Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Religion

Excessively Long Note: Part of the UArts250 class I'm taking currently is an exploration of spirituality and what it means to live. Up for discussion yesterday was the Zen notion of the 'shattered mirror' - perception of self - and Meister Eckhart's quotes about cracking through the outer shells of nature and man to find essential truths. The prof also related a story about tripping over a homeless guy in the dark. It's all been sitting on my brain, bugging the hell out of me.

None of the ideas here are original, that's for sure. But it was something that just kind of hit me as I was sitting there, so I wrote it down, and I figure I'd put it up for discussion. It's just a start of something to think more about.

There's a general sentiment that's been growing over the years and decades in today's world; one of general discontentment and unease that a lot of people have regarding the larger philosophical questions in life, particularly on how to live with meaning. There are two primary reasons for that sentiment I think, the first and by much less important of which is the apparent clash of science, logic and reason with religion. Scientific facts, which can be proven again and again, seem to override many claims made in religious studies that simply ask for your belief and faith in their veracity. I used to cite this fairly often, having grown up without any religious inclination and being particularly interested in science and engineering. I now, however, think that claim is worthless.

It's worthless, in my opinion, because it misses the point of religion entirely. While science may conflict with some of the anecdotes written in religious books, it is completely and utterly worthless in trying to determine how to live and what constitutes meaning. That is the true point of religion, not the literal meaning of the stories or anecdotes. Science cannot function as a religion when that focus is emphasized, just as religion really shouldn't try to function as science.

The second issue causing discontentment today, and the more important one in my view, is that in the interconnected world today, there are more potential answers than ever. How are you supposed to objectively determine whether Islam has it correct and Hinduism doesn't, or that Shinto isn't better, or perhaps all or even none of them? Back in the early middle ages when religion was at it's peak of influence in everyday life and in the world, people grew up only hearing one answer (depending on where you lived). Almost nobody was exposed to other religions and potential viewpoints until they were much older and able to travel, if ever. So there was very little in the way of choice - there was only one answer ever presented, and that was that. Not so today.

In the world of choice, we have this conflict. There is absolutely no way to judge one religion against another. So a lot of people today sort of create their own set of beliefs, or perhaps even just ignore it all together. Billions of people can't be wrong, can they? There are at least a billion adherents to three different religions.

And on the surface, most religions look completely distinct from one another. Different practices, different stories, different aphorisms, different cultures. Everything looks quite different. However, there's a theory I've been working on for which I'm finding strong evidence...

At the most basic levels, they are all saying exactly the same damn thing.

They are just using different words, different contexts, different practices and approaches to it.

What exactly does 'it' entail? Here a just a couple of the common threads I find everywhere I look: panentheism, or the concept that God(s)/Buddha/Tao/Whatever is present in all things, and in all things ( ) should be appreciated/worshipped/known/whatever... the release of ego, desires, fears, etc... awareness of the interconnectivity of all things, relinquishing the idea that you are distinct from the rest of the world... love begins in solitude, reflection and contemplation.

Only on the higher, less important levels to religions really start to diverge. I don't believe there are actually a multitude of potential answers.

This was a really joyous kind of epiphany that I came to today. If true, it offers not only a beautiful resolution to the questions of meaning and whatnot but also hope for some reconciliation between all these often-warring ideas in the world. All of this noise, all of these differences and distractions, are all basically arbitrary.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting, though I'm skeptical. While they could be *similar* they could perhaps be prescribing different life paths. For example, consider the two philosophies below (ideas which I think could be adapted from different religions)

    "There’s a debate in our culture about what really makes us happy, which is summarized by, on the one hand, the book “On the Road” and, on the other, the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The former celebrates the life of freedom and adventure. The latter celebrates roots and connections. Research over the past thirty years makes it clear that what the inner mind really wants is connection. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was right."

    Which ever you follow is going to guide your path. For those that believe one way, there's incentive to have other people follow your belief (confirmation of your own beliefs, more fulfillment world-wide)

    Just thinking out loud...