The corruption of morality
As with every other sector of our social system, religion is subject to infiltration by predators and parasites at the points of concentrated power in its structure, which for many religions is a pyramidal hierarchy. Once the structure is co-opted, it draws wealth and power into the hands of a few by manipulating the masses.
There is no clearer example of the harm that can result from the corruption of a hierarchical organization than the Church of Rome, the largest and most powerful church in the world. I need not go into detail about the crimes perpetrated by this particular church over the centuries including involvement in war, genocide, slavery, and torture — not to mention the more recently exposed crimes involving abuse of children, the latest scandal being the facilitation of the theft of 300,000 children in Spain. Instead, what I wish to focus on is how they have been able to get away with these crimes in the context of the theme of decentralization.
The power of the Church elite rests on their ability to convince their “flock” to surrender their sovereignty to central authority. This is the same strategy used in every other social sector. It begins with parents, acting as agents of the religious elite, indoctrinating young children when they are most impressionable. The parents’ natural role of authority is subverted by the Church elite by getting them to say to their children:
- You are inherently flawed and are incapable of discerning truth.
- The Church elite are knowledgeable and enlightened, and know the truth.
- They have been designated by God as intermediaries between you and Him.
- Therefore you must believe what they tell you and do as they say.
- Or else you will forfeit your reward in heaven and instead be punished forever in hell.
This early religious conditioning prepares children for later submission to authority as students in schools, employees in the workplace, and soldiers in the military.
Most insidious in this conditioning is the perversion of moral teachings to serve the immoral ambitions of the elite. Predators and parasites always seek out something positive to feed on — it is in their nature. They cannot survive exclusively on their own negativity. Just as vampire must drink the blood of others to live, the elite must find something good to pervert.
For example, it is considered good to give generously even to the point of sacrifice for the sake of others in need, so the elite twist this natural tendency of goodness in people to their own benefit and demand various forms of tribute and sacrifice supposedly for the greater good but actually to enhance their own wealth and power.
But they are equally adept at taking advantage of the less noble aspects of human nature such as cowardice, and are experts at using guilt and fear to dominate their flock.
Using both the carrot and the stick, the Church has extracted a vast hoard of wealth from its followers over the centuries while using its power and influence to retard the evolution of society. The elite fear nothing more than mass enlightenment, for then their power and wealth would evaporate.
The corruption of the Church of Rome was eloquently exposed by British actor Stephen Fry, known internationally for his role in V for Vendetta, in a debate of the premise “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” (part 1, part 2). The debate swayed the opinion of the audience from mildly opposed to the premise to 7 to 1 opposed. This debate demonstrates how the cult-like conditioning of the Church can be broken by a voice of reason and compassion appealing to open minds and hearts.
Cults are everywhere
It’s not so difficult to recognize the characteristics of a cult in the Church of Rome, but can you identify cult-like characteristics in other social institutions such as your school, your workplace, or your nation? Here are some signs of a destructive cult to look for:
- totalitarian in its control of its members’ behavior
- ethical double standard
- two basic purposes: recruiting new members and fund-raising
- appears to be innovative and exclusive
- authoritarian in its power structure
- leader is a self-appointed messianic person claiming to have a special mission in life
- leader centers the veneration of members upon himself or herself
- leader tends to be determined, domineering, and charismatic
Most of my professional life was with a university, which I originally thought was the antithesis of a cult. But over time I came to agree with Robert Pirsig, who referred to the university where he taught as a branch of the Church of Reason. The ivory towers were the church steeples, the textbooks were the holy books, and the professors were the priesthood. Indoctrination into a particular world view was just as thorough in its own way as religious indoctrination, and both the carrot and the stick were used to condition students to obey authority.
The Church of Reason, like the Church of Rome, has been co-opted by an elite few controlling its upper echelons who misdirect it to serve their agenda at the expense of the masses. The former has been subverted into an agency of ignorance and compliance rather than knowledge and liberation, the latter into an agency of evil rather than good.
I leave it to the reader to examine other sectors of society such as government, security and medicine for cult-like characteristics, which may not be quite as obvious as in classic religious cults like Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church or the cult of the guru Bhagwam Shree Rajneesh (a.k.a. Osho):
The road to spiritual sovereignty
The people most susceptible to cults are those whose sense of self-worth has been undermined through conditioning at an early age, and who are looking for self-validation through acceptance by society. They seek it in the comfort of belonging to a group with a leader who makes decisions for them and effectively gives them their identity, whether in a church, school, workplace or nation.
The only real way to establish self-worth is by breaking free of the social network and finding one’s true identity through inner seeking. This is not easy, for it involves giving up social status, roles, positions, titles, and the perquisites that go with them. Sometimes this feat can be accomplished while still superficially participating in the system, but many choose to physically disengage from the system to facilitate their inner journey. Either way, they must simplify their lives, avoid social entanglements and redirect much of their time, attention and energy to the pursuit of inner balance and true identity.
The book Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics: Lifestyles for Self-Discovery by Marsha Sinetar (also author of Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood) describes this journey and gives examples from the lives of a wide range of people. The basic premise is that at some point people realize that society is sick, and their participation in it has made them sick too. They realize that they must heal by disengaging from society. After a period of mediation, contemplation and prayer, and often a drastic lifestyle change, they experience a measure of enlightenment. They have become independent, autonomous individuals able to form healthy interdependent relationships on their own terms. They have healed and have something of genuine value to contribute to society, and so they may opt to re-engage with society for the purpose of serving it.
The process of self-discovery involves recognizing the extent to which one’s assumed identity is false. How much of your life situation is really the choice of society imposed on you rather than your own sovereign choice? Are you a doctor or lawyer or Christian because your parents wanted you to be one, or because your society approves of these professions or affiliations with a big monetary reward or elevated social status?
In order to get along in society, most people create a false persona that gets some level of acceptance or at least attention from some segment of society; even negative attention seems better than being ignored, even dysfunctional relationships are better than no relationships. We compromise our integrity by pretending to be someone we are not, and then invest so heavily in our invented persona that we forget that it’s not real. We live a lie until, if we are lucky, a crises shatters our fragile self-deception. For some this manifests as a “mid-life crisis”.
Once the false identity crumbles, the way is clear to discover one’s true nature, and to begin showing up for life as one’s real self. Then one can begin to have genuine relationships and to discover one’s true vocation. It becomes no longer possible to engage with other people by having your mask interact with their mask. Instead, you will just be your authentic self. This simple act of true being will put so much pressure on the false personas of others that they will be forced into their own identity crisis or else they will disengage from you because they are not yet ready to give up their false identity.
The benefits of self-actualization are many. Not least is that a repressed intuitive sense of truth and rightness reawakens. You will know who and what rings true and what places, situations and actions are right for you. You will no longer follow the crowds and their self-absorbed leaders because you are lost. But you may chose to engage with others in service to them, at the right time and in the right way, because you trust your own inner moral compass.
“…behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” — Luke 17:21 KJV
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” — John 8:32 KJV
“…seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” — Luke 11:9 KJV
Most modern religions began as attempts to institutionalize the teachings of spiritual masters, whose examples inspire us to attain mastery ourselves. This is fundamentally an individual spiritual pursuit. The best a religion can hope for is to provide support for this pursuit, perhaps by preserving and disseminating time-tested spiritual teachings or perhaps by humbly providing spiritual guidance. But beyond the scale of the local community, religions are increasingly prone to corruption.
Religions would do well to adopt the principles pioneered and demonstrated so successfully in the open source software and peer-to-peer (P2P) movements:
Open-source religions attempt to employ open-source methodologies in the creation of religious belief systems. They develop their systems of beliefs through a continuous process of refinement and dialogue among the believers themselves. In comparison to traditional religions — which are considered authoritarian, hierarchical, and change-resistant — they emphasize participation, self-determination, decentralization, and evolution.
Following the example of Nature, religion and all other social sub-systems are best organized in a fractal configuration, with maximum sovereignty at the individual and then the local scale. Sovereignty should be relinquished to broader levels of society only when there is a compelling benefit, and then only with adequate safeguards against concentration of power; and always provisionally, with the unalienable right to reclaim relinquished sovereignty should the hierarchy become corrupt.
This is the eleventh and final article in a series on the theme of decentralization: Fractal Sovereignty, Decentralized Manufacturing, Decentralized Money, Decentralized Education, Decentralized Agriculture, Decentralized Government, Decentralized Communication, Decentralized Security, Decentralized Energy, Decentralized Medicine and Decentralized Religion.