Article by Upendranath Dasa
The Tragedy of All Great Religions, & Thus of ISKCON, After the Founder’s Disappearance; Prabhupada Called it “Churchianity.”
Authoritarian Religion or Sheep Nature and Human Nature
In authoritarian religion, the subjective experience of the participants, is that of subordinating themselves in obedience, reverence, and worship to a higher power.
The basic reason for this surrender, is not the moral quality of the authority, or the love and justice the authority displays, that makes them want to surrender; but that the authority has power over them. In this system, the foremost sin is disobedience.
In authoritarian religious systems, God is the sole owner of love and reason. Man prays to God, and begs for mercy, and in the process projects all his best features unto God, and diminishes himself, thus becoming deprived, empty, and poor. This leads to man being alienated from himself. He naturally intensifies his appeals to God, and naturally he feels more deprived, empty, and poor. A cycle is set in motion—fear and guilt, followed by worship and more appeals—back and forth. All this guilt, and self-loathing leads to a variety of neurotic symptoms.
That is why many persons who experienced authoritarian dynamics in their religion, upon undergoing psychoanalysis, quit the religion. It was not because psychoanalysis set them at odds with religion. Rather, they came to realize, that authoritarian religion had an unhealthy grip on them, and by therapy, they were able to get free.
Instead of empowering them to deal with the world, authoritarian religion, reduced them to fear and trembling; it caused them to shrink away from the world and themselves.
In this description, there are some similarities, between the external appearance of the practitioner of authoritarian religion, and humanitarian religion. However, as we shall see, the subjective experience, which is devoid of innocent and without deception, is quite different.
Authoritarian religion results in self-humiliation, whereas humanitarian religion results in humility. In both cases, the external appearance of supplication, the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly, is the same.
Lord Caitanya praying to be an atom of dust at Krishna’s lotus feet, however, is not the same thing as the poor, deprived, empty soul, riddled with guilt and self-loathing, pleading for mercy, in an orgy of self-humiliation.
Since all power lies in the authority, who represents God, the individual feels powerless and insignificant. As part of the act of surrender, he loses his faculty or power, of using his will and integrity. He exchanges it for the feeling of being protected, by an awe-inspiring power, which the authority represents, and of which he has now become a part. His worth becomes insignificant. Indeed, he only has worth to the degree that he is able to think himself powerless and insignificant. He thinks his distant goal so worthy, that he will try to make any sacrifice for attaining it, including his depersonalization or dehumanization.
Frequently, authoritarian religion postulates an ideal, which is so abstract and so distant, that it has hardly any connection, with the real life of real people. To such ideals, as “life after death,” or “the future of mankind,” the life and happiness of persons living here and now, may be sacrificed; the alleged ends, justify every means, and become symbols in the names of which religious or secular “elites,” control the lives of their fellow men.
We are not against these ideals of “life after death”, and “the future of mankind”, per se. However, we are not concerned, with that aspect in this discussion. We are only concerned, with the day-to-day, subjective experience of religion.
Hence the distinction between religion, and the experience of religion, which is the way of saying, the dynamics within the religious group. The point here is that, the ideals—going beyond birth and death, may be used by religious elites, to justify controlling the lives of their fellow men. The elites may, for instance, hold followers in emotional blackmail to manipulate them, telling them that they will not achieve the ultimate goal, if they do not fulfill the wishes of those in power.
A more popular ploy, however, is for the elites to threaten, implicitly or explicitly, with “a dropping down a shaft.” In other words, isolation from the herd.
Sheep Nature and Human Nature.
Man is interesting, in that we find two conflicting natures in him. He is a social, or herd animal, in that his actions are often determined by the leader, and a drive to keep close contact with those around him. As sheep, man has no greater threat to his existence, than to lose contact with the herd.
Psychological studies have shown that isolation, is the severest form of punishment imaginable. Big, strong, intelligent men can be broken into submission, by isolation from their fellow man. Our herd sense is so strong, that in order to belong, we will allow right and wrong, truth and falsity to be determined by the herd.
Moreover, we are not only sheep. Man has awareness of himself, he has reason, and this confers a sense of individuality, and apartness from the herd. His independence can be asserted by his actions, which result from thinking for himself, whether or not his ideas or realizations are shared by other members of the herd. Rationalization is the mechanism, whereby we reconcile our herd instinct, with our ability to reason, to be individual.
The split between our sheep nature and our human nature is the basis of two kinds of orientations: the orientation by proximity to the herd and the orientation by reason.
Rationalization is a compromise between the sheep nature and our human capacity to think. The latter forces us to make believe that everything we do can stand the test of reason, and that is why we tend to make it appear that our irrational opinions and decisions are reasonable. However, inasmuch as we are sheep, reason is not our real guide; we are guided by an entirely different principle, that of herd allegiance.
In authoritarian religion, the subjective experience is one wherein reason is not allowed to flourish. A good follower is one who subverts his will to that of the herd, which dictates what will and will not be. Yet man’s power to reason causes him to give rational explanations for his actions.
Thus, he may, for example, believe that he acts out of a sense of justice when he is motivated by cruelty.
One can believe one is being dutiful when the real motivation is narcissism.
One may believe he has sound philosophical reasons for cooperating with authority, when the real motive is fear of isolation from the herd.
In fact, most rationalizations are held to be true by the person who uses them. He not only wants others to believe his rationalizations but believes them himself, and the more he wants to protect himself from recognizing his true motivation, the more ardently he must believe in them.