Religious Teflon

religion

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.

18 thoughts on “Religious Teflon

  1. Wow, this is an outstanding article and I’m going to read it again in a minute!

    I like what you say about atheism. I’ve always thought it’s as arrogant to believe in no god as it is to believe in one god that created us in his image, because both imply we are already capable of ultimate indisputable knowledge.

    What’s really got me thinking though, is what you say about eastern religion/philosophy appealing to people who already have a predilection towards its assumptions. I’ve been thinking a lot about bias lately, in particular confirmation bias, and this is feeding into it nicely. I have, as ever, a lot to chew over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Caroline! Sometimes I fear that the fact that I try to give readers a lot to chew over is just a polite way of saying that I’m a big pain in the ass. But then you always make me feel less so, because your mind is just as curious yet skeptical as my own.

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      1. Not a pain in the ass at all, having my worldview shaken up and being given new things to question is kind of what I crave… I suppose that’s a bit masochistic given I also realise I will never know the answers for sure 😉

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  2. Atheists scramble for proof God doesn’t exist like squirrels foraging for acorns—desperate before winter sets in. Dawkins is a good example, with his pseudo-science attempts to prove evolution. He mocks the recurrent laryngeal nerve like a badly designed part of mammals. It’s a nerve that takes a detour from the brain to the heart on its way to the vocal cord to produce sound. It’s obvious—to me at least—the fear we feel when our heart jumps to our throats also sends the impulse that initiates the shriek that alarms our fellow hunter gatherers when we see danger: There’s a lion! Don’t think, just scream! His video, which I linked below, made me realize just how full of sh*t the guy really is. Watching it nearly turned me back to believing in intelligent design. Thank you very much! I’m curious though, you say ‘atheism has already been disproven by modern physics’? It’s a new one to me, but a concept I would eagerly add to the vast storehouse of useless information I keep in my brain.

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    1. I definitely agree with your theory of the multiple functions of that nerve, as well as your assessment of Mr. Dawkins. He is one of those people whose atheism almost seems to have its roots in animosity. While I can certainly relate to some of his animosity, I try not to let such emotions effect my view of life and the universe. I might have misspoke in alleging that physics disproves the view of ALL atheists. Theism is simply a belief in god and though quantum physics has opened up a whole new world of bizarre facts with spiritual implications, it doesn’t necessarily support theism. It doesn’t disprove it, either. But findings such as quantum entanglement and the actions of observation upon the behavior of particle-waves raise compelling questions about many of our preconceived notions. First: there is no matter. It could be broken down infinitely if our microscopes weren’t limited and at the subatomic level, the Newtonian view of “matter” simply disappears. Two fine books that I would recommend that can explain this FAR better than I can are The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami (a physicist) and The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Kapra.

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      1. Thank you! Yes, I am a proponent of quantum entanglement theory, especially where it explains spiritual phenomena and the generally unexplainable. Religion in particular is my pet peeve, even the Eastern philosophies. The more I delve into Buddhism, the more I’m of the opinion it is an Eastern version of Catholicism, with its temples and priests and spiritual doctrines. As I get older, I find less answers.

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  3. Yes, very good, edgy almost ‘attacking’ religion, I understand that, my family has been persecuted for millenia, to the point, that yesterday I was questioning if I was a free man or enslaved, things many people take for granted but might benefit from asking whether they are in bondage or not?
    As for Religion, nah definitely not Christianity, I would accept Catholicism as being truer than that.
    My true personal belief is not really religious at all, but completely founded in Mystical Esoteric Judaism, which is a spiritual, not religious belief, beyond any doubt the genuine value of any person , the origins of the soul and the Universe cosmos is explained through Esotericism, and I have always thought that if one lived a life in occordance with Torah 😂 then a happy , healthy , wise , fun , good , positive life one would lead. Especially in keeping kosher laws! Thanks again,
    Joseph Bukowski

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    1. Thanks! I’ve read some books on Kabbalah and was amazed at the parallels with Eastern philosophy. In fact, one of the authors, Rabbi Labl Wolf included a short photo section in the middle of the book that consisted almost entirely of pictures of him hanging out with the Dalai Lama.

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      1. Both of my parents, who are in their 80s and more Catholic than the Pope, can never view my blog. I would be instantly disowned. Luckily, also because they’re in their 80s, they don’t go online.

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  4. Wow, Paul. I seriously feel almost too stupid to comment. I marvel at your intelligence, and your ability to dissect something and offer such a well thought out point of view. Really well done, man. . But, I am going to have to read this more than once. Like, maybe a hundred times. It’s amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Tanya. As always, your kind words inspire me to continue writing about my continued mental gymnastics and give me another opportunity to point out that you are the opposite of stupid. When I read your posts (and sometimes even just your comments here and elsewhere), I envy the genuine warmth you’re able to seamlessly capture and radiate outward through your words. And though I try to be very careful not to plagiarize or paraphrase, I have to credit the brilliance of the late Alan Watts for having a bigger impact on my philosophies than anyone else — more than any Tibetan lama, Zen master or Yogi. Watts single-handedly cracked the code for us Westerners. He let the cat out of the bag and then proceeded to drink himself to death. In a strange way, the way he lived and died perfectly illustrates his point, though I wouldn’t recommend the drinking oneself to death part of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Paul, what you said to me means a whole heck of a lot. Thank you so much!

        ‘No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.’

        What an incredibly profound quote. I like the way he thought, and the way you do now. A great influence indeed.

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