Posted by: terrapraeta | February 19, 2010

From The Archives: Vision Change


Life is bigger
It’s bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

REM, Losing My Religion

Some years ago, I was an active participant in the Ishcon.org forum: a forum dedicated to discussing and expanding upon the ideas set forth by Daniel Quinn

IshCon also sponsored conventions, for those of us like-minded to get together, meet, discuss and expand upon the ideas in person. Developing relationships, community skills and so forth. I wrote, last year, about the first of those conventions that I attended: Ishcon 2004. Later that same year, I had a weekend meetup at my home for some of the (relatively) local friends I had made at that convention. That same weekend, the site was shut down after a conversation exploded. The issue was Derrick Jensen.

Repeatedly, fans of Jensen had gotten into shouting matches with other Ish participants about “blowing up dams.” Now, after reading Jensen, I have a different view of those conversations, but at the time, the focus of DJ’s fans seemed to be very much about violence as *the* answer. This disturbed Chris (IshCon’s administrator and conference facilitator) and many other participants as well. We were not about violent revolution, but rather, primarily about vision change. Being the change. A Third Way. Chris was one of those attending the weekend get-together, and so we discussed the issues of violent discussion and censorship a fair amount that weekend. When all was said and done, and the forum was reactivated, I wrote and posted the following. (IshCon no longer exists, when Chris decided he no longer found value in running the forum, we built a new site: IshThink.org. IshThink has never become what IshCon once was, but still we discuss things there at times, and some of the original core group still find some usefulness in it.)

ISHCON: Helping people in search of a new vision to find each other.

Anyone that logs onto Ishcon.org will find this statement at the top of the page. But what does it mean – ‘in search of a new vision.’ What is vision change? How does it work? When we discuss ‘Changing minds’, what is it we are discussing?

After the upheavals of the past weeks, and the subsequent closing of the forums I began to really consider these questions. I asked myself how this core concept reflected on the needs of the community itself, and the needs of the individuals within the community. Can we justify any sort of censorship? Do we want to?

Of course, I have always been staunchly opposed to censorship in any form. Yet I did feel, to some degree, that the recent trends within the forums threatened the community and its mission. So some serious soul searching seemed to be in order. Where do we draw our lines and how do we explain what those lines represent? How far do we go to defend the community from being twisted into something diametrically opposed to what we set out to create.

Daniel Quinn has likened the Ishmael ‘movement’ to the Industrial Revolution. As a metaphor it is somewhat effective. Unfortunately, the metaphor falls short in many ways. It does not give us a personal sense of what we are doing or how our actions fit into the whole. Particularly as it relates to vision change itself. I finally realized why – the Industrial Revolution was NOT a vision change – it was a technological change, brought about by the mental inspiration of thousands of individuals.

So I looked further. Is there any example of a true vision change in our history –something that can provide us with a model that, while wrong, could be useful? I believe I found one, and this is what I would like to share with the group.

All of us are more, or less familiar with Christianity. However we might feel about the church as a modern institution, the origins of the movement represent a unique period in time. The Roman Empire was in its glory days, the rabble rousing of yet another Jewish holy man was merely an irritation that could have no lasting effect upon the monolith of civilization itself. With the death of Jesus, that should have been the end of the whole thing.

With the death – and possible resurrection – of Jesus, his followers continued to spread his message. However, it was a message much like others spreading through the ancient world at the time. Perhaps his teachings were particularly well formulated, and well expressed, but fundamentally, it was no different than any other. It would have passed away and been completely unknown had a Roman Centurion in pursuit of the disciples not interpreted a case of heat stroke as divine intervention.

The Centurion, of course, was a Saul of Tarsus, thereafter to be known as Paul – and eventually St Paul, the Divine. Now, the conversion of Paul was, in many ways, in direct opposition to the remaining disciples of Jesus. They sought to spread his ideas. But for Paul, the importance wasn’t in Jesus, the man, and the ministry. For Paul, the importance lie in ‘The Christ.’ In some way, his experience instilled in him a new vision. A vision of Salvation, of ‘God’s love through Christ.’ He set out, not to reform – but to transform.

Now, jump ahead fifty, a hundred years. The Good News was spreading throughout the Empire. Slowly at first, but nonetheless, it was gaining converts. These people faced terrible persecution, death, torment at the hands of the Romans should they be found out. ‘Feeding the Christians to the Lions’ is not a euphemism. Yet they persisted, and they continued to gain ground. Why was this?

“The man in the street who first heard Jesus’ disciples proclaiming the Good News was as impressed by what he saw as by what he heard. He saw lives that had been transformed– men and women ordinary in every way except for the fact that they seemed to have found the secret of living. They evidenced a tranquility, simplicity, and cheerfulness that their hearers had nowhere else encountered. Here were people who seemed to be making a success of the greatest enterprise of all, the enterprise of life itself.”

–Huston Smith
The Religions of Man p.427

This was the very heart of vision change. Vision change cannot be hampered by physical force any more than it can be accomplished by physical force. If the early Christians had met the Roman persecution with physical force, there is a good chance that the Romans would have, in turn, completely destroyed the church and everyone that had any knowledge of it whatsoever. That is not a stretch – there were several times in that early history that church was nearly destroyed. Concerted effort by the Empire would have made all the difference.

Instead, the Early Christians conceived of martyrdom. Did these martyrs do anything to help spread the word with their deaths? No, probably not. But it certainly did affect people to see them facing their deaths with Joy and Defiance. And it instilled that much more defiance in those that lived on. It allowed the church* itself to increase conversions rather than loose them.

Two hundred years later, the Empire turned to the Church. Constantine used the early Catholic Church and many other churches to create a single unifying religious foundation in the Empire. As an Empire-saving device, this turned out to not be enough. But for the church, well, as they say, the rest is history. Empires have come and gone – and the church has been tested, divided and even split asunder. Yet it still stands today.

Now, we need to be careful to not take the metaphor too far. Catholicism became, in time, a monolithic, authoritarian and complete corrupt organization Then came the Reformation – and eventually hundreds of monolithic, authoritarian organizations. Throughout European history it has played a role that is diametrically opposed to the ideas and motivations within the Ishmael movement. The entirety of Christian religion is perhaps, the single most important source of the ‘One-Right Way’ meme in our modern world. This is certainly not a model that we want to follow, from beginning to end.

But what this model does provide, within the microcosm of Rome in the first two centuries AD, is a model of what vision change looks like in a society. How it functions, how it spreads, and how it is virtually immune to physical intimidation or enforcement.

So my proposition is this. Let us be ‘people who seem to be making a success of the greatest enterprise of all, the enterprise of life itself.’ And let us not be afraid to say that there are wrong choices for us to make. As a community, if our goal is vision change, I find it completely appropriate to say that we will draw a line in the sand. The line reads thusly:

Any individuals that propose to interfere, or in fact interfere, with our efforts to enact vision change – to be successful at life itself – have no place in our community.

This does not mean that we enact harsh censorship, or that we refuse entrance to those who disagree. But just the same, as individuals we can stand up and say, No, you are disrupting that which we are trying to build and we won’t let it continue. Whether we address problems as individual community members – which is how we have dealt with every other disruption in the past – or whether it takes a further step as has occurred this weekend, as a community we have EVERY RIGHT to stand up and defend OUR community.

Perhaps our Reformation has come upon us. Perhaps a split is inevitable. But is that really a problem?

*NOTE: When speaking of ‘the early church’ it should be noted that there were, in fact, hundreds of Christian churches in ancient Rome – each with slightly different visions and intentions. The Roman Catholic Church was, at that time, rather small and unimportant – until Constantine choose it to negotiate with (probably due to its hierarchical structure). This may be important to recognize in that any movement that is ‘brought back into the fold’ of modern culture may follow the same path.

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Responses

  1. Well said. I see early Christianity as the most successful effort in written history to “undo” the empire. (Maybe Buddhism was another but I do not know enough about it.)

    Eventually, it was coopted, and lost. But never 100%. The spirit has lived on and the control-freaks could never win altogether. When Franciscans were coopted, the Fraticelli sprung up. When they were destroyed, the Cathars sprung up. And so on…. the Church went on running from one fire to another, trying to douse it and never quite succeeding.

    We need to learn from that history what works. And what doesn’t.

    As far as defending one’s community, right on the money. Communities cannot survive otherwise. At the same time, I think it’s equally essential to maintain links with related groups despite the differences. Nah?


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