Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Theological Exclusivism by walford

From the earliest glimmers of human conscious thought, our species made every effort to devise systems that would enable us to make our existence intelligible. It was possible to discern from the observation of nature that there were definite rules that were being demonstrated through the success and failure of living things struggling to survive.

Until the Industrial Revolution, homo sapiens was a relatively rare creature. Disparate tribes were scattered throughout the globe, unaware of each other’s existence. Nonetheless, these isolated nations devised similar methodologies that offered coherence to their environments and codes of behavior that enhanced survival. If the system a particular tribe developed was truly congruous and ultimately practical, the tribe’s chances of survival [and competitive advantage] would be enhanced.

Although our species is the only one of which we are presently aware that has a cerebral cortex with a sentient mind, it would be unreasonable and illogical to presume that we are the ultimate beings with no peers [or superiors] in capabilities. The only thing more immense than our ignorance is the universe itself. There are too many galaxies containing too many stars with too many planets and moons [about which we know nothing] for us to make definitive assertions in regard to the limitations of life elsewhere.

The fact is we are relative newcomers to existence on this planet and are only now beginning to comprehend the vastness of the universe. Our capacity to understand the nature of existence is still quite limited, so we shouldn’t be so quick to deride our early ancestors’ efforts at apprehending the infinite. If they had not developed a workable framework with which to engage their environment, we wouldn’t be here.

Our forebears thus developed religions as a way to comprise and elucidate the order of things in such a way that even a small child could understand.

For this to be done, a set of consistent and universal rules would need to be devised. These should be based upon the objective [externally-generated]. ‘Don’t look at the Sun for too long, the God will take your sight.’ ‘Put the juice from this plant on your cut, the Green Spirit will heal it faster.’ Through trial and error, people would observe and experiment with the things around them to find out what and what not to eat; where it is safe to sleep; plants that can heal or kill, etc. If the sanction of Deity is invoked to support these findings, the religion can be seen as consistent and beneficial.

If, on the other hand, the rules are instead subjective [internally-generated], they will be based upon the arbitrary whim of a cult-leader. Instead of listening to the voices of nature, the cult will be obeying the voices in their leader’s head [mass psychosis]. Such a tribe wouldn’t last long. In those days, people didn’t have the luxury of high technology and government programs to protect them from the consequences of their poor choices. This is not to say that Nature’s laws no longer apply to us. They still do. Now, the consequences are merely spread out and borne by the rest of us.

If a workable set of rules is obeyed, the tribe is told that the Divine [the objective source] will be propitiated. The people will therefore prosper. If not, the Deity will be angered and wrath will be meted out to the offending party and/or the tribe that allows the proscribed conduct to continue. It is a fact that there are some behaviors in which an individual can engage that can threaten the entire tribe. Rare as our species was at that time, our ancestors could ill afford to be ‘tolerant’ of those who would indulge in conduct which would cause negative consequences to be visited upon the rest.

It must be demonstrated that there is order in the universe and that justice ultimately prevails. These rules must be understood as being universal, rather than being applicable to some, depending upon social status. It must also be seen that every particle of existence is connected to a greater whole and, consequently, an isolated action in one place and time can potentially have lasting effect on everything else. Further, for a system to enhance the survival of the tribe into posterity, it must be made clear that a person has a stake in the condition of the world after he/she is gone.

The most basic and logical way to make such a system intelligible for even the simplest of cultures is to personify the agent responsible for fashioning all that exists and setting the rules, which govern all. Such an agent [or a consortium of agents] would indeed be conceived of as all-powerful – a god. Those who practice the major religions rooted in the Middle East say we are created in God’s image; a small minority asserts that we created our gods in our own image. Another very old belief is that we are each one of us a part of the mind and body of the Divine and, as such, share responsibility for, and contribute to, a Divine plan. The fact is, as finite beings, we can only theorize about the nature and form of the infinite.

There may be a singular agent of creation. The universe may be a contiguous whole, which in its entirety, is an identity of which we are a part. This is what some may refer to as the Almighty or the One. Either way, there is no way that any finite particle the likes of one of us could logically be capable of comprehending the totality of such an entity. It is entirely possible that the One may appear to us in a form(s) that a particular group [at a particular period of time and place in history] would be able to understand and accept as Divine. In other words, it is unlikely that ten thousand years ago in a central African jungle the Almighty appeared to the people there as is depicted in a Gothic stained glass panel.

Finite beings quarreling over the nature and form of the infinite is absurd at best. At worst, it serves evil. Even within certain religions disagreements over practices between sects can degenerate into an orgy of malevolence:

A couple of years ago, some Conservative Jews from the U. S. went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to practice a ritual as a part of an annual observance. This particular sect allows men and women to participate in ritual together including women reading from Torah. Orthodox Judaism does not permit this. Some young Orthodox men decided to express their disapproval by viciously heckling their co-religionists while ritual was in progress. Not satisfied with that, they went further and began pelting the gathered men, women and children with plastic bottles. Some of these still had water in them and served as missiles, causing some minor injuries. The fact that there were infants in strollers present did not deter these men.

What makes this sort of behavior particularly outrageous is that it is done with a sense of righteousness; punishing those who practice their own religion, but merely in a different way, is done so with the notion that there is a Divine endorsement. I submit that, when a person or group purports the will of the finite to be the will of the infinite, this is blasphemy. Yahweh was not cheering these men on as they were flinging missiles in the direction of little babies. Similarly, it is doubtful that Allah approved when, confronted with a taboo against killing virgins, the Iranian Shi’a of the newly-formed Islamic Republic solved the problem of the proper way to kill female Bahai infidels by making sure to rape them first.

Here it becomes necessary to discuss some thorny issues concerning adherence to religious edicts. According to the Larousse Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, there are three basic approaches to other religions:
  • Exclusivism is the belief that a particular religion is in sole possession of the truth and the means of salvation…extra ecclesiam nulla calus (there is no salvation outside the Church). ”
  • Inclusivism is the belief that all human beings, regardless of religious affiliation, participate in the benefits of Christ’s salvific work. Other religions are regarded as lower levels on humankind’s quest for God. The “superiority of its own religious tradition” is still presumed.
  • Religious pluralism holds that other religions possess “validity and truth in their own right. These religions are understood as different cultural reflections or expressions of the same divine reality and as such constitute legitimate ways to God” (Larousse 437).

Exclusivism is self-contradictory. It holds that human beings are finite and incapable of apprehending the infinite. Yet, adherents of this view have no problem declaring that they and they alone know the way to God and that all others [even members of different sects of their own religion] are infidels. Exclusivists are not the ones who are most devoted to God; they are the ones most devoted to the dogma that has been created by man.

This doctrine is what most people, believer and non-believer alike, consider to be an essential element of faith. It is not. It is evil. It is torturing and murdering people for not approaching religion in the accepted way. It is portraying the works of man (dogma) as the works of the Almighty and, as previously stated, is blasphemy. It is responsible for killing the faith within the inquisitive, skeptical mind before it is born. It is responsible for people being persuaded to think that they have either the choice of blindly adhering to dogma or having no religion at all.

Inclusivism is merely a patronizing version of Exclusivism. The hope is held that the poor misled souls who practice other religions will eventually catch on and embrace the ‘true’ faith. This point of view is still infected with the notion that it is possible for any person or group to have a monopoly on the correct path to the Truth and to the Almighty. The fundamental element of this infection is dogmatism - the slavish devotion to an idea, regardless of evidence to the contrary. It is characterized by the certitude that one is doing the good, no matter how many people are maimed or killed in the process.

Religious Pluralism allows for the fact that the Almighty is merciful and understanding; many forms are taken, depending on the people being dealt with. This should not be interpreted to mean that, since there are many faces of the One, there are many truths and a cafeteria of rules from which to choose. There is only one reality and only one set of rules. It is up to each one of us to discover the nature of reality and what these rules are. If we fail to act according to the rules, the laws of nature will automatically be set in motion to correct us. No one is exempt. The laws of nature cannot be cajoled, pleaded with, threatened nor cheated. This is how the Almighty communicates with us all, believer and non-believer alike.

Each religion is imprinted with the culture in which it developed. In the Middle East, the concept of ‘us vs. them’ is deeply entrenched and is reflected in every aspect of culture, including religion. In the West, competition is seen as healthy as long as it ultimately leads to consensus and cooperation. Whereas in the Mid-East, “rivalry has so permeated the… social structure, that it manifests itself in institutions all the way from the family to the national bureaucracy. Children are encouraged to “intensify rivalry” between siblings. A study of “Lebanese village life” is cited wherein “it was found that fewer than half of the children sampled could name three persons they considered friends… [due to] grudges, feuds and rivalries” (Bill/Springborg 123-124).

When this phenomenon is extrapolated to the arena of adults in positions of authority, it is encouraged and exploited by rulers who “play off their advisors and subordinates against one another.” Thus, “potential opposition forces” are kept “splintered” as they compete with one another. Consequently, the head of state is able to “maintain firm control” politically and thus, “overwhelming concentrations of power seldom [develop] outside the sphere of the national political ruler.” Whereas in the West, where consensus and compromise are instilled from childhood to attain balance, in the Mid-East it is accomplished “through conflict no less than through collaboration.” A skillful ruler is thus able to “sense the location of threatening power concentrations and then to splinter [them]… by fostering new rivalries” (Bill/Springborg 124-125).

Indeed, there are [and have been] many instances wherein one sect of Christianity, Judaism or Islam considers the members of other sects within their own religion to be so wrong as to not be true believers and are thus infidels. Consequently, the perspective this triad of religions has toward theology originating from anywhere else but the Middle East is illustrated by Webster’s definition of pagan: “a person who is not a Christian Jew or Muslim… an irreligious or hedonistic person… [a] worshiper of false gods” (Webster’s 1394).

It is incredible that Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, the polytheistic religions of ancient Greece and classical Rome, the tribal religions of the indigenous peoples of Australia, Africa, the Americas, and the old religions of pre-Christian Europe can possibly be explicated in any detail in a single volume of research, much less be lumped together in a single word: Pagan. Can it be so that Webster’s definition can truly be applied to the practitioners of all of these theological systems? Are we to accept that throughout the universe the Almighty chose a tiny speck on one planet on the edge of a nondescript galaxy to be the only place where the true nature of the divine would be revealed?

It may be uncomfortable for us to accept, but we are not meant to know or understand a great many things. We live our lives in uncertainty about whether there is [or are] a supreme being, what such a being would be like, what is right and wrong and what happens to us when we die. It is a statement of our character how we conduct ourselves given that uncertainty.

When the esteemed theological scholar Joseph Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers in the PBS series “The Power of Myth,” Campbell noted that, after immersing himself in the study and of most of the currently practiced religions of the world, he would have been just as well served if he had simply practiced the Protestant religion he was raised with. Those of us who practice religions which originated in places other than the Middle East would be foolish to presume that there is no divinity to be embraced in Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Anyone who is sincere in the practice of his/her faith will find the Divine.

In consideration of the selection of a religion to practice [or not], the following is offered:

For those who have been put off religion by being bombarded by the professions of certitude by dogmatists who obviously couldn’t find their own asses with both hands, I ask you to reconsider. Some people simply cannot live with the idea that they are not supposed to have all of the answers and are comforted in believing that they do. They want to know that if they believe what they are told they are supposed to believe, they will go to a very nice place when they die.

Ironically, this mindset is similar to the professed certainty by those who hold that there is no Divinity and that there are no rules except those which each of us make up. These people cannot live with the idea that there is a mind greater than the human and are frightened at the prospect that ethics could be generated externally from themselves. This mentality can be put into practice either individually or collectively. Individually, this brand of what I will call Gnostic Atheism holds that there may be some concrete physical laws, but no universal laws of right and wrong.

It would be difficult to hold such convictions and not consider morality to be a matter of what one could get away with. Consequently, a person with such a worldview would be prone to consider others in the same way that the above-discussed tribal raiders considered the members of the neighboring village. Others are thus to be considered individually as either a threat or a means toward acquisition.

With such a mentality it is not possible to conceive that there obligations and interests outside the self - love is for suckers. This would be the ‘lone wolf’’ form of Gnostic Atheism; the predatory hedonism which is so hysterically defended as a human right in the West. To even criticize this mentality is to cause the harpies of the dominant culture to descend as a murder of crows.

In the collective version of Gnostic Atheism, the human is the ultimate mind and as such, can create its own reality. A Utopian vision of human existence can therefore be devised wherein the subject population would need to be molded to conform. For this Utopia to work, everyone must believe in it. If anyone were to question the basic concepts using logic and reason, the entire system would be threatened. A Utopian system is based upon faith in the virtue of the Creator and his/her Works. Marxism/Leninism is the purest form of this. There is a Messiah [Marx], a Bible [Das Kapital], clergy [the nomenclatura], etc.

Hedonism and Utopianism are simply variants upon the concept that truth and reality are the product of what is inside the head, rather than what is outside of self. Clinical psychologists refer to this outlook on reality as psychosis or schizophrenia, wherein the subject is unable to distinguish the real from the imagined. Anyone who offers doubt about such a person’s hallucinations is considered a threat and is responded to accordingly.

If, on the other hand, one accepts the concept of objective truth and morality, it is possible to live a healthy life and develop an integrated view of reality, but it would require considerable [and consistent] effort to devise a workable system in which one’s life can be structured. For those who will not, under any circumstances, consider finding objective truth in religion, I would recommend exploring philosophy based upon the principles of objective truth. I won’t offer any sources; you must find your own way.

What I will offer is that many generations of people have already done the exploration, why not consider their work, before embarking upon re-inventing the wheel? This not-so-humble feline has spent many years trying to devise a secular way toward a comprehensive and logical understanding of the nature of existence and what capabilities humans have in dealing with their environment. That was done successfully, but the system was somehow bereft.

With a universe so vast, is there an equally vast purpose? The laws of physics are presumably universal, is there an equally universal code of ethics? Are we born merely to live out our lives as ends in themselves, or are there duties and obligations which must be fulfilled as a price of life. Can we exist as if the other living things around us are merely ours to use as we see fit, or do we have an interest in the general well-being of all living things? Do we have a stake in the world we leave behind? Is life something to be thankful for, or just considered to be a matter of chance which may or may not be regarded as even fortunate?

I would caution those who have understandably rejected religion because of the behavior of the religious. It has been said that if man were meant to fly, he would have wings. Those of us with skeptical, reasoning minds know that man was indeed meant to fly, he has a mind. Religion has been used by cynical tyrants to subvert the creative abilities of those who are more capable. This does not mean that the concept of religion is wrong; it has been practiced wrongly.

It would be impossible to ‘prove’ the existence of the One. All that can be said is that, given the vastness of the universe and of geologic time, there is a sequence of events being played out grand scale which will be affected by our doings [which we consider to be so important] by a factor of zero. To use the difficulty in proof as a proof of nonexistence is just as illogical as the opposite position. The proof is literally all around us.

It is true that the universe is vast. It is equally true that we are each one of us a part of it. Physics tells us that there are particles in motion throughout the universe all around us, traveling through us, connecting us all. It is also true that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed; the matter and energy which comprise our being has existed since the beginning of time. We are, therefore, eternal. Why pretend that we are isolated from the rest of existence when we can avail ourselves of the knowledge, wisdom and love of the entire universe?

Our earliest ancestors did not know what we know of science. We have all but forgotten what they knew of what binds everything in existence together and why. The fact that every tribe scattered throughout the Earth devised a religion is not proof of their stupidity. It is a proof of their wisdom. The fact of their existence and their legacy in us testifies to that. Our ancestors found themselves desperately clinging to existence and had no choice but to open their minds [and their hearts] to search for, and listen to an objective voice. This voice came to them. It came from within and from the totality of the interconnected universe speaking as one, because all is one.

Those who study Zen know that the way to the Truth is to abandon preconceptions and surrender to what is real, not imagined or believed. There are some Westerners who mistakenly taken this to mean that the mind must be abandoned in favor of reacting. No, it is a form of pure objectivity wherein all of the inner dialogue must systematically be silenced, even the expectation of an answer. For years, people have practiced meditation to achieve this state where the mind is open to perceive things as they truly are, bereft of convention. Most never do.

This is not to say that the only way to the Truth has been devised in India or East Asia. Most religions that are currently practiced or that had formerly been practiced can offer a means to the Objective Source. This can be accomplished only with a firm commitment to abandon man-made dogma in favor of the Divine. This can only be done directly. It can be done individually or in groups. Individually it can be done quietly, in sincere contemplation of the facet of the One with whom you are connected. In groups, an agreed-upon collective purpose and focus can be concentrated and directed toward a specific goal such as merely giving thanks for life.

Given that we cannot be sure of the form and nature of divinity, we must not forget what our earliest ancestors discovered long ago: Life is a blessing which must be cherished and nurtured. Right and wrong are objectively real. Survival dictates that every effort must be made to discover which is which.

No comments:

Post a Comment