Is perfection spiritual? Or is it a materialistic distraction that keeps us forever unsatisfied with what we have and who we are–the imperfect, the real. Many spiritual and religious traditions teach that perfection is a virtue. We’re supposed to wait and pray for that perfect person, or the dream job we imagine would make us perfectly happy. Don’t settle for less, for to settle is to lack faith in god, the universe, or yourself. We must strive to be perfectly healthy, healed, and to obtain complete self-awareness if we are to be considered spiritual, or judged worthy to serve the spiritual needs of those around us. The implicit message is that things are supposed to be perfect, and to be anything other than perfect is to be unspiritual, or even immoral.
Christians often feel an extreme sense of guilt for not being perfect, for failing to measure up to god’s impossible standards. According to the bible, god’s standards are impossible by design, so that people will need to depend on him for forgiveness. The Christian ethic is based on moral perfection: a perfect law, perfect god, and a perfect savior, a standard of total devotion, the perfect keeping of commands with little to no tolerance for deviation or disobedience. We also see perfection in the religion’s central cultic rite of ritual sacrifice, whereby the animals offered for sacrifice had to be perfect, “without spot or blemish.” As the perfect human sacrifice, Jesus compensates for his follower’s failure to be perfect. Jesus took perfection to an extreme in his teachings, making the 10 commandments about having perfectly pure thoughts and desires–a level beyond perfect behavior. Believers are commanded to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect. According to the Bible, this fallen world is imperfect, yet god’s faithful look forward to the day when death, decay, and imperfection will be done away with forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth (eternity future). Though the biblical framework of perfection claims to deliver moral growth in the present and perfection in the future, it inspires growth by cultivating emotional states of anxiety and discontent with one’s spiritual state in the present.
Destination-driven, futurist (apocalyptic) views of spiritual perfection reflect the mentality of Western religion. Eastern religions suffer from this perspective as well: they call it enlightenment. We are all on a spiritual path, and what these ideologies do is devalue the journey by making us focus on an imaginary goal named perfection. But this goal does not exist; we are always arriving and never there. How can we enjoy the journey and experience this moment while we are in it (which is always) if we’re always invalidating and resisting everything through the judgment of imperfection?
Perfection is an abstraction and an illusion. Perfection exists in mathematical equations, not spiritual life. To live for and accept only perfection is to live in nonexistence. This requires a constant rejection of self, other, circumstance, and life itself. To view reality in terms of perfection is to miss the point entirely. Life is meant to be a process; without imperfection process cannot exist. The whole thing is perfect in sum total taken together, not in any of its constituent parts, and we are those constituent parts. So for us, as parts of the perfect whole, we can only grasp the sum total perfection by embracing the way it works, which means reveling in the imperfect now. The puzzle piece looks jagged and misshapen by itself, but the whole puzzle is perfect. Both imperfection and perfection are illusions in an ultimate sense, for they find their basis in judgment–what I judge as good or bad based on my perspective that centers around me, not the whole reality. Stasis, which is what we’d have if we reached this so-called perfection, is dull, unsatisfying, and really nothingness. In fact, this idea of perfection is impossible, for change is embedded into the nature of everything, and change requires imperfection.
The whole idea of perfection prohibits the very growth it aims to promote. It’s far healthier to practice gratitude, optimism, inspiration, and appreciation of beauty. These things have something to do with growth and reality. Most spiritual ideals of perfection flow from an impulse of outrage and trauma-inspired rejection of what is (ourselves and the world). This is about shame, anger, and fear. Such energies are negations of a no-thing, not the building blocks of creative power we find in life, love, and wonder. It is good to strive for what we want, to stretch our imaginations and chase our dreams, as long as we realize that perfection can only ever be experienced as an embrace of the imperfect that is, alongside a light-hearted passionate pursuit of what might be.