Everyone is full of shit. That’s hardly a revelation, I know, but nevertheless, it needs to be established from the start. Me, you, the prophet, the Pope, your great Aunt Hester – all full of shit, never once having said anything sensible in our entire lives.
Of all the myriad religious and philosophical traditions (most of which arrogantly begin with a capital letter and end in “ism”), the only one that allows for any degree of honesty is agnosticism. Gnosis means knowledge, hence a succinct summation of the agnostic worldview is “I don’t know”. How refreshing! This is an airtight perspective as it applies to each and every mysterious quality of this mind-boggling 14 billion year old process we’ve dubbed The Universe.
As I’ve said before, we are inseparable from this grand process and at the core, I think we all know this. But as this humble view that stands in awe of everything admits of our woeful inadequacy in understanding the who, what, where, when, why and how of it all, humans decided long ago that the way things really are is an insult to their imagined significance. Religion entered stage left and millennia later, we find that we cannot escape the grasp of our own collective brainchild, no matter how much hostility and misunderstanding it engenders. We embrace whatever contradictions necessary to bolster our sense of worth.
Monotheism is a deceptive label for the Western religions that admonish us to worship our wily and dubious creator. Fraught with notions about what is good and what is evil, they invariably conjure a duality in order to spare God from the accusation that “he” created the potential for both. We therefore honored God by creating Satan, the adversarial entity bent on subverting all that is holy and good by leading us into temptation and laying claim to our immortal souls. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the parallels between this cosmic fairy tale and our struggles with other people in the terrestrial realm. No one feels guilty about dishonoring Satan (other than Satanists, who are nothing more than inverted Christians) and this justifies the dishonor we bestow upon our fellow homo sapiens by pigeonholing the ones whose views are most foreign to us as inhuman agents of Satan. That’s how we turned cruelty into piety. Presto!
How about the Eastern religions, most of which are also referred to as Eastern philosophies? Well, if the latter designation was sufficient to get at the heart of these traditions, I might spare them my judgment in this essay. But often, they are just as conveniently moralistic as Christianity, Judaism or Islam, albeit from a very different angle. Proponents of Buddhism, for instance, like to bolster its authenticity by saying it is an experiential path, the “indisputable” truths of which will be discovered through direct experience by the dedicated practitioner. Admittedly (and at this point, obviously), I have a far greater affinity for the wisdom of the East than I do for the myths of my own culture. But I am just as philosophically opportunistic as anyone and I suspect that my softer stance on Eastern thought arises from the fact that it better supports the predilections of my ego. Embedded in the more compelling aspects of these religions is a plethora of supernatural – i.e. unknowable – mythology. Reincarnation, the Bardo, deities, tulkus, signs, visions and sundry magic tricks – all of it finds its way into the discourse. I feel that I’ve turned a blind eye to the superstitious nature of the spiritual paths I’ve taken up due to a simple cultural bias. I’m sick of looking at crucifixes and Glamour Shot portraits of Jesus, so I supplanted that imagery with multi-armed psychedelic deities to better compliment the rest of the stoner décor in my home. This is disingenuous, of course, but I needn’t flagellate myself over it in an effort to improve my karma or “get right with God”. Without those self-made pressures, I am free to shake off my “isms” like a case of fleas and still retain enough curiosity and joie de vivre to press onward in my never-ending quest for non-existent meaning.
So I began this post with a tip of the hat to agnostics. But why not atheists? Isn’t an outright denial of God just as level-headed as a shrug of the shoulders? No, it isn’t. Atheism, in all of its insistence that the Universe is nothing more than the interaction of particles and that we are nothing more than an accidental arrangement of these particles, has already been disproven by modern physics. Atheism is simply theism without the prime mover. For most, the singularity that preceded the Big Bang takes God’s place in this seemingly logical worldview. But this leaves us with the same “us” and “everything else” duality implicit in monotheistic religion. It entirely misses the point that there is no boundary to an individual cutting her off from the environment in which she lives. That environment is not just one’s neighborhood, it is the entire 14 billion light year sized Universe. Everything “does” but nothing “is”. A “thing” cannot exist apart from every other “thing”. An event cannot occur apart from every event that ever has and ever will occur. We are not parts of the whole, we are the whole.
Unfortunately, our language and our culture have not caught up to physics so we continue to conduct ourselves as if we were all separate islands vying for supremacy in the midst of a cold, alien realm into which we’ve been thrust. This is how we feel, how we experience life. But it’s an illusion that we refuse to question because we all fear having our entire system of “knowledge” come crashing down before our very eyes. But this is precisely what needs to happen if we’re ever to evolve out of our need for conflict and imagined separateness.
I suspect that no one truly believes the things they’ve allegedly taken on faith. The proof of this is in the very language employed by devotees when meeting the arguments of those who subscribe to different faiths. “You just don’t have faith” – that’s my favorite bit of religious circularity and it’s closely related to, “you just need to pray for God to show you”. “Nothing can come from nothing, so of course there is a God”. That one flies in the face of current scientific knowledge. Pick up a book, you lazy ass. “God spoke to me directly”. Go see your shrink, stat! This list of religious retorts could fill a library, but the few examples I supplied should be enough to see the Teflon-like nature of the minds of the “faithful”. You can throw any logical argument at them that you can think of, but it won’t stick. Better to save your breath for something more satisfying like singing in the shower.
It’s my opinion – and perhaps my fantasy based on a radically different but equally illogical form of faith – that I say these things because I feel that mankind’s very continued existence depends on the adoption of a completely interdependent view of the Universe and our place in it. But if you were to tell me that I am wrong, I would take no offense nor would I feel that my outlook is being threatened. After all, I’m made of Teflon, just like you.