The Agony of Religions 2
Earth’s Twilight — Chapter 06.2
The religion/faith ambivalence
We cannot hope to unite humanity around a common ethics of planetary respect neither with a rational synthesis, that would elude the spiritual issues, nor with a syncretic coalescence of the main traditional elements that would leave behind all the rest.
Plurality is the natural condition of universality,
at least until we’ll have reached the gates of the afterworld, and thus, to stay with Dithfurth’s analogy, completed the diameter of the evolutionary sphere. To us, the relevant question is: how to reconcile the respect of plurality with the central assumption of this book, namely the necessity, imposed by history and by the environment, of a common answer to the global challenge that today looms on the entire species? Let’s look in detail at the structure of what we could call the religious experience. It reveals three permanent elements, each reflecting this ambivalence we have already noted .
The medium of religious experience is the symbol,
a term, formula or sensible object assumed to express the totality, that in itself is inexpressible since, as in the Guarani song, “nothing of what exists can be said according to the only One”.
In symbolic language, an element already endowed with a certain meaning within the conventional code is enriched by a further significance, whose perception is remitted to the spiritual awareness of the interlocutory partner. If I take a piece of bread and I say “This is the body of Christ”, I attribute to a material element of everyday’s culture, bread, a meaning that can be recognized only by someone who shares my same experience. Even when I say that God is ‘the supremely perfect being’, I use the word ‘being’ as a symbol, since the God i’m referring to is not a being, and yet that’s the closest I can get to express the idea of absolute universality. In any case, me and the listener agree on the assumed analogy between the symbolic sign and its signification. The problem with religious language is that it’s too easily misinterpreted along the biased assumption-lines of mainstream culture.
When I call god
or heaven its “kingdom”,
I am borrowing terminology and concepts from the traditional social hierarchy I grew up in.
The same happens for the mythological cosmologies: the function of the creation myth was to provide the world of immediate experience with a
background mosaic of transcendent significance, so to appease and tame the new human,
pulsing in each one of us, inside a conventional story.
Religions were integral part of a culture since they shared the same symbolical matrix of reference. It’s impossible to distinguish Hindu culture from Hindu religion, or Muslim religion from Islam. But in this immanence with the mother culture lies the most dangerous risk for religion:
to become nothing more then a sacralized form of ideology, a ‘false conscience’, as put by Marx.
The categories that express the religious experience are really projections of the individual and collective subconscious often conveying, hidden under a mystical dressing, the interest of the status quo with its courtship of social climbers and pleas of protection. The symbolic grammar of the transcendent becomes then a power tool in the hands of the establishment, useful to forge rigid principles of internal cohesion and self-defence.
Here we find outlined the difference between religion and faith:
religion is the symbolical universe immanent with the traditional cultural system, faith is the transcendence of that cosmos in the generative void we call god.
Religion carves the name of god on the stone,
faith moves the mountains.
To the faithful eye, ‘God’ is only the symbol of God. The classic dispute between atheists and believers was only a chapter in the history of ideologies, since once again the issue in question was obviously not God but its symbol, inscribed in the socio-political order of the power establishment. Paul Tillich is poignant on the matter: « The fundamental symbol of our supreme interest is God… ‘God’ can be negated only in its name… Atheism can only mean a denial of every transcending interest, an indifference towards the meaning of self-existence.
Indifference towards the future, towards truth and towards life is the only real atheism.
If you deny God as the ultimate matter of interest, you are in fact confirming that God is an absolute that cannot be defined. God symbolizes the sum of what we care the most. In the concept of God we must distinguish two ways: the way of transcendence, the vivid rupture of the mystical moment, and the way of immanence, when a specific element of our everyday experience is symbolically applied to ‘God’ ».
It’s to say that every authentic faith is ‘atheist’,
and atheism, when not denying a supreme interest, is religious. Faith always transcends the conventional symbology of God with a sort of self-irony: it uses the myth while denying it. It’s able to pray with the words of Meister Eckhart:
«O’ God, set me free from ‘God’».
Somewhere else, the great mystic explains: «Until the soul aspires to know God, to have a notion of God, it’s really still far away from God… since it depends from the will of the creatures if God is named ‘God’. And the greatest honor we can offer God is to leave It to itself and set us free from Its word».
The last challenge
Now, let’s try to place ourselves on the doorstep where humanity is currently standing. From here is possible to see the extent of the new, extraordinary provocations the traditional religions have been called to answer. Religions can no longer remain disconnected one from the other, each in its geo-cultural region, each with its traditions and institutions. Their symbolic universes have lost the old advantage of isolation, that paralyzed any attempt of reform under the burden of a multi-generational tradition. Their message of salvation has little relevance today if it keeps being directed exclusively to the spirit of man, as if everything else – the biological survival, the vital environment, the natural laws that preserve the variety of life’s genetic heritage – were still beyond the reach of the human will.
Humanity as a species, and with humanity the entire biosphere, have entered a condition of emergency and thus fully deserve our all-hands-on-deck participation in a world rescue effort.
Any kind of conflictual ethnic rivalry poses today an inconvenient threat to the last chances of survival of the species. The mythical sarcofagi that assured to the spiritual elite a sort of perpetual contemplative coziness have been blasted open, and everywhere blows a freezing wind of apocalypse. The ancient races are mixing together, and with the races their symbolical archetypes, and it’s becoming increasingly unlikely for each group to keep a hold, in the current diaspora, of the useless ornaments of the old temples. What’s more, upon the various alphabets invented to allude at the mysteries, is looming today a constant flux of satellite signals that surrounds the planet as an information cage, intercepting the frequency of the heavenly messages and blending, in a dizzying infusion, the sacred and the profane, the new with the traditional idols.
And yet the most critical threat for religions doesn’t lie neither in this violent dislocation from the original stem, nor in the consequent obsolescence of the ancient sacred relics: it lies instead in the centuries-long indifference of the religious elite towards the authentic, profound, unison cry of salvation rising from the depths of humanity.
The traditional answers were tribal, the new questions are planetary.
In the face of this sort of unprecedented concerns, religions have fell in a deadly crisis. Some decades ago, when the modern illusion still seemed valid, the major threat posed to religions was considered to be secularization. The risk exists, but today has become less urgent due to the current crisis of the modern ideologies, that in their way could also be considered religions, since they used to confer a conventional meaning to human existence, asking in exchange a total commitment of the individual, as far as martyrdom if necessary. The result of this loss of messianic appeal in the nationalist state isn’t a return to classical religion, but rather a renaissance of polytheism, the tumultuous re-emergence of all the submerged archetypes that had originated the mythical representations of the gods.
Torn apart by a myriad of contrasting drives, humanity loses the gravity center of its identity and rolls at the mercy of its most basic drives. The secular metropolis is swarming with nocturnal cults, blasphemous clubs, satanic sects and all sorts of mind-altered crowds desperately seeking an adrenaline rush in the shadows of night-time.
The daytime activities in consumer society have been reduced to the minimum and have progressively lost most of its old solidarity base and hence most of its emotional relevance.
In the absence of a meaningful alternative, the individual seeks to gratify its physiological instincts with artificial stimulants in a compulsive quest for emotions.
Modern civilization has been perfectly at ease dealing with irrational behaviors, and in the late stages went as far as to covertly encourage them, since they could be used as a pretext to tighten control and, in the long term, they would cause a widespread indifference towards the future of the world.
Religions reacted by closing ranks, again endorsed by the power complex, happy to finance and arm the rise of fundamentalisms around the globe and to use them as sacrifical pawns of its own geo-political chess game.
By keeping a consistent share of the human population in desperate conditions, the establishment could count on a reservoir of potential terrorists, ready to be expended in a coup d’ètat or even in a psy-op against its own citizens.
The original intuition
The only answer living up to the current condition is, for religions,
the recovery of their original intuition, that both pre-dates and transcends the particular symbolic contour in which they had fossilized.
Each one of their cultural expressions was an aspect of the polyhedric prism situated at the core of the human species,
emanating the full spectrum of the electro-magnetic radiation that drives humanity on its cosmic path through the cyclical eras, one leap of consciousness at a time.
There are no false religions. Each drew on the common resources of the new human, each assuming as central one particular aspect, so to make it viable inside the provisional shell of a given culture.
But as the cultural shell cracks,
it’s time for religion to plunge back in the seminal core of that intuition and germinate a new human rhizome.
By leaving behind the old casing,
religion is free to dedicate itself to the creation of a new synergic medium to inspire humanity with the holy horizon of transcendence.
In order to live, religions have to die.
It’s what we’re indeed about to suggest, in particular concerning Christianity, another (so-called) religion at the climax of its mortal crisis.