The Consistory, Why it is Needed and What Makes it Unique
By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 13, Mashiyyat 17, 167 BE
Times Out of Joint
We must be able to rely upon one another, but not overmuch. If we could somehow center our inner balance around a few fundamental principles there could be agreement upon principle by all. That way, peace and world government would come about easily and naturally.
As I mentioned in a recent chapter, my children have a toy which they call Raccoon, a vibrating hard plastic ball connected to a plush tail. Placed on a smooth surface, the ball's vibration and a built-in imbalance gives it a crazy wobbling motion. Like Raccoon, too many unbalanced individuals give a similar unpredictability to groups and organizations. Too many unstable leaders with stereotyped worldviews can put an entire government out of whack, pushing it towards tyranny, an inordinate concentration of power into the hands of a few. At the other extreme, the leadership may lose faith in the individual completely, causing over-reliance on bureaucracy, which is efficient but clumsy, faceless and heartless. In this way, officials and institutions sink into corruption, injustice, war, rumours of war, revolutions, reaction or upheaval.
The Enlightenment project of the 18th Century openly proclaimed universal human rights and wrote them into constitutional law for the first time. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment also saw a divorce. It tore apart the very idea of a complete human being. Formerly, it was expected that an accomplished seeker of truth would be a balanced, well rounded person. The Renaissance Man was named after that age and movement. After the divorce there could be no "Enlightenment Man." As a result, from then on close harmony among government, science and religion became all but impossible. Each struggled with the others, giving a wonky ride to all. John Amos Comenius described the result, which was already apparent in his day,
"For here lies the real difficulty, that most men, even if educated in the ordinary way, are like blind men judging between colours without first knowing what degree of truth there ought to be in anything so that they can judge whether it is there or not; and in so doing they are exactly like men attempting to count without number, to measure without a measuring scale, or to weigh something without a weight and a balance." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 5, p. 176)
We now think of science, belief in God and political activism as separate activities, if not permanently antipathic to one another. Although higher education still takes place in institutions we call "universities," we no longer expect Homo Universalis to come out of them. Not even the most accomplished scholar attempts to balance all three. Even the invention of the Internet, which places virtually all human knowledge at our fingertips, has not raised our expectations.
As a result, it is a rare citizen who even tries to cultivate a broad outlook or cosmopolitan concern. Human faculties are so bifurcated that it is impossible to conceive of world government as anything but a nightmare. Even as the environment degrades and survival threats raise their heads by the dozen, the obvious solution of a strong, democratic world government remains out of the question.
The Need for a Consistory
A case in point was American newscaster Walter Cronkite. After he retired, Cronkite gave a speech to a group of world federalists. He announced that now that he was out of the public eye, he felt it his duty to throw aside his "objective" stance and side with advocates of world government. As we have seen, in doing so Cronkite was joining the global majority opinion. However, so virulent is the climate of suspicion in his country, spread largely by religious reactionaries, that he felt it necessary to declare openly,
"If being for world government means sitting at the right hand of Satan, then I am happy to sit right up there next to him." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inu9vKXsrFA)
This antipathy is not a recent phenomenon. Much of the blame for the Enlightenment split lies with petty leaders of religion who rejected anything that might diminish their parochial sway and refused to embrace a cosmopolitan outlook.
Faith leaders fought among themselves, meddled with politics, and initiated bloody wars and persecution. As a result, secular thinkers came to think of religion as inherently fractious. Issues of faith were either excluded or marginalized from the public forum. All this happened in spite of the majority opinion. As we have seen, most of the world's peoples desire order and a stable world government. And, then as now, the vast majority of the population believes in God. Thus science, religion and even democracy clashed among themselves. From the ashes emerged a monolithic nationalist state that by its very nature cannot satisfy the aspirations of most people.
This is why the voice of John Amos Comenius rings so true today, more perhaps than in his own time, over three hundred years ago. Comenius wrote just before the great split took place. His experience as an educator of broad, balanced individuals made it conceivable for him to envision a comprehensive world government resting on three equal pillars of science, religion and politics.
The Originality of the Consistory
Comenius put a great deal of thought into how each of the three representative institutions would rely upon one another to help build Homo Universalis, and how they would build upon what he or she stands for. In order to involve everybody in all three institutions, the religious, the political and the religious, each citizen could be enfranchised not with one vote, but three. Thus an aspiring Homo Universalis could vote in three elections, one for the philosophers of the College of Light, one for politicians whose goal is peace, and one for interfaith representatives on the Consistory of Holiness. Each expresses an essential part of the heritage of all humanity. All three councils are necessary not only in themselves but in order to balance out the other two aspects of Homo Universalis.
"It is not enough that Man should merely be set beside God by bringing him to his everlasting blessedness; we must have him likened unto God even here on earth. Pythagoras was quite correct in defining philosophy as likeness unto God, but he went too far in giving philosophy the whole credit for a result which it cannot wholly achieve by itself alone. Politics and religion must come to its assistance, playing their part in such a way that philosophy likens Man unto God through the light of his mind, religion through the purity of his heart, and politics through control of his actions. This will come to pass if Man has knowledge of good and evil, and wishes only the good and not the evil, and controls himself in his choice of the good and rejection of the evil with all possible zeal." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 40, pp. 168-169)
The first challenge was to get over the egregious behavior of leaders of religion. Comenius himself, along with his church, the Moravian Brotherhood, had been forced to flee their homeland because of such persecution. But Comenius sought a solution not just for himself or his own church, but to all bullying among faith groups, for all time. It was also necessary somehow to make religion palatable not only to believers but also to the small but important minority of political leaders and scientists. In order to do this, Comenius proposed that we elect a parliament of religions that he called a "Consistory of Holiness." This interfaith parliament would be directly supported by all citizens and believers. It would act on behalf of God and all humanity, setting aside parochialism and sectarian loyalties in order to uphold the highest spiritual aspirations of all groups with a claim to truth, spirituality, ethics or piety.
The fact that this Consistory was elected by everybody would give it a higher moral authority than any one faith group, no matter how energetic, including the one whose members are in a large majority. A broader mandate allows it to restrain religious leaders from fractious or fanatical behavior, and from inciting followers to violence, parochialism or even "holier than thou" attitudes.
At the same time, unlike some interfaith churches and other faith groups that are active today, the Consistory would not allowed to act as a religion itself. It is a neutral regulatory commission with strict constitutional provisions to prevent it from competing with the organizations that it oversees. For example, Comenius envisioned the consistory operating at every level, including the individual and the family. Thus the consistory might see to it that every individual can make room in their dwelling for an alter or place of worship or meditation of some kind, and that every household have a room that can be used for group devotions at least some of the time. However, it should have no say over the form and content of these sacred places and ceremonies; this should left entirely up to the individuals and families involved, and whatever faith group they choose to affiliate themselves with.
Ultimately, the goal of all three institutions, the consistory (interfaith religion), the college of light (science) and the dicastery of peace (politics), is the same, single and utterly compatible object: to free us all from the tyranny of the material world. This, in Comenius' Biblical phrasing is the "one thing needful."
"If one could reveal to men the meaning of the saying 'One thing is needful' and the importance of partnership with God, they would quickly free themselves from the dizziness of the material world with all its darkness and terror. This would be a real possibility if we could find true philosophy, true religion and true politics." (Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 16, 17, p. 50)
Similarly, Plato wrote that,
"all these branches of study will be found fair and becoming, if only by further laws and institutions you expel illiberality and commercialism from the souls of those who pursue them thoroughly to their profit; otherwise, you will be surprised to find that you have produced not a philosopher but a regular knave..." (Collected Dialogues, p. 1331)
It is true that Plato in the sixth book of his final major work, the Laws, made provisions for what he called "local gods and spirits," shrines to who which should be established by his ideal state. He would not have had a state religion replace or interfere with pre-existing religious groups, but where they do not already exist Plato wanted the state to set up its own religion roughly based upon the Delphic Oracle, the closest thing to a universal religion in the Hellenic world. This idea has some similarity to Comenius' consistory, and Comenius may well have read the Laws for all I know. In any case, the rise of Christianity and Islam changed the moral reflexes of humankind forever, making the faith expressions that Plato assumed all but unrecognizable to most people. For that reason we should pay attention to Comenius' consistory first.
Nonetheless, we should give serious consideration to several of Plato's suggestions for the uses of faith groups and holy places. For example, he held that votes should be held only in holy shrines (Laws, 753c), where presumably a meditative atmosphere would prevail during elections with greater attention to rules of reverence and decorum. He also suggested that voting be compulsory and that a democratic system be based upon a combination of democratic elections and, when that option is too clumsy or inequitable, random selection -- that is, drawing lots to determine who rotates next in filling a given post. Choice by lot, he said, is an appeal not to the will of the people, but to that of God.