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Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Governments and Religions

The relationship between a government and a religion needs to be clarified. There are many questions that can be raised. One is for governments which have coherent leadership, either a monarch or a group of oligarchs or some leader of a group which has the support of the population and rules with their consent, or a military dictatorship with existent military power over the population, or some other arrangement. The government has the ability to determine a state religion, if it chooses, and to set rules by which religions can exist and operate without having to be covert. There have been instances in history in which many different arrangements have been chosen, and it is an interessting question to try and find out why a certain arrangement might be preferred over another.

 

One precursor consideration involves the attractiveness, on a personal basis, of the religion to the leader or leaders of the country. Do they fall into the believer status, where they become convinced in the validity of the supernatural or other claims of the religion? If they are firm believers, then they make their decision with this factor in mind. They would probably have contact with the hierarchy of the religion, and may be closely involved with its activities. If the religion has teachings about how one should deal with non-followers, then this set of procedures might be the one adapted by the government leaders as their contribution to the religion. If the religion is run by those who seek power over others, they would obtain the most power by converting the leader or leaders of the government to their religion, and then exerting power over them to obtain power over the population.

 

A large religion is no different than a bureaucratic government or a large corporation or company. Those who rise to top are those who are strongly and emotionally motivated to do whatever is necessary for them to obtain power over people. Some may play the hierarchy climbing game for money, but there are other ways to obtain money at less effort. Power over other people is a very strong motivator for some, and in a religion it would be even less likely to have a money motivation replacing a power motivation.

 

If the government leadership can be convinced in the validity of the claims of a religion, then the religious leadership will have achieved a great deal, and it may open the way to expanding their power over the population. This would be the preferred method, and any shenanigans that can be used to convince the government leadership would be expected.

 

Once that is done, it would be a likely next step to have the government declare their chosen belief system to be the state religion, and this gives the religion access to funding from the government, and not simply rely on the charity of wealthy benefactors. Funding can be used for many purposes, and in the eyes of the power-hungry who might be occupying the upper rungs of the religious hierarchy, it can be used to increase their power over the population. One obvious step is the construction of impressive monuments that will increase the likelihood that less sophisticated members of the population will join the religion out of awe.

 

The next step for a religion to take, once they have convinced the government top leadership of their validity as a supernatural conduit, is to expand their control down through the ranks of the government. Local leadership will get the message that their power is contingent on their also becoming members, and so they might expediently join. The heads of the government are also celebrity figures, and their allegiance to a particular religion is enough of a statement that those who make their choices depending on the choices of others, in particular celebrity figures national, regional and local, will also become believers in the state religion.

 

The final step is one which is potentially disruptive, and that is to increase the pressure on the entire population to become members of the religion, and to participate in that religion's activities and celebrations. Not being able to do business with the government is one tool. Increased taxes for non-believers is another. Even more threatening steps can be taken, such as expulsion or even incarceration.

 

Those religious leaders whose principal motivation is power do not need to stop at this final stage in their lust for power over individuals, but can work on spreading their power to other countries, at least in the neighborhood of the one they have taken over. There are various devices that can be used in the search for power in other countries, perhaps starting at the top in other countries, just as they did in the country of origin, but also possibly starting at the bottom, with proselytization occurring using the funding supplied by the government and benefactors. If this proselytization is markedly successful, there will be pressure from below on the government in these neighboring countries to change their chosen religion to the one which totally dominates their neighbor.

 

This route, with its various stages, is the most promising for a religious leadership bent on increasing their own power, but it depends on one key event: the conversion of the leadership of the origin country to becoming a full-fledged member sof their religion, convinced of the validity of the supernatural claims and all the baggage that goes along with them. If this does not happen, the alternative is for the religion to become the most useful of all possible religions, so that it will be expedient for the government leadership to feign belief and take advantage of the utility of the religion. What exactly might this utility be?

 

The utility of a particular religion to a government leader depends on what problems and threats the leader foresees. This depends on the situation that has led to his appointment, or seizing, of the leadership role. For example, a military leader, who has won all the wars he has fought and established a large reign in some part of the world, might be worried about upstart warlords breaking apart his domain. He might also be worried about being able to recruit enough new soldiers and fighters to maintain his control. He could be worried about being able to collect sufficient taxes from the population he rules to pay for his military expenses and his government expenses. If a religion could help with one of these three problems, or some other pertinent ones, it might be a candidate for the various steps in gaining power. The military leader might personally join it, give off signs of adherence, talk about adherence to his associates, and otherwise imitate the signs of a true believer.

 

The utility of the religion could be high enough to merit further steps on part of a military leader, to cement his rule and to facilitate his desired activities. The religion he chose could become the state religion, or even mandated in one way or another. This happens because the religion might tell adherents not to object to being drafted into the military, as there were supernatural rewards awaiting those who did or those who succumbed in battles. The religion might tell the leaders subjects that paying taxes was the right thing to do, as some supernatural power indicated that. The religion might promote passivity toward rebellion, so no one would bother to take up weapons against the leader.

 

If we want to improve Buddhism so that it cannot either become a vehicle for power-seeking by some religious leaders or a tool for enlarging control or ensuring control of the population by a government, some specific changes have to be made. It is useless and futile to put into the teachings admonitions against power seeking by religious leaders, as the leaders will ignore them except to note that they need to provide rationales for what they do, so it appears they are not power-seekers. Instead, there should be no hierarchy, but simply a large number of tasks which are rotated among the religious leadership, so it is not possible for one to climb the ranks until he is in charge of everything and everyone. Up is not an allowable direction, only sideways is.

 

To prevent an improved religion from being used as a political tool by government leaders of all types, there needs to be no teachings which could be exploited to ensure these government leaders are not challenged when they seek to expand their power. This means, first off, no supernatural promises. Eliminating all the supernatural parts of the religion turns off most of the tricks that a government leader might use, such as telling his subjects that they should concentrate on the next life and ignore what he is doing to them and their lives at the present. Another aspect of an improved religion is that it must eliminate any automatic trust that members have in someone else's promises or proposed statements of fact. The lack of trust implies that anything said and not demonstrated as having strong evidence behind it is disregarded as deceptive. If government leader is constrained to a verified set of true statements, then most of the current practices of government would be impossible, and only ruling with the subject population's interests as a dominant driver could happen, although arguments about preparing for future generations certainly could be made, if they could be established in some way. With these three general changes, it will be much harder for the power-hungry to use the new religion to accomplish their motivation to control everyone else.

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