Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 17: The Religious Urge > Chapter 4: Problems of Organized Religion
Problems of Organized Religion
On criticism and scepticism
The criticism of religious truths arises not only out of its confusion of pure religion with ecclesiastical religion, but, in the case of other persons, out of a low character rather than a lofty ideal. It is then destructive and unscrupulous, taking meanings and deliberately distorting them to suit its own purposes. It is then sincere only in its selfishness and adequate only in its materialism, not only seeking all the defects of the attitude it proposes to replace but also inventing many imaginary ones. It lives by criticism and feeds on conflict. It cunningly entraps those who are so troubled by present world conditions as to have lost hope, enthusiasm, courage, and faith on the one hand, and on the other those who are so troubled by these conditions as to have become unbalanced, violent, irrational, and cruel. To both, the phraseology of conventional religion, politics, society, and economics has become hollow. To both, the feebleness and foolishness of our entire social structure have become apparent. But both are wrong.
Unfair and untrue criticism by sceptics may well be ignored, but too often in the past religions have failed to benefit themselves by looking into justifiable criticism from believers. This failure has strengthened superstition and weakened real religion.
Instead of being vexed over the rise of scepticism and indifference or grieved over the fall of religious influence, they should seek the causes and adjust faith to reason and truth.
If a teaching can make a man more hopeful when accepted, more peaceful when studied, and more intuitive when applied, then it deserves respect, not scorn.
When we speak here of the dangers of atheism and the darkness of materialism, we do not refer to those brave, intelligent men who have protested against superstitious religions and pious exploitation. That which they opposed was not genuine religion at all, but the satanic pretense of it. It is an historic and unfortunate fact that such pretense is too often successful.
Every man who receives the Life-Force from his inner being yet denies its existence, who is sustained by the Overself's power yet decries those who bear witness to it, sins against the Holy Ghost. This is the real meaning of that mysterious sentence in the New Testament which refers to such a sin.
Each person has some kind of faith; this includes the person whose faith reposes in scepticism.
In making unfaith their faith, the scoffing have taken the first step forward out of superstition on a long road whose course will be spiral and whose end will be religious once again. But because the impulse behind this step is so largely selfish and passionate, so negative in emotional feelings and erroneous in intellectual convictions, it is a dangerous one. In getting rid of the evil of superstition, they have invited other evils, equally bad and even worse, to replace it.
Whether religion itself be totally eclipsed or newly revived, the fundamental truth from which it rises is always hidden deep in the subconscious mind of man. Life itself, the very drive behind the whole universe, will force the atheist one day to seek it and will give him no rest until he finds it.
It would be true to say that the materialism of our time is an agnostic rather than an atheistic one. People are indifferent to the question of whether there is or is not a higher power, rather than being deliberate deniers of its existence.
The atheists who see only the weaknesses of religion and not its services denounce it as false and injurious. They seize on the undoubted harm done by religious exploitation and religious superstition as a pretext for themselves doing infinitely greater harm by proclaiming all religious feeling to be mere illusion. They point also to the mental aberrations of individual mystics to denounce all mysticism as an even greater illusion. But to stamp out every manifestation of religious life and mystical enlightenment would reduce man to the level of the brute, albeit a cunning intellectual brute.
How pitiful the suggestion of Marx that religion is an invention of human imagination to enable one class--the sacerdotal--to prey on the people, and another class--the upper--to exploit the people, or the assertion of Polybius that it is an invention of society for its own protection to maintain order among men and prevent them from running amok into anarchy by following their own individual wills entirely. That it has been used for such purposes historically is correct, but the religious instinct is a very real thing and rises from a very real source.
The theory, based on economics, according to which religion was invented to help despoil the working class is unscientific: it is also unworthy of those who boast that they are led by reason. The very adherence to such a theory proves that they are led much more by strong emotion.
He alone can be an atheist who has never experienced a glimpse, or who has been caught and become embedded in a hard dry intellectualism, or in whom ethics and conscience have withered.
The egoistic fool, with his intellect puffed up by a little learning, sets out to criticize everything, including the belief in God. Let us be humbler, awed by the thought of the World-Mind's unchanging identity and unbroken infinity.
Too often a man thinks that his problem is solely personal, whereas it is most probably common to all mankind. Most men and women have or will have to face it at some time; for the basic problems of the human situation are really few, and part of the work of a religious prophet is to give guidance in a general way as to how rightly to deal with these problems. Those atheistic Communists who reject pure religion along with their rejection of sectarian religion, reject also a hand stretched out to help them. In their madness they ignore every prophet's warning against violence and hatred, against unscrupulousness and greed, and set out consciously to create sorrow for themselves.
The spread of atheistic movements is something to be sadly deplored. But if they are the inevitable reaction against sham religion we are forced to accept them as historical necessity. This necessity is, however, quite temporary and if atheism is put forward or permitted to remain as ultimate truth, then it becomes as morally disastrous to humanity as the falsity against which it is unconsciously opposed by the dialectic movement of racial destiny.
Those psychoanalysts who would stamp all religious instinct as a sexual derivation and those materialists who would stamp all religious belief as a social exploitation exhibit neither a profound psychology in the one case nor an accurate realism in the other. What they assert is only sometimes and somewhere true, not always and everywhere true.
The atheistic leaders of our time have tried to banish the concept of God. They have succeeded in doing so for large numbers of people, especially young people. But what is true in the concept will reappear in men's minds again, for it is eternal. It cannot be banished although it can be covered over for a time.
A time comes when he outgrows the elementary doctrines and popular observances, when prayer and ceremonial, scripture and asceticism have no further usefulness for him. But this does not entitle him to denounce them to the world, to destroy their place in life, or to dissuade others from using them.
It is wrong of those who feel they receive no blessing, no spiritual gain of peace, from a church sacrament to scorn as superstitious others who feel with joy that they do receive it.
"You snivelling priest," exclaimed Voltaire, "you are imposing delusions upon society for your own aggrandizement."
If a man believes he is nothing else than a human electrical machine, why should he pay any attention to moral character?
It is enough to make two statements about the Russians--first, the government in all its departments officially opposes religion; second, the highly influential Communist Party makes atheism an article of belief before membership is granted--to understand why and predict that either self-reaction or self-destruction awaits them. There may be no future also for the Russian Orthodox Church--narrow, intolerant, and materialistic as it was--but religion in a larger, purer, and truer sense must one day return because of the innate need for it.
Sceptics find one religion as untrustworthy as another because all religions are founded on belief in the existence of an Unknown and--to them--unknowable Entity.
The atheist who believes that morality is supported by religion to help keep the populace obedient may be partly right and partly wrong. But he falls into error if he believes that religion was invented solely for this purpose.
The illusionist religions, which reject all values and virtues in the world in which we humans have to live, give us little to hope for or live for. It is not surprising that most of the masses under their influence have lived a half-animal existence.
In Germany and Austria there were in 1933 over a million members of Freethought organizations; in Czechoslovakia in 1938 there were a million persons who declared themselves to belong to no religious body.
The outdated scepticism of earlier science and the moral ineffectualness of the later Church have helped those Communists who brand religion as an instrument of intellectual domination and indirectly of economic exploitation.
God is invoked on every side but there is no sign that he has ever been involved in our affairs, say the sceptics. If he reigns, he does not rule!
All too many have shaken themselves free from religious superstition without having replaced it by religious truth.
Cycles of inspiration, decay
The history of most religious organizations is a history of pure motives mixed with impure ones, of spiritual aspiration mixed with human exploitation, of reverence mixed with selfishness, intuition with superstition, and prayerful petition with arrogant exclusiveness.
History shows that nearly every religion moves through the same time-worn cycle of phases--from purity and reality and fellowship through organization and literalness and external expansion to hypocrisy and exploitation and tyranny. All religious influence historically passes through these stages of rise and fall. It begins by expressing an elementary portion of divine truth and by promoting a simple standard of human morality. It ends by opposing the truth and defending immorality. In its purity and vitality, it suffuses the hearts of its votaries with goodwill towards other men and hence draws them closer together. But in its degradation and devitalization it poisons the hearts of its slaves with intolerance towards other men and thus sets them farther apart. The declension of a religious movement begins at the point where the external organization of it begins to replace the internal feeling of it. The intuition is then gradually forgotten and the importance of funds, buildings, officials, prestige, and power rises egoistically and ambitiously in its stead. In the end the inner reality is all but lost, only its mocking shadow remains. It might be said that in its early unformed state, the movement spiritually exhilarates men but in its later institutional state it materially exploits them. It is therefore necessary to make a clear-cut distinction between a religion in its original pure form and in its later corrupt form. Time corrupts every religion. The history of Christianity confirms this cyclic nature of religion. It arose outwardly amidst bitter suffering and violent death; it began to fall inwardly amidst gilded prosperity and exaggerated pomp.
By "religion" is meant here not any particular one but the entire cluster of authentic sacred revelations throughout the world. No particular world-religion is referred to in our criticism. What is to be said is true of them all, although more true of some and less of others.
The vitality of a religion is most apparent in its primitive unorganized form, as the purity of a religion is most apparent in its apostolic phase.
As the inward sense of being dedicated followers of a Way, a Truth and Life, fades away with the efflux of time, so religious vision narrows, moral aspiration slackens, declarations of rigid dogma are insisted on, the abidance by a group of outward customs and rules is enforced, individuality is crushed as heresy, the zeal for self-improvement is replaced by the zeal for meddling with the affairs of others, petty differences are exaggerated, and pure creative spirituality is killed. Every established religion seems historically to pass down through such a degenerative process to a dry sterile condition. It seems not possible to keep the movement on the high level at which the prophet started it.
Neither the minds that gather around a prophet nor those who diffuse his influence and teaching in later centuries are likely to be equal to his own. To that extent, therefore, their understanding of him and his teaching is likely to be inferior to his own. This distance from him has the one advantage, however, that it brings them more on a level with the multitude whom they themselves wish to influence or convert.
Dull followers in the generations soon to come falsify his ideas, and selfish ones degrade them. Such is the disagreeable truth about every prophet's fate. Receiving the pure teaching is a sacrament but upholding its degenerated forms is a sacrilege.
If you realize the extraordinary length of time of the real history of man, and not merely the history which is taught in schools, you will realize also that many religions have come and completely disappeared. Why should we think that these religions which we now know must continue to exist permanently? They are only tools which are used by God so long as they are effective but thrown aside when they are worn out.
Time is like a river which is forever flowing onwards, which can never turn back, and which sweeps religions and races before it. This is why those who look for a triumphant and lasting revival of any particular religion deceive themselves. Revivals have occurred and will occur, but history shows how transient they are and philosophy shows why this must be so.
People are being deceived by the renewed vitality of some old religions, by their conversions, activities, and literature, into believing that they are witnessing a veritable and durable renaissance with a long bright future before it. This is particularly true of Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. But what are they really witnessing? It is nothing more than the dying flicker of sunset, the sudden blaze before darkness falls.
History teaches the same story about all the religions. They begin as faiths, freely held in the heart; they culminate as creeds, imposed like shackles upon the mind. The myth of an almost ecclesiastical infallibility is maintained by the church leaders in their own interests.
There comes a time in the life of each traditional religion when it becomes the enemy of true religion. History tells us this; psychology predicts its inevitability.
Although atheism appears when religion makes much more fuss over the appearance of virtue than over its reality, mysticism also appears when sufficient time has elapsed to demonstrate the intuitive barrenness of such decadent religion as well as the moral danger to its followers.
After the death of the guru, we see the hard outlines of a new sect in the making, the forming of an ecclesiastic hierarchy with new episcopate and new priesthood, the increasing disposition to detect heresy or schism and shut out those who exhibit the capacity, if not the courage, to think for themselves, the rise of personal ambitions and the seeking of private advantage. The honest, let alone passionate, pursuit of truth gradually vanishes.
When men transfer their faith to another religion, cult, or system of thought, it not only shows that the force behind the new one is greater than that behind the old one, but may also show that the World-Idea, which includes karma, is itself the force promoting the successful rival.
In those first few centuries when Christianity was a pure and vital religion, the name Christian meant one who believed in the existence of this higher power and surrendered his heart to its loving presence. The name Muslim (our western "Muhammedan") had much the same meaning in the early days of Islam's history. It signified one who had submitted his lower self to the Divine, resigned his personal will to the higher will of God. Such submission was not regarded as being only moral; it was also psychological. That is, it was to rule consciousness as well as conduct. Hence it was a difficult achievement following a long endeavour rather than a mere verbal assent made in a single moment.
When convention becomes stagnant and kills the living element in custom or religion, it suffocates the growing element in man's soul.
Creeds will come and go, being at their best the results of the working of human minds striving to comprehend divine glimpses. They are necessarily imperfect.
Most religions were constructed gradually, shaped by time and history. This is most true of Judaism and Christianity, least true of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The corruptions of religious doctrine and the conventions of religious society keep out the true spirit of the prophet behind the religion itself.
Little sects may become large churches. The movement towards truth may become an institution which hinders truth. The persecuted Christians of the fourth century became the persecuting Inquisition of the fourteenth. Given enough time white may turn black.
There are two chief justifications for the existence of a religion: (a) its influence upon the character and actions of people for the better; (b) its dim intimation of world meaning. But when a religion fails to prevent wickedness or to convince men that their existence has a higher purpose, it deserves to decline--and does.
The impulse which originated each existing religion has largely worked itself out, leaving stark error and pseudo-religion as its current offering. Even the error has come in the end to assume the form of an authentic tradition!
The visible difference between religion in its primitive purity and in its aged decadence is the best argument for the periodical need of a new religion.
Not only Buddhism but also Islam and Judaism originally banned the artistic representation of man's form in religious symbolism. Why? Because it commonly led to worship of idols, of the form of the human formulator of that particular religion.
If during a prophet's lifetime legends spring up which are only half-true or even wholly untrue, what is likely to happen after his death? This is one reason why religions are said to be based on faith.
The debasement of a religion usually runs parallel to the increment of its organization.
Accretions, distortions, corruption
A study of religious origins will reveal that much which today passes as established religion is merely accretion: it was added in the course of time. Tradition--now regarded as sacrosanct--was once innovation. It is often the opinion of later men overlaid on the Master's words.
The farther we get from the Prophet's time, the more difficult it becomes to discover exactly what he taught. Sects multiply in his name, each with a different doctrine. Imaginations and interpolations, distortions and caricatures become part of the received teaching. As if this were not enough, personal ambitions and institutional exploitations add to the confusion.
The defect in human nature which makes it stress the person rather than the power using him, the letter rather than the spirit, is responsible in part for the deterioration of religion. Let men beware of a personality worship which is carried blindly to idolatrous extremes. Let them beware, also, of unquestionably receiving ideas about religion which have been propagated by its ministers and missionaries. It is not group effort but individual effort that counts on the quest. The prophets and teachers helped people in groups and churches only because of the need of economizing their own time and energy, not because this was more efficacious. Those who quote Jesus: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there shall I be in the midst of them" in rebuttal, are self-deceived. Words like these were never spoken by Jesus. They were interpolated by cunning priests. The populace, a term in which from the standpoint of intelligence we must include different members from all social strata from lowest to highest, is led to accept contradictions and obscurities out of a regard for religious authority which paralyses all independent thinking.
It is a tragedy of all history that the names of Men like Jesus, who came only to do good, are invariably exploited by those who fail to catch their spirit and do more harm than good. Formal entry into any religious organization relates a man only to that organization, not at all to the Prophet whose name it claims. No religious institution in history has remained utterly true to the Prophet whose name it takes, whose word it preaches, whose ethic it inculcates. A religious prophet is mocked, not honoured, when men mouth his name and avoid his example. No church is a mystical body of any prophet. All churches are, after all, only human societies, and suffer from the weaknesses and selfishnesses, the errors and mistakes, inseparable from such societies. It is a historical fact that where religious influence upon society has bred the evils of fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, superstition, and backwardness, their presence may be traced back to the professional members and monkish institutions of that religion. Priestcraft, as I have seen it in certain Oriental and Occidental lands, is often ignorant and generally arrogant. Throughout the world you may divide clergymen and priests into two categories--those who are merely the holders of jobs and those who are truly ministers of religion.
If you want the truth as it was really taught, remember that you will get from the historic official teaching of the later followers a tampered, interpolated, excised, weighted, and moulded doctrine.
When the truth of recompense is perverted, it becomes fatalism. Then the aspirations to evolve personally and improve environmentally are arrested, while responsibility for inaction or action is placed outside oneself.
More and more as I came to understand religion, to separate its truths from its fables, I discovered how the Master's teaching had been corrupted or distorted, truncated, or stressed in the wrong places. This happened more in some faiths than in others, and differently in one from the other. It happened in Judaism and Buddhism, in Islam and Christianity.
The theologians must take their share of responsibility for the enormous extent and power of materialism today, for their absurd squabbles about unreal or remote issues and their silly dogmatics about matters of which they can know nothing have repelled large numbers who seek to use their God-given faculty of reason and their capacity to observe facts.
There is a long distance from the rhetorical urges intended to create religious frenzy to the calm statement intended to evoke religious intuition.
Worse than the degeneration of doctrine has been the degeneration of ethics. A man best proves what he is by his conduct, an institution or society by its deeds. For verbal preaching may be mocked by contradictory practice. The expounders and hierarchs of religion are rightly expected to set good standards for the supposedly weaker masses, but sacerdotal cupidity and ecclesiastical intolerance, the ignoble lust for power and the ignorant hatred of other faiths, have far too often disappointed expectation.
The institutions, the credos, the scriptural documents even, of a religion are man-made. Even if and where they are made under divine inspiration, it may not have been present all the time.
What is left of a religion after thousands of years of man-handling by biased or prejudiced parties should be received with critical, independent judgement.
The temples and churches, the synagogues and mosques of old established religions have become empty of true spirituality, their thresholds profaned by lack of genuine interest, true faith, or real obedience to religion's dictates. The basic commandments of the founders of religion, simple though they be, are seldom given the importance they deserve. In short, the sacred name of religion is violated daily, year after year, century after century.
The only way to retain Faith is to regenerate it. Churchianity must become Christianity. Its failure became plain during the War, when a situation existed where the Japanese nominal followers of the peace-bringing Buddha spread murder and pillage across Asia and where the German nominal followers of the love-bringing Jesus spread hatred and aggression across Europe, in some cases with the sanction and under the blessing of their local priests and national High Priests and in all cases without a firm protest and resolute opposition by the whole weight of their organizational influence against such betrayal of what both Buddha and Jesus stood for. Here history but repeats itself. It was not the atheists who crucified Jesus but the priests. It was not the atheists who drove Buddhism right out of India but the priests.
People are easily deceived by the stature to which religions have grown into thinking that they have achieved assured stability. An institution which has reached great size has not necessarily reached great success. It is necessary to look beneath the illusion of numbers and the skin of popularity. Spiritual degeneration and decrepitude are still what they are even if they are spread among millions of people. When we try to understand the causes of such disintegration, we are inevitably led to the conclusion that religion wrongly understood and wrongly expounded breeds distrust, exploits ignorance, and disrupts society. How do ordinary people arrive at their understanding of a religion, then? They arrive at it through the guidance of official exponents. Therefore the latter bear a larger responsibility for the downfall of their own faith than they usually realize. They have often invoked judgement of God on others; have they ever observed how history has invoked the judgement of God on them? So far as the mission of an institution consists in assuming the austere role of a prophet and making the glowing message of such a man freely available to simple toiling folk, so far as its presence in society acts as a check on human character, which would otherwise degenerate and permit evils more serious than existing ones to spring up, it possesses something which the people profoundly need; it has a most valuable service to render for which it must live, and it can face its critics as indifferently as Jesus faced his persecutors. But so far as the institution has come to mean something glaringly different or has come to constitute a professional means of livelihood for certain individuals, merely by seating them on the chair of sanctity, or has associated itself with pointless dogmas which outrage human intelligence, it has certainly become something so unchristian and useless that the continued fall of its influence need surprise none.
An organization is required to transmit the services of religion whether it be an elaborate Church with three continents under its wing or an obscure sect with a single preacher located in a small room. The personnel of this organization constitute its living value, for theirs is the duty of giving right guidance to its followers. If prelates and priests understand the higher purport of religion they will slowly uplift their flock and deem it their duty to serve rather than to enslave them. For instance, they will gradually replace the notion of an angry or cruel God to be propitiated through devotional communion. If however they fail to understand this purport, they will misunderstand it. And as they are notoriously and tenaciously conservative, they will apply this quality--so admirable when it bespeaks loyalty to true and virtuous things--in wrong directions such as the dissemination of outworn, unimportant dogmas or the support of barbarous customs, untenable doctrines, false history, and worthless rites--nearly all of which do not belong to the faith in its primitive purity but are mutilations or accretions originating from the mediocre minds of ignorant interpolators or the selfish hearts of greedy interpreters. This will lead slowly to the next step, which is to use the organization primarily for their selfish benefit. When this happens the people naturally lose their faith in them as well as in the rites and dogmas, the ethical value of their religion wanes, and enemies arise both inside and outside its frontiers to bring it crumbling to the ground in the long course of time.
Religion as shaped by history is not the same as religion as propagated by the prophet.
If religions lose their original inspiration, if their texts get corrupted and their priests get worldly, it is relevant to enquire whether such deteriorations can be avoided. The imperfections of human nature warn us that total avoidance is impossible.
How many a prophet has been crucified afresh by his alleged followers who persecuted and oppressed in his name! How often has his teaching been caricatured by giving it a false application to serve personal interests or support emotional hatreds!
Religion is supposed to raise a man's moral quality, diminish his hatred, and curb his selfishness, but too often in history it has failed to do so. But it is not only religion that is at fault: it is also the stubbornness of man himself.
When a religion, suffering from decay and inertia, asks us to give reverence to tradition more than we give it to God, it fails in its own mission.
When the ceremonies and forms of religion have become a tangled network, when the primal simplicity of its sanctities has been lost underneath the fussy elaborations of its dogmas, it becomes sterile and unhelpful: from the highest point of view, such religion becomes irreligion.
If the immature are taught nothing better than the incredible and half-credible assertions, the foolish tales they have hitherto been told, why wonder that religious faith and church attendance turn into religious hypocrisy?
It is right and proper to continue a good tradition, to keep a spiritual inheritance from the past which has intrinsic worth; but it is not right to demand enslavement to such tradition and inheritance so that nothing new may enter or be said.
The atmosphere of pure religion is as different from the atmosphere of sectarian organization as a natural flower is different from an artificial one.
Religion which wills to lead mankind into spiritual consciousness has failed to do so. Why? Because it has led him into organizations, groups, divisions, monasteries, ashrams, sectarianism, and centres. These have become the important things, not the spiritual consciousness.
We may honour, even revere, a place in this world, an epoch in spiritual history, a man who has been graced by enlightenment; but to depend on any particular one only is both unwise and sectarian.
He only has the fullest right to talk of God who knows God, not his idea, fancy, belief, or imagination about God. He only should write of the soul, its power, peace, and wisdom, who lives in it every moment of every day. But since such men are all too rare and hard to find, mankind has had to accept substitutes for them. These substitutes are frail and fallible mortals, clutching at shadows. This is why religionists disagree, quarrel, fight, and persecute both inside and outside their own groups.
Since truth can be looked at from different standpoints, since it has different aspects, it is desirable that there should exist a variety of doctrines and views. Where the attempt is made to congeal it into a fixed creed, for all time, a sect is created and sectarian prejudices are introduced.
A sect is not open to truth: it closes the door upon what it has, will not scrutinize whether it be truth or not, will not admit new formulations. And by sects I mean groups with many millions of adherents or a few hundreds. The larger they are, the more accustomed to power they are, and the less open they are when traditional formulations no longer meet contemporary needs.
No membership of any church, temple, or ashram will save you if it becomes a cause of narrowing down ideas, relationships, mind--of sectarianism.
It is the wrong idea they have of the sect which constitutes their enslavement, not necessarily the sect itself. With a free mind they can use its organization safely.
Why has every historic religion divided itself into sects, why has no religious and no mystical organization yet escaped being severed by sectarianism or cut by schism? The answer can be found partly in the different needs of different types of human individuals, and partly in the imperfections and weaknesses of human character. It is because men have not risen into the full truth, because their understanding has not been freed from egoism nor their feelings from bias, that they fall into mean and petty sectarianism. In this pitiful condition, they imagine God to care only for members of their own sect and no other! The work of adverse forces seeking to pervert, materialize, or nullify the original inspired teaching must also be taken into account.
Those who look for an earthly heaven and spiritual millennium round the corner of the widespread adoption of some cult are sure to be disappointed. Their credulity shows they understand neither why nor how cults are formed, nor what human nature still is. That people will shed overnight their conventional forms of religious subservience on the one hand, and their selfishness and violence, their ignorance and uncontrol on the other hand, is a naïve belief which only naïve unphilosophic cults could foster.
It was a seventeenth-century clergyman, Christian Hoburg, who dared to publish a pamphlet, albeit pseudonymously, which contained such statements as "All Churches are sectarian" and "Christ is unknown to all the Churches."
All the revolts against orthodoxy, against organization, against dogma, acquire an enthusiastic following which ultimately ends up with another orthodoxy, another organization, another set of dogmas.
My plaint against them is that they are parrots, endlessly repeating and babbling the answers which original minds gave thousands of years ago. They are quite noncreative, and too often quite sectarian under their pretense of non-sectarianism.
Not only do organized religions split off into sects, but there are further splits of sects within sects.
There are benefits and disadvantages in old, established, traditional religions. But if the disadvantages stay too long or become too strong, they obstruct the basic purpose of religion. If their doctrines hamper religious aspiration or tyrannize over men, they are rendering a disservice. If symbols are taken too literally they may bind men to idol-worship and they may become substitutes for reality. Even an effort to propagate non-sectarian views, to cull what is good or essential from various quarters--as theosophy was to a large extent an attempt--even such a movement is likely, in the end, to become itself sectarian.
Schisms are found inside most religions: they are not less free from the ego's activity than politics and commerce.
Most blind followers of a sect do not attempt to understand the metaphysical and practical problems involved but simply take sides against the one who is being personally vilified.
The earnest pleas of Saint Paul could not stop dissensions among the faithful during his own lifetime: "I beg of you, brethren, be perfectly united in the same mind and in the same judgement." It has not stopped them dividing into bickering sects and contending cliques during the many centuries since his lifetime. Only when we understand the limitations of religion shall we understand why his plea was a utopian dream.
A religion might possibly gain universal support one day, but unless its devotees had touched and kept the philosophic level, sects would eventually appear within it to break the uniformity and disturb the harmony.
Intolerance, narrowness, persecution
None save Mind Itself can know what Mind is. No person can form an idea of Mind which is at all adequate. No one can create a mental picture which is correct. No one can formulate a concept which corresponds to the actuality of Mind. All results suffer from human limitations. If accepted by any religious creed they become idols worshipped in vain. If this be so it becomes clear that religious intolerance and religious persecution are evil human failings masquerading as virtues exercised on behalf of faith in the true God!
The notion that some sect, some people, or some race has been chosen to fulfil a special mission upon earth is a notion which is to be found in every nation that a philosopher can visit and in every epoch of history that he can study. It is a foolish notion and a recurring fallacy. It is such teaching which has kept false ideas and foolish emotions stubbornly alive. But it will persist and go on persisting because it appeals to peoples' vanity, not because it is based on any facts. Josephus lengthily argued that Plato derived his wisdom from Hebrew lore. Nowadays the Hindu Swamis tell us that Plato borrowed it from Indian lore. 'Tis all opinion, mere opinion--the truth is that the light of wisdom can shine everywhere, on any race and at any time. No single nation or land possesses primal inspiration.
The devotee believes that his God is the only true God, and other people's Gods are inferior or false. His ego is thus still in the way, despite high experiences.
So long as each institutional religion asserts that it alone has the truth, or has more truth, or more closeness to God, or that it is the most important vehicle used by God, so long will it continue to divide men, foster prejudice and ill will, even create hate, along with whatever good it is, or is capable of, doing.
Every man is entitled to his own personal opinion. It is his private possession. But when he wants to communicate it to others as a universal dogma or, worse, to impose it upon them as a universal faith received from God, we are entitled to remind him that he ought to keep his affairs to himself.
In the end the powers of karma fall crushingly upon those who, for selfish motives, have suppressed truth and supported falsehood.
Jesus would have been the first to realize that the love which he enjoined on his followers was essentially the same as the compassion which Buddha enjoined on his own. Yet, uninformed, or informed but biased, religionists seek to decry the Oriental teachings by proving the alleged superiority of the Occidental--as if Jesus was not Himself an Oriental! The real secret of this attempt to classify Jesus among the Occidental races is that they happen to be Occidental: in short, it is the dominance of their egos which leads to the confusion in their concepts.
If prejudice favouring an inherited creed denies the full truth, bias against it blocks the path to such truth.
All such denigration of other spiritual paths or of other spiritual tribes is as unnecessary as it is inexcusable.
The history of religious bigotry is associated with the history of religious persecution. If the first is denied entry, the second cannot appear.
The higher power bears no labels but men invent them and, later, their descendants begin to worship the labels instead of the power. Hence religious conflicts and wars: hence, too, religious ideas and atheistic movements.
Wherever there is persecution within a religion of those who differ from the ruling authority of the period, it usually covers the fact that the persecutors are greater heretics than their victims. For the Founder did not come to preach hatred and cruelty--there is enough of that in the world for God not to need to send someone to increase it--but virtue and goodwill. So the persecutors, even if successfully established and long established, are not preaching his message, but their own, which contradicts it.
The overleaping of these sectarian labels can only help the dissolving of the sectarian frictions, quarrels, persecutions, and intolerances which in the end turn into tortures, inquisitions, hatreds, and wars.
If we study the history of established state religions, too often we find that the priests or clergy of the religion have been able to stir up the fanaticism of ignorant crowds to persecute or to eliminate those who dare to believe otherwise and are foolish enough to state their beliefs publicly. It must be pointed out that this tendency is most pronounced among those who follow the three Semitic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in the order of their historic appearance. It is all to the credit of Buddhism and Hinduism that tolerance is almost a tenet of their religions.
When the acceptance of religious faith stirs up animosity, creates hatred, and fosters persecution, it is then no better but even worse than its rejection.
Criticism is the inevitable karma of superstitious credulity as hatred is the inevitable karma of unjust persecution. We heard much of the persecutions of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Bolsheviks after their revolution but little of the persecutions by the same Church before the revolution. Those who understand how karmic retribution works unerringly will find the following little paragraph, taken from a leading St. Petersburg newspaper, Novoye Vremya, during the year 1892, very significant. Dealing with accounts given by Prince Mestcherski of certain suffering endured by the Christian sect called "Old Believers" at the hands of the Orthodox State Church, in Siberia, the paper writes: "The treatment of the Buddhists is still harsher. Says the Prince, `They are literally forced by the police, at the instance of the local clergy, to embrace Christianity. All kinds of means are resorted to; they are captured in the woods, hunted like beasts and beaten, force even being employed with pregnant women.'"
What strikes us most poignantly is the absence of sympathy, of love in the widest Christian sense, for all those outside each little sect. For the incompatible difference between the lofty kindness enjoined by Jesus and the petty meanness practised by the sectarians in his name is heart-saddening.
Religion has hardly been successful in bringing men to the most elementary and merely negative duty of refraining from killing one another. At Ayuthia, the former capital of Siam but now overgrown by jungle, I saw a lone large statue of Gautama the Buddha sadly looking out at the ruins of the city destroyed by a Burmese army two centuries ago. And both antagonists claimed to be Buddhists! At Shanghai, I saw another Buddha statue amid the debris of a wrecked temple in the suburban district of Chapei, the scene of battle in 1937, yet both the Chinese and Japanese antagonists here were partly Buddhist, and the Buddha made non-killing a prominent tenet of the ethical code which he laid down for all his followers, for monks and laymen alike.
Too many men have used the word God to cover their cruelties, or their follies, or their own selfishnesses!
The absurdity of insisting on name-labels, the narrowness of joining religious groups, attains its summit when immortal life is proclaimed as our destiny only if we belong to a particular group!
The journey from the narrowness of dogma to the arrogance of infallibility may take time for a religious institution to finish, but when it is finished a further journey may begin. And that is to intolerance, totalitarianism, and finally persecution.
The religious temperament has its puzzling contradictions. The Holy Inquisitors would have been hurt if told that they had repudiated Christ, would insistently have asserted their devotion to him. Yet for religious reasons they broke men's bodies on the torture wheel, tied them to the stake for burning. The gentle inhabitants of Tahiti shed tears copiously when Captain Cook flogged a thief on his ship, yet for religious reasons they practised human sacrifice while their priests killed their own children. A Jewish king in the early pre-Islamic Arabia persecuted those among his subjects who were Christians. Later Christian kings in Europe persecuted their Jewish subjects, while Muhammedan kings in the Middle East persecuted Jews and Christians alike!--all in the name of religion.
If the Bhagavad Gita's statement means anything at all, it means that we ought to be tolerant to other people's worship, to the form in which they symbolize God. Pliny understood this very well when he wrote: "You are going to Athens. Respect their gods."
When conversion is followed by enthusiasm, this is natural, often inevitable. But when it is followed by fanaticism, the convert is put in danger and others even more so.
It must be remembered as a mark against exaggerated valuation of, and trust in, religious institutions and religious authority, that the Holy Inquisition not only burned or tortured infidels but even the Franciscan Brothers, good Christian Catholics who happened to become victims of the prejudice of one particular medieval Pope.
It is very difficult to find any organized form of religion which does not exaggerate its own value, or denigrate other forms.
A truly universal outlook would be free from the subtle possessiveness which wants to draw others into one's own particular fixed cult or creed and keep them there forever chained. This kind of religious attachment is not less binding, not less shutting-in to horizons, than those other, and more obvious, forms of personal, material, or emotional attachment.
Fanaticism is often allied with superstition using the authority of religious texts, customs, or traditions. So it passes unscrutinized and self-deluded, too often preoccupied with externals and trivialities.
They hold their opinions too ferociously to hold them on a basis of reason.
The sacred foolishness of those teachers of the path of religious devotion who reject all the other paths is still better than worldly foolishness, but it cannot form part of the philosophic ideal.
Where doctrine is elevated above life, it inevitably leads by a series of fatal downward steps to guarding itself by persecuting those who hold opposing views. This happened in medieval Catholic history. It happened in early Reformation history, and it happened even in American Presbyterian history.
The Romans, who brutally slaughtered the assembled Druids in Britain, were symbolic of the retribution which eventually punishes priestly fanaticism and of the challenge which inevitably comes to priestly superstition.
They are fools who do not know that though they burn ten thousand heretics this day, God will implant the same idea, if it be a true one, in ten thousand minds tomorrow.
So long as ecclesiastical leaders falsely teach their flocks that their own particular religion is the only one acceptable in God's eyes and that all other religions are bereft of His grace and light, so long will religion continue to give birth to strife instead of peace, prejudice instead of tolerance, hatred instead of love.
The Israelites did not have a monopoly of the "God's Chosen Race" belief. Milton, in his "Aeropagitica," proclaimed that "God reveals Himself first to His Englishmen." Hegel, however, asserted that it was the divine decree for the Germans to lead the world. And, until Hitler's hordes smashed through their land, not a few of the mystically inclined Poles passionately believed that theirs was to be "the Messianic race." In the Far East, the Japanese cherished similar beliefs until American bombs initiated a process of revisionary thinking.
Naïve sentimentalists or distorted thinkers manufacture romantic impressions about their race religion history or country. Some dream golden-age, Eden-idyllic fantasies about the past or future that have no basis in fact. Perverted wishful thinking asks for illusion--and gets it!
False theory breaks down before personal experience of the present fact as it actually is. This is often quite painful but how else is the real truth to be established when the sayer of it is disregarded or disbelieved?
We need religion, yes assuredly, but we need it freed from superstition.
When the faculty of reverence is diverted from its proper object--the divine Power--and perverted to a base one, it becomes superstition.
Theological arguments which use empty words without mental substance, sacred names of non-existent entities, can be classified as superstitious.
Do not lose your wits over religious fables which were intended to help ungrown minds--that is, most minds--or to soothe and comfort half-grown ones needing new interpretations and better explanations. There never was a "Golden Age" where all people lived happily together, nor is there now an "Iron Age" where they all live miserably together.
Every superstition is a truth corrupted. Therefore when we say that religion ought to purify itself, it need in many cases only turn its superstitions inside-out to set itself right!
Superstition is a costly luxury which the mood of this age cannot afford to set up; it is harmful to genuine religion and useless to genuine devotees. False thoughts are so plentiful that they lie ready to the hand of man; hence he finds it easier to pick them up without effort, rather than to exert his own mind to independent thinking. In the absence of the inspiration of true religion men will accept the degradation of untrue materialism, though it is noteworthy that the younger clergy have abandoned the teaching about the creation of the universe and the origin of man which they had inherited.
There is no excuse for such unthinking complacency. If the powerful suggestions of tradition and environment persuade us to believe certain things heedlessly, to go on believing them throughout a lifetime is to shame and deny our thinking power. Much of what passes for religion is mere superstition. Religion raises us whereas superstition degrades us. We must seek the true face of religion under the false mask of mere spiritual legalism and hollow theological casuistry. We must cast away the accretions and have no use for what is sectarian and self-seeking and superstitious in religion.
Scepticism is the inevitable swing from superstition. The moral code that comes with the superstition goes with it, too. This is the worst danger of false religion.
There is a very real difference between right faith and superstitious faith.
Where religion lets itself support the superstition which, if allowed, grows like a parasite upon it, it begins to practise deception upon itself and imposture upon society. It lets go of Truth at its own peril and to its followers' harm.
Because millions of people share a superstition does not make it a truth.
The perversions of truth have been numerous. But the materializations of truth have been even more numerous. In Japan the guru of a certain Zen sect gave thirty blows with a wooden stick to an unfortunate disciple. This beating was considered to be a precious opportunity for the disciple to gain Satori (Enlightenment)! In India many a pious person or holy man who arrives on pilgrimage in Benares is told by the priests there that by bathing in the River Ganges and putting his head under the surface of the water, he will then gain spiritual enlightenment!
When a religious dogma prevents people from searching for the true cause of their distressed condition--whether it be personal trouble or physical disease--and hence from searching for its true remedy, it is nothing more than a superstitious belief masquerading as a religious one.
Puerile superstitions have intertwined themselves with every religion, or even taken their place along with golden wisdom.
We have only to study history, true history, which requires a wider reference than is customary, to discover how religious dogmas develop, how private imagination and personal opinion go into their creation. They are human, not divine.
There are religious dogmas which are quite unreal, others which are quite inane; yet, this said, the general residue of religious teaching is solidly and substantially true. Some of it may be wrapped in mystery, which those who want to go farther can unravel with the help of mysticism or philosophy. All of it contains a perceptible message of uplift, of hope, of comfort and of guidance.
In the old days metaphysics fell asleep through too much reclining in the arms of my lady Church; if it woke up with the Renaissance that is because this theological flirtation was stopped.
False doctrines promulgated in logical form under the title of theology, false beliefs bequeathed from generation to generation and holding crude superstition: these we can well do without, but when getting rid of them, exercise discrimination, take care not to get rid of the true doctrines which theology contains and the worthy beliefs which tradition passes down.
It is more prudent to assert that you have some of the truth than to assert that you have the fullness of it.
Every organized religion must have dogmas. It could not be what it is without them. Even its first basic assumption--that there is a God--is a dogma. There is nothing wrong in its adherence to dogmas. What is wrong is adherence to false dogmas, to those whose truth is denied by the realities of existence and life.
Where any of the doctrines of a religion are unable to survive the tests of reason, examination, factuality, and evidence, they hide away in a part of the mind where the tests cannot get at them. This is called "resting on faith." It is a way of defending them from certain defeat. Instead of permeating the whole outlook, they are compartmentalized.
It is a more truly religious man who does not put his religion in fetters, manacled to hard dogma, cruel canon law, and intolerant practice.
These creeds and systems are interesting as records of human faith and thought, imagination and invention, but they are useless as paths to salvation. They may give comfortable hopes to their devotees but they do not repudiate the ego which fosters illusions and creates sufferings.
All these mystical symbolisms and metaphysical allegories become in the end obstructions which get in the way of a clear understanding of the truth.
It is possible that the minister of an orthodox church may be a truly enlightened individual. How, then, it will be asked, can such a person coordinate the abstract Truth of Philosophy with the popular belief of the divinity of Jesus Christ? One answer might be that he privately interprets "divinity" in a special way but publicly follows the orthodox interpretation, because of what he believes to be the necessity of making use of the best available means for leading mankind nearer to Spiritual Reality. Outwardly he might elect to appear as a representative of, say, the Church of England.
If the metaphysical foundations are unsound, we need not expect the moral superstructure to be safe from criticism.
Where faith has a false basis and a wrong direction, it may one day weaken or even collapse.
Those who have the heroism to turn away from outworn creedal dogmas are the real followers of their Redeemer or prophet, the real believers in God.
When petty quibbles about surface details and trivial idiosyncrasies of behaviour are placed on a level with the highest ethical standards in importance, we must assert our critical judgement. When external formalities are made to matter just as much as internal virtues of character, we must use our sense of discrimination.
When religious faith is inculcated as an attitude towards the unknown and unseen, it is rightly inculcated. But when it is advanced as the right attitude towards the irrational and impossible, it is wrongly advanced.
To teach the masses one thing publicly but to believe something very different privately is an attitude which has a great and grave danger--it tends to obliterate the distinction between a truth and a lie.
Religious teaching will be all the better when it is freed from life-prisoning and mind-fettering dogmas.
A belief for which there is supporting evidence ought not be put in the same category as an unfounded belief.
Some religious doctrines are stiflingly narrow and create a desire for the fresh air of reason and science, humanitarianism and compassion.
The doctrine of relativity may be applied anywhere and shows that there are no unquestionable creeds, no indisputable dogmas.
We can absorb the religious spirit, its emotional reverence for and intellectual fidelity to the Higher Power, without absorbing its commitments to crystallized dogma.
I do not know of any organization or institution which attempts to work for mankind in a religious or mystical way which has not its weaknesses, its limitations, and its evils, for remember, every organization and every institution is in the end composed of human beings and in them there is always this dual age-old conflict of good and evil.
In the beginning an organization is "pure," that is, seeks earnestly and sincerely to perform its proper function. In the end, its original ambition realized, its success established, it deviates into other purposes. It becomes power-hungry, tyrannical, selfish, more interested in its own perpetuation than in serving the early ideal, more eager for membership and money than in the common welfare. And this is as true of religious as of political organizations, trade unions, and commercial associations.
Without some organization there may result intellectual anarchy, moral indiscipline, and emotional chaos. It is also true that the man who accepts a traditional form, joins an organized group, or enters an established church benefits by the help of the tradition or institution. Hence, we are not against teachers and groups which fulfil or even only sincerely strive to fulfil these legitimate expectations. But neither in past history nor present experience are absolutely sincere institutions ever found on earth, although they may be found on paper. It would seem that to set up an organization is to introduce fresh sectarian limitations; that to institutionalize a revelation is to render null and void its spiritual inspiration; and that to totally submit faith, reason, and will to one man is eventually to invite exploitation and accept superstition.
The degradation, falsification, commercialization, and exploitation which men, making use of institutional religion, have made of a prophet's mission, speaks clearly of what these men themselves are made. The fact is that they are not fit to be trusted with the power which institutionalism gives them. Religion is safer and healthier and will make more genuine progress if left free and unorganized, to be the spontaneous expression of inspired individuals. It is a personal and private matter and always degenerates into hyprocrisy when turned into a public matter. The fact is, you cannot successfully organize spirituality. It is an independent personal thing, a private discovery and not a mass emotion.
When religion identifies itself with an ecclesiastical organization and forgets itself as an individual experience, it becomes its own enemy. History proves again and again that institutionalism enters only to corrupt the purity of a religion.
No religion will keep its original purity or inspiration if it fails to keep out its organization's own ambitions and thirst for power or wealth.
In religion inspiration dwindles as organization grows. Men come to worship the visible organization itself instead of the Invisible Spirit--that is to say, to worship themselves.
Institutional forms render their service by helping a body of teaching to survive, by giving permanence to a tradition, by enshrining and preserving valued memories.
Any ecclesiastical organization or any prophetic person who claims exclusive knowledge of higher things, exclusive communication with heavenly spheres, goes beyond whatever real mandate of authority it possesses. None has the right to make such a claim. Instead of honouring the organization, the latter is dishonoured by it, by its arrogance and falsity.
Beware of religious institutions. They are dogmatic, self-loving, unable to transcend their limitations.
How would old established ecclesiastical circles, of whatever creed, receive their prophet today? A little knowledge of history, of human organized society, with a little practice of imagination would soon supply an answer.
The true Church is an invisible one. It exists only in the hearts of men.
The true Church is an interior and invisible Idea, not an exterior and tangible institution.
Every attempt to organize religion harms it. It must be spontaneous if it is to keep its purity, personal if it is to keep its reality.
No system, no doctrine, and no organization can hold truth without squeezing out much of its life.
A religion must be transmitted from generation to generation, so its ministers and scriptures come into being. The purity of its doctrines must be maintained: so sects heresies divergencies reforms and dissents are resisted.
It is somewhat sad to observe, in the study of history, that the very purpose of creating an organization to preserve, to guard, and to keep pure a new religion too often becomes with time the very cause of the opposite condition. Additions are made to texts, truths are cut out from them, while the organization regards its own preservation and power as more important than anything else.
If there is any lesson which history can teach us, it is that absolute power always corrupts. Such unchecked domination proves in the end, and in the religious world, as bad for the dominator as for those dominated. It breeds weaknesses in him and retards the spiritual growth of his victims. This is not less but even more true when it is exercised by a group, for the risk with the creation of all institutions and organizations is that everything is thereafter done more for the sake of the institution or the organization than of the principle it was embodied to spread. That this risk is very real and almost unavoidable is proved by all history, whether in the Orient or the Occident, whether in ancient times or in modern. It is not long before a time comes when an organization defeats its own ends, when it does as much harm as good, or even more, when its proclaimed purposes become deceptive; external attacks and internal disputes increase with the increase of the organization. No religious organization is so all-wise and so all-selfless that, being entrusted with totalitarian power, it will not yield in time to the temptation of abusing that power. It will practise intolerance and paralyse free thought. The history of every religious monopoly proves this. Thus the individual's need to follow whatever faith he pleases, to think and act for himself, to find the sect that suits him best, is endangered by the monopoly's demand for blind obedience and blinder service. The organization which begins by seeking to spread truth ends by obstructing it. The inheritors of a message of peace and goodwill themselves bequeath hate and bitterness.
We do not need to be much learned in the chronicles of both Asiatic and European history to note the unfortunate fact that as religious institutionalism spreads and strengthens itself, religious inspiration shrinks and weakens itself. The original impulse to authentic communication with God becomes gradually changed into an impulse to selfish exploitation of man. The climax comes when the ecclesiastical organization which was intended to give effect to the sacred injunctions of a seer or prophet not only fails to do so, but actually tries to prevent its members from trying to do so themselves. His purpose is perverted. His teaching is degraded. Thus religion, which should be a potent help to mankind's evolution, tends to become and does become a potent hindrance to mankind's evolution. For such a degradation the karmic responsibility lies heavily on its paid professionals.
History has shown that a monopolistic religious institutionalism invariably falls into spiritual degeneracy and inevitably ends in intellectual tyranny. The setting up of autocratic government, episcopal authority, and professional clergy is sooner or later followed by a train of corruptions and abuses. Jesus denounced the religious institutions and religious hierarchy of his time, and drew his followers out of them. Yet hardly had he passed from this earth when they began, in their atavistic reversion to traditional ideas, to recreate new institutions and new hierarchy. If it be asked why the spiritual teacher who knows the harmfulness of these ideas is not heeded by those who believe in him, the answer is first, that belief may be present yet understanding may be absent and, secondly, that the innate selfishness of men finds too easy an opportunity for exploitation through such ideas to miss falling into the temptation of propagating them. Were the truth of any religion really clear to people, all the bitter controversies and bloody persecutions of history would not have happened, and all the innumerable commentaries of theology would never have been written to prove what was so plainly evident.
While religion is intimately associated with ecclesiastical organization, it will be intimately associated with money and power needs also. In such a situation it can no longer remain true to its purer self but must inevitably deteriorate.
The harmony among religions is a fact, but unfortunately it is not a fact easily seen nor frequently supported by religious organizations in whose interest it is to oppose it.
If you wish to know one sign of the difference between a true religion and a half-true or untrue one, remember that the latter seeks power over men whereas the former never does.
Institutions are necessary to society; it is only when they become tyrannical or dictatorial that they serve evil purposes.
Where religions have failed it is through their institutionalism; where they have succeeded it is through whatever individualism still remained in them. Romantic illusions may keep these institutions alive, but the darkening gloom of our times shows that human welfare cannot be preserved by illusions.
"Thou shalt have no other God before Me!" warns the Biblical Commandment. Yet the ignorant still give to the Limited--an organization or a man--the worship which they ought to reserve for the Unlimited--God--alone.
For those who have little time and less inclination for the work of study, reflection, meditation, and aesthetic appreciation--namely, for the toiling masses--an attempt is made to accommodate their needs and limitations by providing them with popular religion. But human nature being what it is, sooner or later the institutions and organizations associated with religion become either semi-commercialized or turned into instruments of power. A modern Japanese thinker even went so far as to criticize them by accusing them of "stealing Heaven's Way."
An institution or organization is only a background for the men who work in it. It helps or hinders them, elevates or degrades them, but they are the more important factor.
We must separate, in our minds, institutional religion from personal religion, the outward structures they have built up historically from the inward atmosphere they have created individually. Persecutions and pogroms come more often from the first, yet without these institutions how would the texts, the teachings, and the reminders be passed down?
To give religion a merely institutional significance is to take the incidental for the essential. The churches and sects of religion are its least part; the influence on character and intuition is its greatest.
The doctrine of an apostolic transmission of divine authoritative power through human ministry and episcopates is one instance of such false but widely accepted belief. Man will never be saved by any official church.
When an organized religion places power over humanity before service to humanity, it loses its way; and when it becomes an instrument of persecution, it prepares its own eventual doom.
The sects seeking to get adherents, to commit new members to their dogmas or opinions, are not for him. For nineteen hundred years priests, captive clergymen, and pale theologians have been deliberately endeavouring to persuade people that the kingdom of heaven is to be reached within a professional organization called the Church, and nowhere else, as though they could be saved in a mass. Had the ecclesiastics honestly said that their organization existed to help people find the kingdom within themselves and therefore had a perfect right to receive support, nobody could cavil at them. But they have deliberately transplanted the emphasis in their own interests, and followed their master only from the safe distance of a sermon.
The organization which gathers round such a prophet, especially after he has left his body and cannot control them, may become an obstacle and, to some extent, even a traitor to his real value and true message.
When a religion organizes itself to conquer the world, the world instead conquers the religion. History tells us this time and again.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.