|Lesson 17 : Why Humanity Needs Organized Religion
SCHOLA AETII·WEDNESDAY, 14 AUGUST 2019
Bashing against "organized Religion" has become a sort of beating a dead horse, or so it seems. What remains there to say, some might ask, given both Atheists, Skeptics and even many spiritual people and Pagans argue against so called "organized Religion". But, I want to make a case in favor of it, and I will here try to go a bit into the arguments I have heard and read, making my case in favor of Organized Religion.
It was just a short time ago, that a certain perspective came into my mind with new sharpness again, when one whom I am befriended to on Twitter posted something like "We have to be able to make the world better." This guy belongs to the young generation and counts himself to the political left, both things I am relatively speaking more distant to. So I was not immediately captured by the post, and about to shrug it off. It sounded vague, and I wanted to reply something like "but in my perspective the world was on a very good path, so why so harshly criticize our society?" I wanted to reply on the usual political level, but I felt something below the surface of everyday struggles called me to halt. Maybe my inner Daimon voice, if I may say so.
Now usually I prefer to leave politics out of the arguments here on the Schola Aetii, largely because as a Priest I hold it as a golden standard of Priesthood, that everyone must feel welcome to consult his or her Priest for any personal matter. But here, the swap of perspective was so much linked to moving beyond the political view and the ongoings on politics are so much linked to what I see the result of a fall of organized religion, that I cannot leave it out here.
THE SOCIAL DIVIDE
It can hardly be argued that the world has drastically changed since organized religions, namely in our case, Catholicism and Protestantism, have declined as a factor to give our societies direction, and I will come back to these specific religions later on. For now, just let us look at the factor itself. In the past, the Churches gave people an ideal and some sort of focus in their idea of Good, of the Human Soul and the aim for something Greater than themselves. Let's leave aside what it was they defined as such for the moment, I shall come back to that. Just take the factor that the Churches provided this as a service to society.
The usual argument of Atheists, beside denying the reality of anything Divine and Spiritual - which basically is an opinion, not an argument, since it can neither be proven nor disproven - usually focuses on the so called evil especially organized religions caused, and that humans are better off since we left religion and organized religion behind. And this is the point I want to challenge first. Is it so? First, generally I find the line of argument quite weak, like connecting all goods of the modern world to a causal connection of the regress of religions, and it seems to be an anecdotal correlation at best, and hardly something that can be proven as clear causality. Given how many scientists of the last 500 years were very religious and how many clerics and theologians contributed to science, it does not seem that their religion hindered them from developing science and enlightenment, and given how many irreligious scientists were stubbornly irrational in many ways, I have a hard time to link the evils of the world in such a causality to religion as Atheists do. And then, it also seems to be a very narrow-minded way to define what is good and what is bad for humanity at large. We have to accept without criticism all the developments of modernity as good and right, and given it was modernity which gave rise to Fascism and Communism with its millions and millions of victims, not to speak of the very risky life of modern technology, I have an even harder time to blindly accept the modernity of society as something that is so clearly good as the Atheists and Skeptics claim. It strikes me as particularly weird, when a group of critics so thoroughly tries to highlight the errors of organized religion and then turns such a blind eye to the many errors of modern, irreligious societies, so the view becomes more and more wanton and prejudiced the more I look into their perspective.
Now of course they will argue, how can I lay the blame for Fascism, Communism and the many errors of modern society on irreligiousness and claim that religion would have prevented this?
First, I would argue human nature is always prone to destructive behavior, religion or not. And if history has proven anything, it is that humans are no less likely to commit organized violence without religion than with religion. So the factor of religion itself seems not a point I can concede as contributing to violence or oppression. Take away religion, and humanity's dark side will find other "reasons" to oppress and to commit violence. Simply said, we are not better off in the excesses of our dark nature without religion, organized or otherwise. But the result is that we are now without God, but not without the Devil, to speak in religious terms. People still have to deal with the Dark Sides within ourselves, but they are bereft of the hope of spiritual perspective. When the Throne of God is emptied of God, it does not remain empty, for, as I see it, there is a desire within human nature, the human soul, which desires for something like religion. It is in my view such an overwhelming and strong urge, that humanity will create any new set of ideas to fill this gap, and that is why for example Fascism and Communism came to be: humans replaced God with themselves.
THE EMPTY THRONE
But let us go back to the present day, to a less deadly and less controversial view. From a mere rational view, much of what now moves especially the younger generation, does not seem to make any sense. Objectively capitalism and liberal society has improved life tremendously, so if we all were purely reasonable beings, guided by objective rationality, we all would have to agree that liberal capitalism has bettered the world and leave it with this secular atheist praise of the modern world as the best of all possible worlds. And yet - there is a growing "Unbehagen", as Sigmund Freud called it, a discomfort with the modern world. People see it through many different lenses: we have the strong zeal of Environmentalists, who are very deeply moved by a view of a climate end time they see coming; we have various views from the political left and right who see in very different ways, but each of them equally strong, our present society flawed and even broken and the need for saving humanity, for an idea or cause greater than their individual good, the desire to be on a "crusade" for something good. And then I came back to the quote of my Twitter-friend. "We have to be able to make the world better."
And then it suddenly dawned to me. There is a hunger in the human soul, which cannot be satisfied by any worldly gain, by any level of material comfort or political achievements. People seek something, and they have no name and no word for it anymore: a desire to be part of a greater struggle, the feeling to fight against a dark side of the soul; not as individuals, but as part of a movement, and this desire was once channeled by religion. Now that the Throne of God is empty, in the perspective of modern society, this religious desire flows through different channels, and it goes way more vehemently against reason than religion ever did. Now it is not for me to discard any of the current political movements and their aims. I believe any of them have an element of truth on their side. There is no political movement which could be sustained without having at least some element of truth within it.
My point however is this: first, I can see clearly that there is a deep desire within the human soul - or psyche - which desires to join a collective struggle, something greater than itself, both in space and time: something that transcends the individual ego and the present time the person lives in. If organized religions are removed, this will manifest in other ways. Humanity has the desire to seek something absolute, a Good beyond their individual and reasonably definable goals. If religion is out of the equation, this will focus entirely on worldly matters, and when the desire for the Absolute is all focused on the world, it is where truly hell can be unleashed. Religion manages to tamper this, for here Heaven is transcendent, the Absolute of Religion is removed from the Earth and a good part of its zeal is taken away. But removing the transcendent perspective means that all the desires of the soul must be fulfilled in the material given world: hence the desire of worldly "Utopias" like Fascism or Communism. They are what you get when you try to remove the Divine from the world: a cruel, harsh demanding Utopism. Because the Absolute can no longer be sought in the Divine, it must be manifested here, and the world does not function well under the merciless light of materialist Utopism. Measuring the flawed human being with such demands leads always and only to one aim: the Gulag and the Concentration Camp.
EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED
Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, if there is no God, everything is permitted, and it has been often misunderstood, as if we need a God to give us a list of what is good and what is evil. That is an overly simplistic view and easily discarded. No, the answer within this quote goes much deeper. God, the Divine, is the Absolute, the Good, and with religion it always lies outside of this world, and that permits us to accept the world as a flawed construct. It is not perfect, and we can make peace with that, because the Good lies beyond this world. If we empty out the beyond, then we have the problem that the human desire for the Absolute and the Good remains, but it has no other focus anymore but the material world. And so suddenly, completely irrational, inhumane Utopian demands are cast upon us in the social and political sphere. So it is actually reverse than Atheists claim: religion does not prevent rationality, religion is the REQUIREMENT for rationality. Only when we "outsource" our desires for the transcendent and the absolute into the sphere of the Divine, we have space in our mind to look at the world with a tempered perspective. Otherwise the fire within our souls is all focused on the world and burns it like the falling chariot of Phaeton or the falling Angel of Lucifer. Without religion, there is sin without salvation. We are trapped in a spiritual cul-de-sac.
A point which I just want to pick up briefly is the critique against the "organized" thing. All human life is organized, where-ever more than five people come together. It is the nature of human life. A small group can do things just so, each for himself, but otherwise it is an entirely unreasonable expectation that any sphere of human interest would be handled by every individual on a day to day basis. No one really functions like that. On top of it, the desire to be part of a larger group, to organize one's life, also seems to be an overwhelmingly strong desire of human nature, that trying to oppress or remove it seems an ill advise to me. Something that is part of human nature usually goes much worse when you try to oppress it, rather that accepting it and trying to improve it. Any organized system has flaws, no doubt, but I do not see that religion should have any particularly flaws in being organized which any other system of social organization wouldn't have. So if there is something to criticize, it is being organized in general. Still, it remains a pathway we cannot escape unless we return to a stone age level of cavemen, where people lived in small hordes of a few people. Any advance of humanity needs specialization and hence organization. The scope of modern life - or in fact all life beyond the primitive most early days - is based on the specialization of individuals, and hence you cannot do all things yourself. Every aspect of human life then has its specialist, including religion.
People in their work-life, their family duties simply lack the time and energy to manifest an individual spirituality each of them for themselves. It would be impossible, so of course there is hardly any alternative than to offer their spiritual desires some form of "service", offered by specialists - the Priests. Now it would be a much more reasonable debate to question what level and concrete form of organization religion should have, rather than pour out the baby with the bathwater and discard religious organization altogether. I am all in agreement that an organized Religion should not oppress people and be a sort of moral overlord, but a guide, and adviser, someone to lend an ear and give a new, transcendent perspective on life, but not a judgmental moral despot. Humans in a mass society will always specialize, and as a result always form some level of organization. That is inevitable. So it seems like an irrational demand and something profoundly overwhelming the individual to demand that everyone sorts out his own spirituality each for himself on a daily basis. So if we accept that fact that if spirituality is basically a level of human desire, it will manifest in an organized way, and so it makes more sense to debate HOW it is organized than trying to prevent organization in itself.
RISING UP TO THE TIMES
Now there has to be a thing to be said about the error of religions, as it was. Humanity has faced a few epochs of great change in their makeup of religions, and it always was so when humanity changed its modus operandi - stepped in a new era, so to speak - and organized religions failed to step up with the change. We can see that happened when the simple animistic and shamanistic ways were replaced by the organized Polytheist temples, and later on when Paganism was replaced by Monotheism. In each case the existing religion was unable to adapt to the new demands of the time, and Christianity in the West has now the same issue. People changed, society changed but the Churches failed to acknowledge it. Maybe it was out of their scope, who can say. People apparently want to move away from this particular type of religion, and whether or not Christianity is capable to adapt is not for me to say. We have now a more plural world in every aspect, and maybe the way Christianity and Islam are formed is no longer fitting to such a more pluralistic world, but what exactly the point is, is up to everyone to decide for himself. I just want to highlight the point that we live in a long ongoing epochal change where religion again needs to redefine itself.
The time were religion gives people lists of "do's and don't do's" in form of "Holy Books" is in my personal opinion, past. It no longer offers a satisfying and fitting answer for a complex, plural modern society. It is why in my personal view reformed and restructured Polytheist religions offer potentially a much better and much more fitting religious perspective to the new epoch now dawning. A modern Polytheism would have a religious absolute which is plural, multi-centered, and this would avoid the problem rising from the temptation of having only a single God. Defining the transcendent absolute as many-faced would reflect well with our rising plurality of society. But in order to do so, Polytheism would have to be ready to learn from Christianity the aspect of dealing with the darker side and the desire for individual salvation within religious scopes and perspectives of spiritual growth, just as Christianity once picked up a good choke of Paganism in order to succeed.
It is something very strange, that almost all arguments Atheists bring against religion entirely vanishes when you take the perspective of Polytheist Religion. There is no one center, no holy book, no list of do's and don't do's, an balance of openness and individuality on the one hand, and still a band to connect people in some organized togetherness, which has the chance to overcome this nihilistic dead end society has maneuvered itself into now.