Religion and the Institutionalisation of Myth

What needs do mythology and religion serve in today's world and in ancient times? Here we discuss the relationship between mythology, religion and science from mythological, religious and philosophical viewpoints.

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nandu
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Religion and the Institutionalisation of Myth

Post by nandu » Sat Apr 17, 2010 6:12 am

Hello everybody!

Actually, the idea for this topic grew out of the post about paedophile priests in the "In the news" thread.

Anger is being expressed by all and sundry that Catholic priests could perform such heinous acts: even more vexing is the fact the Church seems to be protecting the miscreants. I believe that the majority of believers will also agree that the perperators should be punished. But the moment someone raises a finger against the Church, the faithful are up in arms, crying that their beliefs are being targetted.

Why is this so? Jesus Christ never established a church: the followers of Jesus can follow his teachings without attending mass every Sunday. But for the majority of Christians, the Church and its ritual is as important as, if not more important than, the teachings of Jesus.

The emphasis on the following of ritual as the be-all and end-all of the spiritual journey is evident in all religions. Resurgent Hindu hardliners in India have emphasised the importance of following the rituals established by the Vedic Brahmins. The reading of the ancient texts and interpreting them on your own is discouraged: you are encouraged to find a "teacher" who will guide you in the right direction.

One more thing that the religious institutional machinery is hell-bent on establishing is that the myth their followers subscribe to is actual historic fact (and that of the others are lies). The metaphor is eradicated. You can't find the Buddha, Jesus or Krishna within you: you have to take these people as actual historic figures and worship them (or the God they worshipped). The spiritual journey is reduced to following the ritual in a temple, church, mosque, synagogue... you will then get salvation.

What organised religion has done is to institutionalise myth. Man cannot survive without myth. However, individual mythical journeys might prove disastrous for the powers that be. So the religious institutions have killed the metaphor and replaced it with regimentalised faith.

Now it becomes very clear why the religious institutions try to protect criminals within their ranks-it is the institution which is being attacked, and which has to be saved! Nothing is going to affect Jesus Christ or Christianity if a few priests are conviicted of sex crimes: but definitely it will affect the Church and its office-bearers.

Jesus Christ attacked the established faith of his day and was crucified for it.

I know this post is likely to be slightly controversial, but I felt that I had to say this somewhere.

Nandu.
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Post by jonsjourney » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:01 pm

I think it was Carl Jung who said that Religion gets in the way of the Religious experience. I do know that Campbell reflected this statement frequently.
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Post by Clemsy » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:11 pm

One thing I've noticed about organizations of any kind, is that they often (always?) lose sight of their original purpose and become all about maintaining.
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Post by boringguy » Sat Apr 17, 2010 3:12 pm

Hi all,

Clemsy;
become all about maintaining.

Thats what happens when (by my definitions) you become about building power rather than strength.

But surely progess has been made and still is. Christianity has changed a bit IMO since the times when Martin Luther stood up, as the chruch was selling salvation, literally, ( ingenious little suckers, you can maintain power and make money all in the same move ) and said I don't think so. Campbell was able to put forth his views without being burned at the stake, and here we are participating freely. And this in just a few hundred years!

I think there is a long way to go for those without religious institutions as well, when I think about the statistics given in a television special that I believe was called 'worse than war' which said there has been on average, about a million people per year in the last one hundred years killed due to genocide. One hundred million people. This basically justified IMO on the grounds of ethnic religious differences, used as a tactic larglely by those without religion.

Seems to me the work is the same on both sides; Strength rather than Power


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Post by Cindy B. » Sat Apr 17, 2010 3:24 pm

jonsjourney wrote:I think it was Carl Jung who said that Religion gets in the way of the Religious experience. I do know that Campbell reflected this statement frequently.
Religion is a defense against the experience of God. --Jung
If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s. --Jung
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Post by jonsjourney » Sun Apr 18, 2010 12:34 pm

Thank you Cindy! I knew you would hash out the actual quote. 8)
I think there is a long way to go for those without religious institutions as well, when I think about the statistics given in a television special that I believe was called 'worse than war' which said there has been on average, about a million people per year in the last one hundred years killed due to genocide. One hundred million people. This basically justified IMO on the grounds of ethnic religious differences, used as a tactic larglely by those without religion.

Seems to me the work is the same on both sides; Strength rather than Power -BG
A sad statistic.

It seems that it does seem that much of this is a power preservation move. Some of it is about being part of an ethnic "club" (for instance one is born Jewish or Hindu) and some of it is about being a part of the chosen path (one chooses to be a Christian, a Muslim, or a Buddhist). The chosen, or World Religions, are reactions to the Ethnic Religions; so it seems that to choose sets one in opposition to something "given".

I tend to think that we are slowly evolving toward a far more "spiritual" approach to life and how we practice religion. Dogma is slowly being deconstructed as counterproductive toward spiritual fulfillment. We have moral and ethical systems in place in most of the world with or without any particular religious influence. But these moral systems seldom reflect the actions of a society. We tend to rationalize in self-serving ways so that we can sleep at night. The function of religion as serving ethics, in my view, has been largely undermined by the organizational corruptions inherent by their hierarchical structures.

Science, I think, is a big part of what our future spirituality will be informed by, but it has its limitations, too. Having just returned from the world's largest conference on Consciousness, I can say that we have not made much progress (in practical terms) toward understanding what consciousness is, or if it really matters whether we understand what it is or not. Will understanding the neurological basis of consciousness help to bring compassion and well-being to the world? The philosophical debates going on during the conference are, in many ways, not much different than the Platonic, Descartian, or Kantian debates that have being going on for hundreds, indeed thousands, of years.

The point is while this debate is going on, people suffer and genocide continues. I think it may be important to begin to ask ourselves just exactly what these types of debates actually do to benefit humankind.
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Post by songofthesybil » Sat May 29, 2010 7:57 am

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

(Tao Te Ching #38)

:wink:
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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:32 am

Hey, Clemsy, don't be too quick to knock "maintaining". Isn't this forum being maintained? That's how institutions get started. They get worker bees like Clemsy to protect the hive, and we wind up with some pretty snazzy honey in the process.

The oldest institution in the world is the Catholic Church, which is the remaining vestige of the Roman Empire. It is doing battle with the securlarized and democratized American Catholic membership and the liberated protestant Christian, together with the newly recognized "metrospiritual" individualist. The church is losing the battle and the war.

First, the church is losing its own membership and revenue sources (while bleeding money from the huge lawsuits from sexual abuse scandals). Next, the church is losing church attendance by the nominally faithful. Finally, it is becoming a cult. It is a personality cult led by both the heirarchy and the great hall of saints who intercede with the trinity to make miracles.

It's the incredible shrinking church.

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Once in a while a door opens, and let's in the future. --- Graham Greene
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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:36 am

songofthesybil wrote:When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

(Tao Te Ching #38)

:wink:
I first read these words before I ever heard of Campbell. They have taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Thank you.

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Post by nandu » Fri Jun 04, 2010 10:02 am

I have a friend, a Catholic who calls himself a Zen Buddhist. He says that the Catholic church of India is changing, integrating more and more with the mainstream Hinduism; mainly by the acceptance that God can be approached through many religions-there is no one "correct" way. Of course, he says this is nothing but a way of keeping the institution alive and I tend to agree with him. In a multicultural community like India, one cannot afford to be exclusivist.

But it is a positive step-you are actually accepting other institutions also as valid, which paves the way to the acceptance of the plurality of beliefs.

Nandu.
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Post by jonsjourney » Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:53 pm

Nandu...

India, it seems, has always been at the front of the line when it comes to plurality. Even when different contentious events (eg. Muslim vs Hindu) have placed individuals at odds, somehow India manages to find a way to accommodate and integrate. If only all civilizations approached the embrace of plurality in this way.
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Post by nandu » Sat Jun 05, 2010 6:23 am

Jon,

The nature of Hinduism is such that it has to embrace plurality. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: "People all over the world worship me in many forms. In the end, they all come to me."

You can't get more clearer than that.

Of course, there is a strong movement in India to institutionalise Hinduism, but I am reasonably sure it won't succeed.

Nandu.
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Post by songofthesybil » Sat Jun 05, 2010 2:07 pm

nandu wrote:I have a friend, a Catholic who calls himself a Zen Buddhist. He says that the Catholic church of India is changing, integrating more and more with the mainstream Hinduism; mainly by the acceptance that God can be approached through many religions-there is no one "correct" way. Of course, he says this is nothing but a way of keeping the institution alive and I tend to agree with him. In a multicultural community like India, one cannot afford to be exclusivist.

But it is a positive step-you are actually accepting other institutions also as valid, which paves the way to the acceptance of the plurality of beliefs.

Nandu.
Image

This is a picture I took in Amritsar, the sacred city of sikhs. It is one of numerous wonderful little frescoes that you can find in one of the Gurudwaras.

As you can see, all the Deities are in front of the temple, looking inside at the same little light that shines in the darkness. They are all bowing to this light. You can see Guru Nanak, Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesh and other people with strange clothes who are obviously not meant to be Indian.

I think it just sums it up. There is only one God, in many forms. Every path is the right path. When you have a good Christian, a good Muslim, a good Jew, a good Hindu, a good Buddhist they all get along wonderfully. "God is one" they repeat over and over again, smiling, and encouraging you to go inside, when you visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The problems arise only through the imperfections of human beings, as once again the news are showing us with what happened off the Palestinian coast and with what happened with the paedophilia scandal.

I love this picture, for me it is a reminder, every time I don't understand, or when I am tempted to doubt other faiths. I hope it isn't too small to see... :(
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Post by sladeb » Fri Jul 30, 2010 9:28 pm

I would like to place before you another way of looking at this question. There is an all too frequent tendency in many of us to stand outside and cast stones through the stained glass windows of other people's belief systems. Whilst it is true, for example, that the Catholic church has left itself open to ridicule and contempt as a result of the behaviours of a few, it is important to remember that it is just that - the behaviour of a few. In any human collective there will always be those who abuse their positions. In my own life I have witnessed abuses of power by those who seemed to be more concerned with the visible trappings of their own sense of self importance than they are with the needs of those for whom they had a responsibility and duty of care.

The founder of the Mormon faith recorded the view that
"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion"
Enough said...

For myself, I find a great deal of value in the words of the sufi mystic Ibn Arabi "the colour of the water is the colour of the receptacle".

In all of the variety of religious experience there are gems that somehow resonate with a part of who we are as humans. Now I have no experimental basis on which to prove this is so, but I suspect that in the deeper parts of our unconscious (perhaps even down in Jungs Collective Unconscious) there is something that resonates with us and, for a moment, can draw us out of the mundane and remind us that our very existence is a miracle. The very fact that we can think about the fact that we think and ponder why the universe is and why, in all the infinite range of potential outcomes that the universe could throw up, it threw up consciousness and for a moment certain experiences can open something in us that senses awe.

For those whose heritage is of the West, if you ever get the opportunity to sit through a Catholic sung High Mass, seize it. And for a moment set aside any prejudices and just try and sense the connection with the heritage of our western collective unconscious. Feel for a moment the mystery again. With all that I sense about those who participate in this forum - I think you will understand what I am saying if you participate in the experience.

In my own life's journey I have learned that in all spiritual experience there is something that resonates in us. Perhaps it is the shadows of our ancestors as they looked up at the stars from the plains of Africa and first began to wonder what life was about that resonates within us. Have you ever wondered what it was that first evoked that sense of awe. We know that as the jungle receded in Africa, our earliest ancestors had to adapt to life on the open plains. Perhaps (and this is pure conjecture on my part) they one night looked up and saw the stars and actually wondered... or perhaps it was a wondering what happened when a member of the tribe died. But whatever it was, it opened up in us a sense of wondering, and from wonder to awe and thus the human journey took a significant step forward.

Unfortunately in our post-modern scientific world we have tried to bury this sense of awe. We have dared to suggest that because it could not be measured or quantified that his fundamental part of our human experience should be forever denied. I think that determination to bury so much of the human experience has reached it's crescendo in the attacks on the non quantifiable parts of the human experience embodied in works such as the God Delusion.

Awe and wonder lift us out of the mire of the daily human battle to exist. Awe and wonder transform mere existence into the wonder of life and love places a reason in our hearts to continue the journey.

Whether a ceratin religous view is right or wrong is irrelevant if within the maze of the religious experience an individual can for a moment sense awe and wonder. This is, in my humble opinion the core of the religious experience.
The one thing I have learned about the quest journey is that as soon as you draw to the close of one quest - another calls and the journey begins once more.
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Post by jonsjourney » Wed Sep 15, 2010 12:29 pm

Awe and wonder lift us out of the mire of the daily human battle to exist. Awe and wonder transform mere existence into the wonder of life and love places a reason in our hearts to continue the journey.

Whether a ceratin religous view is right or wrong is irrelevant if within the maze of the religious experience an individual can for a moment sense awe and wonder. This is, in my humble opinion the core of the religious experience. -sladeb

It would be wonderful if everyone was able to see that "all dogs go to heaven", as it were, but the reality on the ground is much more difficult. The ingroup/outgroup mentality of human psychological functioning is very complex. Competition for resources becomes a major stumbling block in the practical day to day lives of persons attempting to survive. If everyone had time to read the great religious works and use the work of someone like Joseph Campbell to help them understand the integrative nature of almost all of this religious philosophy, the job would be much easier!

In addition to the everyday complexities brought forth by basic survival, there is the Jungian Shadow to be dealt with. The evil that we see in others is largely our own. We exist in a society that accepts certain ethics and rules based on certain common understandings about how we are supposed to behave. Karen Horney called these the "Tyranny of the Shoulds". Coming back to Jung, the unacceptable parts of our being, call them evil, aggression, or such similar things, are pushed down and out of our conscious functioning into our unconscious. These eventually become the evils that we see in others. The stronger we disassociate from these shadow aspects, the more strongly we are apt to react against them when we see them in others.

As has been well pointed out here, and in many of the other threads, the "old" ethical standards that were set forth in the medieval Christian traditions no longer apply in meaningful ways to modern life and society. Rather than allowing the old views that this internal evil is something that should be repressed, or suppressed, being the "healthiest" way of approaching our own negative traits to continue to dominate our collective psyche, new ways of functioning are clearly needed. Like Jung, Erich Neumann, claimed that we must recognize and accept that the shadow we see in others is the very shadow that exists in the repressed part of our own personality.

I tend to think that if we can continue to raise two aspects of consciousness, the commonality of religious philosophy; and the recognition that the "evil" we see in those who do not believe the same things we do is an expression of our own repressed fears and adherence to outmoded ethical systems, we can continue to develop a more evolved, integrative philosophy of human existence.

If we can attend that high Catholic Mass, A Buddhist meditation session, the dance of the Whirling Dervish, An American Indian Green Corn Dance, A Gospel Revival, A morning Muslim prayer, A Hindu Diwali festival, Jewish Shavout,...insert your favorite here....and see that we are all dancing to the same metaphorical music, we can begin to truly appreciate the many Masks of God.
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