Friday, March 15, 2013

Tricks of the Trade

I try to avoid blogging about religion or politics. A one way diatribe of words, like a blog, is insufficient to shed meaning on such controversial and emotional topics. It can only lead to diversion and separation.  It is unfortunate because I love to contemplate religions. But that is not my goal for this blog.
My goal is to talk about ritual not religion. The two words are sometimes confused with each other. So parsing my own rules of discussion to the edge, I am referring to ritual.
In the pagan religions of ancient Greece it was all about ritual. Temples were entertainment spectacles intended to amaze the congregation with "miracles" or just signs that the deity attached to that religion was real and powerful. The temples were often rigged with ingenious mechanical devices that could be interpreted as signs from the god.  There were crying statues, temple doors that opened by themselves when a ritual fire was started. There were even chariots that flew through the air in the temple.  All of these "miracles" were accomplished with advanced mechanics and engineering kept secret from the general public at the time.
Today when the door at a grocery store opens for me automatically, it is harder for me to think of it as a gods intervention.  Or when I see remote toy helicopters for sale hovering in the air at the mall I do not think it is one of the gods chariots.  As for crying statues,  in the Haunted House Ride at Disneyland I have seen statues sing with the fluid facial expressions of a living person. As amazing as all these devices are, in this modern day, I am not inclined to think of them as supernatural.  
As thousands gathered at Vatican city this week to watch smoke billow from a chimney it dawned on me how antiquated that form of communication is in today's world.  It was made even more confusing when I read that to make sure the smoke was the proper color modern day chemicals were added to the "ballot burning" to make the smoke turn. 
In earlier days when the college of Cardinals went into the Sistine Chapel and closed the door, no one knew what was going on inside. It was supposed to be a mystical process.  The implication was that when they had chosen the right person and burned the ballots God would turn the smoke white acknowledging the right choice. There was a time when it was believed that even the Cardinals did not know who the Pope was until the smoke turned white. Today we know that the Pope is chosen before the color smoke is determined. Today it is just ritual.
I don't think the people of today are looking for the David Copperfield of Gods any more.  We are not looking for the Deity who can cause a statue to cry blood, or open a door for the faithful.  As far as flying chariots,  these days I fly in huge 747 Chariot every time I go to do a job. 
What people are looking for is a philosophy of life and a way of living, they will go to a magic show to be entertained with mystery. We want a religion that is relevant to us today in our modern world. A religion that will help us navigate through life. We don't need a religion that shuns the advancements of the world, but rather gives us a map to make our journey through the modern world clearer. 
This is not to say that ritual cannot sometimes be very useful as a metaphor for spiritual discipline.  But when it gets in the way of spiritual development it can be a hindrance. When ritual is hypocritical and negates the idea of progress then it no longer serves its purpose. When a religion uses modern day chemicals and devices to turn smoke white or black but preaches against chemicals and devices for family planning, this is the definition of hypocrisy. We no longer use rose pedals to cure the Bubonic plague so why do we refuse modern technology to make the rest of our life more productive. 
Pope Francis the First is 76 years old.  He was passed middle age when the Macintosh computer was invented.  He was in his late 60's when FaceBook was created and in his Seventies when Twitter became a means of communication. Can his generation understand the megabyte speed and access to the world today? How can he make religion relevant in this modern day world of tweets, shares and status posting using smoke and mirrors?  I am sure he is capable of doing it but will he get caught up in the ritual of his new job and forget that most of us watched the ancient mystical  ritual of white smoke billowing from the Chapel chimney on a smart phone? 
That is just my opinion, I am sure yours is different.
As you were,


P. Grecian said...

Spot on! You'll catch some heat for this, of course. If it gets too hot, send up a smoke signal (any color) and I'll come running with a couple of big industrial-sized fans.

Roy Stone said...

Great post. I as a children's pastor in this modern age preach and teach the idea of a relationship with our lord. not ritual and may i say it not even religion. A relationship with a living god who is relevant to my daily life as much as he was with Peter. Thanks for who you are and what you do you are an inspiration to me and many other the world around.