It was about a decade ago that I recognized that my intellect was not me, it was my tool, it was and is important for living an effective life in this world, but it is not me.
Last weekend a man and his wife visited with my wife and I. They represented a great Mormon practice, visiting and teaching every member in their home once a month, at least. They had come as “home teachers” to visit my wife, mainly, Since he brought his wife rather than the usual young man as a companion, I felt free to engage him in a conversation on an adult subject, complaining about the unethical things supposedly coming from God in the Old Testament, since someone brought the book up in discussion.
What he said in response pleasantly surprised me. He suggested that religion was a feeling in the heart, not an intellectual exercise, and we did not need to know all things in order to believe.
I told him I knew that now, and had I learned this 20 years ago I might be in a very different place then I am today where my religious situation is concerned. He seemed surprised at this admission, and suggested I turn off the intellect and go by my heart’s feelings and reach back into my faith, put it back on like an old garment that has been in storage.
Interesting thought. But too much water has passed under this bridge, washing away its foundations. To be able to believe again as I once did would be to deny the intuitive knowing that allows me to feel spiritual on my current path, whatever that path is. It is a path without a known destination, there may be no destination. But I can suspend the need to know a destination, or even a path, and still be happy allowing myself to move with the flow I feel I am part of.
So I feel I have learned the lesson he spoke of, and have applied it. But of course he was asking me to take a giant step in a certain direction and then apply it in a certain way so that I restrain and constrain my heart-feelings. He wished I would follow the straight and narrow path I once did, making me once more a true-believing Mormon.
This would require more than simply suspending the need to know and going by my heart. It would require a huge intellectual process placing restrictions and bounds around my intuitive ways of knowing, feeling and loving. Mormons know and feel and love, it is what makes their religion so effective, and is what creates this largely satisfying, happy lifestyle that makes their society so attractive (yes, it still attracts me).
As I have written elsewhere, Mormonism empowered and liberated me when I first encountered it. It enriched me and gave color and scent to what was then a lifeless-life. It was only several decades later that I found it begin to restrict and control me, color faded, scents became unpleasant. I did err, in making my intellectual problems with Mormonism overrule my intuitive love for the experience of life that it gave me. But that is where I was at that time, and my throwing the religion out of my mind, and eventually out of my heart, reflected who I was then.
And it is like an old uniform, when you try it on a few decades later it does not fit. Why? Some may belive it is because I have gotten a fatter ego? Maybe so, but not from my perspective. I really think that the person I have become no longer fits that old pre-prescribed spiritual shape, it is as simple as that. I have learned that to find joy in life one has to control and subordinate ones intellect and let intuition, the heart-feelings, including feelings that may seem like ‘knowledge’ of the unknowable, and especially love, flower and go and flow wheresoever it wishes. As love extends from us and expands outward, it brings remarkable color and delectable fragrance into ones life. It is hard to purposely gray-scale and artificially de-scent what has become a technicolor and richly scented life. It can be done, but the question is why would one do this?
One may pretend to feel affinity to a faith falsely to please others and stop being an affront to their religious sensibilities. That is the only answer I can think of that has some semblance of legitimateness to it. OK, is that good to do? In my case, is their being secure in their comfort zone more important than my living a fuller life? Maybe so. But that is simply not where I am at this point in my life. I crave the colors and scents that assault and enrich me as I learn and see and feel more and more. I am like the person in love with being in love. This is typically judged to be ‘Not good.’ I agree if there is a notion of restricting love to romance. Romantic love for its own sake prevents bonding with another at the soul and heart levels, which is great loss of color and fragrance.
But love is so much more than that. I agree with the mystics who say it is God and all that is and all that keeps what is in their state of being. Panentheism: God is in all and all is in God/God is all there is and all there is is God? Maybe so, but it is where I am, therefore even paying lip-service to the idea of a personal God as a Being flies in the face of what I believe. I cannot go back to that suit, and its implicit authority structures and strictures on love and intuitive insight. That uniform no longer fits.
So what is it that I believe? Is it still not clear? Let me try to get to some brass tacks here, and please only read if this is interesting for you. If you are already saddened and discouraged, please stop now and look at some nice pictures instead.
I enjoy being alive and knowing it. Sentience is a marvelous thing! Being a sentient being is unbelievable, it is a miracle. Sentience's components, and the mechanisms that make it tick, are unknown and may well be unknowable.
After all, if the cause and nature of sentience were knowable it must not be ineffable. I have never heard it explained in a way that led me to both believe and understand the explanation. So sentience is an ineffable thing to me. I am, perhaps, confusing the notion of the ineffable with what I am simply incapable of understanding. Maybe there are some, even many, who know all. Not me. And what a burden that would be!
One thing about not knowing but wanting to know more: you are never bored. Just being, just being aware of being, just being aware of the miracle this represents, is as entertaining as it needs to be, sometimes. Of course loving and being loved by another self-aware being is the icing on this cake called life.
In discussing this topic we are skating on the thin ice that “separates” knowledge from belief, fact from faith, science from religion. I am personally glad this boundary exists. Once upon a time I was a true believer who thought religion and science were compatible as long as and as far as both described aspects of truth. That ultimately the two would come together at last into one body of knowledge.
I was naive. I read wise men’s writings declaring that this was so. Were they naive? Some are. Some are purposely weaving a tale to create a thicker sheet of ice, suspending belief in some aspects of developing scientific insight in the name of its being only theoretical and subject to change. It is a nice way to allow both the experimental and faith-based avenues of human belief and inquiry to coexist. So, it is not naive.
Is it sophistry? I don’t know. Maybe. Can there be a sincere type of sophistry built on hope and on the realization that to express the opposite opinion would be harmful? Harmful to the personal well-being of many, and harmful in that it could destabilize individuals and eventually societies? So it is a sincere type of sophistry designed to prevent instability of lives and communities. Really? I think we have just identified the soft underbelly of religion: it is myth made with noble purpose -- to assure individuals' and societies' stability.
My jaundiced views such as the one just expressed came to me gradually. But it had a sudden beginning. Many years ago I underwent a large scale shift in my beliefs about reality. It involved getting angry at those whom I trusted to be relating an authoritative description of reality to me. Men whose communication channels with God were claimed to be open, and whose revelatory prowess I imitated, successfully at times, confirming me as a true believer.
The anger came from realizing their organizations' carefully crafted sophistry. Their cohorts in the ranks of the divine interpreters were more often then not incredibly hopeful, credulous, trusting and sincere. Feeding their beliefs through the practice of their faith, reinforcing it on others, and then having it reinforced on them in a continual cycle of reinforcement complete with ubiquitous spiritual experiences and a genuinely supportive community provides the evidence underlying and verifying all the claims of having and owning the pipeline of truth. It is a giant worm eating its own tail and getting fatter in the process!
I was angry. But the anger waned. The anger is now gone. I have made my peace with this and every other religion laying claim to Divine authority. They have their place. There was a time in my life when I needed the structure and discipline religion can teach. It improved my life, gave me control of my life because through self discipline I became self-empowered (although at the time I felt it was God in me, which is true enough, except not the God I then considered to be real). This faith also gave me the capacity to love and the family that is now mine.
But it also caused me to seek my own Divine insights, personal revelation. At some point I loosened the shackles that controlled that revelation, the shackles that kept it within the confines of the orthodoxy I had accepted as my belief. Now, after a long time, here I am seeing with eyes wide open: I experience revelation, and it shows me there is no revelation of the type most often claimed and described in verses of scripture or other official proclamations.
There is revelation, it is ubiquitous. It is readily available to all. And it is so easily influenced by expectation and desire that it tends to approve and support whatever belief structure or action it is asked to support. It is, as Jung would have described it and did, a reaching into the subconscious, even into the collective unconscious that verges on the mystical notion of our being connected with and part of, God. We are God, some proclaimed recklessly to more literally minded minds who saw this as incompatible with and dangerous to their belief- and authority-structures. They caused the firewood to be gathered to stop such voices. But those voices were and are correct.
To the extent there is a God, we and all other sentient beings are its composite pieces. Maybe what we believe to be non-sentient entities or even non-living entities, are also to be included in God. God is the Universe, God especially is all life in that Universe. The force that creates and laces life into and weaves it all through this otherwise barren place is God. God is life. Life is God. We are all parts of God. All the same. No hierarchies. I am not more God than you or anyone else. There are only differences in the degree to which we may be aware of our own God-nature, our God-ness, and in some sense this can be seen to translate into our Good-ness.
There, I have said it. Open burning is not allowed because of air pollution restrictions. Whew!
So I am a Nature worshiper? That is not a basket I want to be tucked into. Am I a pantheist? Take that little box and crush it. I will not fit into it. Am I a panentheist like some of my friends among the Catholic mystics (orthodox or unorthodox) of the High Middle Ages? Now we are getting to a large enough box to give me some wiggle room. I will leave myself in it for a little while and stop the box-ology on your part as well as mine.
Why are we on this topic? Because in my view of God there is no such thing as a deified entity, usually portrayed as a superior, perfect, or exalted man, physical or spiritual in nature, telling us what to do in life to be saved. Revelation is not the whisperings of such an entity. Revelation is something universal that reaches into us, it also reaches out from us to one-another. We are revelators to ourselves and each other.
Hence revelation's great potential to confuse and divide a belief system. Those who claim to have come face to face with a personage that is God are either deluded and sincere, or evil and purposefully deluding others, usually to gain some degree of authority and control over those others.
Am I being too harsh? There are many who, with a partial revelation, share it to help boost the faith of other believers regarding the Divine imminence that comes through what they very sincerely believe to be proper belief and practice. I have been one such. It is an easy position to attain. One has an experience one then interprets in the language of the belief-culture of which you are a part or want to become a part, and its scripture, and voila, you have now supported belief both in yourself and in your hearers.
So was I one of the deluded but sincere ones? Like I said, at times I added to what I experienced for the express purpose of supporting others’ belief. Why? Because it was a “good” and would have a good consequence for the hearers if I were to be believed. What did this embellishment consist of? Typically it consisted of testifying as sure knowledge that which I only sensed, but fervently hoped, to be true. I sold faith in a wrapper labeled knowledge. Not honest, at least not in my case because I really did not “know,” I believed and hoped and felt internal stirrings confirming same. That is real faith. But it is not knowledge. Staing knowledge in this unwarrnated way also gave me power, in terms of influence, over others. For their own good, I believed then, since it added faith to them. I was wrong to have done this.
New topic: is this new God of mine responsible for having every species compete for resources and space with every other one? Is this God responsible for mindless multiplication within each species until there is starvation? Yes. But hey, perhaps God is moderating this cruelty by having sentience come to be. Maybe the role of sentience, as it continues to evolve and become enhanced, is to allow God, through sentient beings taking charge, to correct the slaughter of the innocents that goes on in this world among all species including our own (especially our own it seems in some times and places.).
Maybe sentience is the key to adding intelligence, compassion and love into the mindlessness that is evolution, steering it to produce a planet envisioned by many, many believers to be possible, but requiring the return of God to Earth. Sentience is God, therfore God has returned and is continually returning to Earth. But we sentient beings are the God-power that can stop the madness. We are the planners and workers who can make the Earth into the metaphorical Garden wherein the lion lies down with the lamb and men shall make war no more. Religions that attempt to reinforce the evolutionary mandate to reproduce mindlessly are enforcing the old mindless order.
God’s order, which is in our hearts and hands, is to provide a world with sustainable populations in comfortable settings and with the resources to allow all to live rich lives, which has everything to do with human potential and little with capital.
So is the new vegetarian-communist manifesto? No, the former maybe only to some extent. I am a veggie because I am a pacifist at heart. But regarding the latter, we have learned that human potential is only expanded as it is challenged, so cooperative societies that foster inter-group competition and push responsibility and authority to the lowest working levels are my personal ideal. A far cry from centralized control and direction. But the key is education, start in kindergarten to teach a different set of values and within a generation the world will be a different place.
Many societies are on the right track, but many are not. The God I sense in me and in all of us has given all us super-sentient beings (as compared with the limited self awareness of some of our fellow but non-human creatures) collective control over what are showing to be life-debilitating developments. And this intervention we ought to make goes beyond stopping simple unbounded reproduction, but also includes smoothing out the inequalities that are at the root of many wars and conflicts. The gift of self-knowing is the gift of understanding and tailoring life to make it a good experience for as many as can be supported, and to stop reproducing beyond that capacity. At least I think so.
Jesus said something about an abundant life. That does not mean an abundance of life. Mindlessly reproducing to the point of inflicting starvation or other miseries on the under-classes of society, or even just taking away hope of a productive and interesting life, is a great evil. Birth-control is now a biological necessity for species survival, our species. It has not always been so.
Go forth and multiply was never more than a biological mandate translated into a political one. The Third Reich’s propaganda within their own country included family values speeches urging women to become mothers to bear Aryan babies to assure the Fatherland could meet its destiny of world domination. Somehow the First World War with its amazing numbers of deaths, especially of young men, had discouraged both men and women from bearing more. That was overcome by propaganda, by designing a vision of a new world order all good citizens would want to contribute to. And they had the support of churches that were also aghast at the low birth rate, especially given the fact that this had not meant there was a turning away from sexual activity. It meant that “sin” was rampant in the eyes of some religious leaders who believed and taught that God had said that sex was only for conceiving, its pleasure was a reward for attempting to achieve conception, pleasure without that attempt was sin.
Societies use religions to support and maintain their institutions, to help stave off challenges to those institutions. Is this always bad? No. But often it stifles and controls and represses segments of society to their serious detriment, limiting their lives, limiting their expectations for themselves, thus taking away their chance for an abundant life (suppression of races, of ethic and religious minorities, of a particular sex, of certain sexual orientations, all come to mind to one degree or another, and each is worthy of a few pages, but I am not going there). [My grandfather spent time in prison agitating for the 5 day workweek in part because the Dutch Reformed Church said it was a commandment from God to labor 6 days, and this was reflected in law in the Netherlands of his time. The church, according to the way my father told the story, wanted him and his supporters locked away because they were agitating to have the nation commit a sin, having Satyrdays off was an act of rebellion against the word of God.] Legal systems, and belief systems, ought to be blind to race and sex and ethnicity as well as sexual orientation. Committed relationships that build abundant lives should never be against any law. That is never a government’s business.
All religions with which I have made myself somewhat acquainted are man-made. I know of none that are major and also woman-made (some minor ones come to mind, however), but that is not the issue I am attempting to address, although it does dramatize the fact that religions are power-structures in their mature phases and are designed and run to obtain societal power and then to protect the societal power structures that support them.
My experience has been in Christianity, so I will stay in that large world of beliefs and thus stay within my experience for this discussion. I have written a set of questions. This question-set, I believe, captures many of the ‘flavors’ of belief that can be found in the multitude of Christian religions.
• Does religion provide God-breathed instructions for our lives from a Supreme Being who is a being in the same sense we are beings and who is looking out for our best interest?
• Are the dictates of religion a Divinely decreed test we must pass to allow us to return to, or achieve for the first time, the Divine Presence?
• Are we a fallen race eternally condemned unless we receive the freely given gift of redemption wrought by a God coming to earth and dying sinless to cover humanity’s sins for those that have come to know this fact and believe?
• Is obedience to religion the key to obtaining Divine personal aid, intervention, and knowledge/revelation?
Several of these flavors occur in the same religion, either at the same time or in its history. It seems that original Christianity quickly learned that the idea of seeking and finding personal revelation was fragmenting and frankly dangerous to the building of religious community. Mormonism has discovered the same thing almost 2,000 years later. One squelched it and created a hierarchy that speaks for God basing all that God says on any subject on an old book made up of older, tribal literature reflecting dubious ethical views as well as supurb soul-stirring insights and revelations, and some tradition. The other, a recent upstart religion by comparison, encourages it at the individual level but restricts it to never allow revelation to be taken as coming from God that is not specific to one’s own domain or that does not corroborate or confirm what has already been revealed by duly appointed revelators.
The idea is that theological revelation is only communicated by God to prophets whom God has appointed. Scripture is not to be contradicted. So, as an individual your revelation can help you in your family or business or your work assignment within the religion, it can tell you that God lives and you can experience the reality and love of God within you. But if a normal believer receives revelation that redefines or adds to what is known of God, or suggests changes in how the church should be run, that believer is not receiving revelation from God and is in a dangerous place.
This is very similar to the way ecstatic mystics and their revelations were treated in Catholicism, and perhaps still are. Their marvelous insights got them Sainthood (after death, or at least "blessed" status) if they were seen as within the scope of orthodoxy. It got them a stinking hole in a jail or a fiery death if, however similar to the saintly versions it may have been at its core, it failed to meet the standard of orthodoxy. The dividing line was more often than not the same as in the Mormon-revelation dividing line: if the revelation suggested the church and its rites were not needed to assure salvation, the line had been crossed. So a revelation of assured personal acceptance by God, cutting out all further need of obedience to the requirements of religion, crossed the line big-time. Many had revealed to them that their place with or in God was assured. Some proclaimed this to others, that is how the Free Spirits came to be hounded out of existence.
Am I a neo-free-spirit? Yes. [For more on this topic, see my addendum to this page, discussing my ideas of the difference between revelation of unity with God from the orthodox and the heretical Free Spirit viewpoint that is linked below.] But I do not subscribe to the notion that there ought to be no constraints of the type taught by religions as some Free Spirit devotees taught, perhaps, and that resuted of all manner of abuses according to the orthodox opposition. After all, if Love (the expression of the Divine in us all) is our guide, we will seek to do good to others and do our very best to do no harm physically or emotionally (or spiritually) to our fellow planetary inhabitants, especially our fellow humans with whom we share an abundance of this Love within, and with whom we are ‘one’ in a profound way.
However, recall Jesus’ advice: be harmless as doves but wise as serpents. Do what needs to be done to avoid being hurt by the unenlightened, by those whose self-awareness is limited and who know not the Love that is in them, and especially don't know that it is also in you. The Light shines, but they fail to comprehend it and hence they foully use, and abuse, their fellow human beings. Allowing oneself to be used or abused is never love, it is enabling another to remain in darkness and unaware.
The bad news is that all the societal evil in the world is a reflection of our own capacity and desire for evil. The good news is that all the societal good in the world is a reflection of our own capacity and desire for goodness. We have no ‘super-being’ to blame, in either direction.
What about the afterlife? Don’t ask me. I don’t know. My intellect says there is no such thing. My intuitive side says yes there is, but it will not conform to any expectations we humans can possibly generate or entertain. All my intuitive side joins my intellect on is to agree that if there is such a thing, it is not an afterlife that in any sense continues what we have here. As above so below is a screwed up notion. Projecting human authority and power structures into the hereafter is equally untenable. And sex is the result of biological evolution on this planet. Sorry for those of you looking forward to an eternity of procreation. Get it here while you can, but remember to neither use nor abuse in the process.
Creation? Sure. If something that is 'us' remains it will continue to be part of creation, which is ongoing. Rewards and punishments? What a waste of the Universe’s energy either way. Whatever justice there is in the universe is in our hands here. Looking for restitution in the hereafter is comforting to those hurt and powerless, perhaps, but grounded in wishful thinking.
This is where I am now, at the end of 2005. It is not where I was a decade ago or two decades ago. And I refuse to predict where I will be in terms of my beliefs and spiritual life in 2015, whether I am still on this Mother Earth or not.
Some have told me I will be in hell as soon as I die. If there is an afterlife with such a place, and they are right and I am wrong: at least I will be with several of my friends who feel in large measure as I do and believe in large measure as I believe. I'll save them embarrassment and not name them, but I appreciate their sharing their own insights and feelings and beliefs with me. –abe--
Go to a discussion of Bloemardine (Free Spirit) versus Ruisbroeck (orthodox)
Go back to Life in 2005 page.