Friday, March 23, 2007

When the Gods Compete, You Win!

Wherever you look, competition is everywhere. Advertisers spend billions trying to capture your attention and imagination, prompting us to buy their latest gizmos to entertain you and satisfy your every desire. It seems that it's the way things have always been. Always something new with dubious benefits to top it off! Since childhood we've been conditioned to be prolific consumers in a get-get-get vulture-culture (you either get or get eaten) and so we run our little fannies off to make enough money so we can participate in the revels.

Religion has always been a business and has always followed a business model. Many different preachers have hawked it over the millennia in order to grab our attention to the quality of their wares. They form alliances by getting on the same page and organizing themselves into corporate structures that can both keep its customers satisfied and keep them continually putting cash into the till. If you've been around a few decades and have sampled their offerings (not the offering basket, of course) then you probably know what I'm talking about.

That reminds me, in Mel Brook's 'History of the World,' one of my favorite movies, you might have seen the part where Comicus, (Brooks) a 'stand-up philosopher' does a comedy routine for Caesar (Dom DeLuise) and gets rousing applause for his joke about how Romans have a god for everything and gets near the end of it with the line, "The only thing (we Romans) don't have is a god for is premature ejaculation - but I hear that that's coming quickly!" and gets Caesar to burst out in uproarious laughter. Comicus then says,"The little fag gets it," referring to the effeminate court spokesman's girly giggle." (I always get a laugh from gay humor.) Unfortunately, Comicus blows his sketch by making a reference to Caesar as being a "big, fat pig" and thus his career at 'Caesar's Palace' comes to an abrupt end with an order to his guards to "KILL HIM!!!!" Brooks was a master comedian to be sure and puts a funny edge on that period of history, which had as its backdrop a colorful and plentiful array of different competing beliefs. Rome in its golden age was blessed with an incredible variety of material as well as spiritual goodies and so a parallel can be drawn between their culture and ours. The only real difference between the two, in my opinion, is that Roman civilization was just a touch more on the brutal side than our own is currently. Our world is like the forum was back in the day with many different people and ideas mixing in a huge multi-cultural coliseum-like structure and is a perfect breeding ground for conflict between the top religious contenders, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. New to the game but not without precedent are the new age varieties that are more Gnostic in origin. Organized religion hates Gnosticism because it's relatively anarchical but that could change if one of them ever really caught on fire. Some Gnostic based belief could actually turn out to be the One World Religion that the main line religionists fear and might engender some type of millennial conflict as laid out in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions. With much to gain and lose in their competition for adherents the mainliners must highlight the immanent coming of an Anti-Messiah to ward off the increasing influence of the up and comers, that these new beliefs will lead to the destruction of the human race by defying their Gods' edicts to not worship 'other gods'.

Many people however, remain unswayed by this type of fear mongering and continue to ignore the mainline religions' apocalyptic warnings of doom and continue to stream into the faith marketplace to sample the merchandise to see which looks and tastes best to them. Now I listen to a lot of fundamentalist Christian radio and it tends to demonize certain tangents even within their own general sphere of belief. The Church Growth Movement led by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, for example, is often spoken of derisively as being 'in error' and a tool of Satan to mislead the flock due to certain 'covenanting' requirements and to various 'mark of the beast' features that appear both in belief and in manner of worship. Among other noted 'false teachings' is the relatively recent spiritual sensation known as 'The Secret' which purportedly opens up a whole new world of prosperity, counseling its viewers and readers in practicing techniques that harness the power of the mind, in a cleverly wrapped package which also includes the realization and energizing of 'the God within' who actively wants us to have all our heart's desires come true. Right now I estimate it to be THE major threat to American Christian fundamentalism maybe even more so than is Warren's Church Growth Movement.

Religion is definitely supplanting other philosophies that have become popularized in recent times. Communism and Fascism vied for the lead for a while until the really nasty stuff manifested itself in horribly violent excesses and although these political and philosophical systems retain some of their former steam, neither is likely to displace the other-worldly aspects of religious idealism which have so much appeal to us fragile, finite beings. The Davidic injunction to "taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusts in him." (Psalm 34:8) is still just as relevant today as it was the day it was penned, supposedly under the inspiration of the Almighty. The true nature of the 'Lord' that's mentioned in the Psalm is what remains in contention today as it has always been, but it is even more so today due to religion's influence upon governmental decision making and the art of war and peace. So it's yours and mine to decide which among many is the real Lord that we're going to put our bets on. The gods of a (shrinking) world are upping the spiritual ante and are graciously letting us, their subjects, decide on whom the winner is going to be. Ultimately we are the winners though, since we get to do the choosing this time, and for once they have to listen to us!

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