Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go.
e e cummings, 100 Selected Poems
It's been some time since I wrote about the most likely and least likely religions on my list from beliefnet. The reason for the long break is that I had been alternating, working my way down from the top of the list and up from the bottom at the same time. That meant that the next religion I had to write about was Roman Catholicism.
Previously, I had gone to each religion's main site, studied their official list of beliefs, and then tried to explain why those did, or didn't fit me—why the survey I took on beliefnet gave them their particular ranking on my list.
The Roman Catholic website is overwhelming, and it doesn't have a simple, concise, list of beliefs that anyone could agree or disagree with. The reason is clear enough—this is an organization which has such long-term roots in our culture that it doesn't really need to explain itself, on the one hand, and what it does have to say about itself is enough to fill an encyclopedia, on the other hand.
So I'm going to wing this one.
There was a first century Jewish teacher named Jesus. We have very little contemporary information about him, what he taught, or what actually happened to him. After his death, his followers formed a sort of movement which grew, and eventually came to include gentiles. After a time, it included more gentiles than Jewish members, and became, for all intents and purposes, separate from Judaism.
There were a great many different beliefs and worldviews within this movement. It was very diverse, eventually containing variations of gnosticism, neo-Platonism, and many other philosophies, and, as near as we can tell, was relatively liberal for its time. It became quite popular.
It had several things going for it. One of the most important was that it was truly international. It had rejected the law of Israel, the tradition it had been born out of, and owed no allegiance to any particular nation.
Until Rome needed a new religion. The Christian movement was adopted by the Roman Empire, and compelled to get its act together and behave in a respectable, authoritarian, manner. Rome could only compel the parts of the movement which were in its territory, so the movement was divided. The part that got co-opted by the Roman government became the Roman Catholic Church. It underwent a great many changes in the process of becoming a government religion, and an appropriate tool for empire. It narrowed acceptable dogma, limited which parts of the tradition would become canonical, created a clear power structure, and generally adjusted itself to its new purpose.
The main purpose of any state church is to brain-wash the common people into subjugation. One way this was done was to convince them that humans were fundamentally deficient—that, because they were human, they were automatically depraved, and would have to cooperate with the representatives of the church if they were to escape burning in hell. The law was reintroduced—in the form of a code of behavior that was virtually impossible to keep, thus giving the common people daily evidence of their own unworthiness. Those who did comply were threatened with excommunication—which had economic consequences as well as consequences for the imagined afterlife.
The power structure thus created outlived the Roman Empire, became a major political force throughout the medieval period, and continues today. Worse yet, the protestant churches, especially the most conservative ones, have inherited much of the authoritarian structure and doctrine of the Church they rebelled against, and continue to brainwash their congregations, as well. We see the results of this in the political landscape in America—it's part of the reason that so many people vote so regularly against their own interests, just as they're told to do from the pulpit.
It's not so hard to see why the Roman Catholic Church rates so low on my list. I don't believe that human beings are helpless, sinful, or in need of authority on the whole, and even if I did, I wouldn't have any reason to believe that this institution had any more information about the nature of the world than I do. Even if I thought that some of the teaching were true, I wouldn't approve of the induction of guilt or the authoritarian methods of teaching.
That's not to say that I don't have some really good Catholic friends, who I regard highly as human beings. I do.
But there's literally nothing in the structure or belief system that I could want for myself, and I am deeply convinced that my Roman Catholic friends would be the same wonderful human beings without the Church, even if they aren't.
Next time I'll look into a group near the top of my list.