The New Religion & The Righteous Menace
There's a new religion taking hold.
In fact, there are many of them, lurking in the minds of righteous and well-meaning people.
In my country, Ireland, the unobstructed march of the righteous, initially well-meaning in their pursuits, ultimately brought about the exact opposite to that which they preached.
The Catholic church and their unconscious disciples held high the moral benchmark for society.
So high, in fact, none of us could reach it.
The Church ruled the state.
Attention to religious doctrine dictated and drove policy with regard to everything from schooling to healthcare and beyond.
No corner of surface level Irish society could escape their insidious influence.
Things have certainly changed for the better but a hangover remains. Many adults who were on the receiving end of the church's moral guidance still suffer.
These days in the vacuum or their absence it seems there exists a new religion. Or maybe it's the same thing only wearing different clothes.
As Usual, A Story Or Two
It was pancake Tuesday recently. My kids love pancake Tuesday.
The making of the batter the night before, the telling to their friends how many pancakes and what fillings they had.
What kid doesn't love the novelty of it all?
When we were kids there was a significant religious tone to this time of year. The Church calls it Shrove Tuesday – a day of reflection in the religious calendar.
It is common for this day to have been a day of self-castigation for many fundamentalist thinking Christians.
This time of year was filled with church-going and the palpable inner feeling that we kids were guilty of something horrendous.
We had grievously sinned and now we needed to display our unreserved remorse.
Crisps and sweets were off the menu. No more sugar on your porridge or cornflakes for seven weeks then gorge your face off with Easter eggs.
Abstinence and remorse, for what God only knows, what was the order of the day.
The following day, Ash Wednesday we would receive the sign of the cross in ashes on our heads from the priest.
When I think about this practice now, which still goes on today, I wonder have we progressed at all from those extremely naive times.
Reinforced Through Schools
I thought this church influencing state affairs thing was dead or at least dying out.
Apparently, it is not.
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar, some dude came unannounced to my son's classroom placing ashes on the foreheads of the children.
“What's that on your head?”, I asked him when he came home from school.
“Ashes”, he said. “A man came into the classroom today and gave them to all the boys”.
“I don't know. It's something to do with lent”, he said.
“So they didn't tell you why they were doing this? Did they introduce the man? Was he a priest?”, I asked.
“No. He just came in and gave all the boys ashes”
Ashes placed on the forehead of children in their classroom by a bloke from outside the education system? Did I give my consent to this?
This is about as improper as it gets for me.
The New Religion
Let me set the scene for you here…
My wife, like me, was brought up a Catholic.
Her parents would have been the post-war, free-state new generation. Her Father a civil servant, her Mother a dedicated housewife.
As adults, we both left the religion of our birth behind to a large extent only visiting the church for funerals or friends' weddings.
She is a practical woman, very strong in her convictions and dedication to her work, children and home.
She can't load a dishwasher but I'll live with that.
About 20 years ago she left a dead end job in retail to pursue and career as a nurse. The job suits her because she's very much a people person.
She cares very much about people and nursing helps her fulfil that need. She's very chatty and approachable too.
I'm the opposite.
In her job with the local hospice, she cares for people who are leaving this place. A job that requires compassion and a true acceptance of what life and death are all about.
To do this job she left ICU where the modus operandi was to make sure people survived regardless of their condition.
That often meant that the dignity of, and sense of humanity towards the patient were compromised. She had serious difficulty dealing with this practice.
In the hospice, there is by comparison with ICU, an easier atmosphere and an acceptance that people are in transition.
The need to survive doesn't come into it.
A Self Realisation
All of this means that my wife is very much in touch with that something that exists beyond the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
She doesn't assign religious or spiritual ideology to it.
She knows why she is here.
So when she was sent by her employer on a compulsory mindfulness course this week she had a problem.
“I just don't buy into that bullshit”, she said. “It's not for me”.
There was a time I would have tried to convince her otherwise but I understand how I view the world is uniquely mine.
Her employer asked her what she thought of the course.
I'm not sure he was ready for the response she gave.
Apparently, he took offence to her telling him that mindfulness was not her bag and it should not be compulsory.
“People should have a choice”, she said.
You see these days there is this almost sickeningly righteous notion that mindfulness is a good thing for everyone.
It's trendy now.
The implication is that these ideas which come from a well-intentioned place, should be rolled out across the board and everyone should take part.
This is flawed.
The idea that people who are not in that place can somehow be improved by the application of one or other practice or way of life is exactly what got us in trouble with Religion.
It is perhaps better to understand that when the need is there, the solution will be available.
Not before and not by coercion or well-intentioned compulsory adoption.
I've Seen The Benefit Of Silence
I'm all for greater self-realisation, self-awareness, inner self-connection etc. But the implementation of a particular ideology without individual consent is not on.
Religion and all forms of group-think towards one ideology or another is a dangerous thing.
Our society is much better served where systems of education and training teach skills of self-regulation and self-reflection through secular means.
Even in that, we need to be vigilant of how these skills are taught.
When any good idea is formalised and documented there is a danger of it becoming institutionalised.
The message then is subsequently lost.
The world is full of well-meaning people, who, having moved through difficult times want to save everyone else from the prospect of experiencing the darkness.
The misunderstanding is that their experience could be the same for everyone. That their experience could be yours.
It is that somehow the negativity is to be avoided.
That maybe the darkness is not valuable.
It is that there is no merit in the depression and feeling of loss. If you follow this practice you won't have to experience the other half of what you are.
I suggest waking up to the fact we are both.
Greg Dickson says
I couldn’t agree with you more Larry, there is a great deal of “religious fervor” around mindfulness and it’s been growing for over a decade. The problem is, many people who pretend to understand what mindfulness is, have no formal training, nor should they need any. Yet everyone seems to be a mindfulness expert.
It’s a natural way of looking at life from the point of view of a director rather than being the actors on the stage.
You know Greg, organisation of minds can be a very powerful and positive thing. But all too often well-meaning people become hypnotised by the good that comes about. So much so that ignorance and acceptance of terrible things in the name of the good are tolerated. Now I accept that’s the extreme scenario, but it happens all the time. Little by little a small indiscretion makes the way for a larger one and all of a sudden the integrity of the individual is sacrificed for the apparent good of the many.
Personal space for quiet and reflection is good. Group ideology and policy around that is perhaps not so good. IMO anyway.
Hey thanks for reading! – Larry