It has been said that evolution is being held up by fundamentalism and the surge of fundamentalism throughout all faith paths sends shivers through cynical atheists and mystics alike. The bumper sticker actually did get it right: "We are spiritual beings having a human experience."
According to the 1987 classic, The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, Dr. Scott Peck defines the spiritual life as fluid and that one may pass back and forth repeatedly through any of the four-probably more-stages of the soul.
Stage one upon this journey -that begins from within-is essentially our infancy in the spiritual life. Like a wild child, a person in this stage reflects the inner chaotic and anti-social,
unregenerate soul that is interested only in its own self-satisfaction and ego, much like the stereotypical spoiled child. Stage one people may claim to love others, but their behavior reflects they love their own pleasure, money, power, prestige, and security above any other. For stage one people, it really is all about them.
The good news is that the vast majority of humanity responds to that inner tug which is God, for lack of a better word. Katherine of Sienna wrote that within us all is the divine diamond. But life and all our baggage dulls the flame of our divine brilliance. Stage two souls seek to "let their light shine" and will live virtuous lives and do many good works. They also can be judgmental of others, self-righteous, rigid of thought, cold of heart, legalistic concrete literal thinkers and may even be guilty of a lukewarm faith. They want to do right and they even may desire to love and please God, but have not yet fully opened up to the Inner Light, as Joan of Ark did when she challenged church and state and persisted that she had intuited God within even as she was fried.
Stage two souls have not yet been set fully free and prefer the security of a higher human authority than themselves for guidance. They submit to institutions, scripture, dogma, ritual, ministers, or gurus. This is the most appropriate stage for older children and most adults who live busy lives just trying to keep bread on the table and a dry roof above. The difference between a stage one and stage two soul, is that a one wouldn't even notice a neighbor in need, while the two has awoken to the fact that we are to be our neighbor's keepers and they will respond to a friend-and like the good Samaritan, even to a total stranger in need.
Most theologians would agree that the opposite of faith is not disbelief: the opposite of faith is fear. Stage three souls have not just fearlessly awoken, they have evolved! This evolution has led them to the realization of what Christ was really talking about in the Sermon of the Mount AKA:The Beatitudes which sound like crazy promises, but is the litmus test of how we will be judged, if we claim to be a Christian.
About 2,000 years ago, when Christ was about 33, he hiked up a hill and sat down under an olive tree and began to teach the people;
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven."
In other words: it is those who know their own spiritual poverty, their own limitations and sins honestly and trust God loves them in spite of themselves who already live in the Kingdom of God.
How comforted we will all be, when we see, we haven't got a clue, as to the depth and breadth of pure love and mercy of The Divine Mystery of The Universe. God's name in ancient Aramaic is Abba which means Daddy as much as Mommy and He/She: The Lord has said, "My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not yours." -Isaiah 55:8
Christ proclaimed more: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The essence of meek is to be patient with ignorance, slow to anger and never hold a grudge. In other words: how happy you will be when you also know humility; when you know ourselves, the good and the bad, for both cut through every human heart.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled." In other words: how happy you will be when your greatest desire is to do what "God requires, and he has already told you what that is; BE JUST, BE MERCIFUL and walk humbly with your Lord."-Micah 6:8
"Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy." In other words: how happy you will all be when you choose to return only kindness to your 'enemy.' "For with the measure you measure against another, it will be measured back to you." Christ warns his disciples as he explains the law of karma in Luke 6:27-38.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they see God." In other words: how happy you will be when you WAKE UP and see God is already within you, within every man, every woman and every child. The Supreme Being is everywhere, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Beyond The Universe -and yet so small; within the heart of every atom.
"Blessed are The Peacemakers: THEY shall be called the children of God." Oh how happy the WORLD will be when we all seek justice and pursue it, for there can be no peace without justice.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires, theirs is The Kingdom of Heaven." And one fine day the lion will lie down with The Lamb and man will make war no more and that is the Kingdom of God.
Now, a stage three soul may well reject Christ as God, but often agree with the philosophy of Jesus, which Thomas Jefferson laid out when he weeded out the miracle stories from the gospels and clarified the teachings of Christ in:
THE PHILOSOPHY AND MORALS of JESUS of NAZARETH
1. Be just: justice comes from virtue which comes from the heart.
2. Treat people the way we want to be treated.
3. Always work for PEACEFUL resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with COMPASSION.
4. Consider valuable the things that have no material value.
5. Do not judge others.
6. Do not bear grudges.
7. Be modest and unpretentious.
8. Give out of true generosity, not because we expect to be repaid.
9. Being true to one's self in more important than being loyal to one's family...those who think they know the most are the most ignorant...
A stage three soul will see that a neighbor is everyone on the planet and not just those who think and look the same. Stages threes are seekers, doubters, skeptics, atheists, agnostics and frequently adults who grew up disenchanted with institutionalized religion. Their inherent intellectual curiosity leads them to seek their way towards the Mystery of the Divine through philosophy and the study of multiple faith paths choosing and discarding according to their "inner light." Stage three souls often become activists for social justice and reform and the new wave of philanthropy from the blessed trio of Warren Buffet, Linda and Bill Gates fills mystics -and maybe some cynics?- with hope for a future that honors the unique sacredness of every life.
It has been said we are all called to be mystics in the market place and a stage four, such as Thomas Merton and Rumi give voice to that experience of the curtain being lifted and seeing through the glass a bit less darkly. A mystic can best be understood as one who is in love with the divine mystery and is viscerally connected to the unity of all creation. Mystics are not navel gazers, they feel the pain of the world within their hearts and grieve at what humans do to the other when they have no clue that The Divine is within the other as much as within themselves. Mystics have detached from their concepts of God-not by their own efforts, but by the invitation and action of God upon a willing and simple soul in love with Pure Being, AKA:God.
The mystic fool, Saint Francis, the leper kisser of Assisi, was so head over heels in love with God in everyone and all of creation that most people of his time considered him crazed, or at least, extremely eccentric. One needn't be a mystic or move beyond stage two on the spiritual journey to do what is good and right just because it is good and right. On that foundation alone people of faith, atheists and agnostics can surely find something to agree upon. Or would only a mystic see that?