Spirituality and a sense of awe and humility at the beauty, complexity and interconnectedness of the universe is a fundamental human characteristic. A true, direct connection to spirit and the source of being does not lead to credulous, uncritical belief or superstition. Instead of dis-empowering us and making us susceptible to the commands of religious institutions (and by extension, the state), it empowers us to be free and fulfill our potential as human beings.
Religious institutions seeking domination rather than freedom, use tools of fear, guilt and the promise of rewards in some abstract future or “other” place-time, as a way to control people’s lives and amass power. This is often in open service to rapacious empire (or violent resistance to empire), leading to war and poverty. The trick used is to perpetuate a delusion of duality between people and concrete, observable reality on the one hand and “God”/”the divine”/”spirit” etc on the other. Then the institution is set up as a mediator between everyday people and “God”, presenting a specific set of inflexible rules, doctrines and dogma as the “only way”. We can overcome this trick without resort to total mechanistic materialism (taking one side of the false material-spiritual duality), by experiencing the Source directly. Mystics in every religious tradition describe this human ability and ways to connect with it. Such teachers have been routinely persecuted as heretics by established institutions, that seem to fear a loss of power and influence if everyday people are empowered to experience Spirit directly.
Pantheism, including the spiritual traditions of indigenous cultures, recognises the divine as dynamically manifest in living things, living systems and the universe as a whole (and there is a fine line between pantheism and atheism, which is the preferred path of many critical thinkers). Mystic religious traditions have a similar recognition that there is no duality between spirit or the ground of being and the concrete universe of form, and indeed no duality between the individual experiencing the universe, and the universe itself.