Do we need a fresh theology? (Section 1)
"The high-minded man must care more for the truth than for what people think." - Aristotle
One major premise of this site is that humans are flawed. This is news, you say? Who would argue with this premise? However, it is the nature of HOW we are flawed that is at issue here. The foundational premise is that we are flawed in our psychology and thinking, not our nature. Further, that it was the ancient global catastrophes, of concern to all ancient cultures and replete in their mythologies, that fragmented the collective consciousness and psyche of mankind, sending us into a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome of totally race-wide guilt, denial and amnesia. As more than one philosopher and observer of mankind has stated, "Mankind DESIRES to be deceived!"
This bottom line premise means that never in all of recorded history has ANYONE understood the ultimate issues, and it is about time that we took a rational, logical and reasonable approach to doing so, an approach that demands consistency and ideal goodness in our picture of God. In other words, the premise means that the traditional thinking about God is inadequate, misguided, and therefore is a "deal killer". For the very triumph of goodness over evil FOR US it MUST be changed!
So, the working premise of this site is that we DO need a new theology, and that badly. But before we can deal with a fresh theology, we need a fresh definition of "God". A proper definition of "God" will induce a new theology and help keep us on the straight and narrow. The proposed source of material information for this fresh theology may be a surprising one, because as far as existing religion or theology is concerned, never has so much been promised and so little delivered!
How badly are we stuck?
Since I almost always try to gently steer a prolonged friendly conversation toward meaningful, and many times, philosophical issues, I often talk with people who are driven to exclaim that they don't have a belief system, or doctrines, or concepts. This usually prideful exclamation is now always greeted with, "Oh, that's the no-belief belief system" or "That's the no-doctrine doctrine or the no-concept concept". The point here is best stated using the double negative−we cannot not have a belief system, or doctrines or concepts! The issue is not whether we are going to have these, but whether the ones we will have are any good, effective, consistent, or productive. The issue is almost always not THAT we believe but WHAT we believe!
Overwhelmingly people in the world wind up with the belief system, the world view, into which they were born. They were "injected" and "infected" with this belief system and programmed by it, and are seemingly incapable of changing it or becoming free of it, and are overwhelmingly left being victims of it. Yet, what kind of mature, responsible human being would settle for something−more important than anything else in his life−that is slapped onto him by others? Here are questions concerning some ultimate personal issues:
1) Who gets to choose what I believe? Me or someone else?
Let’s set, in a frank, honest, and meaningful way, the context in which we find ourselves. First and foremost we are born into a dirty, messy, pathological, troubled, insane, and dangerous world under a sentence of death with a limited lifespan. Seemingly the best we can do, given good training and good luck, is to not shorten this lifespan too much. We must run a vicious gauntlet of accident, disease, temptation for excess, and other threats to our health and welfare; and we must carefully guard our health with good hygiene, diet and general habits, in order to accomplish even this.
Unless we have pre-existence, and designed this life for ourselves, we are born with a set of personal specifications, traits, characteristics and attendant geographical, geopolitical, cultural, religious, social, and family factors with which we had no volitional involvement. We need say little more about the context after birth than what Thomas Hobbes said, “The life of man [in a state of nature is], solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
We also find ourselves in a world of 7 billion people with a hundred thousand competing and mutually exclusive and partially mystical belief systems, each claiming to be the way, or the truth. Meanwhile not one of these ideologies, religions, denominations, organizations, nor groups or individuals is in a majority. Every religion, ideology, value system, organization, sect, doctrine, denomination, and individual is in a minority. The inescapable logic is that at least most of these are wrong, and a direct implication of what we see is that almost all, and possibly all, are wrong or false to some degree.
How is this for additional context? The inhabitants of the world, including those in western culture, get a "D" grade! "D" for being into denial, delusion, diversion, drivel and distraction, decadence, degradation and dissolution, dogma, drugs, drama, defeatism, death, and desperation to forget or lower the level of awareness of the "human condition". On top of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography, horror movies and stories, otherwise vacuous TV shows and movies, mind-numbing music, body-damaging sports, reckless activities that risk the life of the participant, we have:
"The inhabitants of earth spend more money on illegal drugs than they spend on food. More than they spend on housing, clothes, education, medical care, or any other product or service. The international narcotics industry is the largest growth industry in the world. Its annual revenues exceed half a trillion dollars−three times the value of all United States currency in circulation, more than the gross national products of all but a half dozen major industrialized nations." - James Mills, The Underground Empire: Where Crime and Governments Embrace, (New York: Doubleday, 1986), 3.
We live in a world where: "One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic." - Joseph Stalin
Not so good, is it? Does anybody still have any hope that the traditional religions, politics, thinking or paradigms will heal this situation? See also Human context
What should a religion do? (Section 2)
Any religion or philosophy can be judged as good or evil, positive or negative, productive or destructive, an asset or liability simply on this basis: Does it increase the sustenance and enhancement of life, or does it decrease or interfere with the sustenance and enhancement of life? If it does not impact fulfillment in life it is without meaning, and then should it not be discarded as an empty husk? Is not a good religion one that promotes good physical and psychological health through inspiration of purpose instead of recrimination andguilt?
The Dark Veil of Unreason and Hypocrisy
The thinking or paradigm behind the existing systems is usually fear-based, confused and muddled, psychologically twisted, dark and negative, uncritical, and often unstructured. The substance is generally heavily infected with traditional aspects of ancient planet worship and ancient myth. These programs tend to leave people in a state of denial or defeatism, ridden with guilt, saddled with emotional burdens where some even descend into suicide or physical self-flagellation. They leave others in a state of irresponsibility, too character and value deficient to make good citizens. In fact, whole schools of psychology (which literally means soul science) exist to UNDO the damage wrought by oppressive religion.
The conclusions of these systems are irrational (not-fact supported), illogical, unreasonable, unworthy of our idealism, and unworkable or unproductive. They must be accepted by a faith that is a leap in the dark rather than steps in the light of knowledge and reason. Never actually delivering what we actually want and need, the best these systems can do is to offer a plethora of coping mechanisms, and then promise some kind of afterlife after suffering the “slings and arrows” of this one.
The result of these systems of thinking is a profusion of hypocrisy, and a situation where we are on the verge of a global religious war using new methods of terrorism and new tactics that include the "martyrdom" of suicide bombers. With a predator-like calculation, some of these extremist religious leaders actually take advantage of the most naive, needy, and vulnerable young people to become nothing more than dehumanized weapons. But most others would at the least pressure children before the age of majority to make a commitment−like getting baptized−to their religion. When this is done to children before they have matured to the age of reason, this is little short of spiritual pedophilia!
Can the veil be lifted? (Section 3)
“We have said that religion is arguably the most powerful and pervasive force in human society. This is both a historical fact and a dynamic reality shaping our present and future world community. As such, we must all take religion seriously.” Kimball, Charles, When Religion Becomes Evil, Los Angeles, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2002, p.
If you do not define your god or what your god is like, you quite literally have the problem of recognizing what may be god and/or less than god when confronted. Every dualistic religion that has a fallen superior being has this evil agency sowing confusion, introducing counterfeit concepts that are unworthy of a reasonable god. Even if the superior evil agency or Devil is not real, the concepts that debilitate and divide are real, and the confusion is real.
We might also ask ourselves the age-old question, “What is truth?” Or, if we are comfortable with the concept of an objective truth, better yet to ask how would we recognize this body of truth if we heard it or saw it?
The Search for Truth
The unequivocal need for faith demands that we believe three things:
1. There must be
truth worth pursuing
The first premise bears worth looking at further, for if the truth is not “good” for us personally, then why would we even want to find it it? If there is not a significant payoff, why would we want to know it? Secondly, if it is not available, then why invest any effort in a fruitless search? We cannot affect the underlying realities of these two issues and answers, and can only choose to believe the best. But we can respond to number 3. We can, and must develop criteria for recognizing truth!
What might those criteria be? Let us consider the original meaning of the word “religion” by looking at its derivation. The first part of this compound word is “re”, meaning to do over or again. The latter part “ligion” has its roots in the Greek word for logic with a French connotation for binding together. Thus we have “binding together again with logic”. In its original denotation, what a great word it is and what a wonderful sentiment it has. But when we look at the net result of the world’s so-called religions, believing they have measured up to the word’s promise doesn’t pass the laugh-out-loud test.
Does not our foremost criteria have to be that our worldview, our “religion” is rational, logical, reasonable, and consistent? What person would be comfortable in considering his religion or theology to be irrational? Or illogical? Or unreasonable? Or inconsistent? If the truth is outside these qualifiers, most of us in western culture would say, "Count me out." For my part I am simply not willing to live in a universe where truth is irrational, illogical, unreasonable and inconsistent!
Quote from The Rise of Universities by Charles Homer Haskins, p. 51:
"If it is something to be discovered by search, the search must be free and untrammeled. If, however, truth is something which has already been revealed to us by authority, then it has only to be expounded, and the expositor must be faithful to the authoritative doctrine. Needless to say, the latter was the mediaeval conception of truth and its teaching."
The Nature of Belief and Knowledge (Section 5)
As true as the above quote is, there is a third option that deals with both an external authority and the internal authority of a spiritually alive man. This is the option where our volitional involvement is paramount, where NOTHING is allowed to violate our internal reference point of the ideal. Every statement and concept from the external revelation must be applied in a way that is consonant with what we think is the best. Nothing short of this working together of the internal and the external measures up to our being free and equal citizens of the universe.
"Recent philosophical investigation has shown that metaphysical assertions, and world views in general, are not verifiable in the fashion that statements about experience are verified. But many philosophers...have jumped from this springboard to the conclusion that statements about empirical experiences are validated in some direct fashion independently of any metaphysical assumptions. This epistemological position rests upon an implicit and unrecognized metaphysic which assigns a self-subsistent character to a "physical" world independent of man who is merely an observer of this world. At this point the methodological separation between observer and phenomenon required by scientific work has become a conclusion about the nature of the world itself." Emerson W. Shideler, Taking the Death of God Seriously; The Meaning of the Death of God, Vintage books, Random House, New York, NY p. 115.
Part of what is being said here is simply that one cannot "know" meaningful things without belief, and one cannot "believe" meaningful things without knowledge. You cannot start with one and arrive at the other, and it will not work to be active on one side and passive on the other. To have any hope of transcending our victimhood, the "human condition", we need to be actively seeking and be open to an external reference of revealed significant knowledge and truth.
In order to find the assurance of ultimate meaning, we need to take charge and actively engage our volition. We need to be understanding and choosing what to believe from our own internal reference in conjunction with that external source or revelation. Both we and that unimpeachable source must be committed and actively involved in the apprehension and comprehension of ultimate meaningful Truth. Any chance of that? To magnify that opportunity is the purpose of this site. Any other purpose would be merely mundane.
Human Psychological Condition (Section 6)
From Hunter, Robert, The Storming of the Mind, Doubleday & Company, 1972, p. 18.
"For now, it is our present dilemma which must be considered, the life situation with which we are confronted."
Arthur Koestler has expressed it perfectly:
'All efforts of persuasion by reasoned argument rely on the implicit assumption that homo sapiens, though occasionally blinded by emotion, is a basically rational animal, aware of the motives of his own actions and beliefs−an assumption which is untenable in the light of both historical and neurological evidence. All such appeals fall on barren ground; they could take root only if the ground were prepared by a spontaneous change in human mentality all over the world−the equivalent of a major biological mutation. Then, and only then, would mankind as a whole, from its political leaders down to the lonely crowd, become receptive to reasoned argument, and willing to resort to those unorthodox measures which enable it to meet the challenge. It is highly improbable that such a mental mutation will occur spontaneously in the foreseeable future. . . . '6
"Koestler here recognizes the multidimensional nature of the trap in which we find ourselves. Not only are the meta-problems themselves completely resistant to our traditional problem-solving techniques, but the perceptions and cognitive and intuitive reflexes which we have at our disposal do not even allow us to see this failure; let alone clearly perceive the nature of the solutions now required. We are trapped, as it were, in an invisible prison, unable to see that we are, in fact, imprisoned by the limitations of our perceptions, and therefore more or less unconscious of the need to escape, to climb over the walls and move at will through other perceptual worlds wherein a new order of answers might be found. Unaware that we are trapped, bounded by very high walls, locked into complex cages, we fail−to begin with−to recognize our situation. This basic failure does not allow us to begin to act."
From a slightly different angle we can see what Schopenhauer observed,
"No: it is impossible to solve the metaphysical puzzle, to discover the secret essence of reality by examining matter first, and then proceeding to examine thought: we must begin with that which we know directly and intimately−ourselves. "We can never arrive at the real nature of things from without. However much we may investigate, we can never reach anything but images and names. We are like a man who goes round a castle seeking in vain for an entrance, and sometimes sketching the facades.” Let us enter within. If we can ferret out the ultimate nature of our own minds we shall perhaps have the key to the external world."
The Will of Man
"Nothing is more provoking, when we are arguing against a man with reasons and explanations, and taking all pains to convince him, than to discover at last that he will not understand, that we have to do with his will."
What is this "will" that is so perverse that it would override the rational intellect and so powerful that it can? "Will" is a wonderful thing in that it is an integral part of us as human beings, and the best of us treat other people's will as sacrosanct unless it threatens us personally. But how did it get to be an obstructor instead of a servant? How do people wind up with a will that can ignore the best and most humane aspects of the individual's own belief system, engender greed, wage war, alienate and kill other people, and even commit martyrdom over ridiculous doctrines and dogmas?
Religions have answers farcical and fantastical. The traditional “God” centered ones bring in “hierarchies of holiness”, demigods and demons, powerful "spirit beings" that all but control us, and personal pogroms that would cauterize our finest dimensions just because they are so powerful and thereby fraught with risk in usage. The newer “Godless” ones bring in vague, ultimate concepts like “evolutionism”, spiritual realities being “emergent properties” from organizations of matter, and concepts like the whole physical universe is an intelligent organism.But what they don't have is any assuring rationale for why their thinking is still not inside the "box" introduced by Koestler and Schopenhauer above. What they don't have is a truth package that gives real leverage on the will through self-interest and inspiration!
Even St. Paul was moved to cry out in desperation over his own perverse will that countermanded his best and fervent intentions. This leads us to question whether he found an adequate answer.
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate."
Paul wound up defending the idea that with his mind he served the law of God, but with his flesh he served the law of sin. In other words, it was quite all right with God to leave him in this abject state without material healing in order to constantly express his−God's−grace. The solution was to die believing in grace and be resurrected with a different, "sinless" body.
What the "will" of Paul did not allow him to do was to question the whole foundation of his thinking, the whole paradigm of God as the source of law backed up by punishment, punishment of the individual or, like in the mind of Paul, some adequate substitute of person for punishment. It seems that we can strain to challenge our own weakness but seldom if ever our foundational thinking!
What is being said in the above quotes is that we are obsessed and controlled by a confused will, a will that is NOT worthy of us, a will that is NOT trustworthy, a will that overrides that which we determine to do or not to do in our better moments, a will that clearly does not even consistently have the best interest of the individual and others, a will that shies away from dealing with ultimate issues.Even though this subconscious will is inconsistent, it is not weak, rather it is strong. What can be done? Is there any leverage we can get to change it? Or is there a process whereby we grow toward a more desirable will?
The Ultimate Questions
This is where the hard question needs be asked, "Why, in the name of God and the spirit of goodness, can't the universe be set up to deliver the entire package of human needs and desires indicated by the acronym at the top of these pages?" Or, "Is the universe set up for us to win by the honest, universal human definition of winning"? And the ultimate choice is to believe that it is or isn't. Most people are quite uncomfortable in openly, consciously choosing to believe that it isn't, but are staggered at the thought that it might be. They might then have to live in the context of that choice and actually go for the ultimate reward. Yet, it always seems more comfortable and politic to stay in denial, to stay a victim with the herd or flock.
Inside the modern mythology the choice is an easy one for the godless evolutionist. The universe is the way it is, and Man had nothing much to do with the deplorable human condition. The best we can do is work for progress toward a better world, meanwhile coping and living like noble stoics and hedonists sucking all the juice out of our mortal lives that we can. Existentialism, the idea of creating temporary meaning within ourselves where otherwise none exists outside, is the acme of secular philosophy for the rational man. Believing there is no way to win and that there is no afterlife puts a fashionable "edge" on the enterprise, and seemingly justifies the drama to which we are all addicted.
But what if is available and the problem lies in our own misconceptions? And, what if the package cannot be delivered partially or piecemeal? What if it cannot come about unless we seek it and demand success?
One thing is clear, there is no indication that anywhere in the literature, ancient and modern, that man has entertained the delivery of the ultimate in what he really wants and needs! Unamuno−and others−go part way.
"All or nothing! ... Eternity, eternity ... that is the supreme desire! The thirst of eternity is what is called love among men, and whosoever loves another wishes to eternalize himself in him. Nothing is real that is not eternal." − Miguel de UnamunoWhat he means is that nothing that is not eternal has any "real" meaning, a sentiment that Ernest Becker focused on in two powerful books.
Quotes from The Immortalist
Harrington, Alan, The Immortalist, Discus Books, 1968, p. 11.
"Death is an imposition on the human race, and no longer acceptable. Man has all but lost his ability to accommodate himself to personal extinction; he must now proceed physically to overcome it. In short, to kill death: to put an end to his own mortality as a certain consequence of being born.
"Our survival without the God we once knew comes down now to a race against time. The suspicion or conviction that 'God is dead' has lately struck home not merely to a few hundred thousand freethinkers but to masses of the unprepared. Ancient orthodoxies may linger, but the content of worship has begun to collapse. This is what makes our situation urgent: around the world; people are becoming increasingly less inclined to pray to a force that kills them.
"The most imaginative philosophical and religious answers to the 'problem of death' have become precisely irrelevant to the fact that we die. Humanity's powers of self-deception seem to be running out. Modern theological word-games may be pleasing to seminarians. Let jazz be permitted in the old spiritual gathering places. Such developments must be understood as gallant but altogether pathetic holding operations.
"Emotionally, growing millions of us are in crisis. 'Men are so necessarily mad,' wrote Pascal, 'that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.' Three hundred years later, with the mass-communication of anxiety, and new weaponry and drugs in our possession, we need only open the morning paper or sit down to television, or look into our own lives, to observe signs of a growing spiritual insurrection. Life as it used to be seems in the process of slowly exploding. We wonder at the bursts of 'senseless' violence that seem likely at any moment to invade our days and nights. Yet is this sort of behavior necessarily irrational? If sanity now calls upon us to accept death without hope, perhaps such recent ceremonials as smashing pianos and guitars on stage may be viewed as expressions of maddened realism."
Harrington, Alan, The Immortalist, Discus Books, 1968, p. 21.
"Having lost faith, a great many men and women have returned to the old superstitions now cloaked in new disguises. God may have retreated, but the gods today are by no means dead. Though disposed to destroy them, we simultaneously bow down to some of the weirdest assortment of deities ever known, such as History, Success and Statistics. We worship purveyors of Luck, Fashion and couches, sexual statisticians, psychological testers, polltakers, various merchants of paranoia, the manipulators of public relations and television personalities−the multiple gods of our quickening-century."
Harrington, Alan, The Immortalist, Discus Books, 1968, p. 25.
"The immortalist position is that the usefulness of philosophy has come to an end, because all philosophy teaches accommodation to death and grants it static finality as "the human condition." Art too, insofar as it celebrates or merely bemoans our helplessness, has gone as far as it can. The beautiful device of tragedy ending in helplessness has become outmoded in our absurd time, no longer desirable and not to be glamorized. The art that embellishes death with visual beauty and celebrates it in music belongs to other centuries."
Ask yourself honestly if the glass is half full or half empty. Ask yourself if you would rather be an underling or pet, have eternal inferiority even to a benevolent dictator; or whether you would rather be an equal, a peer. Ask yourself if love can be demanded rather than inspired!
Harrington, Alan, The Immortalist, Discus Books, 1968, p. 26.
"The Immortalist thesis is that the time has come for man to get rid of the intimidating gods in his own head. It is time for him to grow up out of his cosmic inferiority complex (no more "dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return . . ."), bring his disguised desire into the open, and go after what he wants, the only state of being he will settle for, which is divinity."
Divinity being Harrington's word for the package being referenced in the heading. One perspective on the human condition and why we remain in it is that we are not honest. We STAY in denial, WALLOW in mysticism and LIE to ourselves, and there is a part of us that knows this. Consequently, we do not trust ourselves and we have not enough confidence in ourselves to take total responsibility to sort out the truth for ourselves. Better, easier, to plug into some belief system, to let some priests, religious experts, gurus or charismatic leaders be our authority figures. Better to be pliable, affable units in the religious minions.
Another perspective has to do with the simple levels of sanity. The difference between being insane, unsane, and sane can be described thusly: The insane person has a warped, distorted or malformed concept of reality or belief system, and he actively goes about trying to change external to match his false internal concept. This often is so disturbing or dangerous that society incarcerates this person in the relatively restricted and safe environment of an asylum. The unsane person also has a warped, distorted or malformed concept of reality or belief system that he clings to with "faith", but he doesn't try to change directly actual reality or information about it, but rather ignores, hides or denies it. The sane person strives to keep his concepts and beliefs consonant with actual reality, and changes his internal construct to match the external without violating his internal refernce point of idealism.
The bottom line here is that yes, we DO need a new theology, one that is framed not by tradition, sacred writings, mythology, prophets and mysticism but by fulfillment, by being consonant with our deepest, natural and legitimate needs and desires. Failing that, just take back the fear-mongering and pass me another dose of hedonism, please!
And I DO mean to suggest that a proper theological interpretation of the reliable information that we have is as much an art, as much a work of the imagination and volition, and as much a product of sound philosophical reasoning as it is of historical and linguistic study. And of course, it hinges upon an earnest seeking of the truth.