Abrahamic Faiths, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Religion, Taoism

Pure Religion

As I see it, none of the world’s major religions are pure.  That is, everyone of them in one way or another serves in practice to obscure the truth as much as to reveal it.  None are unadulterated.

This is especially true on “the village level”.  That’s the level of the religion as it is manifested in practice.  But even their holiest or most sacred writings strike me as at least a bit misleading at times.

I think a large part of it is because large religions serve many purposes.  They are not just about seeking out and living according to the way of things — however that way is conceived.  For instance, almost all of them concern themselves in one way or another with propping up the existing social order.  Or — especially in the case of Middle Eastern religions — meddling with human sexuality.

On the whole, the major religions strike me as ores.  They are varying degrees rich or poor ores, but they are ores.  You have to learn how to refine them into something purer than their natural state if you want “pure religion”.

Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Buddhism, Christianity, Deity, Enlightenment, Free Spirit, God, God(s), Hinduism, Human Nature, Islam, Judaism, Life, Love, Mysticism, Religion, Satori, Science, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Wisdom, Zen

If I Were a Theist, I’d Still be a Madman

(About a 3 minute read)

If I were a theist and believed in gods, I would be an insufferable theist.

Indeed, my opinions might be a tad insufferable already.  At least, I think that could be a reasonable conclusion based on the number of encouraging emails I get from my loyal readers that include a pic of someone’s buttocks, along with the usually brief message, “Thinking of you, Paul!”.

Continue reading “If I Were a Theist, I’d Still be a Madman”

Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Hinduism, Human Nature, Ideas, Islam, Judaism, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, Myth, Nontheism, Quality of Life, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Wisdom, Zen

Why Fools Point at the Moon

(About a 7 minute read)

It is a charming, ancient conceit that fools are secretly the wisest among us.  Everyone has heard that somewhere or another.  It is pervasive not merely in Europe — home to the court fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear — but worldwide.

Every culture seems to recognize the truth of it.  In Europe, fools are fixtures at the court of kings.  In the far East, they are sages.  In Africa, they are sometimes deities who wear multi-colored hats.  And among the Native American nations, they are Raven and Coyote. Jung would recognize the fool as an archetype of what he believed was the “collective human subconscious”.

But why do humans so often think wisdom is a property of fools?  It is easy to see why we ascribe it to wise men and women, but why specifically to fools?  What does the fool actually represent to us?

Continue reading “Why Fools Point at the Moon”

Alienation, Alienation From Self, Allah, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Belief, Christ, Culture, Deity, Fundamentalism, God, God(s), Hinduism, Humanism, Nontheism, Self Identity, Self-determination, Society, Spirituality

You Have Days

(About a 2 minute read)

You get older, your voice rasps now
Your hair has whitened,
And your patience with people
Has grown thicker,
Much thicker bark.

They are so rarer now
But you still have days
You want to risk falling
Off your cottage roof
To climb up there,
Take your stand on the peak
And roar, just roar:

“By the gods of fools and of sages,
By the spirits of the living and the dead,
I’m an atheist, you people,
You citizens of the same earth,
An agnostic atheist and no,
I’m not about making you me,
And stealing you from you
So as to compound
The miseries and misdirections
Fated by God and Darwin
For our human lives.

“So let us agree,
Let us de-weaponize our words
To each other.

“Let us from this day to forever
Again speak in civil terms
As brothers do, for both of us
Are doomed to end in a day of tears,
The final gifts from our friends.

“Go your own way,
I’ll go mine.
Don’t meddle with my spirit,
I won’t meddle with yours.

“Let us be true to ourselves,
Brothers and sisters, let us be true.”

But you have journeyed
Long miles from your childhood,
And the road’s lessons have been hard,
So you’re leagues from a total fool.
You know how they would see it,
You’ve seen it before,
Too many times before.

“Look! Atheists are madmen.”
“More like demons, I think.”
“See how he shouts at god, the hypocrite.”
“You can’t trust him, he’s obsessed.”
“How insulting he roars at us!”
“Get the children inside. Umm…The ducks too.”
“His hair’s a mess.”
“When’s supper?”
“I think he’s nice.”

You’re a prophet
Who has seen
Our age is weak,
Most people not strong enough
To endure differences.
And anyway you’re worn
And you’re weary
And you just want to be alone.

So you quietly scratch yourself,
Yawn and shrug in your seat,
And you vow merely to keep
To your side of the road,
Hoping no oncoming driver
Plays chicken with you.
But if one dares test you,
You’ll give him hell.

Hinduism, Religion

Is There Anything Universal to All Hinduism?

(About a 2 minute read)

Years ago, there was a very thick book that — at the time — was thought to be the best general overview of Hinduism available. It was a bit too scholarly to be called a “popular” book, or even an “introduction” to Hinduism, but it was rated a great overview.

A GREAT BIG THICK overview that, as it happened, was required reading along with A HALF DOZEN OTHER TEXTS for the same university course!

Naturally my obscenely demanding professor of Hinduism demanded that we read that accused book, and in doing so utterly destroyed whatever chances I had up until then of joyously coasting through life without struggle or effort. Not that I’m whining. I haven’t even properly begun to whine about HIM! The very same sorry-butt also…yadda yadda yadda…and I have come to suspect that he was Teresum’s true father…yadda yadda yadda…conceived in a act so unholy the elder gods awoke from their graves to condemn it…

The author of that book began with an anecdote. A young member of the British Parliament was scheduled to debate the greatest orator of the age on the topic of coal mining. In panic, he asked his friend to help him study the topic, about which he knew nothing.

His friend said, “Don’t worry. You absolutely do not need to know a thing! Just remember this: Whenever he says something, rise from your seat and shout, ‘But NOT in the South of England!’ You see, he knows so much about coal mining that he knows there are exceptions to everything he says is true, and he will be forced by his honor to concede your points.”

The young man did exactly what he was advised to do, and by all accounts, won the debate.

More to the point, the author of the vast work on Hinduism used that anecdote to illustrate just how hard it is to say much of anything about Hinduism that all Hindus would agree with.

So, is there anything universal to all Hinduism? If so, what is it?

Abrahamic Faiths, Art, Christianity, Don, Fundamentalism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Love, Lovers, New Love, People, Poetry, Psychology, Religion, Romantic Love, Socialism, Theresa

Late Night Thoughts: Socialism, Theresa and Carlos, Kindness and Tragedy, Poems, and More

(About a 9 minute read)

Thunder has been rolling off the mountains since the afternoon.  The breeze has carried the scent of rain for hours, but there’s been no rain.  It’s once again warm enough to leave the doors and windows open to the night air.

◊◊◊

Someone was telling me that judgmental people are always jealous people.  If that’s so, I haven’t noticed it.  But it sounds like something that could be true.  And if it is true, I wonder if the converse is also true: Are jealous people always judgmental people?

◊◊◊

Waking Up in a Coffee Shop

The sun slants geometric on the floor,
Van Morrison drags the air,
Serbian troops surge forward,
And two old women sit and tell
The lives of relatives —
Their jobs, their marriages,
Births and deaths
Recounted at a trot
With shoes kicked off —
Statistics on estrogen.

The cup of Kenyan is just enough
To provoke the thought Don and Becky
Like the smell of leather better than most religions
And a good walk better than the rest:

Then it’s time to do the laundry.

◊◊◊

I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I heard that socialism fails because people are not equal in their abilities.  Of course, the truth of the statement, “people are not equal in their abilities”, is indisputable.  But does any prominent socialist assert that people are equal?  Not that I know of.  The argument seems to be a straw man.

So far as I know, socialists only assert that people should have equal economic, social, and political rights and liberties — not merely in theory (as under capitalism), but in practice.

Nor do socialists typically hold that everyone should receive the same compensation for their work as everyone else.  Rather, compensation typically varies according to the principle, “To each according to their contribution”:

The term means simply that each worker in a socialist society receives compensation and benefits according to the quantity and value of the labor that he or she contributed. This translates into workers of high productivity receiving more wages and benefits than workers of average productivity, and substantially more than workers of low productivity. An extension of this principle could also be made so that the more difficult one’s job is—whether this difficulty is derived from greater training requirements, job intensity, safety hazards, etc.—the more one is rewarded for the labor contributed. [source]

◊◊◊

Surely, a sense of humor has prevented more murders than a sense of morality.

◊◊◊

As I understand it, there are four major religions that contain within them some kind of a fundamentalist movement: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  According to one scholar at least, the four fundamentalisms are united in that each is a reaction against modernity.

That would seem to make sense to me.  But I would go a bit beyond that to speculate that the fundamentalisms are also rooted in the same psychology as political conservatism.  Over the past several years, a growing body of psychological research has demonstrated that liberals and conservatives tend to have differences that run deeper than mere politics.  That is, their differences tend to be rooted in their psychologies.

For instance, studies have shown that conservatives, when compared to liberals, are among other things:

  • More orderly
  • More anxious
  • More attuned to threats
  • More self-disciplined
  • Less open
  • Less novelty seeking

One seems to find the same pattern in the four fundamentalisms.

◊◊◊

Some years ago a friend of mine, Theresa, saved enough money while working as a $1000/night erotic dancer in Los Angeles to start her own small import/export business.  For a reason I no longer recall, she specialized in trade between the US and Costa Rico.   It was in Costa Rico that she met her husband.

Theresa is athletic and is in the habit of running every day, regardless of where she is in the world.  Consequently, when she was getting her business up and running in Costa Rico, she would run each day, taking the same route, at about the same time in the morning.  As it happened, her route took her by a bank.

Working at the bank was a young man who I’ll call Carlos here because I’ve forgotten his real name  (Sorry, Carlos! But I’m bad with names — even though I recall how handsome you are!).  One day Carlos noticed a beautiful blond woman running past the bank’s windows.  But it wasn’t just her beauty that stopped him in his tracks.

Carlos, you see, had had a dream in which he’d seen a beautiful blond woman running past the bank’s windows.  In fact, it seemed to him that the woman he was watching run past the windows that day was the very woman of his dreams.

He soon became aware of Theresa’s routine and began watching for her around the same time each day.   A month went by.   Then one day, Theresa was not there!

Carlos looked for her the next day, and the day after, but she no longer passed the bank each morning.  What Carlos didn’t know is that Theresa had found a local partner, and had consequently returned to the US.

Seven very long years went by for Carlos.  His friends and family worried he would never get married.  They — especially his mother — put pressure on him to find a woman.  But Carlos resisted.  It was not that he was waiting for the blond woman, though.  Carlos had given up all hope of seeing her ever again.

Instead, the blond woman had made such an impression on him that he didn’t feel any other woman he met during those seven years quite measured up to her in beauty or physical grace — and for Carlos, those were deal breakers.  He wondered if he would every feel differently, but he was adamant not to marry a woman he didn’t want at least as much as he had wanted the blond woman.  That would not be fair to any woman, he thought.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Theresa had long ago cashed out her share of the import/export business and was now a partner in an L.A. restaurant.  One year, though, she decided to take a vacation, and what better place to take it than the lovely country of Costa Rico?  She arranged a month long lease on a house there.

Carlos looked up from his desk one day to see the blond woman running past his bank’s windows!  He was so sure it was her that he didn’t hesitate even a second. Instead, he dashed out the door after her.

Theresa realized someone was calling after her to wait up, but when she looked, it was a stranger, so she kept running.  He couldn’t possibly have any real business with her.  Nevertheless, the man caught up with her.  As they ran side by side, he begged her to stop.

She didn’t stop.

So he sputtered out his story as he ran beside her.  She was the most beautiful girl in the world!  Theresa rolled her eyes.  He just had to meet her!  Theresa picked up her pace.  She was the girl of his dreams!  Theresa pushed herself even faster.  She must stop for he could not bear to lose her for another seven years! Theresa suddenly thought he must have known her from years ago — and remembered her!  Curiosity brought her to a jogging standstill.  She turned to face him.   “Who are you? Have we met?”

The two were married within a year or so.

◊◊◊

Kindness is our most powerful rebellion against tragedy.  – George Wiman

◊◊◊

The Hands Remember

The hands remember
More than the mind your skin

They think of their own will,
“This was the shape of her”,

When they find themselves cupped
Or curled in a certain loose way

Around the curves
Of you no longer here:

The left hand
Especially so.

Yes, I know
now
My left hand
Knew you one way,

While my right hand
Knew you another.

Was either best?

◊◊◊

Once upon a time, a god wanted something to laugh at, while a goddess wanted something to weep for.  The two created humans, and both were satisfied.

◊◊◊

“Hullo?”

“Hi Don!  It’s Paul!  I’m calling to see if you want to go to lunch today?”

“Sure.”

“Great!  Can I come along?

“Don?  Are you still there, Don?”

“Yes, Paul, but now I wish I wasn’t.”

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Four Reasons to Kill the Buddha

Second-Hand Truths

“My point is, an enlightened person will overcome suffering because suffering is just a state of mind”, Henry told me.

“How do you know that?”, I asked.

Henry and I go back awhile.  He was one of the first people I met when I came to Colorado some years ago.  And his real name is so distinctive that I am calling him “Henry” here to preserve his privacy.

Although raised a Christian, Henry is today religiously eclectic.  He borrows things from several religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, and Buddhism.   Yesterday, I managed to mildly irritate him during a phone conversation by asking him how he knew somethings to be true.

“The Buddha himself said suffering is just a state of mind, and he said that an enlightened person will overcome it”,  Henry said.  “And don’t ask me how the Buddha knew — he certainly knew more than you do.”

“The Buddha also said you should look for yourself”, I reminded Henry, “and to not rely upon his or anyone else’s words for the truth.”

Rightly or wrongly, I suspected Henry was missing the point.  And I further suspected that he might be missing the point because he was stuck in taking the Buddhist scriptures he was reading on faith.

East and West

It seems to me there is a sense in which the West and the Middle East expect you to take important religious truths on faith, while the East expects you to test such things for yourself.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that in practice.  There are different attitudes towards teachers, for instance.  Westerners often challenge their teachers to defend their views.  Easterners tend to take it for granted their teachers are right.  But even with those qualifications and others, the West seems more prone to taking religious truths on faith than the East.

Why is that?

It seems the most important religious truths of the West are truths that you have no choice but to accept on faith — if you are going to accept them at all.   For instance: There is no conclusive evidence for the notion that Jesus was Christ, nor any conclusive evidence for the notion that Mohammed was the last of the prophets.  These are not truths that can be established by observation.

In contrast, it seems the most important Eastern truths can be established by experimentation and observation.  Henry’s notion that an enlightened person will overcome suffering can be tested.  That is, in theory at least, Henry could become enlightened, then observe whether or not he suffers.

Four Reasons to Kill the Buddha

Many Westerners seem to bring to Eastern scriptures the faith they were taught to have in Western scriptures.   Perhaps they never heard the Zen expression, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!”

So far as I can guess, there might be at least three reasons why the East often insists on killing the Buddha — that is, on not blindly following anyone, even the Buddha.

First, what works for the Buddha might not work for you.  Humans are a diverse species.  While humans do have a lot in common, there are enough differences between individuals that it’s pretty safe to say what works for some of us might not work for all of us.  You see that principle in such mundane things as the various shapes of the human nose.  There are no two humans, other than identical twins, with exactly the same shape of nose.  Yet, almost all human noses are recognizably human.   The psychology upon which our spirituality is based is probably just as diverse as our noses.  Why else are there no “Sixteen Sure Steps to Enlightenment” that can be successfully repeated by everyone who is interested?

Second, you are not really looking unless you are looking for yourself.  At the very best, scriptures and the sayings of your teachers are guides or maps.  Even when they are accurate, if you look no further than the scriptures and sayings, you are not really looking.  You have not really looked at Paris if all you have looked at are maps of Paris.  You are not really looking at, say, suffering if you do not look beyond what is said about suffering.

Third, scriptures and teachings can remove the urgency to change.  Basically, scriptures and teachings label things.  And what we label loses some of its vitality.  Often enough, once you have labeled a headache a “headache”, you no longer feel quite the same urgency to deal with it as before.

Fourth, we become attached to scriptures and teachings.  It is quite easy to become attached to scriptures and teachings.  But all attachments — very much including our attachments to ideas — seem to be impediments to realization.  If that’s the case, then attachments to scriptures and teachings are no less impediments to realization than are attachments to cars or houses.

 ◄A Good Habit

I’m no expert on East and West, so it’s just my impression that the East is more likely than the West to encourage you to test for yourself the truth or falsity of any scripture or teaching.  But whether or not the East insists on testing them for yourself, it strikes me as a good habit to be in.  “Killing the Buddha” is not just good advice.  It is probably necessary if you are really going to get anywhere in these matters.

Abrahamic Faiths, Christianity, Ethics, Faith, Fundamentalism, Hinduism, Ideologies, Islam, Judaism, Morals, Religion, Values

Do Religions Teach Morals?

Suppose you had a therapy that was supposed to cure people of depression. Further, suppose your therapy was full of sharp insights into human nature.

But let’s say you did a study and discovered that your therapy cured only 15 people out of every 100 people who underwent it.  In other words, it failed to cure 85 out of every 100 people who tried it.

Worse, your 15% cure rate was no better than your control group.  Your control group consisted of people who got no therapy at all.  But your therapy, despite it’s noble goal and its sharp insights, couldn’t cure people any better than no therapy at all could cure people.

If all of the above were true, would you call your therapy “effective”, “powerful”, “life changing”?   Would you say: “The goal of my therapy — to cure depression — is far too fine of a goal for anything to be wrong with my therapy.  The sharp insights of my therapy into human nature are far too truthful for anything to be wrong with my therapy.  Since nothing can be wrong with my therapy, it is the fault of the patients themselves that more of them don’t get better.  Give me more dedicated patients! Give me more enthusiastic patients!  And I will show you then that my therapy works just fine!”  Would that be your approach?  Blame the patient?

One of the main problems I have with most strains of Christianity, Islam, and several other religions, is that — so far as we have any science on the matter — they are no better than no religion at all in helping people lead moral lives.  And sometimes they are worse than no religion at all.

Of course, one can argue that the evidence is inconclusive, that we are not really sure most strains of those religions are weak moral teachers, and so forth.  But at the same time, even Christians, Muslims, Bahá’ís, Jews, and others routinely recognize the fact their religions fall far short of being wholly effective moral teachers.  For while they habitually claim their religions are powerful, effective, life changing, and so forth, they actually spend an astonishing amount of time and energy accusing the members of their own congregations (and other congregations) of backsliding, lacking better morals, or  being religious in name only.

Yet, they don’t blame themselves for that.  They blame everyone but themselves, often in rather sophisticated ways.  “Men and women are simply too wicked to follow our True Religion”.  “Materialism has corrupted everyone.”  “Hollywood liberals are undermining our morals.” “Western secularism is attacking our religion and corrupting our youth.”  “There is a cultural assault on our values.” “It’s the anti-Semites.”  “We are born sinful.” “Homosexuals are undermining us.” “Atheists!  It’s the atheists!”   And on and on and on ad nauseum.

No one says, “Our religion has some good ideals and goals, and some sharp insights into human nature, but we don’t know how to make use of them.  We don’t know how to translate our goals and insights into genuinely changed lives.”  No one says that, because everyone is too busy claiming out of one side of their mouth that their religion is life changing, while stating out of the other side of their mouth, that not enough Muslims are true Muslims, not enough Christians are true Christians, and so forth.

I am only going to mention in passing in this post the world’s many fundamentalists — who are always the biggest fools in any religion, and always the loudest hypocrites in any religion, and always the most violent — and whose goals are seldom enough honorable, and whose insights into human nature are seldom enough sharp and accurate.  Fundamentalists make for the world’s worse religious folks, whether they are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish fundamentalists.

Yet,  there is a problem with lumping them into the mainstream, alongside the average Christian, Muslim, etc.  Namely, fundamentalists probably represent a psychological disorder,  more than a religious failure.   They are authoritarians, and authoritarianism can be thought of as a personality disorder.  And while they have significant influence on religions, expecting fundamentalists to live up to ideals like compassion, justice, and love  is like expecting a slow child to tackle the mathematics of nuclear physics during his or her third year in the fifth grade.  It is not fundamentalists that concern us here, but the average, mainstream member of a religion — why isn’t he or she morally sane?

Anyone who thinks the average, mainstream American Christian is morally sane, should ask where that Christian stood the day America invaded Iraq.  Or — let’s be honest — where he or she stood  on any number of other issues.   Some moral issues are genuinely ambiguous, but most apparent moral ambiguity is just dust stirred up by the sides to confuse people.

Insofar as morality is — as Sam Harris suggests — a matter of promoting human well being, then most moral issues are not as ambiguous as we might think.  Raping choir boys does not promote human well being.  Neither does rioting in the streets to protest a Danish cartoon.  Invading another country that has neither attacked you nor genuinely threatened you is unambiguously bad morality.  And so is stealing someone else’s land and water while imprisoning them in their remaining territory.

There are several strains of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and so forth, that claim — as if they have any right to claim it — they are life changing teachers of superior morals.  That’s fine, but if we are going to make such claims, we had better have the science to back them up.  Otherwise, how are we any different from a braggart, or perhaps even con artist?   Merely because those strains have a few high ideals and some genuine insights into human nature does not mean they know jack about helping people to become morally sane.  Instead, they are like Freudian psychoanalysis:  A lot of lofty intentions followed by a 15% cure rate.

Perhaps it is time to shit or get off the can.  That is, religions should either drop their claims to being effective moral teachers, or they should devote serious resources into figuring out exactly how to become effective moral teachers.  One or the other.

By the way, I do realize that for most religions, salvation or saving people — and not necessarily improving their morality — is the religion’s real reason for being.  I got that.  But that point is irrelevant here.   I am not addressing the claim of many religions that they offer us salvation.  I am only addressing the claims that they are effective moral teachers.

Last, there is not a religion on earth whose ideals and insights are entirely good or reliable.  Religions have a lot of junk mixed in with their treasures: Far and away more junk than treasure.  But, again, that is not the issue here.

Here, I am only addressing whether religions are effective moral teachers. And, in fact, there does not seem to be a great deal of evidence — scientific, anecdotal, and otherwise — to suggest that several religions are.  Instead, we are only given excuses as to why they are not effective moral teachers.   But there is no widespread, realistic or systematic effort on their part to actually improve their effectiveness.

You know, if you do not think this blog post is the absolute best blog post of the day on any of the world’s 72 million blogs, then it is your fault.  You are too materialistic to appreciate it.  You lacked enthusiasm when reading it.  You failed to study it enough.  You did not grasp the core concepts.  Shame on you.  The post was perfect.  Look what you have done with it!

Abrahamic Faiths, Behavioral Genetics, Buddhism, Christianity, Enlightenment, Evolution, Faith, Fundamentalism, God(s), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Mysticism, Myth, Religion, Satori, Science, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Zen

The Two Most Important Causes of Human Religiosity?

Thirty-five years ago, I signed up for a college course in comparative religion because, as a hopelessly idealistic 18 year old freshman, I figured religion in general would last for 10 more years, then die out, and I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about before it was gone forever.

Of course, I could not have been more wrong about something. Looking back, I had made — not just one — but at least two cognitive mistakes.  First, I was thinking of religion as mostly a primitive attempt to explain things — a proto-science.  That is, I had bought into the ancient and outdated notion that folks had invented the gods  in order to explain what caused thunderstorms, diseases, love, and other such catastrophes (however much outdated, that notion is still around, though).

That first mistake led directly to my second cognitive mistake: I believed science could and would replace religion because it seemed natural and inevitable to me that truth would replace falsehood.

In other words, I thought (1) religion largely offered us little more than false explanations for things, and (2) true explanations would inevitably displace false ones.

Nowadays, I think I have a somewhat more accurate view of how we humans came to be religious animals.  In fact, I think there is more than one cause of our religiosity.  But one of the things I do not think played much of a role in the evolutionary origins of our religiosity was any need to explain things.

It might be true humans are an animal that feels some need to explain things, but I do not believe that need gave rise to human religiosity.   For one thing, religions in general seem to place much more emphasis on the antiquity of their beliefs than they place on their explanatory power.   But if religiosity arose as an explanation of things, then wouldn’t that be turned around?  Wouldn’t people be much more inclined than they apparently are to demand that their religious beliefs accurately explain something?

Today, I think there might be as many as a dozen reasons humans are a religious animal.  But I think, of those dozen reasons, two are by far the most important.

First, I think  Theory of Mind offers us a powerful explanation for how religiosity originated in our species.  “Theory of Mind” is a name for the human tendency to assume that other people, besides we ourselves, have minds.  The polar opposite of  Theory of Mind would be the notion that we (i.e. you yourself) are the only thing in the universe with a mind.  If one wants to know how we humans evolved religious behaviors, then I think one could do much worse than to study how we humans evolved our Theory of Mind.

The second most important cause of human religiosity, so far as I am concerned, is the mystical experience.  The mystical experience occurs when subject/object perception comes to an end while awareness yet continues.  If you are passionate enough about mysticism to be interested, I have written about that mystical experience on this blog, including in my post on the vital topic of How to Marry a Beautiful Woman by Discussing Mysticism“.  I firmly believe the post should be required reading in all kindergarten level courses in comparative religion.

Near as I can figure out, a large proportion of mystical experiences involve what can be described as “an experience of god”.  But even those that do not involve “an experience of god” tend to have a wee little inspirational effect on people.  I, for one, can easily imagine any and all mystical experiences as likely to inspire religious behaviors.

Those are my best guesses these days for how human religiosity came about.   Perhaps oddly enough, if either one of those guesses is true — let alone if both of them are true — then human religiosity is not going to die out of our species any time soon.  In fact, if those guesses are true, a strong case can be made for the notion that humans will be religious so long as humans are Homo sapiens.

Abrahamic Faiths, Abuse, Christianity, Fundamentalism, God(s), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Religion

In Japan Are Ten Thousand Gods…

In Japan are ten thousand gods, and they all apologize for being gods.

But here, in this capital of fundamentalism, there is only one god, and it is you — who must apologize for not being Him.

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Godless Vampires Suck My Life Force! But Why?

If you are like me — and may Zeus help you if you are  — then at least a few folks are bound to think that you do not worry nearly enough about vampires draining your life force, and instead worry way too much about precisely what, if anything, the concept of a vampire symbolizes.  I’ve been told that it is far more fun to fear vampires than it is to coldly dissect their meaning.

And the folks who say that might have a point:  The goose that laid the golden egg each day did so only until the people dissected it to see where the eggs came from.  A joke can be killed by “over-analysis”.   And even the most powerful mythic symbols can be rendered merely ridiculous by subjecting them to logic, evidence, and reason.

Vampires, of course, are mythic symbols, and hence, they can — and sometimes do — have their power over our imaginations, sentiments, and feelings sucked dry by rational analysis.  So, as a warning to all you vampires out there — it might be best for you to read no further, because we are about to commit ourselves to a dispassionate analysis of precisely what you symbolize.

But let’s begin with a bit of history….

The general concept of a vampire has been around for a while.  That general concept might be described as of  “an undead being that feeds on the life force of the living”.  There are folks who argue that the concept is ubiquitous, but that seems to be an exaggeration.  Instead of appearing on every continent,  in every culture,  and at every time in history,  the concept seems to have gotten its start in pre-Christian Slavic cultures and spread from there.

There is a rich enough history to the concept of the vampire that one can properly speak of there being several concepts, rather than just one.   Early on, the vampire is little more than a nasty, rotting, evil corpse who has come back from the dead to prey on the living.  But when the poets pick up the story in the 1700s, they begin to give the vampire a more rounded character.   By the time Lord Byron’s physician, John Polidori, publishes the first vampire novel in 1819, the vampire has evolved charisma and sophistication.

The most influential of the early vampires was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was published in 1897.  In the person of  Dracula, we find find the same charisma and sophistication that Polidori ascribed to his Vampyre, but this time welded to a ruthless, tyrannical being bent on power and world dominion.

Marilyn Ross,  in her Barnabas Collins series (1966-71), continues the trend of presenting vampires as charismatic and sophisticated, but then departs from tradition to portray them as tragic heroes, rather than as the embodiment of evil.  Later, Anne Rice seems to take her lead in part from the Collins series:  Her vampires are once again more tragic than evil.  As Rice states of her heroes:

All these novels involve a strong moral compass. Evil is never glorified in these books; on the contrary, the continuing battle against evil is the subject of the work. The search for the good is the subject of the work… Interview with the Vampire… is about the near despair of an alienated being who searches the world for some hope that his existence can have meaning. His vampire nature is clearly a metaphor for human consciousness or moral awareness. The major theme of the novel is the misery of this character because he cannot find redemption and does not have the strength to end the evil of which he knows himself to be a part.

I think with Rice we have the overtly spiritual vampire.  But it is a deeply troubled spirituality:  Brooding, insecure, introspective, angst-ridden, romantic.  Last, in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series of novels, the charismatic, sophisticated, and romantic vampire  seems continued.

But what does it all mean — if it indeed means anything at all?

I think the key to understanding the concept of the vampire is to see the vampire as symbolic of the individual self.   That is, the vampire symbolizes the “ego”, the consciousness, the “I” — the self.

Now, I think we in the West have — in some respects at least — a somewhat limited understanding of what the self really is.  We seem to do a fair job when it comes to promoting the “socially responsible individual” as an ideal self that some of us strive to realize. In that respect, we might even be on top of our game.  But when it comes to knowledge of the self, it’s origins, how it works, and what it is, we in the West are relatively clueless when compared to our brothers and sisters in the East.

If that is the case — if we good Westerners do not understand the self as well as we might — then that might help to explain why it is not obvious to nearly everyone of us that vampires symbolize the self.  Indeed, the very moment we hear that a vampire is a mythical, undead being who feeds on the life force of the living, the word “ego” should be screaming in our ear.  But why is that?  On what basis can we say that?

First, let’s take a bit closer look at what the self is.   The self, in at least one way of describing it, is that ongoing psychological process, which takes place in the brain, and that results in a perceived division or separation between the I that observes things and the things that are observed.  In other words, the process that creates the self creates both a perception of an “I” or self and a perception of things separate from that self.

When you divide the I that observes from the things that are observed, you create a world in which the I, the self, mirrors life but is simultaneously cut off from life.   I am not the flower I am looking at.  Since I am not the flower I am looking at, I am psychologically or perceptually cut off, or separated, from the flower I am looking at.  One way of symbolizing this perceptual state might be to call it “undead”.

In one sense, I am alive because I am perceiving.  Thus, in that sense, I am not dead.  In another sense, however, I am cut off, separated from the world, from what I am perceiving.  Thus, in that sense, I am dead.  Combining the two senses I arrive at a symbol that simultaneously fits both: I am neither the living nor the dead — I am the undead.

All of the above is a very dry and abstract way of discussing how the individual self can be thought of as undead.   And if that insight is at all accurate, then the dirty little secret — the truth we probably don’t want to see — the truth we hide away in frightening symbols — is that we are undead.  We are vampires.  For the vampire is a symbol for the self.

Of course, the self being spoken of here is the so called, “small self”,  “individual self”, or ãtman, that can be found in many forms of Hindu mythology,  and which is often distinguished in that mythology from the “great self”, “universal self”,  or godhead. The ãtman can also be found in Buddhist mythology, in which case it is sometimes distinguished in that mythology from — not a greater self — but no self at all.

Now, please recall, that the self has been described as “that ongoing psychological process, which takes place in the brain, and that results in a perceived division or separation between the I that observes things and the things that are observed.”  Since the self is created by a process, it can be interrupted.  And when it is interrupted,  when the process that creates a perceptual distinction between subject and object comes to an abrupt end, while experiencing yet continues, there is then no perceived distinction between the I that observes things and the things that are observed.  It is then that you experience god.

Or, more precisely, the experience that comes about when there is no perceived distinction between the I that observes things and the things that are observed — that experience is referred to by some mystics as “god” — probably because they lack a better word for it.

Since that experience of god is, in effect, the opposite of the experience of self — and since the self is the vampire — vampires can be considered “godless”.  It should be no surprise, then, that Anne Rice’s vampires sometimes suffer from a sense of alienation and meaninglessness.

The self is endlessly aggrandizing, but its efforts to aggrandize itself are founded on illusions.  As the Buddhists point out, nothing in this world is permanent.  But if that is true, then the self cannot permanently acquire anything for itself.  Hence, its efforts to do so are based on illusions of permanence.   Here is a description of the self that might be labeled, “How the self expands itself”:

When we observe what is taking place in our lives and in the world, we perceive that most of us, in subtle or crude ways, are occupied with the expansion of the self. We crave self-expansion now or in the future; for us life is a process of the continuous expansion of the ego through power, wealth, asceticism, or the cultivation of virtue and so on. Not only for the individual but for the group, for the nation, this process signifies fulfilling, becoming, growing, and has ever led to great disasters and miseries. We are ever striving within the framework of the self, however much it may be enlarged and glorified.

Perhaps that description reminds one of how Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a ruthless, tyrannical being bent on power and world dominion.  But whatever the case, the self’s endless attempts at aggrandizement mean that its appetites are theoretically unlimited.

As one insightful writer notes, in vampires, this sense of unlimited appetite is sometimes symbolized as sexual desire:

The modern vampire is still a creature of appetites, and that certainly includes sexual appetites, but the vampire’s sexual adventures are not limited to members of the opposite sex. So high is their libido and so devoid are they of proper gentlemanly and ladylike restraint, that vampires will have sex with just about anyone. The magnitude of their lusts is terrible.

Well, the same applies to our lusts. We humans are also controlled by our lusts, or rather frequently fear that we will be if we let down our guard. Sex can make people do awful, self-destructive things. So does greed. So can all of our appetites. We’re on guard all the time. We aren’t afraid of monsters hiding the dark; we’re afraid of ourselves.

But whether manifested as sexual desire or manifested as greed, lust for power, or something else, the self’s desperate need to aggrandize itself is often realized at the expense of other people.   Briefly (and a bit superficially) it is in that sense that vampires, which are symbols of the self, can be said to suck the life out of  people.  Indeed, I could go on at great lengths about precisely how the self can be seen as something that sucks the life out of others.   But I am reaching 2000 words here, which is quite long for a blog post, and which must surely be trying everyone’s patience with me.

To recap:  I have attempted to show here how the vampire can be a symbol of the self.   As I see it, the vampire has been evolving and so it today symbolizes somewhat different aspects of the self than it symbolized back in the 1800s or so.  But in a fundamental way, it has symbolized the self since at least 1819 and perhaps even earlier.  Whether it continues to do so in the future is another matter.  Symbols are not unchanging.

Of course, many people have their own ideas about what vampires symbolize.  What might yours be?