Sunday, 9 September 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 5: The Way to Realise Our Potential (4).

Towards the end of ‘Human Potentialities’, Huxley turns his attention to ethics. He argues that cannot fulfil our potential for doing good on the basis of ‘commandments thundered down from Sinai’, categorical imperatives, and laws – all of which simply say “be good, or else”. We inquiries into how to go about doing good. Not only that, but we don’t know enough about how to BE good, and how to love: ‘That we shall perish unless we learn to love more warmly and widely … is only too obvious.’ Thus Huxley says he would welcome even a ‘general’ effort to condition of young children to feel more affectionately, in order to improve the moral and emotional atmosphere.

In the end, however, he feels that the answer lies in a more involved – more directed and precise – ethical method; we require practical techniques – focussed on autosuggestion – to make ourselves capable of implementing our good intentions. This means commanding ourselves on the verbal level, and carrying out those commands ‘…on the non-verbal levels of the autonomic nervous system and the subliminal mind…’. This kind of practice is, Huxley believed, ‘…of great value, both ethically and therapeutically.’

To some the idea of using autosuggestion might suggest that Huxley experienced bouts of eccentricity. Nevertheless, the evidence shows that it is a big mistake to underestimate the force of autosuggestion, for good or ill: dictatorships used it, when they compelled their peoples to recite instructions in the form of chants and songs; religions use it, when, for example, they encourage the recitation of confessions and creeds; people suffering from anxiety and depression use it, when they repeat negative self-statements that entrench their low self-esteem perpetuate their symptoms; therapists like myself use it, when we encourage ‘positive self-talk’, and the use of ‘coping cards’. A form of autosuggestion known as the ‘Emotional Freedom Technique’ is now widely used, and has become a big business. If we repeat any phrase often enough we do tend to believe it; it begins to shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 4: The Way to Realise Our Potential (3).

Huxley says that we should find new ways to stretch the kind psychophysical skills which, for example, we might use once we have learned to drive a car instinctually. Mechanisation has meant less opportunities for us to develop our capacities in this area, and to compensate for that society must begin educating ‘…on the non-verbal level of first-order psychophysical experience’: 'What is needed, if more of the potentialities of more people are to be actualized, is a training on the non-verbal levels of our whole being as systematic as the training now given to children and adults on the verbal level.'

When he wrote, in 1961, Huxley thought that studying from sciences to humanities was confined to the symbol-using mind, and we cannot say much has changed since then. Huxley would still say today that we need to awaken of purer forms of non-verbal experience and perception, ‘…with the fewest possible notional preconceptions’. After all, we cannot fulfil our potential for thinking and feeling, or for willing and acting, without our first perceiving accurately and discriminately.

Huxley even suggests that enhanced non-verbal perceptions might allow us exercise our potential for ‘higher insights’. Ancient tantric “philosopher-psychologists” of India, who believed that efforts to achieve perception ‘beyond names and descriptions’ was a preparation for living life fully, or for enlightenment. Yet Huxley is aware that modern times we tend be less concerned with enlightenment than with maintaining, or restoring mental health. He cites psychologists and psychotherapists – ‘Gestalt’ practitioners, for example – who at the start of the 1960s were finding that they could liberate patients by helping attend to their present, ‘here-and-now’ experiences. Some abandoned the Freudian focus on past trauma and the unconscious. Instead, mental health – of a sort that supports the realisation of potential – could be characterised by the breaking out of a ‘…prison of symbols and memories … by becoming aware, in a state of pure receptivity…’.

Further, Huxley suggests that higher levels of enjoyment follow from accurate perceptions; from perceptions less limited the “symbolic grime” of language – that is, a residue of notions about what things “really” or ”merely” are: '…when we understand that words stand only for the similarities between first-order experience, each one of which is unique, when we learn to pass at will from the stale ‘oldness of the letter’ (the world of symbols) to the fresh ‘newness of the spirit’ (the world of first-order experiences), then and only then will our potentialities for enjoyment be actualised.'

Friday, 31 August 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 3: The Way to Realise Our Potential (2).

Those of us who, following Huxley, wish establish an environment that favours the actualisation of in-born potentialities face an uphill struggle. This is because the societies we inhabit not oriented toward that end, and are instead preoccupied by the maintenance and extension of their wealth. So as things stand we can only do what we can with what there is.

One tool we do have is language, a resource for ‘automatically converting the bewildering profusion of first-order experiences into manageable symbols’. Although language can be misused to bolster the status quo’s misguided aspirations (for more consumption and national aggrandisement), it can also be used to encourage realistic thinking and appropriate thinking, so that we can formulate better science, literature, philosophy, and ethics. Language can enable appropriate education, which in turn can support the realisation of potentialities. Specifically education, mediated by language, has the power to promote two principles which are vital to the realisation of human potential: the ‘…understanding of the nature and limitations of language and the … fact of human variability.’

Language is made up of symbols that never truly represent ‘reality’, or at the least only represent ‘reality’ by degrees. If education is directed towards helping people to recognise this it shows them, at the same time, that truth is constantly in question. They become less vulnerable to the sort of persuasive power – of advertising, nationalism, ideology, and religion – which is based on a zealous and seemingly exciting misuse of language: “To what extent would it help boys and girls to actualise potentialities which, if they had not received this kind of training, would be been buried under unexamined preconceptions and traditional notions of smothered by uncritically accepted propaganda?”

As for variability, Huxley advocates a ‘genetic realism’; an admission that our freedom to choose what will make us happy or fulfilled is to some extent constrained or determined by unique genetic predispositions or potentialities. Education in human variability, Huxley says, can prevent forms of ignorance that foster prejudice; it can prevent the truly tragic suppression of rich diversity and innovation; it can also help us extend our perception beyond our culture’s ‘arbitrary chose norm of right-mindedness and good behaviour’, and it can benefit communities: “For the sake of the community (for no community can afford to waste its most precious asset, the gifts, the fully actualised potentialities, of all its members) ... the enormous spread of human diversity should be recognised, respected and systematically made the most of.”

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 2: The Way to Realise Our Potential (1).

To be meaningful, hope must be attainable. In ‘Human Potentialities’ Aldous Huxley says that we really can establish a future for humanity in which we ‘…actualise the many and great potentialities which in most individuals still remain latent’. We can do so, first of all, by establishing the right environmental conditions. As a Humanist Huxley believes that people have a natural desire, or even need, to strive towards the realisation of their potential. Nevertheless, we cannot trust that they will do so until their more basic requirements are met.

Describing Abraham Maslow’s concept of a ‘hierarchy of needs’, Huxley says that our physical needs (for food, and safety) and certain psychological needs (for belonging, and esteem) must be satisfied before we can realise the ‘most specifically human of our needs’; that is, before we can satisfy our need of knowledge, meaning, ‘self-expression through the manipulation of symbols’, and our need of ‘self-transcending development’.

It is necessary to concede that there are exceptions: some people realise potentialities in spite of, or even because of, isolation and a lack of love. In one song, I Found Out, John Lennon had this to say of his parents: “They didn’t want me, so they made me a star”. And yet in defence of Huxley’s argument, tortured geniuses like Lennon tend not to fulfil their potential in terms of being happy, or being happy with themselves.

So, the satisfaction of people's needs is a necessary first step, and a prerequite for their going on to fulfil their promise in multiple areas of their lives. But there are further ways and means to consider beyond that, as I will show in coming posts.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 1: Hope and a Direction for the Future Without Faith.

I admire Aldous Huxley, and all his work. His earlier, satirical and dystopian work tore down all hypocrisies and inequalities with piercing intelligence and wit. The novel Brave New World famously shows the possible dehumanising consequences of advancing science, and of advancing the fortunes of only a genetically ‘superior’ few. In that world dominant powers act like the religions and totalitarian regimes we know: they do not allow people to accept or respect difference – the quality of difference that we all share ¬– and they attempt to make everyone to follow the one same path to fulfilment whether they like it or not. But Huxley didn’t simply take the easy route of one who only criticises others, without offering positive alternatives; he didn’t simply show us an impending road to hell, without suggesting an alternative route.

After years of preparation Huxley wrote Island, a novel published the year before his passing in 1962. He sought to show how a community can choose to adopt practical and pragmatic systems in order to prioritise happiness, deeper present moment awareness, and love; he tried to describe a system which enables individuals to cultivate their own unique gifts, perspectives, and paths to happiness, to the benefit everyone. Equally, in an essay called ‘Human Potentialities’ (1961), which I will focus on here, Huxley outlined a positive direction for the future. He offered us something to strive for now, and an alternative to locating our hope in the consolations of an afterlife. In ‘Human Potentialities’ he criticises wealthy nations, where they envisage their futures in terms of more military might and more consumption. Rather, we should orient ourselves toward meeting everyone’s basic human needs, so that we might create a world in which everyone will have a chance to actualise their desirable potentialities. If we will it, or if we choose it and aspire to it, says Huxley, we do have the capacity to share our resources so that every human being will be nourished, secure, and valued; so that every human being will then be in a position to develop their capacities for intelligence, creativity, contentment, and love.

Aldous’ ‘Human Potentialities’ appears in a volume called ‘The Humanist Frame’ (1961), which was edited his elder brother Julian. Julian Huxley was a biologist, Humanist, and he had been the first director-general of UNESCO – his preface is worthy of mention. It is preface which centres on ‘Evolutionary Humanism’, as a way of giving humanism a set of principles and a ‘movement in a certain definable direction’. This ‘Evolutionary Humanism’ gives us hope and meaning, when it relates every kind of human activity to evolutionary movement. Evolution, Julian Huxley says, is not simply a biological process, but a psychosocial process which – particularly now, following recent strides in our knowledge and technologies – we can and should direct: "Today, in twentieth-century man, the evolutionary process is at last becoming conscious of itself and is beginning to study itself with a view to directing its future course. Human knowledge worked over by human imagination is seen as the basis of human understanding and belief, and the ultimate guide to human progress."

Linking in to his brother’s piece, Julian describes ‘Evolutionary Humanism’ as an aim for human species ‘…in the shape of greater fulfilment through the realisation of potentialities.’ In my next post I will show how Aldous Huxley thought we might practically go about realising human potentialities.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

If homosexuality is natural, Christianity is wrong.

Please consider the following extract from a recent post on A Penitent Atheist (see links). In the context of the theme of my own blog (Shared Difference) I will just add this: although we may all share a capacity for love, we all require the freedom to pursue in the way we choose and with whom we choose (provided we do not cause unjustifiable harm). If one man finds love and happiness with a consenting thin female, so be it; if another man finds love and happiness with a consenting large male, so be it! Too often a terrible wrong has been perpetrated, when people have been forced, whether overtly or more incideously, to suppress their natural impulses for love and relationships...

"The title of my blog, A Penitent Atheist, indicates a degree of regret, even remorse, that exists in me because of the things I taught and preached as a Christian minister. One of the things I regret the most is my persecution of homosexuals.

When anyone attempts to find that Christianity is tolerant of homosexuals, they must choose to admit that certain parts of the Bible are wrong. Because the Bible is unequivocally anti-homosexual. And therefore, as a preacher, so was I.

As it turned out, the issue of homosexuality, among others, helped me see that the Bible, and Christianity, were false. It is very simple, really. If homosexuality is not a choice, then Christianity is wrong. And it is patently clear that homosexuality is not a choice; it is no more a choice than is heterosexuality."

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 10: Go In Peace to Love and Serve...?

Anglican congregations rise to close their services with a hymn, and so they are already standing tall – perhaps invigorated by the imminent prospect of coffee and then Sunday lunch – when the Reverend exhorts them to “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord”. But I feel obliged to exclaim “by Jove, isn’t that rather a lot to ask?”, having established (see parts II, VII, and VIII) that the Lord of the Bible - in His transcendence - cannot be anything other than unknown in every strict or verifiable sense. Good luck to individuals who undertake to guess what kind of “service” He wants, especially if they hope to come up with an answer and achieve a consensus; pity them, given the persistent inability to agree (ranging from petty bickering to out-and-out discord) which explains why religion makes religious people cross!

So then, with no solution, no resolution, and therefore with no clear Way to serve Him in sight, why do Christian solders march on? They’re hampered to the point of being ineffectual – incapable of coming together to choose between a frontal assault and a pincer movement, or even agree on which hill to take in the first place – so why don’t they demob? Well, perhaps that’s mostly because there is a security that comes with the expectation of a pending capital-T Truth; that can appear to outweigh the insecurity associated with the inability to define that Truth now, or agree on the Way to realise it. Unless… it could be that all the schisms and long-winded disputes conceal a hidden purpose: the Anglican Communion alone − without even needing to enlist other sects, or make anything of their divergences − may one day create enough hot air to fill a giant balloon so that they can float to Heaven. Why else sit there in General Synod and, straight faced, situate antagonised arguments about the “problem” of homosexuality alongside moral debates concerning poverty and climate change?

Another thing, the Godhead doesn’t need serving, or praising, or prayer. He’s ok, up there being sung to sleep every night by heavenly hosts. Surely He’s big enough to take care of Himself, and I see no reason to single Him out for special treatment just because He’s rumoured to be Older, Wiser, and more Powerful than the rest of us. (The that Humans are ‘lesser beings makes “Humanist” start to sound like a form of discrimination, like “sexist” or “racist”! Are Christian’s “Humanist” in that sense?) No, if we are to serve at all lets stay focussed on helping one another, because life isn't easy for us mortals. (Not that we can care for each other without also caring for ourselves, for no one would be happy and all our efforts would be wasted if everyone were to confuse “goodness” with misery and self-sacrifice!)

Of course the mystery of God is still there – distracting, perplexing, and generally getting in the way – somehow secure within a cultural milieu which politely accepts long-standing fallacies. Clearly I don’t like it, and yet you know, for now I do myself some favours if I can accept and come to terms with it, rather than become angry or demoralized (and as such ineffectual). Life goes on, even though we cannot be sure that life will offer us what we want, or anything at all: we cannot be sure that life will always give us secularism any more than health, money, or status, just as Christians certainly cannot be sure of God or Heaven. But I say to you: there is still always meaning in what you can give or offer – through your attitudes and actions – and in the love that you (uniquely, like no other) can feel or create even if the harshest and most hopeless circumstances. That’s everything, and that’s enough.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 9: Why Religion Doesn't Always Make Me Cross.

I’ve sought to explain and justify my persistent vexatious feelings about religion, but now I’ve said enough. Lets move on because, well, I’ve moved on. I’m positive, excited about the future, confident that claims to exclusive religious truth will fade in time, like an empty, irrelevant, and potentially divisive rumour. It’ll happen when it finally becomes clear even to religious people that the symbols that make up our languages and texts cannot really contain or express truth – religious or otherwise. Nevertheless, for now religion remains an inescapable ‘reality’, and I chose not to remain angry or demoralised about it. I wish to avoid the kind of excessive bile which could skew my perceptions, or distort my arguments. I am striving to be fair-minded, even handed, and capable of acknowledging the provisional and limited nature of my own words and hypotheses.

In that spirit, let me concede I like some aspects of religion (just as I might like some aspects of the American government’s activity in Israel or Africa, without being fond of American foreign policy as a whole): Despite myself I still like old Church buildings, and Anglican hymns whose words I learned by heart as a young choirboy: such familiar sights and sounds reliably counteract a kind of empty “home sick” feeling, whenever my surroundings seem ‘alien’ or threatening somehow. I also like kindly old ladies who bake for Church functions and spoil little children. I enjoy Christmas carols, and for me Taizé music can be ‘heavenly’. I even have affection for parts of the Bible – notably parables like ‘The Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10), and the one with the widow who gives away her last two copper coins while no one is looking (Mark 12). Further, if I were ever truly in desperate need, I think I might go to a priest or an imam, a church or a mosque – places where I know well-meaning individuals tend to congregate.

Religious or not, people tend to grow on me, once I get passed my preconceptions and appreciate their rounded individuality. In particular, I have a lot of time for religious people who honestly ‘don’t know’. These are open people who, it seems to me, gain much from not being sure about what they believe: they’re humble, and they don’t indoctrinate or force their beliefs on others. They are spiritual people whose spirituality performs a very real function in their lives; they tend to find solace in ceremony and constancy in the services, rituals, and festivals that break up their year. Hanging onto some kind of “open belief” can provide an avenue for genuine reflection, as well as relaxation and personal development – vital aspects of a life well lived, which many of us have lost. For others, notably “non-practicing” individuals who were brought up in the faith, God remains an important notion: few of these read or attempt to defend the Bible, and, for my own part, I’m disinclined to disapprove of them. We can’t all be philosophers, and people who are happy and harmless can’t all be expected to halt their daily lives in order to critically assess their unseen assumptions.

Clearly I’m making an effort to be kind here, and as a final gesture I’d like to mention two very important words – “love” and “forgiveness”. I’ll allow those words stand there alone, because they are strong expressive words that do not need to be borne up by philosophical explication or religious structure. Love and forgiveness have been working for a long time now, occasionally loudly or publicly, but perhaps more often quietly and privately. It appears Jesus and/or the gospel writers, like Gautama and Lao-tze, chose to use these words, and for that at least lets give them a nod. And spare a bow for people down the ages who may have read the whole Bible, but have nevertheless singled out and acted upon these two words. As Victor Frankl (author of ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’) discovered in Auschwitz, love allows us rise high, far above physical life and suffering – it is our salvation.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 8: The Foundations of Belief 2 – Trapped Between Two Horns.

God is usually invoked to fill gaps – gaps in our knowledge, or gaps in our hearts. Yet we now find that belief in God is unsustainable precisely because we cannot find a gap between a bull’s rather worrying two horns. Christians who concede the Bible’s unreliability, when they feel burdened by the weight of deeply embarrassing and unpleasant guidance it contains, evade one of the two horns. It is, after all, just not done to say to a woman that, in certain circumstances “she is to be kept silent”; it would be asking for trouble to go on and explain that Eve was deceived, not Adam, and that, as a result, women can only be saved through childbirth. Vis-à-vis passages like 1 Timothy 2:15 liberals are frequently anxious to stress the Bible’s fallibility, and they are visibly relieved when I’m able to tell them that Paul almost certainly didn’t write it anyway. But those who evade one horn in this way (they don’t have to defend the Bible’s bigotry, nor try to explain away its contradictions any longer) can’t avoid being impaled by the other: they must accept that they don’t have a secure textual foundation for their beliefs, and possibly no foundation outside their subjective selves.

The alternative is to weather the storm and continue to revere the Bible, in spite of the awkward bits. But that rash and baseless course – doubtful and distasteful in equal measure – presents a very pointed horn. Even if Christians swallow their doubts and take Bible’s inconsistent content for what it is, the fact remains that can’t be weighed up or verified – we have nothing to weigh it against. Philo-Judeaus and Justus of Tiberius meticulously chronicled the first half of the first century, and they did notice various cults and figures like John the Baptist – rather strange that they didn’t notice this Jesus (lit. “the one who saves”), wouldn’t you say? (See Barker, Dan, 1992) That just leaves Josephus, born 37AD, author of The Antiquities of the Jews; Christians who give him a mention are apt to impress an easily swayed or ill-informed audience. And yet it only takes a glance at the evidence to see that scribes crudely inserted a brief reference to Jesus – “doer of wonderful works” – into later copies of Josephus’ work.

I certainly don’t want to take incredulity to reckless extremes, but if there aren’t any ‘external’ references before the second century (Suetonius and Tacitus made a couple of very vague, and critical references to the Christian movement in AD112 and AD117 respectively) then how can we be sure that the gospel writers didn’t just make it up? Paul’s Epistles, probably written in the 50s, say lots high-flown and things about “the Christ”, but entirely in the abstract. The gospels did grant this “Christ” some kind of physical life, yet even if they didn’t make things up there are good reasons to suppose that they adapted a great deal from elsewhere. After all, precedents were all around, having seeped into the culture until it was steeped in them: Jewish Talmudic literature and a pre-Christian “Joshua” cult both preceded and often paralleled the gospels. Antigonus had already borne the mantle “king of the Jews”, and been crucified, and Dionysus’ had already been a ‘saviour sacrifice’.

Then there was the popular Persian god Mithra (see Barker, Dan, 1992): now, Mithra’s birth had allegedly been witnessed by shepherds and Magi, who had brought gifts. He had performed miracles including raising the dead, healing the sick, and sighting the blind; he even ascended to heaven, after sharing a last supper with his twelve disciples. Now, here we have a most curious coincidence – well, that or the gospels writers had indeed been borrowing from here and there instead of recording real-life events. Similarly, ponder the striking similarities between Old and New Testament ‘miracles’: compare, for example, the raising of the son of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 with the raising of the son of Nain in Luke 7. Believers who suppose that this is just chance are trapped by one of our bull’s horns, since they clearly take credulity to unwarranted excesses.

Perhaps the only option left is to make a break for it, in an attempt to sneak around the metaphorical bull rather than confront it. That means quietly putting the whole question of a verifiable foundation for belief to one side, hoping that no one will notice. And then, well, how about an unverifiable foundation for belief, religious experience? Although the religious individuals cannot offer proofs, showing that they can commune with God, they may think that it isn’t possible for anyone else to deny it – touché! Touché indeed, although not because I feel unable to deny “it” (that is the self-and-other “reality” of spiritual encounters) – I actually think it’s quite fair to assume the non-existence of “anything” if no one can show me the evidence. No, my difficulty arises when people I care for describe their experience of God to me, because I understand that, for them, this has a profound emotional, mental, and physical ‘reality’. I feel obliged to honour that, which makes remaining cross awfully difficult at times. So, they finally have me: my frustration is (temporarily) neutralised, my offensive against everything theistic grinds to a (temporary) halt, and I smile … benignly.

But wait, occasionally believers do try to affirm the genuineness of their belief experiences, and then the colour soon returns to my cheeks. They claim that their experiences must be authentic, because they spawn good works. In fairness such a view is fine and harmless most of the time, when belief in God is associated with good works. But it’s a problem when belief begets bigotry, or when prayer precedes prejudice. I’ve heard lots of testimonies, and the idea of a close union with a loving God would grab my attention, and appeal to me, if it brought forth good fruit consistently – but it doesn’t. If a group of siblings don’t turn out too well we can’t, with confidence, say that their parentage was anything special; we can’t infer the existence of an ideal cause from a less than ideal consequence.

So then, if a Basilica built on sand stays standing, it does so in spite of it’s foundations. Why invest so much time, effort, and spirit, when all those gilded depiction of heaven and hell could crumble to nothing? When Christians give their all to the love of God it’s risky, very risky: those that manage to evade torturous doubt and crises of meaning do so in spite of the absence of a basis for their belief. Acknowledging meaning in life, in real experience – in our selves and other people, as well as in things we can choose to enjoy, create, and respond to with dignity everyday – is far more secure.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 7: The Foundations of Belief 1 – A Basilica Built On Sand?

Entering a dialogue with any literature can offer a counterpoint, and a valuable opportunity to gauge our experiences from an alternative perspective. ‘Liberal’ Christians go somewhat further when they adapt or apply ‘authoritative literature’ – religious literature – to make it a servant of their current situation. South America’s ‘Liberation Theology’ seems to have made this work; it has acted to meet the here-and-now needs of victims of inequality, and it has made a big enough impact to antagonise the Papacy. That’s not too hard to swallow, but I can’t stomach Christians (or individuals of any religion) who elevate their text – or their Church – above their context. They attempt to bend and twist what “is” to somehow make it fit what they read, notably when they pass by what individuals do want (perhaps sex outside marriage, or even a same sex partner) and try to make them conform to what the Bible says they should want (the kind of male dominated marriage described in Ephesians 5). This is ever so unfortunate when it is clear, in so many ways, that the Bible is not even a good book.

Straddling the two worlds of academic theology and Evangelical Christianity abruptly opened my eyes, and showed me that many weighty persons who lay claim to familiarity with God frequently know little about the Bible: they call it Truth, but they don’t look into how, when, and for whom its component parts were written; they don’t ask questions – at least not without presupposing satisfactory answers – about the process by which Scripture was copied, altered, and eventually thrust together. Many six-day creationists aren’t aware that Genesis was compiled (from four sources) as late as the time of Solomon, and then without a thought or inking for “histo-scientific accuracy”; the plan was to write something stirring to rejuvenate faith in God’s Sovereignty, at a time when Israel was under threat. And still I’m acquainted with Christians – Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and others – who stubbornly maintain that the Genesis is to be taken literally; they cannot admit that the Bible contradicts itself throughout, even when I take it upon myself to point out the numerous examples.

Logically – a priori – God cannot have made Man last (Genesis 1) and created him first (Genesis 2): an obvious discrepancy, factual in character, which casts doubt on the Bible’s internal consistency and historical veracity. When events are located in history – in a time and place – inconsistencies are often most apparent, and difficult to evade without saying “black is white”; it just so happens that this is the case with the nativity stories and resurrection “accounts”. Was Jesus born before Herod died in 4BC (Matthew), or was he born after Cyrenius became governor (Luke), which would be 6AD? When “the women” (and the gospels aren’t clear on which women) are meant to have been surprised and alarmed by Jesus’ empty tomb they may’ve seen one “young man” (Mark), an angel (Matthew), two men (Luke), or two angels (John). Bewildered?

Another thing – bear with me, it’s important – in its original form the earliest gospel, Mark, doesn’t have a post-resurrection appearance or ascension. The later gospels engender confusion instead of making up for this unhelpful omission: are we expected to believe that Jesus, after coming back to life, met his disciples for the first time in “a room” in Jerusalem (Luke, John), or that he materialised before them on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew)? (Hard to verify either way, given that mountaintops and fated rooms both tend to be very private…) The point is, if there is sufficient doubt concerning fundamentals such as Christ’s birth, death, and fantastic (or incredible) conquest of death, even the most watered-down, soggy ‘Christianity’ is surely unfounded and untenable. Similarly, what about our deaths, and the terribly important question of our wondrous rebirths in the hereafter? It appears that earning redemption through good works is definitely out (Romans 4). Rather, Salvation is somehow both a blossom produced by free will, when we choose faith, and also a gift of grace, entirely predestined so that we absolutely nothing to do with it (Ephesians 1)? After two thousand years of vainly wresting with these irreconcilables, God alone knows what’s going on.

Another variety of contradiction makes things awkward for Christians when it comes to using the Bible as a guide to living: should slaves obey their masters “just as (they) would obey Christ” (Leviticus 25; Colossians 3; Ephesians 6), or break every yoke so that Christ is their sole Master (Isaiah 53; Matthew 28)? Interpreting “Thou shalt not kill” is awfully tricky since the Old Testament example really seems to be saying, “it’s okay to massacre certain groups” (Canaanites, Golden Calf Worshipers, or – heck – how about any group that has a whiff of ‘heresy’ surrounding it according to the trends of the day)? Another quandary: did Jesus bring new wine (Matthew 9), or did he really mean it when he said he didn’t want to remove so much as a pen stroke from the Law (Matthew 5)? Mind you, going wholeheartedly for the latter isn’t really an option, since we’d all be off stoning disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21) and butchering individuals who are adulterous or gay (Leviticus 20; Romans 1) – we just don’t do that sort of thing where I come from.

Here Christians necessarily face two unsatisfactory options: should they defend the Bible without a leg to stand on, or embrace its flaws and abandon the platform upon which their faith rests. There is no third way; no route for Christians between this bull’s two sharp horns .

Monday, 23 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 6: The "God Shaped Hole"?

It’s an affront when some Christians give the impression that people like me can only ever grope aimlessly for what we think is right, or for what we think we want. Thus the C of E’s ‘Alpha course’: indoctrination sweetened by selective pseudo-science and a very warm welcome. Alpha introduces participants to their “God shaped hole”, as if they will always be “lost” until that hole has been filled. Well, that was certainly in the subtext when the Elders at my old Church favoured me, and allowed me to co-lead an Alpha course. What fun: trying to convince others was a great way of applying a panacea to my own doubts, and there was the sense that even if I wasn’t quite “sorted” at least I was better off than “my prey”.

Recently I spotted an Alpha poster showing a climber gazing at a breathtaking mountain vista; below a caption asked “Is there more to life than this?”. “What? Isn’t that enough?”, I spluttered, after a brief fit of coughing to clear my suddenly blocked throat. The poster, I realised, made me feel very uncomfortable because its words, so bizarrely at variance with its magnificent imagery, were tempting the viewer to feel unfulfilled even in spite of all the world’s wonders. Alpha beguiles people, and – like any good salesman – it does so by encouraging them to believe that they have a need, a want, or a “hole”. How fortunate that the Good News just happens to be at hand, there, in the Alpha brochure (sorry the manual): “Now for a limited period only (well, until the coming of the anti-Christ) God can gratify your desires, so at last you can be whole and contented.”

But wait, an alternative is to desire less in order to become more content, in line with principles found in Zen, Stoicism, and Taoism. Certainly, our problems often lie in our failure to choose to enjoy what we already have, rather than in what we lack. But we can, even without requiring much or possessing much, always decide for ourselves who we want to be, and create our own meaning; even when pains and troubles inflict our lives, there is always something to be taken from each day – some solace, or joy. That seems like a safer bet than pinning our hopes on finding some gift of ultimate Meaning. Frantically looking high and low (under the sofa?), or grasping for something “out of this world”, doesn’t stand out as a particularly effective way to go.

Evangelical churches, often more than others, revere their “elders”. And yet so-called “mature men of God” – typically individuals who happen to have learned lots of Bible quotations – are not necessarily wise or capable of empathy. You see, I’ve lived with, prayed with, and loved Christians; I know that even the nicest among them aren’t any more “sorted” than decent unbelieving people. To be direct, even the most committed believers rarely behave as if they really believe. Why, like the rest of us, do they allow trivia to upset them if they have Eternal Bliss (as part of God’s Almighty Plan) to look forward to? Why do they waste time dwelling on their anxieties and negative self-evaluations (labelling themselves ‘sinners’), if He has Saved them?

We all suffer, of course we do, often because of the negative attitude we bring to our own lives and/or because there genuinely is something missing. But busily reaching for an intangible source of relief looks to me more like a distraction than an answer. Myself, I’d rather learn to be my own Guru, or call up a real life good Samaritan – a ‘solid’, responsive person capable of doing something practical about my problems. Thus if usefulness were my sole criterion I’d take the Yellow Pages over the Bible.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 5: Not just "is", but "ought" as well!

Personally I am just about able to tolerate or endure faith-based efforts to explain what “is”, because they are deficient and laughable in equal measure. But it’s just hurtful, and personal, when faith is brought to bear on the question of “ought”. It makes me cross when some (certainly not all) religious people suppose that their access to Higher Truth obliges them to tell me what I am and what I ought to be. They behave as if it were up to them to decide what my life means. An appalling violation: who are they to say I can’t make sense of my own existence through my personal experiences?

It’s paradoxical, but true to say that difference is something we all share. We are the same in the sense that we all have distinctive genes, experiences, aptitudes, and inclinations. With infinite variety our characters tend towards opposing poles: dependent or independent; silly or solemn; intellectual or practical; extrovert or introvert, and so on. So how can there be One Path to happiness? Sorry but I tried worshiping God, confessing my sins, and essentially giving Him all the praise while giving my self all the condemnation. It didn’t work, and made me unhappy: thankfully I realised I had a problem before all that left me utterly demoralised, inward-looking, and ineffectual.

Were I to take my critique of the Christian Path to a believer, he might try the following classic rebuff, which can be readily adapted to destabilise almost any critic: he could say “It’s easier to destroy than it is to build”. My reply would be “Yes, it certainly is easier to destroy than to build”. I’d politely suggest that a superior path to happiness involves praising our unique selves, accepting our potential even in the face of our failings in order to BUILD hope, motivation, and also confidence. Confident individuals are secure, and as such aren’t disproportionately defensive or aggressive; they don’t need to dominate over others, or fear difference in others. So, they feel good, and their actions tend to be “morally good”. How about it: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace”?

It’s not that I’m saying good behaviour is easy to define or accomplish, but at least the whopping existential challenge before us comes alive once we are free of simplistic ‘Rules from Above’. We can confront “morality” as that which asks us to perpetually assess and re-assess our own actions, as well as our conceptions of meaning – most notably in our personal variations on the theme of love – and responsibility. It’s as if we must mould and re-mould our intentions and actions into shapes, then fit them into an infinite number of different jigsaws (or different situations) as best we can. Morality is grey, however much our fear of uncertainty and/or our indolence may cause us to wish it were written in black and white on some handy stone tablets. Compassion is grey too, by nature constantly inconstant; based on flexibility and compromise.

The sort of benign avoidance of judgement that compassion often calls for is, furthermore, absolutely opposed to biblical absolutes: were an accident or degenerative illness to devastate my body, so that the pain and indignity were too much to bear, I might beg to be helped to die; who could say, who would dare say, that it would always be right to refuse me? Now the kind-heartedness of ‘good’ and ‘true’ Christians frequently takes me aback – bless them, they want to help. But too often they decide what help is appropriate for me, or what help I need. Were I gay I might like it if the Church chose to help me campaign against prejudice, or perhaps promote civil partnership. But instead many Christians would seek to ‘help’ me make an alternative “lifestyle choice”! Were I hungry I might desperately seek relief from material poverty, and yet scores of concerned Christians would continue diverting efforts and resources towards saving me from my “spiritual poverty”.

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 4: The Ultimate Question.

I don’t find myself suddenly grave and deferential when Christians round on me and say – with a self-satisfied checkmate smile – “Well, how do you think we got here then?” I just sigh, and wish we could engage with life’s subtleties for a minute. Where does this arbitrary all-or-nothing illogic come from, as if whenever science cannot (yet) fully explain something it is defensible to assume – and worse, “assume with certainty” – that God must be The Answer?

How exasperating when we don’t know anything about God. That’s why ‘great theologians’, from Pseudo-Dionysius to Karl Barth (to Rowan Williams?), have contented themselves by pondering what He isn’t and, yes, finding new and exciting ways to extend the range of what they don’t know. Here “God” is merely a word rather than The Word; a referent to nothing at all, useful only as a convenient label for ignorance. He’s the Ultimate Question (and, for Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, the “Ultimate Boewing 747”) rather than an answer in any sense: “Well, how do you think He got here then?” Surely He’s too complex to have come into being by chance. We are envisaging an Intelligent Designer who, just as much as the Universe we inhabit, has the appearance, and all the complexity, of something that has been designed. So where on Earth did He come from? Not even science (natural selection) can’t help out here, as it does when we seek to explain the presence of intricacy in our world.

No one is saying it’s easy to explain things like Existence, Nature, Morality, or Love, but let’s opt for a plucky attempt, rather than succumb to a directionless drift down the river of myth (up creek; no paddle!). Equally, how is it that we fail to use empirical evidence in order to try, seriously and unceasingly, to locate the origins of pain, jealousy, or cruelty? Fallacious flim-flam about serpents and the Devil amounts to a harmful, and to me frustrating distraction. Rather, acceptance equals awareness, and thereafter direction and motivation for change follow: we need to unconditionally accept ourselves and our world – the good and the bad – so that we can see honestly, without fear, denial, or distortion; we must replace belief in God with a belief in ourselves, in something tangible, in order to recognise that our own enquiry and can propel us – yes, us – towards meaningful answers and actions.

As for “Creation”, well, forgive me, but why is it easier for Christians to believe in an Eternal Father than a Universe that always Existed in some form? Look to the stars, and behold your Maker! Why not? Why shouldn’t The Universe be “God”? Even if The Universe did have a beginning I don’t understand why it should require a Greater, or perhaps just a more ‘human’ Cause (with a white complexion, and a large beard, surrounded by heavenly hosts…). I’m not saying that just anything can control its own necessity or origin – I’m not positing shrubs that arose out of nothing by the effort of their own Will, nor suggesting that a sardine can find the explanation for its being within itself. But the Universe is THE UNIVERSE, and it should be credited for what it is, and for what it once began, as well as for what it is continually becoming.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 3: Absence, and Evil.

At this stage theists smell The Problem of Evil, and drag out a creaky old wheelbarrow with which to bring forth the ‘free will defence’ once more. Apparently God – presumably not the predetermining God preferred by austere Lutherans, Calvinists, and ‘modern’ evangelicals – cannot educate us conclusively about right and wrong today, just as He cannot set us straight about His existence. If He did He would obviously violate our freedom, says the suddenly “oh so philosophical” theist. (“Err, would He? Golly, would He really?” I stammer – or at least I might were I an awkward spectacled choirboy in the 1950s – “Yees, by Jove, of course He would young man!” booms the Vicar, who looks very like Steven Fry and who prefers to drown out theological problems with his loud voice rather than risk actually having to think about them.)

Now, if we could might we not say “go on, take our freedom – for pity’s sake – if that means you can put an end to the suffering of just one innocent child in return”? And yet such a trade would be based on a false dichotomy, as if it were self-evident that we can have freedom with ignorance and suffering, or no freedom at all. Forgive me, it is possible to intervene to increase freedom, to educate and empower by showing people how (rather than what) to think. We manage it all the time, in schools, in prisons, and yes, in Churches. Richard Carrier has made the point well:
If all this is good for us, even morally obligatory, and is not a “violation” of the free will of evil doers, it is absurd to say it is wrong for a god to do it, that it violates free will only when he does it but not when we do it.

“Absurd”, and just lame. Ah well, we (who decline the fashionable but ungrounded deference to mass unreason) can, without qualms, fall back on more mirthful attempts to explain why a Manifold Presence might appear so woefully absent. I’d suggest a sick note next time: perhaps an almighty bought of feverishness (or manic depression) could explain all this wavering between the extremes of judgement, mercy, and nothing at all? Another option would be to admit to a more permanent insufficiency: I have in mind Dickensian images of a well-meaning incompetent (the Ultimate Mr Pickwick), or a cruel schoolmaster who is chillingly unmoved by the suffering of the children in his ‘care’ (the Uttermost Mr Creakle). Unfortunately implicit in the Name “God” is the idea that He made Heaven and Earth, and high achievers do find it hard to admit weakness, don’t they?

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 2: The Manifold Presence and the Almighty Absence.

God’s absence would be less incongruous if He at least said why He chose to make His manifold Presence so obscure. What kind of parent fails to explain his actions, thus causing His offspring to feel confused and insecure? Come on God, why the riddle if you want us too earn salvation, through faith or however? You could give us a palpable basis for faith, and an object for our love, instead of abandoning us to a blind – thus certainly unwise, and most likely morally unsound – ‘leap’. Or just putting a stop to the Almighty subterfuge would be a start: why not, for example, arrange things so that our bodies disappear rather than rot in the ground, unless we aren’t really meant to believe in life after death? Yes, I’m aware of Jesus’ supposed triumph over decomposition, but I’m not all that impressed by one distant and poorly substantiated exception to the general rule.

From the Christian point-of-view belief on the basis of faith rather than fact is a good thing – a proper criterion for salvation since anything else would be too easy. (We are advised to believe in God on faith at any rate, even though the absurdity of believing anything else on those grounds is granted, naturally enough. How many upstanding Anglicans would set forth to proclaim the Good News to a group of hooded ruffians, or eschew medical care when ill, trusting on faith that Providence and prayer should keep them from harm? “Ah, yes, well… Quite.”) Indeed, some Christians may feel moved to chime in with “Gosh, isn’t it all wonderful; isn’t our Lord fulsome because He has bestowed upon us a chance to be tested?” And, to be fair, such sentiments would extend logically from a sort of twisted rationale, wherein belief has value precisely because it’s not straightforward, owing to its lack of foundation. Other apologists say, again with a whiff of reason, that the nature of God’s presence in a time and in a “mortal” guise, explains His current absence: they say He had to become our Messiah and die on a cross at a specific point in our history, which is, of course, now past.

But no, once Risen the Lord didn’t have to limit His Royal Appearances to such a short period after His “death”. He didn’t have skip the twenty-first century Jesus tour for his modern day fans, nor did He have to deprive all but a few close allies of his post-resurrection appearances in the first century. Come on, didn’t the resurrected King realise that we, now, would all be far more impressed if he’d appeared to (and converted?) the movers and shakers (and the sceptics) of his day – the Jewish Sanhedrin, or Pontius Pilate perhaps? He could even have dispersed visions of his Risen Self beyond the confines of Palestine, if He’d chosen to do so. That would’ve been something for the history books, and mindful that He was restricted to one stay on Earth He ought to have thought about the history books. It seems God was in a too trusting frame of mind if He thought human beings would be sufficiently moved to comprehensively record their experience of the Divine. What a disappointment: not a single authentic first century record of Christ, outside the Gospels, even though Roman historians and Jewish historians meticulously recorded just about everything else – including other “saviours” like Joshua of Galilee. For goodness sake, didn’t anyone else notice the eclipse, the Earthquake, and the walking dead detailed in Matthew 28?

If faith rests on a delicate recipe which combines reasons to believe (presence) and reasons to doubt (absence), then God got it all wrong – He grossly overbaked the latter and made a terrible mess in the kitchen. Perhaps His ‘taking a back seat’ in times of plenty, or when events haven’t really concerned Him, is partially forgivable – if still inexplicable. But harebrained nature of belief is soon fully exposed when we ask how God could have kept His Abundance to Himself while massacres were being perpetrated in His various names. To my mind a bit of parental mediation was certainly called for in 1572, when Catherine de Medici precipitated the Catholic slaughter of thousands, and thousands, of Huguenots. Equally, the Early Church may not have visited unhappiness and murder upon “heretical” Manichaes, Docetists, and Arians, if only He had turned up to settle to odd doctrinal dispute.

But then we are talking about the same Moral Force that was furious with Moses’ cohorts when they didn’t murder absolutely everyone in the Midianite gang – sorry “race”, not “gang”, like the similarly unfortunate Canaanite race. (Yes, every single man and beast were for it second time around, even if God did expressly decree that the young female virgins should be ‘spared’…) Finally, sincerely, and most decisively, there is just no way – no way – to defend belief in a God who couldn’t even manage an appearance when six millions of his ‘chosen people’ were being stripped naked, obscenely brutalised, and then gassed.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 1: God’s Mysterious Means and Uncertain Ends.

I look on with disbelief when people take Christianity seriously, or simply politely tolerate it alongside other ‘established fantasies’, first of all because it seems to me so silly. Christian beliefs are a ripe target for ridicule, and I find it difficult to resist.

God, it seems fair to presume, must have decided that He was not happy enough alone, even though He was already The Almighty. He desired some companionship, but – He Reasoned – since He Himself happened to be so very Wholesome, His companions would need to be without stain too. Any association with impropriety would have been unconscionable. Well, okay, but why in Heaven’s name cause such a muddle by designing – or creating, or whatever – a duo like Adam and Eve who were evidently capable of wrongdoing? What was God thinking – sorry, THINKING? What kind of ill-considered Providence is that? And when He fathered only one favoured son, privileged with virgin birth and without sin, why abandon him to the Romans, and their then modish form of capital punishment – as if grotesque “justice” would somehow put right our spiritual wrongs?

No, I can’t see it. After all, if my dad had his wallet stolen in the street he could just forgive the robbers there and then, or possibly an hour or two later after cancelling his credit cards and drinking some tea to calm his nerves. He wouldn’t need to come home and punish me in place of the robbers before he could forgive them. Well, I hope not! True, God apparently had other things – worse things – to forgive than petty theft. Nonetheless, I would venture to say that even I, a ‘mere’ mortal, can improve my life by learning to accept and cope with some imperfection; I wonder whether God ought to have had the ‘omni-capacity’ to cope with an excess of imperfection? Shouldn’t He have been able to cope without Pontius Pilot coming to the rescue, when (the Bible alleges) he condemned Christ?

‘Perfection’ is such an abstract, Platonic concept, but it is worth remembering that we might not have fallen so dismally short were it not for God’s parenting skills, or the lack thereof. Let’s face it: we have an absentee Father who doesn’t keep up his maintenance payments. Who helps when natural disasters tear down homes made of mud? People do. And if no person steps in to save a drowning man, who or what else will? Not our Heavenly Father. He doesn’t even provide crusts of bread for starving children, never mind new bikes for Christmas. Of course believers would infer something Greater behind the actions of philanthropic people – God’s instruments – but surely the only proportionate response to our experience of compassionate people is a Humanist’s belief in people? That is, people on their own with no pretensions, artificial colours, miracles, or other wonders. The idea that God works through us reduces us – we shouldn’t have to share the credit.

Please understand, as a Humanist I don’t wish to mock of the rich and diverse population of human beings who happen to be believers, it’s just that I’d betray my Humanism if I didn’t interrogate their beliefs and be honest about my concerns.

Part 2 will follow shortly...

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Introduction.

While I was growing up, the son of a charitable, liberal priest, remaining at ease within a sheltered Christian ‘reality’ was not difficult. But later, as a young adult and undergraduate student of Theology, I had to work harder and harder in order to sustain and defend my belief. I was clever enough to keep going for a while: I confined my reason to the narrow parameters of biblical discourses, or ‘language games’, and I successfully made my beliefs cohere on those terms. But it was no use, and eventually I was unable to resist a peek from ‘outside’, from alternative, more empirical perspectives. I let go of my efforts to make sense of the senseless, and discovered a rational humanism that felt infinitely more secure and legitimate. When my family and many friends remained steadfastly religious I asked myself “why should I care?”

Why do I care? I am not sure that I want to be ‘dogmatically anti-dogmatic’, and if faith in a deity makes my loved ones happy why not just let it go? After all, to quarrel with a child’s right to believe in Father Christmas would be petty, and some of the much more involved beliefs sincerely held by religious individuals often appear no more threatening. So what is it about religion that keeps niggling? And, writing as someone who has been baptised twice, can I explain and justify my unease about Christianity?

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Shared difference, self-belief, and a rational humanism


In this first post I just want to introduce myself and (off the top of my head) outline a few of the themes you can expect to find in this blog in the future.

As described in my Profile, I've gone from Christian to free thinker and (I like to think) deep thinker. I've replaced my belief in God with a belief in people – people who can: (1) choose to create our own meaning and purpose in their lives; (2) choose to find happiness in good deeds, and in causes 'higher' than our own selves; (3) take responsibility for their own actions, thoughts, feelings, and their own responses to situations even if/when they cannot control those situations; (4) find opportunity (the opportunity to demonstrate dignity and integrity) even in hardship; (5) believe in themselves so that they KNOW they can cope with setbacks, and that they are capable of making good things happen; (6) make their knowledge secure, or tested against real experience....

Now, in later posts I will offer some essays and arguments well supported by wider reading. I'll be drawing on Existentialist and Humanist foundations, and taking ideas from my study of Psychotherapy. My work will be influenced by philosophers, authors, and therapists, including the following: Aldous Huxley, Satre, Camu, Carl Rogers, Victor Frankl, Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier, and others....

Here, in brief summary, are a few of themes I'd like to go into:

1. Shared difference: as a therapist I am often brought back to my idea of "shared difference". We are all the same in the sense that we are all different (sorry if this sounds needlessly paradoxical). In some general senses perhaps we all want similar things: love, and meaning, for example. But different things bring love and meaning to different people, in very different ways. We all require the confidence to be ourselves, so that we can then (with confidence) pursue what we want. This means leaving aside other people's traditions and conditions, and indeed religions.

2. Self-belief: "we cannot fight the enemy we cannot see", as Freud rightly said. We need awareness of our limitations in order to know what to change, yet an appreciation of our strengths and our potential is what enables change to occur. That's my one big tip, and 'the secret': believe in yourselves and you WILL cope with setbacks - you will turn setbacks into successes, and whoever pushes you down you WILL take responsibility for picking yourself back up; and you WILL make good things happen. We can be proud of ourselves, without being full of ourselves - confidence isn't boasting, becaue confidence is secure! Of course no one is perfect, not in every way, so no one can acheive great things or win approval from others all the time. Thus if we base self-worth on acheivement or approval we are resting on very shakey ground. On a pragmatic level, therefore, the most useful thing is to believe in ourselves (as ourselves) unconditionally. Just by being ourselves (one of a kind!) we are being valuable.

3. Experience precedes truth, not visa versa: I'm a believer in empirically observable states of affairs (i.e. things that exist), so I'm no believer in karma or reincarnation anymore than I'm a believer in aliens called Zippie. However, I like Buddhist psychology because it puts experience before truth. In contrast other religions posit a truth, and require us to somehow shape our experiences (our hopes, and feelings) so that they fit that truth. There is no one objective truth, or one way that we can all (with our different languages, backgrounds, and intellects) see. There is no abstract (Platonic) essence of love, joy, sadness, nor any abstract essence of objects like doornails or rubber ducks. Further, if we pursue some abstract concept that we read about, or conjure up, we miss the real thing. Love, for example, happens when we surrender to the experience, NOT when we pre-plan the feeling before we've felt it (!!) and they tray to make the experience fit the concept.

4. Rational Humanism: If we all went around believing in things without evidence or reason it could all get very silly. People could be discussing the occurance of flying pink elephants (most Thursdays at lunch time). Or closer to home, people could believe in fairies, alien abduction, or indeed 72 virgins in Heaven if they die as martyrs.... How about this: we could believe that God made human beings who are capable of sin, even though He knew well that He (in his RIghteousness) could have no association with sin. We could believe in a God who just wasn't capable of forgiving us when we did in fact sin – at least not without inflicting some punishment, hence the need to allow his son to be crucified. Although a crucifixion may seem to take a bad situation and make things worse, we could nevertheless believe that this privileged Son of God somehow took our sins on himself so we don't have to do anything to go to heaven - or, that is, we don't have to do anything EXCEPT believe all this rediculous stuff without any direct experience or evidence. Oh dear: were having enough trouble explaining how our Universe came into being - why add to the problem by creating the question, "how did this God come into being?"? Yes, without evidence or reason things CAN get very silly.

In any case, these are just a few initial ideas. I'd love to hear opinions and feedback, and I hope to be open to, and respectful of, different opinions. I don't believe in things "beyond experience", but I am very eager to broaden my experience. Teach me, I want to learn, and to empower myself through that...