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The purpose of religion - to relige; to work to rule; to work in order to rule; a rule for living... - A Bible and a Bat'leth
Two double-edged swords, one angry peacemaker.

Date: 7:30 pm Thu 6th of Dec, 2012
Subject: The purpose of religion - to relige; to work to rule; to work in order to rule; a rule for living...
Security: Public
Tags:church, noticings about learnings, religion, sermon, spirit, theory, work
In which our hero contemplates the purpose of religion - or at least, critiques the purposes he was given

Sitting in Church on Sunday, I had time for some pondering, probably during the offering. Or maybe during that song where we all had to sing two songs from two different books at the same time depending on where you sat and what verse it was, and it all got a bit confusing so I sat down. I don't remember.

Either way, I got to thinking about the purpose of Religion. The idea I had growing up was that Religion (the Christian faith) was solely evangelical, which back then meant that it intended, and was intended, to spread and replicate universally. For the purpose of this essay; when I say 'Religion', I mean 'the religious culture and discourse I grew up with' which, when it presented other religions at all, generally assumed that they were some sort of mimetic rival - attempting to imitate or supplant Christianity.

I was generally okay with this given (stated or implicitly understood) purpose of Religion. Once everyone in the world was a Christian, everything would be okay. So any concerns about poverty, war etc, were all secondary. (I wrote about this idea recently as it works in diffusing concern about Israel/Palestine.) The requirement was to be a good Christian, which involved supporting the State to deal with such matters.

My mind was changed on this matter.

The process of my mind being changed, and continually renewed, has thrown up all sorts of interesting ways of analysing these ideas I had about religion*, which I suspect persist in many other minds and institutional cultures.

For one; the capitalist/viral idea of expansion to expand. Within the faith this is motivated by concern for spreading and multiplying a good thing - the salvation of souls. The individual believer acknowledges that their religion is a good thing, and has been beneficial, and seeks to pass this on. Of course, that requires that the blend of spirituality, religion, psychology, ancient wisdom, symbolic reality, culture and myth be synthesised (and simplified) into a transmittable, commodifiable model. It's like taking a plant or technology from one region and adapting it to work anywhere. For example, refining a plant's specific healing chemical into a pill. This is not to say that religion must needs be commodified or commercialised to spread, or that this process requires it be sold - but this process of crafting a religion-pill that can be offered to all is part of the same process as capitalising the world.

The process, in which one person (or group) crafts their ideas into a commutable form that can be shared has a number of possible costs:
1) Loss of original/potential ideas - a belief can develop in many ways, can have deep and overlapping layers and complexity, and this process shuts down some of those possibilities and focuses on a single 'core message' which is exalted as the immutable essential.
2) Temptation towards violence - we know historically and today that religion is prone to spreading itself through violence. Religion is useful as a cover for violent expansions of markets or imperial power.
3) Unexpected drawbacks when it works - just as with any conversion experience, there has to be a 'morning after' - not a lot of attention is placed on the 'morning after' for the successful evangelist. What is their relation to their new convert - and what do they do now? See below for some more thoughts on this.
4a) Loss of unassimilatable concepts... - articles of faith that contradict or are too difficult to accept or transmit may be dropped or lost. Alternatively:
4b) Marking others as lesser because they cannot assimilate core concepts - if the recieving party cannot or will not accept the religion, it leaves them open to being painted as deficient (thus, more vulnerable to violence).
5) Obfuscation of the original enbodied reality - finally and firstly, the more a religion is transmitted, the further from its source it gets. Over a long enough time; without appropriate measures, it warps into something utterly weird.

This last point sometimes results in a religion becoming over-spiritualised, or 'so heavenly minded they're no earthly good': weird and unhelpful. Think of the furore over Mormons baptising the dead. For Mormons it makes perfect theological sense. One must be baptised to be saved, but not everyone hears the truth and receives it in life. After death, the unbaptised spirit is trapped unless the living perform the baptism on their behalf. I entirely disagree with this theology on a number of points, not least of which is the assumption that God is thoroughly legalistic. Although: I suppose we might primarily deduce that from the laws of nature we see in Creation; rather than the books of the law more typically cited as evidence of God's legalistic ways.

Religion of the sort I have been trying to practice over the last decade tries to reach back into history for its spirit* while creating a rule suitable for the present day (and place). My faith is a very good thing. But I have not been comfortable with the form or scope of evangelism it envisioned. Many years ago I remember looking at certain friends and not being able to imagine how they would become Christians. What would it mean for them? Conceptually it would mean becoming a 'better', 'more real', 'more alive' version of themselves, achieving potential and living well. But for me, the process looked like 'becoming more like a Christian' in manner and culture. I couldn't see why that would be an advantage. I didn't have the imaginative power to picture how someone who was not a Christian might interact with the risen Christ.

What's the point of religion propagating itself? Talk about the salvation of souls already means much less than it used to, since we don't much notice our souls, and economic systems where people can be bought, sold, and redeemed are out of fashion. Those of us whose souls are CTRL+X'd from Perdition and CTRL+V'd into the Saved Folder are still left with lives to lead and questions to answer. My religion might say that the purpose of this remaining life is to help others go through the same process. It is an imperative to extend freedom to others. I cannot now hear that sort of language, however well meaning, without hearing the faint strains of Empire.

So, those of us who have banked our conversion moments and been reborn, we can share our enthusiasm, share our insights as we reach out and learn new ways of seeing the world, but how do we live? And how do we transmit our religion? Not in the colonial manner of imposing a cultural setting and economy that match the received religion. Not in the syncretist fashion of adapting and adopting to create a unified, acceptable truth.

One thing, and the thing that came to me easily in Church that morning, was 'what if religion is not cloning'? Some time ago I had a similar revelation, 'What if all these religions are not equal? What if they are doing different things?' These revelations come easily. I happen to look in that corner of my brain, and there it is; perhaps something I had heard before, but now I find it has use and meaning for me. This, too, is a sort of conversion, a sort of being born again, maybe even a sort of resurrection.

If religion does not mean 'a culturally-contiguous belief system that aims to replicate itself perpetually in the bodies and landscapes of all possible converts'. Perhaps religion means 'a rule or system for living well in the world'. Or 'a community seeking to understand together'. I'm not one of these 'Spiritual But Not Religious' sorts. If I am going to be Spiritual I want to do it in communion with those who have gone before*, with my peers, with my enemies and allies. And I want to do it well: as part of a life that frees and is freed from the Domination System.

If Spirituality is a part of every action and institution*, it is a part of life whether I acknowledge it or not. Religion is a way of acknowledging it, exercising and exploring it, while keeping me grounded and established in other people who are not paragons of virtue or conscience, nor icons of ancient faith. It stops me 'over-spiritualising' and building pyramids of doctrines that don't reflect reality. Religion is the momentary form that Spirituality takes when seen at any one intersection of space and time, and the better this matrix is attuned to that spacetime, the better it is as Religion.

Meanwhile, I will try to learn to cope with singing the different songs out of multiple books and lament that I forgot to return to this as a metaphor.

Peter out...

*This issue deserves another post... not to mention the entire concept of spirituality.
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