Religion: Public, Private and Esoteric
Religion is omnipresent, sometimes it is in the open sometimes it is disguised in form of some supposedly not religious ideology, sometimes it has institutions, sometimes it depends on one person, sometimes a large group of people is involved sometimes a very small. Even in societies with one dominant form of religion, new religious forms spontaneously emerge and existing forms fade away.
Those who claim that they are not religious are often fanatically religious. Following provides a few examples of such religions. Some are ancient some are relatively new. They often called ideologies, but they are religions, only primitive forms of religion.
Rationalism asserts that there is a consistent logical explanation to anything and absence of logic in someone’s thinking or presentation of ideas is a sign of deficiency, which should be corrected. They do not claim that such logical explanation is immediately available or that it is available to a particular person, they claim that it will be eventually available in context of human society as a whole.
Many think that Rationalism emerged with modern science, but it is a very old phenomenon.
The trick of putting off logical explanation into infinite future and on the shoulders of humanity provides a comfortable escape from reality of one’s illogical life and inability to fit in it. It does not provide tools to deal with it, though.
This trick is an article of faith, which makes Rationalism a primitive form of religion and an exclusive one – rationalism does not tolerate other forms of religion.
Communism is a violent and intolerant form of religion. Its articles of faith are clearly described and strongly enforced, where it is a dominant form of religion (where communists control political power). While it emerged recently, its followers sacrificed millions of lives to enforce its dominance.
It keeps hold on imagination of its followers through exposing of the functioning of the social side of a person, which is usually hidden from the person’s mind and which usually operates subconsciously. There is an institution, which perpetually indoctrinates followers of this religion using this exposing of social side as a main tool.
Environmentalism easily coexists with other forms of religion, as long they accept it. It is a kind of polytheistic religion. In some cases, its followers even admit that this is a form of religion, but often it is presented as ideology or movement.
Any stable society takes care of its environment, hence any normal person as a social being is eager to deal with environment in a sustainable way, on a small scale of own surrounding and on a large scale of humanity as a whole. Only all this is done subconsciously. Explicit discussions by the government of issues environment, making issues of environment a part of political platform, conducting scientific studies in this area – all this is normal functioning of the society.
However making this an everyday subject of people, who is not involved with large scale decisions, perpetuating institutions dedicated to this subject with its priests and indoctrination, maintaining doctrines, which are accepted on faith, all this is a sign of a religious form.
As Communism, it keeps hold on imagination of its followers through exposing of the functioning of the social side of a person. What environmentalists say sounds right, because people have similar subconscious idea. Based on this feeling, this form of religion maintains its priests, institutions and political power.
Simple observation shows that usually people have religion, even when they proclaim to be atheists.
From the other hand, when one has religion, it is natural for one to gradually drift away from a serious religious engagement. This is a natural phenomenon. Contrary to popular belief, even in ancient times, religious indifference was a prevalent state of the society – the majority of people most of the time did not think about religion and did not use explicitly religious concepts in their decision making.
Certainly, it is in human nature to be religious. Is religion only a compensation mechanism for deficiencies of mind, or it is something more than that? What does one gain from being religious? Is it possible to have a normal society, where people are not religious and where there are no religious institutions?
Certainly, there are many forms of religion, which should be avoided and even fought against. How does one find an acceptable form of religion and how does one assure that it does not slip into a horrible one?
What about not religious people? How do they resist the temptation to become religious?
History, even recent history, shows that religious forms undergo transformation. Religion is a human activity even in eyes of its followers. Hence, it adjusts, when circumstances change. Developed religious forms even have a special mechanism for such adjustment – a two layered structure – a stable internal layer and a layer of interpretation, which is adjusted to circumstances, community, individual, etc.
The set of religious forms practiced in a particular society undergoes transformation also. For example, in some societies one could observe a general decline of influence of dominant forms of religion and emergence of numerous minor religious forms.
In modern times, as in some ancient times, people have to cope with rapid change – technological change, rapid accumulation of knowledge, change in economic structure and change in social structure. When dominant forms of religion do not adapt to this change fast enough, this causes imbalance between the form of religion and the form of society. The result of such imbalance was either the destruction of the society with such internal deficiency or adoption of a new dominant form of religion (either through conquest or through elevation of some existing form into a dominant position).
Any religion has articles of faith – some statements that contradict experience, available knowledge and often contradict other statements of the same religion. This is a manifestation of the essential part of religion.
Articles of faith are not similar to axioms of a scientific theory. Axioms are used to evaluate applicability of the theory to particular problem at hand. Religion is not a theory; there is no area, where it is not applicable.
Religion guides, where logic ends.
Let’s say, one looks at the building from two different angles. One has to reconcile two different logically contradicting views to make a unified picture of the building. Sometimes one needs to look from more angles and create a tree dimensional “model” in the head using all acquired flat views. This and similar problems one has to solve often. Hence, dealing with logical contradiction in a constructive way is a highly important skill.
One pattern of creative reconciliation of logically contradicting concepts was described by Hegel as dialectics. Unfortunately, he asserted that this is the only method and his work is a pinnacle of development in this area. Note that communists gladly picked up on this assertion to fight all other (not communist) religions.
While it is possible to classify approaches to creative reconciliation of useful logically consistent theories, there is no known way how to learn all of them, which one needs in life. Life is broader than logic and religion helps to use a limited tool of logic.
Hence, religion is packed with stories and statements, which contradict logic, common sense, experience, readily available knowledge, and even contradict each other.
Religious forms facilitate specially organized gatherings, where a person could feel unity with community and even unity with humanity. This experience allows balancing of individual and social sides of the person. Such experience cannot be substituted with intellectual activity. The experience of this kind is important, when it is missing, people compensate by turning other types of gathering into manifestation of unity, and this is dangerous, because it is quickly converted into reinforcement of conformism and guided to support some political agenda, which is not in interests of the community.
Such balancing in a safe environment, which one could achieve in religious gatherings, allows one to stay alert and competitive in other forms of social activity, without jeopardizing underlying integrity of the society.
When there is religion in place, especially when there is a dominant form of religion with institutions and specialists, then this system id quickly overloaded with additional tasks.
One such major task is supporting stability of society, where social transformations go without loss of life and where unfortunate events do not cause destruction of the society.
Religious specialists are perfectly suited for this task. They have to interpret religion to groups and individuals according to the nature groups and individuals and according to circumstances. They already have to think in terms of the society and speak in terms of an individual. Hence they have skills needed to present rules supporting social stability in terms acceptable to an individual.
Elsewhere on this site, it was shown, that rules supporting stability of the society, are moral rules. This way, moral rules get fused with religious form.
This fusion is so important, that when one sees religious specialists acting or advocating against moral rules of the society (for example advocating a violent revolution), this is a sign of decline of the religious form, which they represent.
As it is shown above, some ideas could be wrapped in institutions, rituals and other activities to create a religious form. Proliferation of cults could attest to it. Religious specialists are acutely aware of it.
One could get a hint of these ideas from books of mystics or from studying with mystics, or from learning yoga.
In the same time, these ideas need to be studied and experimented with. Sometimes, such experimentation could be dangerous even on a small scale and even performed by trained specialists. Hence, there are Esoteric forms of religion, where only few are admitted, those who could maintain sanity being exposed to ideas and rituals, which affect a person too deeply.
Some of this knowledge is released in a controlled manner. This way Chasidism emerged.
Sometimes these ideas escape, and results are often disastrous. For example, escape of ideas of Kabala caused disastrous events in Jewish history. Escape of ideas of Sufis causes disastrous developments inside Islam now.
Human mind is weak; it is week if one looks at it from individual side or from social side. There are many ways how insanity could be induced in it.
These ways, as dangerous medicine, should be guarded by specialists. This is why there are Esoteric religious forms.
In childhood, one has a sheltered life, because one is guided by adults. With reaching of adulthood, one perpetually has to make important decisions, when uncertainty is high, and one has to navigate social life and challenging circumstances. One needs skills of control to do so – control of body, control of thought, control of social group, etc. Religion provides such skill set.
One should expect large degree of similarity in this skill set, between different religious forms, because of parallel discoveries of ideas and extensive exchange of ideas. From the other hand, there is substantial difference in the form of methods used to establish control, because different groups of people have different predispositions and hence different forms of methods emerge.
Among such skills are abilities to meditate and focus. In some religious forms methods of prayer are used, public prayer for meditation and some private prayer for focus.
Theoretically, one could bypass religion and learn these skills independently. However practically this does not work. Learning the set of these skills in isolation through yoga or martial arts, very often does not lead to success in life, but leads to just the opposite – social isolation and useless experimentation.
One chooses methods according to one’s nature, and usually it means one learns them inside one’s religion.
Essentially, there is no conflict between Religion and Science – they operate in different areas. However there are plenty of visible conflict between various manifestations of Religion and Science.
When a religious form becomes closely intertwined with political power and hence rigid, it becomes a destabilizing factor instead of being a guardian of stability of society. This is because a rigid society cannot adapt quickly enough to new circumstances.
Such rigidity often manifests itself as limitations of thinking and discussion, which is a death sentence for any intellectual exploration, especially for science. Note that quite often a novel scientific theory could be wrong and a religious point of view could be right. Still, science has to have freedom to generate erroneous ideas, because this is a part of normal process of scientific development.
When a rigid religious form stands on the way of social growth, particularly on the way of grows of knowledge and understanding of the society, socially responsible people challenge some rigid religious dogmas to force transformation of the religious form.
Unfortunately, such challenges acquire notoriety and people exploit them for own benefits. In addition, scientific theories used as challenges become exempt from critical scientific review and this causes the science to become rigid.
Inflexibility of a religious form, inability to adapt to new circumstances is a perpetual problem. Hence one should expect similar challenges in the future. Hopefully, religion will be able to respond to such challenges through achieving of better flexibility. Hopefully, science will be able to restore its critical approach to theories-challenges, when the challenge achieved its goal.
Religion of communists used a few scientific theories as religious dogmas. In addition, they used scientific terminology in their religion (without scientific substance). They use this masquerade to fight all other religious forms. They presented this as “scientific” proof, while there was not a whiff of science. One should not mistake it with real science.
This Abuse of Science continues. Environmentalists use this trick.
When one seeks money or power using justification that something is “scientifically proven”, most likely, it is this case of Abuse of Science.
Religion provides various views on a subject and various interpretations. When one such view and interpretation is taken as an absolute, then rather sooner than later it comes in conflict with reality. Always, such conflict should be interpreted as a problem with one’s thinking, not as a problem with religion and not a problem with some scientific theory, which seemingly contradicts religion.
A case in point is counting of years since Creation. This counting is obviously in conflict with geological theories and theories of development of life forms on the Earth.
The problem is with one’s interpretation of both sides – Religion and Science.
First, Religion is not a source of facts, if you see the conflict between your experience and your understanding of the Book – read the Book again and more carefully and reexamine your preconceptions.
While it is not normal to have logical contradiction between scientific theories (physicists still suffer from logical contradiction between the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics), it is absolutely normal to have logical contradiction between one religious story and another religious store and definitely normal to have a logical contradiction between a religious story and some scientific theory. Perpetual proper examining of these contradictions leads to growth of understanding.
Religious forms change all the time.
Stable religious forms usually start with release of esoteric knowledge. This creates new stable patterns of thinking in the affected group. This even creates new stable patterns in perception (filtering out of perceived information). Also, it creates new stable patterns of body functioning.
Eventually a culture is created, where this form of religion is an integral part. This culture becomes the essence of the society.
This combination of a society with culture and religion perpetually changes, sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly – flipping into new stable states. Sometimes it creates distinctive branches, with distinctive variants of culture and religion sharing common roots.
There are many traps in on the way of such chains of transformation, though. Healthy religious forms have embedded safeguards to avoid these traps.
Religious form is a human creation; it is maintained by people for people’s benefit.
To be useful, it has to adjust to modern times. Often, religious forms emphasize their unique status of being the same, carrying tradition, but they all change, because everything changes.
Religious forms have to change, but sometimes they are slow to do so, because adequate change, where the core part is not jeopardized, is difficult.
When a religious form falls behind in its catching up with time, people start looking for something more useful. Often, they create inadequate transformations of a religious form, which either goes against the core of the religious form, or contradict culture of the society, or simply unstable.
Hence, a useful religious form cannot afford to stay still, it has to adapt.
Because religion assures stability of the society, there is always temptation on the part of holders of political power to deploy it to support this power. It looks as a logical thing to do – with support of religion this particular form of society, which this particular power structure becomes more stable.
This takes many forms.
is theocratic society, where religion and political power are closely
integrated. Communist societies are such or modern
One could observe lower level of integration of the religion and political power, when religious organizations own productive resources. In this case, religious organizations are forced by their position to be a part of the political power.
Some level of integration is observed when political power subsidizers religious organizations. Driven by the need to maintain its organizations religion bends its message in favor of the political power.
The problem with such integration of religion and political power becomes obvious, when one considers some violent societies, which derive their living from destroying and plundering of neighboring societies. These marauding herds could stable and religious. Only their religion is not supporting of stability of human society as a whole, but supporting stability of this sick group. This is like a cancer in the body of humanity, where internal mechanisms which supposed to harmonize this group with the rest of humanity support its separate and destructive functioning.
Every time there is integration of religion and political power there is danger of shifting of religion from humanizing influence into dehumanizing influence.
Religious law is an integral part of many forms of religion. One should not confuse it with familiar legal system though.
Invention of laws and associated system of their modification, interpretation, enforcement and familiarization of the society with them, was a remarkable invention, which was replicated with variations in many societies.
The goal of this social structure is facilitation of social cohesiveness, balancing society in spite of its self-destructive imperfections, and in the end increasing stability of the society.
There are a few situations, when the legal system works well.
Usually people have a consistent logical view on events and circumstances. Different people have different views, which logically contradict each other. This is not a sign of someone’s deficiency of thinking; this is a normal state of events. With such conflict, people could disagree about subjects, which they care about and ready fight for. In such case, uninterested third party facilitation allows finding some solution, which is outside of logical system of either of quarrying parties. If they accept it, the peace is preserved and all parties involved learn something important about life from the incident.
There are people with underdeveloped social side; they run in conflicts with other members of society. When the legal stem is involved and its decisions are enforced, the person learns and the peace is preserved.
There are sociopaths; the legal system allows their separation and protection of the society from them.
Some other social structures could play role of the legal system. For example, heads of extended family, tribal elderly, and rulers provide similar services to society. However, when the society is large or heterogeneous, the distributed decision-making system as “the rule of law” is much more efficient and less susceptible to corruption.
Creation and modification of the system of laws is a difficult process. Instilling respect for law even more difficult and requires perpetual effort. Hence, it is tempting to attach religious significance to law. This happened before and this is happening in modern times.
While religion successfully plays role of guardian of morality and while it is very helpful when parties to legal proceedings share same religious views, the consequences of such fusion of the legal system and religion are negative. Both sides are damage through such fusion – the legal system and the religion.
The legal system needs freedom of modification and interpretation of law to be in touch with times and social situation. Laws reinforced with religious backing are not modifiable, their interpretation is limited. Hence the entire system becomes inflexible and counterproductive – instead of being useful to the society it makes the society inflexible and reduces its stability.
Even when the law of land is derived verbatim from religious sources, it should be possible to drop it from the legal canon or interpret it by members of legal community, not clergy.
From religious point of view, perpetual narrow interpretation of religious laws in the way, which is needed for assuring peace and stability of the community, practically eliminates numerous other subtle uses of the part of religion represented by religious laws.
In many cases, this causes even more damage to religion. It becomes rigid; its interpretations do not adjust to situation or to an individual and it becomes detrimental to the success of members of society and to the stability of the society as a whole.
It is obvious that mentality and perception of religious people is “restricted” – adheres to some form, limited in some way. It is especially visible, when one observes someone, who follows a different religion.
It is tempting to think, that life without religion should provide freedom from such limitations. However in practice, an attempt to live such life usually leads either to falling into some other religion or cult (usually a primitive one), or to some other state, where thought and behavior is caged.
There is an ancient Greek myth about young fellow, who saw own reflection and could not take his yes away in admiration, eventually he was turned into a flower. Applying this myth to people preoccupied with their appearances would be a waste of time, also they often benefit mightily from this attention to their appearances. More interesting application comes from an analogy with some people afflicted with a peculiar psychological defect.
Some people to stay free of influences developed the way of listening to their thoughts and their feeling in evaluation of the situation and in decision making with efficient filtering out opinions of other people. They hung out with likewise minded people and avoid all, who has different opinions. This is a peculiar form of sociopath. This kind of approach is functioning, but like Narcissus, the person of this type is like a plant, someone with atrophied social side. In the end, this is not freedom, but extreme limitation.
An attempt to stick to logically consistent picture of the world leads to extreme self-limitation, because it leads to rejection of benefits of communication with others, who are obviously not logical, and inability to grab an opportunity, which does not fit in a logical picture.
Constructions of mind as literature, theater, music, etc. are used for entertainment and some learning. However, they are often used as a substitute for reality. They are not threatening and immersing in them, especially collective immersing in them provides illusion of freedom and control. In fact, it leads to detachment from reality, and living in limited environment, in a kind of self-constructed and self-guarded cage.
Slavery is first of all a state of mind. In ancient times, the will of a person captured during the war had to be broken to convert the person into a slave. External circumstances alone did not do the trick.
In communist religion, a special principle occupies a prominent place. This principle states that there is a so called “necessity”, which could be understood logically and which usually reflects needs of one’s society. It is claimed that this “necessity” has to take priority over needs of an individual and has to define one’s behavior. Communists insist that when a person understands this “necessity” and acts in accordance with it, the person is free.
Who formulate this “necessity”? Communist leaders do. Not only they formulate it, they perpetually indoctrinate people to not deviate from a prescribed behavior.
The substitute of decision making made by individuals with decision making of their masters is slavery. This is not freedom. The willing participation in such decision-making process through “understanding” of “necessity” is deeply engrained slavery.
Some individuals in pursuit of personal power and other personal benefits position themselves as religious leaders in a group, which they carefully cultivate. With skill, with use of group dynamic to their advantage, playing on weaknesses of members of the group, sometimes they acquire remarkable influences. Some of them even start believing their stories and believing that they are outstanding individuals with the purpose, when the group responds well.
Members of the group willingly submit to the will of these leaders, effectively become slaves of these leaders. Degree of control of leaders over these slaves could be so great, that sometimes they could overcome their instinct of self-preservation.
The ancient text of the Bible is an example of the Core part of religion for many religious forms. The text does not change, but its interpretations change all the time.
This is a text, which meaning is hidden in a unique way.
Everyone interprets experience, including texts according to filters of one’s perception. Sometimes, the experience or the text is so subtle, that what is influenced by the filters overshadows it.
The Bible is an ultimate text of this kind of subtlety. The more rigid are filters, the less one understands the text.
For a rigid person the Book serves as a mirror – it sees imperfect mechanisms of own perception and nothing else, and this infuriates the person. If the person is self-destructive, which is often the case with rigid inadequate people, then the person dismisses the Book with anger.
A person, who is open to growth, the Book is an opportunity to challenge own rigid ideas and rigid filters of perception. When such person sees a logical contradiction between a story in the Book and own experience, the person challenges own theories, points of view and finds new approaches, which have been not accessible before. When such person sees a logical contradiction inside the text of the Book, he uses this as an opportunity to explore the versatility of the language, where words have multiple meanings, and explore multiple meanings of the text.
This way, the Book gradually opens up, as the person sheds layers of own limitations.
Even works of literature are perceived differently, when one rereads them years later. New experiences, new hopes and worries let person to see the text from a different point of view.
This is even more so with the Book. Each time a person reads the Book, something new should be discovered.
The discovery is caused by person’s growth during such reading. This growth should be the purpose of reading of the Book.
When one reads or listens to something new, it is natural to supplement the stream of information with preexisting internal images and organize the new information using these images. It is inevitable that culture induced images pop-up in one’s head, when one reads this Book. Some images come from paintings, some from commentaries, etc. One wants to think that there is some passed alone knowledge from ancient times, which one absorbed and which is should help to put in a logically coherent schema the information which one receives through reading the book.
However, this is a sure way to blind oneself.
A normal person wants to extend control over circumstances, social interactions, improve stability of own existence, reduce uncertainty of the future. A normal person wants to be able to make decisions, when the person is ready for that.
Essentially, freedom means exactly that – the ability to make decisions in one’s area, when one is mentally prepared to take control and a normal person wants to be free.
There are some external limitations to such extension of control, but the most severe limitations are internal. In many cases there are ways around external limitations if only a person is not trapped by own filters of perceptions, twisted system of values, undeveloped feelings and emotions, undeveloped ability to think logically, etc.
Because of these internal limitations the person usually falls in some form of religion, which resonates with them and reinforces them. They become double trapped by their deficiencies and by deficiencies of the religious form and religious community.
In addition, these internal limitations invite predators, who reinforce these limitations and enslave the person. Escaping from this trap becomes double difficult.
Such reinforced deficiencies are the cause of twisted perception, perpetually wrong decision-making and suffering as a consequence.
Some people could find the way out of this trap acting alone, maybe with some minimal help, but without any supporting community, supporting culture or supporting religion. In some cases, as in the case when one lives in a very sick society, it could be the only available way. However, for the majority of people it is too difficult and too dangerous – too many pitfalls and too few tools available.
It should be the easier way to grow out of own limitations, should be easier way to Liberation. The easier way exists, thanks to many people who went through for many generations it and cleared it for consequent generations.
Many religious forms are dead-ends, they provide some benefits, but reinforce internal limitations. Remembering benefits, the person stays trapped by own reinforced limitations.
One could argue, that any form of religion, which does not have built-in mechanism of stimulation of those who adhere to it to grow out of own limitations, inevitable becomes such trap.
From the other hand, people are notoriously prone to falling into religion. If they do not have one, they either find it or invent it. If they are averse to the idea of religion, they will find a primitive form of religion, which bills itself as something else.
One needs perpetual support to be able to avoid this trap. If one is so weak, that one inevitably falls into a religion, then one has to find a suitable religion, which is kind of anti-religion. One has to find a form of religion and a community of religious people, which rejects all other forms of religion and helps one stay clear from these other forms of religion.
It is insufficient to have a jealous form of religion, which protects from falling into traps of other forms of religion. This form of religion could be a trap itself. One could find examples in history, when a political ruler elevated a particular form of polytheistic religion into an exclusive one for political reasons.
One needs a form of religion, which would induce one’s growth and liberation from own deficiencies.
Religious law is ideally suited to support growth, individual growth and growth of the society. It is different from law of the land, which serves as a fence protecting members of the society from venturing into destructive to their social sides areas. Religious law works when one gets in touch with it.
If one lived the day and did not steal anything, one fit into the boundaries of the law of the land. However, to benefit from the religious law prohibiting stealing, one has to encounter some desire to act in the suspicious manner, one has to examine this desire and realize that satisfying it would be a variant of stealing and one has to block this desire and not act on it. Only then one makes the step beyond boundaries of own understanding, beyond boundaries created by own filters of perception, beyond boundaries limiting ones ability to control the situation.
One has to find a religious form, which supports this use of religious law and does not impose the religious law as an additional boundary to fit in.
Learning how to advance a logical system, as a branch of science, practically always requires intensive interaction with those who do it. Creative activity cannot be learnt from observation of its results.
Intense interaction with an appropriate community is needed even in large degree in the case of learning to grow and in the process of growing.
This interaction is often not conscious, it could be supported with reading of texts written long ago by members of such community, but it cannot be replaced with studying. Live interaction is crucial.
When a person runs in conflict resolution based on legal system, one could and possibly should learn new things about reality. In a healthy community, this could be facilitated with the system of arbitrage, where arbiters-judges are selected from the same community. This way something that is not religious law acquires qualities of such law, it becomes a tool helping to grow.
The community as a whole could establish some form of religious low as a law of land, as a part of legal system. However, this should be done only as a will of people, not as a religious law imposed on people. As a will of people it is a subject of discussion and could be repealed.