A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.
Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places: the place of birth or death of founders or saints, or to the place of their “calling” or spiritual awakening, or of their connection (visual or verbal) with the divine, to locations where miracles were performed or witnessed, or locations where a deity is said to live or be “housed,” or any site that is seen to have special spiritual powers.
Such sites may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit: to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.
The Holy Land acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to a Stockholm University study in 2011, these pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and connect personally to the Holy Land.
An additional defining criteria of “pilgrimage” is that “pilgrims” are required to complete the “pilgrimage” in order to receive the attributed benefits. In the early 21st century the numbers of people of all faiths making pilgrimages has continued to rise, with 39 of the most popular sites alone receiving an estimated 200 million visitors every year.
That’s pretty much the secular view of “pilgrimage”. An interesting anthropological observation regarding the behaviour of an exotic and tiny group of “human beings”? The United States Census Bureau estimates that the world population exceeded 7 billion on March 12, 2012. According to a separate estimate by the United Nations Population Fund, it reached this milestone on October 31, 2011. Don’t take my word for it, check out the population clock.
So, back to the curious phenomenon of pilgrimage, Do the math. Less than 3% of the world population go on a pilgrimage. Not really statistically significant by any modern measure unless you are a drug manufacturer trying to market a new drug and get the gov’mint to pay for it. Then a result of more than 2% would be nothing short of miraculous. Still, with numbers that tiny it really does amount to nothing more than a curiosity for the secular world, doesn’t it?
Why would anyone in their right mind leave their comfortable home and all the conveniences and familiar sights, sounds and services that we all take for granted to put their life and future at risk to visit some place far from home? Just doesn’t make any sense, does it? Right, it doesn’t make sense … unless we don’t have all the information.
In my limited experience, dealing with folks over the last 50 years or so, the immediate response of the average Tom, Dick, or Harriette, to behaviour that doesn’t make sense to them is that the perpetrators are either stupid, deluded, or malicious. If the behaviour involves more than a small group or some large organization of people then the immediate jump is to conspiracy and scapegoating. No one ever seems to realize that they usually don’t have all the information available to the actors doing the “unusual” behaviour.
There are a number of factors (discussed in previous posts) amplifying this thought process in the minds of the unbelievers, the conspiracy theorists … including Psychological Projection, Transference, and the recently mentioned Confirmation bias. Personally I have trouble believing that more than a tiny percentage of the rest of the world’s 7 billion or so people believe or espouse anything remotely close to what I believe or espouse. They might, or they might not, or anything in between. It certainly doesn’t follow that they are stupid or deluded and certainly not malicious on anything approaching statistical significance. There’s lots of nasty folks but there are at least as many good folks.
For a simple example, I am typing this blog on a system invented by Caucasians, engineered by Asians and built by people all over the world. They are transported on ships built in northern Europe and officered by folks from southern Europe and crewed by folks from Malaysia, navigated using satellites invented by Canadians and built by Japanese and launched by Americans, and so on and so forth. Having different ideas and beliefs doesn’t stop people of good will from cooperating to derive benefits from working together.
So where is this going? Simply to the point that we cannot write off other beliefs by simply putting them down to delusion, stupidity or ignorance. Someone famous once remarked that there are no “knowns.” There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.
So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns. It sounds like a riddle. It isn’t a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter. There’s another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. This is as true in everyday life as it is in politics, or international diplomacy, or particle physics, or philosophy. I seem to remember a remark to the effect that it is the unknown unknowns that really bite your ass.
So to return to the “pilgrimage” idea, what if? What if? What if pilgrims are not actually leaving home to visit far away places? What if the “pilgrims” have realized that we, none of us, are actually “home”? What if this material universe of “being” is not the whole picture? What if, by focusing only on the measurable material we are acting like Inuit seal hunters looking though their version of snow goggles and seeing a less blinding, narrow slice of reality?
What if all of life, for everyone, is simply a pilgrimage? What if we are not yet home?