There’s something most people would consider noble about adhering to a religious tradition which comes with certain rules or sacrifices which must be kept. We generally respect people who are able to adhere to certain dietary restrictions while the rest of us indulge, who can avoid activities the rest of us enjoy, or who keep daily routines which seem tedious to us. There’s an admiration we feel towards those who are able to do these things which we would consider to be difficult.
But only to a point.
When we begin to feel that a rule or restriction is being undertaken in way which casts judgment on the rest of us, the reaction changes. We may respect the ability of a vegetarian to avoid delicious meat products right up until the point where we feel they are judging us negatively for eating other sentient animals. People who dress modestly as a spiritual practice are fine until we feel they are trying to make us feel guilty for the way we dress. We can respect a person’s dedication to daily meditation until we feel pressured to do the same.
As much as we are compelled to paint a different picture for the sake of social harmony, part of the reason spiritual traditions have rules and restrictions is to separate adherents from the nonbelievers and to, in the process, demonstrate what is supposedly wrong with life outside the faith. The rules a person follows because of their faith says a lot about what they think is wrong with the rest of society.
Not having a defined tradition to follow, I don’t have many rules. But working backwards from what I think of the world around me, I would say that the only spiritual standards to which I’m willing to aspire would be those which encourage more connection to others, more empathy, more freedom and equality, more knowledge and understanding. If we’re judging people on any standard other than how they treat the people around them, are we really doing anything at all to benefit humanity? To better ourselves?
What would become of the world if we practiced empathy and advocacy as strict religious requirements to the point of making those around us feel bad for not doing the same? What if we built our spiritual lives on celebrating ways we are the same rather than on practices which set us above or apart from others? I think it would be absolutely game-changing.