoning.

A Muslim woman comes out as ex-Muslim and then labeled “Islamophobic.” A Christian man comes out as ex-Christian so they are now “anti-Christian.” Is this “Christianophobic”? Is an ex-Believer “faithophobic”? Does being an ex-Anything mean you are now an “ex-a-phobe”? This can get pretty silly. “I used to be very fearful, now I’m not.” Does this lead to “Fear-phobia”?

Is there real ignorance-fueled prejudice? Absolutely. Does that mean a person cannot or should not speak out freely and honestly? The more we speak about the story of our lives, how we “found” something or “left” something, the more we can all have an open discussion and swap stories. Not easy, perhaps, but makes sense, doesn’t it?

I have some real issues with organized (sometimes chaotic) religion, but that doesn’t mean I am anti-religious or against people who believe. Does this mean I won’t question and challenge what I think is nonsense or even abusive? Not at all. What makes the difference is that I think about people’s feelings and respect what folks think and believe, when that is deserving of respect.

What do I mean by that? Should we respect a religious teaching that condones any form of child abuse or spousal abuse? Is it necessary to respect a passage in a person’s cherished scripture that supports slavery, genocide or male dominance? How about slaughter of innocent animals to appease a deity?

Let’s jump to the eleventh step: all these questions. But what are the first ten steps? you ask. I’m not sure what those are for you or what your way (path, doorway, escalator) toward contentment or fulfillment in your life. Actually we can assume each will start and perhaps end with yet another disturbing question. Maybe that disturbance is what you need. I wouldn’t know.

Why is it we always hear about “steps” or “paths”? They are meant to nudge (or demand) forward movement toward … . There’s the rub. Where are these leading? If I take a step, will it be off the proverbial cliff or onto an elevator to a “higher” understanding of myself and my world?

Take the promise that if we take the step of asking for forgiveness, confessing our sins, we are forgiven. Tomorrow’s another day, another day of sin, so tomorrow’s another step. We never get beyond the first step. If we did, we wouldn’t have to keep stepping. Where is the progress?

Many of us go through Sunday school [religious instruction] and maybe college or even seminary without ever getting to know a person who doesn’t share our beliefs. When we actually do meet “one of them,” we aren’t prepared because we don’t really know them or have a good understanding of their worldview. Our default may indeed be Phobia.

I made the claim that there are eleven and a half steps, so what is the half step? I might say that is a stumble, a trip, or a hesitant moment of uncertainty. A stepping back for a minute or a month to re-think or review your steps. Am I going forward with this “program” or “spiritual path” or staying still or going backward? I’d say those are important, potentially motivating considerations.

Let’s step up and step out sometimes, shall we?

Chris Highland
2019

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