John Michael Greer has continued to bring to light how a religious impulse underlies the current governmental crises. Not as the superficial coverage narrates a battle between conservatives and progressives, but how all these contending forces share in the overall religion of Progress. Reason with a capital R, as much as Fundamentalism, is just another manifestation of a religious impulse. The seeming paradox, the logjam of unintended consequences clogging the efforts of the champions of Reason, only make sense if we recognize they are acting out rituals. There is no more wisdom in their machinations than can be found in any other decaying remnant of any dying religion.
Our moment of clarity makes this revelation possible. As the explanations and actions of believers in the Religion of Progress – in its many guises, some apparently contradicting others, yet all worshiping the same underlying faith in salvation and the manifestations of Ego. As their actions reach the level of absurdity we see around us today, it is easier to see through their claim to the keys to reality and see that they have not transcended their humanity, only striven with all their might to destroy all that life has made possible.
Does this still need explanation?
There is a complete disconnect between the aims of any and all our institutions and what they actually accomplish.
Efforts to increase wealth impoverish us all – everyone, including all of the so-called “winners.”
Efforts to ensure security completely ignore the most pressing threats, chasing after chimeras with totems. Lewis Lapham, in the Harper’s Magazine of the mid-seventies, opened my eyes to what the post WWII military has always been about. Its focus on shamanic totems of power whose magic is potent only so long as they are not used. Invincible weapons, so long as their opponents are willing to fight “by the rules.” Victories declared on the basis of a sliding scale of accounting, mirroring the fantasies of modern economics.
Two of the most glaring examples:
The Fukushima nuclear disaster is ongoing. This single nuclear complex poses a horrific threat, already well on its way to being made good. It is devastating on a global scale. The Northern Pacific – half of the world’s greatest ocean – facing unprecedented contamination threatening our biosphere at its beating heart. One of thousands of nuclear facilities around the world. Each with a roughly equivalent potential to devastate life. A legacy of killing and mutating radiation potent for hundreds of thousands of years, putting all other environmental threats into the “overkill” category.
The world’s institutional response?
Even if there is some “heroic effort” going on “behind-the-scenes” to stop what is essentially unstoppable, the lack of perspective in our institutional bodies’ responses, their multiple charts of “risk assessments….” The level of response any awareness of what is at stake would demand of anyone acting responsibly, would be visible. All the furtive secrecy and clandestine activity purportedly for the benefit of our mutual security is no more than mummery.
The same goes for any of the other actual threats buried under a dominant narrative that only makes sense if we look at their actions as primarily acting out religious rituals.
It is hard to avoid anti-religious assumptions that clog our public discourse. As JMG has pointed out, if a culture has no access to other cultures it does not even have a word for religion. Its beliefs merely are. They are Truth and that’s the end of it. It’s only when cultures face each other that the term is needed as a way to disparage the errors in belief of those others. Our difficulty is in finding ways to look at religion without tangling our selves in this trip-wire of assumption.
It helps to understand that belief does underlie any attempt to create, discover, or impose meaning. To look at religious questions from an attitude of Dissensus requires that we accept the universality of the religious impulse. It is unavoidable. We need to be aware of how we turn to it, instead of hiding behind a delusion that our beliefs, what we do or say or think, are automatically right while everyone else is automatically wrong because their beliefs are different.
There are examples of actual progress, made for a time, under specific circumstances. They differ from the belief in Progress we now have. It is in the automatic quality of an entitlement to Progress, or Justification, within these assumptions that is at fault. This is how they delude us.
The atheist, the “rationalist” reaction to conventional religion is just another internecine conflict. Another front in the war between fundamentalists of two of the most popular world religions. Unless we recognize this we cannot begin to make sense of why things are playing out as they are.
The powerful are not omniscient, no matter how much they strive after it. Nor are they omnipotent. They only believe they are. When we enter into a belief in general conspiracy – there are plenty of actual specific acts of conspiracy going on, that’s another story – we are distracted. We remain within a circle of those who share a belief in the elite’s claims to power.
No matter how much noise they make, the roar, the actual mayhem and destruction their totems unleash upon the world, none of it is directed with any wisdom, valorous or evil. All the flow-charts of that grand oxymoron, “military intelligence,” such a large part of the current spectacle, does not – and never will – fulfill their master’s deepest desires. They, along with all the rest of us are due to be engulfed by the enormity their beliefs do not allow them to comprehend.
The vacuum left by the collapse of our institutional structures against the backdrop of our wider ecological disaster, will be met by other religious impulses. Some recast from older sources and some growing out of a new religious sensibility beginning to show itself. They will provide us with ways in which to organize our lives as we come to face the growing darkness.
It is important to recognize this is not a change in kind. What we have now is a religious organization of human response to existence. It is not that our institutions and centers of power are religious in nature that is problematic. It is that they belong to a variety of religion that is death-worshiping and whose underlying aim is to destroy everything living. And, that its aims are hidden from many of us and even from its practitioners.
This is not another evidence of “conspiracy.” There is no secret cabal plotting our demise – at least not one with their hands on the levers of power. Those in power, visibly or secretly, are trapped within their religious views. Their actions bring on certain consequences because of the holes in their view of what-is. A belief in organized evil is at the heart of our failed religions, Fundamentalist and Atheistic alike.
Recognizing this does not leave us only with the option of considering them “nice” and only “misguided.” The powerful likely do think they are plotting a great victory. It is just that belief in great victories is itself a grand delusion.
We cannot move past our current condition. We cannot do anything but react to events, unless we can see how these mechanisms are at work.
This is the”business end” of compassion. Compassion is not some free-floating nice feeling. It is a standard that we apply to see through divisions, an ability to imagine our selves in any other position. Compassion, by way of a radical empathy for the condition of any and all, including those who most threaten us, is not simply a matter of good form, of morality. It is a precondition to avoiding the most obvious pitfalls of delusion. Unless we see how our enemies are motivated. How and where they have fallen short of the tremendous task of maintaining contact with what-is. We will only continue to react. Continue to repeat the same errors, compounding all of our difficulties, feeding the enormity we face.
It has been liberating to be reminded of the primacy of a religious impulse. That meaning cannot maintain contact with our greater reality without taking an approach to divinity into awareness.
The challenge is not to “grow” a religion. Just as it isn’t to “fight” someone else’s. The challenge is to connect with a sphere of being that has always been important to us. To connect with, well, with everything, and see how it all manifests across the many fields of being our attention has access to.
Is this an answer to at least some of our pressing questions?
This would have been obvious at most points in human existence. It’s religion.
Our naiveté in this regard is another symptom of how far we’ve become alienated by the workings of a particular, if wide ranging sect, this religion of death we have been trapped in.
As with any other sphere of action. The hardest part is discovering what is essential, what is basic. After that, the rest follows of its own accord. So long as we stay with what is essential. Stick with the basics.
This is a big one. It’s religion.