It is hardly surprising that a representative of the Republican Party, that bastion of Christian fundamentalist zealotry, is calling upon the Supreme Court to provide a definition of religion. (Will Jews be required to wear arm bands again?)
In cases such as this it is not uncommon for an interested, knowledgeable party to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief. I'm interested, I'm knowledgeable, and I'm filing my column n our nine justices can read it online.
In order to define religion we must first define spirituality for the latter is the universal phenomenon.
You may choose to join a religion. Spirituality is awareness of the omnipresent, choice is not involved.
Further, an appreciation of the universality of spirituality permits the comprehension of both the concept of transcendent truth and its ineffability.
Note: although this column addresses an innate human experience, a primordial awareness antecedent to received learning (religion), some of the words used to discuss the issue may be unfamiliar. "Ineffable" means something that exceeds the power of language to articulate.
Absolute or objective truth is said to possess the quality of ineffability. The universality of human spirituality, that transcendent experience preceding and informing the world's manifold religions, provides an acknowledgement of the ineffability of the experience.
Religion attempts to characterize the ineffable. In an act of consummate hubris the religious co-opt the innate awareness of a single absolute truth with the self-serving assertion of a single definition of truth.
Unrelated to the universal primordial awareness, religion is an ego-driven effort to concretize, possess and represent a single, inflexible definition of that which, by its very nature, transcends description.
Objective truth, the absolute, is that which is perceived identically by all. The unalterable quality of objective truth stands in contrast to a relative truth, an artificial construct that retains its illusion of eternal permanence by virtue of a consensus or commitment of faith by an individual or group.
It is no surprise, therefore, that another characteristic of religion is the notion of salvation. Those myriad groups that have committed themselves to believing in a consensual or faith-dependent truth feel themselves separated from the absolute.
How could it be otherwise?
That to which religions commit themselves, their own illusory constructs, cannot provide the ennobling sustenance and revelatory wisdom they seek. As their faith-dependent paradigms lack absolute invariance, is it any wonder they describe themselves as separated from the absolute, anxious and in need of salvation?
The rest of us, those who have made no commitment to an articulated truth, are directly informed by the absolute and thereby suffer neither a feeling of separation nor the concomitant need for salvation.
It is clear to the spiritual the notion of original sin finds its genesis in this commitment to the invariance of an object or concept or definition that can never be more than relatively true.
The myriad "truths" of the world's religions are faith dependent; the individual characteristics of these alleged truths nothing more than projections of the various groups' needs and world views.
Ironically, despite their all-consuming need for self-affirmation, the religious achieve moments of union, periods when the anxiety of separation dissipates and they are one with the absolute. This they achieve through ritual and the spontaneity it induces.
As one would expect, each religion believes it is their particular ritual that is responsible for access to the omnipresent.
The spiritual, those unburdened by religion, are aware any and all rituals permit the dissolution of the self-reflective ego and its commitment to the truth of the perceived. Religions cannot see beyond the faith that binds and torments them.
You can never be apart from the omnipresent. Existential angst, the "fall" experienced by the religious and presumed to be a universal human experience, is a direct result of omnipresent truth illuminating the insubstantiality of that in which religions have made a commitment of faith.
Therefore, when the Supreme Court searches for a definition of religion I suggest they characterize it as an ego-driven, self-reflective impulse to confine the unbounded to the limits of their perception.
R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.