Monday, July 29, 2013

What I Believe

~ Religion is that category of human culture that encompasses our relationship with ultimate issues - ultimate origin, ultimate destiny, ultimate values and meaning. It follows that all religions are thoroughly human constructs.
~ Religions that dictate how a person should believe and behave are mind control systems which keep their adherents spiritual children.
~ We are all fellow-travelers in the great adventure of life. All spiritual insights, no matter how visionary, should be recognized as tentative and built upon the foundation of earlier insights just like all other human knowledge. No insight will remain unchallenged or unchanged by the insights of those that follow. The primary mistake that organized religions of the past have made is to deify their founders and to enshrine their insights as holy scripture. The powerful human need for something permanent in a world of impermanence, and authoritative in a world of a thousand voices, drives this understandable but misguided process. As a result, however, new insights are impeded, masses get stuck in systems that have not benefited from centuries, even millennia, of new insight, and the progress of our race is stunted.
~ The world needs a new religion well-suited for the scientific age, the space age and the environmental age in which we live; a religion which supplements our best scientific knowledge with the best of our religious/philosophic traditions, thereby retaining the emotional and aesthetic dimensions we need to joyfully embrace our place in the universe and to motivate our concern for nature and human welfare. The world needs a new central story which holds nature sacred – probably nothing less will permanently halt the destruction of our beloved home planet – and which unifies humanity rather than splits the world into saved and lost, enlightened and ignorant, believer and infidel, producing endless warring factions. Religious reverence for the cosmos and its inherent creative energy - due to its universality, awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur - is best suited to be the core of this new central story.

~ Egocentrism is a hallmark feature of immaturity. Humankind in its childhood supposed itself and its world to be the literal center of the universe. All heavenly bodies were thought to revolve around a motionless earth. The sun existed to illuminate earth by day, the moon and stars by night (Genesis 1). Every tribe thought that its central place was the center of the world; not surprisingly, the Jews asserted this honor for Jerusalem. Cut from the same cloth is the notion that the ultimate creative energy of the universe is a person like us. Gods fashioned in the image of humanity are relics of our race’s childhood.
We are no longer justified in interpreting what we call God as an autonomous, sentient being. The time has come to recognize God as we do all history's gods - as images created by the human mind to meet human needs. The gods of the past have evolved just as people do and gradually become both more empathic, and those worse, repressed, selfish and vengeful aspects of the old gods (and of those people who created them) are then reassigned to demons, or de-emphasized into the background. The kinder, gentler Jesus of the New Testament versus Yahweh of the Old Testament, noticed by virtually all who read the entire Bible, is testimony to this natural evolution.
~ Humankind in its childhood (I'd say we're in our adolescence now) was prone to using supernatural explanations for any process in nature that was not understood - which means just about everything. Gods, angels, demons, fairies, spirits, titans, jinn, etc. were a means of labeling the inscrutable. This method was applied to anything from sickness to comets, lightning to volcanoes, bird flight to sunsets, and rainbows to windstorms. The advance of human knowledge through reasoned inquiry has had a rather harsh eroding effect on this approach however. Whereas supernatural beings once explained a wide spectrum of phenomena, the realm of the supernatural has gotten progressively smaller to the point that it really holds just one last tiny island in the ocean of our imagination. And it's been clinging desperately to that final piece of real estate since the mid-1800's with the rise of evolutionary theory. Though some sectors of the monotheistic traditions have capitulated and accepted that earth's life forms all descend from a common ancestor, which itself developed from primordial biological precursors, the more fundamentalist ranks are still battling hard for this turf because it represents their God's last stand. If this ground is ceded, then the supernatural will have become thoroughly irrelevant, ceasing to explain anything meaningful in our normal existence. In every generation since Darwin's time, newly repackaged attempts have been made to keep the special creation theory of life alive even though they amount to little more than keeping a vestigial organ going on life support.
~ Because it is so colored by this anthropocentric association, the term ‘God’ is no longer seen as useful for many, and understandably so. But the fact remains that all people have a god, if understood as an object of highest reverence, a locus of supreme value, even if it isn’t the traditional monotheistic faith in a supernatural deity. So in that sense all people are theists; but in a very real sense, all people are also atheists. Atheist is a relative term. One must always ask “in relation to what god or conception of god”. No one believes in all the gods ever conceived of, so in relation to the gods not believed in, one is an atheist, even the most fervent Christian or Muslim. Because they did not believe in their gods and goddesses, the ancient Romans used to charge the early Christians with atheism; the local polytheistic Arabs acted similarly towards the early Muslim community.
~ The primary difference between today’s self-described theists and atheists is that theists see God as utterly distinct from the cosmos. In this view there is a fundamental disconnect between God and the creation. This produces as a byproduct the category of the supernatural, the idea of a God who must cross the chasm between the divine and the natural realms to intervene in human affairs, with such intervention termed miraculous. By contrast, modern atheists see God as in some way part of, synonymous with, or “built into” the cosmos – a basic connectedness between God and creation. The supernatural is ruled out by definition. From this perspective, God is described variously as the ground of all being, the life force, the cosmic matrix, or the universal creative energy/process. Regardless of metaphor employed, this holistic approach is preferable.

~ All of our inner landscape – thoughts, emotions, feelings, will, dreams, consciousness, psyche, soul, spirit, and any other term ever used to grasp our inner experience – is a function of our minds, and the mind is a function of the body and has no separate existence or reality. We are our bodies. When all bodily functions cease, individual consciousness ceases, and the individual ceases to be. Death is the full reintegration of our selves with the elements of nature, and the end of our personal, individual existence; it is the erasure of the self.
~ Coming to terms with one’s mortality is one of the hardest aspects of life, but for a life authentically lived, it is a primary spiritual task. The key to making peace with mortality is found in the cultivation of two key perspectives:
1)      Connectedness to nature and its cycles, specifically the life/death cycle: Cultivation of this perspective transforms death from something to be loathed and explained away, or even denied by afterlife ideas, to something that is natural, normal and good. In so doing, we leave the heavenly notions of our spiritual childhood and make the metaphoric journey back home to Mother Earth who birthed us, and we rejoin the family of living, and dying, beings, our earthly cousins with whom we share this cosmic ride.
2)      Gratitude: The key to facing mortality with grace. Like the kid who's thankful to have been given a part—any part—in the school play, every day is to be lived with a spirit of gratitude for having been given a chance to play a part in the great drama of creation.

~ The major religions of the world rightly identify coping with impermanence as one of the most important existential struggles we face. Dealing with the fact that we will all someday lose everything we love at some point in life, or at death, is a daunting task. That part, the major religions have right; their solutions are misguided however.
~ The Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition deals with impermanence by positing a never-ending afterlife, and a means by which we can attain it and thereby have permanence; essentially this is the path of denial. The Buddhist tradition encourages detachment from the things of this transitory life to prevent suffering due to loss or unrealized expectations. This approach prevents the full embrace of life’s experiences, with all its joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, and, in so doing, denigrates life in this world. Essentially this is the path of avoidance.
~ I’m convinced that denial and avoidance are not the best way to live life and that a different way is available, a healthier, more life-affirming and authentic path. This alternative approach embraces a vibrant connectedness to life, and requires learning the art of gracefully letting go when the time comes.

~ Revealed religion has arisen to answer that human longing for a voice of certainty in an uncertain world. But certainty in this world is neither possible nor desirable: Not possible because life in this world, if it is anything, is ever-changing and unpredictable; not desirable because the adventure of living is in great measure the challenge of forging a meaningful life in an ever-changing world where the end result of one’s efforts cannot be known.
~ The ultimate arbiter in religious matters isn’t any church, religious authority, or ancient document, but is the conscience of the individual. We should each be true to our own journey, and we should both trust and examine our own experience. To fully experience life and to come of age spiritually, we should not cede authority over our own spiritual journey to anyone or anything else, whether religious institution, religious tradition or religious authority, whether that comes in the form of sacred writings, like the Bible, Koran or the Vedas, or a person, such as a savior figure, a guru, favorite spiritual teacher, pope or pastor.
~ There are no messiahs. There are no holy scriptures. No one, and no writing, has the complete answer to humankind’s problems or deepest questions, or is without blind spots and flaws. Those who elevate themselves are self-deluded; those who rely unquestioningly upon one teaching or teacher fundamentally misunderstand their own role in the great adventure of life. We are all fellow-travelers, all receptors and conveyors of truth; we are all peers though at different stages along life’s journey. We are all responsible for bringing light and love into the world.
~ Each of us has the right and responsibility to evaluate belief systems and to pick the meat from the bones. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, did this with the Hindu traditions he’d been raised within, rejecting several of their key components. Buddha did this as well, but even he, a very advanced fellow traveler, didn’t set himself up as the lamp of truth, but rather said to “be a lamp unto yourself.”
~ We can learn from everything, everyone and every experience, and in so doing establish our own spiritual path rather than someone else's, a spiritual life which is authentically ours and not second-hand. We should discover truth for ourselves, using as many tools and sources as possible. The world is our library. By liberating the inquiring mind, and freeing the thinker and explorer in ourselves, we can revel in life's greatest adventure: the discovery of truth. Everything we experience can be a stepping stone to further enlightenment. Once we’re willing to embrace new ideas and to change along with them, the great adventure has begun.
~ All things are linked in a profound unity. Everything is made of the same stuff, the same star stuff, ultimately matter/energy, of which all things consist. Everything shares the same origin, and ultimately the same destiny. All things are interconnected and interdependent. And humanity is an inseparable part of this unity.
~ All sense of individuality, however, is not mere illusion as some assert. Yes, all things are linked in a profound unity, but the universe also consists of distinct structures: galaxies, stars, planets, moons, mountains, oceans, trees, rocks, animals and human beings. Individual things have a real, though temporary, existence, independently of our minds.

~ Human ethics is a purely human enterprise, and not something we are dependent upon supernatural sources for, whether oracles, gods, mediums or scriptures. Morality should be based on real world consequences, not divine absolutes – which in reality are neither divine, nor absolute – and should be driven by inward conviction not rewards of heaven or threats of hellfire.
~ There is no great mystery to morality: kindness and reason are sufficient. For example, I reason that since all people are integral parts of the sacred whole, I am obliged to treat others with respect and compassion.
~ Our circle of compassion should extend beyond people and even animals, and reach out to the entire biosphere. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and diversity of the biotic community at every level of ecosystem, up to that of the earth as a whole. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

~ Reasoned investigation is the most reliable path to knowledge. Science is the best tool of reason yet devised for determining knowledge, as well as for solving humanity’s problems because, as an approach to gaining knowledge, its results are open to review by all, its answers remain revisable when new evidence demands, and it doesn’t in any way consider its beliefs beyond scrutiny, or the doubting or critical mind its enemy.
~ The supreme value of the arts and the inner, intuitive experience should also be recognized, though they remain subject to critical analysis. Intuitive insights are based on facts filed below the conscious level, and on the subconscious mind’s amazing ability to network ideas and pattern-match almost instantaneously. They are neither magical nor infallible.
~ As human beings, we are the masters of our own destinies and must rely on our own unique powers of reason and creativity to solve our problems.

~ Meaning is a thoroughly human construct, so there is no meaning “out there” to be found, no master plan to be divined in order to discover life’s purpose. Fate does not exist. To live a meaningful life, we must create it for ourselves. To do otherwise is to outsource one of our primary life tasks, and thereby to miss the fully authentic life.
~ To find objects of value is to find meaning in life. To orient one’s life towards those objects of value is to live meaningfully.
~ For a life fully and authentically lived we choose the meaning and purpose of our lives, but this isn’t to imply that all options are of equal quality or are equally intelligent. The Taoist/Stoic way of aligning our lives with nature provides helpful guidance for a choice well-made. The overall course of cosmic creation is one of emergent properties developing from each new burst of creativity and, in turn, new creative possibilities offered by those emergent properties. So, for example, hydrogen in the primordial universe had certain properties; but when combined with oxygen to form water a completely new set of emergent properties came into being not found in hydrogen by itself, and with those properties a whole new set of creative possibilities, like biological life.
To live a life consistent with this cosmic creativity, a primary source of meaningfulness in life would entail creatively developing ourselves and our relationships, thus producing emergent properties and new possibilities for our own growth and that part of the cosmic environment that we touch. In so doing we add, in some small way, to the grand drama of cosmic creation unfolding all around us, and move consistent with its creative flow.

Revere the Cosmos
Embrace the great adventure
Learn from all experience
Quest for truth
Be creative
Be grateful
Live compassionately
Bring light into the world
Make peace with mortality
Be true to my journey

1 comment:

  1. Hi - you don't know me, but I stumbled across your blog while searching for stories about people making the journey out of orthodox Christianity. I really appreciate your thorough, thoughtful post, and am mulling over your ideas about meaning and morality minus deity. I hope you keep writing, and would like to invite you to my blog - to see how our emerging ideas interact.