Let’s get this straight. The entire human race is crazy. Every single one of us is insane right down to the very last one. There are just varying degrees of crazy ranging from Charles Manson or Hitler at one end, to the Dali Lama or the Pope at the other end. Most of us ramble about somewhere in the middle. Sometimes we get it right, but sometimes wrong. Nobody—not even the Dali Lama or the Pope—gets it all right all the time. So, before we go any further, cut yourself some slack. The fact that human beings have an ego means that we can’t be anything but insane. Some of us try a little harder than others not to be crazy. Some don’t try at all and many, if not most, either don’t realize, or would never admit they are crazy. The more we allow our ego to control us, the more insane we become. The ego is about selfishness, wanting what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. The one thing the ego wants most is to be right. When it can convince us that the ultimate goal is to be right, then it may also convince us that it is our responsibility to force others to comply with our own personal perception of right. If some other ego disagrees, then conflict ensues. The degree to which ego is hell bent upon proving itself right is the degree to which the conflict escalates even unto world war, as there are collections of egos adopting the same systems of belief. Ego is all about control, dominance and greed. At the extreme, it is the ultimate expression of selfishness, but it is selfishness, in some form, on all levels. The fact that we all have an ego means that we are all selfish to some degree. Our own level of insanity is determined by how much we are willing to ignore, or set aside our ego versus allowing it to run roughshod over our affairs. However, ego is trickster. It fools us into believing that some actions are not selfish, and are instead for the greater good of all humanity. The degree to which we defend and demand compliance to a belief, unwilling to consider that there is another way of looking at it, is the degree to which ego has control over us. There is always another way of looking at it. Truth is never in contradiction. Only belief can contradict. Belief defended by ego can be in contradiction to other beliefs, but it can’t be in contradiction to truth because truth is that which is irrefutable. We have the illusion that selfishness is only about material gain—money, power, possessions, but selfishness can take on many disguises. It can also be about defending and trying to prove our own belief system while denying there could be value in the beliefs of others. Hidden among all beliefs are grains of truth that lie beneath the surface, unseen unless sought after. One can stand at the edge of a stream and see only the stream, yet not know there are nuggets of gold amid the gravel. Unless we are willing to seek for that gold, we may not find it. We then comfort ourselves in the illusion that our belief is the truth, and that the surface is all there is to see. Most people never really look below the surface of their own beliefs. They may stand in that stream their entire lives and never realize there is gold beneath their feet. So long as they look only at the surface, the truth cannot be found, and yet they remain convinced that personal belief is truth. Religion is only one form that belief can take. We have beliefs about everything—money, sex, religion, politics, right, wrong, love, humanity, worth, ourselves, men, women, children, race, gender, sexual orientation, locations, objects, ball teams—you name it. Beliefs of all kinds begin to be ingrained in us by the time we are old enough to understand language. Some beliefs may even predate language and are based on mental decisions that we make as a result of experience. Ultimately belief is developed like this: We have an experience or a series of experiences. We draw conclusions from those experiences. We make decisions based on those conclusions, and out of our decisions a belief system is formed. Belief can develop out of a single profound or traumatizing experience, or from repeated indoctrination. Sometimes those experiences are ways in which we are taught to think and behave. Some adults (parents, baby sitters, other family, schools, and organizations) actually teach children to explore different beliefs rather than just blindly accepting what was handed down from their ancestors. Then the importance of exploring belief becomes a belief system within itself. However, those adults are rare. It is more likely that children are taught, “Believe what I say and don’t question it.” Any attempt to question may be met with, “Because I said so, that’s why.” Some adults, without being so rigid, can still give very convincing argument for adopting belief without question. Depending on the level of adult ego involvement, there are varying degrees of rigidity with which children are taught. However, manipulation and coercion may prove more effective than rigidity for the instillation of belief. Often ingrained belief does not change until it shatters against the wall of reality and that can be an extremely painful experience. However, it may only be then, that we fall to our knees willing to consider another way. It may only be then, that we realize the ones who tell us we are not allowed to question are the very ones who need to be questioned the most. Whether belief is something that we are taught or something we create ourselves, whether we adopt it or give birth to it, we claim it as our own. Once belief is established, ego defends it and tries to prove it. Ego then seeks the “evidence” to prove the belief even if it is erroneous, and denies anything that might challenge the belief. “Seek and you will find.” We get what we look for. When we look for the evidence to prove our beliefs, we will find it. When we seek truth, we will find it. When we seek truth beyond belief, and seek to know the difference between truth and belief, then we are set free from the contradictions and constrictions of ego. Truth sets everyone free because it is the understanding that the freedom of one depends on the freedom of all. We cannot hold another in bondage without standing guard over them, and therefore place ourselves within the same prison. Because our egos defend what we believe, we have a tendency to assume that others believe the way we do, or that they should believe the way we do. Even if our belief is that we are worthless, useless and undeserving, we still assume that others either should think the same of us, or that they do think the same, even if they tell us otherwise. Ego is always selfish. When we are treated with selfishness as a child, such as being abused or neglected, bullied or repeatedly taught that we are worthless or a failure, we then adopt a selfish/un-trusting view of the world that tells us we have to take whatever we get because no one would ever willingly give without expectation. We may come to the same conclusion if we are overly indulged as a child without being taught respect for the boundaries and autonomy of others. Within this belief system, we confuse gifts given in love as contracts to be repaid. We may enter into these contracts without telling others, giving with an expectation of return, assuming they believe the same. Then we become offended if they do not repay our expectations. In the extreme we believe that we are so unlovable the only way to have a relationship is to take the other as our emotional (and sometimes physical) hostage. Spirituality is the exact opposite of ego. There is no selfishness in genuine Love. Love wants the greatest and highest blessings for all. Love seeks no gain and makes no demand. Human need and ego do that. Spirituality is not religion, but it is the gold that lies beneath the stream. It is the Love within religion. Religion is a tool, a system of beliefs designed to help us achieve spirituality. How we use the tool depends upon the individual, or the agreement among individuals. The results we get from the tool are not only from the way we use it, but through developing our skill in using it. A hammer is a tool. It can be used to construct a house or it can be used as a murder weapon. We choose what we do with it. Religion can be used to open the way to Love and spirituality or, like a hammer, it can be used to dominate or kill those who disagree. The degree to which it is used for destruction is the degree to which ego is allowed to influence it. Ego demands to be right. Love never forces, and always gives choice. Since God is Love, this is why there is only one true power that any human being is allowed to possess. The power to choose is the only real human power, and we all were given that power equally. Choice is the one true gift that is given to everyone by ultimate Love. We can choose at any given moment what we will think, say or do. That’s it. We have no other power. We never get to choose what anyone else thinks, says or does, but ego instills the illusion of power through controlling, manipulating or abusing others. Because Love/God makes no demands, it would never force us to come to it. It would never take us hostage and this is why the one and only real gift we are given is the gift of choice. Because Love is all encompassing and totally equal, taking choice from one would mean taking it from all. There is not one of us who is not a child of God. Therefore, all are equal in the sight of Love, and we are all given the exact same gift - choice. We may therefore choose to come to Love, or ignore it. We may choose to accept it and express it, or turn our backs on it. Yet, every encounter contains within it an invitation to Love. Therefore, Love sees every encounter as Holy. We may choose to find Love’s expression in the world, or seek to destroy it. We may choose to listen to our ego, or refuse it. We may choose to love children, or abuse them. We may choose to honor another person's right to believe what they believe, or kill them for it. Regardless, Love does not waiver, and waits patiently for us. There is therefore a spectrum within religion and all religions, sects, or beliefs contain this spectrum. At one end you have fundamentalism, and on the other end, you have mysticism. Like our levels of insanity, most of us wander around the middle. At the extreme end of mysticism is a philosophy of live and let live. It is about seeking and finding our own path to Love, finding ways to experience, and express that Love in the world without making any demand that others should follow. If they seek to follow, let them. Then love them, and teach them. If they choose not to follow, bless them on their journey and pray that they find what you have found. On the opposite extreme, fundamentalism is all about the rules. The rules must be followed. If the rules are not followed there will be consequences, and those consequences can be of great severity. When the fundamentalism is most extreme, then the philosophy is: not only am I, and my associates required to follow the rules, but we must make sure that others follow the rules as well. What could be more selfish than believing that it is okay to force your intentions on others? To believe that God almighty needs anyone to enforce his rules upon the world is first, an inherent belief that God is weak. Second, it is based solely in ego which ultimately seeks to usurp and replace God/Love, and is the absolute pinnacle of human arrogance. Ego or Love, Choose this day which you will serve.