It appears as though the question concerning religion is getting everyone’s “knickers in a twist.” Perhaps we should gingerly explore this hysterical hypersensitivity over religion and the religious sentiment. What is the religious aspiration in the modern world? To consider this, we must answer a prior question: What are these religions to which I am referring? Islam, Christianity, and Judaism for sure, but most lists of world religions today would include Buddhism and Hinduism as well. In most academic settings today, these are the ideologies and theologies that the prophets, priests, evangelists, the princely class and professors focus on. Of course, it is debatable if Buddhism is a religion at all. Many of its followers suggest it is not. After all the Buddha was not a deity. Hinduism, of course, maintains the concept of a supreme spiritual force within the concept of Brahma, the creator. But, there is an entire pantheon of deities to which practitioners of Hinduism (including the Hare Krishna) pay homage: Vishnu – the preserver; Shiva or Kali – the destroyer, and their various incarnations or offspring, including Krishna – the ninth incarnation of Vishnu. Now, what is the function of these religions in society today and in one’s personal life: some might suggest that they provide moral compass, a sense of individual worth, social cohesion, existential meaning, salvation, atonement, release, and if we get real mystical…spiritual awakening.
The goal, then, of these diverse faiths seems to remain constant: escape, transcendence, absorption in the absolute, deliverance from this ‘body of death’, extinguishing of the finite self, communion with some infinite reality, entrance into the ‘kingdom of God’. In short, the world religions focus upon going above and beyond the material world – they seek the suprasensual, as the mystic or the gnostic might say. They seek denial of, and movement away from ,the body; away from this gross material realm, away from the senses. They are ideologies that look up to the sky for direction, not down to the earth for a sense of place. Hence, I would call them sky-god religions. You may disagree with my nomenclature… but so be it.
I too fall victim sometimes to such fantasies, particularly in extremely turbulent weather at 40,000 feet. I suppose it is because I have learned to look up and look out, to live for a future that is ever receding, fearing my own death, my finitude, rather than focusing on the moment that is present to me and in which I am present. It has to do with the entire conceptual baggage of growth, unidirectional progress, development, and fulfillment – the pilgrim on the path, the hero on the quest. I suppose it is a function of generations of indoctrination, of our ever-growing dependence upon a larger superpower – the king, the overlord, the government, the manager – without which we cannot easily survive in this world we have constructed and in which we have become psychologically and economically trapped.
Our myths of transcendence – represented not only by the world religions, by also by modern technology and politics – are stories told to us in order to help make sense of life’s mysteries and its ultimate possibilities. But, what mysteries? What possibilities? These terms are themselves promotional tools of social and individual control. When the innate capacity for self-regulation – gained through natural processes of individuation and psychological maturation – has been lost due to institutionally erected constraints, you then need other, externally imposed, means to control the individual and the body politic in the ensuing cacophony and complexity. If we live life believing that our ‘purpose’ is to achieve some future, yet unrealized, state of affairs, with almost no capacity to achieve it on our own, then we can be manipulated on the quest. Once we step onto the grand chessboard, we become pawns of these systems of control. We become subject to the various institutional players that were designed to ‘help’ us along the road. We then begin objectifying our own existence, and measuring our success against artificially erected, yet specific, external milestones – spiritual, moral, economic, and political, or otherwise.
Did we live a good life according to the social and religious mores of our culture? Were we good parents, congenial colleagues, conscientious citizens, obedient followers of the faith; were we righteous individuals? I am not suggesting that we should act without any sense of right or wrong, but that sense must be borne of the concrete realities of our common humanity and our place in nature, our general relations with a living habitat, which includes other animate and animated beings, as well as other human beings. Unfortunately, our sense of that concreteness and our situatedness has been bulldozed-over, obstructed by the instruments of institutional hierarchies to which we have become accustomed. We no longer recognize our place or our posture, or even the ground upon which we walk. Why? Primarily because we no longer are walking! Instant wireless communication across the globe with the touch of a handheld keypad, or the flash of a bomb dropping from remote drones like a computer game with the flick of a finger… such are instances representing the loss of the concrete that has become our shared legacy; we have lost our experience of the flesh, of ambulation, of wandering, of exploring, of being lost, and finding our way back home. Indeed, we have lost of our home; we are homeless. That is why we needed, and were given, a department of “homeland” security. Enough said.
We have lost our sense of the earth, of our own fleshy embodiment. Ungrounded, we no longer look down; instead we look up, trying to soar like a spirit, high above the messy clutter of our own facticity. We yearn for transcendence, progress, going beyond, success, victory, accomplishment. The sky-god religions are part-and-parcel of this quest for perfection, of the desire to go beyond, to go “where no man has gone before,” to cling to, what Jurgen Moltmann’ has called, “hope against hope.” These could be the words of the newly appointed dictator, as he pulls his sword from its scabbard. It is here that the modern religious, scientific, and political quests join hands. Not cooperation and commingling, not intertwining and embodiment, but rather, control, management, objectification, disembodiment, and subjugation; these are the planks in the platform of our brave new world. We are sheep being led to the slaughter. And while science, the great manipulator of matter and energy, has become the chosen instrument of our destruction, religion and politics together operate the levers and switches. The entire deal, of course, is being financed by capital! Long live the capitalists, the religionists, the scientists, and the politicians.
Just look at the headlines folks: can you see any light between the players on the left or the right, the east or the west, the pols or the zealots, the religionists or the militarists?
Netanyahu to press for Iran ‘red line’ in U.N. speech
Regime sends text message to Syrian rebels: ‘Game over’
Mexico catches Zetas drug capo ‘El Taliban’
Paul Ryan says Obama’s policies ‘project weakness’
Secy Clinton drops hint that Al Qaeda was behind Libya attack