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Outsourced Spirituality: The Organized Religion

 article about Outsourced Spirituality: The Organized Religion

This article belongs to Religion theme.


By accepting an external entity, a text purporting to be the Revealed Wisdom of an unverifiable source ("God"), an individual accepts the invalidation of his own experience and allows his personal validity to be moved to and centered in others, the "divinely inspired" writers of this text.

The history of Mankind is filled with numerous instances which can be seen as advancements or retreats. The advent of writing is universally seen as an advancement. Yet, what could be true for the category (Mankind) might not be true for each of its members (individual people).

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Based on immediate analysis, and even direct questioning, the listener could choose to believe the speaker at least until another speaker came along.
Prior to writing, and among cultures that are non-literate, oral transmission provided at least an immediate opportunity for scrutiny; the listener could evaluate the speaker in the context of what he, the listener, knows of the speaker. And, the listener could measure the speaker against himself and his own experience when conflicts arise between what the speaker says and what the listener has experienced and/or feels. Based on immediate analysis, and even direct questioning, the listener could choose to believe the speaker at least until another speaker came along.

Writing, particularly as it was applied to the preservation of "Revealed Wisdom" through selected writers, changed all that. So long as the physical texts can be preserved, the actual source of the information therein can become ever more remote, rendering thoughtful exchange and analysis less possible over time. The onus is then upon the reader to believe. That is, to accept with no evidence beyond the credibility of the text or of the person espousing and providing the text the representative of the organization that holds this text as its foundation. The personal sense of experience is thus demoted, or completely invalidated, unless it comports, in a proxy fashion, with the experience reported by approved sources. Indeed, the history of "The People of the Book", Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is filled with examples of individuals whose personal "spiritual" experiences rose to the level of mysticism, resulting in often ultimately severe sanctions. The Catholic Church long advocated that parishioners should not themselves read the Bible, lest they be led astray by some rival unreachable source (the "Devil") or by their own inadequate abilities to understand.

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Perhaps the ultimate irony shared among The People of the Book is the often fanatical devotion to the physical rendering of the book itself.
Here then, for example, the meaning of the term "Islam" is particularly revealing; it simply means "surrender", to the will of Al Lah ("the God", male gender as opposed to earlier concepts including Al Lat, "The Goddess"). Yet, the Qu'ran is distinguished from other Western texts in that it is fundamentally intended to be sung, as verses, rather than read, as chapters. Even translation from its original Arabic is seen as a desecration, albeit necessary in proselytizing the faith until the converts can understand Arabic.

Perhaps the ultimate irony shared among The People of the Book is the often fanatical devotion to the physical rendering of the book itself. More than having just a "special place" in the home, the physical book may appear in important roles in courts of civil law and enshrined in purpose built tabernacles in religious edifices. Any behavior toward this physical object which may be construed as disrespectful may bring violent responses. This, despite the shared admonition against the worship of graven images.

The end result is the invalidation of individual experience. This may be stated directly, such as with admonitions that the Devil is ever at work to delude one into the sin of Pride (in this case, thinking that one has the answers).

However, in somewhat the same pragmatic vein as the Islamic acceptance of the rendering of the Qu'ran into the vernacular, many would say there is an alternative view in which the formalization of the experiences and thoughts of others, however remote, into written form is necessary as a guide, a sort of catechism for those first being exposed to the Revealed Wisdom of the particular religion. But again, the underlying dynamic here is the inculcation of the belief that ultimate and true validity lies outside the person; spirituality is something that one hopes to share in, as a gift from an Other, not a something which originates of its own.
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If You Meet The Buddha On the Road, Kill Him

Non-Western literate traditions are characterized more by their encouragement of individual discovery. The Tao Te Ching, the essential text of Taoism, is a case in point. Tao is rendered as "Way"; it is not rendered as "The Way". Even Western secular texts about Eastern systems of thought caution against the outsourcing of one's validity. A fine case in point is the popular book, "If You Meet The Buddha On the Road, Kill Him". Thus, there is an almost contradictory and nihilist vein running through non-Western, and cooperating Western literature as it attempts to provide a guide, not a destination. For some, however, even these best efforts fail as people flock to buy the latest verbal droppings from the guru of the day.

As our technology marches on, including the devices which enable me to write this piece for you, sight unseen, we accrue ever more opportunities to outsource our inner selves to others. Particularly in this time of international monetary concern, when asked to outsource our validity and our decision making capacity, we might remember the suggestion, "Follow the money".


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