Religion has historically offered solace to the duress of life’s fragility, offering hope and comfort when there appears to be none. The word “religion” means “to bind together,” reflecting humankind’s awareness that the psyche is divided and some unification of this schism is needed for the resulting anxiety to be handled effectively. But acknowledging this duress is challenging to the human ego, which offers us a steady diet of pabulum and diversion with which to amuse ourselves rather than boldly opening one’s heart to the existential tumult that is always simmering beneath the surface of “civilized’ life. (“Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Henry David Thoreau)
This escapism can be fatal to religion. This insight is what led Nietzsche to declare in the 19th century that, “God is dead,” as he saw that human culture was creating an alienation that could eventually be catastrophic to life. The alienation that meaninglessness can produce often creates an existential crisis world that religion could help and alleviate were it not encapsulated by the culture and thus disallowing it to fulfill its function of directing the soul toward the numinous. It in the domain of the numinous that the heart can explore the mystery which is intrinsic to life, though it was very disconcerting to a world that was increasingly rationalistic. This mystery can facilitate an integration of body and soul that will allow humans to live meaningfully in a world that that would otherwise be bewildering or baffling.
Religion, however, is not the only antidote to this problem of meaninglessness. The metaphor present in meaningful religion also finds expression in the artistic and literary worlds, artists and writers being capable of using their respective mediums to put humankind in touch with imagery that can facilitate an experience of this numinous.
I’m back, after a long hiatus. The “Get a Life Gods” intervened and made me deal with reality for a bit but I’ve done penance and now am free to frivolously self-indulge with blogging again! And what could be more frivolous than to “hold forth” about religion!
The escapism of religion becomes more apparent to me almost daily even as my faith deepens; and the “deepening” is taking place sincerely and with some semblance of intellectual and emotional integrity. I hope!!! It helps me to understand that Karl Marx was right, religion is the opiate of the masses and being part of the mass…as is the case with us all…I must take my daily hit, no? I’m not being completely facetious here as I do believe there is an opiate dimension to faith and acknowledgement of this actually gives me comfort. Failing to appreciate the “opiate dimension” of faith leaves one with the ego-pursuit of blind escapism in some neurotic or even psychotic desire to escape reality which I don’t think spiritual teachers like Jesus had in mind. I think Jesus knew that, “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” and that we need moments when we indulge with the comfort of a platitude or banality. If we have any humility remaining in our spirituality we can accept this. But most of my experience with my Christian faith has not allowed any such humility and I don’t think it was only myself who has been, and is, plagued with this spiritual arrogance.
In spiritual culture…and spirituality is a culture in some sense…there is an emphasis on “getting it right” and “breaking on through to the other side” or even having “the real McCoy” compared with those spiritual plebeians who are wasting their time in the “shallow waters.” But this attitude is the essence of the Pharisaism that Jesus took umbrage against. If God blesses us with an occasional dollop of humility…or if our arrogance can abate a moment to receive it…we can meekly accept the grace of a simple platitude or banality and perhaps be less condemning of those who live there