A fantasy story is about strength: about the potential we all have to rise above normal human limits, to confront realities that are beyond the norm, to wield power and knowledge denied to ordinary mortals.
At the same time, though, any story at all is about weakness: about the flaws in our nature, our capacity for self-destruction or the destruction of what we love.
Put the two of these together and you have a whole message. We have the capacity to become greater than we are. We also have the capacity to ruin all of this potential and turn our abilities to cruelty, vengeance, pettiness, greed, power-lust, vanity, and shame.
Religious people get into quarrels when they focus on peripherals rather than essentials. They become sidetracked; if they did not, no quarrel would ensue. For example, consider the conflict between Muslims and Baha’is. The main point of dispute involves whether Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, was a prophet in the same sense as Muhammad or Jesus. He claimed to be and Baha’is believe he was; Muslims insist that Muhammad was the last prophet and there can be no more. This disagreement has resulted in the persecution and official murder of many Baha’is by Muslims and the governments of Muslim countries (especially Iran), but the correct answer is that it doesn’t matter. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh as recorded in his writings must be judged for themselves, neither accepted nor rejected unquestioningly. If one is not able to make that judgment, neither is one able to understand a prophet’s words, which makes following those words useless. Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings (or those of Muhammad or Jesus or the Buddha or any other such person) are the proper subject of study. Focusing on his credentials is getting sidetracked.
The Baha’is themselves are often not much better. The Universal House of Justice engaged in, of all things, a copyright lawsuit alleging that a Baha’i sect that broke away from the main organizational line represented by the UHJ had no right to use the name or religious symbols of the faith. Is that petty or is that petty?
Organized religion is the bane of spirituality. It creates a structure for the exertion of power, and inevitably elevates people interested in power and status to positions of respect. One may ask, paraphrasing the words of Jesus, whether it is harder for a rich man or a powerful one to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Baha’i Faith isn’t even supposed to have clergy! Obviously, that change in nomenclature is not proof against corruption.
The goal of genuine spirituality is for the seeker to become a prophet (or avatar or enlightened one or whatever term you prefer). A seeker who proclaims himself a follower of a prophet has at best announced he has not found what he seeks, and at worst that he has abandoned the quest, especially if he thinks the prophet has some special divinely-granted status that can’t be achieved by other people.
The Kingdom of Heaven will be realized on Earth when everyone is a prophet and no prophet is honored in particular.
In my current work in progress, Refuge, some of the protagonists are centuries old. At the same time, however, they started life as part of an advanced alien species living in a far more progressive society than anything on Earth. They have the advantage of many years of experience and accumulated wisdom, but are protected from the ailment that too often accompanies the old: fossilization and inability to adapt to change. The combination of the two is fun to play with, and I also think it suggests something about our situation. We are confronted with material circumstances that change daily, driven by advances in technology. As our circumstances change, so must our moral values, religious conceptions, and laws and institutions.
In a world like that, greater wisdom (or at least greater insight) is sometimes shown by the young than the old, because the old have preconceptions and rutted thought-patterns that block their ability to adapt. At the same time, the young are still foolish in all of the ways that young people have always been foolish. What’s the solution?
The only solution I can see is for people to maintain open minds and retain flexibility of thought and behavior into advanced years. Abandon the idea of “growing up.” Growing is good, but growing up implies an end to the process and if that happens one has become a fossil. Anything that puts the mind into a cage should be resisted. Fixed doctrine is the death of progress and, in a rapidly-changing world, a death sentence for civilization itself. And so again, organized religion reveals itself as a great evil.
I was a Pagan when Paganism was a loose community of seekers. I abandoned it when it started to look like an organized religion.
All Words are sacred and all prophets are true, until they reach the ears of the unenlightened and then they become false — indeed, typically they become the opposite of themselves. A prophet’s words from his mouth are living water. The same words coming from an organized religion, with convenient interpretations, are a cage made of the prophet’s stripped bones.
A prophet’s words have the power to move the heart. That power remains when the prophet is no longer alive to wield it, and it is taken up by the power-hungry who use it to secure their own positions and influence.
Once a prophet is dead, read his words only in secret. Never take advice from anyone claiming to be his follower. These are not guides. They are carrion-fowl.
We (by which I mean the human race) face a challenge to our survival created by our own inability to evolve. But in a way, this is a good thing, because our survival as a species is only of value to the extent that we are a good people, a blessing for the Earth and not a bane, happy and enlightened.
If we survive, that is what we will become. If we don’t, we will destroy ourselves and the universe will try again. Eventually someone will get it right.
Optimism is always possible if one takes a long view.
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