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Authoritarian Dynamics in Religion, How Corruption Begins to Take Hold and Spread

By Upendranath Das a2022 03 29

Segment 01

“The Tragedy of all Great Religions”

We are not against religion as such. We are only against the type of religion that by its dynamics, blocks critical thinking “thereby causing the impoverishment of the intellect.” The prevention of critical thinking in one sphere of life, leads to a collapse of critical thinking in other spheres, resulting in a crippling of the power of reason. The innermost nature of man is not as irrational as he becomes when influenced by irrational teachings. This most likely will happen in systems of authoritarian religion, because in the struggle to assert and to maintain authority, religious leaders invariably adopt irrational methods.

Even pure religions that were originally founded with all good dynamics and ideals, tend to become deviated in the very next generation after the founder is gone. This happens because naturally the group wants to survive. It does not want to fail by disintegrating.

Most groups, whether they are primitive tribes, nations, or religions, are concerned with their own survival and the continuation of the power of their leaders. 

It is part of a predictable pattern not only in religion but in all sorts of organizational dynamics. History and sociology have proven that most organizations—social, political, as well as religious—are usually formed with high ideals in mind. After the founder’s disappearance, in an effort to preserve the organization, although keeping some of the important functions as symbols of continuity of purpose—for example, book distribution, building Mayapur, opening centers—the original intent of the founder is forgotten.

“Forgotten” does not mean an official change of aims or objectives. That may never happen. A radical change of purpose will undermine the credibility of the leaders. If it happens, the change is more subtle. The internal dynamics of the institution may change to the extent that it is no longer fixed on the original goal, but on the institution perpetuating itself.

Rather than the founder’s mission, the real mission becomes keeping power and the bureaucratic structure intact.

That is the point at which the group’s dynamic may change to authoritarian. 

It is the tragedy of all great religions that they violate and pervert the very principles of freedom as soon as they become mass organizations governed by a religious bureaucracy. The religious organization, and the men who represent it, take over, to some extent, the place of family, tribe, and state. They keep man in bondage instead of leaving him free. It is no longer God who is worshiped, but the group that claims to speak in his name. This has happened in all religions. Their founders guided man through the desert, away from the bondage of Egypt, while later others have led him back toward a new Egypt though calling it the Promised Land.

This new direction is not some new official doctrine that replaces that of the founder’s. Rather, the mission is deviated from the original spirit and intent of the founder in the name of the founder. This is a very real danger in organizational dynamics. The wisdom of leadership must be such that the original spirit and intent is preserved. This means that the dynamic of the human experience that the founder stood for, must be kept; it cannot be lost. This change in dynamic, has a natural tendency to take hold in any and all institutions, just like boats on the water develop barnacles on the hull, or just as dogs are liable to be a haven for fleas. It is the jurisdiction of the leaders to keep the organization unencumbered, by not allowing another dynamic to enter.

Enlightened preaching means, among other things, making known the danger of this threat, so that the group is routinely purged of any perversion of the original spirit and intent, just like a boat must go to dry-dock or a dog must take regular treatments. It is like our concept of the gardener of the bhakti-lata, being on the lookout and uprooting weeds when they appear. This means that the individual or institution must be principle-centered. That is the only way to keep the original spirit and intent intact. As soon as evasiveness or compromise is introduced, for expediency, or curry favoring, or for whatever reason, corruption begins to take hold and spread in all directions.

This tragedy can happen in any group, whether authoritarian or humanitarian. In the humanitarian setting there is freedom to question and discuss, there is room for getting back on track; whereas in the authoritarian setting, there is little or no latitude for questioning. By questioning authority, one becomes isolated from the herd. Few can bear this, because in a spiritual organization, one generally needs the fellowship of the group to maintain spiritual life. This threat of isolation may therefore force one to keep silent, and run with the herd, which is running to disaster either in this generation or the next.