It happens subtly and sometimes without notice. When you are around it as a norm and around people who make a point to “believe” and have faith in the arbitrary, it naturally feels funny and looks and sounds silly, but over time can start to seem kinda normal and OK. Like the crab that doesn’t scream when the water is slowly heated even though it eventually kills him.
I personally fell into it with both Christianity and Islam. Enamored with what I read at first I took great effort to do what Jesus seemed to have taught or what was most admirable and rational in the faith that seemed to come from his teachings. Meanwhile I took the weird religion part, like Santa and the Easter bunny, with a grain of salt. I craved the wisdom and insight I got from the teachings of Jesus and at another time the beautiful self sacrificial leadership of Mohammad (though both were hyped up far too much by all the fuss and pomp).
I was alright being in the group and faith when pressure to conform was aloof. A beautiful and really classy girlfriend who had grown up in the church inadvertently pushed me in further (it happened without me realizing it).
I started to be accepted into groups and “the club”. People made commitments to support my priorities of overseas organic farming/agroecology and rural development mixed liberally with their priority of spreading their faith amongst Muslims. I started to conform and talk more and more as they did… and to get weird. My beliefs and behavior changed without me realizing, I suppose to fit the expectations of the people with whom I felt belonging. Suddenly everyone believed in me and was so supportive. I felt like I belonged. I started to lose myself in it.
I almost lost myself but I kind of pulled back, shook my head, and looked around for a better vantage point on life. I partly came to my senses when I was in the mountains of Central Asia spending all my time in agrarian Muslim communities in Nookat, South Kyrgyzstan and Osh. My friends were simple livers with a simple balanced belief system moderated by the realities of life, nature, and community. They had their rational senses in the driver seat, not ideologies. I began to live culturally as an agrarian Muslim and in community while kind of still Christian as well. Labels didn’t matter because life contextualized it all.
I was still kind of lost in it all when I married a
My perspective at the time was as a sort of partial Christian with faith rooted only in the teachings of Jesus and not in the doctrines of the contemporary religion. I had the additional point of reference of an intimate knowledge of Central Asian agrarian Muslim villages and the sweet families and peaceful grassroots individuals that inhabit them. Suddenly the world was going crazy around me and it was centered on two prime groups that I knew intimately well.
Certainly there were a ton of wonderful people, but on the whole on all issues across the board the group think was as easily lunacy as rational and sketchy even at its best and the people were too easily drawn to believe nonsense.
Suddenly “Christians” were dangerous at the flip of a switch. Conscientious people were living a lie, talking a lie, and willing to forgo more rational pursuits to expend their time, money, or energy to perpetuate and grow the following. As such under the guise of “belief”, masses were not substantially grounded and were truly vulnerable. The same could be said of other sects in our time or as in time past the Bolsheviks or the Nazi’s; it is not strictly about religion but more a state of chosen intellect and mindset that creates sociological dysfunction.
As a kid I didn’t go all out for sports for the same reason I couldn’t carry on that way with religion. It’s a bit of truth with a whole lot of arbitrary game that too many people choose to get really serious about. To be fair, I was one who got really serious about it (to my shame now in hindsight). The people who are role models wholeheartedly take arbitrary sides (some follow their culture or ethnic path and some just choose). They make pseudo enemies, split into sparring groups with some very unimportant tenants differentiating them. The tenants or “dogma” are made important “by faith” in time to argue and posture with others about. They (or we) expend their/our lives for a game of make-believe because… as the saying goes: “The devil is in the details”.
Masses of people distracted by this crap are dangerous and it is pretty ridiculous in the effect on nature and the planet as well. Overpopulation commonly happens because of an inappropriate cultural take on religion. We see people just making more and more babies to live in greater and greater disease and poverty pushed onward by blind faith. Pretty soon they are too many for a region and have to start migrating to find a new place. This is Latin America, Bangladesh, parts of India, places in Africa, it has been Europe, and so many places all around the world. Someday it may be our little churchy town if we don’t get our heads screwed on straight first. It is nonsensical but it doesn’t have to make sense when it is bolstered by religious faith… or does it?
I once gave a talk to a church that some got and complimented me on, but the leaders were really upset about.
The core of my speech was that deep spiritual truths are like gold. They are sort of hidden amongst low value gravel and rock. When seekers find the gold we refine it to where it is small, condensed, portable. In its simplified pure form it has great value. It wasn’t valuable when it was an ounce of gold within a ton of rock. It is when it is refined, concise, condensed, and recognizable for its value. Once refined it’s easily carried around and traded while holding a lot of value. It serves the bearer well. It is easily identifiable no matter where you go and you barely notice the weight or bulk when you are going about life with it in your pocket or rucksack.
Deep spiritual truth and knowledge is this same way. We find it with great difficulty and experience and we and our people refine it and refine it over long years and generations to its simplest and greatest value. It becomes religion, wisdom, or knowledge, in pure precious form that can serve the bearer well.
But what can happen when things take a wrong turn and people get spacey in overzealous non-contextual religion? Or when religion (or educational systems) are hijacked for ulterior motives. We can begin to mix in fluff and low value additions that are appropriate for a time and a place only… little by little like the crab heating slowly unnoticeably in the water. At first they are just culture… optional, spice and life. Often they are beautiful in their context. Other times they were rancid perversions from day one. But they can get mixed in over time in religious dogma and doctrine and carry on when their context is long lost or past. Maybe its an amazing mysterious allegory that tells a difficult story to those with a mind to perceive that some chump decides must be believed literally. Over time we can lose easy identification of any valuable knowledge inside of religion. At some point we may lose track of the gold for the rocks though we are sure it is there somewhere.
As I spoke this message I went on: “Then well meaning leaders and role models, knowing there is something valuable but not knowing how to separate or what to let go, pressure and guilt the people into carrying around the whole mess. It is heavy. Some who are excessively devoted, bored, or have too much free time, enjoy the challenge and become exemplary role models. For many it is burdensome and nonsensical but it is repeatedly claimed to be important or they are told they are to “believe” it is important and there are rewards attached. It’s like having people haul around boulders for the specs of gold contained intermixed within. So much energy is expended that the expense far exceeds the value of the gold. It wears people down and wears them out, wastes people’s lives on ridiculously petty things, and degrades civilization and the functionality of society as a whole.” In a historic process a populous is distracted and made impotent to deal socially with their own problems and increasingly must lean to professional leadership and pseudo-rulers who are prone to corruption… and society devolves where it needed to evolve.
My point then at age 24 was ‘let’s not do this. Let’s not continue this mistake. Let’s refine and simplify and focus on what is truly important in life’. Let’s steward our culture, our religion, our science. Screw what other weirdo Christians, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, ‘science’ worshipers, or any religion, group or culture are doing if it is stupid. Walk your own route if you need to.
When it gets weird let’s just step back, open our eyes wide, use our minds to think and our intuition to understand. Reason, and understand better steps forward. Let’s make sure our lives make sense.
Let’s make sense of our lives and live importantly!