In early February of 2016, an organization known as the 92nd Street Y or simply 92Y, led by Jewish principles, held a series of challenges as part of its 7 Days of Genius campaign. Among them was a challenge to create a new religion, which is the main focus of this article, because that was the challenge I got drawn into applying for and competing in. Below is how the challenge was listed and read as follows:
“CHALLENGE FOR A NEW RELIGION
92Y and On Being invite you to imagine a religious or philosophical framework that cuts across boundaries, strengthens our sense of community and acts as a force for good. Design a framework for a new belief system — or a reimagining of an existing belief system — and share it with us.”
For me, it all started when I came across a Facebook post from an online acquaintance and friend, Poffo Ortiz, describing his interest in this new contest and/or challenge for a new religion. He had come across it from another online acquaintance of ours, J. Pierre Reville, who later went on to win third place! I normally don’t enter my artistic or literary work into these type of contests for a variety of reasons; the main one being that art and literature are usually such subjective creations that are really difficult to fairly weigh and measure. Too often the people who should win don’t and those who shouldn’t do. But I decided to go ahead and enter the contest to help publicize my personal pantheistic views and to help put pantheism and other newer-aged views into the public spotlight.
Each contestant was first asked to submit an original essay no longer than 300 words, supply an image that best represented their idea, and then campaign to gain as many Facebook LIKES as possible. The highest number of Facebook LIKES would determine six semi-finalists, who would later be asked to provide optional supplemental material (a second essay up to 2 pages long) to describe their idea in more detail. Both essays from all six semi-finalists would then be evaluated by a panel of ‘distinguished’ judges to determine three final winners. The 1st Place winner wins a grand cash prize of $5,000 USD, the 2nd Place winner wins $2,000 USD, and the 3rd Place winner will be awarded $1,000 USD.
Now keep in mind, in order to become a semi-finalist, one has to gain a huge number of Facebook LIKES from friends and family as well as any others who might come across the link one provides in his or her Facebook posts to attract viewers towards his or her essay. This was a huge disadvantage for me, because I was only using my second Facebook account (under my pen name or online alias), which I use to express my philosophical and political views and which most of my friends and family don’t even know about, instead of using my original one which I’ve always used for more personal postings for my family and friends that I grew up with. I prefer to keep those two worlds somewhat separate. Though, I do allow them to overlap on occasion. Anyway, my public account doesn’t yet have a large enough following to rely on for competing LIKES, so I caught on pretty quickly that I was going to have to go beyond my Facebook network and use my YouTube and WordPress account to campaign if I wanted to stay in the race. I had posted information about the contest and a link to my essay to many of my YouTube videos and WordPress articles, which get a lot of incoming traffic, so most of the LIKES I received came from complete strangers passing by (dominantly from France and India) and not friends, subscribers, and followers, although they definitely did help. So for me, it all worked out quite nicely. In fact, thanks to all the support I got, I received the highest number of Facebook LIKES/votes out of all 329 entries! When the voting ended, I had over 3,800 LIKES, the highest by far! This not only placed a nice little feather in my cap, it placed me as one of the six semi-finalists, so a big THANK YOU to all those who voted and LIKED my essay! I’ll provide a link to my essays down below.
As I mentioned earlier, for the second part of the contest, the semi-finalists were asked to provide another essay (up to 2 pages) describing and expressing their ideas in more detail. Unfortunately, this second part of the contest was decided by a panel of judges who seemed to have focused more on the option of a “new religion” (a religious structure of worship involving organizing methods, scheduled ceremonies, rituals, and so forth) and not so much on a “new philosophical framework” or “belief system” as they had originally described the contest. I remember being concerned about this in the beginning. I mean a new religion and a new philosophical framework are really two very different things—like comparing apples to oranges—and really should have been kept as two separate challenges. Based on the final winning essays, it seems evident that the judges did, indeed, place far less importance on any philosophical contributions, which many contestants focused on. This of course is their right. I just wish they had better clarified what it was they were looking for and emphasized the importance of organizational structure of religious worship. I admit, my essay definitely fell short in that department. I only included one small paragraph (I think my shortest paragraph) discussing possible ideas for ceremonies, rituals, or spiritual celebrations. I simply had no interest in designing a new religious structure of worship, not even a little bit. I was way more interested in providing a new philosophical framework or roadmap that could help many better understand the world and in turn would hopefully help many improve the world. To me, a new philosophical framework seemed more noble, more virtuous, more worthy, more valued, and more needed. I mean the last thing this world needs is a new organized religion trying to encapsulate a collection of unnecessary, overly detailed views and rituals, right? Most organized religions are like a hollowed Fabergé egg (jeweled egg). They’re very pretty and ornate on the surface but lack any real worth or substance underneath all that decoration. You would think the 92Y would have taken cues from all the essays submitted by all the contestants—if they had read them. After having read many of them, myself, it was quite clear that most of the contestants cringed at the idea of having a new organized religion formed, involving complicated rituals, highly scheduled services, and especially any mythical or supernatural elements that could prove problematic, and instead chose to focus on a new philosophical framework or reimagining old ones. But, if one is going to take the ‘new religion’ approach, then the selected winners does make more sense.
I had a chance to read the first essay submitted by the 1st Place winner, Fabio Barbieri, and I thought it was a good choice. He had expressed both a little organizing and teaching structure, involving schools that would be made available around the world, as well as listed some worthy principles to live by—most of which were very similar to the guiding principles I had listed in my Cosmic Commandments.
I hate to criticize any particular entry, but the Paleolithic Bear Cult (to my surprise and the surprise of others) actually won second place. I was so disappointed in the 92nd Street Y organization for selecting it as one of the final winners. In my opinion, it is one of the worst examples to pass for a new religion! If you read the essays submitted by Corwen Broch, who represented this cult, they mainly discuss member gatherings to conduct mock hunts, the feasting on meat (symbolizing bear meat), and performing rituals celebrating and worshipping the bear. Were the judges serious with this selection? This was such a slap in the face to all those who worked really hard to present and campaign way better and more meaningful ideas! Please don’t misunderstand, I appreciate bears (and animals in general) and am not against eating meat as long as the animals are raised and/or killed as humanely as possible and as long as the meat is truly needed, and this cult may involve friendly people who know how to have a good spiritual time, and Corwen’s essays may be well expressed, but using this particular interest in bears for the foundation of a new religion is simply shameful and ridiculous! I don’t know how this panel of “distinguished” judges were selected, but that may have been the worst mistake on the part of the 92Y. The organizers of this competition clearly failed to inform the judges that they are allowed to look beyond the superficial appearance of religious activities and rituals and focus more on the more meaningful essence of the philosophy their framework expresses and teaches. What ‘notable’ progress can be made by worshipping the bear? Where are the valuable life lessons in its doctrines or practices other than hunting skills and archaic ways of worshiping nature? Where is the meaningful philosophy to truly better mankind? How does worshipping the bear truly help to move mankind forward in any appreciable way? Ugh! Please tell me the panel of judges made this selection at gunpoint, possibly by the Bear Cult! However, when I saw that the Bear Cult took second place, it sort of took the sting out of my not placing as a finalist, because it seemed to prove that the panel of judges mainly consisted of those who were intellectually blind to anything of real substance or who were simply not genuinely interested in taking the time to wrestle with any deep philosophical concepts that could benefit mankind on both a spiritual level as well as an intellectual one, so it discredited their judgement in my eyes. They obviously couldn’t see a good thing staring them right in the face, such as the entries provided by Poffo Ortiz, Jay Pierre Reville, and myself. They had three way better options to choose from for second place but foolishly and stupidly chose the Paleolithic Bear Cult, instead—wow! It also turns out that the Paleolithic Bear Cult and Corwen Brock, the member who submitted its entry, are not even legal residences of the United States, which was against the official rules (stipulation no. 3). The 92Y either missed this or chose to overlook it or found grounds to dismiss this technicality altogether. Oh well, they now have $2,000 U.S. dollars to buy lots of camping equipment and plenty of guns and bullets to go on real bear hunts. Please know that I’m not saying this bear cult holds absolutely no spiritual value or worth (I’m sure it does, especially for a rare breed of worshippers), but in my view, it simply falls short of serving as a reasonable or worthy foundation for a new religion that most people could appreciate or be drawn to and certainly falls short of a new philosophical framework.
Jay Pierre’s essay, which won 3rd place, was another good choice in terms of creating a new religion as I described above. He did a really nice job of designing a very unique and creative method for how members could come together every seven years to democratically create their own mythical illustrated interpretations of life, existence, the universe, and God; a new mythology that is not meant to be taken too seriously or too literally. Ideally, it would help many gather to form and celebrate new ideas. He writes that AGPFID would “continue the age-old mystic tradition of using mythology to cultivate non-dual awareness of the Oneness of the universe, but would introduce a democratic, grassroots element to the process of myth-creation.” He described it very well in his second essay when he explained that his new religion is “a cohesive and comprehensive channel of expression for spiritual experience that magnifies both unity and diversity.” So in his essays, he speaks of the value that can be found in responsible myth creations, oneness, empathy, moral development, social togetherness, and expresses pantheistic ideas and principles. He put a lot of time and energy into crafting this new religion and deserves recognition for his efforts and originality.
In a private 3-way Facebook conversation, our friend Poffo wrote, “Yes, Jay’s extremely thorough, comprehensive and original. He gave us a snapshot of what the religion of the future could look like, really creative and thought-provoking, very detailed and specific. Mine was much more generalized and although I included some ideas about rituals and methods of practice and observance, he dedicated most of his supplemental to these ideas and laid them out in vivid detail.”
Jay definitely has a keen mind. I don’t base this strictly on his essays for this competition. I’ve read many of his words before in the past and can confidently say he is well read, intelligent, and deserves a lot of praise.
Close But No Cigar
This contest came close to getting it right, in terms of finding a streamlined method of organizing people who want to express their spiritual side in a safe ambiguous way, but did fail to properly recognize many who clearly deserved it. In my opinion, along with the opinion of other contestants (even Jay Pierre who won third place) the 92Y did a poor job of conducting this contest. Putting aside multiple competition date errors (the day voting was to end and the day winners were to be announced) and putting aside the failure to adequately communicate to all the contestants who had placed as a semi-finalist or later as a winner (there was a lot of unnecessary secrecy which had caused most contestants and even semi-finalists to remain clueless until well past the public announcements, and because no one was given clear information as to where the announcements were being posted), they did everything backwards or did the exact opposite of what they should have done. First, instead of using Facebook LIKES to determine six semi-finalists, they should have had their panel of judges read all the initial short essays and select the six semi-finalists, then let their own Facebook audience decide the final winners by the number of LIKES they give each one, so all could be held equal to give all participants an equal chance. The reason this makes more sense and is more justified is because most of the entries that made it to the top were those which already had a preexisting following. Family, friends, members, subscribers and followers tend to lend their support towards something, whether it’s good or not, just to be nice or kind or supportive. So at first, it was basically a contest of who had the most family and friends, which many of us (myself included) didn’t have a whole lot of access to tap into. I’m assuming one of the main reasons the 92Y organization chose to do it the way they did was because they were taking advantage of a built-in Facebook voting mechanism that helps to draw in a lot of traffic towards one’s Facebook Page or cause. That’s what the 92Y gets out of this exchange; a lot of new traffic and Page Likes from viewers directed to their FB Page thanks to all the contestants campaigning and trying to promote their essay entry. There was a mutual consensus among the contestants I had a chance to talk with that there were many other far more deserving essays that truly belonged higher up at the top but never really saw the light of day simply because they did not have a ready-made network or following in place. Only those contestants who already had a sizable following or had access to high viewer traffic, including myself, were able to make it to the top (regardless of how good our first essay actually was or wasn’t) due to tough campaigning and preexisting support from followers and subscribers. Again, that’s not to say that many of our essays weren’t worthy. Many of them were, and I’d like to think mine was one of them. But the fact still remains that there were very many essay entries that simply did not belong at the top and many that did not belong at the bottom. Many potential geniuses remained hidden in the dark!
It Takes One to Know One
In many ways, it often takes a genius to know a genius or a group of geniuses to recognize a group of geniuses. The 92Y did set out to discover unknown geniuses that may be hidden among the vast population. On their website at http://www.92y.org/Genius/Genius-Revealed.aspx it reads,
“Mark Twain once said, ‘Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered, either by themselves or by others.’ 7 Days of Genius is committed to uncovering some of the truly exceptional, intelligent and creative people in the world who might otherwise be missed: those dreamers who helped change the world with unwavering determination and groundbreaking ideas and those unsung thinkers and innovators who are currently generating the genius ideas that will change the world of tomorrow.”
To bluntly put it, the 92Y did a poor job of discovering genius. One of the main reasons it’s hard to discover true genius is because geniuses are too often not running things at the top nor in a position to judge others. Geniuses tend to be the more reclusive, submissive, passive, introverted types that often remain hidden in the shadows. That’s one of life’s little ironies. It’s usually the more egoic, flamboyant, extraverted types who run things at the top, people like Donald Trump who are the opposite of genius. See what the universe did there? It’s that Yin-Yang thing again, that law of compensation to preserve universal balance. Historical geniuses like Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Spinoza, and many others went largely unnoticed during their own time because they were sadly surrounded by ignorance, people who were not intelligent or wise enough to spot the work of a genius. They simply weren’t equipped with those skills. Too often, discovering genius is like placing a stack of books into a cage of monkeys. The monkeys will likely choose the books with the really colorful, flashy covers, fantastically illustrated pages, and gold-leafed edges to toss around and play with, even though they may lack inner intellectual quality, and pass up such works like Hamlet or Gone with the Wind if bounded in boring covers that are not as highly decorated. Monkeys aren’t too interested in the fine detailed text of books or their meaning only the broad, loud, illustrative colors on their surface. And please don’t think I am trying to proclaim myself as a genius, since I, myself, am a very introverted, passive, and reclusive person. I will leave that entirely up to all others to determine for themselves. Not all introverts are geniuses, but most geniuses are usually introverts. Though, I will admit that I am quite proud of my philosophical views and of my work expressing those views and would like to think many others would be, too.
I think the old expression “sometimes less is more,” really applies here. I think I and others would have had a far better chance of winning had we kept it more simple, lite, and vague, mixed in with a good dose of organizational structure, because that seemed to be the common denominator among the final winners. The judges apparently weren’t looking for anything too intense, too reactionary, or too specific, deep, or philosophically detailed. They were looking for something easy, safe, and fun like an impressionistic landscape painting painted in broad strokes of color that most would enjoy from a distance or at a quick glance and which most would find difficult to disagree with or frown upon.
I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t win 1st, 2nd, or 3rd (although that would have been nice), because I never allow myself to have too high of expectations. That’s the stoic in me (a self-defense mechanism I developed as I got older). I was very happy to have placed as the top semi-finalist and to have won the popular vote (by the people). Also, the time and energy I spent writing my 2-page essay wasn’t a total loss, either, because I had been meaning to write a synopsis of all my philosophical views, a kind of Reader’s Digest, and so this contest encouraged me to finally take the time to write up the main pillars of all my philosophical views which was long overdue. All in all, it was a fun and exciting experience.
What was beautiful and wonderful was the fact that most of the essays submitted in this contest mainly discussed a common theme of interconnectedness, how all is one, and how we should all be good to one another and to nature. It’s nice to know that most can agree on those few but very meaningful ideas. Aside from that, nearly all of the essays remained quite vague like an impressionistic painting but lacked any religious, organizational structure. There were only a small handful who dug a little deeper and who genuinely tried to provide a framework that held any real substance. I will list some of my favorite entries, below, and will provide links to their essays for you to read if you’re interested.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE ENTRIES, in terms of a new ‘philosophical framework,’ along with my own. I won’t include any of my favorite entries regarding a new religion, since that contest has essentially already been covered.
***In Alphabetical Order***
Anyway, feel free to read any or all of the original 329 entries/short essays by visiting the link below and judge for yourself. The first 6 in the list represent the semi-finalists in the order of LIKES received.