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Monday, May 10, 2010: God as Fantasy

        Some people would consider proof of their spiritual faith to be unwavering belief in the interpretation, creed, and rituals chosen by their particular religious path. To come face to face with other people's interpretation of what God's Will might be and how humans should live their lives, to have scientific fact contradict centuries of traditional stories and understandings, forces them to choose between contradictions, labeling one option as truth and all others as falsehood. Is clinging to one's tradition an accurate sign of faith?

          I never believed faith had to be synonymous with blind obedience. My faith (which I consider spiritual rather than religious) rested in the belief that if I could strip away all the cultural interpretations and explanations, beneath the words and traditions I would find an Ultimate Truth, a reality that supported the rest of creation. Upon that one truth, all other beliefs would rest, partial glimpses of the deeper reality. For me, that foundational truth would be the divine, an all-encompassing reality, though it didn't matter to me what it was called or how other people defined it. The reality would be there, regardless.

        The strength of my faith was challenged the first time I had to step past the words of my spiritual path because there were rumors the "spiritual truths" had been adapted from other sources, because there were questions about the master's authority or his divine link. Deep down, I reasoned that real spiritual truths would exist independent of the personalities of historic persons and beyond recorded words. (Words by their very nature can invite multiple interpretations.)

        I understood that awareness of spiritual truths -- or the truth of reality (terms I consider synonymous) -- must be pulled down into human consciousness, funneled through the vocabulary and thought patterns of a speaker, and formed into teachings which could be understood by people of a specific time period. Take inspired writings and translate them to a different language, carry them into a different time period which suffers from its own challenges, and the trick for spiritual aspirants would be learning how to open their hearts to the spiritual laws that exist throughout all of creation, unaffected by history or culture.

          I’m not sure why fundamentalists feel compelled to latch onto older texts, to take explanations used to first establish a small struggling group of believers into a viable religious movement, and then drag these religious regulations into modernity. Today’s world is crowded with people who must intermingle with competing belief systems. Defending strongly different viewpoints trigger reactions best described as primitive, instincts that should be overcome by an evolving awareness but which instead push people into marking off and defending their territory. What a disaster for honest spiritual growth.

         I admit it's hard in today's world to overcome the urge to defend one's own belief system against the intrusion of outside forces. Certainly we should maintain the freedom to worship in our own manner. I worry about those people who, in the name of religion, harden their hearts and act in ways contrary to the spiritual teachings of the original teacher. Can’t we find a way to clear out the garbage created by ego? Can’t we just get along?

         I’d love to see more people strive to be both open-minded and spiritually connected. (I thank whiskeyriver for the following quote:)

         "Of course spiritual practice could quite easily be a fantasy, a set of images, legends, doctrines and explanations that might serve to distract us from the fierce reality of our confused desires - offering them a higher and more socially acceptable path for projection to take, a more sophisticated way to freeze ourselves in place than a mere personal ego." - Norman Fischer (Saved from Freezing)

        I think true faith is strong enough to consider this option, to question if all our religious beliefs are simply constructions of the human mind. If there is not the courage to challenge the possibility of manmade interpretations, is there a courage to find deeper truths? If the time is spent attempting to prove how we are right and they are wrong, is there any time left to seek one’s own source of peace and harmony?

        One of my sons (a remarkably old little soul) turned to me one day and said, "Even if God doesn't exist, I would still want to behave in a spiritual manner. I'd want to do the right thing because of the kind of person I'm trying to be." This is a kid who will not be knocked off center by someone questioning whatever practices he uses to live a spiritual or moral life. He questions himself.

         That I question everything is part of my skeptical nature. At the same time, because I've been challenging the mechanism of human awareness and understanding for so long, I’m stymied by people who give up all belief in a divine presence simply because they were confronted with scientific evidence or historic contradiction of culturally programed beliefs. Why should faith be so fragile?

          I've never been upset by the need to throw aside traditional explanations, but feel it’s important to understand how these teachings held value and purpose in their own time period. I realize that if people centuries later can still find value in the teachings, there must be some powerful factor residing within the original teachings -- either a basic social need or a spiritual truth. My religious tolerance arises from the recognition that long-established religions contain spiritual truths and serve important social functions.

        So here’s my stand – that most people do not challenge traditional spiritual beliefs enough (by looking with their hearts beyond the words), and that most people are too quick to give up their faith when words get in the way. What happens when an individual decides that evolutionary biology offers the proof and explanation so missing from the fantastic stories of holy scripture? What happens when, confronted with similar or conflicting versions of spiritual history, the realization sinks in that no one religious explanation may be gospel truth?

        This is the exact point when one needs to spiritually grow up, to set aside the God of one's childhood, to begin anew with an inner quest for truth and meaning. It is not the point to give up faith. How frustrating to see people have their initial beliefs challenged, watch them persuaded to accept a new philosophy, and then see them quit searching altogether – as if conditioned from childhood to believe people must accept one basic explanation and look no further.

         The question for even the scientifically-oriented person should not be, "How can anyone prove to me that God exists," or, "Why shouldn’t I just accept this answer as the best and only realistic explanation?" but rather, "Even if this makes sense now, what else might lay beneath my current understanding of reality?"  To explore the deepest mysteries of our universe, to peer deeply into human awareness, always seeking to push the boundaries of what we currently know and accept -- admittedly, it puts one at risk. One may find answers one had not anticipated. Beneath that level of understanding may come other revelations. Beneath that, still others.

        Only remember one thing -- beware of life-long searches for truth: you may turn into a modern-day mystic. Woe be to those no longer content with simple answers. Of course, I jest; in my mind, seeking and questioning are good things.

        So what if my concept of God may end up being nothing more than a fantasy? It does not bother me to entertain the possibility. I am used to lucid dreaming, where dream reality stands out as a symbolic re-enactment of hidden fears and desires, wrapped within personal, familial, and cultural patterns of behavior. I’ve been in states of awareness where everyday existence appeared just as symbolic as dream actions. Because of this, I’m less inclined these days to believe it possible to truly separate fact from fantasy. Our awareness is at the mercy of too many factors.

         Is God a man-made fantasy, created to comfort us in a chaotic social world, or do we move through the everyday world as actors in some cosmic fantasy? What does it matter? It might be that humanity will never come to know or understand an Ultimate Reality. Perhaps we must be content to survive as best we may, within worlds and realities created in part by our own minds. I find that not such a bad option, and have decided it’s a solid enough reason to keep the faith.

 

Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 06:13AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments3 Comments

Reader Comments (3)

This is a such an excellent post, and follows beautifully on the wisdom in the one before it.
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbeth
I agree with Beth. I feel I have found a kindred spirit.
May 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKass
Thanks, Beth and Kass. Your blogs have brightened many a day for me.
May 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan

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