A Way Less Traveled
Richard A. Lawhern, Ph.D.
This Article is also available in MS-Word (.doc) format
For Joni - a civil voice in an uncivil world.
This long article grows from a year of very active and sometimes contentious discussions that occurred at an on-line forum for philosophy and religion at an Internet site known as “wondir.com”. My starting point was a series of questions posted by a lady who sometimes refers to herself as “Joni” in the Religion and Philosophy forum. Joni once related to me, a sense of awe and emotional upwelling that she has personally experienced during prayer. Her implication - if not her precise phrasing - was to the effect of “I feel such awe during worship. Surely there must be Someone Listening to Me Out There?”
This is an emotional connection which many people make. But as Joni is aware, I personally no longer accept the idea of a “personal and listening God”. Nor do I find the asserted benefits or outcomes of traditional scriptural religions to be well demonstrated by the majority of human experience outside of prayer. Joni is aware, however, that I have myself undergone some quite profound spiritual experiences. Thus she asked me to explain my conclusions.
It was only after a couple of weeks of writing, that I realized how large a project I'd let myself in for. Joni has been more than a little patient in a long wait.
Ideas expressed here are my own derivations from 40+ years of adult life spent in observation, reading and occasional deeper research into religion, philosophy, human nature, practical ethics and morality. Nobody else is to blame if I have made errors or distorted the ideas of philosophers or prophets better known than I would ever wish to be. By the same token, it is entirely possible that I have repeated ideas here that others have published before me -- and that other authors might wish to have attributed. If something in this narrative seems similar to the work of another author, Ithen encourage readers to let me know, so I can give credit where it is due.
Quotation from this paper is authorized to those who read it online. However, if you quote from the paper, I ask the courtesy of attributing the words to me by name and by Web address: http://www.lawhern.org/Way-Less-Traveled.html .
It seems appropriate as we start out, to offer readers a kind of apology – or perhaps a warning. If you came here looking for simple answers and glib sound-bite philosophy, then you’re probably in the wrong place. Many religious believers spend an entire lifetime trying to understand and apply the moral precepts written in their “holy” books. Why would you expect to be freely given an easier alternative to such efforts, or one that does not challenge you equally, if in different ways?
I have tried to write this in words that most readers can understand. But the ideas which these words describe are not small ones. If you are unwilling to grapple with unfamiliar concepts, then you’ may find yourself frustrated or bored a few pages from now. I cannot make this journey easier than it is. I can only encourage you to hang in here until the finish.
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The term “Way Less Traveled” is sometimes proclaimed by Christian believers, to describe the life led by Jesus of Nazareth. The implication of the term in that context is that few modern believers have the faintest concept of the faith and fidelity which Jesus invested in his relationship with the God whom he named Heavenly Father in his preaching – much less, actually practicing such values themselves.
While I do not doubt from the historical record that Jesus walked the earth and lived an unusual life, I also intend my title in different ways than Christians might. I am interested in exploring here a view of our Universe that is radically different from ideas commonly assumed by monotheist believers. I am literally seeking a rarely-traveled personal pathway through the welter of contemporary claims and counterclaims that surround our beliefs about the nature of the Divine Other and the nature of humankind.
Concerning my particular less traveled path, I will offer no sweeping assertions of Divine or Universal Truth in any of the narrative to follow. In fact, some readers may grow impatient with my use of the term "surmise" (from Dictionary.Com, a conjecture or guess; an idea or thought of something as being possible or likely). I am utterly disinterested in gathering personal followers or credit beyond simple attribution for ideas offered. I encourage others who share my discontent with prevailing dogmas of mainstream religions to explore and elaborate upon whatever you find here. Use these ideas for your own purposes and in your own ways and adapt or change them to your own needs, if they ring true for you.
Ideas I No Longer Believe
I would like to offer Joni what I hope might be a few accurate and helpful ideas about experiences of inspiration and hope that she and many others report in prayer. However, to place such suggestions in context, I feel obligated first to summarize what I do *not* believe. This will be familiar for some people on both sides of the ‘Agnostic-versus-True-Believers’ arguments which occur frequently in the WonDir R&P forum, and elsewhere that evangelicals and agnostics or atheists meet to talk.
- I do not accept as literal or factual truth, the Genesis fables that describe the creation of our Universe in seven days, or the origination of humankind as descendants of a single breeding pair of contemporary humans created in a single day by the hand of a supernatural God.
- If Noah actually lived rather than being only a character of fables, he might even have built a boat and carried a few local barnyard animals to escape a few days of flooding somewhere in the Fertile Crescent region. But a re-population of the entire earth with all of its millions of species simply did not happen out of one boat or in near-historical times. Such fables are utterly contradicted as any form of literal truth, by a body of physical evidence and considerations of logistics that are so fundamental that no legitimate argument can be made against the facts. Noah and his ark are a morality fable, not a physical fact.
- Human beings in at least two sub-species that you and I would recognize if we saw them, have walked the earth for hundreds of thousands of years -- long before humans developed reliable agriculture and settled for long enough in early villages to develop writing and to begin to record our history. Early Jewish scribes may have captured the Eden stories out of popular tales of oral tradition. But these stories could not and did not record literal facts of Divine creation.
- I also do not accept or believe the modern elaborations of the Genesis fable, which assert that humankind has fallen from a state of divine grace and immortality due to the disobedience of Eve after she was tempted by a talking Snake to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – and then gave the same fruit to her mate Adam. In all of us human beings, knowing right from wrong is perhaps the most fundamental moral lesson or choice that we recognize as adults. Such a choice cannot be meaningful or even real, to children who are unable to recognize and discriminate good from evil. If this fabled God kicked the original Kids out of Paradise for doing what they had to do in order to grow up and become adults, then such a God must be understood under our present standards of morality as a vain, narcissistic egotist and a child abuser.
- Humans have never been physically immortal and never will be as biological creatures. Physical death comes built into our genome so deeply, that it could never be removed and leave us resembling anything human. Whether there is some unseen part or dimension of us that may loosely be called “soul” or “spirit” and which continues some form of existence after the events that we call “death”, remains to be discovered. Not withstanding the discussions of philosophers for over 2,000 years, we presently do not know with any accuracy or finality whether we actually possess such a quality or dimension as “soul.”
- Contemporary assertions concerning “original sin” are completely wrong-headed both in fact and in moral principle. Science has adequately demonstrated that there was no Original Breeding Pair and no Garden of Eden or Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (except as metaphors in morality fables). We have never been immortal as physical beings, even if some may surmise or speculate that we might be as “spiritual” beings. Thus human beings cannot have fallen from an original state of grace. There was no such an act as an Original Sin. Nor can such a sin be inherited by children who are born innocent of any such concept. Whatever it is that humankind may turn out to be in reality, we are not the flawed creations of a perfect Creator who then dumped on us because Adam and Eve disobeyed some Godly demand for obedience in the Garden.
- By an extension of the premises above, it is also unnecessary for the human descendants of the mythical Adam and Eve to be “saved” from such an imaginary original sin – in this life or in any other. The so-called original sin never really happened. It is also unnecessary for humans to be “saved” by their investing belief or allegiance in an imagined personal “Intercessor” who is asserted by Christians to make it possible for modern believers to “get right with God” by having been painfully crucified on our behalf some 1980 years ago. The moral logic of Jesus having bought modern humans salvation by his sacrifice 2000 years ago, is profoundly twisted and insupportable. In this sense, much of Judaism, modern Christianity and Islam can properly be viewed as con games which rely upon human gullibility, emotional denial and magical thinking, for their power to influence or compel human behavior in the modern world.
- From reading and study over a period of 40+ years, I have concluded that human beings are not the flawed and unworthy creations of an all-powerful and all-knowing God who keeps constant crib notes on the acts and thoughts of each individual person. Nor does this God call us into judgment sometime after we die, to decide whether to elevate each person to an exalted condition called Heaven, or to cast them into eternal fire in a place called Hell. Such a God would be reduced to deciding who’s been naughty or nice, much in the manner of another of our myths: Santa Claus.
Such a model for Divinity seems to me to be absolute nonsense and rubbish! Humans are certainly capable of horrific evils. However, it is also apparent to anyone who bothers to study history or to observe their own societies, that we are also capable of transcending love and selfless devotion to moral principle, even in the face of death. It is likewise clear that many of the evils that we commit are direct outgrowths of religious belief itself, with its legitimating of persecution and violence directed at skeptics, heretics, and religious competitors. If there are paths to earthly salvation for our often-warlike species, then it seems to me that such paths may require us to abstain from traditional religion as an influence on our social behavior – rather than submitting to traditional religion as the final or absolute morality that believers claim it to be.
- Much brain power and no little moral struggle have been invested over the past thousand years concerning a basic characteristic or "issue" of human language and moral taxonomy. Human beings are dualistic thinkers, both from the structure of our brains and from the deeply embedded classifications that we recognize in our values. Everything for us is perceived on a two-valued spectrum or “duality”.
We literally cannot understand the concept of "light" except in contrast or reference to its opposite, "dark". "Hot" is meaningless without "cold", and "beautiful" without "ugly". "True" must be contrasted against "false". In this framework, "good" can have no meaning except in reference and moral dialog with "bad" or "evil". It is impossible for us to describe or even to conceive any descriptive term in any human language, that stands solely on its own, without reference to its opposites.
- From such a language and thinking structure, it is also literally impossible to imagine a Being or a person who embodies or contains purely one quality or another. A supposedly "good" Universal God is meaningless to human perception without an equally "evil" Universal Satan. The two are so bound up together in thought, that they cannot be separated.
- Religious believers have attempted to assign qualities of omnipotence (all power) and omniscience (all-knowing) to their God. However, they rebel emotionally at doing the same for their Satan, despite the fact that the underlying structures of our brains and languages make it impossible for us to do anything else. Duality is "the way we are" as aware beings. Our conscious perceptions and awareness cannot be any other way while we remain human. And it is within this inherent characteristic that we encounter the age-old and insoluble "Problem of the Origin of Evil" that Christians and others waste so much of their time trying to explain away.
- The philosophical “problem of the origin of good and evil” cannot ever be solved by human beings. There is no satisfactory explanation for the origin of evil, in the framework of a self-aware, all-powerful and all-knowing God whose nature is asserted to be “all-good”. Such an idea is a logical oxymoron – a paradox, if you will. If we suppose that good and evil both exist in the Universe (which by simple observation, we are forced to do), and if we believe that God created our Universe, then God must have created both good and evil – by definition. Nothing which is created by an Infinite God can be unlike its creator. Therefore God must either BE both good and evil in nature or character, or He cannot be all-knowing and all- powerful. Believers cannot honestly have it both ways.
- The concept of “free agency” in human choices between good and evil does nothing to resolve this ancient philosophical problem. We cannot choose between alternatives that do not actually exist. Thus if God contains all that is, then God must both contain and BE both good and evil. There is no escape from this conceptual construct.
- Since a personal God cannot possibly have the all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing nature that mainstream traditional religion proclaims, I am forced to conclude that this model for God is factually in error. In the company of many if not the majority of cultural anthropologists who study primitive tribes and cultures, I personally surmise that the traditional anthropomorphic Father God is instead, an outgrowth of the well-known human desire and need for protection from the unknown.
- The fundamental roots of worshiping a God or gods are derived from our fear of violence by unknown forces or persons more powerful than ourselves. The posture of worship in kneeling is not accidental. It is the same posture assumed by pre-historic villagers defeated in conflict and about to be made prisoners and slaves. And this posture expresses in many people, a similar attitude of submission to God’s authority.
- The gods of tradition were invented by humans, to relieve humans of their stress and fear. Such cultural icons offered the hope or perhaps the illusion that we might exert control over forces that were dimly perceived, unpredictable, and in truth not controllable at all, despite our self-deceptions. We sacrificed to our gods (or our monotheistic God) in hopes that they/He might intervene in human affairs to preserve us from immediate harm. Alternately, in our sacrifices to such beings, we hoped to promote good outcomes that preserved us from eventual harm in crop failures, volcanic eruptions, fire, flood… or in the destruction and rapine visited upon us by neighboring religious competitors who worshiped other gods for pretty much the same reasons.
Ideas I Do Believe – or Surmise
Having just described some traditional ideas that I no longer believe, I now hope to explore ideas that I *do* believe -- or at least that I surmise as human possibilities. In this project, I will try to explain my tentative beliefs in terms of physical evidence and moral observation, in much the same manner of my disbeliefs.
We observe that human beings seem able to conceive of an infinite universe, but they presently do not appear able to perceive (sense) the whole of it. Infinity is by definition “all-encompassing”. Nothing and no One can stand outside infinity because by definition there IS nothing “outside” an infinite space-time continuum. In this universal sense, we cannot know an infinite God that is larger than our reality, because we simply can’t see that far or that completely. Such limitations come built into our humanity. We can’t avoid or disclaim them as present realities.
We also observe that if there is any quality or capacity about us human beings that seems to approach infinite size or eternal duration, that quality is certainly not centered in our physical bodies. Our largest dimension might be our consciousness, awareness and imagination. It seems possible for us to imagine (to “image” or “visualize”) any thing. Not all of what we can imagine is consistent with physical laws of the Universe that we understand. But I have thus far detected no limits on what we can mentally visualize or imagine, regardless of any apparent contradictions with our local reality.
The most consistent and inclusive model that we now have for the creation and evolution of our physical universe is the Big-Bang concept. There is consistent evidence in astrophysical observations that we live in a stellar universe that is expanding from a common physical point and time in space. The energy dynamics of that expansion seem consistent with the idea that the entirety of our physical universe was once concentrated in a tiny region or mathematical point which can be called in physics, a “singularity”. There is active study underway to characterize the present speed of expansion and to estimate how far back in time the original Big Bang event may have occurred.
There are also tantalizing hints in modern physics that at some almost unimaginably distant time in our future, the present expansion of our Universe might slow to a standstill and then reverse directions, eventually collapsing all matter and energy back into another singularity. If it happens, the shrinkage of the Universe may create conditions for yet another “Big Bang” -- and the creation of yet another Universe. Thus is suggested, an ongoing creative cycle of such enormous scope and duration that human beings cannot now express its time periods in numbers of eons.
In some ways, such a model for our Universe has remarkable similarity to Biblical poetry. We read, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. And the world was without form and void”. Both the Big Bang concept and the Bible can be read in similar ways: “At one time, no matter existed apart from a single point in space and time and thought. Then something happened – and the Universe began to expand outward”.
Many religionists insist on pressing scientists concerning the question of “what came before the Big Bang?” -- as if the question somehow invalidated science. However, the question doesn’t invalidate science. Though analogy is not by any means “proof”, analogies can help us to understand many ideas, and this question might be one such. For instance, Scientists propose that in the physics of black holes, a singularity in space-time creates an “event horizon” into which it is by definition impossible to see or sense from our physical world outside the hole. It seems to me plausible that the Big Bang might be the original “Mother of All Black Holes.” Under this analogy, the very nature of things creates conditions within which we can’t see or even reliably imagine further back than the event horizon which is comprised by the most recent Big Bang, of which we are now beneficiaries.
Traditional religious belief is just as incapable as science, of describing anything or any One that may have existed before beginning of our Universe. Both frameworks for understanding the world begin with statements that for practical purposes can be phrased as “It just IS this way – at some time in the unimaginably distant past, our Universe started.” Religionists pretend to know Who started our cosmic clock. Scientists, being somewhat more humble than convinced religionists, are less prone to make sweeping assertions about events that cannot be observed or proven. But in both cases, we ultimately just don’t know -- and can’t know -- what went before. We can surmise – but we cannot prove anything of substance.
Modern science has arrived at a model for our Universe that is, first of all, expanding from a small point outward into an infinite void. This description of our Universe also seems consistent with a similar process of expanding consciousness or awareness. The process in both cases is one of “energy” expansion.
Concepts of Energy
The concept of ‘energy’ is a slippery one for most people to get their intellectual arms around. In physics, energy is defined as “the capacity of a physical system to do work.” And in turn, “Work is the transfer of energy”. The important idea here is not merely an exercise in circular definitions. Energy transfers are always expressed in terms of some form of motion or transformation. Increased heat (defined as an increase in the rates of movement of molecular particles within matter), explosive force, ballistic or accelerated movement, etc. are all forms of “work”, involving the movement or transfer or transformation of energy.
Within this domain of physics, there is at least one truly profound insight: the amount of energy in our Universe is constant. We can transform energy between forms (for instance, from energy stored in the tiny motions of molecules of wood, to energy that expands into the Universe as heat and light). But, as both Maxwell and Einstein taught us, we can never add to the total amount of energy in the Universe, or subtract from it. The energy potential of our Universe is whatever it is – perhaps unimaginably large, but still constant, still the initial amount injected into our Universal Frame at the moment of the Big Bang.
I recognize an interesting implication in this construct, though I am certainly not the first reader or writer to do so. Many characteristics of consciousness or awareness seem to have parallels to ideas in modern physics about the physical world. The energy involved in human awareness may be regarded as the capacity of a body-mind system to do mental work. And mental work might be regarded as the movement or transformation of forms of energy called “thought”.
(Many) Kinds of Human Awareness
Humanity presently seems to be in the very early stages of learning what is or might be meant by words like “thought”, “awareness”, “consciousness”, “mind” or “knowing”. But even at this early stage, there is general recognition that several qualitatively different kinds of awareness exist. Such variations include the following (and I may have forgotten a few, besides).
- Mundane sensing of our outer surroundings in our waking consciousness, conceptual thought and processing, derived from external cues to the five recognized human senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch).
- Self-awareness -- awareness of our own inner thoughts and emotions in conscious volitional thought (thoughts that we intend and initiate, rather than thoughts which “emerge” spontaneously into consciousness when we are awake).
- Memory – our ability to recover and mentally recreate our past experiences, emotions or perceptions in present awareness or thought.
- Inspirational or intuitional thinking - forms of awareness expressed in non-volitional, semi-conscious or unconscious thought associations which we experience as creative thinking (the so-called “creative leap”).
- Non-volitional (spontaneous, symbolic) dreams during REM sleep – the creation of images and pseudo-memories of “events” or “stories” which have never happened in our waking life, but which often have emotional significance or meaning.
- Volitional (intended, purposeful) dreams in semi-waking consciousness or in deeper dream and trance states.
- Volitional and non-volitional imagination (the ability to experience visions or feelings or concepts that have never existed in the objective physical or social world around us).
- Guided or creative imagery (intentional and creative imagination, exercised while we are conscious -- an accepted element of several modern psycho-therapeutic frameworks and of medical therapies including healing touch).
- Spontaneous but consistently sequential patterned imagery and remembered quasi-experience in near-death encounters.
- Heightened unconventional awareness in “transcendental” states associated with prayer, meditation, epiphany and natural ecstatic states.
- Hypnosis, auto-hypnosis, light and deep trance.
- Non-verbal / non-conceptualizing / non-thinking awareness in meditative states.
- “Psychic” or “extra-sensory” perception and awareness of events or of the thoughts of other persons, experienced at a distance and without detectable cues from direct observation.
- Ecstasy or rapture – an undifferentiated or un-purposed condition of emotional or physical joy, often but not exclusively associated with sexual orgasm; also experienced by some individuals as a response to art or religious conversion.
The last few categories of awareness on this list will doubtless be considered controversial by some people – and for a variety of reasons. Meditation and creative imaging were once thought by Western medical doctors and theologians to be simple parlor tricks of Eastern religious practice. However, both forms of awareness are today accepted parts of medical therapies for conditions as wide-ranging as chronic clinical depression, high blood pressure and highly lethal forms of cancer. Positive effects of personal training programs in these forms of awareness -- while not uniform in all patients -- are still known and documented. The practical outcomes of meditation and creative visualization include an improved sense of personal well being, peace of mind and calmer emotional states, reduced blood pressure, and improved rates of healing after surgery. In at least a few medical cases, sustained remissions have occurred in aggressive tumors previously predicted by oncologists to cause death within a few weeks to months.
There is a relatively new branch of mainstream medicine that directly concerns itself with such outcomes. Among the more prominent practitioners of “holistic” medicine is Norman Cousins, author of “Anatomy of an Illness”, one of the most popular and best-selling books of the past three decades. In the 1980s, Cousins became an invited member of staff at UCLA Medical Center, despite not being a doctor of medicine.
A Controversial Form of Awareness: Near Death Experience
Many efforts have been made by science and its authorities, to explain near-death experience. Some advocates have argued that such experiences are merely “dreams”. Some medical practitioners theorize that such perceptions may be a consequence of some yet-to-be identified effect of oxygen starvation during early stages of brain death. Some Christians deny the validity of the near-death experience altogether.
It seems appropriate to use the term “the near-death experience”. Possibly as many as hundreds of thousands of people have described a startlingly similar series of remembered images and events which they later describe as having happened to them when they slipped out of waking consciousness during a medical crisis. The events are the same: their “seeing viewpoint” seems to rise out of the body to a point near the ceiling of whatever room their bodies are resting in; they hear the words of doctors or other people who are trying to save their lives; they then experience a feeling or sense of being “pulled” even further away and out of the building; then entering a dark tunnel and being “greeted” in the shadows of that tunnel by people whom they recognize as previously deceased relatives or friends.
The out-of body traveler then sees an expanding light at the end of the tunnel, ahead and emerges into a very bright room or undefined space, at the center of which is a source of light so brilliant that they cannot look directly into it with open eyes. They sense within their own thoughts, that there is a being within the light who is aware of them individually, and who looks deep within their thoughts and memories. As this Being or Person reviews their memories, they are carried along as observers, seeing and evaluating in an instant, the totality of their past lives.
At some point during the review, each traveler comes to a point of decision. They will either go onward from wherever it is that they are, or return to earth and normal life. Some report a sense of regret that they are unready, or that the Being who has looked so deeply within them does not send them onward. But with or without regrets, they feel pulled back down the tunnel and back into their physical bodies. When they awake again in the physical world, many of their memories are exceptionally sharp and emotionally vibrant.
Traditional religious believers have complained that reports offered by people who go through a near-death experience do not conform to any common expectation of being judged by a heavenly Authority -- either for elevation to Heaven or consignment to eternal fire in Hell. Christians particularly seem to take offense at this omission. Of those who report emerging from the Tunnel and moving into a bright place beyond, most report that they themselves are the ones who evaluate their own lives, rather than the Being who seems to guide their awareness of the past. The numbers of “the returned” who remember feeling judged or found deficient by some spiritual Power is vanishingly small. And the consistency of such reports is astonishing, given the great cultural diversity of those who render them.
Other religious complaints concerning near death experience make note of the fact that huge numbers of non-Christians, non-believers and confirmed atheists consistently report the same near-death experiences and events. Children so young that they cannot understand what they have described, have also done so. Some of those who describe meeting a Being (or a knowing Presence) of unbearable brightness later declare that the experience has changed their belief in the nature of God and of their own moral responsibilities. Some declare quite the opposite – that they fully intend to continue living their lives as they did before the near-death incident.
Despite the many contemporary arguments concerning what near-death experience is and whether it is biological or spiritual in nature, it cannot be denied that such experiences have happened to very large numbers of people. Likewise, the mechanisms underling these highly structured and sequentially similar “dream state” memories have not yet been seriously explored by the science or medicine of our age. Thus there is still room for open-ended speculation and thoughtful exploration concerning the nature of near death awareness or consciousness.
Extra Sensory Perception
The same may also be said of what is popularly called “psychic” awareness or “extra-sensory perception”. Scientists and thinkers no less prominent than Isaac Asimov (among others) have for many years sought to conclusively “debunk” psychic phenomena of all kinds. Reports of ESP have been described as a mixture of fraud, wishful thinking, desire for public notice, or the simple outgrowth of over-active imagination. And it is doubtless true that a large portion of incidents reported in popular press and literature may deserve such assessments, much like stories of UFO abductions or Big Foot. But “a large portion” is quite a distance from “100%”.
There are thousands of informal (and no few formal) documented incidents in contemporary literature, which describe a human awareness of the precise details of events that occur at enormous distances from the perceiver -- without any conventional explanation for how the reporting individual obtained this distant knowledge. Sometimes events are described before they happen. In other incidents, individuals become aware of the otherwise un-voiced thoughts and emotions of other people – in many cases, people who are literally “perfect strangers” to them. I have personally undergone both varieties of “psychic” experience myself. And my mother many times described to me a near-death experience she had at the age of 13, when she nearly died of polio during a coma lasting several days.
I seriously doubt that there is a family now living in America in which somebody known for their emotional stability and sound character has not been awakened or disturbed while awake, by a “vision” of a friend or family member, at the very moment of their death or near-death danger. We can accurately argue that the mechanisms in extra-sensory perception are not understood or quantified by science. But what we cannot argue honestly is that extra-sensory perception doesn’t happen or is uniformly faked and fraudulent. There are too many well-documented cases that stand up in the face of all efforts by skeptics to disqualify them.
Though no particular example proves a general rule, certain broadly reported examples stand out as credible indicators for the reality of extra-sensory perception. Among these examples are documented medical healings in South America, which were performed by a medically untrained villager named “Arigo”. These incidents were popularized in a 1974 book titled “Arigo – Surgeon with a Rusty Knife”.
Arigo claimed that he was able to cause healings because he had become a “medium” for the spirit of a deceased doctor who told him what to do and who worked “through” Arigo’s hands to perform field surgeries needed by his patients. In the 1980s, a more conventionally trained South American doctor (Edson Queiroz) claimed to have become a medium for the same spirit. Both Arigo and his presumed spiritual inheritor are now dead. But during their lives, both produced healings in multiple patients, while under the direct observation of qualified medical experts. These are observations which conventional medical science is still at a loss to explain.
More widely known and controversial, is a body of over 14,000 personal “readings” and medical treatment prescriptions delivered by Edgar Cayce, extending from the early 1900s until his death in 1945. Cayce made these readings on behalf of patients who wrote to him requesting assistance in a wide variety of medical or emotional symptoms and problems. All that Cayce required was that the patient was to identify a time and place where they could reliably be found for a reading. In each case, Cayce placed himself in a light trance, before narrating to a stenographer his “contacts” and evaluations of the patient. After emerging from light trance, Cayce frequently could not remember his own statements as recorded by the stenographer.
Time after time – and doubtless responding to some petitioners who deliberately displaced themselves from the locations they had named in their letters – Cayce was able to “find” and report the locations and circumstances of petitioners – often describing details of the rooms in which they were sitting or bedridden at the times of the readings. The advice and prescriptions he offered were reliably responsible for thousands of cures that were closely observed at all stages by local medical doctors -- and often opposed or viewed with no small skepticism -- until Cayce’s recommendations proved effective.
The number of reliably documented instances of “volitional” extra-sensory perceptions like those of Edgar Cayce, is apparently very small in proportion to cases where extra-sensory awareness emerges as an involuntary or random event. The great majority of people, the great majority of the time, are unable to “have” or to “use” psychic powers intentionally. The same cannot be said, however, of all unusual or transcendent states of personal human awareness.
Meditation, Mindfulness, and Transcendent Awareness
Literally millions of people around the world meditate for a few minutes during almost every day. Among those who meditate, many attribute significant physical and emotional health benefits to the practice. Some of these benefits are related in books that became widely popular during the 1970s, including “TM – Discovering Inner Energy and Overcoming Stress”, by Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D., Michael Peter Cain and Dennis T. Jaffe.
Likewise, many traditional religious believers pray frequently -- and occasionally experience in their prayers a profound sense of inspiration, emotional upwelling, and release from anxiety. In the extremes of both meditation and prayer, a few people have what are sometimes called “transcendental” experiences.
The meaning of the term “transcend” is “to rise above or go beyond; overpass; exceed”. A transcendental experience typically involves a much-heightened state of mental and emotional clarity and awareness, which noticeably exceed the mental precision and emotional peace which people commonly experience in day to day life. Some people feel themselves to be “moved to a different plane of perception” from which they briefly glimpse great vistas of inter-connected and related ideas and thoughts. Some of those who experience a religious epiphany (“a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something,”) relate that it seems almost as if they can personally sense the entire interwoven matrix of human earthly existence. Such moments seem to have much in common with the memories of people who have gone through an LSD “trip” hallucination.
Such perceptions, often startling when they occur, are rarely regular or persistent events. While human beings “glimpse” great possibilities in such occurrences, we still commonly find that we must continue to do the practical daily work of human life, to earn our daily bread and shelter. Regardless of any sustained efforts to recover and repeat such glimpses, it appears that very few students of meditation are able to do so, on any regular basis. Those who practice and teach meditation (and some who teach religiously defined variants), at times find themselves in a position of confronting beginning students with regard to this fundamental dichotomy.
Most forms of meditation teach that transcendental experiences can be interpreted as sign posts in a broader journey of human growth – but they are not something to be sought out repeatedly as end goals. Some students may feel resentment toward teachers who practice this view, but fortunately or unfortunately, resentment is its own reward. Those who harbor or cultivate resentment generally find themselves unable to reach the calm inner “center” of no-thought from which such perceptions sometimes emerge.
Concerning Physical Reality and Human Purpose
I have spent years in thought and reading, with a focus on ideas about human awareness, perception, values, morality, physics, psychology and philosophy. I make no claim to any unique intelligence or insight into these matters. And it would be ludicrous to claim that I’ve discovered any “absolute truth”. However, from this broad background, I have been led to formulate what I might call “A Personal Surmise About Reality”. This is a part of my personal Way Less Traveled.
1. Our expanding physical Universe was born many billions of years ago in a single Cosmic Moment, in the event described by modern physics as the Big Bang. Traditional religion claims that this moment of creation was caused by a supernatural Someone Larger who stands outside of our perceived physical reality. In my view, such claims are not credible. They have no status as more than wishful speculation. By the very nature of a Big Bang singularity, mortals cannot see or sense “behind” or “before” it. We simply don’t know what came before. We have no real basis for imagining any particular description or concept of a Creator larger than the Universe which we inhabit and in which we do our daily business as human beings.
2. All of our present Universe and our existence can be described as a sort of dance between energy (potential) and work (energy of potential transformed into action or change). By analogy, I suggest that just as energy in motion comprises work in physical systems, so also might human awareness in motion (change, growth) comprise (mental) work.
3. By observation, I suggest that the constructive work of human growth and expansion might be the closest that humans can ever come to defining a “purpose” for human life. Universal or Divine purposes are by definition unknowable to mortals. Human conformity to any notion of a so-called Divine Plan suffers from a fundamental disability – we cannot know or describe such a plan with any confidence, or test our conformity to it by applying normal and limited human capacities. Even if some ultimate Purpose greater than human work and growth might be accepted in some future time, concepts of “work and growth” offer adequate human goals for our present purposes. “Work and growth” also offer a starting point for the evaluation of moral value systems and beliefs.
4. If we accept that our physical Universe is expanding outward from a single point of almost unimaginably huge energy, into a vast outer “void” or empty frame of reference, then a conceptual analogy is plausible for awareness and the mental Universe. It may be that all Awareness was concentrated at the same singularity with all physical Energy, and that both are expanding as dimensions of the same wave front, into the Void.
5. We observe that physical matter and energy are not uniformly distributed in our Universe. Many physical processes naturally concentrate or transform either into the other. Physical energy levels in the heart of a star are many orders of magnitude larger than the energy which exists at temperatures below one degree Kelvin, in the vast emptiness between Galaxies. Just as physical matter and energy are not uniformly distributed in our physical Universe, it might also be that awareness is not uniformly distributed in the mental Universe. Operating from within the physical biology of animals, awareness seems to be “concentrated”. It is not yet conclusively clear whether awareness can operate or be observed in the absence of physical biology.
6. We also know that certain natural physical phenomena are manifested not as “discrete” effects or things bounded by dimensions of space, but rather as “field” or “wave” effects that are distributed widely across space and time. Radiated spectral energy (one component of which is perceived as visible light and other components as radio waves and X-rays), magnetism, and gravity are now characterized by science under the “field effects” description. Field effects can also be used to acquire, transfer, and re-create knowledge across distances of physical space.
7. We presently know more about the nature of radiated energy than we do of magnetism or gravity. It is possible to concentrate light and radio waves for human use by means of relatively simple human machines called “lenses” or “radio receivers”. We can detect and generate X-waves. We commonly generate light and radio waves using machines called “search lights”, “lasers” or “microwave transmitters”. We generate fairly strong magnetic fields by extracting energy from electricity in physically rotating machines. We do not yet know how to intercept or generate gravitational waves, though there is evidence in astrophysics that such waves do exist.
Surmises About the Reality of Awareness
8. Insofar as science now understands, radio waves do not exhibit the quality of awareness that humans call “intent” or “purpose”. However, radio waves can be intentionally (mechanically) “tuned” by humans in simple machines, to detect and extract information from the background of radio frequency cosmic noise that is routinely generated in the hearts of stars. Information can be transmitted on purpose – and sometimes accidentally -- across very large physical distances from one human being to another.
9. In incidents that we imprecisely call “psychic awareness”, there is a suggestive analogy between the human biological mind-machine and physical radio transmitters or receivers. We know by observation that in rare instances, information can be spontaneously transferred from one human being to others across long distances near the earth’s surface. From the demonstrated examples of people like Edgar Cayce, it seems plausible to propose our Universe might include some natural field effect or “energy of awareness” that is both unintentionally and perhaps intentionally “tunable” by the human biological mind machine.
10. Human science presently does not know whether “energy of awareness” actually exists -- or how we might detect, measure, or decode such a field effect intentionally if it does exist. Nor do we know whether or not the velocity of an awareness wave through physical space is limited by the speed of light, like familiar radiated field effects. No experiment has yet been conducted to determine whether your Aunt Helga woke up in Cedar Rapids at “exactly” the moment her dear Cousin Harry crossed over the boundary of death somewhere in the mountains of Nepal… or whether the coded awareness energy wave was intercepted in her mind a fraction of a second later. It might require a few more human generations before any such experiment can be attempted.
11. Pending a responsible effort to conduct such experiments, there are other and somewhat less precise ways to explore unconventional awareness, as it is experienced in extra-sensory perception, meditation, prayer, epiphany, near-death incidents, or ecstatic states. High on the list of methods that are commonly used, are meditation and guided imagery -- both of which have demonstrated a capacity for profoundly positive effects in individual human experience. Unlike prayer, neither of these frameworks requires or relies upon the existence of a personal God for its effects or outcomes. Both comprise forms of awareness “training”, rather than personal petitions to a supposed Higher Power.
Concerning The Nature of Spirituality
The reader will doubtless note, that the speculations I have offered so far do not use the terms “spirit” or “spiritual”. The omission is not accidental. Most writers and almost all religious believers tend to associate the term “spiritual” with some form of Infinite Being that has a humanly discernable “personality” or “identity”. I’ve been led both by study and by hands-on personal experience, to reject such associations as both factually invalid and morally hazardous.
If there is any such thing as a “spiritual” dimension in human life, then I perceive this dimension as one which is experienced as a seemingly “pure” or “raw” energy that has no human “identity” or “personality” in any sense that people use that word in common vocabulary. Spirituality for me represents an upwelling or emergence of some form of awareness energy into our physical Universe. Let’s think about this concept for a few moments.
God is described by believers as an Infinite Being, who contains all things and all thoughts that truly exist. But why would such a Being ever need or develop a human-like personality or character? Both of these characteristics of our humanity are formed as natural outcomes of many interactions with other people and with the world outside of ourselves. From our earliest conscious or pre-conscious awareness in the womb, we are formed by dualities of awareness. We distinguish between “self” and “other” (not-self), “light” and “dark”, “sound” and “silence”, “my” feelings/thoughts/identity versus “your” expressed (and imperfectly understood) feelings/thoughts/identity.
How would a supposedly infinite Being do any of those things? Why would such a being ever need to “learn” or form a character, given that this Being contains all things and all ideas? It can be credibly argued that there would be no need for such a Being even to form speech or ideas as such. After all, He would simply be talking to Himself, wouldn’t He? There are major philosophical problems with this kind of epistemology.
Note: “epistemology” is the field of knowledge that addresses the question “how do we know what we know?”.
Having butted my head against this conceptual wall for a few years, I decided to take a very different approach on what was for me an open question concerning what” spirit” or “spirituality” might be. I began asking some what-if questions, which I’ll share here:
- What if “Spirit” or spirituality is not a Person but is instead, a distributed field effect, woven into the expanding wave of awareness that accompanies the expansion of our physical Universe from the Big Bang singularity?
- What if the human brain incorporates some type of biological-machine receiver / translator for the distributed field effects of awareness -- like a radio receiver that picks up and translates broadcast radio energy waves that are coded with the voices we hear as we listen to our favorite radio stations?
- What if the “coding” on waves of awareness is translated in the human brain-machine as (cognitive) “thought” or (non-cognitive) “emotion” or “epiphany” or “ecstatic dreams”?
- What if the totality of all knowledge or possibility or information in our Universe is coded on such waves of awareness?
I think the reader can see where these surmises are going. I propose the following as a very tentative and speculative model or description for what happens when we pray or meditate.
- The forms of human awareness that we call ESP, mindfulness (in meditation), creative imagination, inspiration, prayerful silence, epiphany, or natural (non-drug-induced) ecstatic states might be our biological translations of information codes that are broadcast on a Universal distributed field of Awareness.
- Spirit might be an energy of awareness that transcends (is larger and more powerful than) the biological-machine brain receivers by which we humans become aware of it, or “tune in to” it.
- Even with an imperfectly tuned radio receiver, one can become aware of the enormous power of the cosmic noise generated in the hearts of stars. We hear this noise as “static” between stations. To follow this analogy further, perhaps it is also possible with an imperfectly tuned “awareness” receiver, to intercept some tiny fraction of the enormous power of awareness which travels throughout our expanding Universe in waves radiating from the same singularity which created all matter in the Big Bang.
- It might be possible to train the biological-machine receiver to “tune into” Universal awareness energy waves, just as it is possible to design a radio receiver to tune into radio broadcast energy.
One of the more promising forms of training (in my personal opinion, *the* most promising) is mindful meditation. Meditation is not “concentration” -- quite the opposite, in fact. In meditation, we seek to replace the distracting effects of our conscious thinking “about” things, with a mental state that does not focus on things or concepts or ideas -- or any other experience beyond “being here now”.
I suggest that meditation is a potentially more promising form of body-mind receiver training than prayer, for a number of reasons. First of all, the prayers of most traditional religion are usually “about” something, and directed “to” Someone outside ourselves, whom we call God. I have explained previously why I find no reason to believe that Someone is out there, who has a human-like personality that we can talk to. Thus I would personally prefer a framework for mind receiver training that does not require the assumption that there is Someone Out There.
Likewise, tuning a radio receiver involves no act of faith beyond surmising that there are radio waves of some kind for us to intercept. Finally, most forms of prayer involve an intentional outward focusing of thoughts rather than the relinquishment of thought to create a receptive mental silence. While we’re “talking to God” in this way, we really aren’t listening or able to receive much in the way of energy. Any guidance or insight or knowledge that we might receive while talking in such a prayerful shout, seems likely to be purely accidental.
The Nature of Good and Evil
As an exercise for the reader, I commend a reading of the definitions of “Good” and of “Evil”, at any online dictionary site. There are many definitions and nuances of meaning in these terms. But when one writes the definitions side-by-side, it is remarkable how many definitions for “good” seem to be mirror-images of definitions of “bad” and vice versa. Again, we encounter the basic duality of human thinking. We are never totally free of it. This being true, I propose that we might choose to entertain definitions of good and evil very different from those of traditional religion.
I have suggested that we live in an expanding physical Universe, in which knowledge and consciousness are moving outward from an original point of incredible concentration, into a vast and empty void. At the boundaries of this expanding Universe, we imagine that there is “nothing”. So far as we now know, the “n-dimensional space-time frame of reference” into which all physical matter is expanding is an infinite “Void”. Nobody has ever seen this void in person, but there is evidence in our astrophysics that it must exist, in order for everything else that we observe to be possible.
Again, we find the duality of human consciousness shaping our concepts of our Universe. In this conception, our Universe includes not only places where matter and thought “exist” or can be seen relatively near-by, but also places where matter and thought “are not” – the Void.
Within our physical and conscious Universe, we observe that there is order and pattern. Things seem to work in discoverable ways, within an enormously complex, engaging and often beautiful matrix of shifting inter-relationships. It is as if (to borrow a phrase from art as well as philosophy) all things move in a Cosmic Dance.
In fact, for some religious believers, this complexity is so compelling that they propose it could not possibly have happened by accident. Somebody Out There must have made it happen. That conclusion, of course, does not inevitably or logically follow from the former observation -- no matter how much some people want to believe that it does. Nor does this conclusion justify or confirm the explanations which believers offer for the nature of good and evil in human experience, or for the moral dichotomy between their ideas about God, versus other ideas they assign to a “Not-God” often called “Satan” or “The Deceiver”.
While I doubt that I can wring any final or unchallengeable conclusions about good and evil from this discussion, I find at least one interesting association that we might explore in a few more what-if questions:
- What if “good” and “evil” are qualities of human action and intention rather than absolute moral states or conditions declared by a Personal God?
- What if “good” and “evil” are not really about or even connected to a state of obedience or conformity to the authority and directions of a Divine Person?
- What if God and Satan are not real Persons at all -- but only our mortal interpretations or distortions or even “expectations”, layered over the energies of Universal Awareness that we intercept with the biological mind machine?
- What if “good” can be defined as the quality of human action and choice that promotes order, pattern, awareness and expansion in our Universe -- whereas “evil” is seen as the quality of action and choice which promotes the Void, chaos, non-awareness and contraction?
If one no longer accepts the concept of a God with Personality -- as I do not -- then these questions pose an intriguing alternative to traditional authoritarian frameworks in which most people of religious faith define the nature of human moral values and choices. This alternative concept might also have potentially far-reaching consequences for our assumptions about human nature and the challenges of human moral evolution in our own times.
When I use the term “moral evolution”, I am aware that the term may set the teeth of some religiously minded readers figuratively on edge. Readers who have stuck it out with me this far might make an association with biological species evolution – and they should. I assert that just as species evolve from earlier forms by natural selection and by adaptation to changing conditions, so also do standards of prevailing morality. And the social upheaval introduced by our Industrial Revolution represents a major set of changing conditions!
I am continually amazed that religious believers can continue to deny that human beings have physically evolved and changed over the hundreds of thousands of years of our species history. The physical evidence for natural selection as an explanation of our human origins is simply not challengeable by anyone who has more than a high school education and half a brain in their heads.
From a similar viewpoint, I am also amazed at the arrogance of believers in “that old time Religion”, who proclaim that their particular God’s words -- written down in some “holy” book -- are the only acceptable human standards of right and wrong, good and evil, for all time and for all people. What truly enormous hubris! I must surmise that such people see the world as a place where their God rigidly rejects all change and growth. Anything of moral consequence in their world must be interpreted within a conceptual framework that is at least 3700 years old! The traditional religious conception of the Universe is not expanding. But mine is. And to one degree or another, I would guess that so also is yours: the reader’s.
Human beings of the 21st Century AD can hardly be compared with our distant ancestors of the 16th Century BC. This was when the oldest books of the Bible were first written down by Hebrew scribes. Unless we are prepared to accept the highly implausible assertion that early Biblical writers were directly instructed by God in the words they wrote down (in a form of Divine Dictation, perhaps?), it seems likely that whatever these authors did not conceive on their own, they drew from traditional verbal history and fable that had roots a few generations earlier. However, both the content of human knowledge and the breadth of moral values in those times were profoundly different than is now the case.
In the world of the writers of Genesis, though many people spoke multiple languages or dialects, the number who could read Hebrew or Greek was tiny in comparison to the population of Palestine (then Canaan) as a whole. Until the invention of the printing press in Middle Ages Europe, even the possession of a hand-written “book” (the average length of which compares with that of a short story today!) was an expensive privilege of small elites of scholars or priests who could afford to support scribes who copied such documents.
(See, for instance “Literacy and Illiteracy in Early Christianity” by Dr. Christopher D. Stanley, St. Bonaventure University)
These were also times in which the average person might live their entire (35- or 40-year) life in the geographic region within two or three days walking distance from his or her place of birth. Those who could travel longer distances were either closely connected to prosperous families as servants or traders, or were themselves “rich” by the definition of their times. Such conditions prevailed for almost all humans, (with a notable exception in the armies of major empires) for centuries into the Christian era.
These were people for whom it was self-evident that the world was flat. They found it plausible that the sun was a very bright light carried around the Earth by a god who dragged it behind a celestial chariot. They were people who purchased and wore love charms in hopes of attracting a “comely” mate. More important within the moral systems they practiced, they were people who quite literally could *die* if they were cut off from the few protections afforded by family and clan. The family Patriarch or clan leader literally had the power of life or death over anyone in his household. All he had to say was “go”, and you were on the street without food, money or prospects. A beggar’s life in Palestine was hungry and often short. And even such a dismal outcome was kind compared to the possible result if you were a slave.
Such prospects were likewise unchanged by the emergence of Christianity. No less a Christian leader than Paul of Tarsus taught that slaves ought to serve their masters wholeheartedly (though in fairness, it should be acknowledged that Paul also preached that masters should treat their slaves justly).
[See, for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_and_Christianity]
From such a context, it should not be surprising to us that both Old Testament and New Testament Biblical morality were focused upon issues of obedience to a Deity called “Lord”, and that this morality also demanded obedience to persons whose authority was derived from being representatives or “servants” of such a Lord.
We should also not be surprised by the attitudes early Israelite prophets often voiced toward women -- particularly women who exercised religious authority or influence. The gods against whom the desert nomad Israelite priests competed for followers as they moved into the lands of Canaan from their earlier captivity in Egypt, very often included a much older and better established deity named Ashtart (also known as Astarat and Astoreth). This Semitic goddess was worshipped by Syrians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Egyptians and other Semitic tribes. King Solomon built a temple to her as Astoreth, near Jerusalem.
(paraphrased from: http://www.spiralgoddess.com/Astarte.html).
In Egypt, Ashtart was a goddess of war and change. But in much of the rest of the Fertile Crescent, she was worshiped as the goddess of love and fertility, a protector of the harvest. One can still find her symbols throughout the region in highly pregnant and voluptuous female figures of baked clay. In the early origins of Israel, her temples raised the art of erotic dance to heights perhaps not again attained until the emergence of the art of burlesque and pole dancing in 20th Century western strip bars. One can understand why Israelite priests called Ashtart “the Abomination” as they watched their young warriors being seduced into assimilation in local towns the 12 Tribes were trying to invade and dominate.
Please pardon this slight digression – it was too much fun to resist.
However, to the main point: why would any thoughtful and contemporary person choose willingly to conduct his or her life based on a morality that values slavish conformity to Patriarchal authority above all else? Are we so short- sighted or so afraid of personal responsibility, that the whole exercise of life must be reduced down to “Papa said”?
It is undeniable that basic values of Western civilization have significantly evolved over the past 3700 years, and mostly for the better. Most people now recognize that simply because a woman is female does not mean that she is any less competent than a similarly educated or trained man. Likewise, traditional attitudes toward race superiority or inferiority have been fundamentally challenged and largely set aside. We have come to recognize that just as individuals can be just, so too can societies. And no society can be considered just or righteous that accepts the enslavement of human beings, or discrimination against individuals solely on a basis of race or sex. Such attitudes could not have existed before the Industrial Revolution fundamentally changed the nature and organization of human labor in the late 18th and early 19th Century in Europe.
We also now accept that no organization or family or clan or Government should be granted a right of judgment over free men and women, except under codified laws applied by juries of their peers – and only then, with serious oversight, checks and balances. We recognize that even the most common-born men and women have value and worth in themselves, that no power of society has a right to take away. Such values could not have existed 3700 years ago, or even 400 years ago. To judge from the temporary ascendancy of Fascism and Communism in 20th Century Europe and Asia -- and the continuing practice of slavery in much of Arab Africa -- these values are still not universally accepted. But they are recognized as superior in all societies that wish to be considered as full social partners in a civilized world.
Connecting the Dots
One may reasonably ask what the last few paragraphs have in common with the main themes of this article. So let’s draw the two together. If our morality has adapted to the major economic changes of the Industrial Revolution – which almost all students of history and culture contend it has -- then how can it possibly be reasonable or acceptable for anyone to cling to concepts of morality that keep humans firmly mired in 3700 year old cultures? With this thought, I again return to religion and the doctrine of Original Sin.
The notion of Original Sin asserts that even the most innocent child is born a “sinner” – loosely meaning that there is something “wrong with us”, inherited from the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Most believers who are fond of this concept also propose that the only way this wrong “something” can ever be corrected and humans be made whole, is for us to relinquish our disobedience and get with God’s program.
By contrast, I confidently claim that in an expanding Universe of awareness, such ideas are revealed as destructive nonsense.
We are NOT born as inherently faulty or flawed or “sinning” creatures. Children are merely born without experience, and with an evident capacity for both good and bad behaviors. We mean by this, “behavior that promotes human growth, expansion, and adult independence, versus behavior that causes the shrinkage of human horizons, the destruction of human welfare, and the contraction of our aware world.” Differences between good and bad behavior are both obvious to most people and trainable in our children. In an expanding Universe of awareness, the moral challenge for us and for our kids is to acquire experience of our world without being brain-washed by traditional religion into misinterpreting the meaning of the experience.
This is not a trivial challenge. Ideas in which people widely invest belief can cast very long shadows. The Bible is sometimes quoted to the effect that “the sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children, yea unto the seventh generation”. Seven generations is a period of roughly 140 years. It has only been 90 years since “all” men of good character “knew” that the fair sex simply didn’t have enough critical intelligence to vote sensibly in public elections. In some minds, the institutions of Slavery were fully justified and approved by God, only 145 years ago. And the Industrial Revolution occurred only about 190 to 230 years back in our history.
Our understanding of the expanding Universe is relatively new. And it is not uncontested. Traditional religious believers still argue loudly that Genesis is the literal factual Truth because it is God’s Word Written Down in the Bible -- and that the clear and contradictory evidence of science is (in effect) an invention of the Devil. However, for thinking people everywhere, such claims of tradition increasingly ring false. What might be needed, I wonder, for more of us to successfully make the leap out of the swamps of emotional denial and confusion that traditional religion cultivates, outward toward a larger and more glorious world?
A Joyful Universe – Without a Personal God
One of the needs, it seems to me, is an understanding that relinquishing a personal God does not mean that we must give up glorious beauty or forego a transcendently joyous experience of our world. We know that both beauty and transcendence are freely available to non-believers in any personal God. Indeed, when people are relieved of the guilt and self-doubt that constant proclamations of our supposed “sinful nature” impose upon us, the most natural consequences are greater joy and awareness of beauty.
For Joni – the lady whose questions prompted this article in the first place -- there is perhaps one last piece of the puzzle still to fall into place: you can still be awe-struck, my friend. You can still feel the up-welling of tremendous power and Presence and potential in quiet moments that you spend mindfully rather than prayerfully. Instead of listening for these feelings to come from outside of yourself, you can now confidently listen as they emerge from inside yourself! You can learn to tune in your own personal biological mind-machine. And as you learn that skill, I believe you will discover that there are many great information and music stations in our expanding Universe of Awareness. That Awareness is always here within us, always waiting and potential, always available, even as it continues to grow and expand.
To hear this variety of the Still Small Voice, all you need to do is learn how to listen mindfully -- instead of shouting prayerfully into a Void that does not hear you.