Saturday, April 30, 2016



Sacredness is direct unmediated contact with the universe, not by-passing the senses but a chord, a symphony, a melody.  It is felt holistically.

Religion is produced by cultural evolution, beginning with hunting/gathering people.  Religion is an institution that claims the sacred but is NOT sacred.

Institutions are identified with a social purpose, transcending individuals and intentions by mediating the rules that govern living behavior. The term "institution" commonly applies to a custom or behavior pattern important to a society, and to particular formal organizations of the government and public services.”  (By the secret author at Wikipedia — I always wish I knew who they are so I could read more of their thinking.)

So it begins with a superstition, a lucky hat, a little chant to call the prey but repel the predator.  Connected to the hunting grounds.  Maybe accompanied by a bribe, a sacrifice.

Then comes the beginnings of control: domestication, which means being able to locate and kill animals at will; and gardens or fields.  Swidden agriculture means clearing forest or jungle, growing crops that can’t be stored, like yams, or crops that need extraordinary preparation like sago palm pulp.  But grain agriculture means storage, surplus, value for trade, the necessity of guarding.  Math for defining territories.  The concept of “owning.”  Community/towns.  This is the root of institutional religion.

The social purpose of everything is survival, transcending individuals.  This means that individuals are subsumed, consumed, and even sacrificed physically and horribly for the benefit of the whole.  These are religious institutions, even if today they are thinned and paled, except in some places they are not.  Instead they have reverted to blood sacrifice.

If a religious institution becomes too cruel, too destructive, another institution based on resistance will begin to form.  Now we have “Game of Thrones.”  Except that there is an alternative, which is Asian Evasion. (The art of turning forceful oppression back on the oppressor.)  The appearance of some seemingly un-formed institution that carries the resistance.  (Guerrilla warfare.)  

Saturn eating his children -- Goya

Now we have the arts.  The arts don’t support institutions, but the culture can form institutions that pretend to say that the arts are marked by sacredness and therefore institutions should protect them.  These institutions are only pretending, providing ways to institutionalize free thought.  They are the opposite of sacrifice in their own instititional existence but often sacrifice the artists as a means of control.

Government, like agriculture, is territory-based, in terms of owning which is called “patriotism” which is a form of religion.  It is capable of inventing the equivalent of land, food, shelter, walls and wars and printing it all on paper called money or contracts.  Government is a religious institution.  It is not sacred.

Science is also a religious, community-based, resource-using institution.  Its walls are negotiable, its products are technological, and occasionally it touches the sacred.  Not the sacred as defined by the priests (though scientists can be considered parallel) but as defined by direct contact with the universe.  Awe, wonder, humility, exaltation.

Science tells us that our brains and bodies work according to code that can be perceived and measured as electrochemical pulses and molecular interactions.  They are the sum of evolution that began with eukaryotes, one-celled creatures, who in their hunger and willingness to discard (sacrifice) developed a gastro-intestinal tract capable of passing the environment through them in a self-nurturing way.  Because they were meiotic, that is, capable of code-exchange that produced varied offspring, producing enough variation for winnowing.  They kept morphing over the millennia.  Until now.

Having achieved consciousness and control, humans now institutionalize what is familiar and manageable.  They no longer discard what is not good for them, but try to hoard resources, swelling up their institutions and governments until they are paralyzed.  This will kill them.  Only the few, the nimble, the Asian evasive (turning the force of the oppressors back on them), the autochthonous, the indigenous, the artistic, will survive -- mammals slipping between the toes of the dinosaurs.  Maybe a predator drone has no pilot who is at risk because he or she is far away from deadly fire — but the global corporation fantasists who think they are greater than nations and entitled to all resources are doomed.  They cannot escape their own drones.

I can only wish this were true.  But maybe it is.  I now turn away from institutions except for my small town, which provides the infrastructure of water, fuel, food.  I’m a lousy gardener and don’t want to give up time away from the keyboard, so I need a store.  I’m a gluten glutton, adapted to grain and dairy.  I could easily take to alcohol except that it interferes with my thinking.

When institutions discovered writing, it was as though they had discovered alcohol.  I mean they stopped thinking and started wanting.  They didn’t have to memorize anymore.  (Too bad for Islam schools where the Koran is memorized, now the action is in schools that teach the reading of the Torah.)  Writing is such an aid to preventing change.  Now there can be law books.  But of course a new kind of priest is invented, to interpret what the writing “really” says or decide when it is too old-fashioned to use anymore.  But it’s hard to purge law.  And universities now study advertising.

Imagine an institution without writing.  No by-laws.  No instructions.  No record of boundaries to register down at the court house.  Birth, marriage and death all uncertified.  No diplomas.  No post office.  No texting.  No internet.  No list of in/out or who's in charge.

No treaties, no United Nation accords.  But what does it matter?  Even when they were signed, they were disregarded.  Writing is a tool and it can be a deception.  It’s arbitrary, a matter of social agreement.  Even the alphabet.  It’s a great revelation to some that different languages use different alphabets.  They don’t use different numbers, right?  They DO use different numbers, different bases, different symbols.  Consider zero.  Consider the algorithm.  Think about standard deviations.

To realize that symbols are not realities is to begin to step away from institutions as reality.  They are not sacred.  Even reality is not sacred, no matter how precious the bud, how glorious the sunrise.  Reality is the carrier of the sacred and not all humans can receive it.  

It cannot be defined in writing but only in experience.  It is a “felt” meaning.  Artists work with felt meaning.  A priest is an institutionally identified artist who works in a symbol system that is used by that institution, regardless of the ethics, the social consequences, the attempts to prevent change.  The task is to make people “feel” sacredness in a way that benefits the institution.  

If it crushes the individual, that is called a necessary sacrifice.  They are the animal on the altar with their throats cut before they are burned.  They forget that the sacred moment spared the child.

Abraham's ram

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