Colin Wilson believes we need a religion that will provide what the Outsider needs for a life filled with purpose and meaning. In this way, society can benefit from their genius. If “society dies from the head downward,” 1 the head being the creative minority of Outsiders, men and women of genius who formulate the path ahead for the culture, then it follows that the societal body flourishes via the living ideas and leadership of the head. By “solving the Outsider’s problem of purpose we can solve the problem of his civilisation as well” 2 Frankly, this sounds like a pipe-dream, and so it is.
Before the head’s sense of purpose can communicate itself to the rest of the body, it needs to be expressed in a form that the stupid body can absorb: I mean in a religion, in myths and parables and ceremonies. The essence of religion is eternal, but it is only the men of genius who can grasp it. The religion of the majority has to be simplified and coated with sugar. And the forms which a religion takes can survive only for a certain length of time. 3
Creating an entirely new religion would be incredibly difficult due to the lack of understanding of the masses. Many have tried and many have failed. The masses tend to take their religious symbols literally. Many can’t grasp the symbolic nature of spirituality. Even if a religion does get going successfully, literalism is always a deadly poison that destroys a religion from the inside out.
The dominant religions of the world are living on borrowed time. Their symbols no longer carry the dynamic, life-changing energy they once did. This is the way of symbols that grow old and worn-out. They end up becoming empty cliches instead of powerful images of the sacred. The masses literalize them, which leads to dangerous fundamentalist doctrines that bring bondage to millions. Instead of millions who could be masters of their own destinies, there are millions who are slaves.
Wilson draws a picture of what sort of religion makes room for the Outsider. In this case, it is the Christian Church of the Middle Ages, but it could be any religion:
…the Christian Church made for higher civilisation and culture. First, and most important, it provided men with a sense of spiritual purpose and direction. It emphasised the reality of the spirit. Its authority was entirely for the good, for it gave even the stupidest men a sense of being a part of a great universal scheme.
Moreover, it provided a refuge for Outsiders. The Outsider, I have said, is a prophet in embryo. When a man felt a stirring of those same urges that inspired Jesus — the need to seek for ‘more abundant life’ — he entered the Church, and was able to turn his spiritual energy to good purpose. The Outsider is the anti-world man and the Church which had always declared: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ was the perfect home for him. 4
But, ultimately, things always go sour. As a religion becomes stronger and more powerful, it also becomes filled with hubris, is more intolerant, and is more authoritarian. Soon, the Christian Church would begin to follow a bloody journey down the road of history. Scores of Outsiders would be excommunicated and many times killed in the most brutal ways for their genius. This includes one of my favorites, Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600. You can read why in my series of articles called, The Eight Theses of Giordano Bruno. The Christian Church went from being an organization that honored the Outsider to one that brutalized them.
This is not endemic to only Christianity. All religions, when they become filled with hubris, end up in ruin. And it wasn’t that Christian doctrine was really all that appealing. It was primarily an invention of St. Paul. Jesus didn’t want a religion named after him. That was all Paul’s doing. Jesus was more like an Old Testament prophet, an “Outsider-prophet,” as Wilson calls him. 5 Paul used his theological training to turn Jesus’ teachings into a worldwide religion.
So, where does this leave the Outsider? He stands between the still-intolerant Church, and perhaps the even more intolerant dogma known as scientism. I leave you with this query from Colin Wilson:
Is the Outsider strong enough to create his own tradition, his own way of thought, and to make a whole civilisation think the same way? 6
We will consider this as the series continues.
Wilson, Colin. Religion and the Rebel. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1957.
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