A friend gave me the book Staring at the Sun by Dr. Irvin Yalom, a psychiatrist who wrote about our lustful craving to revere a great man or woman or to become the disciple of some master or mentor. He relates the extraordinary reverence paid to the Dalai Lama when he spoke in 2005 at Stanford University. Yalom wrote of watching as eminent professors, deans, even Nobel-level scientists, all rushed forward like schoolchildren to bow before the Tibetan Lama and call him “Your Holiness.” He then quotes Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom who wrote about “the lust for submission,” which is the stuff, says Yalom, from which religion emerges.
Erich Fromm’s words inspired me to recall when I first tasted the lust for submission which was in college with my deference to those who possessed a superior intellect, be they classmates or brilliant professors. My lust to be deferential was heightened in the presence of bishops and archbishops of the Church’s hierarchy. While I never personally met a pope, I fanaticized kneeling to kiss his ring and addressing him “Your Holiness”—and being able to boast this rarest of events to others. The adoration of a fan’s (short for fanatic) fascination of stars from television, movies and sports, and even in politics, is another form of that lust.
Irvin Yalom’s accusation that the yearning to be subservient was “the stuff of religion,” drove me to explore honestly my own religion. The personal rituals in my Catholic religion of hushed silence in church and genuflecting and kneeling for prayer and worship, I had considered signs of reverence, not subjugation. But scrutiny of prayers like “O Lord, I am not worthy” and “Lord have mercy on me for I have sinned against you” I came to see as verbal confirmations of submissiveness of those rituals.
Fear is the evil root of any acquiescence, fit for slaves but not lovers of a compassionate and beloved God. The Galilean Teacher radically somersaulted society’s values both then and today by calling his followers to be lovingly submissive to other’s needs. By his words and the servile washing of his companion’s feet he taught his community was not to lust for any kind of hierarchical structure. When it came to disciples, the unspoken desire of Jesus was expressed well by Gandhi: “I don’t want disciples or followers, just fellow seekers of the truth.”
An ancient Hindu proverb says, “A person consists of his faith. Whatever is one’s faith, even so is he or she.” Be a seeker of the truth! Examine honestly your religion, church or faith to see if it has infected you with a lust to be submissive to the powerful. If so, then cleanse every bit of it out of yourself. As for any urge to cleanse it from your religion—don’t! That’s God’s business, not yours!