Mar 7, 2007

Evolution of Religions and Movements

A fascinating aspect of religions and movements is their evolution. Often, within just a few generations, religions and other movements metamorphosize into something with an "energy" quite different from the original teaching. Most often, it seems to me, the greatest changes take place in the first few decades after the death of the founder, with evolution becoming very gradual after that (but still accumulating dramatic changes when viewed over long periods of time).

The movements I am aware of all had charismatic founders who were intensely focused on their work and leadership and had a profound effect on followers. What seems to happen is that after the founder's passing, a vacuum suddenly forms and the movement undergoes a crisis of existence: "what next?" The teaching had been so intertwined with the personality of the founder himself that followers feel lost and rudderless. As a rule, founders of teachings do not leave behind successors of their own stature, since people of their stature tend to form their own teachings rather than follow in others' footsteps. Early high-stature followers seem to splinter off and create individualized versions of the teaching or movement, leaving mostly people with a follower mentality around the original founder.

With the memory of the founder still fresh in everyone's minds, people begin to compile everything that he or she said, did, and wrote. A period of canonization begins where followers try to be as true as possible to the teachings of the founder and follow his instructions - whether explicit or implicit - as closely as possible. At the same time, they look for a logical new direction for the movement to take. After a period of searching, the movement finds a stable configuration and gradually settles down for the long term - if it has survived the crisis. Depending on the vitality of the original movement, there may be periodic "spikes" of energy and change, and disturbances in society, such as wars and calamities, can give the movement a completely new impulse. Otherwise, the trend seems to be towards greater conservatism, traditionalism, and stability over time.

It is interesting that movements often attract many creative, talented, and charismatic individuals during the early stages. These people are attracted to the chance to learn and be involved in something new and unique. And no, not all of them are extraverted intuition types! They are people of all kinds of types who are passionate about learning and development. And they are also quite competitive. Many want to be teachers and leaders. These people contribute a lot to the movement early on but then create splinter groups or leave the movement altogether if they are not able to find a position of sufficient influence within the movement.

This creates a paradox. Spiritual movements are created by charismatic individuals who tell others of their own path to God, enlightenment, or success, but their movements are made up almost exclusively of people who, for various reasons, cannot repeat their teacher's spiritual path. The ones whose paths are in fact similar to the founder's leave the movement and start their own. To put it simply, the spiritual leader is teaching people who are followers by nature about becoming spiritual leaders. The real peers of spiritual leaders are not their followers, but the spiritual leaders of other teachings.

The natural evolution and loss of relevance of religions and other movements over time ensures that there is always demand for new ones that are full of vigor and fresh ideas and approaches. In a coming post or posts I will discuss a number of religions and teachings and their evolution and socionic emphases.


Anonymous said...

this is true, well written.
a real gospel, may really be one of power, or how to generate profit from your own intrinsic path _ the capitalist vision, rather than a limited religious vision of quests..where u learn rather non-specifically to be the person by copying _(and if u can be, why not profit by it, but this is distasteful, because it is convoluted,.. 'power' sounds harsher, but it is more 'correct', and it is the 'way' which commercial society manages to achieve by a narrow margin)-fred

iAnnAu said...

Another aspect of religion is that as it becomes more formalized / institutionalized, it also becomes a source of social influence - a way to have power over others, if you will. This becomes an attraction for people who *want* that power for themselves (and they may want it in diff ways and/or for diff reasons).
And so corruption sets in. This has happened even in Buddhism, where some schools at various points in their history have tried to say that you have to do things *only* their way or else you won't achieve nirvana/Buddhahood! And in the Christo-centric West, surely no one can claim ignorance of the abuses of power that the Church has perpetrated (crusades, inquisitions, etc). Why do such things happen in the first place? Because power-hungry people either fear losing their power or simply can't get enough power, ever.
And where do these religious institutions get their ability to perform such misdirected deeds? From their adherents, period. Not from their god or gods, but from the followers.

Cyclops said...

What your say is true iannau, and also Rick, if I can add my own humble meanderings ? :)

For my part I grew up in a largely catholic dominated environment. Something I observe in Roman Catholicism is a large value of Se. This manifests in my opinion in the following ways: denying oneself of pleasurable activities and basic needs (for no other apparent reason than sheer strength of will being given to something to overcome - its certainly not done to reach a healthier inner state !) to the extent of hardship to reach the correct level of spiritual religiousness (ie denial of food, sex, harsh acts of repentance, mental and physical - self flagellation and the like) Se also manifests in the territorial aspects of conquering - ie the missionaries almost forcibly spreading the 'good news'

Interestingly I wonder if this Se came about when christianity in its early stages (still formulative but after the passing of its leader) and it was then adopted by the Roman Empire as their official religion. I would say due to the conquesting and unsustainable plundering nature of the Roman empire, power, territory, control (Aspects of Se) that perhaps this rubbed off on the early catholisism, which was of course primarily adopted by the Roman empire as basically a means of populace control .. The religion wouldn't go away, and it was observed how powerful the movement was, so it was given the Roman treatment of grand imposing statues, large churches, territory recognised and used as a means of people control and power gathering (Se again) (The emperor who adopted it didn't even believe in it!)

On another note, the icon of Jesus is very much Fi - gentle emotions, gentle 'martyrdom' and gentle self sacrifise for others sake. I hypothesise that this Fi is really used by the Catholic church as an excuse or a 'fallback' to justify actions of Se - IE we need to religiously conquer others and ourselves, in order for conquered individual to reach this Jesus-like state of gentle, fuzzy state of Fi !

Isn't that a bizarre justification for something which can be perceived as an incorrect thing.

Thanks Rick, I feel you've brought a logical clarity as to why I couldn't accept this religion out of either reasoning or my own intrinsic personality.

PS I apologise if I offend anyone, as I do realise religion is a sensitive subject for some people..but I can't help but rationalise :)

Cyclops (ISTp)

Rick said...

A similar thing may have happened to Orthodoxy in Russia. It became a sort of center of power and wealth. When this happens to a church, it gains a more notable Se focus.

Strange indeed, since this kind of focus has no basis whatsoever in the life or teachings of Jesus.