Having just finished another Bart Ehrman book, Jesus, Interrupted, I can’t help but ponder the human need to remain in the distant past. The human need to remake that past to fit the present. Square pegs and all of that. The round hole of now. The miserably archaic square peg of then. This need is both puzzling and understandable, given how difficult and complex life is in the present, in our modern world. Understandable, in that because of those difficulties and complexities, people want to hold on to (their perception of) simpler times, more basic constructions and instructions, a binary system or two or three. Puzzling because of the incommensurability of that simpler time and those binary systems with today’s multiplicities. Yes, ancient ways can bring us calm and a sense of foundational relief. But effectively and pragmatically speaking, they provide zero clues when it comes to making our way through this maze of the modern.
But the bigger surprise for me has always been this. Why choose a religion so steeped in narrow selectivity, obvious discrimination and exclusivity, tailored for a new elite? The Chosen. The Elect. Especially when this goes against so many of the actual words of its namesake. The world is so small today. Billions of people don’t hold to the beliefs we do. We know this now. We see this every day. There are no more excuses. No islands anymore. Why pick any religion (or interpretation of that religion) that is closed off to so much of the world? Why choose any belief system that relies so heavily on the chosen and the damned?
To me, religion is virtually worthless if it does not promote peace, harmony, love and better understanding across the globe. Now. Here. If it is centered on the single one, on the personal, on the individual’s personal salvation, it does the world no good. Here. Now. If it is centered on an after-life for that single individual, an after-life that non-believers can never share, it does less than no good. It does actual harm. It separates and segregates us and walls us off from one another, literally and metaphorically. As I mentioned briefly in my post, The Seeds of Labor, we haven’t yet created the political/economic system that reduces the vertical. We haven’t created a system yet that reduces hierarchies and promotes horizontal play and exchange. That is true when it comes to organized religion as well. Though some Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Taoism come close. They come closer . . .
Erhman’s book is good, though too 101 for me. He does not go into enough details or depth, but does provoke thought. My thoughts keep coming back to this. What is the purpose of organized religion? Do Western, monotheistic religions promote greater horizontal exchange between human beings? Do they promote peace and harmony and love (thy neighbor)? What are the tenets within those organized religions that actually do the opposite and why?
I am fascinated by the idea of the holy. I have always been thus. Fascinated by the numinous, the mysterious, the surreal. That which glows without light and withholds meaning until. Temps us to keep searching for it. But the sacred and the holy involve critical thinking as well. To discover them involves concentration and the willingness to throw off ancient strictures, dogma, orthodoxies. We can not get there if we just receive hand-me-downs. We can not really see through the veil if we aren’t willing to go further than any book ever written. The paradox of belief is just that. There is no resting place on the way, on the road to find out.