Rational Religion

Contact the author:
tuppennyprofet - at - aol - dot - com
(translate into a real email address)

Why The Twain Are Not The Same


The ethical goals of metaphysical and rational religion may seem similar, but there is one important area of disagreement.


A metaphysical religion starts with metaphysics; Rational Religion begins with ethics.


In the dogma of most religions, behaving yourself toward your environment and your fellow humans is a by-product of belief.   The first commandment of the Judeo-Christian Decalogue is a tip-off. 


FIRST, don't believe in any other gods.  Then  we get on to the business of living together and in the world .  As far as the doctrine of the religion is concerned, it is the discipline of belief which keeps the faithful on the straight and narrow.


This is why orthodox religionists have so much trouble understanding how non-believers can be moral or ethical. 


They depend on their belief in metaphysical solutions, rewards and punishments to keep them from indulging their troublesome desires and passions.    Of course, they know that if they "stray," just occasionally, they can pacify their deity by returning to the fold most of the time.  The amount they can allow themselves to stray depends entirely on how much they feel they can persuade their god to forgive. 


The Rational Religionist has no such luxury.   He may not live in fear of eternal damnation, but he has to face his own conscience.


Any self-employed person knows that working for yourself makes you slave labor.  Knowing you are responsible for your own mis-, mal- or non-feasance is an advanced form of tyranny.  


Small wonder not a lot of people attempt it.


Admittedly, the    may have fewer sins to commit, having fewer rules to break.  But the ones she does commit, she knows are real sins, and has to live with that. 


When Karl Marx called religion an "opiate," he was speaking historically as well as psychologically.


Psychologically, it is easy to keep the congregation in line if they think they are assured of a better life in the next one.


Historically, up to Marx's time, most of the purveyors of European religion - priests, nuns and divine-right princes - came from the hereditary privileged class.  Under primogeniture (in which the eldest son inherits the "real" estate -- that is, the land, the castle and all the power that goes with it) a lot of second-and-lower sons were left dangling.  They couldn't work for a living without giving up their "gentle" status, so they essentially had two options; the priesthood or the military. 


(Henri-Marie Beyle -- Stendhal -- wrote a novel about that, "Rouge et Noir."  The red was the army -- officer corps, of course -- and the black was the clergy.)


Actually, there was a third option.  One could simply become a wastrel and a parasite, and a lot of them did that.


Women, being largely left out of the loop, entirely, could hope only to marry well, become a spinster auntie-governess or enlist in a convent.


At any rate, when a king or other lord was looking for a spiritual ally to put the proper spin on whatever political or social question came up, he could appeal to his little brother, the Monsignor, or his aunt, the Abbess. 


These pious people would then assure an occasionally rebellious underclass that, though their lot in this world was hard, uncomplaining fealty would earn them their own palaces in the afterlife. 


It's tough enough to buck the system, even when the consequences aren't beheading and being burned at the stake.    It's usually easier just to give up and hope the priests are right.  If you can passionately believe the priests are right, you can endure damn near anything.


Most people are perfectly content to live as slaves, as long as they have a modicum of creature comfort and it doesn't interdict their reproductive strategy.   If you can avoid reminding them of their status too often, you can probably keep them under control for generations.


Of course there are always individuals -- individualists -- for whom the "one-size-fits-all" sociology chafes and binds.    You have to give these heroes someplace to break the rules...or kill them off.  For a millennium and a half the power structure took care of both these alternatives by drafting the firebrands into the military and letting them get killed doing the count's dirty work.  (Where this backfired was in the Age of Revolutions when all these feisty types had military training and used it to kick the count's ass out of the county.)


A Rational Religion is not interested in controlling its adherents.  It may give them a certain philosophical acceptance which will help keep them from batting their brains out against some intractable wall of dogma, doctrine, or even civil law.  But it also encourages them to keep looking for cracks or hidden passages in the structure.   And there is plenty of room to grow; intellectually, artistically, scientifically.