The Spiritual Buffet

I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith, and attended parochial school for eight years. We attended Mass most mornings; our first course each school day was casually dubbed “Religion”, during which we were instructed in the theology of our faith. “Why were we created?” I chanted, word perfect, as a six-year-old.  “We were created to know, love and serve God.”

I left the Catholic faith as a teenager, so I have no idea if the tenets of that religion are taught in the same way today as they once were. But in the 1960s, we children were instructed that only baptized Roman Catholics would actually make it into heaven after death.  That was it.  Nobody else got past the Pearly Gates.  Children who died before baptism, infants miscarried or stillborn, our nice little Protestant playmates down the street, the millions of other non-Catholic souls inhabiting the planet–if they weren’t a baptized Catholic, they weren’t getting in.  Instead, we were instructed, they’d be shuffled off to an unlikely realm dubbed “Limbo”.  There the soul would be perfectly happy – but God wouldn’t be there.  (The sheer hubris of claiming the existence of a dimension where an omnipresent divinity did not exist was never quite explained.)

Consequently, since only Roman Catholics were getting in the door for their interview with God, we good little Catholics needed to do our missionary utmost to make sure that everyone on the planet ended up Roman Catholic.  The world would be a Perfect Place if only that were so.

Young as I was (and leaving entirely aside a religious history that included the Inquisition, not to mention the as-then unrevealed existence of pedophile priests and Magdalene laundries), I still tended to doubt this very exclusionary view of goodness.  Sitting there on my hard wooden chair in elementary school, I secluded my uncertainties carefully within my own thoughts.  Why, I wondered, would we each have been given a brain and thereby the ability to question if we were not intended to use those attributes?  And if we all reached different conclusions, then didn’t that very individuality contribute to the magnificence of creation?

It would be decades before my viewpoint was confirmed, by no less a spiritual personage than the Dalai Lama himself. Sitting in an amphitheater, listening to him speak to an enthralled audience, I heard him explain what I had known all along: spiritual diversity existed because we humans were created as individuals.  We would not, he told us, eat at a restaurant that served only one dish; just so, spirituality had to serve all the inhabitants of the earth, in all their magnificent variances.  It had to come in many distinct varieties, flavors, temperatures, and seasonings.  It had to differ because we were each different.

Despite my rejection of Catholicism, I have no quarrel with my schooling in the faith, which gave me many gifts that I would not otherwise have (not the least of which is an exceptionally well-trained memory which can still chant the theological lessons learned 50-plus years ago). Nor indeed have I any dispute with any faith that does not promote cruelty or destruction,  or seek to bind individuals with the chains of  “one true way”.  I have no argument, either, with those who chose not to believe.  Atheism and agnosticism are also personal decisions, and every bit as valid as belief.

My adult self has fully come to accept what my child self, in innocence, already comprehended: that perhaps if we can all ever accept each other’s chosen paths as right and true, as good and whole and perfect for the person who maintains them, then this sad old world of ours might truly become, at last, a Perfect Place.

The Illuminati

How, exactly, and when, did the Illuminati become the bad guys?

I’ve seen them now portrayed in novels, movies, and television shows, and they are inevitably depicted as malevolent, secretive masterminds, hovering in the shadows and moving heads of state about like chessboard pieces. I’ve read about their plans to overthrow all government and establish a new, presumably evil and dictatorial, world order. I even read – tried to read – a website by a purportedly “released” Illuminati member.  He lost me at the description of how Abraham Lincoln was not assassinated, but lived out his life in one of their secret bunkers; I was sure he didn’t intend to be hilarious.  But, in general, the Illuminati are always portrayed as really nasty guys, something along the lines of the fictional Hydra. They lurk, they conspire and collude, they weave plans of Machiavellian complexity and pull the puppet strings of world leaders, dancing them about at whim.

Huh.

That’s really strange, because the Illuminati, at least at their inception in 18th century Bavaria, were sort of the good guys. The original goals of the society were to oppose and defeat religious influence over public life (sounds a bit similar to a certain country’s First Amendment to the Constitution, doesn’t it?), to defeat superstition, and to end the misuse of State power.

In their original general statutes, they wrote: “The order of the day is to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice.” Translation: Stop the people who do wrong.

Not a whole lot wrong with that. Arguably a very solid, laudable goal. Although it may have been what got them blamed for inciting the French Revolution.  (Personally, though, I’ve always thought that the abuses of the ruling class, coupled with the Marquis de Lafayette’s return from fighting the American Revolution and “Declaration of the Rights of Man” actually had much more to do with turning France on its head – yes, dreadful pun intended.)

It is notable that the Roman Catholic church in Bavaria felt threatened enough by the Illuminati to encourage Charles Theodore, the ruler of Bavaria, to have the group banned by edict. I suspect that whole ‘defeat religious influence over public life” didn’t go down at all well with most churches, and the Catholic church hadn’t been happy about that sort of thing since the time of Martin Luther.

However, if the transition from Good Guys Opposing Suppression to Bad Guys and Their Evil Plan was present from the early days of this secret society, it can probably be seen in their recruitment tactics.  Adam Weishaupt, their founder, encouraged the participation of wealthy young Christian men, but specifically excluded Jews, monks, women, non-Christians, those of limited means, and members of other secret societies, such as the Freemasons.  Although the society later reneged on the “no Freemasons” thing, it still remained in conflict with Freemasonry, alternately trying to recruit from their ranks, malign them, and copy their degrees and orders.

Actually, as secret societies go, the not-so-secret Illuminati basically managed to infuriate and annoy almost everyone, from rulers of various countries to church leaders, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and their own members. Splits in their ranks and dissension seemed to follow them around like a bad smell, and, deviating far from Weishaupt’s original concept of defeating superstition, they devolved into various forms of mysticism, ritual and secret rites.

I suppose it’s no wonder then, that the Illuminati of modern understanding have transmuted into little more than a conspiracy theory of evil lurkers in the shadows, manipulating public policy and infiltrating governments to establish a New World Order (which, when described, actually sounds a whole lot like an old world order called Nazi Germany). Groups now going by the name of Illuminati and claiming descent from the original order are almost certainly no such thing, unless by descent they mean from the original group’s fascist notions of appropriate membership.

That would certainly explain how The Good Guys became The Bad Guys.