This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The End of Religion
Religion as we have known it is breaking down. The evidence is everywhere we look. It is in the despicable rhetoric and violence of politically-oriented religious extremists, far and near. It is in the scandals and abuses plaguing our current ecclesiastical structures. It is in the surface tension between the "religious right" and modern culture, in the growing indifference of that culture to religion and its occasional disgust with it. And yet, I want to make it really clear: It is not religion itself that is so evidently coming apart in all of these examples; it is an old and outworn idea of religion as an-end-in-itself, as an idol that has -- for far too long -- been mistaken for its maker and its goal. It is that idol which is now being broken. No, religion will go on; it is how we relate to it that will change, and must change if we are to reclaim its genuine usefulness to us.
Over a century ago, the Russian philosopher, P. D. Ouspensky, explored the symbolism of "The Tower" in the Tarot deck as an important metaphor for religion. The tower, he said, was begun in a time before memory, as a monument to the sacred, a reminder of the true tower in each of us, its every level representing a level to be climbed on the inside. But even before the foundations were fully laid, some of the builders began to "believe in the tower of stone they had built," and to teach others to believe in the same. To them, the tower was itself sacred, and they soon tried to control access to all its doors and windows, and to occupy the summit and the very "rights to heaven," as they saw it. They even began to fight over these rights in their confusion. Thus, of all the people of the earth, the worshippers of the tower were the most surprised when heaven spoke from beyond its walls in the form of a lightning bolt, sending its priests sprawling to the ground where they lay helpless amid the rubble. Now, says Ouspensky, all who look on its ruin and see its broken summit -- open to heaven as it always should have been -- know not to believe in the tower.