Knowledge Problems

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Welcome to the Dark Side

Did you ever notice that while some people thrive in the religious social environment, others seem never to find a sense of comfort and belonging?

Here's a metaphor of my own: I think that religion can be likened to a river that runs through a rocky terrain. The water at some distance from the banks and the bottom runs smoothly and easily, making gentle curves, perhaps occasionally hitting a dip or making a rapid adjustment around an obstacle. Most of the water in the river has a genuinely serene property. Drop a leaf into this part of the river, and you would watch it move effortlessly downstream and be gone from sight.

On the other hand, the water that has the misfortune to run along the rocky bank has a turbulent and unpleasant existence, constantly colliding with massive, immovable objects, being turned back on itself, sprayed up into the air, sucked into vortices, churned in chaotic eddies. A leaf dropped into these waters has an uncertain future. Perhaps it will be sucked into a crevice, flattened against the side of a rock, or just ripped fiber from fiber under massive and uncomprehending forces.

I think that people raised within a strong religious tradition can be thought of as a million leaves scattered randomly on such a river. By good fortune, a majority will find themselves some distance from the banks, moving placidly downstream amongst the thousands of similarly situated leaves. Indeed, if any one such leaf could "see" only what lay in its immediate vicinity, it would scarcely recognize any motion at all — just the small dipping and bobbing of the other leaves relative to itself.

But there will be a small fraction of people that find themselves near the rocky banks of this river, or that through misfortune will drift closer and closer to those shores over time. And those leaves will inevitably be ripped and battered mercilessly until their very shape and structure is obliterated, their torn remnants eventually left to decay forgotten under a rock.

Picture the leaf that has come to be pinned against some undistinguished rotted tree stump. The other leaves amongst which it began its journey have long ago disappeared from sight, transported by the river's mighty flow to distant places. Yet if this trapped leaf could escape the confines of its watery prison for just a moment — to majestically leap from the water onto the dry river bank, to safety... but that moment can never come. Wet and soggy and decaying, the leaf's fate is sealed. "Stay with me!" the water cries irresistibly, as the leaf slides into the muck.

I think that this frightening boundary region, this rocky bank, is an intrinsic feature of every socio-religious system. The most obvious victims are those whose mental or sexual predispositions are certified by the pious masses to be "an affront to God". They will certainly be the first into the grinder. But they won't be the last, because their sacrifice cannot diffuse or erase the boundary region. The boundary is created along with the belief system; it is created by the belief system. In order for the water in the center of the river to flow smoothly, there must exist a region of water at the edges that is continuously punished, harassed, confounded, destroyed.

The grinder never stops grinding, and the grinder is never empty.


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