I have mixed feelings about Christianity. I was baptized when I was a baby, and when I was little I sincerely sang "Jesus Loves me Yes I know, for the Bible Tells me so." And attended Church. I was a weird kid. I actually enjoyed theology class. My bible study teacher thought I was going to grow up to be a theologian. It might have happened but I met born again Christians who convinced me that there was something wrong with history. And my study of history and it's 19 and 1/2 century history of conflict, intolerance and authoritarianism convinced me to abandon it and go on what I now would call a "walk about." I had a severe argument with the concept of God on High, and had even worse troubles reconciling the trinity. Eventually I got into Eastern Religion, got into critiquing esotericism, and that led me to study and critique Kaballa, which led me to fall in love with Judaism and appreciate both the good and bad of religion all over again. So I still have mixed feelings about Christianity, but I appreciate it better. My main problem is with Christians and the sometimes demagogic way that their leaders mislead them. I no longer blame true believers, or even believers, it's the teachers who get on my nerves.
So it is with regret, but not surprise, that I observe current trends in a few of the major religions. My old Church, the Episcopal church is wracked in a war between fundamentalists who are also rather intolerant, and the remnants of the enlightenment movement, who've been on the decline for 100+ years. The result is that the fundamentalists sometimes become Catholics.
And in studying all this stuff I encountered the ancestral church of most Western Europeans. The one that held the monopoly, until Luther and Calvin came along, in the Western part of Europe. It too had had an enlightenment of sorts, that culminated in Vatican II, but it seems that it too has a civil war of sorts as well. One side of that Civil war resembles enlightened Episcopalians of the Church I grew up with. I remember the Berrigans, and how they became Episcopalians when they left the Church and got married. There is no theologically integral reason that a priest can't marry. At one time it was De-riguer that priests married. Judaism required their Rabbis to marry, and Cohain couldn't be proper priests unless they had progeny to pass their post to. Early Christians included women priests and all sorts of priests, and there are even stories of priests married to each other. But that is not dogma today.
Did I tell you my main fight when I was 13 was with Dogma?
So of course Vatican II, Ecumenicism, and enlightenment all sound good. In Polyanna the Priest has a high minded conversion when he engages in some exegesis and counts the amount of times the Bible talks about love. But talking about love doesn't stop the hemorrhaging of believers or the outflow of money. Fundamentally all Churches are among the oldest forms of corporations, and priests, ministers, bishops, etc... are in one of the oldest professions and can't live without donations; so letting people come and go at will from their churches guarantees them a secular job and a Church that hangs a new moniker on it. Formerly Catholic or Episcopal churches now house fundamentalist or Born Again Churches now because the priests failed to hold on to their flock. So how do they do that?
By fear, vilification, and hate.
while I was studying Eastern Religion I spent most of that time with a Buddhist sect founded by a teacher Named Nichiren. He talked a lot about misuse of religion, which his disciples used mostly to vilify rivals, but one day it hit me that his teachings were universal, which meant that the enemy is the tendency to misuse religion itself, all the ways that religion is misused. He called the teaching Six devils and Three powerful enemies; and the three powerful enemies were ignorant lay people, manipulative priests and incorrect sages. Well that teaching did apply potentially to their rivals, but it also applied to the leaders who embraced that teaching -- and like all people possessing a mirror they tried to use it to look at everyone else. That doesn't change.
Misapplied it leads to esotericism for the initiated and exotericism for everyone else. It leads to efforts to vilify rivals instead of teaching distinctions. It doesn't help. And that is what is going on within the Churches, just as it has done since Christianity started having second and third generation disciples of it's founder and the believers started conflating the Messenger, the once and future King of Jewish theory, with God himself. You see it in Acts, where Paul notes all the people who identified Jesus with Apollo. This shouldn't be surprising, when the Prophets condemn Israel for worshiping the Baalim, the most popular of the Baalim was Baal Peor, or the Lord Son of God, who died each spring so that crops could grow. It's amazing how similar the concept of Jesus is to that of Baal. He goes from being a teacher to a God, and his priests from being teachers and missionaries to being priests of a God, thanks to human frailty on the part of ordinary folks, and human ambition on the part of their teachers.
So I'm not in the least surprised to see corruption in the various churches. On the contrary as I get older, I'm simply mighty pleased to discover there are brief exceptions, or sometimes even enduring one, to the rule about the three powerful enemies, religious exploitation and the evolution of divine revolution into profane dogma; because the temptations are impossible to risk.
In studying the weaknesses of religion I discovered realities about human psychology and spirituality that I could have used to establish myself as a Ron Hubbard type Messiah. Indeed I'm sure that is what he did. I love the Catholic Church, the Jewish Sages, the Buddhist founders, the Sufi and the Sikhs; even Moses, David, Mohammed, Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard -- all the more for knowing that they are, after all, only frail human beings in the end. What do I know? When the divine talks directly to us, it always takes the form of a vision, something so much realer than real that it can shake the sanity of those who experience it. I've come to listen to those messages. I am a poet and that means I hear them. I've been right about events way too often to be arrogant about my powers or to discount the power of Insight either. Religion should be about Enlightenment and Religion, not about tyranny.
Nevertheless we have a duty to love and take seriously all truths, but aslo to combat all lies and false dogmas; and all misuse of the gifts of spirituality to manipulate people. For no matter how high and mighty, or frail and holy, a person might seem, we are all ultimately only frail human beings -- and because of that frailty we are all subject to the darkside.
Right now we are in the middle of a situation which resembles an episode of the "Empire Strikes Back." The darkside, hiding as usual in the minds of both friends and enemies alike, has infiltrated the minds of great people, sages, educators, politicians and turned good teachings into angry mush, clear teachings into deliberate lies, and made people who should be rockes we can rely on into untrustworthy liars. People who should be teaching love and things like "honor thy father" or "love thy enemy" are teaching enmity and fear instead. Bishops who ought to be on the side of the poor and dispossessed are fighting to preserve their possessions by igniting anger in their parishoners and reviving dogmas that in the past burned down civilization and destroyed learning. The barbarians are not always at the gates, they are often in the Gates, and now we have people who insist that they have ownership of God and the Truth, when the reality is that that is delusion. When the sages say "Judge not lest ye be Judged, the sages are warning that none of us dare take on the role of inquisitor without possibly taking on the role of the "Accuser", a word that in Hebrew is rendered as Satan.
This is the first essay in a series. The next one is: