Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Hang All the Creeds

Religions are born often, but every religion eventually gets a creed. In an earlier post I reported on two of the major world religions, describing how they each acquired a creed some years after the founder's day.

Stephen Batchelor
, a western Buddhist found that both Christianity and Buddhism existed for many years without being circumscribed by a body of theological material considered requisite for practicing members of the faith. Then it happened; the priests decided what everyone should/must believe. Thus were born creeds.

William Blake described this process with greater cogency and eloquence:

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast." (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), and later he wrote "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." Individuals perceive creeds in that way, as the mind forg'd manacles (Blake again).

The net effect of creeds is to restrict individuality. Russian communism is the most horrible example in our times, but it has been repeated and repeated throughout the sad history of the world.

When individuality is restricted, creativity diminishes, and the end result is a society of drones ruled by a handful of masters. This is equally true in the religious, social and political realms. God protect us from such an outcome.


Marjorie said...

I don't disagree with you, but some creeds must have some utility, otherwise, every religion wouldn't eventually get one. Creeds are a way of defining the group, I guess it necessarily follows that they also restrict the group. But even having no creed, is having a creed (I think of my educational philosophy of unschooling).

I'm far more interested in a mystical 'religion' than a dogmatic one, but it seems like there must be some sort of 'checks and balances,' somewhere to turn for help -- even if its as simple as a bit of spiritual guidance from another blogger ;-)

Larry said...

I agree with you to a point.

You said "Creeds are a way of defining the group", Exactly, but at some point one may transcend the group. I think Christ's group was humanity.

Following Joseph Campbell: a group is a tribe. The characteristics of a tribe are that all positive affect is focused in the tribe (group) and all negative affect outside. But if you perceive that when Christ said 'your neighbor', he meant everybody, then all your neighbors outside the group will receive the negative affect. That's wrong.

I may have gone over this before, but Campbell's description of this (IMO) is the best thing he wrote. He said the evolution of consciousness (I say spiritual consciousness) goes as follows.

For the home body the home is everyone; Dad (or more likely Mom) is god (you believe everything they say, and go to them for all your guidance). That's the first stage.

Second is the tribe: it may be a school class, it may be the band, it may be your church; it may be your school, your state, your nation. (We obviously belong to multiple tribes, but what he said about affect applies to all of them.)

His third and last stage can be called when you become primarily a human being; your tribe has expanded to include all of humanity. ("Go ye to all the world and...'.)

One could elaborate a creed for humanity, but I'm not up to that. I'm just trying not to be prejudiced against people and things (ideas) outside my group(s). Jesus said "we are all members one of another". Can I love someone like the African savage as myself? I'm afraid not, but I would like to have that level of spiritual consciousness.

Re: 'checks and balances'. Yes, that's where community comes in. We check and balance one another. We're attracted to those who share our values, and we learn from one another. Hopefully I can learn from anyone; a JW, a pentecostal, a Buddhist, a Jew: all of them have nurtured and taught me recently. It I were guided primarily by a creed, I don't think I would have been as able to learn from those brothers.

Marjorie said...

I see the danger of tribes, but it almost seems impossible not to belong to one, or perhaps I'm lumping all groups into tribes (is there a difference?) Right now, I see the importance of having a church or a religious community -- I agree that some churches are much more tribal, much more condemning of those outside -- this is why I fled the Bible study I had been taking. I don't feel this in my church, in fact, its this openmindedness that has felt too wishy-washy to me in the past. Of course, perhaps I've only noticed that my church is not condemning those who were condemned by the theology of my Bible study. Maybe I will soon experience the ways in which my church does judge outsiders.

Certainly you make good points about the JW and Pentacostals, I have always viewed them with skepticism borne of what? Where did I get my bias, I don't know. You're the one who is helping me break these biases down.

You talk of transcending the group, can this be done while still being a part of the group? I suppose it would depend on the doctrine/creed of the group... In some ways, it sounds like it comes down to being openminded. Believing what you believe, but respecting and loving those who believe something different.

Small steps, I'm taking small steps...