Friday, April 22, 2011

Not with a Bang, but a Whimper

The following is my commentary on someone's idea that religions create problems and then offer solutions. Someone else responded to this idea by suggesting that the artificial problem-solution dynamic occurs outside of religion proper.  I pick up where this comment left off.  

I agree with the comment that points to this dilemma (a more or less fake problem with a more or less fake solution) outside of religion: it is endemic in politics (which subsists on chronic fear and incompetence), education (which subsists on chronic ignorance and incompetence), the health-care industry (which subsists on chronic illness), and the stock market (which subsists on chronic ignorance, fear, and incompetence).

To be brief, almost all of the people who minister to our human needs in any capacity these days instinctively do so in such a way as to make us parasitically dependent on them. They want to keep us as a regular customer (or voter), and to that end they buy us off with promises to save us from otherwise irredeemable deficiencies in our individual and corporate selves. If we were to wake up tomorrow healthy, intelligent, self-reliant, and fearless, they would suddenly have nothing to do (and would have to confront a drastic alteration in their own way of being, which depends on our chronic dependence). The real problem with modern civilized life, as I see it, is that we have lost sight of health, goodness, wholeness, and integrity as objects to be pursued for their own sake. Instead of going for complete human development (as many people as possible relying as little as possible on outside input to survive), we go for minimal human development (as many people as possible as reliant on others as possible without pushing the others beyond what they can bear). All of our institutions are becoming the kind of dead-end trap that the LDS church currently is. "Check your brain at the door, take a number, and do whatever the nice man in the suit says: everything will be fine."

This is my real problem with life at the moment. My faith crisis is not confined to one particular institution or mode of being: I am suddenly looking at the whole ruddy mess of human society and seeing the same stupid cancer of nonsense eating everything. How can I speak out against this while feeding my family? Where can I work without feeling that my integrity is being sold to dupe people out of their human dignity? How can I achieve the level of moral independence necessary to come clean to my supervisors about how I really feel when they talk to me in serious tones about "the demands of the profession" (which I increasingly see as code for "we must protect the status quo, no matter what")? These are the tough questions that keep me up at night. These are the issues I would like to hear a prophet (or anyone) address openly.


  1. Might I -- with great humility and a smattering of profoundest wisdom -- suggest that this view represents a truth for only one subset of the religiously/ politically/ financially/ healthfully (um... medicinally? Whatever) active?

    I think that religious -- or political, or what-have-you -- fanatics tend to become dependent on the services they perceive as coming from their Supreme Source of Belief, as you describe above. They can indeed "check their brains at the door," because they have already determined that their faith, political party, views on health and fitness (*coughcoughpaleocoughcough*), etc. is/are perfect in every way, and the guaranteed way to greatest truth, knowledge, and world peace, if only the unbelieving heathens/members of the other party/fat, lazy slobs would just get with the program. Such fanatics are comfortable in the sense of entitlement to the "promises to save [them] from otherwise irredeemable deficiencies" made by their institutions of choice. And when that institution turns out to have a flaw or otherwise betrays them, they can fall hard from their holier-than-thou pedestal.

    But being an active participant in your community or institution of choice does not necessarily require fanaticism. The politically active citizen participates because she wants to take part in building up a community that brings about good, without necessarily expecting that community to solve all her problems. The healthfully (?!) active person tries to maintain her own health, taking advantage of medical or other scientific advances when helpful, but not relying solely on doctors and prescriptions to make her "well" without any effort on her part. The religiously active person tries to find her own spiritual peace in relation to a community and God who bring her peace as she participates, without expecting all of her problems to be prayed away as a result. For these people, the participation and the individual endeavor are the purpose of participation: not the perks, benefits, or other rewards of being a card-carrying member.

    I apologize for the overly-simplistic, abstract, and even stereotyping verbage here: my comment is already too unwieldy as it is, and I hope my general meaning is clear enough, if somewhat weak in terms of point-by point argument.

    If I have an argument, it is that the cynical, "holier-than-any-institution" attitude posited in this comment is just as fanatically prescriptive as the ignorance, fear, and incompetence-pushing institution that you describe above. The person who does "achieve [a] level of moral independence" can do so within a community or without one, but it seems to be pandering to someone's party line to claim that such independence cannot exist inside any institution, simply because you did not find it there. Communities and institutions do not necessarily have to impose themselves on others: sometimes it is the members of them who take such impositions on themselves. Own your own integrity without imposing it on others, my friend.

    Too beside the point?

  2. I really hope you are right, Kirsti, and even if you are not, I think you should be. As I see it, my real problem is (consistently) one of thinking in black-and-white terms: in these terms, I only see best- or (increasingly) worst-case scenarios, neither of which play out in real life (at least not without significant prodding or autosuggestion). It is just hard to find a way of being that is different from what I have been (good and bad) in the past. It is hard to trust people when you feel like almost everyone you interact with outside of family and a few friends is either malicious (the minority) or uninformed (the majority).

    I used to find a measure of solace in church connections insofar as these crossed capitalism. Unfortunately, I chose a career path which led ultimately to my losing the emotional epistemology which I now see was the main (but certainly not the only or the only possible) substitute for money in making me an object of interest to fellow believers. I don't want to spend the rest of my life trying to buy influence with people through money or epistemology (faith) that I do not really have. I want to offer them myself (the way I really am) as something really useful to them. In many ways, I am like a fish out of water and without prospects of returning to the pond I came from: I need to find water somewhere, even though I cannot get it where I used to.

    At least I still have real family and friends. My hard road into self-conscious adulthood over the past few years has shown me many without. Things could surely be worse for me.