Sunday 23 October 2022

The corruption of religions, by piling-up of revelations

It seems that there is an almost irresistible tendency for 'religions' (and other things like 'religions' to bulk-up with time: to become, if not more genuinely complex, greater and greater in quantity of assertions. 

More and more 'revelations' are added to the original foundations until... well, in the first place the original foundations may become obscured, the reality of the religion may be distorted away from its primary core; and eventually - which may not take long - the actuality of the religion may be directed in the opposite direction from its origins in several or many respects. 

In the end, a religion - in its actual practice and effect - may become the inversion of how it began.  

This can be seen with Christianity if, like me, one regards the Fourth Gospel as a valid record its its origins. It seems that the primal simplicity of Jesus Christ's example and teaching was substantially added-to (and thereby, significantly, both obscured and distorted) almost immediately after his ascension; and the process continued for centuries.  

Some of these post-Christ revelations were helpful clarifications and extrapolations of the consequences of what Jesus said; but most were not; and many were contradictions. 

Ideally, it seems to me, it would be best to take the primal simplicity of the origins, and to examine the implications, and to explore what these mean in individual lives and the lives of groups and nations

However, this process seems to be rare - perhaps because it is cognitively difficult; and because Men have an innate interest in novelty; and in getting immediate answers to their own personal and urgent questions, rather than to exploring the implications of the foundation. 

And sometimes because there are successful attempts to manipulate Men; by snowing them with unmanageable information, by generating the incomprehensible, by creating a fixed attitude of inadequacy and therefore de facto obedience and passivity in relation to authority.  

At any rate, I observe a very similar trajectory of accumulations of assertions in those religious and spiritual movements of which I have some knowledge. 

Mormonism underwent enormous accumulative changes through its first decades from the origins in 1830; and soon became hardly recognizable both in terms of style and content, and in terms of the scale of emphasis.  

Similarly Rudolf Steiner's spiritual science movement rapidly accumulated a truly vast mass of assertions, almost wholly from Steiner himself; from its simple origins in the philosophical works and Christian conversion of the late 19th century; and through next quarter century - only terminated by Steiner's death. 

The most extreme example is the New Age movement. This was never simple nor coherent, because always eclectic; drawing on CG Jung, the Westernized versions of several Eastern religions, and the 'beatnik'/ hippie youth cultures. 

But the New Age movement grew almost entirely by addition. Interest and motivation was maintained by heaping-up more and more possibilities - more alternative healing systems, more techniques of meditation... different psychoactive drugs; divination by astrology, magic or tarot; artifacts such as crystals, pyramids; ever more varieties of neo-paganism (Wicca, Drudism, Shamanism...). And so on. 

There were periodic attempts to bring some kind of coherence - for example John Michell's 1969 The View over Atlantis - which linked several themes such as UFOs and ETs, ley lines, and Atlantis as an archetype of ancient high civilizations - my means of a revived Neo-Platonism. 

But even in Michell's own work, the strong tendency to accumulate overwhelmed the rigorous exploration of principles. And the New Age movement as a whole simply absorbed and absorbed - and any rigor of reasoning was itself in a playful spirit; designed more to stimulate and entertain rather than to explore the implications of truth.  

(In such a situation, the true ruling principles of New Age became those of society at large - in this instance the acceptability boundaries of hegemonic materialistic, atheistic, leftism - within-which all New Age activity functioned. Thus the phenomenon of 'convergence'. New Agers might 'believe' almost anything spiritual - but are united in regarding (e.g.) climate change, racism, and the sexual revolution as among the most important moral issues of the day.)


I see much the same tendency at work in almost all domains of human action; including science where vast superstructures of 'research' are built on arbitrary or false claims (CO2 warmism - with its foundational lie of being able to predict global climate - is the egregious example). And in law - where legally-nonsensical and/or undefined-undefinable principles (such as 'hate crimes', 'racism', 'asylum-seeker', 'diversity', 'inclusion') are used to underpin truly enormous superstructures of bureaucracy; and to determine the fate of nations and civilizations. 

All these many tendencies have led to where we now stand; where Men's mind are utterly stunned and rendered ineffective by the incomprehensibly enormous accumulation of assertions. 

This leads, inevitably, to passivity; and to an attitude of 'not even trying' to understand but instead a stance of fluid, pragmatic, unprincipled, unmoored, here-and-now, expediency - getting-by, getting-along, making-the-best-of-it...

And yet: anther possibility remains as a living alternative. To discover, each for himself, the stark simplicities that underpin the incomprehensible superstructures: first and crucially in religion, especially including Christianity - but also everywhere else. 

...And then to determine whether these fundamentals are indeed true to reality as we know it; simply by paying them sustained attention, and learning from what eventuates


Francis Berger said...

Great insights. I wonder if corruption -- which can be considered a sort of "co-breaking" of the primary core/primary foundation could be considered the antithesis of co-creation?

Co-creation entails adding to Creation while remaining faithful to the simplicity of the primary foundation. In this sense, it adds to Creation by expanding/magnifying/ the simplicity rather than burying it and/or complexifying it.

On the other hand, corruption involves establishing another foundation that mimics the original co-creation. This sort of rupture/breaking away from via accumulation/bulking up seems to require a "co" element as well - one party to establish the rupture and another party (parties) to accept it and agree it to. Once the rupture is established, the adding to it/bulking it up appears as a form of co-creation, but is actually corruption because the adding on does not expand the simplicity at all but works in the opposite direction.

That's just speculative on my part, but there may be something to it. As for the motivation behind it, it's possible that some corruptions start innocently enough, with the best of intentions, but the more it buries the original foundation, the more complex it becomes, the more it takes on a life of its own until the corruption itself replaces the original foundation/co-creation.

At its core, bulking up aspect of corruption appears to involve the shirking of personal responsibility/freedom required of participating in co-creation. As Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor noted, comprehending Jesus's original message is not difficult, but implementing it and "living it" in mortal life is, primarily because it requires committing to faith in Jesus, personal responsibility, and freedom, something most people would rather not "do". In a nutshell, it requires activity. More precisely, creative activity. How much easier to pass this off to someone else who claims to represent/serve the original co-creation and go into passive/expediency mode.

Co-creation is dynamic. Corruption seems to mimic that dynamism, but the adding on/bulking up of corruption is not the adding to expansion of the simplicity inherent in co-creation.

I'm not sure if what I've expressed here is totally coherent, but I hope it follows the lines of or adds something to your insights (rather than just "bulk them up")!

agraves said...

Bruce, your article describes what Massim Taleb wrote in his book "Antifragile". The creation of numerous ideas that are tangentially related to the original idea leads to the basic inspiration becoming unwieldy and oppressive. In the modern West we have become "fragile", overcome by any minor inconvenience, leading to all manner of overreaction and hand wringing. Every aspect of life is now overwrought whether it is religion, science, politics, food politics (vegan/keto), race, education, sex, etc. People know it but are not able to change it, it feeds on itself, any attempt to change it just adds to the fire. When a fire it out of control only withdrawing the oxygen will stop it.

R.J.Cavazos said...

Interesting. Agraves has a hood point. This notion noted by Taleb was noted earlier by Arnold Toynbee in his "Study of History". He observed that key cultural features pick up accretions over time from contact with outside influences and that these accretions over time make the original unrecognizeable--and the key idea or feature of civilization that has so many accretions no longer serves its basic function and leads to collapse. Similarly, Peter Drucker pointed out that once the primary mission of the post office was not longer to deliver the mail but rather to also provide "social justice" and remedy past injustices the quality of mail deliver would deteriorate. Same is true for all entities who no longer confine them selves to their original purpose.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Another source of corruption seems to be the attempt to 'fix' (or 'patch') what appears to be a small problem, at the cost of creating incoherence in the whole. Again this is due to a lack of harmony with the original creation.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

RJC - the late, great Jerry Pournelle formulated what he called the Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

There seems to be an unfortunate tendency toward increasing scale and complexity in human affairs. I remember an elderly Orthodox congregant used to laugh at refraining from olive oil during strict Fasts: "You can eat olives but not olive oil!" Then there's the infinite pile of Magisterial papers in the Catholic Church.

An Alt-Right author I follow has made the point that if you have a religious faith, you shouldn't write anything down. This is in half-jest of course. But you really can just read the succinct sayings of the Desert Fathers or the Proverbs without parsing over dense, theological minutiae that Christians have killed each other over.