A few thoughts on purity versus freedom

(First posted at the old blog on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 3:49 am)

I don’t have the luxury of staying awake to greet the dawn today, yet here I am, awake at 4 AM, with a few thoughts that want very badly to be a blog entry. So I’ll try to keep it short.

The news that churchgoers are strong supporters of torture bothers me, even though it’s no more a surprise to me than it is, or should be, to anyone else that  average churchgoers  (and for that matter, a considerable number of priests/ministers/rabbis) haven’t the foggiest idea of what their religion is supposed to stand for.

The first impulse, upon seeing something as awful as torturers in God’s name, is to want more purity, more lines that divide “the good/wise/sincere people” from “the confused/ignorant/bad people”.  Can’t there be a firmer grasp on the membership by the leadership, stricter standards for the leadership, a government-issued flashing LED badge people like me can wear that says “I’m a mystic, but I don’t torture”? Something??

The answer is no, there can’t be.

Virtually every group of people who, with greater and lesser accuracy, believed they were in possession of the truth (or something close to it), have tried to preserve the transmission of the truth by creating hierarchies and designating authorities to guard that truth. And as far as I can tell every such attempt has failed. Hierarchy and authority have an attraction for those least qualified for them. It doesn’t take many transmissions among even those of the best intentions for strong, brave, wise leadership to be replaced by weak, cautious, sort of middling leadership. And success is almost certain to kill any organization with an influx of members with agendas other than the ones intended by its founders.

But I’m not saying that every organization is worthless, or that it is hopeless to think that a spark of wisdom can be preserved and transmitted. In fact, I think the opposite. Those organizations which, despite the odds, despite their own mediocre or power hungry authorities and the confusion (to put it politely) of their membership, preserve and carry on a faint spark of wisdom are those which have failed at purity, and having failed at keeping themselves under control, become a haven for the few who do understand the original vision.If the structure intended to maintain purity hadn’t broken down, the mediocre to bad leadership and the confused membership would have identified and driven away the visionaries.

It’s a fools errand to try to prohibit spiritual error. Far better to carve out a small, safe spot for what is right.

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