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"Is Religion Losing its Grip?"
In (he second edition of Life and Death, we published a transcript of a debate held in April last year between four expert On religion. The furore that this seemingly innocuous event created wails astounding. We received hundreds of letters and ph0ne calls responding to the many controversial issue. Raised And even today, twelve months further on many are still arguing heatedly over the implications of that debate. Since l know many of you Missed out on a copy of A edition #2 we thought it Would be fitting to reproduce tile transcript in its entirely opening; up this important community debate to as many as possible.
There were three main Participants in the discussion:
All four are considered to be leading experts in tile subject of religion and its role in ache wider Community
Robert: I might open with you, Father Gerry. You have long spoken of the need for the Catholic Church to make fundamental changes if it is to survive in the twenty-first century. You say, and l quote, "The Church is dying. Young people are leaving in droves and are not coming back. The number of people entering the priesthood is dwindling and the Church is becoming increasingly incapable of looking after its flock, even though it too is dwindling. And it is the same with nearly every branch of Christianity. In fact, it is not too much to say that, apart from some of the fringe faiths which are still experiencing some growth, Christianity is in real danger of dying out as a major religion". Now this is a very serious statement to make. Could you please expand on it.
Father Gerry: Thank you, Robert. Yes, it is serious. l have long recognised the need for Christians to be more accommodating of the trends and values of our modern society or else face extinction. The fundamental problem, you see, is this: Most of our parishioners are elderly and will soon die, and my concerns revolve around who will replace them. The younger generations are not coming through as they once had in the past. For some reason, young people are being turned off by Christianity and are going elsewhere for their guidance.
Robert: That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, is it? I mean, if the younger generation are finding other ways to put a halt to their thinking, then what's the problem?
Father Gerry: of course. I can have no argument with you their, Robert. If our sons and daughters are indeed finding other means of destroying Truth, then good luck to them. Far be it for me to stand in their way. However, I'm not entirely convinced that these "other means" are as effective as the good, old-fashioned Christian life.
Robert: Yes, but-
Father Gerry: Need I remind you that Christianity has always been a strong opponent of Truth and has done more than its fair share in ridding the earth of thinkers.
Robert: Agreed. But what about the argument that Christianity has had its day and now it's time for the community to discover new ways of fostering brainlessness. I mean, there are the new age philosophies, for example, or the taking of heroin, or the liberation of women . . .
Father Gerry: The thing is we have a tradition going back thousands of years, and it is a tradition which has been tremendously effective in annihilating people's minds. I honestly don't think it has an equal in the world today. If anybody questioned the Word of God, for example, we threatened them with the eternal flames of Hell, and if that didn't pull people into line, well, that was no problem - we simply burnt them at the stake.
Robert: Yes, but those sort of practices . . . effective as they may have been . . . I mean, they're hardly appropriate in this day and age are they?
Father Gerry: of course, but the Church also made use of other strategies, you know. For instance, it did everything it could to swamp people's minds with useless concepts, crippling them with confusion and fear. It recruited brilliant young men to its theological ranks and used them to persuade the masses that their best course to adopt in life was to fall on their knees and beg for God's forgiveness. The Church poured enormous resources into the creation of beautiful cathedrals and exquisite music in order to seduce the intellectuals and the poets. Truly, no stone was left unturned id OW efforts to cleanse the world of consciousness. It was a full-on, unadulterated assault on the individual and, as you can see from the modern world around us, it worked extremely well.
Robert: For sure! So how do you stop the rot then? How does the Church deal with its decline in popularity?
Father Gerry: Well, this is a good question. I can only speak for myself here - everyone has their own ideas on this one and who's to say that they're wrong? But I have given the matter a lot of attention and my feeling is that in order to bring young people back into the fold, we have to create a product which appeals to them.
Robert: I certainly can't argue with that!
Father Gerry: Right. So I think it is time we let go of some of the old archaic traditions and instead embraced some of the more modern and progressive paradigms for coping with the world. For example, I definitely think priests should get rid of their dog-collars, in fact, they should get rid of their entire religious garb and stop being referred to as "Father" - the whole bit. We should dump the whole lot and be do1le with it. l hat would definitely be a step in the right direction, 1 think. The whole religious paraphernalia which surrounds the priest at the moment only puts up a barrier between himself and his parishioners.
Robert: That's a bit radical, isn't it's
Father Gerry: Well, young people just don't think priests are cool anymore. They think Madonna and Prince and The Screaming Tribesmen are cool, not Catholic priests.
Robert: Perhaps they should grow their hair long and put out CDs and video-clips . . .
Father Gerry: Exactly! You've just hit the nail on the head. That is exactly where we should be heading. We should
Robert: I thought I was joking.
Father Gerry: it's not as craze as it sounds. I mean, the Church has always utilised and taken advantage of popular music. Why should today be any different? There is nothing wrong in being fashionable, you know.
Robert: No. no, of course not.
Father Gerry: Also, we should encourage more women into Christianity, especially into the Catholic Church. I'm all for women becoming priests, for example. Some people argue that by ordaining, women priests the Church would have its ability to appear authoritative seriously weakened; but, really, I think this is an irrelevant argument. I mean, as everyone knows, the Church has lost that particular quality long ago. you see, what people within the Church have to accept is that the glory days of yore have completely disappeared. It is time to move on and incorporate new ways of dealing with things. It need not be as bleak as you might think. 1, for one, believe the future could be one of the most exciting and productive periods in the Church's entire history. With the advent of women priests, for example, feminine values will take on more prominence and this more than anything will destrox the dreaded Truth which five all hate so much.
Robert: [laughs] I'm not sure I want to go into that one, actually. What about you, Chandhapudra? Does Buddhism face similar problems to those of Christianity?
Chandhapudra: Well, first off, let me just say that I can easily advise Father Gerry on how to stop Christianity's decline in popularity, and that is they should ditch the concept of God altogether.
Father Gerry: I don't—
Chandhapudra: You see, the fact is, God is no longer a useful tool in paralysing people's minds. It's as simple as that. I'm sorry to be blunt, but that's the way it is.
Robert: Interesting. And why do you think this, Chandhapudra?
Chandhapudra: Well, it's obvious, surely. No one believes in Him anymore. Most people regard God as a kind of fairytale figure best used to soothe the children at bedtime. I mean, honestly, how can anyone belonging to a modern, technological society of the twenty-first century possibly believe in a fantasy invented by an illiterate, agricultural society a full three thousand years ago?
Father Gerry: I don't know what—
Chandhapudra: Please let me finish, you've had your go, now it's my turn. I believe the whole question turns on this point of "credibility". As we all know, the most effective weapon in the fight against Truth is the half-lie. Indeed, the nearer a lie resembles a truth, the better it is able to do its job - that of deceiving the mind. Quite frankly, I think it is high time you Christians bite the bullet and simply accept what has long been obvious to everyone else - namely, that in the face of modern science with its billions of galaxies in endless space and its sophisticated theories of evolution, the concept of God has become ridiculous. Only children and fools could still possibly believe in it.
Robert: But Chandhapudra, if what you say is true, then what do we replace it with? What safeguards could we implement to prevent people from injuring themselves with thought?
Chandhapudra: Well, naturally, I think people should turn to Buddhism. You see, I'm not advocating that Christians give up religion. In fact, 1 don't want anyone to give up religion at all. I simply urge them to consider Buddhism as a viable alternative. It is a religion which fulfils every function of Christianity, both societal and psychological, while at the same time being a great deal more believable for the modern mind. I guarantee you that the Buddhist teaching is a magnificent half-lie, one that will take tour or five centuries at the very least to expose.
Robert: Wow! That's certainly a big claim. Can you back it up?
Chandhapudra: Look closely at its virtues. Buddhist cosmology bears a strong resemblance to the cosmology of modem physics. There are already many people saying that quantum physicists and Buddhists are pointing to the same reality - marvellous stuff! Furthermore, Buddhist philosophy articulates a Universe which is continually changing and
evolving: this is an outlook which happens to be very fashionable at the moment, and it also fits in well with the current scientific theories of evolution. Now, just to place all this in some sort of context, I have been assured by some of our leading scientists that most of modem physical and biological theory is firmly entrenched and that it is virtually Conceivable that theories like quantum mechanics and Big Bang cosmology, for example, will be overturned in the near future
Father Gerry: oh, that's certainly comforting! What a laugh. Everyone knows that these scientists are always changing their theories every couple of years or so.
Chandhapudra: it doesn't matter. Buddhism is flexible enough to adapt. The point is we have no need of a God in order to care out our responsibilities to humanity. Buddhism possesses far more brilliant means of producing mindlessness - ones which do not require insulting people by asking them to believe in a super-fantastic being in the sky. Take the practice of meditation. for example.. We simply tell people that the quickest way to Nirvanic bliss is to empty the mind of all thoughts and, lo and behold, off they go with a burning zeal to become as thoughtless as possible! I tell you, the simplicity of it is breathtaking!
Father Gerry: Well, I don't know. I don't want to denigrate your religions of course. but I hardly think that meditation is sufficient on its own to destroy consciousness.
Chandhapudra: Well, it's a pretty powerful technique Where are millions who swear by it. And of course we do use other measures as well. like any other self-respecting religion, we encourage people to immerse themselves in complex and meaningless ritual, and to chant and pray and study volumes of intricate scripture, and to lose themselves in devotional music and so on. So I wouldn't worry if I were you. We do impress upon people the need to practise all the usual, time-honoured techniques of mind destruction.
Father Gerry: Good.
Chandhapudra: However, the fact still remains that under some circumstances some religions are far more credible than others. I mean, it's a simple fact. Cook, don't get me wrong: Christianity has done a wonderful job in the past. I'm the firstl to admit it. It has been incredibly effective in muzzling thought, but we have a duty to recognise the reality before us and accept that Christianity's reign is over. It is time to replace it with something more appropriate for this day and age.
Father Gerry: Like Buddhism.
Robert: 'the two religions are very similar, though, aren't they?
Chandhapudra: Absolutely. This is why I say Christians should welcome Buddhism with open arms. All the essential elements of Christianity are present within it. We have our own Bibles and priests and Saviours to submit to. As well, there are lots of colour and ornamental side-shows which should appeal to those who love the theatrical side of things. T here are monasteries for the stoics and plenty of charities to tickle the altruistic. I assure you a Christian can experience all the thrills of his own religion, but with the added bonus of it being intellectually respectable in our modern, scientific age. No longer will he have to cringe when announcing his religion, and that in itself has got to be a good thing!
Ross: Can I just say something?
Robert: I was actually just going to bring you in, Ross. As president of the Australian Atheist Association, what do you say to all this?
Ross: Well, as far as I'm concerned, the whole discussion has so far been a total waste of time. You're all avoiding the central core of the matter. There is no point in discussing the future of religion because, as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't got one. our society simply doesn't need religion anymore. Let's face it, we are no longer hunters and gatherers or medieval peasants; we are educated, sophisticated human beings who live and work in a technologically advanced society. We no longer need superstitions to get us through the day. So I put it to you two and I put it to everyone here tonight: Isn't it about time we face reality rather than go on creating new deceptions for ourselves?
Robert: Elaborate, will you, Ross. 1 think I know what you mean, but there may be some in the audience who don't.
Ross: it is simply this. If there is one thing which is true in this world, it is that no one will ever come to know the Truth. And I mean no one. It is simply impossible for it to ever happen. Our brains are just too limited. The universe is just too complex. Surely, it is obvious by now, especially in this day and age of postmodernism, that knowledge is processual and is shaped by historical circumstances. No one can ever escape their cultural background. So why the need to propagate religious myths at all? Why not simply point out to people the obviousness of reality?
Father Gerry: That's easy to answer. Some people will find the position "everything is uncertain" unsatisfactory and will want to seek a better answer.
Ross: Well, let 'em! Who cares? Doesn't bother me. They'll only go 'round in circles.
Robert: Tell me, Ross, are you absolutely certain that everything is uncertain?
Ross: No, of course not.
Robert: Well then, what if the Truth should in fact turn out to be knowable? Shouldn't society take those few extra precautions to dissuade the stubborn few who seek it?
Ross: Why? What's it to me if they want to seek it?
Robert: Well, it may encourage others to do the same. And if we do nothing to prevent it, the world could be overrun with sages.
Chandhapudra: I agree. I think it's better to firmly imprint in people's minds the idea that Truth. if it is going to be found at all, can on/) be found in religion. In this way, ants individual who does get it into his head to go off and seek the Truth will automatically turn to religion and thus have his aspirations wrecked from the start.
Father Gerry: A most ingenious stratagem, isn't it? I never cease to admire it. Nothing is ever said outright, you see. No one ever says plainly that religion is concerned about Truth. And yet no one ever says that it isn't.. In tact, we barely mention the matter. We just perhaps hint at it now and again. Or we mix it up with other words like "God" or "love" or "community", without ever spelling out the connections between them.
Chandhapudra: It's sublime, isn't it?
Father Gerry: oh, indeed! In fact, religion is very much like a woman. This may seem to you a strange thing for me to say, but really it is a most useful way of looking at it. In both cases. you see, the aim is to seduce. A woman puts on her light summer dress, dabs on some perfume, laughs and acts like a child - and, behold, men are spellbound! The Church is no different. It is not afraid to spruce itself up in order to charm the populace. Look at our hymns and prayers, for example: see how cleverly they excite the emotions of yearning and self-pity in the listener! In everything it does, the Church seems to hint at some kind of mysterious reality or point to some kind of profound and glorious truth - yet the whole thing is a charade. It is an illusion in the same way that the purity and the divinity of a pretty girl is an illusion. And just as the man who is lucky enough to be captured by a pretty girl loses his individuality and becomes a husband, so too the man who is caught by the Church loses his individuality and becomes a Christian
Chandhapudra: or a Buddhist!
[Father Gerry and Chandhapudra laugh]
Father Gerry: it really is sublime, as you say. What better way to attract all those stupid fools who insist on "searching for the Truth" and "living honestly"'? How 1 laugh when they come over to me with their eager expressions and their trusting eyes! How I bend over in stitches when I see them falling down in submission in front of the statues of Mary and Jesus, praying for their forgiveness!
Ross: No, no, no. This is entirely the wrong approach. Why use the concept of Truth at all'? Why? All you do is give people ideas. Why not simply teach people about the concept of "usefulness" and let the whole notion of Truth fade away like a snowflake evaporating under the morning sun? Why encourage people to waste their energies on worthless abstractions? We have far more important work to do! It is precisely why I set up AAA in the first place. We have to press home to people that their first priority in life is to create a prosperous society in which all of humanity can live a rich and dignified existence. AAA preaches a biological-centred, humanistic philosophy based on science and technology. We can't afford to waste time battling the concept of Truth! We have diseases to cure, people to feed, wars to end, criminals to punish, drugs to eliminate, environments to protect, species to save there's so much to do! Isn't it better to teach our kids how to deal with these problems? Let's forget all about Truth! Who needs it! To me, the perfect world would be one in which nobody, and I mean nobody, ever spoke or thought against Truth in the slightest degree.
Robert: Do you really think it's possible?
Ross: Sure, why not? But the first thing we have to do is rid the world of religion.
Father Gerry: Aren't you forgetting something? Aren't you forgetting that we are emotional beings? Most people simply will not find fulfilment in your so-called "humanistic" philosophy. People need hope and a reason to live. They need to feel that there is something more to life than just work and society. Religion provides them with that.
Ross: Okay, but why bring "Truth" into it? Why not simply worship your God without mentioning the concept at all?
Father Gerry: Well, people do need to believe that the God they are worshipping is in fact real . . .
Ross: Look, people only need distractions. They don't need anything else. They just need to immerse themselves in the many things which go on wound them each day. In fact, I sincerely believe that it's possible for us to go through a whole lifetime just pursuing distractions, nothing else without ever experiencing the need to examine the question of one's existence or other such absurdities. Let's get people involved in sex and saving the environment and running a successful business and so on. Why complicate matters?
Father Gerry: oh, well, religion is an excellent distraction.
Robert: I'm afraid we're fast running out of time and we'll have to wrap up what has been a fascinating discussion. But before we do, let me just give you my view of the maker. I am of the opinion that the Truth is knowable. In other words, I believe that people can fully understand the Ultimate Reality. And how do I know this? Because I know the Truth. I know it and I can vouch from personal experience that it is the most evil thing in the world and as such must be thoroughly eliminated from the face of the earth. As you can see, I am strongly anti-Truth. I believe that anyone who decides to have a relationship with Truth immediately destroys everything of human value: family, love, friendship, pleasure, marriage, hobbies, contentment, satisfaction, and all the other things that are essential to a rich and fulfilling life. It is far more destructive, I tell you, than drug-addiction. This is why I personally have dedicated my life to the complete destruction of it and why I have set up an organisation like SEAT. It is my belief that we as a species can no longer afford to simply rely on myth and superstition to see us through. We cannot afford to rely on the unconscious element of chance. It is time for us to develop consciously the tools to destroy the philosophic life once and for all.
Father Gerry: "Consciously develop the tools to destroy the philosophic life"? Heaven forbid! What is this? This is precisely why we don't want the Truth. We don't want to live consciously.
Chandhapudra: Yes, I agree. Speaking purely as a Buddhist here, I think it's safe to say that we don't want to have any responsibilities. We don't want to have to work things out for ourselves. We just want to meditate.
Father Gerry: And we just want to submit to God, who lives forever and ever. Amen.
Ross: I hate to say it, but I concur with these two. What is the point of being ignorant, if one is going, to be all-conscious about it?
Robert: Well, the problem is that if we don't want to consciously weed out the truth, if we are just going to rely on the traditional means of religion and academic philosophy and science to maintain our ignorance, then we run the very real risk of truth exploding all around us.
Ross: oh. Come! Surely you don't believe that?
Robert: The risk is small, I grant you, but still it is there. The thing is, you see, the traditional methods of ridding thought are unconscious methods, and so in effect we are relying on chance to protect us.
Ross: But that's precisely the point!
Robert: Yes, well, I don't feel safe relying on chance. I'd rather take matters into my own hands and be sure of destroying Truth completely. Although this may impinge on my happiness somewhat, in the sense that I have to do some thinking, I nevertheless feel more secure than if I didn't do it. After allot I have my children to consider.
Ross: Hmm, yes, I see your point. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I do see it. My concern is, though, that by consciously trying to eliminate the Truth, you're in grave danger of becoming just like them. you know, like a sage. I just hope you're extremely careful.
Robert: Relax. I do not advocate full consciousness, only enough to see off the Truth. That's all. And I'm afraid we'll have to finish up there. Thanks to all our guests and thanks to all of you for showing up. I hope each of you gained some benefit from the discussion and hopefully we'll be back here with another one in a couple of month's time.