Whether you are “spiritual” or “religious,” there should be a code of ethics to follow in regards to how you treat other fellow believers and non-believers. With that, I am aware that my MacBook doesn’t carry the same weight as a burning bush talking to you. (Nothing about a golden calf here but I am sitting at my silver apple.)
1. Thou shalt not engage in arguments with atheists.
Have you ever been talking to someone and they mention a movie that they absolutely love? However, you did not feel the same way about that particular film so you say, “You know, I really didn’t care for Avatar.” What follows is a fifteen-minute rant about how wrong you are, and how James Cameron is a visual genius, and the message is a universal one about greed, politics, and mercenary mentalities. Remember not winning that kind of conversation? Well, you aren’t going to win a conversion contest with an atheist either.
Remember that spirituality is all about beliefs. Does it really matter who is right or wrong in a conversation about a theory regarding the universe? Neither of you can prove your point, neither of you can show facts about God’s existence or lack thereof. If you discover that the person you are speaking with happens to not believe in a higher power (but they are a morally good person) then skip the judgment. Save the judgment for what’s really important: their taste in books.
2. Thou shalt not tell others what is a sin.
Spiritual based morality is not homogenous. What one person sees as an unforgiveable sin, another might just see as a Dallas Cowboys fan (America’s team, my ass). While we can all agree that murder, theft, and rape (and other variations of crimes against your fellow man) are insanely bad. As for other “sins” (tattoos, homosexuality, eating the wrong animals), people have varying opinions about what gets you eternal damnation. There are people in this world who want to cast others to hell for just being who they are. Our duties as religious folk are not to throw stones at glassy, sin-filled houses. It is to clean those windows for all those to see God reflected back at them.
3. Thou shalt learn the history of your religion.
Look, I can’t quote much of the Bible to save my life (I do however, know all the words to Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys). But in a pinch I could tell you an abbreviated history of the Bible and how it ended up in its current manifestation. If your religious faith is based merely on your holy book and the often heavily translated words in it, then your spiritual growth is only halfway complete. Everything has a context to it and you are getting only half of your spiritual education if you insist on ignoring the historical facts of your religion.
4. Thou shalt not thank God for your accomplishments.
People joke all the time about actors, musicians, and athletes thanking Jesus or God when they win awards. Was it God in the studio with them? Was God working the long hours on sets to get a scene just right? Was God blocking those big bruisers as they ran for a touchdown? No, those people put in the hard work and dedication themselves. While God may be a source of strength to keep you motivated, it is purely through a good work ethic and constant learning that brings success. I am sure God is okay with you taking the credit for what you have achieved. Unlike humans, He is not an attention hog.
5. Nor shall thou blame God for your failures.
Having said the above about success let me add that God is not responsible for your failures, either. Why does God smite you? He doesn’t. This is life, which is full of ups and downs, happy and sad, thrilling and boring. The story of Job has done a great disservice. It implies that if you are righteous you shouldn’t have bad times but if you do it’s because God and Satan are playing a sadistic game of plague roulette with you. Bad stuff happens and it is not God testing you, it’s your fellow humans and/or your attitude towards tough times that is causing you grief.
6. Thou shall recognize that religion is an act of faith specific to one’s beliefs, values, and backgrounds.
Line up 10 people from my church (shout out to Transfiguration Episcopal Church in San Mateo- woot woot!) and ask them varying questions about Christianity. How would you describe Jesus? What happens in the afterlife? Explain communion and its significance. I bet you would get ten different answers to all those questions from people who worship at the same church.
There are many factors that influence religious beliefs such as location (compare Japanese Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism) and cultural (a Catholic church in Brazil to one in Northern Europe), as well as generational (your worship versus your grandparents’). Plus, one’s individual life affects how they choose to pray, believe, and practice. Faith is as individual as we are.
7. Thou shall not criticize or judge another religion for their practices, particularly if there is no harm done to you or your spirituality.
Post 9/11, the waves of anti-Islamic sentiment made me want to learn more about the religion just to counter the ignorant arguments I kept hearing. As an example of this desire to learn more, I stopped a Muslim woman in Target to ask about her hijab (the scarf covering her hair). I blurted out my questions for her: when did she start wearing one? Is there a particular ritual performed the first time she put one on? When I relayed story to my friends, they were mortified that I felt the need to ask these questions to a person picking out detergent. But I am fascinated about how other people view God, their relationships to Him, and their entire belief system. While I would not choose to wear a hijab like a Muslim woman or wear long dresses like Orthodox Jewish women, I would not put those down who do. And neither should other believers.
By the way, she started wearing her hijab as a teenager to model after her mom. Her sister and her nieces do not wear one. No special ceremony, she just put it on one day. And she bought Tide.
8. Thou shalt have your own relationship to God.
Don’t just rely on your spiritual leaders to tell you the right way to pray or worship. Don’t let someone else dictate how you should communicate to God. God wants to hear from you and your authentic self.
So you don’t have time to meditate for an hour a day on the meaning of the universe? So you don’t always make it to church? So you haven’t found a person or people to join you on this spiritual journey? Who cares! Find God wherever you find Him. Does God speak to you when you walk on the beach? Do you feel God when you are in a library? Is God found in a silent house? (If He is, let me know because it has been a while since we have had silence in our casa.) True spirituality is when you are confident in your relationship with God- whenever, wherever, or however you feel His presence.
9. Thou shalt see God in everyone, not just those similar to you.
Okay, get Maya Angelou’s voice in your head while you read a quote by her: “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.” Not everyone lives as you do. Some people have had a faith system from a young age. Some people have become separated from God and others are regrouping. You worship and live the way you want to, others are just trying to do the same. If you truly feel there is a God, then the creator finds value in the fact that we are all different.
See also: Free to Be You and Me or Lady Gaga’s Born this Way.
10. Thou shalt not dispute scientific facts.
Stop it. Stop that behavior right now if you are guilty of it. Science is measurable and quantifiable. Scientists have proven that homo sapiens have been on this earth for about 200,000 years thanks to the miracles of archeology and carbon dating, so please do not try to give a different timeline of human history by advocating the theory of “Noah forgot to put the dinosaurs on the Ark.” If scientific discoveries shake your belief system to the point that your only option is to refute those findings, then your belief system is weak. On the flip side of that, religious people need to recognize that scientists have to put forth their best guesses for phenomena that can’t be proven but it doesn’t mean that they are wrong (the big bang is called a theory for that reason). Science and religion can co-exist as long as we don’t use one to deny the other.