On Starting Religions

I mentioned a couple entries ago that I had toyed with the idea of starting a religion as a bid to maybe give myself a karmic edge (which I considered to be an act of bargaining with the curious fortune of having been who I was in a previous life) but I think the subject deserves more discussion because it’s something I’ve thought deeply about.

First of all, in my life I’ve seen both the very best and the very worst religion can bring out in a person.  I cannot bring myself to see it as unilaterally “bad” or “good” in any respect because you can’t make any such statement without a broad generalization.  I’m familiar with Dawkins and Hitchens’ arguments that religion has nothing good to offer, but I find that their work isn’t very durable outside of a modernist framework.

For me, the considerations come down to what good starting a movement could actually do and what potential for harm it would cause to have someone as flawed as me leading it.  I could go into it swearing up and down that I’ll never be a Rolls Royce guru, but what would happen if I started a big enough movement that I could afford a Rolls?  Would I find a way to excuse my lack of altruism through some ‘greater good’ reasoning and get a blinged-out Phantom, or would I adhere to the same vow of poverty I ask of those I reach out to?

Also, many groups started with the best of intentions soon devolve into sinister cults when a leader becomes too egotistical at being the head of a large congregation.  Would that be my fate too?  Supposing I were to start a Cathar revivalist sect that stressed minimal living as a means of nonviolent revolution by de-funding the military-Industrial complex, only to become paranoid and move my congregation out to a fortified compound in the middle of nowhere?  It could only go downhill from there.

On the other hand, if I simply put an idea out there without taking a leadership role, I’m equally afraid of losing control of it to the point where it becomes a liability.  I could try to create a movement with no leaders, but I’ve been involved in such movements before; generally, my experience tells me that if no one assumes a leadership role, then by default leadership falls to those who do the most to organize and solidify a movement and those people don’t always have the best intentions.

Also- and this is very important- how much of what I preach am I willing to believe wholeheartedly?  My views have shifted so many times in my life, how can I hope to be consistent?  Once I start a movement, I have to devote my life to that movement and I am unsure if I am capable of such constancy.

Another consideration: having a past life like Phil’s puts me in a tremendous double-bind.  I genuinely feel that a Cathar revivalist sect could be a good vehicle for the sort of enlightened Christianity Phil envisioned, and it would be a powerful testimony to talk about how the remembrance of past lives changed the trajectory of my life forever, but it would also look cheap and silly to most people.  Also, I’m sure the media and the blogosphere would draw unwelcome parallels to that South Park episode about Scientology even if I intended to create something that could enrich lives and requires no money to be involved in.

I must admit though, I see Scientology billboards on buses and trains downtown and I’m deeply frustrated.  Nobody took Hubbard’s little cult seriously back in those days, and I’m sure back when I was Phil I couldn’t have imagined that Scientology would become the monolithic destroyer of lives It’s become.

I want so badly to become the antithesis to L. Ron Hubbard and create a movement that restores lives and heals hearts.  I want so badly to stand before David Miscavige and say “And where is L. Ron now?  I came back, he did not!  You can threaten me and you can mock me, but I’ll be back again and again until your little cult is destroyed!  Be gone, you liar and thief!  You may promise enlightenment, but I deliver!”  But in reality I know that it would never play out that way, even if I had the support of other movements against scientology, if for no other reason than no one would take me seriously.

Even if I had a stronger case for having been Phil than I do, I feel like have too many regretful facts about my past to be a public figure.  I have no ethos, and I’m sure there’d be plenty of people who already dislike me who would be happy to tell the media all the dirt they know about me, about every prejudiced remark I made or every fetish I have, or everyone I slept with back when I was getting it out of my system.  I’m sure my fluctuating political alliances would come up too; they love giving people who change their mind in earnest a hard time for being “inconsistent.”

And so I have to cure myself of these romantic notions of being hailed as an ascended master returned to bring good news and free the oppressed, even if I have the best intentions, because I know that good intentions are only half the equation.  I can’t bargain my way out of the helplessness of being an obscure writer scraping by on the West Coast once again, with no recourse to past achievements to help me do something amazing.  If I want to be amazing this time, I have to build up from nothing.  It’s a harsh reality but it’s the only sound and solid way to go about my life.

I can get my head around it; just wish I could get my heart around it.

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