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Nothing New Under The Sun
(the ARX acta diurna)
The biggest problem imo with organized religion
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bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 7th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes, there's a terrifying science saying,

"in Nature there are neither punishments nor rewards, but only consequences," which I see is attr to Ingersoll - if you accept that, it's horrible because you don't get that, ahem, consolation of thinking that Well, At Least It Is All To Some Good End, or Well, At Least It's Happening For A Reason, where bad things can be ascribed to Poetic Justice or Ineffable Plans rather than Just Happening To Good People Because Shit Happens.

At the same time, it's incredibly liberating, because it frees you from the truly gruesome consequences of "Transactional Religion" (thanks for that coinage) which really hit home to me when I was studying Boethius (this is why I always wince, and never use seriously, the notion of "consolation" in Christianity) and his blithe "oh well, we/they must have done SOMETHING to deserve it, or else the people who are being harmed are just Extras being used as a Teaching Example to motivate those who are the Protagonists in this Cosmic Narrative" - I don't care if he was just trying to get himself through the night before his own execution, it's a vile theology and the mainstream embrace of it by Western Christianity for so long did us no good at all.

Somebody's little kid gets hit by a car to teach the parents a lesson? WTF? I'll never get over the Christians of my acquaintance (the ones online were bad, too, but the ones I *knew* were the most sickening) who were going on and on about how 9/11 was A Tragedy, but maybe there'd be a Silver Lining in that it would make people Turn To God - I, having both too much willingness to think the best for too long, as well as a Nasty Suspicious Mind, first tried to put some sort of benevolent construction on it, and then gave up and said "Fuckit, they're talking about using a horrible and far-ranging-with-no-end-in-sight catastrophe and loss of untold lives as a tool for increasing market share - this is damnable--" But at that time there wasn't anyone I could - or dared - talk to about that sickening realization.

Yes, it's worrying to think that you can't just drop enough quarters into the machine to win the Cosmic Jackpot - but it's also a relief to stop having to worry about if you're not dropping quarters in fast enough so to speak, if there were only a little bit more effective Magick that you could work to shove the Universe along into a more favorable place for you and your folks, too - and thus your fault if you didn't for whatever reason of weakness or ignorance or "selfishness"...

It inevitably does lead, I suspect, to the sort of mysticism and "heresy" found in Teilhardian theo and Sufiism and Taoism and Amidism and not thinking that The Divine can be worked like a Mafia Don to our own advantage, the kind of radical religious expressions found in Mark Twain's wrestlings with it all, frex. But Formalism is so much easier, for a given value of "easy", and nobody seems to be immune to it anywhere, ever. (Comparative Religion: just like first-hand-sourced History, great for making you realize that everybody has the same disfunctions, with radically different societal styles...I remember the intense feeling of relief and *connectedness* when I read a news article in the Nineties about a fierce doctrinal battle going on in Tibetan Buddhism over whether or not the Just Punishments of Hell ought to be de-emphasized for the Joy of Divine Grace - hey, it's not just us!)

Idries Shah had a great point about it: "When people are doing things they shouldn't be doing in the first place, then want a reward for ceasing to do so." - much like when the privileged want cookies.

Against which there's all that stuff about praying in closets and getting rewarded by the public applause but not getting any spiritual merit for ostentatious Acts of Virtue, which *I* at least remember hearing from the pews, but seem to be honored more in the breach!

There's something rattling around too, about Altar Calls and the repeated and ever-more-dramatic public professions of Sin in the American Evangelical tradition (also poss. British?) but it's not *my* tradition and I don't know enough about it to confidently try to map it onto the Catholic variants of Xtreme Penitentz that I'm familiar with.
From: yeloson Date: December 7th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes, there's a terrifying science saying,

I tend to think of the mystical practices as preceding the organized religions - for example the various taoist practices predate nearly anything else in China, and then later, we saw organized orders and cults arise.

I think it has mostly to do with the fact that the usual mystical premise, "Change yourself" involves all work and no guarantee or obvious reward, while social groupings where people are looking up to you as holy, giving you money, sex, whatever has clear benefits.

It's the natural human tendency for greed plus magical thinking that creates organized religion out of anything. (For example, given the basic tenets of Buddhism, the idea that there should be orders of monks supported by the lay population? Makes no sense at all.)

It's also easy to make a living telling people what they want to hear:

"Good things happen to you because you earned it and you're blessed by God. Good things happen to THOSE people because the world is corrupt and rewards evil. Bad things happen to you because the world opposes good people. Bad things happen to THOSE people because they deserve it!"

Of course, the basic offer made by organized religion is kind of broken at heart:

"Pay/give status to someone else to show you how to be a better you." - it's like paying someone else to do pushups hoping you'll become healthier in the process...
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 7th, 2009 08:54 am (UTC) (Link)


"Pay/give status to someone else to show you how to be a better you." - it's like paying someone else to do pushups hoping you'll become healthier in the process...

Well, the argument is that it's like hiring a personal trainer or a coach...but yeah, it often turns out like "You do the exercising, we'll reap the benefits!" Clericalism as a division of labor to appease predatory gods makes a certain amount of common sense; Clericalism in an ananda-based religious system becomes ever less theologically justifiable. But then, for all the talk of "joy" and "love" and "inner peace" it usually is a fearful one of old predatory gods, underneath. So you end up with the worst sort of feudalism, an elite supported by the labors and wealth of the "lower" classes and immune from the rules, in the name of "protecting" and "serving" as Spiritual Warriors and Lords Bountiful.

Or you can have the worst of both worlds: not just an an elite who gets away - as in the recently-revisted in light of the Murphy Report case of Bernadette Connolly with even murder, but who at least take on the "burden" of doing all that propitiation stuff, but also a populace who is haunted by the same fears of ritual impurity and impiety that the sacrifices of the priestly classes are supposed to be taking care of, though with no confidence in their own ability to take spiritual care of themselves. It may be an inevitable result of social pressures to justify supporting a Standing Clerical Army, in spite of the questionable theology, the need to convince the majority that yes, Virginia, there ARE armies of demons and that's why you need to subsidize the Watchers' Council and their Slayers resulting in a haunted & miserable populace who find no comfort in the Invisible Rat Catchers' assurances of their ability to whistle away the Invisible Rats - I don't know. It could just be simple human heirarchicalism born of innate authoritarian impulses, fixing on whatever target is at hand regardless of logic, too, combined with that need to feel *some* sort of control over life and the universe and everything.

IMO it comes down to what does more harm - "an it harm none" being a good counteractant against fanaticism of the sort that leads to Jansenism or mandatory atheism (I don't see much difference really) and attempts to purge out folkways in the name of purity and avoidance of superstition.

But the flip side of that is that you *do* have to ask if it's doing harm, and sometimes it is. Sometimes the comfort it gives is that of the barbituate bottle or the heroin syringe, and *damaging* to the one who holds on to it and to others.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: December 7th, 2009 09:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh, indeed

I only had a few years of Theo, but I have a glancing familiarity with Rudolph Otto - and then it only makes sense, from a purely practical historical perspective, that behaviors wouldn't be codified and systematized *before* the impulses that led to them.

I tend to think of the mystical practices as preceding the organized religions

Yes, I meant merely in the sense of a Personal Journey - those who have been raised in a legalistic faith and after study end up on a more mystical and less exclusionary path often do see it as a Return to a primeval spirituality, free of "accretions" as well as superstition and parochialism. Western efforts by the Establishment to resist this cutting into market share are notorious; but the realization for me that it *was* a Fight About The Stuff like most political battles (ie a political battle!) for all the conflicting dogmas on all sides, was helped along by reading about bloody (if less centrally organized) fights between Asian monasteries which sounded awfully familiar after reading about the purges and splintering and counter-accusations of heresy between orders in the European Middle Ages.

(Unfortunately my knowledge of Asian religious/political history is a lot sketchier and more scattered, and so I don't have a good feel for the extent to which thinkers over the centuries *engaged* with the problem of Clericalism in Buddhism and how that affected ordinary people who just wanted the Comforts of Tradition and the household shrine to help them get on with their lives and let the professionals take care of the high-level mediation and cosmic stuff; the bits I've read in Mencius and other Confucian school theorists remind me of the ancient internal debates over Piety vs Superstition in Magna Graeca which also inevitably start and roll back round to the whole Social Utility of Organized Religion. The pop cultural takes, full of snark and skewering of hypocrisies, in plays and folktales of lecherous monks, false ascetics and other holy hypocrites, those sound *way* familiar after reading medieval European poetry and song lyrics - or Tartuffe.

OTOH, while it's definitely a relief to realize that It's Not Just Us in that it allows for better diagnosis and hopefully, treatment of problems (if you think it's Just Us then, in my experience, a common result is fleeing from failed institution to as-yet-untried-&-thus-not-failed institution in search of the Real Authentic Pure Religion, which never works) as well as a we're-all-in-it-together commonality of humanity - still it's also very disheartening in that it shows that nobody's got a handle on how to deal with it, after all these millennia of trying... "Damn, we ALL have versions of the Prosperity Gospel!? We're all following Empress Fortuna, whether we call her Mother Church or Kwannon or Reason or Nature, the real target of human veneration is & has always been the 'bitch-goddess Success' it seems--"

(Oh, and thanks for reminding me that I forgot the intended epigraph to this post.)
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