04 August 2008

The Modern Appeal of Ancient Religions

It's no wonder that religion continues to have appeal to so many of us. Religion is more evolved than business or education.

On the long flight from San Diego to Chicago yesterday, I must have charged some serious karmic credit points. There was only one empty seat on the entire plane and it fell between me and a delightful woman who made the 4 hour flight seem to fly by. Among other things, we talked religion, her own progression through a variety of churches to her choice, about four years ago, to convert to Judaism. As we talked, I realized something curious about these ancient religions in the modern world: they are, in a very real sense, more modern than institutions like schools or corporations. This deserves explanation.

If you work at GM or IBM or 3M or anyM, you are subject to clear expectations. You'll be expected to attend meetings, work 40+ hours a week, only take vacation for, say, 3 weeks a year, etc. Yes, there are exceptions to all this, but the institution clearly defines your role and what they will give you in exchange. In this sense, the corporation is controlling. Schools have similar prescribed roles for students.

Now contrast that with churches. In the modern world, churches have no real power over members. Of course, some churches can excommunicate members, but generally members can attend services as often or as rarely as they'd like. They can observe or not observe particular injunctions (e.g., this woman will not be kosher in her diet). Members enjoy or suffer consequences of practices as they chose. Certain practices give them a better spirit or worse spirit, make them feel more complete or more empty, more loving or more resentful. What they choose to do has its own consequences and they are free to do more or less or not at all.

In this sense, religions are really more advanced, more evolved, than are more modern institutions like corporations and schools. Religion is a place where one can freely choose how and when to use the institution, a stark contrast to the corporation that prescribes exactly how and when the institution will use the individual. It is hard, if not impossible, for the modern student or employee to define and customize how he'll learn or work. Oddly, it is within these traditionally oppressive institutions that the modern person is most free to define how he'll worship.

I wonder how long it will be before the modern institutions become as advanced and evolved as this ancient one.


Lifehiker said...

Your post rings true for the more mainstream versions of religion, but I would beg to differ with respect to the fundamentalist versions. Once in their fold, people are expected to conform in many public ways...attendance, appearance, vocabulary, contributions, etc. I would submit the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses as evidence of this, without implying negativity. Other sects of all religions are equally conformist in attitude.

I suppose that's why we have the more permissive and less permissive versions of religion. Individuals have different needs, and each version meets them in its own way. That, too, is "freedom to choose".

Ron Davison said...

At one level what you say is dead on - but think about it. Even the most demanding sect is only demanding as long as the member accepts it. You can choose not to workout or you can choose to follow the instructions of a very demanding personal coach - but you can fire the coach at any time. Same with religions. Ultimately, we're free even to give up freedom in the way we worship.