2. Religion: A Personal Problem
How should the Machiavellian choose his personal religion?
Truth: First, cast aside any concern you may have for the truth. You have been taught that religion is a search for truth even though it is obvious, upon reflection, that most people simply acquire a religion from their parents or from the culture into which they were born. A few convert from one belief to another. Some change religions or denominations to accommodate an attractive or wealthy new spouse, just as a husband might move his accounts from Bank of America to Wells Fargo, the bank preferred by his pretty new bride. (Typically, we must note, the spouse of lesser social status converts to the belief of the more socially prominent spouse. It is social status rather than a concern for theological truth which determines the religious practices of the happy new family.) Lately, religion is marketed to Americans like cars and hamburgers by church groups and televangelists, so some people apparently choose their religion based on the attractiveness of freeway billboards or the cleverness of TV ad campaigns.
It is impossible to discern which of the thousands of available choices is true, but so what? Deciding which religion is the truest one is like betting at the roulette table. You have to make a choice if you want to play, but no one can tell you where the little ball will come to rest. Getting advice on which religion to choose is like asking the player next to you - who knows no more than you do - which number to bet on.
Taste: To the Machiavellian, choosing a religion is a matter of taste. Pick something you like, something that enables you to move toward your personal goals. Why do anything else?
Religious belief is like clothing. It should fit, it should be comfortable, and you should like the way it makes you look to others. You should feel good when you wear it. Choosing a religion is like choosing food at a buffet. The food you choose should look good, taste good, and be good for you. It should not make you fat or sick.
Choose a religious belief that enables you to feel right about yourself. Choose a belief because of what it enables you to do or become. You cannot discern which of the thousands of religions is the truest, so you may as well choose one that has appealing features. Do some comparison shopping. You are the consumer, after all. If you like contemplation and introspection, become a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Gnostic. If you want something more physical, Yoga combined with Hinduism might be just the thing. If you like pageantry and ceremony, become Catholic or Greek Orthodox. If you want to climb to a higher social class, become an Episcopalian. If you like mysticism and self-exploration, Spiritualism might open doors inside you that you did not know existed. If you like thunderous sermons, picnics, and old-fashioned gospel music, look in the Yellow Pages under Baptist. If you like elegant architecture, I’d again recommend again the Greek Orthodox and Catholic structures. If you want to hang out with really sweet, harmless people who only want the world to be a better place, check out the New Age or Wiccan groups. If you prefer to stay home and watch TV or wash your truck rather than going to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or tabernacle, then stay home. If you prefer Plato to Moses and Darwin to Mohammed, then set aside time for reading, discussion groups, and continuing education classes. Let the university library become your church and the Dewey Decimal System be your spiritual guide. If you prefer the quiet rain of your own thoughts to the thunder of sermons, then buy a good pair of hiking shoes with the money you save by not attending services. A habit of hiking in the wilderness can be your religious expression. That is, express yourself with your choice of a religious belief.
Caveats: Never forget that there are people in the groups you rejected who are also smarter than you, so don’t indulge in feeling smug, superior, or self-righteous. Also remember that while you are attending to your chosen religious duties, there are plenty of people who are smarter than you who are home watching “Meet the Press” or at a casino pulling slots. Do not feel superior or special because of your religious choice. Let other people pick what feels good to them. If you prefer singing in Latin to the Virgin while wearing a medieval robe and someone else prefers dancing around the campfire in a medieval robe while singing to Isis, then what is the problem?
No matter what belief you choose - including atheism or agnosticism - you will find some people in the group who are smarter than you. They have developed a way of feeling and believing within their religious tradition that is profoundly satisfying. Learn from them.
Also, remember that there are many people in your Faith - whichever one you choose - who are liars, scoundrels, double-crossers, nitwits, ding bats, and con-artists. These people are found in every group of humans. Also remember that most religious leaders - like most political leaders, generals, and CEO’s - are shallow enough to love power, glory, and applause more than anything. They are not to be trusted. (It has been my personal experience that the best people in any church are usually sitting in the pews, not standing in the pulpit.) Remember that some religious groups are pretty ethnic and outsiders are never really totally accepted. It seems pointless to try to join a group you can never really join. Black Protestant churches and Orthodox Judaism come to mind. If you are gay, stay away from Islam and Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. Some groups are very rigid and controlling, and no Machiavellian will benefit by associating with such a group.
Finally, always remember that a large percentage of con-artists and swindlers carry a Bible. Twenty-five years ago, I asked an elderly Greek-Mexican Spiritualist who owned a restaurant in Juarez how I could distinguish a true spiritual teacher from a dishonest one. He replied, “A true spiritual teacher will not accept money, gifts, or compliments from his students.” I can truthfully say that he lived up to his own description. Because I came to his restaurant to learn about his beliefs, he refused to allow me to even pay for my meal. If you find yourself reaching for your wallet too often, perhaps it would be better to reach for the doorknob. Think about it ...
... and give me your opinion: MidasJones@MidasJones.com