That thought, First comes the music then comes the dance, occurred to me at a wedding. We were heading down to where we were supposed to receive dance lessons in some kind of Klesmer dance steps but when I arrived the band was playing and everyone was dancing with whatever steps seemed to fit the music.
“Of course,” I thought to myself, “first comes the inspirational experience, then comes the attempt to explain and teach others about it.”
So when Jesus (and other wisdom teachers) says ‘The Kingdom of God is within you,’ He is talking about the inspirational insight he experienced. And along with that experience came the internal requirement to share it with others. So Jesus, and Buddha, and other “revolutionaries”, spiritual, philosophic, economic, political, scientific, whatever category of social experience and at whatever “level” of influence they engage the society of their time are sharing their experience, convinced that their message will help people live better lives.
The paradox is that language is required in order for us to share our experience, and language proceeds in linearity while illumination is all at once. The disciples of the master are always constrained by their cognition and attempt to get beyond that to the illuminating experience by arranging sequences of rituals designed initially to create the environment that will promote the possibility of replicating the illuminating experience.
As time removes generation after generation from the initial experience the leadership of what has now become a “movement” or a “school of thought” or a religion leans more and more heavily on the requirement for people to “believe” what has now become a teaching. And of course with that organization comes rules for membership, tests for certification: Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Doctor, Lawyer, Plumber, Electrician, or REALTOR.
Other signs of faithfulness that distinguish members from all the others are developed and while the original illumination is held up as a flag waving standard, the practical day to day necessities of keeping the organization functional takes over.
In the spiritual realm the original illumination is of universality of opportunity; a connectedness of human life with each other, and with life itself.
In all the other realms including the religious, ideas of truth that are shepherded and promulgated by the organizations become competitive which translates into different levels of aggressiveness and defensiveness.
Belief is a cognitive experience and belief in the “truth” that now forms the structure of the ongoing system becomes essential. The capacity of the leadership to tolerate ambiguity and new interpretations of that truth determines whether or not the organization itself evolves or forces the new ideas to establish themselves in new movements and new competing schools of thought; thus the Protestant Reformation emerges and itself splinters into new denominations.
The tribal reality of Judaism allowed it to develop Conservative and Reformed branches whereas Catholicism which incorporated different nations with differing cultures could not contain those differences and maintain its identity.
In response to intellectual challenges which cannot be refuted, belief systems within an individual or an organization either re-structure their beliefs to incorporate the new ideas or transform themselves from belief into faith. Thus faith can be understood to function as a ‘fortressed belief ‘ putting itself beyond the reach of evidence. It makes no difference whether or not the belief system is religious or political or economic. It depends only upon how the evidence is understood to affect the organizational structure.
In this country, at this time, a number of ultra conservative religious organizations have begun to accept the evidence of climate change, while ultra political conservatives (some of whom as individuals belong to both groups) continue to reject the evidence.
Transformative change can occur when the new evidence manages to get past the defenses, and is incorporated into the existing faith system. When that happens it can re-energize the organization bringing it sometimes into new arenas of activity.
In the case of the conservative religious groups climate change has found a home in the idea of the faithful steward of God’s creation. Such a shift is at least imaginable in the political sphere within the framework of support for the development of sound ecological environments being developed in localities across the country from one cost to the other.
Sometimes, for some of us, the experience of a new way of seeing and understanding the world in all the complexity of its pain and promise becomes in its own way something of an illuminating experience. And while not often enough to light up the larger world with the newness of our understanding, it can be enough to give us the courage to continue.