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The Way We Teach Spirituality is Wrong

By February 11, 2023Healing

Like millions of parents before me, I have often sat and pondered about the things I want my daughters to experience — the talents I want them to develop, the foods I want them to taste, the sports, the instruments, the hobbies, life skills, and more. I’ve tried a few things with varying levels of success.

I managed to teach my oldest to swim without floatation help in a week. Both of them love ballet and tap dance, and have accumulated a collection of Legos they play with regularly. My oldest also asks to join me in daily mediation occasionally when she feels overwhelmed. We also paint together in the garage a couple of times a week.

On the other hand. Gymnastics and soccer were both heartily rejected. Naturally, many foods have been labeled as yucky in deference to the holy chicken nugget, and nature-based educational children’s shows are replaced by nonsense as soon as I leave the room

I could go on, but I feel many parents can relate and definitely add to the list. So, I began to think about why this was the case. Why did some things or activities that I thought would be too boring or difficult for two toddlers be so fun and exciting? Why were other things that I thought would be more fun, tasty, or enjoyable, be rejected? And from my limited, definitely rigorous, investigation, I had to conclude that those things they enjoyed most were things for which they had developed a love before they got into it, and those things they did not enjoy were things that I was trying to force on them that they did not have any attachment to.

That is to say, one way or another, through enjoying something with me or their mom or friends, they found a joy and attachment, and that joy carried them to want to explore more about that thing which only deepened their happiness when doing it. When I tried to make them do the “work” part of an activity before the attachment or love had grown, I would receive nothing but resistance and frustration in return.

While it might not be the most perfect example, all this is to illustrate my thinking of why I think the way we teach religion, spirituality, or mysticism is wrong. Whether as parents, friends, or clergy, but most definitely as members of Western society.

Through my personal experiences and study, I have come to understand that there are really two kinds of behaviors or activities into which our religious practices might fall into. These are:

  • Practices that create a connection with Deity
  • Practices that create the kind of life we believe would please Deity

Purely to facilitate understanding going forward, I will call practices in the first category “spiritual practices” and those in the second category “moral practices”.

In a perfect world, I imagine we would foster spiritual practices first. Practices that create a connection with the One Great Being, God, Brahman, or other Supreme Creator. Practices that teach us our place in the world and foster a deep, abiding love for ourselves, everyone and everything around us, and our place in the universe. Spiritual practices are not confined to one religion, church, or book of scripture. There are many paths to create a connection to Deity, some easier than others.

After those spiritual practices have succeeded in creating that connection, or rather, after we have succeeded in creating that connection through spiritual practices, we would continue our mortal journey into moral practices. These are practices that enrich our lives by “channeling” that Godly connection into our everyday lives. We learn respect, selflessness, service, self-restraint, and other morality-based behaviors that facilitate a healthy society, not because the behaviors themselves are objectively “good”, but because they are behaviors through which the beauty of the Universe can express itself.

While spiritual practices are not confined to any one religion, and no faith can lay claim to the one true path to a connection to God, moral practices are defined by their religion and society. They change and morph and mutate over the generations. Things we would think absolutely evil today would have been required moral practices just a few lifetimes ago, and vice-versa.

I want to be absolutely clear before I continue. I believe the correct way to teach spirituality is to teach the way to connect to our spirit, or the Greater Spirit, and once we have that connection and can reliably get in touch with it, “moral” behavior will naturally ensue, and there will be little need to teach or enforce it. To teach “moral” behavior before even trying to foster a connection with the Divine is backward and almost never has the intended effect.

Morality is not the path, it is a side-effect of a healthy spiritual connection with Deity. Morality is not the goal, it is the expression of a joyful soul.

Don’t get me wrong. There are objective benefits to “moral” behavior even when it is not empowered with a connection to Deity. Most of us would agree that a habit of honesty is good, regardless of the reasons one practices it. However, I believe that is missing the point of moral behavior entirely. I believe there is a difference between behaviors that create (or remind us of) our connection to God, and behaviors that result from that connection. Many of the problems in society result when churches and religions switch the meaning and purposes of these practices or begin attributing spiritual meaning to moral behavior, for any reason.

I know. When I sit too long with my thoughts I have confused myself multiple times when pondering on these things. It’s hard to keep track of. How can we tell the difference between spiritual practices and moral practices, especially when we have to sift through thousands of years of religious dogma that has confused the two (often intentionally)?


“If Religion is the establishing of a relationship between man and the universe, then morality is the explanation of those activities that automatically result when a person maintains a relationship to the universe.”

-Leo Tolstoy


This confusion is often tricky for me when I realize that practices that are meant to be spiritual can become moral when we do them for the wrong reasons.

As a few simple examples:

Spiritual practices can include: prayer, meditation, fasting, chanting, dancing, singing, deep contemplation, drumming, altered states of consciousness, and breathwork, to name a couple.

Moral practices can include: sacraments, commandments, moral and societal behaviors, certain rituals (many ancient rituals we perform today had their origins in practices that would reliably induce an altered state of consciousness or a particularly powerful connection with God, but have since become watered down imitations that we perform for performance’s sake), and more.

While true prayer is meant to be the most intimate of connections with Deity, it can quickly become a moral practice when we do it because we’re “supposed to” or we feel we’re doing something wrong if we don’t. We forget the whole purpose of prayer and do it because God might be insulted if we don’t. A phrase I hear too often is “checking boxes”. When spiritual practices are done out of obligation, they become moral practices, and when moral practices are done out of obligation, they become indoctrination.


He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

-Matthew 22:37-40 (New Oxford Annotated Bible)


Think about the way we teach our children spirituality in the West. Do we begin with creating a connection with Deity? Or do we begin by teaching them all the boxes they should be checking?

How soon after they have left the womb do we teach our kids, “Don’t do that because that makes God sad”?

How soon after they have left the presence of an ever-loving Being do we tell them that same being will send them to Hell for giving into their bodily feelings?

How often do we separate our spiritual and moral practices into behaviors acceptable for adults versus children? How many barriers do we put between us and those who need a spiritual connection the most? Why do we feel it necessary to “graduate” or “grow up” to more mature doctrinal matters? What is it about ourselves we are trying to hide or compensate for?

What if, instead, we spend those precious early years of life kindling that flame of Divine Love that still resides within all children?

What if, instead, we sat together in peace, living entirely in the present moment and listening to the universe that surrounds us?

What if we taught ourselves to connect with God through meditation or prayer circles and taught that connection to our children?

When we teach spiritual practices first, we realize that moral behavior is the automatic result of that connection to Deity. It’s like crawling back into a warm bed after having just left it in the morning.


“We can take our lives exactly as they are in this moment. It is a fallacy to think that we’re necessarily going to get closer to God by changing the form of our lives, by leaving so-and-so, or changing our jobs, or moving, or whatever… by giving up our stereos, or cutting off our hair, or growing our hair, or shaving our beards, or… It isn’t the form of the game; it’s the nature of the being that fulfills the form. If I’m a lawyer, I can continue being a lawyer. I merely use being a lawyer as a way of coming to God.”

-Ram Dass


Why does every generation experience its own version of a counter-culture? Why does every major religion bleed followers only to receive new ones from its siblings? Why do parents of every generation have to learn how to raise rebellious children? Because we yearn for that which we are not receiving through organized religion. We hunger for a connection to God.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to achieve that spiritual connection to the Universe in organized religion. Indeed, it is entirely possible when one learns the steps to achieve it. I’m saying that organized religions are not designed to deliver that experience. They have entirely different goals. And their behavior and actions are proof of that.

I’m not going to spend any time listing the evil that has been committed in the service of God when moral behavior and dogma were given higher priority over spiritual practices. Those evils are still being perpetuated today, all for the same reasons. That research can be done on your own.



“In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all.”

-Alan Watts


Instead, focus on healing.

Look around at the world in which you live and participate. A world you help create with your every breath. Now, look at your life, at your spiritual journey. How much of your life is filled with spiritual practices, and how much is moral practices? What are the reasons you perform each? How many boxes are you checking each day? How much time do you spend on creating a connection with God instead of trying to meet expectations or avoid punishment? When you try and connect with God, do you do so without expectations, preconceptions, plans, prejudice, or agenda?

If you can analyze your life honestly, now look at your early years, how much of your young life was filled with spiritual practices, if at all, versus learning the rules of moral practices?

I yearn for a world in which young people are loving, kind, and charitable because they live in a state of perpetual connection to God, and not because they are afraid of God’s retribution or punishment. I want a world of hope, not of shame.

Fear, no matter its source, is the seedbed of violence, bigotry, and hatred. When we live in fear from our waking moments to the time we go to bed, we are creating a world that will only grow the fruit of evil.

Are we afraid our children will be gay?

Are we afraid that if we miss a prayer today, that tomorrow will not be a blessed day?

Are we afraid that if we make a mistake we won’t go to heaven?

Are we afraid that we will live in an eternal state of misery and darkness if we don’t read the scriptures every day?

Are we afraid those of different faiths will destroy our society?

When we focus on building a foundation of spiritual practices, we have no room for fear. In fact, we recognize fear for what it really is: ignorance. Ignorance of our place in the universe. Ignorance of the true meaning of life. Ignorance of the infinite goodness and beauty of God.

I choose not to raise my children in fear and shame. I am teaching them to connect with God, and I already see the fruit of that labor.

I wish you luck in your efforts.

Many blessings.


Aaron J. Webber

Author Aaron J. Webber

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