Monday, July 18, 2011

Resisting the Twisters of God

Some years ago, I bought Sting's album The Soul Cages. Lyrically, I think it is his best work -- in fact, I would group the lyrics on that album in with some of the finest works of English literature. No I'm not kidding. Only time will tell, I suppose.

Be that as it may, on one song, "All This Time," Sting utters the line:
"Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one."
This, I worked out years later, is derived from Charles Mackay's statement:
"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."
Sting is putting a slant on it, of course, at the expense of organized religion, but the principle is the same: We need to work things out for ourselves, in the end. But how many of us do?

It is really fashionable to jump on the "organized religion is bad" bandwagon and every pseudo-intellectual loudmouth on the Internet is riding right along pumping his fists and, oddly, shouting "Amen" to the idea. They lap the point of view up because it is so obviously cheeky; it makes them defiant in a world in which there is less and less to defy with any kind of real dramatic effect. They're like little kids yelling "poopy" out loud during a math test. They are also, since they are so derned smart, sure that the laws of smartness preclude anything inexplicable, regardless of the innumerable gaping holes in scientific understanding.

Anyway, I see both where Sting and his predecessor are going with these quotations and I agree whole-heartedly. Still, I don't jump on the anti-religion (or the anti-PTA/student government/cigar club, etc.) bandwagon, even though I see some nagging problems with people in groups.

It is true that organized religion can lead to bad things, including war and terrorism. But instead of blaming the idea of religion or blaming any particular religious institution, maybe we ought to blame individuals for being weak enough to buy into mass-insanity that is usually the result of human error as opposed to corrupt roots.

Where, for instance, can anyone find fault in the teachings of Christ? There is not one transgression in the history of Christian churches that can be blamed on the teachings of Jesus. But people twisting his teachings  is another matter.

Remember The Name of the Rose, in which a powerful monk believed it was wrong to laugh because there are no passages in the Bible in which Christ laughed? If a Christian can't see how stupid that is, I'm not blaming the Church. Similarly, I'm not blaming Christianity because some barbarian piece of human filth is going to come up with (or brandish) a slogan like "God Hates Fags."

I guess you could say, "Yeah, but, Chris, you are confirming the fact that the religion is the problem -- just not the Bible." In a way, I might be, but I am saying that where many are gathered in the name of anything, from church to prom-committee, mistakes are bound to be made. (Even Pope Benedict has apologized for mistakes of the Catholic Church, regardless of what you think of either him or the Church.) Then, the mistake-makers will get others to agree with them and those others will try to convince/bully others into agreeing. So, in that sense, religion can be seen as a problem. But we are losing a particular skill today's world: claiming responsibility.

Religion give us lots of things -- hope, for one. It brings people who rarely think over their existences into a room once a week where they can ponder great words. That's not bad in a world where most people take everything at face value. Religion gives us moral systems -- usually ones that are bent toward social harmony. But when some maniac tells us that we need to kill people who disagree with us, that is when we need to say: not bloody likely. When someone tells a Christian that homosexuals are evil and they are dying because God hates them, that Christian needs to look at the words of love embedded in every tenet of his own religion and realize that something is getting twisted.

One by one, we need to function. Blind following is the way of hysteria and conflict. There is a reason for the tale of Adam and Eve and Tree of Knowledge of good and Evil. Even in this earliest part of the root of all Judeo-Christian faith, the message is: the choice is yours.

Men go crazy in congregations only if they allow it. If they use logic and real morality, they will avoid corruptions bred from group hysteria or figurehead bullying.

I don't think it makes a shred of difference that Michael Vick, the convicted animal torturer/quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, came from a community in which dog-fighting was the norm. Anyone with a heart and a conscience should know that's wrong. If I'm not giving Vick a break, I'm not letting someone else off the hook for deciding to join a mob that pickets outside the funeral of a dead young soldier, unconcerned about the additional heartbreak created for that soldier's mom and dad. If you join that mob, you made the choice. No threat of Hell and no emphatic howling from a loudspeaker should be able to throw off your internal compass. North is always North. You have to be smart enough and strong enough to stick to the trail.

I'm using extreme examples, like following a gospel of hate -- but it applies everywhere else, too, small to large scale.

Religion has brought great things into our world. Humans have brought pain and evil because they couldn't swim against the tides and undercurrents within the religions whose bases were love and eternal hope. (Religions of hate and violence don't count, as far as I'm concerned. There are bad religions, even if the idea of religion is not bad.)

Men go crazy in congregations when they are weak; they get better when they make themselves strong.

I know I heal when I sit and think, alone, in silence, listening to my own heart literally and figuratively.


  1. In my mind, the scariest thing that I have found in life is when people carry the group mentality over into when they're alone. Currently it seems the group usually wants instant gratification all the time, and when this attitude that the group has put forth becomes so embedded in the individual, it feels like there may not be a way to escape. It continues to build and become a part of life, allowing it to grow roots and spread...not like an oak tree, but like those bloody dandelions that never go away...or crab grass


  2. Indeed. Maybe one needs herbacide more than he needs a compass, after all . . .

  3. One of the dangers of established religion is when individuals realize (consciously or unconsciously) its potential as a tool to gain personal power. Sometimes the intent is benevolent; but often the line between benevolent and malevolent motivation gets a little blurred--

  4. That's true, Catherine. Another reason that individuals need to be perceptive. And you are right, the manipulation of power doesn't necessarily come from a heart of evil. I guess the crux of any arguments here needs to be the question of whether we need to abolish social religious systems or just keep vigilent, one by one. Do the benefits outweigh the downsides . . .

  5. I believe Sting has a slanted view of Scripture. It is clear that God establishes the church and that He has intended that through relationships we are strengthened and built up in His Word. Do people in groups do wrong? Yes. Do churches do wrong? Yes. Should we not be joined to a church? No. Yes, ultimately we stand or fall alone. But that doesn’t mean the support of others is not good or right or needed as we make our way toward the final moment.

    1. I think Sting is commenting not so much on Scripture, but on human behvior. For me, his line is more of a metaphor than anything. But, I agree -- support of others IS good, right and needed.