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Religion – voluntary enslavement

Published on March 8, 2011 by: in: Thought

It is not going to be a text about God or faith. Strange? Not really, since religion is paradoxically not always about God and faith. Maybe they should be searched for in one’s soul rather than in any kind of ideology or place?

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It is difficult to write about freedom for a person that does not believe in the existence of this noble idea. Thus, enslavement appears as a more appropriate issue to discuss than freedom. Enslavement may exist on various levels and manifest itself in different ways. The history of slavery, persecution and tyranny of power seem to be the most dramatic ones. Fortunately, we live in a world in which these problems are fading out. However, we do not notice that equally serious phenomena, though not so spectacular, prey upon human free will and thus pose a threat. Even on this little patch of freedom we still have.

More and more often, we leave the remains of freedom to such phenomena as ideology, materialism, political system or religion. The two latter are particularly striking. Politics defended human rights many times, fought for civil liberties, security and morality. Religion, in turn (especially in Poland the Catholic religion) appeared when noble politics failed. The idea of the church community added courage and confidence in the validity of the undertaken goals. Over the course of time, religion, which was meant to constitute a counterbalance for politics, has become politics itself – full of rights and duties, offering a defined set of rules and procedures. Simultaneously, it is losing its unique character by missing its essence – spirituality. Due to the frequency of certain customs and rituals, we stop performing them consciously. Automatism replaces thinking. Would any God wish to have machinery as believers?

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God”. This “word”, with God and God itself, has lost its power and the original sense in the contemporary world. Metaphysics, Truth and the full power of the word have gone. Mass rituals are full of words – prayers – repeated without attention, concentration and assimilation. How many followers of Jesus read His words? How many abide by them? How many try to understand and how many recognize the interpretation of the church as their own? Do we really believe in the literalness of the words “On the seventh day God rested from all His work”? If yes, the fact that the mystery of the world has long been discovered and comprehended should be announced. The problem is that no human words can describe the heart of the matter (divine and natural). Statements – there is one God in three persons, or – Buddha announced right after his birth that it was his last coming – have no sense if we want to understand them literally. It is not words that built the world, so it cannot be comprehended on the basis of words.

A word only symbolizes a thing it refers our consciousness to. It is not the thing itself. We should not hence expect that the word means something it is supposed to. It means something as long as we understand this meaning. If we do not understand and do not attempt to comprehend the essence of soul, love or God, the words “soul”, “love” or “god” are only empty vibrations of the air.

We surround ourselves with words, symbols, truths, clichés, rituals and… money as conditions essential to obtain salvation. We willingly belong to a church we do not understand or feel, the one that irritates us and does not teach love, but only shows how to speak about it.

Agnieszka was brought up in a Catholic family. Her mother and father respected church holidays and attended mass every Sunday. On one autumn evening at supper, her mother told a tragic story of a neighbour, whose daughter “married a Black, as if she couldn’t find a normal boy”. Agnieszka, not to disappoint her mother like her peer from neighbourhood, found a “normal” boy and married him at the age of 23. The wedding took place in a cathedral, in presence of the whole big family. Uncles and aunts from all over Poland arrived to take part in the traditional Polish-style ceremony. Some relatives from abroad appeared, too. It was not a wedding the newly-weds had dreamt of, but over twenty years of upbringing effort of parents deserve a proper wedding and marriage. Newly-weds were young enough to highly value having fun, young enough to work as a barman in a club, young enough to measure love with sex and beauty with well-shaped body. Over the time, marriage ceased to be passionate – quarrels, disappointments and conflicts of interests started. Both decided to part. The divorce went easily, some formalities were completed and required signatures were given. A problem appeared when they decided to invalidate the church wedding. It turned out that God-bureaucrat requires a long investigative procedure. His earthy assistants listen to the reasons why a woman and a man come to the conclusion that Almighty God  did not mean them to be together. Then, they determine whether they can invalidate wedding vows.

“What God has joined together, let not man separate”, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” According to these presuppositions, Agnieszka and her former husband are obliged to keep the wedding vow. They will be bound forever, against their will, unless they are allowed to part by the priests. Thus, in future they will not obtain a blessing if they meet the love of their lives that will make them truly feel God in their hearts. Would the God of love wish people to share eternity with an unsuitable person? Without bonds, and often with mutual hatred and aversion?

Janina was a deeply-believing person. She never considered presence at church on Sundays an obligation. Her prayer did not consist of mere repeating the same phrases without concentration and understanding. It was a fully conscious participation in the service, an attempt to comprehend holy mysteries and to find the warmth of the spirit of Jesus in her. She cared about the institution of the church – she contributed generously to a collection, decorated the altar with flowers, donated to the poor and homeless. When she reached the age of 80, the Lord called Janine to Himself. Although she devoted all her heart to the church, it caused inconvenience organizing her last journey.

The family of Janina is poor. She died without any savings (she gave current money to the church institutions). 600 złotys were necessary to obtain a place at the town cemetery, 200 złotys to transport the corpse to a mortuary, another 200 złotys to preserve the corpse in a cold store, 260 złotys to prepare the body for the funeral, 1000 złotys to erect a temporary gravestone and 570 złotys to celebrate the mass. It turns out that the eternal rest is not priceless. Just the opposite – it has a very concrete price. It costs 2830.00 złotys.

The etymology of the word “religion” refers to Latin “religio”, which probably meant cementing, joining. However, history and the present day show that religion is becoming rather a reason for divisions (interreligious and internal). Crusades, holy wars, “fights for the crosses”, fights “for…”, fights “against…”, fights “in the name of…” are dramatic and at the same time meaningful examples of limiting freedom by religion. They cast doubt on the purpose for which religious dogmas are formulated. Wolter once said that if there was no God, one should be invented. What for? Because the idea of an Absolute Being that watches over the fate of the universe gives a feel of safety, confidence and stability. It turns out that holiness can function also on more practical levels – as an excuse for starting a war, creating reality and society according to specific rules. Orthodoxy and doctrinarism are the reasons why followers do not feel obliged to analyse and reflect on these matters. After all, everything has been already determined and recoded. Arousing terror in followers also supports this passive attitude. An average believer is ready to acknowledge a moment of hesitation, an attempt of undermining the fundamentals of a religious community as a sin against God himself, which may mean excommunication or eternal damnation. Would all-knowing God create man (in His own image), whose way of thinking He would condemn? And whose every attempt to find the Truth would meet His anger?

Such attempts are connected with considerable emotional and intellectual effort. Thus, it is often easier to devote our lives to “the only right idea”, die for our faith in the name of Allah or live according to our parents’ will, which is supported by Confucianism. We resign from the burden of freedom of our own will.

What is called “religion” seems to impose a ready-made value system, an ethos of behaviour and an explanation for the structure of the world. Rational thinking brings the question whether any idea can describe the essence of the world definitely and correctly. The beliefs of the Far East are the most remote from so riskily indisputable statements. It is hard to understand why Zen Buddhism, for example, is perceived as a religion, while its character is far from religious. It is not a collection of rules of behaviour that must be accepted. It is not a dogma explaining the structure of the world, either. Bearing in mind the contemporary understanding of such words as “religion” or “philosophy”, Zeh cannot be assigned to any of these fields. If we dared to reach for the primary meanings of these words and their associations with mentioned “religio” as a bond, Zen would seem appropriate to be called a religion.

There are many varieties of Zeh Buddhism. We can find also those which propose a ready-made system of ideology, support observing rituals, saying specific sutras and mantras (of course, there is nothing wrong in rituals as long as we know their purposes and we observe them consciously). I am particularly interested in Zen described by Suzuki, Fromm or Martino. One who resigns from ritual observances for the sake of internal quests, cleaning oneself from automatism and obviousness which approach the self-evident and common matters sceptically, undermines the validity of systems with the linguistic one above all. They try to learn and recognize the world again by getting rid of cultural, social and political experiences as well as breaking all boundaries. Would absence of these boundaries be the most perfect form of freedom?

It is the right place for the question – does man really want freedom? Is freedom a privilege or a problem that requires effort and responsibility? The answer comes immediately – freedom is troublesome. Hence, accepting internal truths and becoming part of a religious or political society makes life easier by providing the “only right” idea. Although many united societies will declare openness and will to hold a dialogue, in fact they consider such a dialogue impossible. After all, a need of showing identity and uniqueness would not exist without faith in the rightness of the fundaments that are present in any society. The second reason for which we join a group is a fear of solitude and death. Religion copes with both these problems perfectly. But can operations based on fear be right and constructive? No, they cannot. This is why religion often has destructive effects. It names God as “God”, and kills him in this way. It says “we have found the truth”, and loses it in this way. It threatens with punishment for undermining faith, and in this way kills the natural, childlike curiosity, will and courage to pose the question “why”. Jesus himself taught: “Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will certainly not enter it…”

Translation: Marcin Pyka

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About Katarzyna Wozniak

Student of Polish philology at the University of Lodz, interested in literature, theatre and contemporary art, looking for the artistic form expressing the reality the best.

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