Institutional Knowledge

I saw the movie “Priest” this week. Without giving too much away let me just say that it’s a vampire movie that takes very little from traditional vampire tales. Even the involvement of religion, which should be obvious from the title, doesn’t have any of the usual “magical” element of pitting ecclesiasticism against the undead. Not that the vampire’s in this movie are “undead.”

But what the movie does do, almost as a sideshow, is give a glimpse into one of the ways the world would look if religion and government were the same thing. The big anti-catchphrase of the film is “if you go against the church, you go against God.” I asked God if that wasn’t the inevitable view of all religions and if the world portrayed in the movie, where actually caring about God was no longer the point of the church, wasn’t an inevitable aspect of combining religion and government. What he pointed out to me was that the phrase, as used in the movie, had the trappings of religion but none of the substance, so saying that it represented religion was no more valid than saying that the movie “Outland” represented science fiction. “Outland” is a western, it’s what’s called “space opera” in that it has the outward trappings of science fiction but doesn’t have the science as any sort of intrinsic part, in other words, it has the form but not the function. If you were to replace the religious trappings in the movie, it would not change the story at all. You could change the phrase to “if you go against the government, you go against the people,” change the “priests” into “warriors” and really nothing else would have to change. Okay, there’s a scene involving “confession,” but you could make it a call to a psychiatrist, and again, only the form would change, not the substance.

So what God then pointed out to me is that in both cases, in the case of the movie being “about” religion or in the case of it being about an overreaching, oppressive, dysfunctional government more concerned with it’s own survival than with the well being of its constituents, what it is really saying is that over time the institutions of man often become more about themselves than about the people they serve. When we serve our institutions for their good, and not for the good of those the institutions serve, that is when we go against God. This is true whether those institutions are religions, governments, or corporations. While we need to band together in groups, often very large groups, to accomplish more than we can as individuals, we should never forget that it is the individuals that matter, not the institutions. We may, at times, have trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but that’s actually not so bad. Without the trees, there is no forest.

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