In consideration of the wide variety of ways in which spiritual teachings can be usurped, and the subtle ways in which good things can be turned by degrees into bad things, the EBS Admins have concluded that there have to be rules to prevent the corruption of EBS.
Most importantly, the Admins will never endorse any social organization claiming to instantiate some or all of these ideas. The problem with organized religion is that the organization has nothing to do with the religion. It's the way that people actually live that matters. It's useful to talk with other people, sharing ideas and discussing dilemmas. But as soon as a social organization emerges, it takes on a life of its own. If the organization increases the wisdom of its membership, it's a good thing. But wise people are tough to manipulate, and if unscrupulous people gain control, they'll obfuscate the wisdom, and then glorify superstition, naïveté, blind faith, and unconditional love (for themselves, of course). There might still be a good message embedded somewhere in the scam, but in the context of a scam, the goodness is just the bait. People who chomp on it are then reeled into an organization that only serves the organizers, and that isn't good.
So the Admins will stand by the EBS Principles
, and will continue to clarify and elaborate on them. But they will not affiliate themselves with any organization based in whole or in part on those principles. If any such organization takes a wrong turn, it gets lost, not EBS. As far as the Admins are concerned, the ministry is the website, and that's all it is, because it won't take anything more than that to communicate the basic principles.
To be clear, the Admins certainly want to see these principles put into practice, and as such, they will affect everything, including religious organizations. Fighting them would be fighting the instantiation of the principles, which the Admins would never do. In fact, the Admins are dedicated to supporting such organizations, by providing a theological foundation. It's just that the Admins will never get involved in the administration of the organizations themselves.
As a model for how this can work, the Admins looked at the relationship between the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the companies that abide by those standards. ANSI doesn't manufacture anything, nor will it ever endorse any company that does. Rather, ANSI remains economically detached, so that it can serve the interests of everybody by encouraging best practices in all companies. So ANSI makes careful studies of real-world problems, and develops standards that it hopes will be adopted universally, while the standards themselves do not, and should not, favor any particular company. Similarly, the EBS Admins believe that there is a need for theological principles that are not directly associated with any particular church. They want these principles to permeate all religious thought. But they have no intention of forming a church, nor will they endorse any church on the basis of its acceptance of these principles. This establishes a separation between theology and religion that the Admins believe is crucial to preventing the corruption of the theology, and which will set limits on the corruption within the religions adopting the theology.
What will prevent the website from assuming the role of a church, and thereby becoming vulnerable to all of the same problems that plague organized religions? The website has its own "scriptures", as well as forums and chat rooms for community discussions, and a place for people to post comments and contribute articles to further develop these ideas. What's the difference between that and a church?
For many people, regular visits to the website, and participation in dissussions, will fulfill their need to belong to an organization based on good principles (i.e., a church). Others will prefer physical meetings with like-minded individuals. But for those who consider the online community to be their church, there is still a fundamental difference between a website and an organized religion — a website requires virtually no money to maintain. This means that there doesn't have to be any donations, and there don't have to be any professionals taking care of the organization's property. And that's the source of all of the problems. As soon as it becomes somebody's full-time job to keep the organization going, the organization starts getting run in such a way that it keeps going. Sooner or later, that will start influencing the tenets of the system, at which point the corruption of the system has begun. So we have to keep the money out of it.
Aside from removing the incentive for corruption, this also has the added benefit of guaranteeing that all of the people contributing to EBS will be in the working class. Professional theologians are capable of coming up with some pretty fancy ideas, but only practical people can say what works in the real world. If EBS continues to be developed and maintained only by practical people, there is a much greater chance that the principles can be applied directly to daily living.
Besides, why was money ever a factor in spirituality? Anyone feeling indebted to a teacher for the gift of enlightenment cannot ever possibly repay the teacher, and attempting to do so would be absurd. (It would be like someone saving a life by performing CPR, and then being offered $10 as fair compensation for the time spent — that's a paltry sum for saving a life. Yet a million dollars wouldn't be fair compensation either, if the good samaritan only did 15 minutes of work for it. So there just isn't a monetary reward for something like that.) But the debt can be offset by passing on the enlightenment, and thereby incurring the indebtedness of someone else. One day, someone will unknowingly teach the original lesson, in a far more mature form, to the original teacher, who will then be further enlightened, and all of the debts will then be cancelled.
What about people who don't have access to the Internet?
They can get print-outs from people who do, and a printing company can run off copies for distribution. Those, of course, will cost money. But that's a transaction between the people and the printer, not involving the EBS Admins.
Some people are saying that these beliefs aren't going to spread very fast, without the benefit of professional efforts. And they're right. But that doesn't matter. If the ideas are good, they will spread. And there wouldn't be any advantage to accelerating the acceptance, if the methods risk the corruption of the ideas — bad ideas aren't worth spreading. So EBS will spread at the rate at which good ideas can spread, without any economic incentive.
Besides, we shouldn't underestimate the power of modern technology — people from all over the world can collaborate on an online project, and the value can accumulate quite rapidly. In fact, if other online endeavors are any indication, the problem will not be in finding enough people to contribute — the problem will be in keeping the contributions sorted out. So it's time that we free ourselves of the previous generation's expectations concerning a spiritual movement — it doesn't have to be large gatherings listening to a charismatic professional leader — it can be thought-provoking prose and thoughtful comments on it. Everybody these days wants to know if somebody got the marketing right, but where's the value in that? The EBS Admins want to see truth and applicability promoted to the primary concerns in spiritual inquiries, not theatrics.
We also shouldn't underestimate how fast new ideas can travel by word-of-mouth. If these are eternal truths, it is to the advantage of every believer to spread the word. The wiser the society, the better it is for everybody. Enlightening our neighbors is an investment in our quality of life. If it is not that, it isn't worth spreading. And if it doesn't work well enough for any person to explain it to any other person, then it doesn't work. So getting ministers who are better public speakers than ourselves to spread the word is not the way to go. We spread the word, or it won't get spread.
Will organizations be allowed to represent themselves on this website?
Yes — the Admins don't have a problem with organizations contributing articles under institutional names, or hosting discussions, or chats. They can use the site to announce local meetings, and to conduct fund-raising campaigns if they want. But if they state or imply that their efforts have been endorsed by the Admins, they will be told to modify the statements, or they will be banned.
So, there are no messiahs, only users, moderators, and administrators. The standard Internet model for a community owned and operated knowledge base is perfect for this kind of thing. The objective is to present a reasonable belief system, and to give people a chance to voice their opinions. Constructive criticisms can then be used to improve the system.
- Read what others have written, and think before responding.
- Agreement is not necessary, but netiquette is.
- Encourage healthy, productive discussions of these beliefs.
- Escalate issues with rogue users to the administrators.
- Develop and maintain the primary statements of this belief system.
- Listen carefully to suggestions, and integrate new value into the primary statements.
- Ban users who deliberately post garbage.
In the end, the bulk of the responsibility for the usefulness of the teachings will fall on the shoulders of the users. As fallible human beings, without the possibility of ever achieving infinite wisdom, and in a constantly changing world, we are constantly learning, and always will be. As we go, if we are constantly making contributions to the store of knowledge in this system, the value will continue to increase. Therefore, if we should ever find a respect in which this system has failed us, and if we find a way through the troubles on our own, it is our responsibility to share the experience with others, that the wisdom that we have gained be added to the system.