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I guess there’s always been a bunch of folk who saw themselves as intermediaries of sort between God and man. How come? Well I believe that bizarrely the roots of religious belief can be found in mob violence – the founding murder, so to speak. I’d better explain.
Ancient man lived in small extended family groupings or prototype tribes. When something went wrong in their fight for survival and things began to get a little heated, a scapegoat was quickly found and dispatched in a fit of rage. This unexpected blood-letting released a quasi sense of cathartic peace in the remaining family members, who began to interpret it as the blessing of the Divine Spirit in the Sky! “Ah, so if we kill someone or something on a regular basis, we can obtain the favour of the One above. If we sacrifice to Transcendence, blessings will flow.” The birth of sacrificial religious thought which sadly continues to this day.
Over time, the tribe asked for volunteers to dot he dirty deed and so the priesthood was born. Those not afraid to get blood on their hands in exchange for a new prestige within the community. “We are a cut above the rest,” became their sacred slogan as they sharpened their clerical knives. And so it has continued through the ages. For some the blood is still part of the killing vocation, for others it’s now a symbolic role, dispensing the wine of the slain Lamb on a regular basis. Since time immemorial we have been into blood and so it remains. Further exploration of this obsession is for another day. What I really want to focus on is the sociological residue of such a belief system – the clerical class.
Now, let me say that I’m friends with a number of priests of varying shades. I’m not here to question their motives or their devotion to the Divine; rather I wish to question whether they are needed. Of course, when professional livelihoods are involved the cleric understandably fights back with 2000 years of Christian tradition or even more in the case of the older religions. I can understand that all too human reaction. When we need food on the table for our kids we’ll perform all sorts of pastoral back flips to justify our existence.
No, do we really need a professional class of priests, pastors and dare I say it, Apostles ( for my Pentecostal friends) in order to know God. Do we still require the experts to stand between Divine Source and man? Well, if we still insist on communities that centre around a round of religious gatherings in a purpose-built building, then the clergy still play a role, albeit an organisational one. For, let’s face it, if there wasn’t a paid official to do all the stuff, the whole system would collapse due to apathy. Folk have always wanted a Moses figure to go up the Mount and come back with a tabletised list of instructions from God, especially if they can also perform the role of CEO for the business named church.
I guess I’m saying that we don’t need a bunch of men or women to dispense the Divine for us, for Presence already dwells within. What we may need is one almighty shock to our ego system, that reveals this dramatic truth, one that rarely comes through the dedicated efforts of the clergy. A sudden death, a health scare, a divorce, redundancy etc all have the potential to jolt us into an Awakening experience. The place for answers is within, in the depths of our ego screams. There the Light dwells and we knew it not. Most folk within clerical systems of ministry are nice folk, though not all. Yet, there very existence may divert folk from meeting the Divine, heart to Heart. A little ministerial cul-de-sac that seems to help for a while until a new top-up of concern is needed. Life is messy and it’s there that Divine Love has chosen to dwell.
The trouble is that the priest/pastor/reverend etc can feel that it’s their job to keep the whole God show on the road. This is often done by teaching the particular dos and don’ts of their interpretive tradition. Having joined the clerical class to help mankind they can so easily end up propping up a moral empire based on the interpretive add-ons of their religious tradition. It’s so easy to switch into control mode in the name of the God of freedom. It’s the historical virus that invades the very heart of religious systems. The priest once more stands as judge and jury on the whole God-man thing, tempted to shed blood, albeit verbally on the chosen scapegoat.
Finally, let me tell you a wee story. A couple of years back here in Lincoln, I was out for a walk along the local High Street when I noticed a bunch of Christians doing their evangelistic thing. Always willing to have a chat will fellow God folk, I stopped and entered into a friendly chat with a guy, who turned out to be the pastor of the gang. At first our conversation was friendly but soon it was strongly inferred that I should be a church member and come along to sample his particular brand of gathering. At this point I suggested that the pastor try a wee experiment. Why not stop all church gatherings for a year, when folk could just mix with society at large. After 12 months have a meeting to see how many people had become Christians through contact with his flock. Unfortunately, I saw sheer disbelief in his eyes. “Dylan, I couldn’t do that.” “Why not?” I asked. “Well, frankly my members wouldn’t make it if it weren’t for our church programme.” Enough said. ” The Christ within would wither up and die if the pastor’s flock didn’t get their weekly worship session and sound Bible instruction.
The clerical system at its worst methinks.