Three different faiths came together Sunday morning to discuss why we yearn for spiritual meaning and the difficulties faced in a world where religious belief is increasingly seen as a political identity.
Session chair Ailsa Piper spoke with Meshel Laurie, converted buddhist and author of Buddhism for Breakups, Susan Carland, Islamic convert and author of Fighting Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism and Tony Doherty, Catholic priest of 60 years. She posed to them the question: ‘What is spirituality?’ Despite their different backgrounds, they all seemed to concur that spirituality was the quest for meaning or, as Carland put it, ‘a hunger for truth about self and the divine’.
Raised in a Christian church, Carland had an extremely positive and happy experience, but in her teens began to question whether her beliefs were actually her own or merely something she had been taught. This led her on a spiritual quest, until she eventually discovered Islam and found ‘it made a lot of sense’.
Likewise, TV and radio personality Laurie was raised in a Christian family and made the move to Buddhism later in life, finding that the more she delved into it, the more it seemed a ‘remembering rather than a learning. It just felt true’.
Doherty, co-author of a new book with Piper, The Attachment, has just stepped down from full-time duties at his parish in Rose Bay. He described spirituality as an investigation of ‘the three great imponderables’; The Universe, The Self, and The Other.
It would seem on a surface level, these writers could not be further apart spiritually. Yet, underlying their spiritual hunger, there is a common thread of yearning to be better, to be more compassionate individuals, with a greater sense of connection to the mystery of the divine.
Sadly, however, religion and spirituality is no longer as easy as ‘being in love with a gracious mystery’ as Doherty so eloquently put it.
While Laurie believes Buddhists get off easily as people relate them to ‘Yoda’, Carland and Doherty have both experienced the devastating effects of people using religion as a defence for intolerable acts. From the paedophile scandal in the Catholic church to the terrorists of ISIS, Doherty says ego is the biggest problem facing religion today and what people need to remember is that ‘we live under the tragic delusion that we can speak about God easily, when we don’t know what we are talking about’. Or as Carland puts it, ‘if your religion is making you a jerk, you’re doing it wrong’.
In an increasingly unstable world, spirituality can give people a sense of connection and belonging, but it can also be misused to create hatred and vitriol.
Perhaps the solution lies in more multi-faith events such as this session, where we realise spirituality ‘may be the only thing in this broken world to give us hope’, and we can see that regardless of which book they follow, the rituals they practice, or the clothes they wear, all true spiritual seekers are trying to better, more open-hearted, more compassionate people.
Bec May is a Bachelor of Arts Student at Southern Cross University. She is also completing an Associate Diploma in Creative Writing.