the earthly hierarchy
by Laughing Cloud
Some worshippers seem to envision God as a divine C.E.O., One who loves
nothing more than a well-run bureaucracy or media empire. Trapped in this
worldview, the worshipper must petition endless "intercessory" aid to
communicate with the Almighty. Is your prayer request properly filled
out? Are your interpretations of spirituality approved by the pulpit?
Are you supporting "God's work" with Mammon's cash?
It may be difficult for sectarians to spot the flaw in this clean, well-lit
cosmology. Like so many other aspects of modern life, experience of the
divine has become mediated. Rather than developing a personal relationship
with Deity, the sectarian must petition human beings who are specially
trained (or not, as the case may be) to visit with God on her behalf and
interpret His Word for her benefit. In more absurd cases, televangelist-inspired
worshippers are even urged to lay their hands on the television to contact
God, thereby soaking up those consecrated cathode rays. Bureaucrats would
have you believe that communing with God is the work of specialists and
pastors. But does the Lord not hear the prayers of the simplest among
Another problem emerges when the pulpit is used to manipulate the faithful,
whether to raise money, pontificate politically or exercise social control.
Too often this sacred trust is violated by those who usurp the very role
of God. "Judge not lest ye be judged" has been interpreted so liberally
(or ignored) as to have become virtually meaningless. Judgment has run
rampant in extremist Christian circles. Few are the fundamentalists willing
to suspend judgment with its attendant certainty. Likewise, all kinds
of intolerance have been sanctioned by the non-Biblical bon mot,"Love
the sinner, hate the sin." In practice, this phrase often seems to mean,"Hate
the sin, persecute the sinner."
Biblical interpretation under the Roman Christian Church was often punished
by death. The utterly devout Christian mystic Meister Eckhart narrowly
escaped a death sentence for his beliefs. Giordano Bruno did not and was
burned at the stake. Members of the sect of the Free Spirit were murdered
for their interpretations, as were Gnostics, Beguines and other "heretics"-
a curious solution for Christians who are commanded NOT to kill. Other
atrocities are a matter of record. Extremist Protestants will argue that
these abominations were committed by the Catholic Church. Yet they, too,
react with authoritarian condemnation to those who dare interpret the
word of God independently. And does this condemnation not lend itself
to an atmosphere of organizational intolerance and sometimes hatred?
Those institutions which have cornered the market on interpretation are
too often as fallible and flawed as the most speculative individuals.
And where is this more apparent than in the works of those missionaries
who have delivered the "Good News" not as a means to liberation but as
a message supporting a hidden colonial agenda? Too often, missionaries
have simply softened up indigenous peoples for economic exploitation,
slavery, abuse or manipulation by colonial powers. Blinded by self-righteousness,
missionaries preach the Word to the "savages." But, as Denis Diderot argued,
the missionaries may be the real savages, afflicting indigenous innocents
in their own Eden.
The usefulness of faith as a tool for personal or cultural empowerment
is usually ignored by those bureaucracies with a vested interest in power.
Yet there are sects which encourage individual interpretation, have abandoned
earthly hierarchies and empower the downtrodden. Rastafarians embrace
their religion as a tool to spiritually oppose those systems that keep
them impoverished and marginalized- those forces they call "Babylon."
Members of the Moorish Orthodox Church have no pastors, choosing instead
to teach and learn from each other as equals. Some Christian sects accept
only intercession from the Holy Spirit and speak as it moves them.
Worshipping independently does not mean disregarding the words of human
beings and great teachers outright. Rather it offers a method by which
we can measure their words in terms of our own experience of the Divine
and how it may best blossom for us. Rabbi Hillel, that distinguished predecessor
of Jesus Christ, was once asked to interpret the entire Torah while standing
on one foot. Without pause, he lifted his foot and said,"That which you
would not have done to you, do not do it to another." In submitting only
to God, perhaps we may best also serve our fellow human beings. And in
doing so, may we treat each other with genuine kindness, forgiveness and
patience. With this accomplished, our institutions might one day offer
a radically different forum for true charity, worship, fellowship and
a wealth of personal perspectives to consider without attendant judgment.