Yesterday, I read an interesting interview with Saldman Rushdie. Much of the time he spent criticizing the role of religion in world affairs. In particular he focused on fanatic Christians and Muslims and the incredible suffering they have caused... and are causing.
He noted that religions are now political organizations, who seek power and control.
My reaction was, "well, duh". This is certainly not a new phenomenon. Christians have been persecuting and murdering their opponents for years. So too Muslims.
But we should be careful. Its not so much "religion" that is the problem as "organized religion". Religion as political body. Religion as authority and control. Religion as fanatic obedience to a book or leader.
That certainly is the most popular form of "religion", though I argue its not religion at all-- but an authority cult.
Mystics, shamans, and the likes of Aldous Huxley have pointed to a different type of religion... one which has not, traditionally, been saddled with the evils typical of organized religion.
Today, these mystical traditions are often labeled "spirituality" in order to distinguish themselves from the organized murdering cults. These traditions include neo-shamanism, sufism, grassroots zen, some Hindu offshoots, vipassana, ancient and neo-mythology (ie the works of Joseph Campbell), many indigenous religions, some Buddhist sects, etc...
These variations of the "Perennial Philosophy" have many similarities. But their most important trait is their lack of organization. These practices stress individual experience, rather than obedience to dogma. They do not claim to present "The Way" but rather "a way". Many, such as the more radical forms of zen & shamanism, are forcefully anti-authoritarian....
Its unfortunate that Rushdie didnt mention these during his interview. Perhaps he is unfamiliar with them (he strikes me as a somewhat stuffy Brit, at times).
There is a tendency to dismiss spirituality and philosophy in the face of fanatics who have hijacked religion. But we must remember that theirs is not the only way.