The Happy Heretic: Seven Spiritual Insights for Healing Religious Codependency: Dancing with Pelagius and Rumi

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2012-12-01
  • Publisher: HCI BOOKS

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Religion can be source of comfort when facing struggles both personal and universal. But clinging to religion as a codependent fix for all problems can cultivate excessive fear, shame, guilt and low self-esteem. Acclaimed author Reverend Leo Booth, a Unity minister and former Episcopal priest, warns that a belief in tenets like "Everything happens for a reason" and "This is in God's hands" can be the first step in developing religious codependency. Rev. Leo turns traditional thinking and spirituality upside down by suggesting that many toxic messages emanate from core religious beliefs. In The Happy Heretic, he challenges beliefs like original sin; a dogmatic, one-way path to God; the shaming of human sexuality, religious codependency; and the exclusiveness of Jesus' perfection within the human race. The arguments he presents are derived from Pelagius, a fourth-century monk who challenged the teachings of St. Augustine; and Rumi, a revolutionary thirteenth-century poet and philosopher. In his confessions, St. Augustine's states, "It is only by Your grace and mercy that You have melted away the ice of my evil." Pelagius felt this idea lacked balance. It affirmed only God's role and didn't speak to our involvement. Likewise, Rumi believed that God's spirit exists within all human beings and enables divine creativity in life. The theology, philosophy, and recited prayers we learned through organized religion often emphasize the idea that we are sinful people who are dependent upon a powerful and punishing God. The Happy Heretic provides an escape from this shadow by encouraging readers to enter into a partnership with God, affirming personal dignity alongside responsibility; in other words, "free will" and the choices we make determine much of the success or failure we encounter. Real-life examples of the core issues surrounding religious codependency, along with Seven Spiritual Insights, help readers rethink their religious beliefs-including the prayers they grew up with-to form a deeper, more spiritual understanding of who they are and their connection with God. In this thought-provoking read, Reverend Leo calls himself a heretic, a person who is willing to think differently, and he invites readers to discover an alternative explanation for how we experience God's grace. The Happy Heretic explains this divine relationship in ways that make us feel alive, empowered, and still true to who we are. The Happy Heretic confronts toxic religious messages and brings a spiritual awareness that affirms human possibility and responsibility. . . .This book is not for the fainthearted John Bradshaw, author of Homecoming


Insight One:
Living the Good Life

'Whenever I have to speak on the subject
of moral institution and the conduct
of a holy life, it is my practice first
to demonstrate the power and quality
of human nature and to show
what it is capable of achieving.'

—From Pelagius's letter to Demetrius

There is a powerful difference between living and merely existing. It has been my experience that most of us are just muddling through; a case of getting through life, a mindless boredom that percolates throughout most of the day. People are existing, not living.

This used to be my reality. For many years, especially in the days before I became sober, time just slipped away. Alcoholic drinking was the cause. What people call a hangover was for me a profound disconnection; I couldn't think, feel, or enjoy physical pleasure. I would sit for hours in a zombie state, and the days would pass by. I certainly wasn't living the good life.

There is a story about two fish that exemplifies this experience:

Two small, frightened fish were huddled together in the ocean, afraid to move. Out of a deep cave came a large, beautiful fish. The glittering fish was brimming over with confidence and began to swim past the two little fish with great force. The big fish noticed the shivering forms and turned to the two fish and asked, 'Why stay huddled together? Why don't you swim out into the clear, glistening water?'

The two little fish looked at each other, and then one of them said, 'Where is the water?'

This story highlights a problem that many people face. They are in life, and yet not living. You begin to live when you recognize your potential.

The two fish know they are missing something. They know deep inside they were not created to live in fear. They know that the magic of life is eluding them; yet they are unsure of how to get it. Where is the water of life?

The two fish became tragic observers. Fear does this to people; it freezes them. We become scared stiff. Petrified. Prisoners within ourselves. The fear of rejection. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of being too small. The feeling of not being smart. The fear of being the wrong color, race, or religion. These fears group together to keep us isolated.

This story represents the difference between existing and living. Existing is what the two little fish were doing. They seemed incapable of making things happen. They asked questions, rather than seeking the answers. They never initiated anything. Many people are living like the two fish. Why are we so afraid? Well, perhaps these fears are created by fearful messages we received as children, some of which have been around for centuries.

This is why I want to bring attention to this little-known philosopher Pelagius. He understood that once we know who we are and what we were created with, this awareness allows us to live the good life—a life free of that all-consuming fear. The fear and apathy in the story of the two fish are beautifully expressed by Rumi when he suggests that to be disconnected or unaware of this divine passion, existing rather than living, is to look like a dead fish.

With passion pray.

With passion work.

With passion make love.

With passion eat and drink and dance and play.

Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?

(From the book Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky)

As we will see in the next Insight, an overemphasis upon sin, brokenness, or helplessness can easily develop into a codependent neediness. What is codependency? It is a word that describes a series of behaviors or attitudes that create an unhealthy relationship. Definitions and explanations of codependent behavior often revolve around low self-esteem issues, a pathetic clinging to another person, and controlling characteristics that could involve verbal abuse or violence. These behaviors are based upon the fear that the other person might leave, pull away, or refuse to do what we want. This feeling of being damaged goods will prompt us to seek from others what we think is lacking within ourselves.

Pelagius in his writings gives theological reasons as to where this neediness, this not feeling good enough, might come from. If we are told we are born sinful; that we can do nothing good without God's grace; God's son had to die that we might be redeemed and go to heaven; if, from childhood, we heard that God is everything and we are nothing, it's not difficult to comprehend why many people feel like damaged goods, living with low self-esteem. These teachings and beliefs create what I'm calling religious -codependency.

Our sense of self is understood only in the context of being fallen creatures, since Adam and Eve's sin has tainted everyone. Being told that only through God's grace can we do any good deed made us pathetically needy, clinging to the hope that God indeed will save or redeem us. Remember, in Augustine's teaching, there is no mention of our involvement in God's grace. We take no responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Everything is about what God is doing or has done. In this book, I will give descriptions and situations that exemplify what I'm calling religious co-dependency, describing how we developed and reflect this unhealthy relationship with God.

In twelve-step programs, people are thinking that if they give everything over to God, including their thinking, they will stay sober. People are asking God in prayer to do what they should be doing or creating for themselves.

©2012. Leo Booth, Mth. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Happy Heretic. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442


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