The ‘do-it-yourself’ religion
THOMAS MOORE’S LATEST BOOK: Author, who now lives in Jaffrey, takes an individualists’ approach to faith, and how it can apply in an increasingly secular world
“A lot of people are tired of organized religion as they know it,” says author Thomas Moore. “They may feel churches don’t have much to offer, but they’re looking for something else. I’m trying to help them find it. I want to write about how you can restore a sense of religion as an alternative to a purely secular life.”
Moore’s 20th book, titled “A Religion of One’s Own,” is being published this week. The author, who recently moved from Peterborough to Jaffrey and has lived in the Monadnock region for 18 years, says he found inspiration in the lives of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau.
“For Thoreau, just getting up early and taking a bath were just as sacred as any other ritual,” Moore says. “He said there is no need to seek out penance because everyday life brings all of us plenty of penance and pain.”
Moore believes there are many ways that a person can create a personal approach to religion.
“I love religions very much, but I recommend a lighter way of dealing with them,” he says. “You can be a religious person without surrendering to the secular world, but you don’t have to give everything to the religious authorities either.”
Moore, who is 72, was born into a devout Irish Catholic family in Detroit, served as an altar boy and at age 13 chose to take up the life of a monk, a decision he says wasn’t that unusual at the time. He was considering the priesthood, but after living in a monastery for 13 years, he abandoned formal religion, although he still incorporates monastic rituals in his own daily life.
“On the outside, you’d think I didn’t give religion a thought, but inside it’s the main thing,” Moore says. “People are trying out different traditions. I’m trying to suggest that this is a valid way of being religious. You can do it all by yourself.”
Moore’s book defines religion as a creative and concrete response to the mysteries people confront regularly: sickness, love, meaning, death, purpose, values. It begins in the individual who may well go through a period of seeking. He recommends shifting attention from the formal religions as traditions to learn and memberships to join and instead studying them closely and using them for inspiration, guidance, information and practices.
The book offers practical suggestions for crafting one’s own religion.
“Feel free to reinvent and redefine,” Moore writes. “Don’t accept the usual meanings of ‘God’ and ‘religion.’ ... understand that many things, if not everything, that are usually considered secular are sacred, if you have the eyes to see it. ... Be a mystic in your own ways. This is not an option. To be fully human you need some sort of mystical experiences regularly.”
He urges people to discover new ways to meditate and be contemplative, to find ways to serve their community that are consistent with their values and temperament, to read and study spiritual matters intensively and give the arts a central place as a source of insight and to create a spiritual atmosphere in their homes and environment, one that respects the spiritual and religious quests of their neighbors.
Moore, who has a Ph. D in religious studies from Syracuse University, practices psychotherapy and lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy and the arts. He has written several notable books, including his best-known work, “Care of the Soul.”
His wife, Hari Kirin Khalsa teaches yoga and trains yoga teachers in West Peterborough, and his daughter, Ajeet, is a recording artist for Spirit Voyage, a publisher of spiritual music. His family, he says, puts a face on the issues in his new book.
“We’ve all been traditionalists and seekers. We love the religious traditions and are willing to explore,” Moore says.
Moore will be discussing “A Religion of One’s Own” at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Feb. 1 at 11 a.m.