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You give it a name...

"...you give it a name, and you think you have understood it. Is not the very naming of the thing a hindrance to the understanding of it?" ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
    
     Many people (my bet is most people) will question their faith at one point or another. What path one takes after that moment is both telling and defining.
    
     My older sister decided she was no longer Catholic at age 16.
     That was the only time my mother ever laid a hand on her. In a knee-jerk reaction, she slapped her across the face.
     She instantly regretted it.
     I believe that was when my mother’s moment came to question her faith – or at least her conviction to her faith.
    
     My moment came when I was about 9-years-old.
    
     As a child, being a Catholic was no different to me than being an Italian/Scotch-Irish/German by descent.
     I was Catholic by descent.
     I knew other religions existed – I even knew a bit about what some of them believed.
     I was fortunate enough to have been raised in Northern New Jersey in the 1970’s and ’80’s – it was an extraordinarily diverse area even before multiculturalism was invented (no, really, the term wasn’t coined until 1965).  There weren’t many religions or nationalities that went unrepresented in my immediate surroundings – my class pictures looked like a U.N. convention in miniature.
     Still, the Jewish kid was Jewish because his parents were Jewish and he was born Jewish.
    
     One day, in my third grade class, the teacher mentioned Deist beliefs. She told us that some people believe there is a god who started it all, but then pulled away to let things happen as they will. Their god did not intervene at all.
     My first thought was that this made sense to me.
     Then something clicked. I’m not sure exactly how or why it happened, but it did.
     I instantly realized that my religion isn’t something that’s part of who I am. It’s something I choose to be a part of – or choose to not be a part of.
    
     It made me think of all the questions I was reprimanded for asking in CCD. (If you are not familiar, CCD stands for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine”. It is the Catholic Church’s method of indoctrinating school-aged kids into the faith.)
     “Teacher… We have been to the moon. We know that if we get out of the atmosphere our heads will explode if we don’t suffocate first. How come God didn’t know that, and he felt he had to change everyone’s language when they were building the Tower of Babel?”
     “Teacher… Who lived in the Land of Nod?”
     “Teacher… If Adam and Eve were the first two people, and incest is a sin…”
    
     I immediately decided I was no longer Catholic.
          
     This began a twenty-five year search for what I did believe.
    
     I spent countless hours reading various sacred texts and philosophers. I spoke with scores of preachers, devout followers and atheists. I attended dozens of religious gatherings & meetings.
     I was collecting.
    
     Much of what I learned made sense to me. None of them seemed to have it all right. I was unwilling (perhaps unable) to identify myself with any religion, unless I was in complete agreement with it.
     I was gathering bits and pieces of wisdom from around the world and across the ages in an attempt to cobble together my own matching set of beliefs and practices.
     If you would have asked me at 16 what my religious beliefs were, I would have answered, “I’m an Anarcho-Taoist Agnostic with Buddhist leanings” or some such ridiculous pretention.
    
     I never did find a religion to identify myself with, because after all those years of searching, I was unable to find a religion I had no quarrels with. To call myself an adherent to any religion that I did not completely agree with felt dishonest to me. I’ve always despised dishonesty, but to be dishonest about my religion, of all things?? Religion, as I saw it, should be the cornerstone of not only your faith, but your very being – to lie about that was simply inconceivable.
     My wife once told me that it’s a good thing I never found a religion, because if I ever did, I would be one Hell of a fundamentalist.
    
     My thought process through much of that time was: if I can’t find one, I’ll just build one. Why not? What made Abraham, Siddhartha, Confucius, Martin Luther, Calvin and all the others so special?
     Nothing.
    
     It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I realized that it wasn’t any of the specific religions that I had a problem with – it was religion in general.
     I know there are almost as many definitions of religion as there are religions, but to avoid the pedantic, semantic arguments, I will share the viewpoint I am working from…
    
     Religion is a system of beliefs, practices and/or philosophy that purports knowledge of that which man does not (or does not yet) have the ability to discern through his own physical senses. In other words, a religion claims to answer the unanswerable questions.
    
     Had I made my own religion, it would have been no different than any of the others.
    
Buddha’s Pragmatic Strategy
    
     It is a common belief in the pop-culture understanding of Buddhism that Siddhartha claimed there is no soul – even some sects of Buddhism teach this misconception.
     This is simply not supported by Siddhartha’s words.
    
     Siddhartha taught that there are twelve unanswerable questions (or fourteen, depending on which text you read – or four, depending on how you view the questions). Boiled down and very roughly translated, these questions are:
    
     Is the universe eternal?
     Is the universe infinite?
     Do we have a soul, distinct from our bodies?
     What happens to us after we die?
    
     Siddhartha had a pragmatic approach to these questions. He said it was folly to try and search for the answers to these questions, and dishonest to claim knowledge of the answers. Instead, we should work to determine which answers would be most “skillful” (most beneficial to ourselves on our paths to virtue and least harmful to others on theirs) and live our lives holding the presumption of that truth. In other words, we should act as if that were the truth, while not claiming knowledge of that truth.
    
     Siddhartha used to teach that if something does not make reasonable sense to you and it does not benefit you, discard it – otherwise, hold it as a personal truth and live that truth.
     That is my approach to philosophy.
    
Satya
    
     Satya is a Sanskrit word which means roughly, “the fundamental, underlying, metaphysical truth which brings us closer to the divine”.
     There needs to be a distinction between “satya” and “truth” in the Indian culture because they believe that what most of us refer to as “reality” is simply an illusory façade we create, which overlays sayta. Something may be true in “reality” while not being part of satya. While I may not agree with everything the Hindu faith teaches about what is or is not part of satya, this distinction between Truth and reality is quite significant.
    
     In my view, the distinction between Philosophy and Religion mirrors the distinction between reality and satya. Philosophy concerns itself with reality, while Religion claims knowledge of satya.
    
     One thought I have walked away from all theist religions with is that if I am to believe what this group of people is claiming to be the Truth, that does not seem to me to be faith in any god, rather faith in men – the men who came up with this view of Truth.
     As I see it, it’s a question of this man’s unsupportable view against that man’s unsupportable view.
     I can’t, and wouldn’t, say this or that god does not exist, but I have seen no evidence and, as such, have no faith that any god does exist as a matter of satya.
    
     All religions are beautiful, but, I agree with Marx – without evidence, I can’t see how they can be anything more than opiates. While it may be comforting if I were to believe in a benevolent father and a paradisiacal afterlife, I cannot simply choose what I believe – it has to make reasonable sense to me.
    
     I am certainly no materialist. The strict materialist perspective is a fool’s approach. To believe that one must be able to touch something to have faith it exists, is simple self-delusion.
    
     I know racism exists, though I cannot touch it.
     I have clear evidence of the existence of racism. It is not a matter of faith, rather a matter of fact – a matter of reality.
     Racism only exists because we have willed it into existence.
    
     Reality is faith and will incarnate.
     Satya cares nothing for faith or will – it exists separate from us and our beliefs.
     While there may well be Fundamental Metaphysical Truths over which we have no control – reality is certainly manifest through belief and actions.
    
Karma
    
     Placing religious dogma and other cultural baggage aside, the Sanskrit word “karma” (or kamma in Pali) means simply “action” and implies the consequences of that action. If Bill kicks a stone with his bare feet and injures his toe, that is karma in its simplest, most straight-forward form.
     There is no system of checks and balances – no old man in the sky doling out justice – no mysterious, masked avenger.
    
     Every action has an impact of consequences, and each of those consequences has a further impact of consequences.
     It is an endless collection of ripples interacting in an infinite pool of time.
    
     Even inanimate objects have a significant role to play. If a tree falls and blocks your path, you must find a way over, through or around it.
     Every action you take, every word you speak, every thought you have becomes a part of this collection of ripples, influences it and can be greatly magnified by it.
    
     It is Chaos Theory.
     It is The Butterfly Effect.
     It is Karma, Manifest.
    
     I have clear evidence of the existence of karma. It is not a matter of faith, rather a matter of fact – a matter of satya.
    
     Although its existence cannot be seen, heard, measured or quantified, it certainly has very real effects.
     It swept through the Deep South many years ago and convinced people that they were justified in lynching human beings based on the color of their skin.
     It pulled people together at home to gather their efforts and cooperate while their sons and husbands were off fighting World War II.
     It made Michael Jackson a star.
     It made Michael Jackson a pitiful laughing stock.
    
     Any decision you make, regardless of how insignificant it may seem on the surface, could ultimately end up affecting the lives of millions of people that you don’t even know, and many you do know.
    
     What is most important is being mindful of the contributions you make to it by virtue of simply existing and interacting with other life.
     It is crucially important to acknowledge the fact that we and our lives are so intrinsically intertwined and powerfully influenced by this, and that we would do well to keep that in mind when we make the decisions we do.
     We certainly are self-determined animals, but we are constantly inundated with influences in our lives. While that is no excuse to absolve yourself of your responsibility and accountability for your actions, not being mindful of such influences will cause you to fall prey to it. The immense power of this is something that should be revered, not blamed, because the source of the blame is placed squarely on individuals and their actions.
    
     Everything is interconnected, and those interconnections, are a beautiful example of synergy. The sum really is greater than the whole of its parts.
    
     We all exist within Karma, Manifest – it is the reality we experience.
    
     That synergy is what I worship.
    
The Interstitial Intersection
    
     Through my train of thought jumping from one track to the next and next one morning, I found my mind hovering over Elijah Muhammad, which caused it to wander to a thought that brought up a significant question for me – a question that made me reconsider a long-held belief of mine – and not just a belief that I stumbled upon or was indoctrinated into to, but a belief that I had formed over years of careful exploration and stringent challenging.
    
     I love those questions!
    
     The thought my mind wandered to was, “If being the victim of racism has made you a racist, you are no better – you’re still just a racist.” It made perfect sense to me: While the source and cause of your prejudices may be understandable, that doesn’t make them excusable. They are only truly significant for understanding and self-exploration to learn how to undo the damage that has been done – not to serve as a ready excuse for your appalling behavior.
    
     This long-held belief I referred to has always been a point of internal contention for me and this is why I explored it so much and kept coming back to challenge it over and over again. “I am the result of my experiences.” In other words, I am product the countless influences on me throughout my life. While the line between nature and nurture (if there is a discrete line) may never be quantified, nurture certainly plays a significant role in shaping the people we become. Karma is real, undeniable and wholly unavoidable.
     The difficulty of this for me had always been the reconciliation of external influences and personal responsibility. How much blame can be placed on the abused abuser – especially if the line between nature and nurture cannot be objectively defined? If we are who we have been influenced to be, how much responsibility can we truly have in our actions? At the same time, if free will does exist, how can we not be held responsible for our actions?
    
     On the morning of May 19, 2010, I felt quite at ease sitting within this contentious space, for the first time ever. My perception shifted in that moment.
    
     I love those moments!
    
     I never doubted – and still do not doubt – that karma is a real and powerful force. I never doubted – and still do not doubt – that I greatly value acknowledging personal responsibility and accepting accountability. The perception shift that was required to take place within me was not so much one of finding balance – which I am always searching for – rather it was more a shift of perspective. I began viewing my “self” as an intersection of what has come and what is to come – the intersection of past and future forming the present at “I Am.” – the intersection of influence and intention forming the self – the intersection of instinct and free will.
    
     Am I defined by the results of the influences upon me leading up until now or am I defined by the results of my actions going forward?
     Yes.
    
     The person I have become up until now is wholly defined by my past experiences (which includes, part and parcel, the decisions I have made by my own self-determination). In other words, who I was up until a moment ago, is defined by karma’s influence on me.
     The decisions I make in this moment are shaping who I am to become a moment from now, as well as shaping the influence I have on the world around me. In other words, the influence I have on karma is wholly defined by the decisions I make in this moment.
    
     The self is only existent in this fleeting moment between influence & potential and is wholly defined by action. The answer is not, as I had always assumed, striking a balance between the influence karma has on me and the influence I have on karma – the answer is to exist in that space between karma’s influence on me and my influence on karma.
    
     I have said a thousand times, “[This] is not life” and “[That] is not life” but I have never been able to say what I think life IS. Now I believe I can.
    
     Life is being mindfully present and actively engaged in the practice of turning influence into potential with your actions
    
     As such, nothing in life is more important than acting with integrity and compassion.
    
Lawyers, Judges & Fools
    
     A good idea is a wonderful thing – sublime, really. Intelligence is one of our greatest gifts and assets as human beings and a good idea is a manifestation of that gift.
    
     Once that idea is written as a system, however… when it is codified as a religion… then it comes with laws. Therein lies the problem.
    
     It’s not that I dislike rules in and of themselves – not at all. In fact, I love them. I have a fairly stringent rule system I live by, actually. As I told a friend once, at a silent meditation retreat, I have always wanted to be a monk – it’s just that I don’t believe in God, and I do very much like sex.
    
     The problem with laws is the three types of people who tend to come, part and parcel with them.
    
     Any written system of laws creates people who will read those laws, look for the loopholes and apply the letter of the law to justify their actions and beliefs regardless of whether they fit the spirit of the law. These people don’t turn to religion for guidance. These people are not looking for truth. These people already have their minds made up and are looking to the authoritative text for vindication of that. The Lawyers.
    
     Some of those Lawyers will take that a step further and wield those skewed beliefs as weapons to condemn, denigrate and oppress others and their views. The Judges.
    
     Still others will adhere to the letter of the laws, in the best faith, with no thought given to the outcome of their actions. They have the best of intentions toward piety, and rather than think for themselves, opt to defer to authority. They believe they are honoring the object of their divine worship by refusing to utilize the greatest gift their creator gave to them – their ability to reason and discern the virtuous path. These people are driven and controlled by fear, insecurity, shame and regret. The Fools.
    
     This is not to say that all religious people are one of the above. Those religious people who I do respect and admire, however, are good people regardless of their religion – perhaps in spite of it. The adherents who do not fit into one of the above categories would still be good people if they were not religious – this is where my respect springs from. They are virtuous because it is right – not because they fear punishment for lack of virtue.
    
     Laws are foisted upon us all under the guise of medicine and protection. Laws, they tell us, are necessary to protect all of us from the dregs.
    
     Laws are written by the Judges to oppress the Fools and allow the Lawyers to cheat the Fools. All of us suffer as a result.
     Anarchy, regardless of what pop-culture and teen-aged punks might reflect, is not a state of reckless, wild abandon and “every man for himself”. Anarchy is a state of intelligent people who do not require laws to be compassionate and act with integrity.
    
     Talk of free will and social justice to your heart’s content – laws imprison.
     Laws restrict the actions of those who would act with integrity and compassion, regardless of whether there were laws governing it.
     Laws allow – even encourage – others to act without presence of mind or genuine consideration over their actions and the possible consequences of those actions.
     Laws serve to allow others to take advantage of virtuous people and get away with despicable actions because they maneuver around and through the laws.
    
     I prefer religious anarchy.
    
Staking a Claim on Satya
    
     To state and explore a belief on a matter of reality is a worthwhile philosophical endeavor.
    
     To claim Truth over the unknown, one transcends the realm of personal belief and passes into dictate.
    
     Does the Christian God exist? If people believe in him, he does.
     All gods exist.
     All notions exist.
     All thoughts exist.
     Racism exists.
    
     Whether or not any god’s existence is a Metaphysical Truth, it is a reality. If people believe in anything and their lives are affected by this belief as much as they would be if the thing did exist then it does. Reality is wholly pragmatic.
     The power inherent in Gods is the power inherent in collective belief and action.
    
     If a million people believe in the God Ralph, and these million people act in accordance with how they believe Ralph wants them to act, does it really matter if Ralph’s existence is a matter of Metaphysical Truth? The results are the same. All gods exist within Karma, Manifest.
    
     God and The Devil are indistinguishable.
     Both reside in the collective intentions, actions and knowledge of man, and they are in a constant struggle with each other.
    
     While I do not hold any belief that any cognizant Gods exist as a matter of Metaphysical Truth, they do, in fact, exist in reality.
    
     Acknowledging the existence of a greater power is one thing – defining a god with traits, intentions and systems of thought is quite another. To then take that god and claim its existence as satya… To claim divine knowledge of the Truth of the unanswerable questions… In my view that’s misguided at best and damnable at worst.
    
     Regardless of whether or not the religion is “tolerant”… Regardless of whether or not the religion seeks to condemn non-believers… Regardless of how vociferously the adherents wield their Truth… To claim Truth (as opposed to simple belief) of the answers to these questions is to claim dominion over reality – thus attempting to manipulate the beliefs of others, and therefore control their actions.
    
     There is no greater transgression than to remove agency; to restrict personal liberty; to foist your own values upon others and force them to comply. While not every religious person attempts to force their own beliefs upon others, every religion does so by virtue of attempting to stake such a claim on Truth.
    
     What alternative do we have?
     Simple: Honesty.
    
     What is so scary about the phrase, “I don’t know”?
     People seem to be so terribly afraid of admitting there is something they can't answer. People are afraid of the unknown. People are afraid of so very much, and it cripples them to the point that they are no longer living their lives. Without fearlessness, self-determination cannot exist. Without self-determination, life does not exist.
     The sad irony is that people who are afraid of death are already dead.
    
     I don't know what will happen after I die. That doesn't scare me.
    
Why Religion?
    
     Why not just take a good idea, hold it as a personal truth and live a virtuous life? Why create a religious system of laws?
    
     Religions, intentionally or not, prey and feed upon the greatest weaknesses of man: Insecurity, Shame, Regret and Fear. People, being a social animal, want to be accepted – they want to belong. Most strive for those open arms by attempting to steer within the confines of what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. They want a strict, clear set of laws dividing right from wrong – without question – to come down from an unwavering (usually undeserving) authority they place above them.
     A religious code is, at best, immovable and inflexible by nature and, at worst, a potent weapon.
    
     People fear the unknown – and their insecurity does not allow them to provide their own guidance through darkness. They don’t know what the Truth is, so search for an authority to tell them (and dole out punishment for those who do not follow).
     People crave justification for those actions that prick their conscience. They are desperate for forgiveness for that which shames them. They want someone to tell them it is OK to let go of that regret.
    
     From the last paragraph of the last chapter of A. E. Haydon's "The Biography of the Gods": "For too long, we have put off unto the gods those things that we should be doing for ourselves."
    
     If we acknowledge our own culpability, accept our own shortcomings, reflect upon & learn from our actions (as opposed to regretting our mistakes), accept that there are things we do not understand and strive to live with integrity & compassion, gods become redundant and Religion becomes a fetter.
    
     No, I do not have faith that any cognizant gods exist as a matter of Metaphysical Truth.
     They do exist as a matter of reality – however I do not worship these Gods. I worship Karma, Manifest as a divine power in much the same way that people worship these Gods of theirs.
     Thus, I am not a theist or an atheist.
    
     I am a non-theist.

December 13, 2011, 08:02:03 am

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