THE FIRST TEMPTATION
Religion is about coming closer to God. It is something living, organic, joy giving, energizing. No one can claim to master this approach because success depends on a set of aptitudes different from those displayed by normal worldly achievers.
But achievers do not like to admit that they do not perform. Hence, instead of confessing failure, – the failure to become the Self – achievers turn the tables. They displace their focus towards what they can visibly achieve outside: the external religion where they can excel: building temples, authority, hierarchy and institutions; pilgrimages, proselytism and spreading the faith. This is the First Temptation.
Let us call those of us who fall for it “the externalists”.
History documents how externalists confiscate the religion. They achieve the unity of the faithful by excluding others who doubt their ways, so conflict is programmed. This eventually creates conditions for the rage of the Second Temptation: fundamentalism. Soon the story of religion shall be written with ink, iron and blood.
Those who pursue genuine spirituality keep their focus on building the temple within themselves. But they are left out; they shall be dispossessed and lucky if they are not persecuted. This is normal. Their existence obscurely reminds the externalists of what they fail to achieve: the living inner religion.
The First Temptation seduces the rational mind and the doer. Bureaucrats can organize others by divine right, soldiers follow orders. Priests, the paid employees of the faith, extract money from the faithful. Religious externalism starts in the right side of action, and many centuries and a few crimes later, it ends in the left side of conditioning, routine and apathy.
All the cleverness does not bring closer to the stated goal which is proximity to God but if they confess it they lose their job. Thus hypocrisy and pretense is the most common expression of religious craftiness.
The externalist model is resilient because outside achievements can be impressive as witnessed, for instance, in the continuity of Catholicism, the conquests of Islam, the Hindu pilgrimage business machine or the grip of organized and ritualistic Buddhism.
Over the centuries however the creation of the externalists is not sustainable because the tree which pushes its branches (external action) without pushing its roots ( inside contemplation and meditation) cannot face the days of storm.
Never mind, the First Temptation overpowers those who want to follow authority (a pope, a caliph, a dalai lama); a crowd without much courage shall adopt this fallacy and bows to those who shall tell what is the will of God, tell them what to do.
The resilience of the external religion is strengthened because many innocent, good or talented people that cannot suspect the magnitude of the fraud lend enthusiasm and support. After all, pope Jules the Second had his Michelangelo.
By the way, in the annals of the First Temptation, the Catholic Church has a place of choice, sitting on Rome’s seven hills for 2000 years. It was born in the blood of the first Christian martyrs but, after its conversion to the ways of the world, it inflicted martyrdom on others. Today this church is dying; the faithful sing tepid hymns in deserted churches, the more lucid of them wondering where they went wrong. The youth laughs and walks away to build their own new churches. The story goes on because the First Temptation is alive and well, creeping again into newly emerging spiritual communities.
Many externalists are decent followers, they are sincere and mean well. But the model is insidious because the pump and circumstances of the world reward the ego. It is corrosive because it destroys the path of the gnosis.
Full fledged externalists don’t see religion as a movement of the soul but as something to practice, a career opportunity. Shifting from the Being they do not become to the doing that is within their reach, they are mostly cerebral and can easily turn manipulative.
Ron Hubbard, the founder of scientology is supposed to have said: “if you want to get rich get into religion”; wealth belongs to the equation. Spreading the faith is the excuse for control and exploitation of the willing followers. After all, the goal is lofty and no sacrifice shall be spared.
What is the antidote to the First Temptation?
The antidote is to move from reliance on the brain towards switching on the heart. The heart has a thirst for love and, when they can feel it, even external achievers seek to achieve love: to receive, to give, to share. The movement towards love automatically turns the consciousness back to the path of the true inner religion.
This is the only hope. But because love is the solution, faking love itself is an integral part of the First Temptation.
To escape from being captured in its tragically empty shell, a religious temperament will resort to full honesty and introspection. Such are the steps on the ladder of redemption for the externalists who still seek proximity with God.
It is not possible to go from the external religion to the internal one because the attention flows outside. But the reverse is true: if the internal religion is achieved, it should be possible to move from the state of internal becoming towards manifesting external achievements because the attention which has been enlightened inside can project outside. Hence genuine spiritual people should be able to handle structures, spreading the faith, mastering ownership and wealth without falling for the First Temptation.
This hypothesis is put to the test time and again.