3. Religion: A Problem in the Evolution of Consciousness

 

In the past, religion and religious institutions - despite their many, many, many flaws - have been a liberating and invigorating force on the human imagination. Worlds of fantasy, inhabited by fabulous beings and creatures, have been imagined, written about, portrayed on the stage, and depicted on film. (Remember, in this essay we are only considering the false religions, not the one True Religion in which both you and I believe.) Fantastic gods and goddesses have presented themselves to our imaginations and have caused us to consider many possibilities that would not have occurred to us otherwise. The Greek and Roman gods have spoken to a hundred generations through the playwrights who put them on stage. They taught us about the meaning of human life and human tragedy. The Gnostics - we are only just beginning to learn about them - invented a fantastic cosmology: worlds within worlds, wheels within wheels, lifetime after lifetime of meaning. Christians imagined a world in which everyone loved everyone else, everyone cooperated with everyone else, property was freely shared, and all were equal. The Buddha taught us to look inside ourselves to find quietness and peace. Setting aside the unanswerable question of which, if any, religion is the True One, we all must admit that without religious speculation the human imagination would have been much more limited.

The other side of the religious coin, however, is religious oppression. Jewish Jews killed early Christian Jews for being insufficiently Jewish. Later Christians killed Jews for being insufficiently Christian. Roman pagans did not appreciate Christians; they killed them for their atheism (denying the existence of the gods.) Christians, when they had an opportunity, killed Roman pagans for their atheism (denying the one God). If you have never heard of Gnosticism, it is because long ago Catholic Christians killed Gnostic Christians for their heresy. We cannot imagine what a fully matured 21st century Gnostic culture would be like, but it would surely be like no other culture on earth. It is a characteristic of most religions to believe that the only good nonbeliever is a dead nonbeliever. Religious warfare still rages all over our little globe as faithful adherents of the world’s greatest and oldest religions seek to make corpses out of one another in the names of our many deities.

 

Since the time of Machiavelli, scientists of many disciplines have discovered that the universe is more fantastic and more complex than ever suggested by our hundreds of religions. Physicists and cosmologists tell us that the Universe seemed to appear immediately 15 billion years ago from nowhere, and that it is made of the most fabulous stuff - matter/energy - which seems to have the amazing ability to recombine and twist itself into an incredible variety of substances and shapes (a sun, a jumbo-jet, a dinosaur, a cloud, a mosquito, the memory of a pretty face, a candy bar, a worm hole, a worm, a black hole, a paper clip, and a human being to name just a few). Geologists and paleontologists tell us that the earth and life on it are very very old; older than our holy books, older than our gods, older than dirt, older than the oceans. In that unimaginable past, things have happened and creatures have lived and died that we cannot now imagine. Neurologists and evolutionary biologists tell us that our very thoughts are made of strings of molecules and electrostatic charges that shape and reshape themselves in our brains and that consciousness itself is much more complex than anything we have ever imagined. Every new scientific discovery multiplies our wonderment by tenfold. After five centuries of scientific investigation, a new body of knowledge has been assembled that was not suspected or hinted at by any of humankind’s religious writings.

This new knowledge has built the world in which we now live: cars, planes, trains, houses, highways, computers, movies, television, water purification plants, electrical grids, modern universities, the internet, medicines, hydrogen bombs, weapons of mass destruction, missiles, genetically designed plants, cloned animals, etc., etc. Everything that surrounds us in our world is a product of this new knowledge - a knowledge which none of us ordinary citizens can understand. This world was not foreseen by inventors of our many religions, and none of the concepts that they taught us gives us control over our newly invented world. Their speculations about the origins of the human race and human nature do not help us resolve the world’s many problems. Their endless squabbling over which god we should bow to and which holy men should command our thoughts and behaviors distract us from crafting real solutions to the world’s many problems, such as ignorance, poverty, war, disease, brutality, the growing inequity in the distribution of income, human cruelty, mental illness, pollution, decaying infrastructure, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, etc. 

  Instead, our religious leadership is focused on preventing the gratuitous sexual arousal of males; preventing women from using birth control; preventing homosexuals from obtaining a marriage certificate; preventing young scholars from reading Darwin; preventing the use of words like “fuck” and “goddamn” in speech and print; preventing anything but a medical instrument from entering an anus; preventing priests who molest altar boys from being discovered and prosecuted; and - above all else - preventing outside auditors from seeing the church accounts. They have no vision of the ideal society, much less any clue of how to get there. But, the endless debates over the correct usage of the erect penis, the proper contents of the vagina, and the prevention of taboo thoughts makes many of us feel like real problems are really being discussed. We have the illusion that if these issues were somehow resolved that the world would be a better or at least a different place.

 

  There has never been a horror movie with this terrifying a plot: the future of humanity is being crafted by a total lack of planning. Since this is an essay on religion, a parable is appropriate here. Let us imagine that humanity on earth is like an American family on an automobile trip. 

 

A Machiavellian Parable

Our family has decided to go on a road trip. Mom and Dad have 14 children. They put five children in the back seat and locked the other nine into the trunk for the trip. We leave for our trip with no map and no destination in mind. We have decided to travel through unfamiliar territory. The mechanic who repaired our car was dishonest. He did not install the new brake pads like he promised. He just sprayed the old ones with something that makes them stop squeaking for a few miles. The brake pads are worn through and the brakes will soon fail. Also, the tires are bald, the gas tank is almost empty, and the family credit card is maxed out. The exhaust system is faulty and the car is filling with carbon monoxide, but since it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless we don’t realize it. The headlights don’t work and we are driving in the dark. Father has the accelerator jammed to the floorboard so we can get there more quickly.  We are driving down a dark, winding, country lane. Mother is trying to get the kids in the back seat to be quiet and drink their orange juice. Neither parent pays any attention to the children in the trunk even though they are pounding on the trunk lid and screaming that they can’t breathe. Father says, “We should be there soon; we’re going 125 miles per hour.” Mother says, “Why don’t you kids in the back seat work on tomorrow’s homework? Wouldn’t that be fun?”

 

The Machiavellian Parable Decoded

We’re on a road trip and...

The meaning is...

We have no map and no destination in mind.

None of our political parties has a map to the future. They cannot describe the ideal America they hope to achieve in 10, 20, or 50 years. They cannot describe any goal that is beyond the next election cycle. Our corporate leadership cannot describe any goal beyond the end of this fiscal year.

The mechanic who repaired our car was dishonest. He did not install the new brake pads; he just sprayed the old ones with something that makes them stop squeaking for a few miles. The brakes will soon fail.

Those we depend on to make the right decisions are corrupt. They promised to be strong enough to “make the hard decisions” when we selected them, but they feather their own nests instead. They focus on the annual accounting cycle and the two-year election cycle instead of the next 10, 20, or 50 years. They have put us in the position of living very vulnerable, fragile lives.

The tires are bald, the gas tank is almost empty, and the credit card is maxed out.

We are deeply in debt. We are dependent on enemies for essential supplies like oil and food. Any interruptions in our fragile supply chains are catastrophic to our lives. 

The exhaust system is faulty and the car is filling with carbon monoxide. 

Our soil, water, and air are becoming increasingly fouled. We are not cleaning our environment as quickly as we are fouling it. Many species become extinct each year. The natural world is dying.

The headlights don’t work and we are driving in the dark.

Our infrastructure - water purification, water distribution, electrical power grids, roads, pipelines, emergency response services, etc. are degrading; unrepaired, unreplaced, obsolete, ignored.

Father has the accelerator jammed to the floorboard. We are driving down a dark, winding, country lane at 125 mph.

Our conservative government endorses uncontrolled use of nonrenewable resources and unrestrained exploitation of all natural and human resources exclusively for the benefit of global corporations. It has no plan for economic growth except dependence on the highly manipulated forces of the world’s “free” markets. Our unprecedented global economy is hurling us, uncontrolled, into a dark future that no one can imagine and that no one has chosen.

Mother is trying to get the kids in the back seat to be quiet and do their homework for tomorrow.

Our clueless, hapless, hopeless, helpless left-wing politicians are trying to deal with minor problems like gay marriage or the right of senators to filibuster while ignoring the biggest ones: population growth; deficient and decaying infrastructure; polluted soil, water, and air; illiteracy and lack of education; exploitation of women and children; preventable illness and preventable deaths; crushing poverty, slavery; etc., etc., etc., etc.

There are five children crowded into the back seat and nine more are locked in the trunk.

There are too many people in the Western world, all striving for a middle class life or better. There are too many people in the third world, locked away from modern medical care, education, sufficient food, clean water, decent housing, opportunity, etc. However, our third world brothers and sisters all have televisions, and they all see how much better life is in the Western world. They are very unhappy - and for very good reasons.

 

Our religious leaders are telling us that the solution to these problems is to pray, fast, and attend religious services with ever more dedication. Say the Rosary, spin the prayer wheel, or chant the same prayers that didn’t work yesterday. That is, if we just take care of our regional deity, then He or She will take care of us. The 3000 year old concepts of religion are of even less use to us now than are our senile political philosophies: Liberalism, Conservatism, Totalitarianism, Anarchy, and Theocracy. By keeping our minds locked in the rusty cages of traditional thought, we are preventing ourselves from imagining new solutions to our new problems. Remember, traditional solutions only work for traditional problems. The problems our world is now facing are absolutely without precedent in human history. The founders of our religions did not imagine or anticipate the world we now live in. None of our old holy books imagined global warming, overpopulation, nuclear war, biological weapons, mass media, computerized data processing, factory work, or a shortage of fossil fuel. Our prophets of old couldn’t even imagine a globe, much less global warming or a global economy. Nothing they wrote or passed down to us is of the slightest use to us at this point in human history. Applying those weak ancient formulas to the potent problems of today would be like going to war against Russia armed with spears and shields.

 

Whatever the solutions to our many global problems may be, those solutions are not to be found in ancient manuscripts or in the prophecies of dead men.

 

Think about what you’ve read ...

 

... and give me your opinion: MidasJones@MidasJones.com

 

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