Monday, July 17, 2006

Religion and Religions

Formal religion has no place in psychotherapy, but it also has no real place in religion. 2 In this world, there is an astonishing tendency to join contradictory words into one term without perceiving the contradiction at all. 3 The attempt to formalize religion is so obviously an ego attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable that it hardly requires elaboration here. 4 Religion is experience; psychotherapy is experience. 5 At the highest levels they become one. 6 Neither is truth itself, but both can lead to truth. 7 What can be necessary to find truth, which remains perfectly obvious, but to remove the seeming obstacles to true awareness?

As true religion heals, so must true psychotherapy be religious.

Thus the Course (in the Psychotherapy pamphlet) here makes a distinction between true religion and religion, and thus makes a distinction which reminds me of J.W. Kaiser's essay Religion and Religions, which is included in his Four Open Field Books, in which in a manner quite similar to the Course he uses Religion with a capital "R" in the same vein as "true religion,"and religions, plural, as the worldly institutions with which we're all familiar, which seem to mostly confine themselves to systems of morality and codes of conduct for the world. Kaiser sees Religion as the path we go to God, in so many different forms, and so in that respect his usage could also be compared to the Course's notion of the "universal course," of which ACIM is then only one form.

Evidently the Course comes in this Judaic-Christian (Abrahamic) framework, and uses that as background for its teaching of true spirituality, using the terminology from that tradition and perhaps with a bit of a pun, quite in the spirit of the way Jesus speaks to us throughout the Course, we could understand it's message along the following lines:

1. Prepare you for the undoing of what never was. 2 If you already understood the difference between truth and illusion, the Atonement would have no meaning. 3 The holy instant, the holy relationship, the Holy Spirit's teaching, and all the means by which salvation is accomplished, would have no purpose. 4 For they are all but aspects of the plan to change your dreams of fear to happy dreams, from which you waken easily to knowledge. 5 Put yourself not in charge of this, for you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. 6 Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success.

And one way of understanding these words might be that he could be pointing out that the "greatest advances" which we fool ourselves into believing we made, i.e. to establish these world-religions, are really our greatest retreats, because they served only to prevent us from hearing the spiritual truths we were being offered. They are literally the ego's defenses against the truth, developed in a very sophisticated and seductive ego way, by seemingly coopting the words, but compromising the content by pulling it down into the world, into duality.

Hence Gary Renard in DU gets to write (And the quote is also on his "Enlightnment cards"):

The world needs another religion like it needs a bigger hole in the ozone layer.

Which is said quite in the same spirit as Jesus' comment in the NT: Don't you still understand that I wasn't speaking to you of "breads?" In other words, then also he was having a tough time pointing out to the apostles (us) that he was talking content, and they were stubbornly hearing form. We are blessed with the Course, which is much clearer, and more explicit, and harder to misunderstand than anything that went before, but if you look around, we're busy trying!

To come back to some more terminology from the Course, experience is the crucial distinction, in a way which Kaiser also emphasizes in his essay Religion and Religions:

All terms are potentially controversial, and those who seek controversy will find it. 2 Yet those who seek clarification will find it as well. 3 They must, however, be willing to overlook controversy, recognizing that it is a defense against truth in the form of a delaying maneuver. 4 Theological considerations as such are necessarily controversial, since they depend on belief and can therefore be accepted or rejected. 5 A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary. 6 It is this experience toward which the course is directed. 7 Here alone consistency becomes possible because here alone uncertainty ends.

And so is the history of religions for the most part one of a confusion of ends and means, where "success" in Christianity as in other world religions, hinges on successfully explaining the meaning of this life, and thus subverting the very uncomfortable spiritual truth that it is utterly without meaning, except as a learning opportunity on our path to salvation in which we come to realize that it isn't what it's cracked up to be. That's why all great spiritual teachings need their popularizers to turn them into world religions, and to permanently obfuscate their spiritual message.

Kaiser in his essay puts it like this:

No man has been so passionately deified as Jesus of Nazareth, the man who manifested God's Will as no man did before or after and confirmed this for all times by his complete rejection of compromising with "the ways of the world," his complete rejection of Power, and his complete surrender to Suffering, confirmed in action. All others yielded somehow to Power. And yet this deification is nothing but a psychological trick to justify our failure to follow him by making him the exception, whose fulfillment exempts us from the task.

This is the difference between Service to God and religions, and it is useless to quarrel about it, even though that is what they have always done.
For the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and no man will ever find truth by theorizing. For truth only reveals itself to him who surrenders to it, and reunion with the Supreme takes place only when an individual finally and entirely merges into Him, losing all horizontal relations, losing his personal existence, losing his individual "life," but gaining Universal Life, which is Eternal Life.

Kaiser's way of looking at the suffering aspect of Jesus' final experiences in the world, lacks the clarity of the Course, in that he did not suffer because he knew he was not his body, though in essence it captures the notion that avoiding the lessons presented in our classrooms in this life is an ego stalling tactic, whereas if we are in our right mind we would not be bothered by the form, but be grateful for the lesson. And, most importantly his next point captures very sharply the fact that the deification and idolization of Jesus in Christianity is an avoidance tactic of the ego, where it is justified theologically that Jesus should suffer in our place so we would not have to, which is the true purport of vicarious salvation. And thus rather than changing our mind as Jesus asks us in his teaching, we pretend that we can get away with not doing so, and letting him dangle on the cross instead. Or, in other words, we will do anything to NOT do what Jesus asked, i.e. to take up our cross and follow him, including to justify theologically that we don't have to, and such is the basis of a world religion, which is why it is a world religions. The Emperor Constantine knew how to pick his allies.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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