"Maybe it's for the best," Rose was saying to a heavy-set man standing at the end of a row of chairs, as if ready to walk out at any moment. "If people really thought about what they're promised in church, they'd realize how absurd it all is. I mean, who wants to spend eternity sitting around with a bunch of cherubs playing harps? After awhile people would want to go to Hell just for the change of scenery."
"Well, I don't agree with everything organized religions may espouse," the man said, in a tone that indicated their disagreement had been going on for some time. "But they do give people a reason to strive for goodness and for a better world." Many in the audience nodded their heads or voiced their agreement.
"No they don't," Rose said firmly. "What they do is give people an excuse to keep from working to improve their personal state of being, and perhaps their after-death state as well. Religion tells you we're all going to the same place. People think God has to operate under the human concept of justice, and it wouldn't be fair if we all didn't go to the same place. So they figure they can just sit back and ride the tide of humanity into Self-Realization.
"The worst of it is that these kinds of beliefs keep people from looking for real answers," Rose went on. "Every sentient being needs to know his cause, needs to know if he was created or merely the product of accident. What he doesn't need is to be placated or silenced by some political social group that hands out fairy tales and calls them the word of God."
The questioner had been moving toward the door and now stood right next to me as he turned back to Rose.
"These 'political social groups,' as you so disparagingly call them, provide great solace for a great many people," he said. The crowd nodded its approval again.
"Maybe," Rose shot back, "but for how long? If a man has even a shred of curiosity or self-honestly, he'll wake up one day and realize he's been deluding himself for thirty years. Society and religion brainwash a man into thinking he has to believe a certain way. So he tries to assume a posture he thinks will mesh with what's expected of him. First he puts one over on society--convincing them he fits in, that he's a nice fellow, that sort of thing. Then he puts one over on himself by believing his own act. By this time he’s hopelessly caught in the web of lies that has become his life.
"But the thing is," Rose said, his voice rising, "there will come a time in everyone's life when you come to doubt everything you ever thought. Unfortunately, for most people it doesn't occur until it's too late to do anything about it. In the meantime, the majority of people just slide along, reasoning that because the public doesn't complain about their social behavior, they must be on the right track on all levels. They pay their taxes, get along with the fellow next door, do a decent job at work. To them, these are the signs of a sufficient theology."
"What your alternative, then?" the man persisted.
"You mean something I can explain to your satisfaction in twenty-five words or less? Forget it. It would take twenty-five hundred just to get you confused, then a lot more to try and explain away the confusion."
"Well, then I'd say the problem lies with your inability to communicate," the man said. Then, as if suddenly realizing he'd just spoken a perfect exit line, he hurriedly opened the door and left. Rose watched impassively, then turned to the rest of the audience.
"Maybe he's got a point. There's times I find it difficult to even know how to begin delivering a lecture. I have trouble communicating because when you find out that this whole existence is a projection, you lose enthusiasm for feeding people what they want to hear about the significance or appeal of the illusion.
"You see, I don't want to bring you peace of mind. I want to bring you trouble. I want to stir you, to shake you. Because protoplasm tends to inertia. You have to keep irritating it to keep it alive, so to speak. It has to be continually stimulated. Complacency is a very negative trait for a person who wants to progress in his mental capacities.
"In fact, if you’re interested in finding your self-definition, you need to abandon any philosophy or system that quiets you down. You need to continually awaken yourself, to arouse yourself mentally, to attack your systems of thinking. Because you don't want peace, you want an answer."
- From After the Absolute, the Inner Teachings of Richard Rose
by Dave Gold
available to read online for free at On Zen