Spiritual Warfare, Spiritual Peacemaking, and the Spiritual Two-Way Street
Whether we realize it or not, we live in the midst of spiritual warfare. Various belief systems compete constantly for our loyalty, as part of the memetic soup within which our mental lives operate. Even people who shun organized religion (and organized politics) still have belief systems. Everybody has a belief system -- even the attempt to hold no ultimate beliefs is still a belief system.
Some spiritual warriors compete openly, though peacefully, for your soul -- such as the cute traveling Mormon boys who knock periodically on your front door. Some spiritual warriors claim to be "objective", luring you into their system by seeming to have no system. Many spiritual warriors are unconscious of their roles, merely repeating or amplifying what they are told, as they are told, without intending to replicate their beliefs among others, never seeing the complex interplay of ideas swarming about them.
Ideas sprout, spread, compete, and live or die -- via memetic selection and evolution -- and those who believe an idea make it real, for them, while keeping that idea alive. For each of us, reality is what we believe it to be, for none of us can know anything more.
Technology has changed how spiritual warfare shoots between producer and consumer, having created massive flows of electronic & printed media to which we voluntarily hook ourselves for several hours each day ... the variety of available channels, subscriptions, and URLs makes each of us into a battleground for ideas, even as our preferences are recorded, studied, competed for, and manipulated.
In countries like the United States, where freedom of religion and freedom of speech are usually taken seriously, hardly any people are killed, tortured, or imprisoned solely because of their beliefs, religious practices, or verbal expressions. Most of the Americans who end up in jail get there by handling illegal drugs, stealing property, or assaulting another person.
In these "free" countries, spiritual warfare doesn't usually cause physical harm to the human battlegrounds. We humans who live where freedom of religion predominates think of ourselves as engaging in spiritual debate, not spiritual warfare. The spiritual ideas wouldn't see it that way, though ... ideas live or die as a result of these debates. Some ideas become extinct, while others are preserved via spiritual zoos -- academic disciplines where losing ideas are kept around as examples of historical thought.
However, in order to have a non-violent spiritual debate, certain meta-ideas must first take root in the vast majority of the populace. These meta-ideas include respect for the person's physical body, respect for the person's ideas, and respect for the unhindered exchange of ideas. Without these forms of widespread respect, spiritual warfare turns into actual violence. In many parts of the world, spiritual violence remains prevalent.
Many people find comfort or direction by turning to a higher power, a God, a system of ethics, or a panoply of deities. Many people feel lost, confused, anxious, obsessive, or depressed without a strong belief system to anchor their mental or spiritual lives.
Even bare survival as a human requires certain beliefs -- a set of operational cognitive maps -- we need to know how to find and maintain food, shelter, physical health, and various social relationships. Once we have a series of operational cognitive maps, feeling secure about our human role inside this risky cosmos requires operational spiritual maps -- we need to know how to find and maintain peace, faith, acceptance, and meaning. Our health as humans, both physical health and emotional health, depends on the spread of these cognitive and spiritual maps between individuals. Humans benefit greatly, both as individuals and as a species, because of the successes of memetic selection and spiritual warfare.
Perhaps, in addition, these ideas of a higher power, a God, a system of ethics, or a panoply of deities also benefit greatly because humans exist to believe in them. Are ideas meaningful, or even real, without people who can express and understand those ideas? If God exists apart from our ideas, doesn't Her existence benefit from having humans who attempt to get to know Her and love Her and serve Her? What good is it to be a God and to have nobody else who even tries to understand you?
I think spiritual seekers often forget their own contributions to this system of competing spiritual maps. They see themselves as seeking knowledge, seeking answers, seeking faith, seeking an understanding of their place in the universe. But without their seeking, without conscious humans attempting to perceive and understand the universe, what would be the point of the universe? Without a vigorous debate between various sincere perceivers, how else would truth ever unfold? If no conscious life existed, anywhere ... then there isn't any reason for the physical matter and organization of the universe to exist. If God created the heavens and the earth ... just for Herself ... so what? God also needed to create humans who might learn about creation, and appreciate it, and worship it, and add to it their own perceptions, ideas, and desires.
These spiritual connections for each of us form a two-way street. The believer is every bit as important as the belief system. Without both sides of this connection, the other side has no meaning, and no real reason for its existence.
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