“In developing a religion of one’s own, it’s important to cultivate an eye of the numinous, a sacred light within things or an aura around them, the feeling that there is more to the world than what meets the eye.” ~ Thomas Moore, in the introduction of his latest book
Thomas Moore, author of the bestselling books Dark Nights of the Soul, Care of the Soul and fourteen other titles on deepening spirituality and cultivating soul in every aspect of life, returns to us with A Religion of One’s Own, a book that personalizes the sacred experience and gives us permission to reimagine and recreate our own interpretation of religion, as well as to go deeper and explore the magic, mysticism, art, eros and wisdom of our chosen path with both intelligence and intuition.
He acknowledges the trend of seekers to pick and choose aspects of formal religion and indigenous spiritual traditions, but that is not what he is encouraging here. Moore tells us:
“A Religion of One’s Own is not a reasonable, placid or convenient way to be spiritual. It’s an opening to the full thrust of what it means to be part of a vast, mysterious and powerful existence. Like all real religion, it is basically a willingness to stand at the edge of our existence…open to the full potency of what it means to be alive.”
Moore was a monk for more than twelve years, a musician, a university professor and a psychotherapist, and today he lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy and the arts. He has written widely for noted print and digital publications, has appeared on numerous television programs and had his own PBS special called “The Soul of Christmas: A Celtic Music Celebration with Thomas Moore.”
He spoke by phone from his home in southern New Hampshire about his new book and his ideas about religion and spirituality.
What inspired you to write A Religion of One’s Own?
Thomas Moore: Several things did, but one of the main things is that I’ve heard from people when I travel. Time after time people tell me that they have abandoned their religion of the past and they are out looking for something. They don’t like to be without a form of religion, but nothing appeals to them and nothing makes sense to them, so they remain in limbo and they ask me about it. I’m also trying to address people who have no interest in religion whatsoever, and try to present a way that I think would make sense for them to take more responsibility for themselves and more pleasure in it for themselves to create their own approach to spiritual matters.
In a general sense, what role does religion play for the soul and what are the consequences for a soul not exposed to religion?
TM: That’s a really good question. Even the religion of the past has allowed people to have a way of relating to those things that are quite mysterious in their lives; for example, to relate to their mortality, to death and dying, to have a sense of their place in the natural order of things, and to follow up their own ideas about how they should live, ethics and what work they should do and whether they should be married or not.
Religion also has allowed people to have the rituals around things, like marriage and death and children coming into the world. These are all really important moments in life and they are quite mysterious and they reach very, very deep inside of us, and if you don’t have religion then you have no way of accessing that. These are all matters of soul, in my language, so religion and soul go together.
What is your sense of the relationship between our current world and religion?
TM: I think what’s happening is that our world, our culture, is becoming more and more secular, and people don’t even know it. I have great reverence and appreciation for science and technology, but when they enter the sphere of meaning and try to tell us what life is all about, in terms of chemistry or how our brains work, those are all materialistic things. They are extremely valuable, but they are materialistic and I think sometimes our scientists overreach what they should be doing.
I think the way people get information in the news and other sources gives them the impression that they can go it alone, that they don’t need religion, that science can handle or explain everything and give us our meaning for the future and that it’s going to be a technological future. I think that would be a real shame, because a human life is much more subtle than that. There is a spiritual dimension; there is a soul dimension. I think that’s where we are at the moment, and that’s the importance of the conversation that is developing around a book like mine.
A Religion of One’s Own, your new book, is very much an active book, in terms of encouraging the reader to create a dynamic religious life that embraces everything from the natural world, sexuality, magic, dreams, intuition, ritual, and much more. I sense that many people engage in some aspects of many of these arenas without necessarily connecting it to the religious path.
TM: That’s the difference between writing about spirituality and writing about religion. I wanted to use the word “religion” for a number of reasons, and one of them is that I wanted to connect what I was writing about to the traditions from the past, what we understood religion to be in the past, as an organized institution, and how you put together a lot of different practices and different ideas into a whole.
I don’t think that just developing one’s spirituality does that. I think it is helpful for a person to feel that they have a religion where all these practices make sense together, instead of just stringing them along as separate elements. So what I wanted to do is use the word “religion” to suggest that people can have their own religion in the same way that they may have joined a religion in the past, only in this case the religion is going to be theirs and not something that they borrow from somebody else.
I do think that another good of the word “religion” is to understand that for a person today to create his or her own religion, it really is indispensable to be able to draw important ideas and inspirations from the past, from religious traditions in the past. I think that my book gives great honor to the religions of the past, and I don’t think it’s a cafeteria approach or just a superficial way of picking a few things from here and there. What I’m suggesting is a very solid and deep exploration of the various religious traditions so they affect you as a person and that, over time, you actually evolve your own religion in part from what you have learned from these many different traditions.
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