Previous Entry Share Next Entry
My religion, part two
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
So what *do* I need in a religion? A sense of a connection to the immanent, I suppose. But one without dogma, 'cause I haven't yet seen one I remotely believed to have The Actual Single Truth. God without dog, if you will.

I get some of what I need from simple communing with nature, and for a while even described myself as Pagan. But that didn't seem quite right either, and only described a part of what I was looking for. There are more gods than just nature gods.

Hm. Yes, gods, plural. That feels right. [Though it is against the one actual piece of *Unitarian* (note the name) dogma.]

A lot of my evolving attitute towards gods can be described by the zen koan: "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." Let me unpack that a bit, for those of you out there going "huh?" To the unenlightened mind, a mountain is a physical mass of rock which simply *is*. To the enlightend mind, the mountain is merely an illusion, a construct of the mind with no bearing in the higher reality. But to the really elightened mind, the mountain is, in addition to being an illusion, a physical mass of rock which exists on the material plane. Understanding the mystical dimension of the mountain is important, but so is understanding its physical reality. But this progression is more a spiral than a simple circle. The understanding at a higher level is structurally similar to that at the lower level, but not exactly the same.

How does this apply to gods? Well, to me, first they were real, then they were unreal, then they were real. Is there a physical Santa Claus who lives at the north pole and flies around the world every Christams Eve? No, don't be silly. But the *idea* of Santa Claus is a real idea, pervasive and powerful. Likewise with Jesus. Or The Goddess. It's not the same *kind* of reality as most of what we experience, but it is reality nonetheless.

To explain more, I'm going to rely on the closest thing I have to a spiritual guru, Alan Moore. Those of you who communicate with me over email or Usenet may have already seen some of this material crop up in my .sig-quotes. Now, some of the stuff in my .sigs is there because it's amusing; the following is stuff that I actually believe.

"Now, the rationalist view of all magical encounters is probably that all
apparent entities are in fact externalised projections of parts of the
self. I have no big argument with that, except that I'd hold the
converse to be true as well: /we/ are at the same time externalised
projections of /them/."

"As a ready example, I could cite the death of a loved one: the physical
presence is gone, broken down to its constituent chemicals, its constituent
atoms. That person does not exist physically anymore as a discrete
physical entity. The Idea-Presence of that person cannot die, however.
It hangs around and wakes you up crying at four in the morning. Five
years later it taps you on the shoulder while you're doing the washing up
and it makes you smile."

"...things that are more like language, or embedded codes, than they are
like life, although they live. Things that are no more than an eternally
reiterated acting-out of their own primal legends, things that /are/
their own stories. Which stories our own apparently individual thoughts,
identities, and actions can only reiterate and repeat. Deities, or
sections of the fundamental text whereby are our lives scripted, all of
them. The reason that all stories are true is that there is only one
story."

"I've heard it said that all of our human perceptions might be seen as
our individual windows on the Universe. The magician is consciously
attempting to alter his or her window's width or its angle, so as to
get a different view of the landscape outside. The schizophrenic, on
the other hand, has had his or her window kicked in by some great big
astral skinhead in eighteen-hole Doctor Marten's boots."

"As Aleister Crowley once succinctly put it (and I'm not paraphrasing
here), "The only difference between a schizophrenic and myself is
that /I'm/ not mad."

"It seemed to me that creators should not confuse themselves with whatever
light comes through them. At best, they can take comfort in the clarity
and lucidity of the window that their work lets the light into the world
by. They can try not to block the light with their own shadow, they can
try to widen their window or apeture, and they can take satisfaction in
their success at this. But they are not the light."

"By avoiding a definite conclusion (especially, say, a conclusion like "I am
the Messiah"), what you tend to encourage instead is a kind of constantly
self-modifying and unfixed model of how things are that doesn't get mired
down in bottomless abstract concepts like "truth." It acknowledges that
its view of the world was slightly different yesterday and may be utterly
different in a year's time while still enabling one to work with and process
the information at hand."

"Also, to me, Magic is not a strange and alien planet that we visit,
so much as a new set of eyes to look at /this/ planet through, a new
language by which our ordinary lives can be expressed more luminously.
For a Magician, walking down the street to buy a pack of cigarettes at
the corner shop is a Magical experience. Anything from the licence
plates of cars to the candy wrappers in the gutter to the casual remarks
of passers-by is a potential source of information or inspiration. The
Magician is reading things according to the rules of a different grammer,
but he or she is reading the same book as everyone else."

"Admittedly, I do have several bones... whole war fields full of bones,
in fact... to pick with organised religion of whatever stripe. This
should be seen as a critique of purely temporal agencies who have, to
my mind, erected more obstacles between humanity and whatever notion of
spirituality or Godhead one subscribes to than they have opened doors.
To me, the difference between Godhead and the Church is the difference
between Elvis and Colonel Parker... although that conjures up images of
God dying on the toilet, which is not what I meant at all."

"Whereas for the original Gnostics such a personal knowledge of and
direct communication with the Godhead was the cornerstone of their
spiritual life, after the priesthood moved in the basic proposition
was vastly different: "You don't need to have had a transforming
experience. The important thing is that we have this book, about
people who lived a long time ago, and /they/ had transforming
experiences, and if you come along on Sunday we'll read to you
about them, and /that/ will be your transforming experience.""

"As I see things, the underlying spiritual landscape of all the world's
religions and belief systems is the same territory, just as a canine
quadraped is essentially the same animal the world over, whether we
choose to label it 'chien' or 'hund' or 'dog'. As with dogs, so too
with gods. [...] I see all these forms as being languages, while I
see magic as being more akin to linguistics, the science of languages."

"The brief, endless instant of being possessed, ridden, or taken over by
one of the archetypes, the god forms. The shattering and sudden
knowledge that you are not you, have never been you, are only a fragile
and temporary mask for... I don't know. Shit, I write comics, okay?
I don't know..."

Still reading? I kept that last quote as last for a reason. It happened to me once. The Goddess came to me, and we had what seemed a lucid conversation (albeit not exactly in english), in which she offered me a... "job"? At the time, I thought that I refused, but from my current perspective, I'm no longer sure. Gods can be tricky that way. Though I never had another full-fledged "visitation", I've occasionally sensed her smirking down at me. "Mortals plan, and the gods laugh".

  • 1
Steffan has a great quote in his sig file; something on the order of "let me keep company with those who are looking for truth, and save me from those who are convinced that they've found it."

I don't know what the Truth is, but I'm likewise convinced that there isn't just one sect that has It. Formal religions seem to me much like a well-intentioned Urban Legend.

...and I'm far from convinced of the "well-intentioned" part. I suppose some of them were, but I can think of several that don't seem like it to me.

Granted, it's a bit weasely to put it that way. But surely you know people who believe in a religion earnestly, and with every intention of it being a Good Thing for themselves and others?

Among *believers*, yes, I think the vast majority honestly believe that it's a Good Thing.

Among *founders*, on the other hand, there's a demonstrably large contingent (though perhaps not a majority) who are just in it for personal gain.

How does this apply to gods? Well, to me, first they were real, then they were unreal, then they were real. Is there a physical Santa Claus who lives at the north pole and flies around the world every Christams Eve? No, don't be silly. But the *idea* of Santa Claus is a real idea, pervasive and powerful.

To me, though, that's part of the problem. Certainly there are pervasive, powerful ideas in the world; if there weren't, we would have no such thing as culture. But people tend to be too uncritical about which ideas they allow into their heads, and into their cultures; they accept ideas that they wish were true, instead of checking them to make sure they really are true. Santa Claus seems like a fairly harmless meme, and so people pass it on to their kids, without examining it too closely. On more careful inspection, though, some unsettling aspects turn up--for example, a kid who believes in Santa Claus, and actually pays attention to what gifts his classmates get, has to decide that the rich kids are the good ones.

"For a Magician, walking down the street to buy a pack of cigarettes at the corner shop is a Magical experience."

The same can be said for science, though (and not just because of the "if all you have is a hammer" problem). At one point while reading Unweaving the Rainbow, by Richard Dawkins, I remembered a poem by Blake I'd read in my Greek Myth class in college:

Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me.

'Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And threefold in soft Beulah's night,

And twofold Always. May God us keep
From single vision and Newton's sleep!

In college, I saw it as reasonably profound; but, thinking about it a few years ago, I wondered if I could see the same thing without getting mystical. I was combing my hair at the time; I looked at myself doing that, and quickly saw four levels:

  1. The actual act of combing, of course.
  2. The biochemistry of curly hair: some people have curly hair because their hair forms more sulphur-sulphur bonds across strands, or between points on the same strand. (This is how a perm works: it strips out hydrogen atoms that are attached to sulphurs, so the sulphurs form bonds they wouldn't otherwise.)
  3. The evolutionary history of hair: partly for temperature control, partly as a sexual advertisement.
  4. The emotional impact; the way Cynthia reacts to my hair. :-)

See, you don't have to go mystical to deepen your view of the world. And taking a scientific view has the extra advantage that you can actually make true statements about what the world is likely to do. I suppose it's a twist on that Crowley quote: the only difference between a mystic and me is that I'm right. :-)


they accept ideas that they wish were true, instead of checking them to make sure they really are true

I would characterize this somewhat differently. They make the mistake of not distinguishing between the various modes in which something can be considered "true" or "real". A child who is old enough to have an imaginary friend is old enough to grasp the concept, but many adults confusingly continue to insist that entities that clearly only exist in idea-space exist in the same way that physical objects do.

See, you don't have to go mystical to deepen your view of the world. And taking a scientific view has the extra advantage that you can actually make true statements about what the world is likely to do.

I understand (and on occasion, agree with) your point here. But, to put it in terms that will hopefully be clear to you, I have accumulated a significant number of data points that I do not believe are explained in a satisfactory manner by scientific rationalism alone. The key word being "satisfactory", as most of these phenomena can be "explained" as being neurochemical aberrations. But that is actually an "explanation" with little-to-no useful predictive power as to how people will (or should) react to these experiences; what the *inner* world is "likely to do". I think that we can do better than that. It may be that Psychology eventually becomes a "hard" enough science that it would produce answers I would find satisfactory in this realm, but it's not terribly close to that at the moment.

But that is actually an "explanation" with little-to-no useful predictive power as to how people will (or should) react to these experiences;

I know this is well after the fact, but perhaps I could mention something...

It is not within the realm of science to tell people how they should react to an event or information. Science, at it's best, deals with factual information about the operation of the universe. How you want to deal with what the universe does, however, is a matter of human values, and is up to you.

Example - science can tell you about global warming, how and why it happens. It does not dictate what people should or should not do in response to global warming, because what we should or should not do is embedded within a social and economic context that has nothing at all to do with atmosphereic sciences.

Similarly with "neurochemical abberations". What you are likely to do, and what you should do, has less to do with the science of neurochemistry than it does with your own personal history and personality. Neurochemistry can tell you physically what happens within your brain. What value those events have to you, their meaning to you as a human being, are not science.

Absolutely. That's why I feel that science, while extremely useful, should not be the only tool in one's kit.

  • 1
?

Log in

No account? Create an account