what to do with organized religion

This is obviously not written for the conventionally religious. Then again, I doubt those folks would be reading this in the first place. And once again I'm drawing heavily on the summary work of Ken Wilber and the orbit of the Integral Institute, or at least my reading of it.

The world, at least the real(ish) one I live in, the parts of it I know or experience, looks to be divided down a particularly nasty fault line. That line loks like the Korean DMZ: a mile wide, booby trapped, nigh-uncrossable. It's called religion.

Not to diminish the deep and entrenched problems of persistent poverty, culturally ingrained discrimination, environmental toxicity, or any number of truly effed up things existing in this world. But this religion Thing is a gatekeeper to other problems, because regardless of the existence or not of some objecive deity, godforms, or Kosmic Thusness, the institutions of religion exist as cultural constructs, which ultimately are only in our minds. They exist because we continue to pay attention to them, collectively and individually.

The faithful and near-faithful might argue that organized religion produces a great deal of good. Not just good works, but a framework for guiding humans toward standards of behavior, how to live among others in this world without breaking down into armed skirmishes each day, how to be a better person. They don't always succeed at this.

The post-faithful would argue that organized religion keeps people from realizing their potential and brainwashes children, demanding adherence to rigid groupthink and building barriers of intolerance between in-groups and unbelievers. Then again, too many of religion's critics exhibit their own rigid thinking and intolerances.

I myself am often torn between the call of my own culturally-based religious roots - New York Ashkenazic Judaism of the Reform variety - and revulsion at it. In the end I think it's my own personal experience that leads me to the arguments herein. I am neither a faithful nor going-through-the motions Jew, although I sometimes refer to myself as a Yid. The words and rituals offer me no meaning or help to my life, and I flat out cannot abide the whole circumcision thing.

It may have made sense to substitute that ritual for sacrificing the firstborn son back in the day, but we have managed to move past that rite (I hope). A God that continues to insist you mutilate your newborn son's weenie is one to keep your kids safe from; to paraphrase Groucho, a club that wants a piece of my member is one I wouldn't want to join. Not to mention that the rite that defines your belonging is only available to one gender, but the other faiths don't exactly stack up in that department either.

But there is an idea buried within Judaism that God started out shaping the lives of humans, then intervening or meddling now and again, but at one point withdrawing from the world and allowing humans to make their own mistakes. It's one of the things that has kept me nominally Jewish, although I won't set foot in a synagogue for fear that I'll start a fistfight the first time someone mentions the word "bris&qut;.

For the first of the major organized faiths to go on and on about The Lord Commandeth This And That and then to say that He withdraws from the affairs of humans is unprecedented. God The Parent has raised you, now you're grown up enough to make your own way. You have His love (and maybe a few scars from His beatings) but you're a grown up now - you're off the leash.

Whether you take the Torah to be the unquestionable Law handed down by the almighty or a collection of legends and/or histories of a people, for the Narrator to step aside from the main story is one of the human drama's first great plot twists. It's a step that the Christian and Muslim institutios have refused to take, and it may become their Achilles heel.

A good parent learns when to let their children make their own mistakes. Once they figure out how to cross the street safely and which bugs not to eat, Mom and Dad have to let them go learn about the world. For humans it takes roughly 15-20 years before they're ready to screw up their own lives, sometimes more (ahem, my little brother who is 40 and living at home...), but at some point they must leave the nest. And trust me, the parents will come to visit at the most inopportune moments, just like a good deity should.

Contemporary critics of organized religion like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins tend to offer their own structures as replacements for churches, temples and mosques. They zero in on mass religion's worst behaviors, but then they fumble badly when it comes to howo to wean adherents off it. (The lovably obnoxious Christopher Hitchens' latest, God Is Not Great, isn't expected to propose solutions, since we pay Hitchens to rant like a total bastard.)

Substituting one authority for another is not the point, it's helping humans learn the fundamentals of living so they can go on and have lives - which will definitely involve some breaking of the rules they've learned.

Shoring up the First Amendment is one step: the builders of this American democracy-republic-thing put that first on the list of edits for a reason. Believe as you wish, but you have to let everyone else do the same. Because there can be no Freedom without the mind and heart and other parts first freed to relate to the Ultimate, whatever that may or may not be, on its own terms. The best organized religion can do is help establish guidelines, translate the Mysteries into How Do I Live until we can answer that question ourselves. Then step back and watch the kids play on their own.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home