Those of you who choose to read my posts will soon realize that I don’t think I have answers. In fact, at this stage of my life, I have very few answers and, for some reason, I feel much more comfortable admitting that I have so few answers than when I was younger and actually thought I had lots of answers. Aging seems to do this to people, at least those people smart enough to begin to realize just how little they actually know.
This discussion is regarding the advantage of seeking to have a “Post-Religious” society and, in my first post, I admitted that I wasn’t sure if that would be good or bad. I still don’t know, but I’ve certainly spent a good deal of time and energy mulling this question over.
EVERY society needs some kind of “guidelines” in order to become a society. A few centuries ago, high ranking rich men owned lots of land and established communities. Oh, these communities were built in order to grow the man’s wealth, and to meet his particular needs, but they were what the rest of the folks needed in order to feel relatively safe and secure. There would be the blacksmith, a baker, families willing to till the soil and raise crops in exchange for getting to live on the land and keep a portion of what they grew for themselves, etc. Eventually, the “lord” of the estate would have a wall built around the most populated part of his land. Those living within the walls gained increased protection, but they also knew that if a neighboring lord had a dispute with their lord, that their men and older boys would be expected to fight to keep the lord (and themselves) alive and safe. And, of course, with all this came rules that those living within the walls were expected to follow. Eventually, those rules became law. If you were to travel to Italy and visit smaller towns like Assisi or Sienna, you can still see the original city walls that were built all those centuries ago.
Not much has changed, really. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to rely on the example of my own U.S. citizenship. As a citizen of the U.S., I’m expected to live by certain laws. Most of them make perfect sense; some I’ll admit, chafe. But, if I want to stay out of trouble with the government (local or federal), I will keep to the speed limit when driving; I will pay my taxes; I will not try to take anything that is not mine. I will, quite simply, obey the law or pay the consequences. Government IS AN INSTITUTION and, my experience is that any group of people that becomes large enough that it needs to create regulations of behavior in order to keep things fair and aboveboard, ends up becoming some form of government. My government, the U.S. government, has many good qualities but, as with any living body that grows large and chooses representatives to take care of the “people’s business”, my government also has many working within it who are not out to represent the people, but for their own political and economic gain. This is when the institution of government becomes corrupt. In my view, it is no longer a question of whether my government has any corruption in it or not, but how much corruption is spoiling the good that can be gained by people having a government. The United States is still a relatively young government and has known only one civil war. Other, much older countries, have histories filled with rebellion from the people in response to corruption of their governments. It’s my personal opinion that, if the officials in the U.S. government are not careful, they may come dangerously close to causing a rebellion of the people. I believe that the U.S. could go either way quite easily now and that civil unrest is at a high enough level for concern.
But, even with my limited understanding of world history and U.S. government, I am willing to admit that society does need some form of government, be it political or religious. All I need to understand this is to watch dysfunctional parents not taking responsibility for helping their own children to become self-governing adults. Rules must be made in order for humans to be able to live with one another: family rules, community rules, state rules, country rules, world rules. If what I am saying disappoints you because you want to be totally free of all restraints…..well……try walking down the street with no clothes on and let me know how far you got!
So, we humans all live under some form of government. It may be good government or bad government, but government is here to stay. If people overthrow their government, it will not take very long for these very same people to establish a new government. Our very nature as human beings requires that we learn how to live with one another in harmony if we are to both survive and thrive.
Institutional Religion was, in some cases, the closest thing to government people had at one time. Judaism provides both religion and government for its people if you look at it closely. A quick look at the Jewish scriptures (known at the Old Testament to Christians) shows us that as soon as the Jews were freed from Egypt and went their way into the dessert, their leader, Moses, climbed a mountain and came back with a set of “commandments”. These commandments were accepted as God’s Law. They became both religious law and the law by which the Jewish people lived their lives. Unfortunately, over the centuries, those laws were interpreted by the religious leaders, and these leaders added “amendments” (my word) to God’s Law until, by the time Jesus came along, the religious law was so exacting and cumbersome that it ran every minute detail of a member’s life. What had started out as simple guidelines became (from my perspective) a Beast.
The same has happened with Christianity. For me, mainline Christianity has stopped being a religion that seeks to nurture a person’s soul, mind and body, and has grown into an Institution that is very much a Beast. The Beast no longer seeks to nurture the individual, but to feed upon the individual in order to keep itself alive. This is Institutional Religion at its worst.
The Roman Catholic Church is, at least in some ways, being exposed for the beast it is. Priests who have gotten away with pedophilia and other sexual crimes for centuries are finally being held accountable for their deeds. For me, the church was exposed as the beast it is when bishops, archbishops and cardinals were brought before the law to answer for their seeking to keep all of these priest’s crimes a secret. For centuries, priests who were about to be exposed were simply moved to another church. Their bishops, archbishops and cardinals knew what they were doing, but everything was swept under the carpet and these criminals were allowed to prey on yet another parish or school. I have recently discovered that an Episcopal diocese in New Zealand is now looking to its local churches for millions of dollars in order to pay for the legal costs of cover-up. These churches are being told how much they have to pay to the diocese, and the people don’t have the amount the diocese wants from them. When will all this stop?
It is not just the Catholic and Episcopal churches who are beasts. I see the beast finally showing its ugly head in almost every denomination within Christendom. These churches condemn others for loving someone of their same gender when Jesus preached love. Right now, the United Methodist Church is close to splitting over this very issue. As people begin to have the scales of ignorance lifted from their eyes, they are beginning to realize that the purity of the MESSAGE has been hidden under a dung heap so high that the message is being hidden. There is such corruption in Institutional Religion because those in power will do all they can to stay in power and increase their power, no matter who ends up paying the price. And the price is always exacted from those very people that the Institution claims to serve.
For me, the answer lies in allowing Institutional Religion to simply die off. It is already happening. Scores of people are leaving their once-beloved Church because they see the corruption all around them and refuse to be duped anymore. Unfortunately, all too many end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think the answer lies in each of us taking responsibility for our own spiritual growth and to seek to live our daily lives with integrity, honesty and true acceptance of one another. That’s a tall order, but I think it is what is necessary for an individual to experience any real spiritual growth. In my next article, I will try to describe what a spiritual life without Institutional Religion might include.
About the author: Victoria Clair is a citizen of the U.S. who has been living in the Philippines for eleven years. She holds a M.Div and a Ph.D. in Metaphysics. She is the author of the book Let My People In, which won the Meyer Award for its contribution to social justice. Both Psychology and Spirituality have always been a focal point in her life and she has done extensive studies in Christianity, Buddhism, Pagan Religion, the Enneagram and Jungian psychology. She continues to both write and paint in her retirement years.