Why is there Religion?
Man is said to be the one species who walks in both the spiritual world and the material one. Metaphysicians are divided into “materialists” and “idealists” depending on which of the two they believe to be the fundamental reality. Does the spirit create matter? Can the soul exist without the brain? Do lobotomy victims still have their souls? What about “near-death experiences?” Life after death? Scientists have seen the body of a dead person lose weight at the time of death. I never saw someone die on a scale but I can testify to a qualitative difference between a living being and a dead one. Something just isn’t there anymore.
The majority of mankind exhibits a need to believe in something supernatural, hence the existence of religion. The “three major religions” all sprang from one small part of the world, the Middle East. They are, of course, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The other major religious current comes from the Far East. They are Buddhism and Hinduism. In addition, there are religions of indigenous peoples. Christianity is a spin-off of Judaism (just like The Jeffersons is a spin-off of All in the Family). Judaism was really a tribal religion like the other indigenous religions. Jesus Christ changed all that, founding a universal, transcendental religion named after him. He may have been influenced by the eastern religions.
While some people are just fine not believing in any kind of god and while people who practice tribal religions seem at ease with a religion that focuses more on how to live in the world than on other worlds, most humans prefer focusing on beliefs that take them beyond the world we live in. This other world has become so important for humanity, people have fought bloody wars over their beliefs. They have also imposed all sorts of austerities on themselves, sacrificing advantage in the material world for hoped for advantages in the spiritual world. That is putting a lot of gravitas on their spiritual beliefs, showing how important transcendence is to man.
One reason people cling to religion is an explanation for suffering. They need to see the universe as something meaningful and benevolent. If they must suffer, let it be part of some larger good. Of course, a very high and enlightening thought can be, “It don’t mean shit.” That there is no “meaning” to suffering and that things just “are” with no higher purpose can be extremely liberating. Just accepting reality with no moral narrative can instantly free us to be here and now, the most spiritual place one can be, in my not-so-humble opinion. The Buddhists seem to understand this when they say the enlightened mind is “alive and empty.” My own mystical experience informed me that we are all One. When one considers that time and space don’t exist in the spirit dimension, how can it be otherwise? Seeing oneself as One with Everything can really be the same as seeing oneself completely alone as there is no Other.
How do we bond?
If Eastern mysticism is mainly located in the third eye and the crown chakra, Christianity is located in the heart chakra. The Other is very much present as the Christian unites with his fellow man in Agape Love. Both forms of unifying oneself with the All involve releasing the ego which is only there to limit us in our individual identity.
No matter how religious, we are still living in physical bodies which are, by their very nature, limited and vulnerable. Our bodies have needs that simultaneously link us to the world and keep us separate. No matter how idealistic one is, filling one’s own belly is satisfying in a way that feeding one’s brethren is not. So, although Christianity is about spiritual transcendence, Christians living in the material world must still negotiate the tricky terrain of Malkuth. Some examples of Christianity can involve behavior that would seem odd to outsiders.
The Prosperity Gospel
Parading extraordinary shows of “goodness” can be profitable in America. The best known examples of this are the televangelists. Most of these are Pentecostals and Baptists. There is a pattern to their beliefs. Many preach the “prosperity gospel,” which promises that if Christians are good enough, they can be rewarded in this life with material wealth. The pastors certainly are rewarded, mainly by members of their flock who make donations in hope of being likewise rewarded. Many of these pastors have been caught in scandals, some sexual and others financial. Because God’s forgiveness is stressed, these pastors simply confess their sins and expect their congregations to forgive them too. A seemingly heart-felt act of contrition is thought to be enough to wipe out all transgressions. After all, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Where there’s life, there’s hope. No matter how low someone falls, he has infinite chances of rising to the greatest heights. This can easily be dismissed as corruption but, on the plus side, it teaches optimism and tolerance. Of course, once you die, there are no more chances of recovery or forgiveness. Only in the mortal state, is forgiveness and salvation possible.
Goodness for profit isn’t limited to evangelists. Dee Dee Blanchard made herself into a media saint by convincingly making her daughter seem to be a mega-invalid. The sight of illness combined with saintliness has inspired people long before the above-mentioned cases. The media loved to build this spectacle into it’s own secular altar. A perfect example of holiness combined with suffering is Lourdes. Saint Bernadette revealed the presence of healing waters after the Blessed Virgin told her where to look. Since then, Lourdes has been a Mecca for the sick and handicapped. Not only do infirm people want to find healing, I think the chance that their disability can become sanctified probably boosts their self-esteem. Here is where explaining suffering and giving it meaning is such an important part of religion.
In each of these cases, “goodness” equates with humility. It is the very brokenness, the imperfection, the weakness of an individual that is a gateway to holiness. Jesus said, “That which you do to the least of these, you do to Me.” That is probably the deepest essence of Christianity. God humbled Himself to become a mere mortal, born as a helpless infant “between piss and shit,” subject to all the natural shocks and woes that we mortals must bear. Perhaps, we mortals cherish the belief that we are all really God, disguising ourselves as fleshy beings. The lower we fall in the earthly realm, the more powerfully our inner light is destined to shine. That idea has been stigmatized in psychiatry both as masochism and covert narcissism.
Do the gods envy us?
Just as man yearns for the spiritual, human culture is also full of stories of gods who yearn for the four dimensional realm of Malkuth. Think of Lohengrin. The realm of spirit is exulted but also cold. It seems the material world, with all its hardships, has something one can not get anywhere else. As humans, mortality is all we really know. The rest is speculation or projection. I guess there is an uneasy relationship between spirit and matter. Goethe, who was a scientist as well as a poet and novelist, had a theory of color that was at odds with Newton’s. According to Goethe, color is a manifestation resulting from the struggle between light and darkness.
Time’s winged chariot
The sanctity of human weakness appears to be based on the idea that our mortal lives are perishable, temporary. Buddhism stressed the temporary nature of everything. Marx, too, said that everything is changing, matter in motion. All change is the opposite of perfection. It has been said that perfection is death. Of course, even death is part of the process of endless change. We die. Our bodies decompose and fertilize the soil in one way or another. Mankind has also striven for immortality. But can there be immortality with change? Vampires live forever but never change. Christians go to Heaven where they live forever in a state of perfection. Buddhist nirvana is a state of perfection that is the end of change.
Goethe’s Faust rejected that unchanging perfection in favor of eternal striving. “Man is continually striving and, striving, he must err.” Constant struggle seems to be another ideal seen by Goethe as well as by Marx. It’s a very Western concept. Eastern philosophies look at continual change as “the curse of birth and death.” It looks to me as if life is inherently fleeting and ephemeral while immortal life is only a moment frozen in time, like a photograph. We strive for perfection just as a sperm cell strives for the egg. Once we find it, we are obliterated.
- Jimmy Swaggart. Defrocked due to sexual scandals.
- Oral Roberts. Faith healer and prosperity gospel
- Pat Robertson. 700 Club, politics, antisemitism(?)
- John Hagee. Pro-zionist, anti-Catholic
- Bob Larson. Anti-rock
- Jim Bakker. PTL Club, jailed for mail-fraud, originally prosperity gospel later denounced it.
- Jerry Falwell. Moral Majority, anti-Martin Luther King, pro-segregation
- When Pastors Live in Multimillion Dollar Mansons.
- Ted Haggard. Head of megachurch, denounces homosexuality, caught in homosexuality