Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. --Matthew 7: 15-20
I'm not a Christian, so let's get that out of the way. I "read the Bible for its prose" and, after a couple of "anthropology" courses that were really classes about the religious experience delivered by a practising Tibetan Buddhist, I'm prepared to concede that there's more to existence than what meets our phenomenal eye. I'm sceptical, agnostic, but (particularly after some odd events in my own life and in those of people I know or knew) open-minded.
The people who start religions--or around whom religions accrete, like layers of silt--are already in a space where other people yearn to be. They are simply there, without following rules, bowing down to high priests, memorizing scriptures, or wasting time in temples. Setting aside two millennia of interpolation, mistranslation and outright fraud, it is fascinating to read the sayings of Christ (and I include such apochrypha as the gnostic Gospel of Thomas) and realize that he inhabited the world in a different way than do most of us.
In his parables, the familiar world of his contemporaries is recast, to become something new and strange--people showing up late for work receive the same wage as the early birds, layabouts are treated with more favour than their dutiful siblings, his Kingdom is like a mustard seed, and friends and family, we are told, should not be invited to your dinner-parties. Yet, at least in my reading, Christ isn't describing a world to come, but the one we are in, one that we can learn to experience all over again. His parables are like Zen koan: the listener must actively engage with them to achieve enlightenment.
But those religious who do not inhabit the Kingdom by living differently on this earth move in precisely the wrong direction. They bind, rule over others, enslave the spirit and the person. William Blake put is squarely:
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
All organized religion does this. There appears to be a universal compulsion on the part of the religious to confine the flashes of enlightenment offered to the world by extraordinary individuals, to build their churches and hierarchies, to interpose themselves between the common people and the vision. But if there is enlightenment to be had, it will come from looking inwards, not from following the commands of others:
Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."
It will come from learning to see things differently:
Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom."
No wonder the powers that be cast aside the so-called Gnostic Gospels, accepting only those texts that appeared to give them a worldly authority over others.
Which brings me to the Roman Catholic Church today. I felt that I needed this lengthy preamble to anchor my views. Not only that, I needed some time to compose myself after being made nearly physically ill yet again by new revelations of the obscene behaviour of the Church, this time detailed in a five-volume report on its depredations in Ireland. Children were the target, as they so often are when the Church goes looking for prey. "Give me a child until he is five and he'll be a Catholic for the rest of his life." And too often the traumatized victim of unspeakable horror and abuse as well.
The wretches who ran these sexual concentration camps, including nuns, priests and the Christian Brothers (remember them?), will never be made accountable for their revolting acts of depravity. Both the government and the courts in Ireland swung ponderously into action to keep the names of the small army of pedophiles and sexual sadists secret, and to cap the Church's liability for settlements with their estimated 30,000 victims.
There seems no end to this dreadful on-going saga. Stories like this one have been repeated in Canada, Australia, the US, Hong Kong, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Poland, France, Germany, Peru, the Philippines--every part of the world, it seems, where the RCC has laid its filthy paws.
Almost inevitably, governments have moved to defend the Church and to nickel-and-dime its victims. Power feeds on power. The Church itself has eeled around, prevaricated, temporized, made excuses for itself. Apologies, when they have come, have been grudging and half-hearted. And throughout it all, the Church hierarchy has continually covered up, reassigned child molesters to other parishes to obtain new victims, stonewalled investigations.
I don't want to hear any talk about how most priests are decent folks, etc., etc. It's true. That's not the point. The institution itself is corrupt: the good people who cling to it have no say whatsoever in how it is run. It is the institution that has taken extraordinary measures to protect the "bad apples," to the point that the whole barrel is now oozing. It is the institution that has nurtured depravity and sadism in its bosom, not by neglect, but by conscious design. And, like a fish, that institution is rotting from the head.
Attrition may kill this foul organization in the long term. But in the meantime, it's high time to tax the Church, at the very least. As matters stand now, we taxpayers, by virtue of the Church's
Extreme? Think of the children.