Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Mild Rant

I find myself in an odd position, culturally, with a foot in two very opposite worlds. Or maybe it's actually three different worlds that I don't fit into.

I read lots of blogs representing lots of different view points, engage lots of people in friendly discussions over coffee, but I've lately been a little disturbed by some of the hostility and apparent arrogance I encounter.

I'm curious about the religious literalists, though I don't understand this position very well. This group includes the creationist crowd, and virtually all fundamentalists, whether they be Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist. What I most wonder about is how a person can live happily when a literal doctrine collides with common sense and evidence. I'm genuinely interested in how this works. I occasionally have tried to intelligently discuss these things on blogs hosted by Christians of this type, and I'm shocked by the hostile reaction There are some Christians who are meaner than any Ku Klux Klanner you'll ever see. I asked one blogger how he personally reconciled a hatred of gay people with the Christian injunction to love his neighbors... and was told that I was going to burn in hell most painfully for asking such a question.

But this doesn't mean that I fall neatly into the atheist club, because at the same time I reject religious literalism, I very strongly do believe in spiritual pursuit, and am frankly put off by the folks who act like science has all the answers. This crowd, to my way of thinking, has just substituted another false idol to the Jehovah they rail against. My instincts and my personal experience is that it's not a purely scientific approach, but a more symbolic and artistic life that leads to happiness. Such a suggestion, though, causes the apologists for science to be just as hostile and insulting as the fundamental Christians. I've been accused of ignorance by people who've never read Thomas Kuhn on scientific revolution. While I admire much of what Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins say, a great many of their followers seem to have no forward agenda at all, and are simply interested in fighting religion. And living your life purely to fight is not for me.

Then there are the new age group, with astral travel and angel collections and crystal therapy.
For some reason, this group seems to be the friendliest and least judgmental, but it is just a little too undisciplined for me to want join their club. A 30 year old once tried to explain why Tantra was THE answer, and how I was a pure fool for not seeing it. Tantra, he kindly explained to me, was developed in San Francisco in the 1960s. His source of information was not the ancient Hindu or Buddhist root texts that lay out the basis for Tantric study, but some web sites he had seen sponsoring tantric retreats in New Mexico. A month later, he had turned to relexology.

So having no natural membership in any of these clubs, I choose to study all these various traditions, and to compose a spiritual practice based on a synthesis of the symbolic truths I find underlying all of them. My heroes, in this regard, are people like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, for whom religious mythologies and civilized culture represented extremely real psychological truths about human nature.

Jung once suggested that humans would eventually evolve to a stage where the pursuit of science, religion, psychology and art would be exactly the same endeavor. Yeah, man. I can get behind that. Jung, for example, thought we should openly accept the belief in UFO an interesting manifestation of group delusion.

So my shelves include The Bible, the Quran, the Bhaghavad Gita, the Origin of Species, Id and Ego, The End of Faith, and many other books that are all equally valuable works of art. They all represent humans trying to understand what evolution is aiming toward, what we should strive for. What a great thing that we're all looking for virtually the same thing. It's through the hearing many different interpretations that I think we get closest to the truth.

But for those of you who think that one of these books is somehow more valuable and true than all the others...

I fear you won't be very interested in this particular club. And sometimes I fear that it's a club with only one member.


Anonymous said...

The Bhaghavad Gita rocks. I also liked the Ramayana a lot, but I found the Quaran to be a little dry and stultifying. I hate books where the author thinks he knows everything and doesn't allow the reader to form their own opinions. I think that's why I love mythology so much - Ovid's Metamorphoses is my favorite.

I fit well within the atheist fold, but I still find discussing and thinking about these things interesting and I like to try to understand what makes people tick. I just hate the fundamentalist mentality that people all have to believe the same thing.

August said...

My own spiritual needs require that I read many interpretations of religion, science, art, and so forth. I'd feel spiritually starved if I limited myself to one set of beliefs.

The arrogance with which fundamentalists pursue their agenda is distasteful––including Dawkins, with his dismissive & hostile attitude.


Glamourpuss said...

Your club has more than one member, but perhaps none so eloquent. I am with you - on religion and on science - both are ideologies, both are the word of man. One's spiritual truth, and one's relationship with God, should be both individual and interior. Empiricism doesn't have to centre on science alone.


G said...

I follow the Way of the Buddha, but this doesn't preclude the study & discussion of other ways of life. Indeed, reflecting on various viewpoints, including religious, atheistic, & agnostic, complements the practice of Buddhism.

To the degree that any pursuit involves the development of wisdom, compassion, goodwill, knowledge, peace and the like, it is in line with the Buddhadharma. With this in mind, I would like to congratulate you on a great blog, Mercurious. Keep up the good work of asking important questions & seeking out important answers!

G at 'Forest Wisdom'

Michelle O'Neil said...

"Jung once suggested that humans would eventually evolve to a stage where the pursuit of science, religion, psychology and art would be exactly the same endeavor."

I'd join that club.