Religion proposes a performance-based life with the following operational formula:
Obedience + Worthiness constitutes Spirituality … which leads to –> Blessings
Most Churches encourage the belief that heaven is the destiny. Life in heaven is a reward toward which one directs a life of having learned of a “proper” way to think and accumulate accomplishments. Performance-based religions, many with systematic theologies, doctrines and programs pattern this way of imagining god and god’s reality.
Although entirely lacking proof in any physical or spiritual form of such a realm, a host of early American prophets, evangelists and circuit-riding preachers asserted performance-based spirituality. They did so in creatively imagined and described forms.
Contemporary Christian fundamentalism takes this notion a few steps further. Most believers easily and perhaps without much critical thought – buy into religious legalism. It becomes almost second nature to accept the idea of an over-controlling detail-obsessed God who seems much after the pattern of a controlling parent or lover. Uncritically, as an act of faith, devotion and obedience many sincere believers buy without question into the notions such as
- humans are so imperfect that God created religion by which that Male Patriarch could – in a loving but domineering manner – thrust into our lives guidelines for living.
- Such guidelines almost casually become laws or, better said, doctrines “irrevocably decreed” which the children of said God are expected to follow.
- This God of guidelines demands strict adherence to such doctrines which in fact do nothing more than establish a notion that obedience is elevated at the expense of agency.
- The highest spiritual approval in life is nothing more than an experiential pat on the head for being an obedient child.
The implications of such internalized assumptions include an idea that the God and Father of Obedience created a world abundant with the fruits of creative activity, but then mandated performance and worthiness as prerequisites before creative activity could bear fruit.
Fundamentalism: An unnatural way of living.
A performance based religion puts bans on what are perceived to be inappropriate things. These bans become “laws of the Church” which by implication become “Laws of God” which are viewed then as irrevocably decreed and upon which a worthiness-obsessed God gives blessings.
In a performance-based-religion, members are banned from inappropriate music, television, movies, books and other literature. Freedom of expression in art, music, and other forms of entertainment are seen as risks that may cause the Father to stop attending the disobedient.
In a performance-based-religion certain food and drink products are banned and seen as the causes of risks that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.
In a performance-based-religion the Father requires strict adherence to dress and personal appearance codes the rejection of which creates a risk that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.
In a performance-based-religion scriptures become the means and tool that can be utilized to effectively stand in for a lack of contemporary legitimate revelation. The same God who started everything eons ago by speaking directly to his children doesn’t do that anymore. Scripture becomes the weapon that confronts those who challenge would-be prophets.
In a performance-based-religion, the very Father of Obedience has become in fact a Father of Conformity. The Father of Conformity either refuses or is unwilling to justify or explain how such an only-right-means-to-salvation system and circumstance is equally fair and just to every other human being on the planet.
In a performance-based-religion the Father of Conformity has authorized the use of emotional guilt, intimidation, thought control and coercion to keep members in line. He is also seen as justifying guilt-ridden sermons and lessons designed to push believers into submitting to the authority of the leadership without question or criticism. Failure to respect the leadership creates a risk that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.
In a performance-based-religion the Father of Conformity has authorized the use of the theory that people should spend long hours at the Church and do work in the Church in order to gain rewards in heaven. A bureaucracy has been created at all levels in order to engender, monitor and “lovingly” coerce this sort of working participation which then becomes the standard by which member spirituality is measured and recognized.
The same bureaucracy becomes then a powerful instrument for limiting criticism and dissention through emotional and spiritual abuse by perceived authority and endorsement by the Father of Conformity.
A process of establishing and enforcing man-made rules and doctrines creates mere man-made leadership.
The consequences are always harmful, stifling and soul-destructive.
Some who are driven away leave with emotional scars that cause depression, substance abuse and – unfortunately – suicide, along with the very activities against which the religion relentlessly preached. One can make a case the some of those driven off are at least temporarily not prepared to deal with life and society in a manner that is free from long-internalized judgmental and narrow notions.
Rigid Church programming involves and in fact revolves around forms of guilt and coercion. Within the Church as well as among those driven off there is a danger of low self-esteem that causes essentially unreasonable reactions to the Church itself.
Repentance becomes much more than returning to God, it involves returning to the Church from which one has fled in desperation. This is not unlike a battered-wives syndrome where one consciously returns to a life at home with a mean and unrepentant drunk who will continue business as usual.
There is a genuine tragedy when one feels driven off from the clan or out of the tribe because like an enormous and ominous dark tower, the Church rises in the background or even the actual center of the tribal village, thrusting itself with impunity into the middle of family relationships to which it has no moral or God given right to interfere.
Members – unconsciously in many cases – are forced to choose between Church and family.
The Father of Conformity has said nothing about why this circumstance is a positive fruit by which that Father is known among the children of men. The either-or attitude may only be a perception of those driven off when the rest of the family remains inside the righteous but unseen walls of Church conformity, but the Church does little or nothing to address that very family estrangement of which the Church and it’s self presentation is the principle cause.
Limited serenity that comes from separation from the direct and immediate sources of emotional pain still feels like something much better than the rigidly inflexible cauldron of conformity whose principal legacy is misery.
One day perhaps enough souls will be driven out of that imagined reality to change a destructive mentally-imagined reality.
That which you imagine to be absolutely true … Believe … and then pretend to make it so
If one honestly recognizes that assumptions are in fact only assumptions, then it makes possible an entrance to the real world in which human beings are perceptibly masters of their own universe.
Divinity then is something other than an invisible monarch and by definition is not focused on our condemnation of anyone?
Could we not propose that just as our lives are the living myths of our own creation, our personal stories are made of all the stuff inside with which we show and tell others who we are?
Human spirituality in this century is no longer even the simplistic 19th century evangelizing fundamentalism of the American frontier.
Modern spirituality is best blended with common sense and ethics rather than organized religion driven by hundreds of years of theological guesswork that becomes more and more obviously flawed and inadequate.
What is called for is spirituality that functions as part of and not a background to a reality that is defined daily by human interaction, curiosity, discovery and challenge.
Old Time Religion does not work – principally because all those old assumptions that were never valid are now seriously impeding social movement toward social justice and genuine compassionate concern for each other.
It’s time to stop climbing and clamoring all over that medieval statue of Jesus and other gods and instead looking in the direction in which Jesus was always pointing … the compassionate inner self whose kingdom has always thrived and pulsed within.
Assess your assumptions
It’s the internal story most of us were taught to carry around that may be flawed. What is within us in terms of how we define the world and its realities – spiritual, material, intellectual, sexual – all the inner thoughts that determine our outward performance come from a source that was never designed to be perfect.
“The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave and light, without shame or blame.” – Thomas Hobbes.
Our secret thoughts are the authors of our own story, our personal mythology from which we navigate our lives.
Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox have addressed this subject* with excellence and I have paraphrased their writing to discuss myth.
Our secret thoughts are where we have authorized our answers to the following questions:
Where did I come from?
Why is there evil in the world?
What happens to me when I die?
With whom do I belong?
How close should I be to others?
What are my obligations?
What is taboo and to be avoided?
Whom should I imitate?
Who are the heroes, villains, enemies and allies?
What are the stages along life’s way?
What is disease?
How can I be healed?
What should we do with bounty and surplus?
What is our relationship with nature and the animals?
Why Do We Do The Things We Do?
Why Do We Feel The Way We Feel?
Are We Vitalized Or Bleeding Away Our Emotional Energy?
Our lives are living myths of our own creation. Our companion is our personal story, all the stuff inside we use tell us who we are and tell the world the same.
“Myth” is a word given too much work in how we share knowledge with one another. Many will not accept a myth because it is something built from nothing. Others say myth is illusion or a mistaken belief. When myth equates to the opposite of “fact”, how can we trust or use myth?
Myth is assumption.
Every definition of life is an assumption.
Every reasoning behind what we choose to do and how we choose to behave is based on assumption.
Defenders of religious creeds use the word “myth” to characterize religious beliefs that conflict with their own, saying
“Your, assumptions are not as valid as my assumptions. In fact, your assumptions are myth while my assumptions are truth.”
What do we deny if we refuse to recognize our own assumptions?
Our personal mythical scenario is always on and is always running. Sam Keen has described myth as referring to
“an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community or culture.
The myths we carry around inside include unspoken consensus, the habitual way of seeing things, unquestioned assumptions, and our ‘automatic stance’.”
A society lives on its own unconscious conspiracy to consider a myth the truth, the way things really are. Do we belong to the majority who are literal without thinking; men and women who are not critical or reflective about the guiding “truths” – myths – of their own group?
As Keen implies,
” To a tourist in a strange land, an anthropologist studying a tribe, or a psychologist observing a patient, the myth is obvious. But to the person who lives within the mythic horizon, it is nearly invisible.”
I also like this quote from Carl Jung:
“I asked myself, ‘What is the myth you are living?’, and found that I did not know. So … I took it upon myself to get to know ‘my’ myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks … I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.” -C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung
How much are our individual lives shaped by inner scenarios based on assumptions we have been taught to accept as absolutely true?
Do we live an inner myth that reflects how we’ve been taught the world “is” rather than how we’ve discovered the world to “be”?
*I recommend YOUR MYTHIC JOURNEY, Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Story Telling, by Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox., copyright 1973, 1989 Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc