Religion in America

Note: this paper is from a lecture by Steve Dahlgiven at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire on November 19th, 2003

 

Hi; I'm Steve Dahl, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to college here in Eau Claire.

I've been on a unique spiritual quest my entire life, as have all of you.

I'm going to share some of my background to help explain who I am.

My mother was raped when she was 15, which resulted in my birth in 1960, to this day I still don't know who my father is. Because it was heavily frowned upon to have a child out of wedlock, my mother and my stepfather were pushed into getting married when they were both 16. Neither parent received a high school education. There were 5 children in the family before either parent was 25. My stepfather became an alcoholic which added to the stress and abuse in the family, it was a common occurrence for someone to need medical attention due to abuse.

I was raised in a fundamentalistBaptist environment which was very restrictive.  I started noticing in my early teens that my religious teachings weren't reflecting what I was experiencing in life.

Why do we as humans create an immature God who needs us to worshiphim (and only in a certain way, Lutheran, Catholic, Islam, or most other religions out there)? Why do we create an immature God who needs us to obey his rules and which rules are these, Baptist? I was told only the good Baptists were going to heaven and maybe some of those Lutherans, but certainly not the Catholics or Jehovah's Witnesses. 

Why do we create an immature Godwho needs to be satisfied by us or he will not just destroy us, but punish us for eternity?  Have you noticed that most religions place human male traits on their deity and often some of the most ungodly human traits imaginable?

If my God or Creator, created it all and encompasses all that is, then in ultimate realitythe Creator needs nothing.

There are certainly many things we can create in this game called life, in order to play the game in the fashion we have chosen. But there is nothing we Need!

From my religious teachings, there were two kernels of truth that I felt very strong about and that was the belief that we have free will in this lifeand that my real essence is an eternal soul created in the likeness of God.

As I explored the belief in free will, I started to wonder, if we have free will in this life, why not also free will before we were born into this life.

Psalm82:6 I have said, Ye are gods;

John10:34 Jesus answered them, is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods?

Well I'm an eternal being, whose eternal essence can't be injured, and if I have free will before I was born, then, that means, I chose the parents and situation I was born into, then this physical lifemust be a gameI've created for experiences. This new belief for me was very empowering; I was no longer a victimof circumstance. I create my life and I can change it as it suits me.

In my explorations I discovered, I'm not here to earn my way to heaven. I'm not here to endure punishments for past transgressions. I discovered there wasn't a good or bad experience in life, and all experiences are of equal value, I realized that life is just experiences for me to enjoy.   I found that the way I create my life, is through my beliefs and that by changing my beliefs, I can create any experience as I desire.

I'll give an example of what I'm trying to explain.

Let's place a person in the Wisconsin outdoors in the winter, it is 10 degrees and they feel chilled. Let's place a different individual in the Florida Keys on the beach in the winter, it is 95 degrees and high humidity and they feel hot and are perspiring.

Now let's move both people into the same house, it is 70 degrees and low humidity inside. The person from Wisconsin experiences this house as warm; the person from Florida experiences this house as cool.  It is the same house but two completely different experiences and opinions based on the beliefs and experiences of where they have just come from in their life. The house was more than happy to give both people the experiencethey desired simultaneously.

We do the same thing with people. You may believe someone is angry; your belief naturally creates the experienceof that person being angry. With that belief you will mostly notice aspects of that person you perceive as angry and even possibly create situations to increase your perception of that person being angry.

So I hope all of you understand that by just changing your beliefs, you are able to recreate your reality.

We even place labels on ourselves based on the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and those labels change the perception we have of our surroundings. At one moment you may create being a spouse, another moment you are a parent to your child, and another moment you may be with your parents and taking on the role of the child. Depending on what labelyou have placed on yourself, you will act and perceive individuals around you accordingly. Some of beliefs we hold about ourselves, may not create positive labels for ourselves. You may not believe you are smart enough or you don't make enough money. Well remember these are just beliefs you hold, and by changing your belief you change your reality.

Back to my life story:

I left home at 13 years old and started working on a farm for room & board, while attending school in Amery, Wisconsin.

My wife Pat & I started dating when we were both 17. My future mother-in-law Rose could see that Pat & I were very serious about our relationship and she asked me, "What do you plan to do when you grow up?” I said well I'm not sure of the details yet, but I plan to retire when I'm 30. 

Pat & I were married at 18 in 1979 and moved to Eau Claire, WI, where I worked on a computer science major. In 1981 we moved back to Amery, Wisconsin where we started our business and our son Nathan was born that year. In 1991, I retired at 31 and sold AMCI computers to the employees and we moved to the Bahamas with our son Nathan who was 10 at the time. While in the northern Caribbean, we lived on a 40 foot sail boat for 7 ½ years. The Bahamas were one of our favorites. The Bahamas consists of approximately 700 Islands and only 65 are inhabited, so we would sail up to an Island put our hammock between a couple of palms and call it home for a month or so. 

We home schooled our son Nathan while we were sailing, but in 1998 he asked if he could graduate from a traditional school, so we moved back to Wisconsin where he graduated from Osceola high school. In 1999 we still had the desire to travel and purchased a motor home and we have been traveling the united states by motor home ever since, discovering and exploring ancient ruins in the South West (most people don't realize there are still many undiscovered ruins in the Southwest).

I'm going to give an experience from my own life describing how my beliefs create my experiences:

On May 22nd 2003, I was camping in the Owyhee Mountains, which is on the border of Idaho and Oregon. National Geographic calls this the most remote area in the continental United States. My friend Jerry and I had a wonderful time exploring old settlements and looking at artifacts from the Clovisera dating from 7,500 – 10,000 years ago.

On May 26th (Memorial Day) my neighbor Jerry is ahead of me on his ATV and I'm on my motorcycle riding down a dusty dirt trail. Jerry follows the path around a corner, but being so dusty; I don't see the turn and launched my motorcycle off the cliff. As I'm dropping over the edge I didn't have a sense of fear, but a thought of frustration "How could I call the gameover and forget to tell myself.” (I still chuckle about that thought)

I'm racing down the mountain side bouncing from boulder to boulder and tree to tree, I finally wedged the motorcycle between two boulders and come to a stop.

I get off the motorcycle, I'm pretty shaken up and experiencing quite a bit of discomfort and I can feel myself going into shock. I feel chilled, yet I'm sweating profusely and shaking. I felt my consciousness step back and observe myself and the situation, I remembered, I'm in control of how this game is played and shock is as much a mental process as it is physical. I felt my composure come back.

It took a few minutes but I un-wedged the motorcycle from between the boulders. I was still experiencing too much discomfort to kick the motorcycle over and restart it, so I found a deer trail next to the boulders and coasted down the deer trail to the bottom of the mountain.

At the bottom I stopped to assess my injuries. My left pants leg was soaked with blood from the knee down to my shoe and I was experiencing so much discomfort, that I couldn't stand on it. I took my knife and cut the left pants leg off above the knee and found a clean cut the full width of the knee exposing the white knee cap and the blood was just running out of the wound down my leg.

I started thinking about when I was 22; I was working 17 hour days, 6 days a week, very high stress. I saw the doctor just for a checkup and he told me I had high blood pressure. He gave me a prescription for high blood pressure medication. I asked how long do I have to take this and he said for the rest of your life. I wasn't impressed with that diagnosis; I went to Radio Shack and bought a bio-feed back monitor for $10 and in a month I learned how to lower my blood pressure and pulse.

I figured that if I can lower my blood pressure and pulse, I should be able to stop this bleeding.

I visualized the muscles and vessels around the wound constricting and in about 30-40 Seconds the bleeding ceased, (boy I was impressed).

I still had the issue of the pain to deal with; I first tried just ignoring the pain, but I could only ignore the pain for about 30 sec to 40 Seconds at a timeand that just wasn't working. I then tried rationalizing that, pain is just a message from my body telling me I've been injured and it's not a big deal, well that didn't work either. After exploring the feeling of discomfort further, I discovered, I was having a belief that I was suffering and I was holding some fearwith that belief.

I know sufferingis a choiceand I realized I'm not suffering; I'm just having an experience of my own creation. Once I came to that realization, almost all of the discomfort was gone.

I was able to stand on the leg, get back on the motorcycle and get it started. I rode across the mountain back to the road. As I rode the 10 miles back to camp, I found my friend Jerry circling back looking for me. We finished the trip back to camp and reloaded his ATV and my motorcycle and camping gear in the truck and we drove the 4 ½ hours to Boise Idaho. I did decide to let my friend Jerry drive.

We arrived in Boise Idaho, it's Memorial Day and there isn't a clinic open, only emergency rooms. I figure I'm going to have to pay for this out of my own pocket, because I have a $5,000 deductible on my medical. The bleeding and pain is under control, so we start price shopping the emergency rooms from a high of $1,675 to a low of $980. My friend Jerry thought I was a little odd, but it was nothing like the looks I got from the staff in the emergency rooms, as I asked for a price quote.

After getting stitched up, we drove 6 hours back to Salmon Idaho, where I have a home. The next morning I woke up with a thought to check my insurance policy on my motorcycle. On the policy I saw a line for medical coverage; it was real vague, I wasn't sure if it only covered a passenger. I called my Insurance agent and he pulled up my policy and said "Yes you're covered up to $1,000.” My first thought was wow, "I got to have this wonderful experience and it didn't cost me a dime.”  If I hadn't known that I create my experiences through my beliefs and if my beliefs had been different, I wouldn't be here to share this experience with you. I would have gone into shock and bleed to deathon that mountain side.

I would like all of you to feel and think about the idea that there is no ultimate truth. What is true for you is not necessarily true for another.

 

Every religion has some wonderful scriptures and doctrines and every religion when taken from a literal fundamentalist view point has some scriptures and doctrines that create separation and beliefsthat are difficult to integrate with other view points and beliefs.

Most of us here have probably been brought up in a western Christian environment, so I will use some examples from the Bible, but please don't feel I'm condemning any particular religionor belief.

1 Corinthians14:34,35 Let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. 35And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.

Some of you might think well this is an outdated belief and no one believes this anymore. Well here is a quote from ReligionNews Service, reprinted by the St. Paul Pioneer Press November 29th, 2003.

Baptisthusband-wife co-pastor cause rift

A Florida church has been removed from membership in its local Southern Baptistassociation because it has a husband-wife team as co-pastors. The Reverend Dave Phillips and the Reverend Sonya Phillips have been co-pastors since earlier this year at Central Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida. Dennis Belz, director of missions for the Halifax Baptist Association, said the calling of a woman pastor is "in direct opposition” of the Bible and to the revised faith statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, which declared in 2000 that "the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

1 Corinthians7:36

But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she be pastthe flower of her age, and if need so requireth, let him do what he will; he sinneth not; let them marry.

Deuteronomy 23:1-2

1 "If a man's testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be included in the assembly of the Lord.”  2" Those of illegitimate birthand their descendants for ten generations may not be included in the assembly of the Lord.”

 

Again I am not condemning religion I am just pointing out that none of them are right and none of them are wrong. They all contain some wonderful wisdoms and relative truths and they all contain passages that may have been relevant when they were written, but may no long reflect where humanity is heading.

Most religions run into problems when they are exclusive, they are right and everyone else is wrong. Especially when they believe that their holy books are the only holy books and their holy books are infallible and must be taken literally word for word.

Even if a religion insists that their scriptures must be taken literally word for word. Words are just symbols, mere representations of the feeling, the original scribe had. When someone reads a scripture they will create their own interpretation of what a scripture means based on their previous experiences and beliefs. 

Here are a couple of scriptures which are often used as a corner stone of some Christianfaiths.

John3:3 Jesusanswered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

John3:7 "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘"ou must be born again.'"

Now if I were Buddhist, Hindu or a Jewish follower of the Kaballah, these passages would be a good example of reincarnationand possibly working your way through karmic debt.

Again, I would like all of you feel and think about the idea that there is no ultimate truth. What is true for you is not necessarily true for another.

Your beliefs create your perception and naturally your experienceof this world.

If you believe there is evilin this world, that is what you will see.

If you believe you're a victim,that is what you will experience.

If you believe you are right and they are wrong, that is what you will perceive.

Your beliefsfilter and create your experiences of Life.

All that separates us from each other, are our beliefs! 

Through our beliefswe place labels and judgments on the world, each other, and ourselves.

The world is a reflectionof You.

Can each of you repeat to yourself;

My world is a reflectionof me?

Here are some quotes from a few popular books to point out the idea; your beliefscreate your experienceof lifeis not new.

Proverbs23:7    (King James Version) For as he thinketh in he heart, so is he:

Mastery of Love by Don Miguel RuizPage 12

"You have the power to create.  Your power is so strong that whatever you believe comes true.  You create yourself, whatever you believe you are.  You are the way you are because that is what you believe about yourself.  Your whole reality, everything you believe, is your creation  You have the same power as any other human in the world.  The main difference between you and someone else is how you apply your power, what you create with your power. You may be similar to others in many ways, but no one in the whole world lives their lifethe way you do.”

The New Revelations by Neale Donald WalschPage 16

All behaviors are created by beliefs.

Aren't there such things as "automatic reactions”?

Even those reactions are based on what you believe is occurring, is about to occur, or could occur. All behaviors are sponsored by beliefs.

You can not make a long term change in behaviors without addressing the beliefsthat underlie them.

Excuse Me Your Lifeis Waiting by Lynn GrabhornPage 25 

We came here with a guaranteed freedom of choicemandated by the very nature of our existence. The timehas come for us to exercise the birthright. We are caught in no one's web. We are bound by no circumstance. We are victims to no conditions. Rather, we are beings who possess the sacred ability to implement any outlandish desire our limitless minds can concoct, for we possess unregulated, unrestricted, uncontested freedom of choice, no matter what those choicesmay be.

It's wake up time. It's time to take our heads out of the sand and accept that it's no accident we get what we get in life. It's time for us to stop creating from the improper default setting….

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel RuizPage 29

During our domestication, our parents and siblings gave their opinions about us without even thinking. We believed these opinions and we lived in fear over these opinions, like not being good at swimming, or sports, or writing. Someone gives an opinion and says, "Look, this girl is ugly!” The girl listens, believes she is ugly, and grows up with the idea she is ugly. It doesn't matter how beautiful she is; as long as she has that agreement (or belief), she will believe that she is ugly. That is the spell she is under.

Remember the world is a reflectionof You.