Bad Wine In New Bottles

Schopenhauer was quite wrong to say that religious conversion was never a partial change, but is always thorough-going. He should have remembered his main doctrine, that we are not our rationalisations but our Will – and velle non discitur, willing cannot be taught. Our motivations do not change, but we can switch the technologies we use to fulfil them.

Converts continue to exhibit changed behaviour even after the honeymoon period; for they will probably have discarded their old friends and hobbies and acquired new, adopted the idiolect of the group and so forth. None of this, however, necessarily adds up to becoming better people. Observation suggests that what is far more likely is that the converts are now expressing their previous dominant personality patterns in the Language of Zion. That is to say, formerly bossy individuals will be striving for leadership, formerly censorious people will be condemning the sins of their fellows, formerly competitive characters will be showing who is the humblest of them all, and so on and so forth.

It is instructive to watch young charismatic converts being told about the gifts and ministries of the Spirit; the resemblance to kindergarten children announcing what they are going to be when they grow up is astonishing. For only the boys want to Exhort and Correct, while only the girls want to do Works of Corporeal Mercy; the attention-seekers want to Prophesy and the predators want to Discern Spirits. Theology suggests that a real Holy Spirit might well grant gifts to the least likely candidates, and particularly those who do not actually want them – confer the reluctant prophets like Jonah – whereas in fact the charismata that the converts are claiming to receive could easily be predicted by someone who knew their pre-conversion personalities and the disorders thereof.

Even serious nastiness can find a new home and a fresh justification in terms of the Service of the Lord. Religious conversion does not necessarily turn a hateful person into a loving one; it may merely give the convert permission to hate a new set of objects. More than this, it offers him religious blessings on his hate in return for pecuniary consideration. If the new convert reveals his fundamental meanness or cruelty too soon, however, he may find himself the focus of undesirable attention. He would be well-advised instead to wait until he has achieved a position of power in the church, or at least has sufficiently mastered the new language and culture as to find acceptable outlets and dress for his meanness and cruelty.

And then there are the good people, who attribute their goodness solely to the transformative power of the Lord. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Good people do not know that they are good, and certainly don’t go round boasting about how good they are; it is only the bad people who do the latter. The testimony of the good people about why they are good is thus worthless; they don’t know, because they can’t know and so they invent stuff. Whatever made them good in the first place, it is not unthinkable that their new religion is now encouraging it as well as providing an ex post facto explanation. The trouble is that whatever makes the bad people bad in the first place, it is equally likely that their new religion will encourage and justify too.

So people come to their religion, bringing with them whatever they are, and find a new language in which to express whatever they are. There are loving and unloving people on both sides of the religious divide, and all that happens when an unloving person gets religion is that he becomes religious in an unloving way, or unloving in a religious way.

Posted on January 8, 2010 at 10:18 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Soulbusters

Leave a Reply