Sunday, December 5, 2010

A rebuttal to Bathazars post.

I tried to post this to Balthazars blog, but I have too many characters so I will post it here. I am sure that most of my readers also follow his blog, but just in case THIS is the post I am replying to.


Balthazar, I am usually right on with your thinking but I have to say that you are WAY off on this one in a number of ways.

1. First and foremost, Esoteric traditions are not made to appeal to most people. They provide a direct experience and self-transformation and all that you say that they do, but all of that is NOT what 90% of the world wants from religion. To borrow a term from Ken Wilbur they are not looking for transcendence, they are looking for translation.

People want a faith tradition to tell answer basic questoions (ie: translate the world). What happens when I die? How do I be a good person? What is the meaning of it all? The reality is that most people in this life are not mystics or magicians yet they need a spiritual outlet and spiritual guide. And that is OK. Most people are not mystics and not meant to be mystics. The roles of Pistis and Gnosis are VERY different. Complimentary but different.

Paganism is going through the change of its esoteric core growing an exoteric body of people around it who like the festivals and seasonal rites but have no interest in Witchcraft. This is a good thing overall for the growth of the current.

2. If you take any Diasporic or esoteric religion you mention above and make it serve the same function and sheer size of population that an exoteric religion does it, will become just as susceptible to corruption as any other. A look at the history of Haiti, or neighborhoods like the Bronx with a large enough Santeria population will spell that out for you real quick.

Catholicism has done a lot of harm in Africa by preaching against condoms, on the other hand African Traditional Religion has also done much harm in recomending people NOT take AIDS meds that are available and instead relying upon "traditional" cures like raping virgins, usually VERY young girls. Think this is exaggerated? One of my best friends counselled battered and raped women in South Africa - she will tell you different.

2. The Athiests argument is entirely based on straw man versions of the religions they attack and selective evidence. Yes horrible things happen in the same of religion. Horrible things happen in the same of politics. Horrible things happen in the same of national, tribal, and ethnic pride. This does not make these things evil, it makes them of the world. Human nature is such that we do shitty things out of self interest and use whatever is nearby to justify it. Religion is quite convenient. Without religion it is easy to see how evil men would find some other justification.

On the other hand it is not so easy to see what would replace exoteric religion for what it has done good. I know a woman who just recently gave up everything to go help start a school in Honduras. Another who dedicates her life to serving those on death row. Others who have risked their lives to feed and shelter people in war zones where even the UN and secular agencies have pulled out. There are entire countries in Africa that were only held together by churches who were standing up and talking peace and order when the government was dissolved. In all these cases people have been moved by Jesus or the teachings of the Buddha.

Cases like this are ignored by the Athiests or written off as humanities naturally good inclination despite religion. BULLSHIT.

3. You mention in your comment that you are speaking of all exoteric religions. What great evils have been committed in the name of Buddhism? This has been something that the Athiests have had a hard time with. All the talk of Dogma and Afterlife that you do above has absolutely no bearing on Buddhist or Taoist thought.

4. Your statement that the African Diasporic religions hold older unbroken traditions than other religions is unsupported by anything. In what way is it an older unboken line than other religions? The lines of the ATR's are no less (or more) broken than any other religion and definately not older by any means.

Again, I think you are an amazing writer, a great Rootworker and a very spiritual fellow but in this you are dead wrong. Your post really boils down to the same old "your religions suck and mine is awesome" argument that causes the worst religious conflicts.

20 comments:

Dhr.Balthazar said...

"your religions suck and mine is awesome"

But Jason its TRUE! :)

Fair enough. I can see how you get that from my post. Where I probably went wrong in my presentation of the idea was by contrasting the differences too heavily with mainstream religion and not enough with scientific materialism.

Do I think exoteric religious movements have some value?

hmmm... not so sure I do. But then again I do lean toward anarchic modes thought. As far as I can tell exoteric religions simply become political bodies. Once the theology becomes codified and there is central command unit installed then I personally think it is a dead shell. That shell might be used by people with good intentions but more often than not it gets taken up by psychopaths and tyrants, it seems.

Check out buddhism in Japan and Korea historically if you want to scratch up some dirt on the dharma.

Point taken about Santeria in the Bronx.

As for AIDS and raped virgins in S.A. Lived there most of my life - and that has FAR more to do with abject poverty and precious little with traditional Xhosa and Zulu belief systems. People simply can't pay for the medication. They can barely buy enough corn flour for porridge. They resort to extreme Sangoma treatments out of desperation not preference.

If you want to make a case against a problematic ATR practice in S.A. I would recommend you check out the issue of ritual circumcisions among Xhosa boys instead.

ConjureMan Ali said...

There is two factors (among others) that seem to be forgotten by people.

1. The common factor in all of these equations is *people.* It doesnt matter whether one follows esoteric or exoteric forms of faith or religion, both are suscepticle to being "degraded" and therefore corrupt. We can use any excuse we want be it religions, political, or economic, but it comes down to people, not the nature of the religion itself. Just because something is "exoteric" doesn't automatically make it less important or somehow of less value. Such thinking really is no less intolerant than how main stream religions may look at "heretics." It turns into a "my god can beat up your god" bit.

2. Arguments against religion often stem from those who see it as some restriction of individualism. They see dogma and sheep mentality. Yet such mentality is not limited to religions of the mainstream. The ATRs can be just as dogmatic and esoteric paths are just as limiting.

Finally, little known fact, suicide bombings are not the result of "main-stream religions" but rather esoteric paths. The Ismailis were an esoteric sect who relied on subverision, assasination, and other violent methods to get their objective. They were not mainstream muslims. Their practices are adopted by modern day Muslim radicals who have quoted such doctrines. These again are not "mainsteam."

So the source of these practices were passed down from an esoteric group to another marginal group within a religion.

IanC said...

I recently ranted about directly related topics at: http://intothemound.blogspot.com/2010/11/curmudgeonly-crankiness.html
rather than repost here...

IanC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

Jason, excellent post as usual. You covered a number of points I hadn't considered.

This is a bit late but I couldn't post while at work. Balthazar, you are not sure of the value of exoteric religious movements. I live in the South; in a city known as the buckle of the Bible Belt. I am surrounded by Evangelical Christians as well as Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus who are mainstream adherents. Almost to a person, they credit their religion for helping them to be better people. They work, pay taxes, raise families, attend religious services, donate to charities, volunteer, and help their neighbors in need. I know businessmen and entrepenuers whose religious beliefs guide their actions. They provide goods and services to consumers and create jobs for people to earn incomes so that they can provide for themselves and their families. None are perfect, but they are all good people. I would argue a number of them have as advanced a consciousness and spirituality as many esotericists and mystics I am aware of.

I work in the social services field. Almost all of my coworkers are mainstream religious and have chosen this field as a "calling" of their faith. Some are familiar with my "peculiar" views. Although some are put off, most are accepting and are happy to work with me. Some I call friends.

I am further reminded of the role of religious convictions of people throughout history who have endeavored to help humanity by opposing slavery and imperialism, working for female suffrage and civil rights for all, helping the poor, the homeless and the disabled. Most if not all were mainstream in their religious affiliations.

You believe religious institutions are run by "psychopaths and tyrants", "more often than not." I know psychopaths and "tyrants" pretty well from my over twenty years working with mentally disturbed individuals. I know and have known religious leaders, priests, rabbis, pastors and monks from all of the above named traditions. None of them pinged my psychopath/tyrant radar. I'm sure they are out there, I just think they are a minority. I have known several coven leaders who were psychopathic or tyrannical. It happens. I'm also sure most are not.

I used to look askance at mainstream religions and their adherents. My friends and I who followed the esoteric/mystical path, often saw ourselves as more "advanced" than them. It eventually dawned on me that this attitude was just ego stroking. I got over myself, at least a little. My path is different from others, not necessarily better, more "advanced," or compassionate.

Despite the sins that have been committed by mainstream religions and their followers, I believe much good has been done as well. I am thankful for that.

Hope that gives you some food for thought. Like Jason, I enjoy your blog and respect your work. I hope to be reading your future posts for decades to come.

Wishing you the best of holidays and a wonderful 2011.

R

Pallas Renatus said...

I can't seem to email-subscribe to comments without leaving one myself, so I just wanted to say that I'm following the conversation with interest.

Dhr.Balthazar said...

Ron, I touched on this before in another response but I am going to talk about it again because I am not willing to back down from it.

You do not need religions to be good. You need ethics and compassion. Human qualities taught to us by our mommies and daddies. You don't need religions to donate to charity, or build hospitals or knit sweaters for orphans. In fact many secular philosophers promote ethical systems WAY more advanced than anything you are describing above or contained in any religion. It's a fact. And there are humanitarian organisations that are secular that do the same good stuff or more.

I don't deny that to people who adhere to exoteric traditions that they bring some comfort and social value (I attend catholic mass on a regular basis). You cannot deny the innumerable horrors that have ravaged the planet in the name of the big business religions.

Does it balance out? Who knows. But Atheists make a good case that it shouldn't have to balance out and that more harm than good comes from them. I happen to agree with them in part - harm comes from monolithic exoteric religious orgs - but there are other valid models that are different.

That was what my post trying to get at. I was proposing that the Diaspora traditions might contain a kind of religious expression that functions differently to oppressive hegemonic systems of mainstream religion. Because they employ decentralised, trance based, spiritist models. Models which tend to resist being co-opted by the vices of mainstream religion.

Jason, remarked that I am saying is : your religion sucks and mine is awesome!

For better or worse perhaps that is how it sounded, but what I did my best to express is that mainstream exoteric religion has such extraordinarily high levels of toxicity that different kinds spiritual organisational patterns are going to need to emerge.

I was proposing a spiritist model as a valid alternative and suggesting, hopefully; that most of the Atheists' more scathing critiques of religion don't apply as easily to Diaspora faiths because they tend to organise themselves so very differently.

I am all for religion. I am also for accountability. Something that seems absent from monolithic mainstream religion's vocabulary, replaced instead with 'apologetics'.

Dhr.Balthazar said...
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Dhr.Balthazar said...
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Al said...

As a good Buddhist, I will propose that worshiping any deities or ancestors opens things up for abuse. Put the crutch of belief in made up beings down. Look to your mind.

Of course, this translates to your religion sucks and mine is awesome. :-D

Justin said...

What I find odd is that Balthazar's rebuttal to "Exoteric Religions have caused a lot of good in the world" is "You don't need religion to be a good person or do good things," yet his big hang-up seems to be all the bad things that have been done in the name of religion, despite the obvious fact that you don't need religion to be an evil bastard either. It's a double standard.

You can't dismiss exoteric religion's responsibility for the good that has come of it, and then at the same time lay at its feet full responsibility for all the bad that has come of it.

ConjureMan Ali said...

He isn't blaming all the world's problems on religion. Instead he's pointing out that exoteric religion and corruption have become rather close bedmates and in his opinion it is because of the nature of exoteric religion. Of course this a bit of a simplification of his point.

I personally view it differently and see religion as both a good thing and something valuable to the human condition. Especially since esotericism by its own nature is not for everyone

Justin said...

I don't think anyone has accused him of blaming all the world's problems on religion.

Jason Miller, said...

I wish I had the time to respond to individual comments, but sadly those days are past.

However, this is an important debate for our community and I am quite as passionate about the idea that the New Athiests arguments are blind and flawed as Balthazar is that they are insightful and correct.

So here goes a few of the points that I feel need to be made.

First point is that Esoteric religions and cults are no better at staying moral, peaceful, and non-corrupt than large exoteric religions. In fact they are worse at it considering their size. The OTO for instance has WAY more scisms and political problems than an organization it size should. I cannot remember that last Palero I met, and I know a number of them, that was NOT embroiled in some kind of spat or war.

When you consider that 75% or so of the people around you are of one religion or other, than look at the numbers of people that are actually abusing their religion or committing atrocities the numbers are quite small. Again, you cannot take a group with 100,000 people in it and compare it favorably to a group with 2 billion people in it! If just ten of your 100,000 or so Disporic ATR members is a baddie prone to abuse of power, than with the same numbers you would have 20,000 of the same in Christianity!

When I was in the OTO I had made the comment once that if I had to drop my kids off with a random group of 10 people from:
1. A Mainstream Christian Congregation (Episopaleon, Methodist, Catholic, etc)

2. An OTO Lodge

3. An ATR house

4. Whatever other occult/esoteric group you wanna name

I would choose number one time and time again. Everyone agreed with me, which ithink says something considering that we WERE and OTO group at the time.

Second point is that the Exoteric religions ARE developing the new strands of science friendly, modern, egalitarian thought that you would like to see. In fact they are doing it faster than some of the Esoteric groups. Google "emerging church", "richard Rohr". or watch some of father Matthews videos on Youtube and you will see what the new face of Christianity is emerging as. I cannot speak about Islam, but similar things are happening.

3. The Athiests DO NOT make a good case that more harm than good comes from religion. They do make the case that harm comes from them, and that is undeniable, but they pretty much ignore any evidence that doesnt support their case such as the role of religion in recovery, the role of religious groups in alleviating poverty, the role of religion in peace work, etc.

Speaking personally now, I can tell you that my family is fucked up and there was very little moral guidance in my house. What little their was was quite twisted and corrupt. If it was not for the influence of a Methodist Minister and the Church and Youth Group I would not be the person I am today.

Jason Miller, said...

I wish I had the time to respond to individual comments, but sadly those days are past.

However, this is an important debate for our community and I am quite as passionate about the idea that the New Athiests arguments are blind and flawed as Balthazar is that they are insightful and correct.

So here goes a few of the points that I feel need to be made.

First point is that Esoteric religions and cults are no better at staying moral, peaceful, and non-corrupt than large exoteric religions. In fact they are worse at it considering their size. The OTO for instance has WAY more scisms and political problems than an organization it size should. I cannot remember that last Palero I met, and I know a number of them, that was NOT embroiled in some kind of spat or war.

When you consider that 75% or so of the people around you are of one religion or other, than look at the numbers of people that are actually abusing their religion or committing atrocities the numbers are quite small. Again, you cannot take a group with 100,000 people in it and compare it favorably to a group with 2 billion people in it! If just ten of your 100,000 or so Disporic ATR members is a baddie prone to abuse of power, than with the same numbers you would have 20,000 of the same in Christianity!

When I was in the OTO I had made the comment once that if I had to drop my kids off with a random group of 10 people from:

1. A Mainstream Christian Congregation (Episopaleon, Methodist, Catholic, etc)

2. An OTO Lodge

3. An ATR house

4. Whatever other occult/esoteric group you wanna name

I would choose number one time and time again. Everyone agreed with me, which ithink says something considering that we WERE and OTO group at the time.

Jason Miller, said...

Second point is that the Exoteric religions ARE developing the new strands of science friendly, modern, egalitarian thought that you would like to see. In fact they are doing it faster than some of the Esoteric groups. Google "emerging church", "richard Rohr". or watch some of father Matthews videos on Youtube and you will see what the new face of Christianity is emerging as. I cannot speak about Islam, but similar things are happening.

3. The Athiests DO NOT make a good case that more harm than good comes from religion. They do make the case that harm comes from them, and that is undeniable, but they pretty much ignore any evidence that doesnt support their case such as the role of religion in recovery, the role of religious groups in alleviating poverty, the role of religion in peace work, etc.

Speaking personally now, I can tell you that my family is fucked up and there was very little moral guidance in my house. What little their was was quite twisted and corrupt. If it was not for the influence of a Methodist Minister and the Church and Youth Group I would not be the person I am today.

Jason Miller, said...

@Al.

Sorry man but I would put Christianities record of service to humanity up against Buddhisms any time.

Yes there have been more atrocities committed in the name of Christ than Buddha by far. However, there have also been way more charities, hospitals, orphanages, schools, and foundations set up in the name of Christ as well.

Even HH the DL says that if Christianity can learn contemplation from Buddhism than Buddhism should learn the meaning of service from Christianity.

ALSO,

You keep coming back to the "Christinity is nothing but worship of a big Sky God" point. It's not. There is more to it than that. The Apophatic reading of Christianity and the Zhen Tong reading of Buddhism get REALLY close to one another.

To quote Augustine "If you can define it, thats not god"

Or to quote the Meister Ekhart "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me."

Al said...

I know that you can spin Christianity in a lot of ways to make it more palatable, Jason. At the end of the day, the basic Christian belief is still that of a monotheistic top-down system with a god at the top. The VAST majority of Christians are not participating in some fringe understanding of their religion. God is the creator of the Universe and Jesus is his son and they think he historically existed.

Jason Miller, said...

The vast majority of Buddhists think that the Buddha is essentially a god and that Nirvana is a place to go like heaven.

Apophatic and other understandings of god beyond "big sky god) of God are NOT fringe, they are actually quite widely held amongst clergy. Like Buddhism they take an intelligence that a lot of people do not possess and an amount of study that most people are unwilling to invest.

Al said...

Hey, however you want to justify your love of Christianity. I respect you but I don't buy it. :-)

I have two ministers in my family (the Christian ministers) and they certainly don't view God that way, nor does my grandmother the deaconess.