I’ve mentioned Scientology and Buddhism in the last couple posts. And, of course, there’s tons of Theosophy (and Scientology and Buddhism and Hinduism and Gnostic Christianity and heck, Cthulu, too) in Catharsis. Thought that might lead you to say, “Hey, what’s this guy’s religion?”
Obviously, I’m not going to start out by answering that. First, let’s beat on that music allegory some more. It’s foaming at the mouth but not dead yet.
So, if God could be compared to (but not considered the same as, I’d note) that ineffable quality that makes music more than just sounds as we discussed before, then couldn’t the variety of religions in the world be viewed as being similar to the variety of schools of music?
A blues guitarist might be fairly dedicated to his school. But the blues couldn’t be argued to be the only “true” music any more than it could be argued to be “false” music.
The blues evokes certain feelings in listeners familiar with the style. However, those feelings aren’t inherent to blues. It’s been scientifically demonstrated that what feelings are evoked by any given passage of music is not inherent to the music but varies from culture to culture when listening to the same types of melodies and structures. Isn’t that fascinating? And isn’t it a perfect analogy for why there can be no “true” religion? What to someone raised in Kentucky might be comforting and inspire feelings of hope and joy might completely terrify a Yankee like me, which absolutely happened to me when I had to attend a hardcore Kentucky Baptist funeral some years back. The spirit evoked by different types of music is not the same for each individual. Similarly the spirit evoked by different types of religion is not the same for each individual.
And few people find that one genre of music covers every situation. Sometimes you want a song to celebrate to, other times a song to work out some anger to or cry along with. The ineffable quality of music is completely different depending on the song being listened to. One song evokes a feeling of “sorrow” another “joy.” That does not mean that the universal ineffable quality of all music is itself sorrowful or joyful. It just means that those feelings arise in your psyche one way or another when delivered in certain forms at certain times. While listening to songs that make you happy is great, sometimes you need a song with some sadness to get you through a hard time. I think the same can be true of religion. Sometimes I need a viewpoint of God that gives me strength and inspires dominance—other times I need a God that will just listen—and still other times I need a God to help me forgive others. Older polytheistic religions accepted this need for God to have many faces in many personages for many situations.
That’s not to say I feel that there’s something wrong with being a member of a specific religion or holding one face of God above others for yourself. Being a guitarist dedicated to the blues doesn’t automatically mean that the guitarist has a defective understanding or lack of mastery of music overall. Her mastery of her own genre undoubtedly has filled her with quite a rich knowledge of musical theory and technique in general.
Dedication should ideally not equal exclusivity, though. Being a blues aficionado doesn’t mean that one can’t like reggae music from time to time, too. Being willing to perform or listen to other styles occasionally is pretty universally understood to add to a musician or listener’s experience, not detract from it.
When it comes to religion, I’ve plaid a lot of the great styles and traditions of the world. To hint at the answer to the question at the beginning of this post—The “genres” I’m most at home in tend to be dharmic and/or polytheistic, such as Theosophy, and/or nontheistic—meaning not deity-centered as opposed to atheist—such as Buddhism or LaVeyanism, and/or mystic, such as High Magick or Scientology.
But it’s alright not to give a straight answer. Though I’d note that I’m not a fan of referring to oneself as “just spiritual.” I worry that labeling oneself that way is often done by those who are like musicians who refuse to learn how to play properly because they don’t want other musicians and established styles to influence them. Lacking understanding of the foundational elements of what has been studied and handed down for thousands of years—both in religion and music—does not amount to being free from those foundational elements.
I also resist the trend to refer to some religions as “not really a religion—more like a philosophy.” Buddhism is very clearly a religion complete with mythologies, cosmologies, divinities, and supernatural systems galore as is Scientology and other religions that at times are labeled with the above phrase. Even though the phrase is used by some of those who claim to be members of the religion just as much as it is by outsiders, I find it belittling rather than freeing. Couple that phrase with the fact that Jew, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim are more often than not used in the West to describe race rather than religious creed, and the only thing that’s left that is a “religion” is Christianity (and maybe Baha’i). I say let’s call them all religions and just understand that not all religions take the same “shape” as the Christian religion or demand exclusivity in practice.