I’m in the midst of reading Jared Diamond’s fascinating treatise on the evolution of organized societies. In Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Diamond writes a particular section on kleptocracy, a fancy word applied to thieves who install themselves as undisputed leaders in an organized society, and then proceed to pilfer from their constituents for personal financial gain. Diamond utilizes President Mobutu of Zaire as the classic example of a kleptocrat, who keeps the equilvalent of billions of dollars for his own gain, and yet allows nothing to trickle down to his people, the result of which is the lack of a functioning telephone system in Zaire.
Duping an entire populace into supporting self-serving behavior is only viable when kleptrocrats enlist public support by creating a religious ideology. Humans inherently suffer from a belief in the supernatural, which is often based on fear or suspicion of the natural world and unexplained phenomena. In order to justify a central authority bent on the transfer of wealth from a large number of workers to the elite few—and to continue the ruse—supernatural beliefs become institutionalized as…religion.
The predominant example of a kleptocracy is well represented by the present-day Catholic Church, and institutionalized religious dogma that historically held the power to make or break people. With the concept of excommunication, violators of the faith—that is, people who failed to comply with church edicts or offer up payola—were often marginalized by their communities. Unable to make a living, to feed their children and support their descendants, excommunication was treated as a disease. In essence, if your neighbor was excommunicated, you didn’t want to catch his virus, so you wouldn’t buy his livestock, nor have your daughter marry his son. Excommunication based in fear was a powerful tool of manipulation wielded by kleptrocrats who were more self-serving, and thus far from examples of brotherly love.
Now I understand the nagging embarrassment inflicted upon the masses during the Annual Diocesan Appeal. Although no priest ever stood at the ambo and pointed a crooked finger at any of the numerous members of the assembly, defining the least generous of the bunch, we were all tacitly shamed into compliance. The final year of our church attendance, we actually pledged twice the recommended ADA amount, simply because we felt guilty on behalf of those who couldn’t/wouldn’t commit their own basic ADA pledge. Although I felt not an ounce of resentment, I did harbor a sense of responsibility. However, I was intelligent enough for free thought. I didn’t believe that if I were stingy in the amount of my financial donation, young children would not have the financial backing to attain their Sacrament of First Communion, and would then be relegated to some pitiless limbo if they died unfulfilled.
In truth, the only facet of my life that suffered from being involved in the church choir and attending a weekly Mass was my writing. I was reluctant to write about physical love in detail. Lust was more of a basic animal reaction, and not a lofty human attribute, and though I knew I was an animal, free to share my lustful feelings with both my husband, and in the pages of my fictional works, I held back.
This is not to say that I was loath to scrutinize my faith, or the so-called invincible bastion that Christianity is portrayed. Much of my writing focuses on the eternal conflict between western religious ideology, and its methodical efforts to restrict women to a lower rung on society’s ladder.
In contrast, the original Native American societies recognized that women and men could not exist in harmony without mutual respect. Hunter-gatherer societies of which formed the core of many Indigenous peoples were more egalitarian by virtue of necessity, with bands and tribes that consisted of low populations, where everyone knew everyone.
The Hutterites understood this concept, also known as “Dunbar’s Number,” the idea that most human societies can only effectively exist if they number between 100 and 230, with the optimal number being 150. Think about it: how many people are your Facebook friends? Do they exceed a count of 230, and do you know them all by name? Are you ever surprised when you see a post from an FB friend who communicates only sparsely, and then realize this individual has been on your friends list for the last three years?
Getting back to writing, while being church-going folk. I loved singing at church. I loved the Mass parts and the hymns. And yet, I intentionally restricted the language in the novels I wrote, knowing that fellow choir members might read one of my works. Perhaps that gaze from across the room was less friendly, and more judgmental. I was personally freed when my husband left his position with the Diocese. Unbeknownst to me, this relief translated into a wider vocabulary and sense of freedom in my prose. Let me conclude by stating this type of self-discovery has been utterly refreshing.
The added benefit is a dearth of yammering by kleptrocrats bent on slurping up our hard-earned income. At the end of my days, there will be just me and my Creator, and I doubt She’s going to tally up my ADA contributions as a testament to my eligibility into the afterlife.
Thank God I don’t go to church anymore.