By Wayne Saalman
AS THE BRIGHT WHITE LIGHT of the future beckons from every direction, its magnificent rays can fill us with every form of positivity imaginable. At such moments, one can easily envision great things for oneself: friends in abundance, health, wealth and countless pleasures of every possible variety.
That is if one’s perceptions are not too clouded over by the kind of entrenched thinking that rigidifies into bias, prejudice and other forms of narrow mindedness. Such mental cloudiness can actually keep one from seeing and sensing the vast treasure trove of possibilities that are awaiting their chance at becoming a reality. It also prevents one from grasping how those potential possibilities can change our world for the better.
Cloudiness of mind, unfortunately, seems to be precisely the problem for many and I sometimes think that the long dark night of the medieval mind has turned into a very protracted and vexing goodbye indeed.
The young, even in countries where repressive cultural agendas yet dominate, see the difference between the medieval way of looking at the world versus the exciting, colorful, globalist version that appears on TVs, laptops and smart phones.
Such images plant seeds of liberation, seeds that need not translate into licentious behaviors as many medieval minds fear. That is because the natural state of the young is to be open and agreeable, and to seek love and laughter, and to have fun. Decadence and debauchery are what gets unleashed when the young are repressed and denied all the joys and wonderments of life while under the thumb of overly restrictive, untrusting, narrow minded, parents.
Some people claim that globalism is destroying traditions, but in my opinion that is not a bad thing. There are many positives to overcoming antiquated customs that have ceased to have genuine relevance in the modern era. We all have human rights and should be free to choose any lifestyle that suits us, so long as it does not infringe on the rights of others or cause them physical or mental harm.
In spiritual terms, globalism is another name for “syncretism”. The syncretist finds the good in all religions and uses whatever serves to spiritually deepen oneself.
Religion has always been about morality and ethics. That doesn’t change. What does change are the paradigms that surround morality and ethics. What seems wise, prudent and necessary at one juncture in human history may seem horrifying in a more enlightened age. Should we still be burning people at the stake for failing to believe certain doctrines and dogmas? Should we treat women as chattel and mutilate them in an effort to keep them chaste and knowing their place? Should children be beaten with a rod so that they do not become “spoiled”?
The pursuit of spirituality can seem, not just serious, but grim and solemn to the young. In fact, in many religions laughter is considered totally inappropriate. In some, it is explicitly forbidden. Many religions (or sects within certain religions) forbid anything that goes with what the more liberated among us generally think of as constituting a “good time”… Dancing, singing, indulging in disinhibiting libations, clowning about, telling jokes, acting the fool just for the fun of it.
The young are generally not impressed by such seriousness. They are uncomfortable with it and find it a colossal bore. They do not understand why adults carry on the way they do with their sour faces and submissive postures. School is tough enough, they think, without having to listen to stern clerics lecturing them in churches, synagogues, mosques or temples.
The simple fact is religious institutions generally dwell much too much on disenchanting drudgery and the sermons that are offered can at times be downright menacing. In some of those sermons, one can get the seven deadly sins and the prospect of fiery damnation for all of eternity in one fell swoop, not to mention being told that the “fear” of God is explicitly proclaimed to be the “beginning of wisdom”.
It might well be true, of course, that unless something is a shocking threat to us, we might well fail to take it seriously enough.
Nietzsche, the German philosopher, famously said that what didn’t kill him, made him stronger. That’s great if you’re older and can grasp what is going on in the world around you, but what horrors don’t kill the young, simply traumatizes them.
For some, that trauma lasts for an entire lifetime.
Yes, we live in a rough and tumble world, one full of mental and physical abuse, violence, murder and war, and we do have to toughen up the young for their own good. They are going to take blows because we all have to take blows. That is how life is.
So what millions of adults do is huddle en masse in their houses of worship and tremble together. They squeeze in next to each other and listen to religious leaders deliver grave and fervent speeches that sound out a litany of warnings about how ceaselessly brutal this world is and what is at stake for us in the afterlife to come if we don’t behave in a certain prescribed way.
Sometimes, a place called Hell is fleshed out for the assembled masses with fire, brimstone and many another excruciating detail, not to mention distressing, venomous tales of Satan and his alleged demonic legions, of eternal torment and endless suffering.
Nobody is going to laugh at that. Certainly not little children. Not adults either. Such fare scares the flip out of everyone. It is like being struck in the gut. It is like taking psychic blows to the soul, but it does indeed wipe the grin off of every face in the house, only is it true?
Children are horrified to hear such talk, of course, but it is essentially incomprehensible to them, not to mention utterly repellent. It rocks their world, however, exactly as it is designed to do.
Who, however, designed this dark and disturbing perception of life?
The answer to that question is simple enough: Dark and disturbed minds designed it. Bullies and power-mongering brutes designed it. Primitive minds fighting for survival designed it. Beaten, abused and unloved people designed it. Authoritarian psychopaths sometimes got in on the act, as well, and people suffering from all manner of disease and physical ailments.
In brief, terribly mystified people designed the medieval image of Hell. It was not designed by the mystics and sages who had the great good fortune of experiencing divine visions directly. These mystics and sages did share their experiences with others, but to hear of such visions perhaps ended up sounding like mere “pie in the sky” when set against the horrors of rampaging armies, the bubonic plague working its way through your village or the prospect of getting a whip across the back, or hung up in a dungeon by your thumbs if you didn’t believe the dominant narrative.
In this day and age, though, shouldn’t we be telling our children about the visionary wonders of the mystics and the sages, and consigning those dark tales of the Devil’s Inferno to the scrapyard of delusory notions once and for all?
I certainly think so and with enough people joining in on this approach, perhaps we can eventually shape our world into a more positive place, one without traumatized children who turn into neurotic or psychotic adults and perpetuate violence in their communities or in the wider world at large.
The good news is that many are approaching “God” nowadays, not with fear, but with gratitude and joy. They are joining the purveyors of wisdom who wish to consign the long, dark night of the medieval mind — with its “holy terrors” — to the dustbin of history forever.