I was listening to the brilliant Stephen Fry the other day and marvelled at his intelligence. He was speaking on the church (particularly the Catholic church) and religion and asked a fascinating question: What would Jesus think of the Catholic church if he somehow popped up in this dimension at this time.
I gave it some thought and could only come to the same conclusion Mr Fry came to: the radical, revolutionary Jesus would be appalled and he would fight to have the church disbanded — to be sold off and the funds distributed to the meek. (And the cheesemakers. I guess the son of God was wrong on that one — they didn’t inherit the earth after all).
So the people in high ecclesiastical office, who claim to speak for Jesus, are the very people that he would actively rally his followers against.
I have visited many churches around the planet, as well as mosques and monasteries. I find them architecturally inspiring and places of great beauty. What I don’t cosy up to is the intuitions attached to them. This is simply because I have a deep distrust of any institution, or hierarchy that claims to have the truth; that claims to have the keys to a gate that will lead us to salvation or some sort of spiritual awakening. This not only applies to religion but to any philosophy or way of life which includes Gurus who claim to have the answers.
In fact if you look at places of worship; churches, mosques etc, they are almost invariably run by men and these men are duty-bound to a hierarchy that is addicted to power. Salvation is promised for a tithing of shekels. But to the institution, it’s the shekels that are important, not the individual’s spiritual fulfilment or quest.
I have thought a lot about religion over the years and can only come to the conclusion that people wrongly confuse religion with faith. We have to make a distinction.
Religion can provide a language or a narrative to help one have faith. It provides stories, metaphors, symbols and the like. I can understand that these metaphors and symbols in the bible or the koran or the mahabharata, make complete sense to many people.
I don’t repudiate anybody their sacraments, their prayers, their devoted love for a religious group. Religion gets toxic because people come out and proclaim that ‘my symbols are better, are bigger than yours, and come with all the bells and whistles that will lead you to a promised land (or sky).
But these symbols, these metaphors are not truth. They are not holy than thou. They do not enable one to transcend above the unbelievers.
Also religious leaders make definitive statements about religion, about spirituality, and treat them as truth. This so called truth is packaged and sold to the masses and people give up their freedom for a load of dogma that is wacky nonsense.
Faith, on the other hand, is very personal. It requires belief. A belief that we inhabit a space that is more than just this physical dimension. By having faith we are essentially saying that there is some energy — a life force, a spirit — that is beyond our normal perception, our understanding; and we can communicate with this energy or spirit in some way.
Faith is a guidance system. It is not rooted in fact or definitive answers to the big questions. Faith is nebulous and if not amenable to change then becomes dogma.
Faith is truth only in so far as it is personal to the individual. The truth of faith disappears when it is expressed as proclaiming to be true.
I like Taoism (it’s the only ‘ism’ that I like). It’s not actually a religion but it provides lovely parables; has no meeting point for believers; and because at its core is a reverence for nature, it’s somewhat animistic even humanistic. Taoism makes sense to me and a huge bonus is I don’t have to have any appointments with a creator, or go somewhere and listen to some bloke waffling on.
If Taoism was a religion, it would be the religion of the here and now, making it impossible to organise a meeting of enthusiasts.
It is my view, that if you take an analysed life and mix it up with faith, then you have a wonderful path to trod. A path that is full of wonder and mystery where one can walk through each day and feel the connectedness in all things — feel a part of this great cosmic thing we have going on here.
So what would the disruptive, Jewish, Galilean carpenter think — if, instead of crawling out of his cave three days later — he appeared nearly 2000 years later and took a detour from ascending to heaven to have a good look around?
He would likely say: “Keep the faith brothers and sisters, but please don’t join the church.”
Keeping the faith as much as I can each day
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