Friday, March 29, 2013

Kumaré, Easter, and the Problems of Faith

Kumaré is a very amusing and enlightening film. Whether you are religious or not you should watch this film to get a proper sense of perspective on faith and belief. I think the director, Vikram Gandhi, came to the important realization that everyone of us is important and can tap into the capacities we all have as human beings without the need of any “spiritual” leader or organization. We just sometimes need a little push.

What is most frustrating about religious belief and faith is how easily manipulated people seem to be or to allow themselves to become. It seems to take nothing more than a charismatic leader, a supposed air of tradition and authority, and some arcane rhetoric and magic tricks to make people follow someone to the ends of the earth. Most people’s motives for wanting to follow any spiritual tradition or belief are sincere and noble. I think many people want to find something for themselves to adhere to and feel a sense of peace and security with the universe. Unfortunately, there are too many charlatans willing to take advantage of that good will.

After watching the film I was reminded of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the First Part, Chapter XXII: “The Bestowing Virtue,” Zarathustra tells his followers to deny him and be ashamed of him. “Perhaps he has deceived you.” He advises them to find themselves and then he will return. “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains a student.”* The best teachers guide their students to overcome and supersede them. The best students render their teachers superfluous.

This reminds me of something else. Easter is around the corner. That holiday is the prime event for Christianity. After all it commemorates Christ’s death and his overcoming of death. His apotheosis is the whole instigation behind the religion. If Christ did not come back from the dead, there is no reason for Christianity as we now know it.

This helps to point to a prime problem with religion. People seem to feel the need for magic tricks and silly superstitions. Dostoevsky touched on this theme in the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. People want magic, bread and circuses. People seek out easy answers and cheap illusions.  And many religions are quite content to provide that so long as they are given power.  The rituals might have meaning but they become nothing but show. The teachings behind the rituals are nothing more than rhetoric easily spouted by believers but poorly understood.

If Jesus Christ did not come back from the dead, would anyone care about his teachings? The ethical philosophy behind what he is purported to say in “The Sermon on the Mount” is poignant and subtle. But what if he was not born of a virgin? What if he is not the son of God? What if he was just some regular guy in Judaea who had the same conflicts and desires and failings as all human beings have? Does this render his message any less poignant? I think most people prefer him to be divine than human.  Most people seek out the Grand Inquisitor, the charlatan, the con-man, the cult leader and not the simple, human "magic" within all of us.  We don't need any gods for that and we don't need gurus or priests.

Since there is no God we must constantly create him in order to have a simple answer to the complexity and anguish of our universe. I hope someday we learn to live without Easter, or God, or Jesus, or Abraham, or Muhammad, or Buddha, or Krishna and come to the realization that all of that is meaningless without the followers who are the true leaders. We, as individuals, are more important than any religious leader or any religion. Religion, as we know it, is something we must overcome and render superfluous. It is a part of the infancy of the human race--back when people still thought it was okay to stone a witch or castigate millions into Hell. Someday we will learn how silly our religions truly are and how "divine" we are without God.

*With apologies to Friedrich Nietzsche and Nietzsche fans and scholars for my bad paraphrases and poorly annotated quotes (I only had Google, not good texts I could use).

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