ANARCHIC HARMONY (The Spirituality of Social Disobedience)
by William J. Murray
This past April saw the release of Netflix's Melissa Leo led-biopic on Madalyn Murray O'Hair, entitled The Most Hated Woman in America. That title is without hyperbole, for Madalyn, as with most civil revolutionaries, earned the ire and unrest of many Americans during the '60s as she was one of the most important progressive figures in modern religious liberty. She was an outspoken and combative atheist, far before the term was lauded as an accepted belief, or before Bill Maher relished in the controversy - about as revolutionary as one could be in 1963. She famously spear-headed the campaign against the common practice of bible study within American public schools with her landmark case, Murray V. Curlett. The case single-handedly outed the societal norms of the domineering religious right by overturning the unconstitutional practice (i.e. The Separation of Church and State.) She famously began her mission because of her son, William J. Murray's subjection to strict Christian teachings when he, nor any of the Murrays, identified as Christian or religious in any way.
Her radical decrees of anti-religious authority and vitriolic behavior towards the societal norms of the day cast her as the religious right's arch-villain. She was thought to be a proponent of the dissolution of American values, therefore she was subsequently harassed with death threats and violent attacks. But these did nothing to deter her message, as a matter of fact, these proved to fuel her contempt so much so that she basked in the villainy bestowed upon her by the dogmatic public. Her son that helped usher her stance, William J. Murray, became antithetical to her mission, becoming a “born-again” Christian in 1980, causing his mother to publicly denounce and estrange her son.
Her story does not end well, and would ultimately prove tragic as she eventually was kidnapped and murdered along with her other son and granddaughter by a convicted felon whom she had previously employed. And what became of the living, born-again son, this William J. Murray? He grew to write a best-selling novel about his eventual turn against his mother's atheism and subsequently became a god-fearing, socially conservative politician. So imagine my surprise that I learned this William J. Murray, the republican politician and baptist minister, wrote one of the most transcendent books about the shackles of societal conformity and the sickness of guilt and drive for material wealth that plagues our society. Sounds contradictory to the common republican oeuvre that riddles the current administration, doesn't it?
“Mr. Murray illuminates how this system of alienation is passed on from one generation to the next and he eloquently depicts how it cripples all of us.” - Robert Anton Wilson
Mentally abandoning preconceived lists or agendas and succumbing to the psychic gifts abound in Powell's Bookstore in my current home of Portland, OR, I discovered a book titled “Anarchic Harmony” by one William J. Murray (not to be confused with John Cage's piece of the same name.) It barked for my attention because I noticed a familiar and trusted name had penned the forward, a hero by the name of Robert Anton Wilson, a figure about as progressive as humanly (or spiritually) possible. A quick read of RAW's forward concludes with naming Murray a true revolutionary in the vein of Max Streiner, Aleister Crowley and Neitzsche. “Mr. Murray illuminates how this system of alienation is passed on from one generation to the next and he eloquently depicts how it cripples all of us,” I immediately accepted this literary sign considering the current political climate, especially considering it was written in 1992. Now remember, due to the forward and its author, Murray as a writer couldn't be further from what I would discover after having read the book.
One could surmise that the left-wing “anarchism” this year with the confluence of radical right wingers is proving to be a dynamic, violent cultural zeitgeist (especially rampant here in Portland). Anarchic, yes, and admittedly somewhat misguided with their acts of random violence - but the "leftest anarchists" have, at their heart, an impassioned desire for social harmony. I know this to be true. Murray's “manifesto” proves relevant to this modern thread, but instead of dwelling in the reformation of a pragmatic political structure, it delves into the more corporeal and ethereal inner-philosophies - or the macrocosmic politics composed of our individual purposes as it relates within the epistemic societal construct.
A common metaphor, and an effective one at that, equates the unique and perfect purpose of a human organ as it relates to the human body - it is, by design, allowed to function with its inherent purpose in order to promote and sustain the health of the entire unified body. So why then are we - individual organisms with our own unique functions and purposes, discouraged the freedoms to discover our seemingly anarchic individual purposes? Especially when the harmony of society is dependent on the individual components' ability to flourish within their unique designs?
Murray writes in an assurance gifted to those emboldened with higher directives. Each chapter systematically introduces a new tenet of its overarching thesis whilst reiterating and relating to every chapter before it. This building-block style of writing can seem repetitive and somewhat condescending at first, but even still, it is hard to recall the plethora of intellectual cogs it unites - so as a reader, I found the summation and reiteration of each chapter's conclusion to be imperative for digestion. But the big ideas are simple:
“The distinction between ourselves and the “outside world” is another inaccurate piece of mythic information that does not allow to have a proper mental model of reality.”
For the better of the whole, we must find our individual purpose…obvious, right? But when is the last time that you truly investigated the machinations needed to achieve such a clichéd objective?
This book is so bitingly obvious in its resolve, that shame is a natural reaction by the reader, shame for succumbing to the rules and regulations of governmental bodies - but Murray tackles this too: “Careers, family, obligations, social pressure, guilt, responsibilities - these are modern-day dragons that mankind faces on his heroic path to transcendence… Who has the courage to stand against the Kraken of guilt?”
The ironies of Murray as a practicing minister and cog in the political industry are befitting, however, as they reiterate the purpose of the book's philosophies as bipartisan, humanist and beyond intellectualism:
“We classify ourselves above other animals because of our so-called intelligence. Why? If we instead chose to classify species according to the the effectiveness on the planet, mankind would be at the bottom of the totem pole… The fact is that our intelligence, as we now use it, makes us a cancer in the world organism, thereby condemning us to the bottom of the ladder of life forms.”
That’s what makes this text all the more stunning - Murray, raised in the radical godlessness of political pariah, rebelled - his freedom to subscribe was just that, his freedom and purpose. So there is no folly of intent, or philosophical misstep, he was able to look beyond the aesthetics of his individuality for the greater purpose of the work. This is fortified when he expresses contrarian ideas to his religion, such as the definition of the soul: “Does [the soul] inhabit every cell, every strand of hair…self-sustaining microbes, bacteria and viruses... those born with no brain activity… aliens?“
RAW summed it up best as you conclude his forward: “Fear and mental laziness, we have long known, are the major causes of conformity and slavery. Less recognized and even more pernicious, however, are the conditioned guilt and shame that keep us locked up in the same “mind-forged manacles” as all the other workers, drones and soldiers in our human ant hill.”
So today (7/25/17), the day our “administration” shockingly pushed a bill further that will take healthcare away from millions of Americans, I wonder if any appointed conservative in Washington is able to look beyond their conformed definitions, beyond their singular need for bounties of unnecessary wealth, especially at the cost of radical harm to millions of their constituents. I urge all to read this text, as I deem it an important addition in the required reading for anyone searching for the greater good, or reminder that we deserve freedoms to flourish. I wish conservatives to take note of Murray's seemingly paradoxical stance and submit to the overarching humanism that we must heed as a species, no matter our disparate purposes, in order to keep our societal organisms on the harmonic trajectory.
Also, don't watch "The Most Hated Woman in America." Not only is it factually bankrupt, but the dialogue is horrid.