An experience with Nashville Inner City Ministry
A couple of weeks ago, I accepted a very kind invitation to serve, at minimum, as a warm body at an unspecified type of gathering at a local Church of Christ-supported thrift store. (It is related to the Nashville Inner City Ministry, as I later learned.)
Had I known in advance that it would be a conservative religious men’s group discussion, I still would have attended the initial meeting just to check it out in the interest of maintaining an open mind. The reasons for taking part in the men’s discussion group (perhaps preferable to excuses for declining such offers) might include…
- Desire for new experiences, including spiritual experiences
- To meet new people
- To serve in a meaningful and welcome capacity, if possible
- To be challenged; to gain fresh knowledge & insight
- To open minds & challenge others to apply often-difficult critical thinking
- To ascertain what the prevailing worldview amongst the men might be
- To discover if the experience is a fit for one’s own path of self development and seeking
- To determine whether the conversation is intellectually engaging, spiritually challenging, etc.
And of course there could be many other possible reasons one might wish to participate.
Many spiritual-but-not-religious types, skeptics, freethinkers, scientists, those with advanced degrees, Buddhists, agnostics, Taoists, ex-Christian fundamentalists, or any other type of non-Protestant might refuse to attend such a meeting outright. Except in the case of former fundamentalists who may have left the church (and are thus already quite familiar with the given set of religious teachings), the refusal to at least take a chance on new experiences is often due to the closed-minded view known to many as contempt prior to investigation within A.A. and other 12-step recovery circles.
IMHO, no genuninely thorough seeking or spiritual quest can occur with an attitude of closed mindedness. One of the most common and unfortunate closed-minded viewpoints we see on a regular basis in the more conservative factions of all major world religions is this one:
I already believe in the one and only true religion; everyone else is wrong, lost, or even doomed.
I have since decided to abstain from regular attendance of this religious meeting for heartfelt personal reasons. (Those reasons are probably obvious to anyone who has read much of the content here on the Search for Truth blog.) Listening to the other men revealed that the group focuses primarily on their shared supernatural religious beliefs as opposed to what we would consider to be a more objective, realistic, or rational quest for solutions and life purpose.
It may have been my error to attempt to make it more an interfaith experience than what it was: a purely religious Christian affair. There is nothing wrong with this for those who choose to hold those beliefs. It helps them feel comaraderie, and I totally get that. It just happens that I no longer believe in the concept of a quot;one true religionquot;, that’s all.
In general (& IMHO, as always), a more-spiritual-than-religious journey perhaps…
- Demands a genuinely open mind (probably rare in all types of fundamentalism)
- Suggests a willingness to at least consider the possibility that one’s longtime beliefs could be wrong or too literally interpreted (esp. concerning the fundamentally unknowable supernatural realm)
- Requires intellectual honesty and heartfelt dedication to real critical thinking
- Implies a preference for practical, pragmatic, basic universal spiritual teachings (e.g., the Golden Rule, nonviolence/pacifism, a love for all beings, etc.) rather than to divisive supernatural aspects of a given religion
[ Critical thought & religion: Thinking critically about religious belief systems... Are you really willing to devote demanding critical thought to your religious beliefs and political opinions? Those who take on this difficult personal challenge may come to deeply appreciate it. (Search for Truth) ]
Men’s meeting: A positive experience, enjoyable fellowship
It should also be stated for the record that the meeting’s environment was generally friendly, loving, and accepting of all present (including yours truly). In addition to consuming most of the available coffee, I enjoyed meeting new people as well as reconnecting with those I already knew. There’s always a sense of togetherness, belonging, and fellowship in situations where people bare their souls in often brutally frank ways. Hearing men describe some of their challanges and successes is always affirming and encouraging, and I feel this is universally true — apart from which religion or spiritual path one chooses to embrace (if any).
In keeping with our core beliefs and values, we believe inner peace, salvation, heaven, enlightenment — or whatever one may call the ultimate spiritual goal of dedicated seekers — is unrelated to which religion — if any — happens to ring true in one’s heart, which religion or path one might choose to practice, etc.
This Nashville Inner City Ministry men’s meeting was a positive affair. I can think of only a couple of comments I thought odd or out of place; these are described below. NOTE: In the event any group participants are reading this — highly doubtful, I’m guessing (!!) — complete anonymity is always assured here at Search for Truth.
- We initially took turns introducing ourselves, and I admitted (1) Leaving the church many years ago, (2) Being "spiritual-not-religious", and (3) Deeply respecting HHDL (the Dalai Lama), thanks in large part to his wonderful book and mission Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. Later in the meeting one participant asked me, "Is the Dalai Lama here in our presence at the meeting?"
I completely understood his well-meaning attempt to contrast my spiritual-not-religious stance with the far more locally popular and socially acceptable conservative religious belief in a literally interpreted version of Bible God. Evangelicals believe they are doing the right thing to bring others to accept their own worldviews, since others are almost always deemed wrong in their beliefs. Often ascribed many anthropomorphic qualities, the Bible God — possessing the superpower of omnipresence — is widely believed to be in attendance at all meetings, any time, any place, and on any subject. The view of God being some sort of external superbeing has long been rescinded by so many of us who feel the true “Source” (or whatever one prefers to call the unknowable realm) comprises anything and everything, and we are all pieces of it. The ultimate reality is oneness, not separateness: a delusion caused by the human ego, as Einsteein once commented. Others may be more comfortable taking on a more literal interpretation of a separate, external being saddled with the frailties of a human-like ego; it remains a common view of God when one interprets religious texts literally or near literally.
Though no offense was taken to the comment about the Dalai Lama — a surely rhetorical question as to whether Tenzin was somehow present at the meeting — I thought I’d mention this slight dig as standing out a bit from the rest of the meeting; it’s also an example of the common dismissal by religious fundamentalists of any alternative beliefs. I’ve become quite accustomed to it!
- One young fellow at the meeting opined that belief in his religion is warranted because "science cannot expain the changing of the seasons". Some of the others merely nodded in implicit agreement, indicating either (A) A serious lack of basic scientific knowledge, or worse, (B) Willful complicity in perpetuating the ignorance of fellow believers in hopes of continued adherence to the given religion. (Had there been no nodding, I’d probably have written off the missing responses as a desire not to embarass our fellow man by correcting him in front of others… certainly a well-mannered approach!) Although the second point above — (B) willful complicy — was a bit of an exaggeration, many of us have experienced overt fideism at local churches such as Brentwood Hills Church of Christ and at Lipscomb University.
Why not be a regular at the men’s meeting?
After quite a bit of careful contemplation, it doesn’t look like alternative views (such as those of spiritual -not-religious people) would be likely to succeed in opening minds, affect any real positive change, or provide any meaningful contribution to a deeply religious gathering such as this one. This is among the reasons I have decided to abstain from regular attendance.
My decision not to be a weekly attendee at the Nashville Inner City Ministry weekly mens’ meeting was not reached lightly or without careful contemplation and thorough consideration of the possibilities. It’s certainly true that I am in need of far more social experiences than I’m currently engaged in; however, as some would agree, associating with like-minded folks and following heartfelt passions & callings can also be very rewarding.
Prioritizing efforts, targeting our message toward those actively seeking it
I honestly feel my time and effort are better spent writing and promoting religion-independent spiritual material and encouraging interfaith tolerance, cross-cultural acceptance, nonviolence, open mindedness, and other teachings that seek to offer principled alternatives to the status quo of fundamentalism, as if rigid devotion to it were more important or helpful than love for all beings and environmental responsibility. Spreading [what we see as] inherently positive messages via the Search for Truth blog — however unpopular they may be with religious folks in certain parts of the country — increases access to content not found in church libraries where objective seeking is not likely to occur due to the probable inherent bias of that material.
Thanks to the Internet and excellent search engines like Google and Bing, Search for Truth material has a greater chance of being located and read by open-minded seekers desperately seeking for refreshing, alternate viewpoints. Thanks to the experience of our partners in search engine optimization and web marketing, the relatively high search engine rankings of the articles here at Search for Truth mean that the message really is getting out and making a difference, however small that difference may be. For this we are infinitely grateful.
At least one Search for Truth partner has a small blog — Nashville SEO & Web Content — that describes content-oriented methods of search engine optimization, how to write blog posts that will be found on Google and Bing, etc.
Occasional attendance might be nice
Although I’ve opted not be a regular member or attendee of this Nashville Inner City Ministry men’s group, I would nevertheless like to attend occasionally — not only to gauge where it’s going, but also to help these men, their group, and their support network in any way that I can in such a way that does not require going against beliefs or principles. After all, once certain aspects of conservative religious beliefs are paraphrased into the language preferred by many of us who are spiritual-but-not-religious, we’ll find we have far more in common than not. It’s can be a beautiful thing, for those who will allow it to be.
The only real difference is that we do not claim to know or insist on labeling whatever might exist in the supernatural realm — whatever invisible forces may lurk behind the so-called curtain of reality. (Generally, in our experience, religious folks do claim to know these things and often insist that others follow suit.)
Whatever that realm might contain, it’s probably far beyond what any human has ever imagined or could ever imagine.
 Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World
The gist of this book — that the proper way forward for all of humanity is to practice basic universal spiritual principles in our treatment of others, including those of other cultures and religions — is an excellent fit with the Search for Truth mission and accurately describes the worldview of most bloggers contributing herein.
Executive summary of Beyond Religion: His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) describes why religion is not a necessity in the pursuit of a genuinely spiritual life. The author stresses that the right way forward for all of humanity is fostering and enhancing the tolerance and understanding between religions, as well as between believers and non-believers; this applies to people of all faiths, religions, and spiritual paths.
The bottom line is this: most major religions and paths agree on the practical aspects of human living and doing good, or what we often refer to as basic universal spiritual principles. In contrast, it is the wildly differing supernatural stories and culture-specific traditions that make literally interpreted religions so incredibly divisive.
 Fideism: A common element of religious fundamentalism, political hyperpartisanship
Fideism was a new word to me when I began a truly serious, long-term investigation into the Christian belief system I was raised to embrace. Fideism is a travesty and an insult to any reasonably intelligent human being because it involves the automatic rejection of anything that disagrees with a given set of religious beliefs or political opinions. For example, the fideistic Christian fundamentalist refuses to consider carbon dating or evolution or dinosaurs simply because their strictly literal interpretation of the Bible does not agree. Likewise, political fideists reject notions like man-made climate change and removing the current $4 billion tax incentives for oil companies simply because these things conflict with what they have stubbornly decided to embrace no matter what.
Another way to describe fideism: complete and utter closed mindedness with a large dose of ignorance and lack of concern for seeking truth.
Resources: Attending a conservative men’s Bible group in Nashville
- Nashville Inner City Ministry web home
- Church of Christ – Wikipedia
- Dalai Lama: We need ethics beyond religion – Patheos – Science on Religion
- ‘Beyond Religion’: The Dalai Lama’s Secular Ethics (EXCERPT) – Huffingtom Post
Removed content: Didn’t really fit here; might be posted elsewhere soon…
Affecting the opinions of the indoctrinated is a far greater (and more frustrating) challenge. In this case, why carry a locally controversial message where it is not genuninely welcome? (We are all for carrying difficult messages in some cases, including delivering crucial lessons of environmental responsibility & stewardship, encouraging love for all beings, etc..) Pretending to believe things I don’t is out of the question, and this was part of what led to my leaving the church many years ago — despite the fact that staying the course and pretending to conform (as some church members prefer to do, per private conversations) would be far better for me socially, financially, and probably in other ways as well. Rich social activity is a hallmark of many happy lives, but some of us are not willing to abandon heartfelt principles, ignore spiritual truths, or conform at any cost (what some might call "selling our souls") merely to increase social standing, influence others’ opinions, procure jobs, etc. This sometimes feels too much like politics.
Don’t misconstrue these words to imply we believe most church members are faking it or engaging in such a level of hypocrisy; clearly there remain many ‘true believers’ among them. That’s all well and good.