Sep 20, 1997 12:05 PM
The problem of source in spiritual matters is fundamentally a problem of
authority, or lack thereof. As a spiritual concept generally cannot be
proven by any conventional means (there is no way to set up controlled
experiments to see if there is a heaven, for example) the only strength any
such concept will have will lie with those who happen to promulgate it and
those who believe it.
This creates a difficulty that is not easily overcome. One may quote
Patanjali until one's ears take on the appearance of a donkey's but that will
have no affect on someone who considers Patanjali nothing but an ancient old
bore. Krishnamurti tried to solve the problem by saying that all spiritual
truth came from within and that teachings were a waste of time and then spent
the rest of his life teaching people. This naturally causes Krishnamurti to
be viewed with some suspicion.
So what we are left with is a panoply of individual choice. One may accept
the teachings of Jesus, or one may reject them. One may consider the
Eightfold Path to be Noble, or one may simply view it as hopelessly dumb.
Acceptance or rejection lies in the hearer, not in the speaker. There is no
power to enforce belief and much ability to ignore any teaching with
Now, if we add to that the fact that people's reactions to ideas changes with
time, the mix gets even muddier. For example, the arguments against
non-marital sex were the same in 1973 as in 1963 but by 1973 no one was
listening anymore and those who repeated the same old preachings were left in
the dust. In fact, the rejection of the old moral arguments has become so
total now that they are rarely ever heard outside of certain religious
circles. Given that, it is impossible to maintain any authority based system
outside of a relatively small body of believers, at least in the West.
People may hang around religions for a lot of reasons, but rarely do they
let the teachings interfere with their daily lives. The Pope can draw huge
crowds, but no one in those crowds stops practicing birth control.
Given this rejection of authority as normative in our culture, it means that
no argument based on it can succeed with a broad spectrum of people. The
only source that is of value is that found within the individual and no
others need apply. The result is that spiritual systems must compete with
each other in the marketplace of ideas, none having any greater claim upon
truth than any other, no matter what each may say and hope that they can at
least attract enough followers to put up a nice temple somewhere, but as far
as controlling folks is concerned, that is simply not going to happen.
Chuck the Heretic
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