Obfuscating Observances

John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

There is just no substitute for experience.  When you have been blind and now you see, you are able like John Newton to write about the Amazing Grace of God, in ways that you could never have learned from a Theological textbook.

The man born blind knew that.  He didn’t know much about Sabbath observance, original sin or the validity of Rabbi Jesus’ credentials to heal.  What he did know however, was that he “once was blind” but now could see.

Perhaps the most destructive dynamic in organised religion (any organised religion) lies in its propensity to compulsively control and condition people’s experience of the Divine.

I suppose I am a little pre-disposed to be critical of this obfuscating observance, as I experienced it first hand as a young boy.

All of sixteen years old I was attending a church youth camp.  On the first night, not the pumped up “Gospel-Campfire-give-your-life-to-Jesus” second night; I was all alone on the banks of the Vaal river when I had an experience of connectedness to the whole universe that changed my life forever.  It was what mystics have all experienced and what Rudolf Otto called a numinous experience. I knew I had connected with SOMETHING or SOMEONE, it didn’t seem to matter.  I knew I belonged, and that I was going to be all right.

The next morning I had to tell someone, so I told our bungalow leader who called the pastor, and he then proceeded to pour my expansive, unmediated, numinous encounter into the mould of his conservative, narrow evangelical worldview.  He explained that I had been saved, called and commissioned by God.  All that in one.  All I had to do was pray the sinners prayer and confess (with my mouth) Jesus as Lord and I would be “in the Kingdom”.  I did, and I suppose I was… or maybe I never was not?

As I look back on that transforming time I realise that if the first person I met on that morning after my direct experience had been a Rabbi, a Mullah, a Bhikkhu, a Shaman, or even Richard Dawkins, each would have wanted to obfuscate my experience through the lens of their particular religious (Yes Dawkins is a rabidly religious Atheist) observance.  It is the way of herd religion.

In hindsight I realise it was all perfect for then.  We all have to begin at the literal level, move through the herd conformity and perhaps be birthed into Universality and Transcendence.  I hold no disappointment to the Pastor for pouring my Universal experience into his parochial mould. He was doing his best, and I needed that at the time.

Similarly, I enjoy the complete lack of guile I see from the man born blind.  The Pharisees are in a panic to discredit Jesus, to obfuscate the miraculous event by declaring it invalid on religious and doctrinal grounds.  The once blind man, couldn’t care less.  My favourite lines from this narrative are the words of the healed man, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

There is just no substitute for experience.  In fact, truth be told, experience is all we really have.  All doctrine, tradition and dogma, are merely mechanism whereby humans try to replicate, mediate, validate and control the experiences of others.

Not only is this bad religion.  It is the worst kind of blindness that is seemingly incurable even by  Jesus.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

Oh I see…  Look!
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4 responses to “Obfuscating Observances”

  1. Peter avatar

    Hi Rick
    Thanks for the comments. I love the idea of “staying molten”

  2. Peter avatar

    Hi Lyn

    Thanks for the visit and affirmation.
    Yes, I think there will always be a place for religion given that mystics will always be the minority.
    As long as we recognize that religion will always be the finger pointing to the moon and not the moon itself.
    I am sure you have seen the extravagances and abuses of those (the early days of the Charismatic movement was an example) who ditched everything but their own experiences and thus each one became their own Pope!
    I do think that the good old Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Revelation, Reason, Tradition and Experience is a good four legged structure for sane religion.
    As one with a mystical bent however, I will always trumpet for experience to be taken seriously as containing primary spiritual content.
    I still think the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (four legged stool) of Revelation, Reason, Tradition and Experience is a good structure for sane spiritual practice

  3. Rick Morley avatar

    Thank you so much for this – I think you have some wonderful observations here. We do, far too often, try and squeeze other people’s experiences into our own paltry understandings and conceptions. And, we do that even when we know all too well that when people do the same to us it’s absolutely maddening. Gray Temple wrote a book entitled “The Molten Soul” some years back about how people who have the most wonderful ‘conversion’ experiences sometimes harden into narrow and rigid religion, and how the trick is to stay ‘molten.’ Again, thank you.

  4. lyn avatar

    Thank you Peter once again for this piece of writing and insight.

    For a long time now I have believed there is no substitute for my own experience of the Divine; and that the experience is diminished when interpretation is bound up by doctine and dogma. If, as you say (and I agree) that perhaps we need to be ‘birthed into Universality and Transcendence,’ set free from ‘herd religion,’ then is there a place for Christianity or any religious system in the future? Have they become places of limitation, confinement and control, where the blind lead the blind?

    Was it Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spoke of ‘religionless Christianity’ (I may be wrong) and the dawning of a new consciousness which is free from religious shackles? Do you think the time has come? I would appreciate your thoughts.

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