Thursday, 24 June 2010

Why Improve Ourselves? (2)

Let`s just look at the way "proper behaviour" reigns in religious communities...I find this a helpful examination because a closed social system magnifies and intensifies what happens in our looser, less cohesive social groups. Extremes of "rightfulness" versus concealment of "wrongfulness".

I have lived in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community and took a lot of time and thought, then and since, to consider how the group functioned, why leaders had the power they had, why women were segregated (in terms of group function) and the ins-and-outs of basing one`s life on such moral tenets. I don`t intend to make this blog a debate about Jewish belief or such issues as "literal Torah", or anything like that(!), I want to use this to example what can happen, for good or ill, when we aspire to behave well according to a set of rules. (I may come back to specific Jewish issues at a later date !!!!)

Ok., so if you impose a mode of "correct behaviour" on people there will inevitably be a large number of people who will rebel. I suppose one might term this as "an inability to maintain standards ", but, whatever the euphemism, no society is going to take everybody along with group demands, not wholly. So what happens in a religious community to the people who can`t or wont adhere to imposed standards of conduct?

Well, it depends on how great the pressure is to comply and the consequent extent to which a person might conceal their behaviour, but generally the higher the perceived level of "moral crime", the more concealment. It may well be....and I am not foisting definitives on you here !!!........ it may well be that for those who do not conform to expected moral standards, the extent to which they then have to conceal their aberrations increases their guilt load and thereby their tendency to widen their moral divergence from the group as a whole. Whatever is the case, what we see in religious communities is often a concentration of bad behaviour beneath the facade of "rightfulness". As I have mentioned before, the one actually is symbiotic to the other, "wrongfulness", apparent in some, enabling the majority to thrive and prosper(see * below).

So how does a religious community hang together? Well, groups have to have leaders in order to sustain ideologies and there have to be others who follow the prescription from those leaders. The leaders have to have power to make everybody conform otherwise the whole thing would fall apart. In a religious group the core power comes usually from a religious text, just as in the mainstream world it comes from a book of law or such. Leaders will use a "text from G`d" to demand correct behaviour and make people guilty if they don`t adhere to it. In such groups everybody has their place and most people, in an unconscious way usually, maintain the structure`s hierarchy. If people don`t keep their place in the hierarchy the power of the leaders would be undermined and the group would be under threat.
Women have their place too and to allow them greater freedoms would upset the belief system that rabbis need to hold the group together and maintain their grip on power. To this end is also the group's need to raise up the image of rabbis to the point of saintliness and sustain them with an ever-fueled ego-feed. I`ll call it pedestalisation ! Joking aside, the pedestalisation of leaders in these communities is absolutely critical to their survival because the more power (and the saintlier the better !) the rabbis have, the stronger will be their hold on people to prevent defection. Essentially, one has to observe that there is at least a very fine line between the pursuit of a lifestyle for the sake of G`d or the Torah and the use of Torah to support the power of rabbis.

And as usual the folks on the bottom order, those who don`t conform with the group, find that they are disadvantaged (what a big surprise!), somehow marginalised.Like anywhere else in society, the lower order folks lose out, but they play their part in larger group survival by virtue of their inferiority: that`s their contribution. How else do the top dogs reinforce their position than by demonstrating that nonconformity doesn`t pay?

So holding people together as a group is self-serving, but what does it do for individuals? Well, you get the feel-good-factor if you comply, security that you are part of something and that you fit in, and bonuses we all get from being in a clique of any sort. The more "good " you are, the greater are the rewards, both in terms of personal well-being and prospects within the hierarchy. Sounds familiar?

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