The other day a friend said that he knows “some very intelligent people who are mentally trapped in beliefs that they were born into and now they have been turned into trappers of others into their religious myths.”
The question is, “Is escape from entrapment possible?” I think escape is possible, but it takes courage.
All of us are enculturated as an aspect of being incorporated into a society. Societies essentially exist to provide unity, which functions as protection. Individuals could not survive against sabretooth tigers or bring down mammoths. Social unity worked, and still works. Today’s dangers are viruses and the like, as well as the built-in proclivity for violent reactions to threats – real or imaginary.
We are born into a cultural environment which is a matrix that includes a predominant belief system, language (or small group of languages, jargons and dialects), modes of social interaction including taboos, and preferences for a rather narrow range of life essentials (such as food, clothing, and shelter).
Religion is cultural. Religions exist to provide connectivity and relief from the terrifying-unpredictable specter of the mysterious unknown and from the ravages of inevitable death.
Whether we are trapped into a religion by being born into one or by entering one that entraps us, is a matter of complex opportunities and felt needs to conform or to escape. Conformity is easier and tends to come first. Escape takes courage, which usually comes from internal pressure that overrides what one perceives as the benefits of conformity. One asks, “What is this cultural aspect we are confronting? Is it a barrier or a bridge?”
As it pertains to religion, the boundaries serve either to identify those who are defenders (nurturers, etc.) and those who are fighters who battle reactively or proactively, or to identify those who cannot be included, are not yet included, and are to be inducted, and how to relate to those who are “others”, depending on circumstances.
Along with the need for protection that is available through the trade-offs we make to remain within a social-cultural entity, is the effect of experiences we have accumulated. We are besieged and bewildered by some experiences and enraptured or confirmed by others.
On the whole, in the long term, for us individually and as parts of the world and the universe, the arc is toward connectivity. Reality is expanding toward inclusivity. The trend is to eliminate that which divides and specifies. That which is encapsulated is increasingly isolated, undernourished, and disintegrating. Defensiveness is a strategy of doom … in the long run. Any society withers that refuses to stay curious, empathetic, and courageous.
We individuals who become aware we are in a stagnant-besieged society are never able to stay neutral. Awareness is powerful. Neutrality is not an option. We may drift a while until new experiences create a new circumstantial environment, or we acquire energy from wherever we can get it to escape the stifling, moribund society we can no longer tolerate.
Not a few of us interpret our movement out of familiar society into strange, new territory as an eviction or expulsion. This is a mistake. It discounts our own agency. More accurately we have acted. We have disregarded prohibitions against questioning the myth of stability and normality our society has constructed.
Once we are outside, we discover either that the barriers were illusory and we are in fact still included in society that actually accommodates our sort of innovation and adventure (and so we have just left a subculture), or we discover that there is a society into which we have moved that is more diverse and equitable.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.