Monday, March 11, 2013

Interview with John Maguire about his essay on Open Source Religion by David Markham

David: John your essay about Open- Source religion made me wonder about a couple of phenomena currently observed in the United States: the rise of the “nones” who are people upon survey that say they have no religious identification and affiliation, and the decrease in church attendance. You mention in your essay that “Open-Source Religion integrates horizontally” as compared to “Closed system Religion integrates vertically”. To what extent do you think the availability of the world wide web since the mid 90s and the mushrooming availability of information has contributed to the decrease in influence of organized mainstream religion especially in your generation, the so called “millenials” who no longer have to rely on hierarchial religious institutions for information and interpretation of religious ideas?

John: Quite a lot I would say. If a person is computationally literate, or even semi-literate, the cracks in the wall of established institutions are laid bare for anyone to see on the web. Information that used to be hidden away in libraries and academia, that required huge blocks of time to discover and synthesize, is now a thousand times more streamlined and accessible. This definitely accounts for the acceleration of skepticism in our society, and is reflected in decreased church attendance as you’ve noticed, as well as a rise in economic justice movements like Occupy Wall Street.
People I believe are naturally resistant to the idea of becoming cogs in a machine; which is why you see so much rebellious/aggressive behavior in most school environments for example. In these dogmatic, hierarchical environments we are told what the truth is and told not to question it. This is completely antithetical to human nature. We need to explore and discover our own “truth” to be truly happy in this life, and a vast majority of institutions simply stifle this outright through propaganda and hierarchical authority. 

David: During your stay in Brockport did you see examples of this phenomenon where young people turned to each other and the internet rather than to their pastor, priest, rabbi?

John: You know not so much, because I think a lot of my friends in general fall into that “none” category. This is not an indictment of them, I certainly understand that rebellion and I have a lot of the same ambivalence toward the word “religion” myself.
I think to the extent that people are dialoguing on the internet, they likely keep this part of their life compartmentalized from the rest. No one wants to face criticism from their selected peer group because they don’t want to be seen as “un-cool” or “anti-science”. And let’s face it; a lot of younger people nowadays are drowning in apathy and materialism without much guidance for how to pursue a “higher-life”. This is of course largely a byproduct of our disempowerment brought about by out-dated and broken cultural memes (i.e. materialism, rejection of afterlife experience, shallow pursuit of self-interest at the expense of others, etc)

I would say a good swath of the younger generation is moving toward a more indigenous form of spirituality: in other words a return to non-coercive group ritual. You see this most in the surge of “club kids”, and at other huge gatherings such as Burning Man Festival. Whether you agree with some of their lifestyle choices, or views on psychedelics or not, these movements by and large are an attempt at rediscovering community infused with indigenous/shamanic sensibilities. So by and large I see people turning to shamanic spirituality in some way shape or form, whether they realize it or not.

David: You write about the role of “satanic boogy-man” which has led to the demonization of the other who is characterized as an enemy justifying war and other forms of attack. How would an Open source religious orientation undermine or counteract this tendency?

John: Open-Source, in principle, rejects the idea of absolutes. Absolute evil, absolute good, these are polarizing terms grounded in static dogma. Open-Source models are modular, ever-evolving. Open-Source respects diversity, whereas traditional systems emphasize only “one true way”, and anyone in violation of that “one true way” must be labeled evil. Look at the passing of the recent NDAA where basically anyone can be labeled an “enemy combatant” and a “terrorist” just because you disagree with certain government policy. This is yet another reflection of absolutism and narrow-mindedness that can be found in fundamentalist religion.

David: You write “…MSR (Mainstream religion) also perpetuates the cultural epidemic of sadomasochistic addiction to self-hatred. The self-loathing person can never self-actualize, and the writhing emptiness within can only be satiated by self-destructive behavior such as mindless consumerism, or the demented urge to exert power and control over others.” This reminds me that after 9/11, Americans asked in a plaintiff way “Why do they hate us so?” and President Bush’s response was to go shopping so the terrorists didn’t win and disrupt our economy too much. Are you implying that the materialistic capitalism endemic in the United States is actually fueled by Main-Stream religion’s doctrine of original sin and the defective nature of the human being, and if so, how do you see this as working?

John: By and large yes. While I’ll admit there is not an exact 100% correlation, whether we want to admit it or not there is an undercurrent of religious extremism/absolutism within our government today and there has been for a long time.
Since ancient times, leaders have been perverting the philosophical underpinnings of spiritual doctrine (which at its heart is meant to liberate people) in the pursuit of personal power. First leaders claimed divine right to rule, then men like Emperor Constantine warped and dogmatized decentralized cults like Christianity to unite the various Pagan peoples he was conquering. While government nowadays takes on a more secular character at first glance, the underpinnings of its motivations flow from that merger of personal-power pursuit with spiritual/psychological warfare.

David: You seem to point out that as human beings we all are religious in some way whether we are consciously aware of this or not. You write, “Guiding principles are in essence a religion: just as religion is a set of guiding principles. Therefore, whether we admit it or not, we are all religious creatures at heart. In that respect, we all have a stake in the development of the OSR paradigm.” Can you say more about what that stake is and the expectations and requirements such a stake implies can be satisfied?

John: I think anyone that looks at the world honestly realizes we are in an absolute quagmire. There are literally holocausts going on all over the Middle-East, Africa, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, here in the States depression, apathy, disease, poverty, crime, fascism, and tensions are rampant. This is all reflective of that “Closed-System Paradigm” that pervades both our institutions and our thinking processes.

We feel isolated, helpless, fearful, sad, and so on because most of us have accepted the Newtonian, Cartesian, and Institutionalized-Religious view that this world is a pitiless, meaningless, scarcity-driven and competitive jungle where it’s everyone for themselves, and we have no power as individuals. Whether institutions that leverage this paradigm label themselves as “scientific” or “religious”, they are in general agreement that we need to simply suck it up, do what we’re told by the “experts”, and go along with the program.

I think by participating in the Open-Source movement we are helping to support new ways of thinking and new ways of living. By learning about horizontal integration, shared decision-making, individualized sense-making, and rediscovering what it means to exist in a real community with real responsibilities, we can overcome all this pointless war and despair in the world.

David: You seem to imply a sense of urgency when you write, “Open-Source sense making is the future starting now.” If you look at the sociological data  it seems you are right that Open-Source sense making on religious and theological ideas has already begun. What will be further signs that it is progressing? Also, some commentators say that Pope Benedict resigned because he is aware that the Catholic Church is a failing institution and that he is not up to the task of leading the church in this new age. You were a Catholic yourself. Can you imagine an Open-Source Catholic church? If so, what would it look like?

John: Well you’ll never find out what’s developing by watching the mainstream media, that’s for sure. I think we can only know by A) tapping into alternative media, and B) reaching out to others and searching for ourselves. Visiting web-sites, dialoguing with others in forums, watching videos, visiting alternative communities, communicating via Skype; all of these are important. I think only by reconnecting with each other and opening up to one another can we ever really know “what’s going on”. When people are willing to engage in respectful and intelligent dialogue with one another without scoffing at the others beliefs, and arrive at core issues they can agree on moving forward, we will know we are making progress. Also the closer science and religion come to reuniting is another surefire sign that evolution is progressing. Unfortunately it is not some miraculous, over-night transformation. We all have a part to play in this unfolding story.

To answer your second question, I think Benedict resigned for a number of reasons. Pedophilia scandals, failing health, institutional-politicking, power-games; all of these likely had a hand in his historic resignation. I am sorry to say I don’t have much faith in the Catholic Church “opening up” as long as it’s tied to the Vatican. And even if it were simply to split with the Vatican, we would simply have another branch of Protestantism which is still entrenched in biblical teachings/history that is deeply bias, corrupt, and misrepresentative of the true story.

 If any religion keeps perpetuating the myth that it has the “one true story”, they can’t call themselves “Open”. Open respects diversity, but also embraces our similarities, our wholeness. Take for example the story of Noah’s Ark; there are literally dozens of flood/ark stories from cultures all over the world. This blows up the whole notion that there is “one true religion” brought down from on high. So if any religion is to evolve and call itself Open, it must not only move away from centralized/dogmatic authority, it must also adopt that principle that our mythologies may have a common source.

David: Over all I found your essay remarkable in many ways. Your idea about a burgeoning Open-Source religion is very powerful and profound. What are you hoping that your readers will take away from your essay?

John: My main hope is that people begin to engage in true self-evaluation and critical thinking. We take a lot for granted, and just assume certain histories, events, philosophies, etc, are “true”, even though we’ve never researched them thoroughly ourselves. I hope people stop accepting what they’re told from authority figures, and seek truth in their own way and on their own terms. Personal empowerment is my endgame I suppose.

From this new consciousness I think people’s actions will take on a new character and we can reshape not only our own lives, but our neighbors’ lives, and our communities as well. I am a true believer in global-thinking and local-action. Reshaping our local government structures, our education systems, monetary systems, our food-distribution systems, our business-structures; all of this is possible with a new consciousness, so that is what I hope to foster and nurture.

David: It seems like Open Source religion will be the contribution of the Millenials who have come of age in the internet age. It is not the religion of their parents, grandparents, and previous generations. It is something that your generation is using to transform the world in a more positive way. Who do you see the major leaders as being, or if that is not the right way of looking at the phenomenon what will continue to develop it as the religious orientation of the future?

John: I think we are moving away from traditional cults of personality. This is not to say we won’t have “leaders”, just not leaders in the traditional sense of the word. Often we think of leaders as these strong-men, rally-around types who talk tough and inspire others through charisma alone. The new generation of leaders will be more willing to share decision-making equitably, rely on the advice of their cohorts and communities, and will speak through their actions rather than through their words. The next generation of leaders will also be defined by integrity.

In general it will be a collective endeavor. As Buckminster Fuller used to say we exist within a global game. Because we’re all in this together when one of us loses, we all lose. Contrary to Darwinian thinking, evolution does not move forward due to mindless competition and “survival of the fittest”. Systems Science and men like Alfred Russell Wallace teach us that Evolution advances through the cooperation and coupling of species. To evolve, we must unite.

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