The minister betrayed his wife. The scripture misled us. The congregation hurt its people. Again and again we yearn for spiritual elders we can trust.

I am a child of God who hungers to come home. The human lapses—corrupt priests, cruel beliefs, poorly translated scriptures—might smash my belief like cartoon villains with big hammers.

How do I sort it out? I’m no expert. The strict voice from my childhood whispers, “Who do you think you are? Others have studied this more than you. How could you question the scriptures? This church or temple or faith has stood the test of time. Who are you to question? You cannot know anything on your own.”

It’s big deal. People have been burned at the stake for this. For more than 1000 years, most faiths taught that none of us can know the divine directly. All of us, they say, need some kind of spiritual authority to teach us.

We complain that a spiritual leader is corrupt. The voice answers that the leader knows more than we do. We complain that power-hungry bishops changed the core meaning of scripture. The voice answers that they knew what was best for us. We complain that a belief cannot be from God because it is so cruel. The voice answers that we are too puny to question traditional belief and that sometimes God’s purification is necessary.

Yet for thousands of years, two important spiritual traditions—Buddhism and Gnosticism—have argued the exact opposite.

Here’s what Buddha said: “Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”

Another important tradition, Gnosticism, is a belief “that direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings, and, moreover, that the attainment of such knowledge must always constitute the supreme achievement of human life.” (see http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhlintro.html) In fact there are some who say that Jesus was a Gnostic.(See http://www.gnostic-jesus.com/)

This means that I give myself permission to be the knower, and I need no approval from a superior. I meditate and listen to whatever direct knowledge comes. I know that my intention is pure. I trust myself and I trust the divine essence.

In many faiths, this idea is dangerous. Many faith organizations control people’s beliefs via spiritual authorities such as ministers, gurus, priests or scriptures. It happens all over the world—in Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, for example.

Furthermore, as children, most of us were taught that even a smart, good person needs teaching from someone who knows better.

It’s actually a trick question. When we yield to a spiritual authority—any authority—what’s really happening is we are giving away responsibility for our spiritual learning to someone else. But we do it because it’s traditional and because it seems easy.

The fatal flaw is that no other person and no piece of writing can carry the weight of our individual spiritual knowing.

Here are six steps to trusting our own spiritual authority:


  1. We seek knowing in our own hearts. We take responsibility for who we are at the very deepest level. Being a true child of the universe means taking 100 percent of the responsibility for what we believe.


  1. We can still refer to a faith tradition, if it helps us. Every faith has meditation and prayer practices for self-knowing. Some people call these mystical practices. Another way is to learn practices such as Buddhist meditation in addition to our own usual practices.


  1. We can learn more about listening inward. We can meditate and pray more. The universe speaks in that silence.


  1. If we want to study scripture, we can study the earliest, most original versions available. For example, Christians can look at the Nag Hammadi versions of the gospel. We can study what changes were made in early versions.


  1. We can still talk to our spiritual leader, if we trust him or her. But to be fair, we always remember that he or she is only another person like us, just another ordinary person, not someone to carry the responsibility instead of us. Even if the leader has studied 50 years, we are the final knowers of what feels true in our deepest hearts.
  1. Finally, we learn to be cautious of cynics who say, “If you’re intelligent, you don’t need religion” or “I don’t need to believe in anything. My thoughts are all just biochemical reactions anyway.”


Their experience doesn’t matter. We are the only ones who know what our hearts tell us.

The only authority we can completely trust is the pure, quiet voice inside.

So then when the minister hires a prostitute, what does it really matter? If the scripture’s meaning changes, so what? We can learn. We can study a new meaning.

All of us are children of the universe. All of us are love in action.

I stand firm in my own knowledge of the divine. I hear the whispers in my heart, and I trust the universe to teach me perfectly. There is nothing better than that and there is nothing more than that.

This is where I rest in God. This is where I am whole.

–by Jean Gendreau, reprinted from and with the permission of Elephant Journal.com









4 thoughts on “When the Guru Is a Drunk: Claiming Your Own Spiritual Authority

  1. This is a very interesting article. I appreciate the fact that it does not tell you; A. how to believe, B. what to believe, C. that you shouldn’t believe your pastor, priest, etc, D. that you don’t have to believe your pastor, priest, etc.

    I found in my heart of hearts…deep to my soul…that what feels true to me is not the truth that certain religions teach. I’ve found that more and more people are opening up to the same truths (not that their opinions matter…it’s more the fact that people are turning away from the cookie cutter version of faith that certain religions preach that intrigue me).

    While at times I appreciate attending services where I can enjoy the worship, the community, and the songs, more often than not, I feel closer to God in my everyday living: Listening to faith-filled music during my morning routine…seeing all the beauty around me…being grateful for all the amazing blessings…sharing my love and talents as I’m called to share (moved to by those whispers).

    I believe that it is at services that lessons of teachings can be learned…more as a history class. Which of course, can also be done at home if you prefer. The challenge for me has been to find a church/service that fits with my beliefs…which are one of all-encompassing love. I believe the teachings should be taught highlighting love rather than exclusion. Jesus did not teach while turning people away…as some churches do: if you do not ‘belong’ to their religion, or if you do not live the life they feel (pointing to their version of the bible) you should be living.

    Having been brought up in a very strict religion, imagine my heartbreak when I went against their rules when I found true, soulful love in a second marriage (vs abusive, demanding love in the first). The rejection was immediate…and reached the depths of my soul. It sent all that I had learned in my childhood reeling. You see, I had believed to my very soul that if I did not take communion that I would be denying Jesus’ love. So, what in turn did it mean that ‘they’ were now not allowing me to take communion. All of a sudden I wasn’t good enough, not worthy of this most holy sacrament, not worthy of His love.

    This was my true epiphany moment. Interestingly enough, I had others encourage me to go to another church in the same religion where they would allow me to receive communion. But at this impasse, how could I allow an exception for myself when others in my same situation couldn’t do the same? At a time when we needed love and encouragement, why were we separated/isolated from the church community?*

    There were other close-minded issues that did not feel true to the image of LOVE that some churches teach. It was in seeing these issues with open eyes, in feeling how wrong it was to dismiss others, in understanding the feeling of isolation from being shunned/neglected/denied, that my heart opened to the Spirit…to all that is good and right. To stop denying others of the whole love that is meant for all.

    Don’t get me wrong, I struggle with forgiveness for some. I pray that God fill them with His love, to turn their life around and stop abusing others. But I don’t deny them God’s love. Everyone deserves to feel it’s beauty, bathe in it’s glory, grow in it’s encouragement.

    I also believe that everyone has the right to believe in their own ‘Higher Power’. Mine is God. I hope and pray that their Higher Power is one of love. For with Love, we can change the world…we can attain Peace…we can attain Calm…we can attain true Gratefulness to appreciate the blessings that surround us, instead of the wanting and greed of asking for more.

    Thank you for sharing this article. It truly touched me and encouraged me to write.

    Patty O
    A Thankfully Imperfect Woman

    *An interesting addition to this story: the moment I told my first husband ‘I want a divorce’, I felt Jesus’ arms wrap around me. This was love, this was support, this was comfort telling me that it was all going to be ok, that I’d made the right decision, that it was time to come out into the sunshine and live.

    There have been other ‘God moments’ throughout my life…their power, strength and knowledge are incredible.


    • What a beautiful piece of writing about your own process! I hope you write an article for your blog on this very topic because I think you have wisdom to share. I am, in fact, about to write (starting Wednesday) a small book on the topic of each person’s personal path to God. Although I was raised in churches and belong to a church now, I am very aware of how churches have punished and shamed good people–and I know that Jesus himself would never shame or accuse. He would only love. Your message at the time when you were divorcing your first husband sounds like Jesus speaking to your heart. I am so happy that you already know that your heart sense is the very best way to judge messages that come towards you. Since your heart is made up of God’s essence, this is a true compass. Unfortunately, churches have made some serious and hurtful errors. Their only redeeming quality, however, is that praying with others is good and is empowering, and of course, people do that in a church. But they can also do that in a group of friends…. I send you love and strength! Thank you so much for writing. It is so affirming for me to hear this just as I start the book.–Jean

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so glad to hear it Jean! I’d love to talk with you more on the subject some time – perhaps over coffee? I do believe we live in the same wonderful small town. 🙂


  2. We do! I noticed your post about Margo and Al. Can you send me a message on my public Facebook page? Then we can get in touch by phone or our real e-mails. It’s useful as I write this book to hear from people thinking about this issue.–Jean


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