Thursday, May 23, 2002

There is no God and there is no devil but there is temptation. And there is righteous resistance to temptation borne of an instinctive apprehension that to succumb is wrong. Not wrong because God says so. Not wrong because man says so. Wrong because on a deep level, an unconscious level, we all know this: When you harm another you are harming yourself. Why? Because there is no other. "Other" is an illusion. We are all manifestations of the same being. And in spite of ourselves, in spite of our desires, in spite of our religious delusions, we know this is the only real truth. Though I deride all organized religions, the Christian notion of "do unto others" comes close to expressing this. The thing they got wrong, once again, is that the dictum does not come from God – it's much simpler than that. It comes from pure logical truth. To harm another is not sinful; it's perverse.

Somewhere in the course of the development of civilization we forgot this simplest truth, oneness. (Animals, incidentally, have not forgotten. They never do anything that is not morally justifiable. Animals do not – they can not – "sin." And it's not because they wouldn't take pleasure in doing so. It is simply not in their nature to violate nature.) And we had to invent an apparatus to maintain order in the face of this fracturing of consciousness. We had to invent God. How foolish – and foolhardy – to imagine that God is something outside ourselves. Because if it's outside of ourselves we can never be fully reconciled with it, and so our religions themselves become elaborate means to rationalize and support our transgressions. And in many cases, to exploit them.

The current wave of child molestation and denial in the Catholic Church is a clear example of the failure of religion, and religious orthodoxy in particular, to save man from temptation. These men who seduced young boys, young girls – who violated their vows but did much worse of course – are not inherently evil. Banish that facile interpretation from your head. They were sorely tempted, and the gravity of their temptation was proportional to their piety. These were not cynical men who entered the priesthood without faith, intending to rape the mouths and asses of the first altar boys they got their hands on. Of course not! They were religious men. Their faith – not just the hierarchy of the Church itself (though that counts for a lot) – actually enabled them to repeatedly molest children.

The Christian notion of forgiveness is to blame. Sin and redemption – that magical, compelling moral narrative that seems to invest every Christian life with meaning – actually provokes terrible deeds by the faithful. Original sin and inherited sin mark believers as sinners and they live down to that expectation. But there is no original sin – there is only original sanctity! And it's by denying our sanctity – and embracing our "sinfulness" – that we have gone so far astray.