Rational Religion

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Reinventing the Wheel.


Cults usually get started as the result of ignorance (on the part of a lot of people). Some bright but ill-educated individual, puzzling over the lousy job that human beings do of living in the Universe, stumbles across a set of Eternal Verities. All of a sudden the truth is so manifest (and all the clods around him are so blind to it) that he figures he must have been divinely inspired. He sets out to become a Glorious Leader.


Trouble is, he's in the same position as a multi-million dollar lottery winner. He's had no training and no experience in how to handle his new largesse.


First off, he has no way of judging the extent of his spiritual fortune. Having all by himself discovered some portion of The Truth he is inclined to assume that he has a direct pipeline to all of it. This leads to the idiocy described above, re "Cant, further compounded by the natural human tendency to do as much of whatever makes one happy as the neighbors will let one get away with.


If, god help us all, he happens to be a charismatic personality, he is all set to become David Koresh or Jim Jones, or one of a thousand or so equally dangerous demagogues who unfortunately have not yet committed suicide. All around him, you see, he will find equally ignorant citizens to whom his revelation of The Truth will come as a shock and a surprise and look indeed to be divinely inspired.


Being theologically, philosophically, certainly scientifically, unsophisticated, they have no way of sorting which of their prophet's pronouncements are Wisdom and which are bullshit. Should any of them be inclined to try, the prophet will soon learn to impose the necessary discipline to keep his flock from doing any dangerous thinking for themselves. The de rigueur technique is to threaten them with eternal hell fire for questioning the Word of God.


Now we have a full-blown cult; a self-embattled in-group of True Believers, surrounded by a hostile world which doesn't understand them and is constantly trying to corrupt them and lead them astray (There are always powerful personal imperatives to get out of an oppressive situation like that, even if one entered it willingly. There is therefore no shortage of proof that the evil outside world is trying to seduce you.)


Within his sphere the leader becomes literally all-powerful. And we all know what Lord Acton said about power.


The pity is the whole sordid scene might have been avoided if the eventual tyrant only had enough education in the first place to realize that his divine discoveries had been made several (hundred?) times before and that his insight - though indeed laudable - was less divine revelation than inevitable deduction, given widely available data and the configuration of the human central nervous system.


Even if, as is quite likely, the prophet chose to ignore the prosaic (and humbling) facts in favor of a life of self-aggrandizement, a little of the same sort of education in the minds of his followers might have kept them from following quite so blindly.


The irony is that the occasional reinvention of the wheel is not always superfluous. People need inspiration and re-invigorated spiritual leadership.


So I do not denigrate all the would-be prophets, bent on socio-spiritual reform. But I would urge upon them restraint. And, please! A little research!