Friday, June 05, 2009

Commanding People to Love: Revealed Religious Morality as an Insult to the Human Spirit

"Morality was not brought down from Mount Sinai carved on tablets- moral is a function of the human soul, as old as mankind itself."

-Carl Jung

* * *

The other day, a friend and I were eating in a Vietnamese restaurant (a small place, and the only one we have in our one-horse town) when we encountered one of those nightmare situations that Heathens have to endure from time to time: the annoying table of Christian pastors that love to talk at the top of their lungs in a small, enclosed dining area.

No one in the room could help but overhearing what the younger of the two pastors was saying: he was talking about designing new programs for their church, to encourage people to take a more active role in community and worship. His main complaint was phrased by him just like this: "How can you love your neighbor if you don't know them?" His idea was to move the "worship" service up to a common table, upon which "thanksgiving" offerings would be spread and people would have an opportunity to gather around it and really talk. If they could know each other more, he reasoned, they would learn to love one another.

Now, I hate hearing the loud sermonizing of the revealed religionists as much as the next thinking person. I was considering asking the management to give me five dollars back for having to listen to this nonsense throughout the entire course of my meal. But after I left, it started me thinking down the course that led to my letter here today.

Our president Obama gave a big speech today, aimed at the Muslim world, from the city of Cairo. In that well-crafted (but ultimately, I think, futile) speech, he quoted revealed religious scriptures from the Koran to the Torah and the Bible, and those quotes were all around themes of treating others as you'd like to be treated, and other things like how people were created to "know" one another, and love one another, and be nice, and all of the usual blah blah snore quotes. I don't mean to sound overly dismissive, but I have little choice, because something that I've always felt became very clear to me today.

I strongly feel that revealed religions- religions that lay down "laws" from "God" to man, that command people to love, to behave in this way or that, are very insulting to the human spirit. I didn't know what bothered me so much about the obnoxious younger pastor in the restaurant until later: it was the fact that he was looking for ways to manipulate people into "love" for one another.

* * *

Here is my thinking on the subject: by the time you have to command someone to love, or use, as a justification for why people should behave decently to others a "holy book" that has "God" as its author, you are already too far removed from the source of true decency to be able to do any good. By the time you have to tell people "love one another", people have already forgotten how to love, and why.

Organic religions- natural religions born in the primal experiences of ancient cultures, (such as Native American religions, Asatru, Shinto, and the like) have no "sacred books". There are no "scriptures" that are believed to be the words of a God, sent straight from God's desk to humankind, containing rules for human behavior. This is true for all organic religions, and these organic cultures lived for countless millenia, doing quite well for themselves, and expressing a powerful family and community-oriented ethic and morality which was pure and strong.

These cultures- including my own religious culture- naturally expressed loving, respectful, and supportive bonds between kin and clan and family which required no "commands" from the Gods to do so. The fact that revealed religions actually feel the need to "command" (or say that their God commands) people to behave well is an insult to humanity- the revealed religious worldview begins with the assumption that humans do not naturally know how to behave, that we need "do" and "do not" orders, or we'll be wild beasts.

But this is not true, not by a long shot. Humans naturally do know how to behave, how to care for others and protect others. They know how to love, make bonds, nurture, and live. At least, they used to- perhaps it is a reality now that the "civilized world", after many generations of organized, revealed religious influence, has become reduced to a massive kindergarten class that needs a ruler-wielding teacher standing over them telling them that they should behave this way or that, but this was not always the case.

The more I considered it, the more I realized how sharply insulting it is that these "big boy" revealed religions walk around chanting "commandments" and "rules for life". By the time you have to command people to live in a certain way, the natural sanity of your people is all but lost.

Or should I say, it is sleeping, waiting to be trusted enough again to re-emerge. Organic religions don't have "commands from the Gods" because no commands are needed. Humans are not naturally fallen, evil, or wicked. They can and will look after one another within their communities and families, and may the realities of our modern day which interfere with this natural caring be cursed! One of the most profound realities today which I feel interrupts that natural goodness is the constant teaching, on the parts of revealed religions, that we are NOT naturally good.

If you teach this to people long enough, they will begin to believe it, and they will look to natural good behavior as an exception to the rule, not the norm. They will begin to believe that it was only by the grace of a supernatural being that they were able to be loving and good, when it was in them all along. People will look upon what is normal and natural as an expression of willed virtue, and as some extraordinary duty that they have fulfilled and are therefore deserving of some great praise or recognition for. So you loved your neighbor? Great! You don't deserve the title "godly" or "righteous"- you deserve the title "human".

If you ask people today about the natural goodness of humanity, most of them will laugh at you and point to this atrocity or that war, as proof that anyone who believes in our "natural goodness" is just being naive. But this, too, is a function of the dominant myth that people have been taught to believe. Many will ignore all of the natural wonders and goodness that we are capable of, in favor of the horror that we are capable of, and use that one-sided perspective as their guideline for defining what is "human". That situation is, to me, intolerable.

* * *

What a terrible pain it is to see these revealed religionists thinking that cute little phrases like "love one another" and "do unto others" and the like are so profound, when in reality, they are insults. People who thrill to these sorts of statements are like the spiritual children of this world, forever having to be told to be decent and good, when in reality, decency and goodness spring from us naturally, without a word being spoken. Tribal people around the world to this day live in loving connection with their families and with the land without a single "commandment" from their Gods being given them from some authoritative "text" or scripture.

How can the revealed religionists explain this away? These are people who have never heard of Jehovah, Allah, or Jesus- they've never been tormented, as we have been, by the sheer insulting obnoxiousness of people popping along and waving "the book" in their faces and telling them how they aren't doing this or that right, or how they aren't living or believing right. Yet there they are- getting along as well now as their ancestors did since the dawn of cultural time. Do they have fights? Wars? Disharmony in ways? Of course! But then, so do the Christian and Muslim worlds- and war and stupidity at a pitch much higher than ever before in history.

What the organic cultures have that the modern "big boy religion" world doesn't, is an expression of natural goodness which needs no "instruction book". They also don't have a divine decree- either one that is there, or misunderstood as being there- to convert, harm, dislike, judge, or hate others who don't believe as they do. When they fight, it is over natural causes of conflict- resource competition, mostly. And I'd rather kill or die over resource competition- over things my people and others need to survive- than I would over religious insanity.

My ancestors didn't attack other people because those others didn't worship Odhinn and Thorr. My ancestors didn't have priests or imams wandering around with them, preaching crusade or jihad. My ancestors never would have been so insanely warped. That such cruel twists of Fate could have entangled us is a sobering lesson about what happens when people give way to massive group assimilation and fear.

By the time you have to flip open this or that book- books written by other humans long ago- and point to a passage and justify your contention that people need to "love" one another, you and your audience have forgotten how to love, and why. And no amount of pointing at your scripture passages will ever convince them to love, or make them love. If the love doesn't come naturally, it will not come through contrivance. Feelings of this nature cannot be forced, or taught.

Nothing the young pastor can do will make his congregation members actualize the ideal of love that he clearly believes in. He believes it, but does he really feel it? Does he love because he is loving, or because he learned early on that his God expected it of him? Is love for him his ticket to heaven, or is it an expression of his most authentic nature? These are hard, but important questions.

* * *

The more I study my own religious culture, the more I love the organic approach to religion- the fact that we are not burdened by these so-called "revelations" and "sacred texts" is such a powerful and precious part of our way of living and thinking. I always liked the fact that we had no such dead weight in our spiritual culture; now I understand even more why it is so powerful and important.

We are free of these shackles, and our humanity is allowed to be as it was intended to be. Our benevolence, love, caring, and concerns are allowed to emerge naturally. We are allowed to be spiritual, mental, and moral adults, not children scolded and commanded to love or "do good". We do not believe that humans come forth from the womb flawed or morally stupid. As Jung said "Morality was not brought down from Mount Sinai carved on tablets- moral is a function of the human soul, as old as mankind itself."

Obama was able to justify, using scriptures, a morality that his audience was able to understand. What a terrible pity that he had to refer to a book to get the crowd to applaud. What a terrible, terrible pity. May the Ancestral Gods preserve us in the face of such a darkness, and give their blessings to us and our families, during this strange exile of humanity.

Why was Obama's speech ultimately futile? Because his appeal to "human decency" was framed in the center of an enormous, paradoxical flaw: it was framed as though it takes a God's written command to give us all a reason to be decent. If people truly believe such a thing, they can never be truly decent- they can only put on a good act. Deep, authentic decency has to emerge previous to any rule or command, and especially previous to any rule or command that carries with it a torturous penalty for breaking it. Are we children? Are we dogs to be threatened into obedience, or horses to be broken?

I'm not a child, a dog, or a horse; and I don't need a document from the desk of Jehovah (or any being) to inspire, encourage, or justify my love, or my decency. If a person needs to flip through a book to find the "right" way to live, they have already lost the path, and I sincerely doubt that they will ever find it again easily.