What defines the overall trajectory of life and civilization- rise toward something better or decline toward something worse? Evidence on the complete picture and long-term trends shows improvement overall. There is much sound data to affirm hope. Life and civilization are rising toward a better future. Detail below. Critical to rational optimism is the evidence that humanity is in net terms creative and not destructive.
This site continues as a project to go after the foundational ideas behind all forms of alarmism, religious or secular, mythical or ideological.
Life is story. Taking Joseph Campbell’s framework for human story (i.e. going out, fighting and conquering monsters, gaining insights to benefit others), I am going after a monster in human consciousness- the monster of vengeful, punishing, violent deity. That has been humanity’s supreme ideal and authority for most of human history. It is at the very foundation of much alarmism, past and present.
This is all to say- Do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. Despite the nastier experiences that life hands us, ultimately, everything will be all right, for everyone. There is no ultimate threat of payback, punishment, or destruction behind life. There is only a scandalous and universal no conditions love, a transcendent love unlike most conventional understanding of love as a limited and exclusive ideal (i.e. love for insiders, not so much for outsiders or “enemies”). This site gets extravagant in trying to describe this “greatest ever discovery”. It all stems from an early CE breakthrough that involved a stunning shift away from retaliatory theology and toward a striking new non-retaliatory theology. Detail below.
And yes, I am a dreamer, explorer, and adventurer, on my way to a better world.
New comment below: “Anti-science Alarmism”, “CO2 Alarmism”, along with Plimer and Moore quotes on the larger paleo-climate context, “Grappling with Imperfection”, “Human Narrative- Old Story, New Story”, “Rethinking Justice”, “Getting Intense with Unconditional”, “Dogmatic Meaninglessness”, “Balance Again”, “Defining the Core of Ultimate Reality (some theological musing)”, “Exposing Apocalyptic (again)”, Noble Savage Mythology”, “Authentic Liberalism- Its all about freedom”, “Karma as Payback”, “Short-cut to alleviate irresponsible alarmism”, and “Trigger Warning”, among other comment.
There is extensive comment below on religious violence and the foundational religious ideas (i.e. “bad religious ideas”) that incite or validate violence. This site explores the most important element to long-term solutions to violence. This has to do with the thorough humanizing of our guiding ideals and authorities, whether religious or secular.
I will continue to engage theology/mythology on this site as part of a larger project to fully understand pathology in human thought and to thoroughly humanize the core themes at the foundations of alarmist worldviews (e.g. challenging the ancient belief that retribution, or punishing payback, is at the core of reality, and offering the humane alternative that unconditional generosity defines the core of reality).
Correcting an ancient theological error: Note new comment below on the human struggle with imperfection in life and the distorting mythology that has arisen from this struggle. Evidence from primitive mythology shows that early people reasoned from the imperfection in the natural world to define greater realities.
Just a preview: It is there in the earliest human writing and mythology- angry, vengeful gods punishing humans through natural disaster (i.e. Sumerian Flood myth). Since the beginning people have projected the imperfections of life (natural disaster, disease) out to explain ultimate realities (gods punishing people through natural disaster and disease). Consequently, ultimate realities/gods have long been defined in terms of the imperfection of life. This faulty reasoning must be corrected as part of the project to counter the foundational errors that promote alarmism. This explains my response further below to the Greek view that retribution was at the core of reality. It also explains my engaging the more general problem of imperfection in life. Note new comment from discussion group on the history of people wrestling with imperfection, and its possible role in life.
Note: It has always been basic to human reasoning that people have explained invisible realities in terms of what they have experienced in the physical world (projecting the features of the known onto the unknown). To guide this reasoning process toward a proper understanding of what is most true and most real, I would suggest that it helps to follow what is most humane. This will make more sense below.
Alarmism- Anti-science exaggeration, distortion, and fraud.
Alarmism persists as a prominent pathology in the modern secular world just as it was in the ancient mythical world. As one commentator said, “We have to be terrified of something all the time, new fears are created to replace the old ones”. Traumatizing alarm over the supposed worsening state of life is stirred and propagated endlessly, despite overwhelming evidence that life is improving on all fronts.
Sociologist David Altheide, in his book “Creating Fear: News and the Manufacture of Crisis”, tackles the news media, the primary promoter of contemporary alarmism. He says that news media are not truth-tellers but are entertainers competing with the rest of the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry is obsessively and compulsively addicted to creating fear via apocalyptic story-telling. Just an example- note the major movies of the summer of 2013, almost entirely apocalyptic-oriented stories. Relate this also to the endless battering of public consciousness with climate change alarmism.
Alarmism is the shoddiest of science, or to be more exact- the absence of good science. It provides little or no context for its endless scare scenarios. Context is critical to good science. To get to the true state of anything you must include all the data on the complete picture of that thing, and you must include the longest-term trends that affect the thing that you are looking at. Julian Simon does this exceptionally well in Ultimate Resource. Bjorn Lomborg further illustrates this basic science in Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg also includes examples of scientists that violate good science by making generalizations about the state of life based on aberrations to trends (i.e. short-term reversals). Others embrace the anecdotal fallacy- taking an isolated example as representative of some whole.
When you include the complete overall picture of something and the long term trends related to that thing, you then see the general improvement on the main elements of life. Again, I refer people to the excellent studies by Simon, Lomborg, Easterbrook, Ridley, Goklany, Payne, Pinker, and others (see below).
Getting the proper perspective on the true state of life is not denying the fact that serious problems exist. But the complete picture generally leads to an affirmation of hope as it shows that our compassion and creativity are improving life for all, despite the problems that are still present throughout life (i.e. the ongoing presence of imperfection everywhere).
Alarmism has an established reputation for exaggeration, distortion, and even outright fraud. Yet major political/economic policies are based on alarmist views and it is now estimated that the outcome of such policies have cost humanity trillions of dollars of misspent and wasted funds, or blocked development programs.
Ron Bailey (The End of Doom) argues that alarmism has been a significant drag on human economic growth and general human progress. He notes that a majority of people (54% in the US, Canada, Australia, and Britain) embrace “cultural pessimism”, believing that “our way of life will end within the next 100 years”. Others believe that humanity will go extinct in the next century. Bailey counters, “This pervasive pessimism about the human prospect flies in the face of a plain set of facts: Over the past century, the prospects and circumstances of most of humanity have spectacularly improved”.
Bailey then comments on the US education system: “Almost every child is told that we are running out of resources; that we are robbing future generations when we use these scarce, irreplaceable, or non-renewable resources…; that we are callously polluting the environment beyond control; that we are recklessly destroying the ecology beyond repair; …” and so on. He states that this alarmist narrative creates an unhealthy, immoral, and disastrous educational context. Every element of it is largely incorrect, misleading, overstated, or just plain wrong. Yet most Americans believe it. He adds, “Large swaths of the Western intellectual classes still preach an apocalyptic anti-progress ideology….corrosive pessimism has clearly trickled down and is demoralizing many citizens. Such cultural doom is a significant drag on scientific, technological and policy innovation. Overcoming that pervasive pessimism and restoring the belief in human progress is one of the most important philosophical and political projects for the 21st Century” (http://reason.com/eod).
See other comment below on the linkages between climate alarmism and excessive environmental regulation, and the consequent obstruction of economic growth- e.g. Murdoch below. Bailey notes an economic study which shows that excessive regulation in the Post-WW2 era has restrained US household income to the current average $55,000 when it should be above US$300,000 per average household. Alarmism has made us all poorer.
The alarmist’s wrong-headed assumption is that economic progress in industrial society is destroying nature. They express this in the Ecological Footprint mantra that “too many people are consuming too much and are thereby destroying nature”. Hence the alarmist’s endeavor to slow, halt, and even reverse economic growth. And the outcome of this anti-development movement has been more regulation and consequently less economic growth and development. But evidence (i.e. “environmental transition” research- e.g. Indur Goklany) shows that the assumption about human consumption and destructiveness is all backward. The exact opposite is true. Wealth creation (economic growth) in industrial/technological society enables us to save the planet. Increased wealth enables us to develop more efficient use of resources, to find alternative resource supplies, and to clean up the world and preserve more wilderness spaces. It is anti-development alarmism and entrenched poverty that ruins more of nature. See more detail below.
(Note: Careful distinction must be made between the legitimate human use of nature- our changing of elements of nature- and contrast this with careless destruction of nature. We are not a virus or cancer on life but are as natural as anything else in nature. We have the right to engage and use nature to our benefit, with careful consideration for protection and preservation of varied areas and elements of nature.)
Other commentators have noted that significant elements of fact-distorting ideology are evident throughout the environmental alarmism movement. I argue on this site that you need to look even further behind the ideology to the mythological themes that are often at the foundations of ideologies. Those primitive mythical themes have long shaped human perception, thought, and worldviews. They are irrational/unscientific themes that have endlessly re-emerged over history, more recently in new secular versions such as 19th Century Declinism and its offspring- Environmental Alarmism.
This site is intensely focused on correcting alarmist distortion at the foundational level of the core themes of apocalyptic mythology. This explains the treatment here of religious traditions such as Christian apocalyptic. Christianity bears major responsibility for bringing apocalyptic pathology into the modern Western consciousness. Christian apocalyptic themes have been traced behind such ideologies as Declinism (see Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline, for example).
Quote from Ross McKitrick: “Unfortunately, in my experience, once people migrate into green sentimentalism, environmental issues become questions of righteousness and morality, not facts and information…apocalyptic rhetoric doesn’t win arguments if the facts don’t back it up… all these data (e.g. on air and water pollution improving) are online (see yourenvironment.ca) for those who can be bothered looking stuff up before pontificating…” From “When Margaret met Preston” in National Post, Tuesday, Sept.8, 2015.
Added comment: Where is the outrage and outcry over the damaging consequences of environmental alarmism? Where is the media coverage of the multiple millions of children that died unnecessarily in the wake of Rachel Carson’s chemical alarmism and the consequent banning of DDT? Where is the anger over the millions of unnecessarily blinded children that have been denied access to Vitamin A in Golden Rice? (i.e. anti-GM alarmism) Where is outrage over people stuck in dehumanizing poverty if denied access to fossil fuels? Where is the outrage over unnecessarily cut rainforest due to bio-fuel plantations created as a response to alarmism over fossil fuels? On and on it goes. Horrific damage to people and to nature from environmental alarmism. And where are the news media when the apocalyptic prophecies of the environmental alarmists repeatedly fail to come true? That stubborn 100% historical failure rate. Why do news media mindlessly and endlessly take up new alarmist scenarios from scientists in sandwich boards wailing, “Repent, the end is nigh”.
Comment: Apocalyptic has been called “the Mother of all theology”. I would expand that to Mother of all mythology, and mother of much ideology, also. It is the governing theme of the mythical outlook on life. It is a primitive, barbaric, and entirely anti-science viewpoint. Apocalyptic wrongly assumes some great vengeful, punishing, and violent force or spirit at the core of reality and life. It also assumes that people are essentially bad and deserve severe retribution of some sort, some world-ending punishment. This worst-of-all pathologies still dominates much contemporary outlook, including that of notable scientists and politicians across the globe.
My concern with the climate change alarm has to do with the almost universal acceptance, by large segments of the scientific establishment and by politicians worldwide, of the assumption that CO2 will be the cause of some looming catastrophe. This is unscientific nonsense. And even among so-called “skeptics” there is a puzzling hesitancy to come out and boldly argue against the widespread demonization of CO2 as a pollutant and poison.
Just as puzzling, we hear almost no public celebration of CO2 and its significant benefits to life, an exception being Patrick Moore, formerly of Greenpeace. What happened to Grade 1 science? CO2 is the food of all life. We are at historically low levels of CO2- subnormal, suboptimal levels. Plants need much more CO2 in the atmosphere, preferably in the 1000 to 1500 ppm range. That will be a boon to life. Life will flourish. The Earth will become greener and healthier. And it will not result in catastrophic warming. (See detail in Plimer and Moore quotes below)
Another point on CO2 and warming periods: CO2 has a “warming effect” or influence. No one denies this. CO2 contributes to climate warming. But that contribution is small and is consistently overwhelmed by other natural elements that impact climate. Note, for instance, research on the cosmic ray/sun/cloud interaction, and the impact of multi-decadal ocean current shifts on climate. We are just beginning to understand these natural elements more.
There is no clear evidence, and certainly no consensus, that CO2 is solely or dominantly responsible for any climate change events over the past. Alarmists cannot then make the case that people must stop using fossil fuels in order to “stop climate change”. Further on the smaller human contribution to overall CO2, there is even less evidence to support the case to stop using fossil fuels due to possible impact from this smaller human contribution.
Note also the historical disconnect between CO2 and warming periods. During the late Jurassic Period CO2 levels were above 2000 ppm, while temperatures were on a long-term decline to a cold 15 degree Celsius average for Earth. CO2 continued falling over the Cretaceous Period (below 1000 ppm) but contrarily, world temperatures rose to a 25 degree Celsius average, and even higher in the Tertiary Period. Where is the CO2/warming correlation in this? The Vostok ice core samples further challenge the argument that CO2 is dominantly responsible for causing warming periods. Those samples revealed that CO2 levels rise approximately 800 years after rising temperatures warm the Earth. The relationship? Rising climate temperature first warms the oceans over centuries and the warming oceans then release CO2 into the atmosphere. So much for CO2 causing climate warming periods.
Note also that CO2 continues to rise but the slight warming over 1975-1995 has halted and even chief alarmists have publicly recognized this (e.g. James Hansen of NASA, and Phil Jones formerly of CRU in Britain). Again, this undermines the argument that CO2 will cause catastrophic warming.
CO2 Alarmism: Getting the science all backwards
The long-term and larger overall perspective. What is normal and natural for life on Earth? What is the more healthy and natural state of things for our planet?
Straight out of the gate- There is much more benefit to life on Earth when there are higher levels of CO2 and warmer temperatures. Life has flourished during such times in the past (see Plimer comment below) and there was no catastrophic damage to life. Higher levels of CO2 and warmer temperatures are a return to more healthy and normal conditions for life. That is the evidence from much of Earth’s history and it overturns the alarmist narrative completely.
The alarmist distortion of the optimal state of life is clearly evident in climate change alarmism. Alarmists pull climate change out of its larger paleo-climate context to claim that the mild warming and slight rise in CO2 levels, over the past few decades, are signs of looming catastrophe. This is anti-science distortion gone irrational.
In the larger historical context, Earth is currently in an abnormally cold “ice age era” with abnormally low levels of CO2. Such low levels have stressed plant life. For long stretches of the past CO2 levels have been much higher (1000-1500 ppm). Also, for long periods of Earth’s history there have been much higher average temperatures. For 75% of Earth’s history the world has been entirely ice free, including the poles. And life has flourished during such times (again, see Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth). Ice on Earth is not “normal” or healthy for life. Most extinctions occur during cold eras.
(Side note: The stumps of tropical forest trees have been discovered in the Arctic. That brutally cold area was once the warmer habitat to much more abundant tropical life.)
The slight increase in CO2 levels from the pre-industrial age till today (from roughly 250 to 400 ppm) has benefitted life immensely with a 14% increase in plant productivity just since 1980. Plant life loves more food. The Earth is now greener and healthier because of warmer temperatures and more CO2. More plant productivity also benefits animals and humans (i.e. increased biomass and crop production). Why are the Greens not celebrating this amazing greening of our planet?
Further, our recent warming is part of a longer-term recovery from the abnormal cold of the Little Ice Age (roughly 1645-1715). Since that time we have been returning to more normal and healthy conditions for life and life is once again flourishing.
As for “climate change” itself- climate has always changed and much more notably than over recent history. There is no such thing as stasis in nature because change is the normal state for nature. And certainly it is not desirable to have some mythical stasis at the low and harmful pre-industrial levels of CO2 that stress plant life. That was not an optimal state for life. We do not want to return to a suboptimal state for life. (Note: Alston Chase deals with this stasis-in-nature myth in his book In a Dark Wood)
Recap- We need a fresh public restatement of basic climate history and science. We need more clear acknowledgement that CO2 is not a poison or a pollutant but is the basic food of all life. This is grade one science. More CO2 in the atmosphere is a benefit to all life. Warmer average temperature is also a benefit to life. Many elite scientists seem to have forgotten this basic science of CO2.
Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine Protest Petition (signed by almost 32,000 scientists including many of the best minds on the planet). Here is their summary statement:
“We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”
Concerns over warming: Species such as polar bears might suffer from warmer climate. But where one species may suffer from change, many others will benefit (extended range). Also, polar bears have survived previous inter-glacial periods that had much warmer temperatures than the current inter-glacial. Further, polar bear populations have increased multiple-fold times over the past half century (from roughly 8,000 to 25-30,000) while climate was warming.
Further comment: There is much contemporary comment that the last few years have been the hottest on record. One reason for this is the current strong El Nino that produces aberrational warming in a longer trend (see GWPF newsletter of Sept. 18/2015). And of course, more generally, it has become a bit warmer over the past 150 years. As noted above, we are still rising out of the Little Ice Age period of 1645-1715, an abnormally and bitterly cold period on Earth. That harshly cold period was a subnormal state for life on Earth. We are now returning to more normal and healthy state for life. So yes, of course it has become warmer over the past 150 years (the exceedingly short “historical record” that is so often referred to). But this is not a danger to life. It is a return to more normal and healthy conditions for life. Earth is still too cold compared to the long-term past average temperatures on the planet.
To claim that the pre-industrial era was optimal, and that the rise in temperature and CO2 since then is dangerous, is entirely anti-science and ridiculous. Look at the long-term picture. We have been sub-optimal for millions of years now. CO2 has been too low and this has stressed plant life. Life is now responding positively to more food in the atmosphere. The present trend of increasing CO2 is a healthy return to more normal, natural, and optimal conditions for life. This evidence overturns entirely the doom and gloom message of environmental alarmists.
Comments on the larger paleo-climate record from Ian Plimer’s Heaven And Earth (Introduction):
“There is little or no geological, archeological and historical input into discussions about climate change…The history of time shows us that depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times and life blossoms and economies boom in warm times…”
“Planet Earth is dynamic. It always changes…It is currently in an ice age that started 37 million years ago…We know there have been past climate changes which have been extreme and rapid…to reduce modern climate change to one variable (CO2) or, more correctly, to a small proportion of one variable (i.e. human- produced CO2) is not science”.
(Note: Someone has made the comment that it is absurd to believe that you can change climate by adjusting a CO2 knob.)
“The history of temperature change over time is related to the shape of the continents, the shape of the sea floor, the pulling apart of the crust, the stitching back together of the crust, the opening and closing of sea ways, changes in Earth’s orbit, changes in solar energy, super-noval eruptions, comet dust, impacts by comets and asteroids, volcanic activity, bacteria, soil formation, sedimentation, ocean currents, and the chemistry of air. If we humans, in a fit of ego, think we can change these normal planetary processes, then we need stronger medicine.”
“To argue that we humans can differentiate between human-induced climate changes and natural changes in naive. To argue that natural climate changes are slow and small is contrary to evidence. The slogan “Stop climate change” is a very public advertisement of absolute total ignorance as it is not cognizant of history, archeology, geology, astronomy, ocean sciences, atmospheric sciences and the life sciences.”
“CO2 is not a pollutant. Global warming and high CO2 content bring prosperity and lengthen your life. Carbon dioxide is plant food, is necessary for life, and without CO2 there would be no complex life on Earth.”
“The extensive reliance by global warmers on computer models impresses those with little scientific training…A model is not real. Models are not evidence… These climate models exaggerate the effects of human CO2 emissions into the atmosphere because few of the natural variables are considered.”
“Why do human emissions of CO2 continue to increase yet since 1998 temperature has (flat-lined)?… Although man-made increases in atmospheric CO2 may theoretically make some contribution to temperature rise, such links have not been proven and there is abundant evidence to the contrary.”
Comment on the long-term state of world climate (CO2 and temperatures) from Patrick Moore’s Confessions Of A Greenpeace Dropout:
“During the past 500 million years since modern life forms emerged, the earth’s climate has been warmer than it is today for most of the time. During these ‘Greenhouse Ages’ the earth’s temperature averaged around 22 to 25 degrees Celsius (72 to 77 Fahrenheit)… (This compares to today’s 14.5 Celsius average)…All the land was either tropical or subtropical and the world was generally wetter. The sea level was much higher than today and life flourished on land and in the oceans. These warm periods were punctuated by three Ice Age (Eras) during which large ice sheets formed at the poles and in mountainous areas, effectively eliminating most plants and animals in those regions.
“(Three Ice Age Eras have occurred over the past 500 million years)….Ice started to accumulate in Antarctica beginning 20 million years ago and eventually the current Ice Age, known as the Pleistocene, began in earnest about 2.5 million years ago. The Pleistocene, which we are still in today and during which our species evolved to its current state, accounts for only 0.07 percent of the history of life on earth.
“During the coldest periods of the Pleistocene Ice Age, the average temperature of the earth was around 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit) and there were large ice sheets on both poles. Before the recent retreat of the glaciers, beginning 18,000 years ago, the ice extended below the US/Canada border, over all of Scandinavia, much of northern Europe, and well into northern Russia. The sea was about 122 meters (400 feet) lower than it is today, having risen steadily since then and continuing to do so today. In recent times the sea has risen about 20 centimeters (8 inches) per century. The cause of sea level rise is a combination of melting glaciers and rising ocean temperature, as water expands when it gets warmer.
“The earth’s climate underwent a general warming trend beginning with the end of the last major glaciations, about 18,000 years ago. This has not been an even warming, as there have been many fluctuations along the way. For example, during the Holocene Thermal Maximum between 9,000 and 4,000 years ago it was warmer than it is today by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit). During this time the present-day Sahara Desert was covered with lakes and vegetation, clearly indicating there was much more rainfall there than today. We know for a fact this was not caused by humans. Many scientists believe it was caused by variations in the earth’s orbit around the sun.
“This historical record highlights the importance of analyzing the starting point and end point of temperature measurements when explaining trends, both up and down. It is warmer today than it was 18,000 years ago. But it is cooler today than it was 5,000 years ago during the Holocene Thermal Optimum (note: polar bears survived the warmer Holocene). So it could be said we have been in a cooling trend for the past 5,000 years even though it is warmer now than it was when the glaciations ended…
“Today the average temperature of the earth is about 14.5 degrees Celsius (58 degrees Fahrenheit), decidedly closer to the Ice Age level than the Greenhouse Age level and only 2.5 degrees above the temperature at the height of the last major glaciations. The fact is we are still in the Pleistocene Ice Age (Era) and it is possible another major glaciations may occur sometime in the next 10,000 years…
“Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas in that it tends to heat the atmosphere and thus raise the temperature of the earth. But water vapor is by far the most important greenhouse gas, contributing at least two thirds of the greenhouse effect. CO2 and other minor gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, make up the other third of the greenhouse effect. It is not possible to prove the exact ratios among the various greenhouse gases as they interact in complex ways…
“We know global levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have risen steadily from 315 parts per million (ppm) to (400 plus ppm) since scientists began taking measurements at Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii in 1958. This is a very short time compared to the 3.5 billion years of life on earth. Many scientists assume that human emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels are the main cause of this increase. (Many more other) scientists question this assumption. It is a fact that CO2 levels were much higher than they are today during previous eras…”
As noted repeatedly above, see the mass of detailed evidence on the long-term history of the climate in Ian Plimer’s excellent book Heaven and Earth. Further, see The Chilling Stars by Dr. Svensmark, which presents good information on the relationship between cosmic rays, the activity of the sun, and cloud cover, and how this complex relationship impacts climate. Also, see Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu’s research on our continuing recovery from the Little Ice Age (available online). There are other natural elements that better explain the warming/cooling periods that we have experienced, and better explain the rise and fall of CO2 over earth’s history.
“I read the news today, oh boy…”
The Washington Post did a recent piece titled “Cold blob (North Atlantic ocean) worries scientists”. My initial reaction?: There they go again, stirring the Chicken Little cry, ”the sky is falling” over another natural event. It sometimes approaches a form of hysteria that borders on insanity to view every twitch or shift in nature as reason to create alarm and to traumatize the public further over the environment. Nature is all about endless change and diversity, with little-known events and outcomes occurring unpredictably. We are still in the early stages of understanding the patterns and cyclical aspects of varied elements of nature, along with the random swings and aberrations to more established patterns (some sudden and severe). For example, it is only in the past decade or so that we have become aware of the cosmic ray/sun/cloud relationship and how this impacts climate. So let’s tone down the endless alarmism over constantly changing nature. Change is a fundamental and defining feature of nature.
Our response to most of what goes on in nature should be that of adaptation which we have done well over the past. There is too much in nature that we may never be able to control or prevent. Climate being a prominent example here. As someone said, “It is absurd to think that you can control climate by adjusting a CO2 knob”.
Further on alarmism and long-term trends
In any long-term trend you will never get a straight line in some direction (rising, falling or level). What you get in real life are trend lines with all sorts of spikes and dips (mountains and valleys) along a general overall trend. The spikes and dips are short-term reversals or aberrations to the general trend, due to all sorts of things. They generally last for only a few years and then the overall trend continues (see Lomborg for detail in Skeptical Environmentalist).
You cannot build a general case from a short-term reversal. The overall long-term trend properly defines the true state of the thing that you are looking at.
Another- When are alarmists going to embrace the anti-bullying campaigns that all sane and decent people have embraced? Alarmism is irresponsible bullying of the worst kind, causing “eco-trauma” in children. Julian Simon noted that environmental alarmism was causing children to view the world as a more and more frightening place. There is enough to fear in life without adding the exaggerated and distorting hysteria of the environmental alarmists. Shame on these bullies.
Grappling with Imperfection
The human family has long had difficulty with imperfection in life (e.g. Why do good people suffer?). We have not been able to embrace imperfection as originally natural to reality and life. Hence, the ancients created the myth of original perfection (e.g. Eden- the belief that a good God would create only a perfect world, not an imperfect one). The ancients then blamed humanity for ruining the original perfection and causing the introduction of imperfection into life (natural disaster, disease, cruelty, death). We know this as the “Fall of man” myth, or original sin myth. It is found all through history and across the world in all the mythologies of humanity.
This profoundly anti-human myth is at the root of apocalyptic mythology which states that God will finally punish bad people for ruining the early paradise, purge them from the world, and then restore the lost perfection (a new utopian world populated with only the “good people”, the true believers).
It may embarrass those who know better, but I have to state the following because the myth of original paradise is still widely believed in religious and secular traditions: This original perfection myth gets the actual story of life all wrong. To the contrary, imperfection has been present from the beginning. It is a natural part of life and it is not humanity’s fault. We will not be punished for being imperfect and for struggling to improve an imperfect world. Imperfection is the arena where we learn to wrestle with problems, gain insights, and become something better through our struggles. Struggle with imperfection is essential to our development as human. And we have been doing exceptionally well over our history, becoming something ever better than before. We have become more empathic, less violent, more inclusive and tolerant, more creative, solving problems and making life ever better for everyone.
The following material comments on the difference between the old narratives of life, and where those went wrong, and then presents the core features of a new narrative based on the best available evidence today.
The old narratives contained the following main themes: there was a perfect beginning to life (i.e. “better past” mythology- Eden, pristine nature without humanity); corrupt people ruined the original paradise; vengeful and violent gods punish people through natural disaster, disease and the cruelty of others; life is a great battle between good and bad people (dualism); life is in decline toward something worse, toward a catastrophic ending of civilization and life; a salvation scheme must be followed by true believers (a sacrifice to appease); divine intervention will eventually purge the world of imperfection (a violent, abrupt ending to purge corrupt humanity); and then there will be the restoration of the lost original perfection (restored utopia- a complete escape from the slow, gradual and imperfect historical process).
But indisputable evidence now demands an entirely new story of reality and life. All began in imperfection, whether in the violence of the emerging cosmos, or in the struggle of organizing and developing life. Accident, natural disaster, disease, and predatory cruelty were part of life from the beginning. But instead of decline toward something worse, life has been steadily progressing toward something ever better than before.
More on Two Stories: Exploring a more humane narrative
I have gathered a few insights about human story- both personal story and the larger grand narratives of the public realm. This site explores and presents this personal discovery regarding human story.
All of us live by story. We each have our personal story that shapes our thinking, feeling, and behavior. It is something that we create and live out daily. It is intensely personal. And we also draw upon, and relate to, greater public stories that we share with the rest of our societies, and even with the entire human family. We also, perhaps more subconsciously, draw upon grand historical narratives that have been passed down to us through the millennia.
This site explores what I would present as the two dominant stories of human history- what I would term the old mythical story of life and the new more scientific story of life. Most important, the new story is a more human or more humane story of life.
The themes of the old story have shaped most of human history, influencing the other smaller stories, whether ethnic, national, religious, political, or personal. The new story is still struggling for full embrace by public human consciousness. Few are willing to engage the new story fully because the themes of the old story are still deeply rooted in the background of most people’s consciousness, in what we call the subconscious.
The old story
The old story is mythical, irrational, unscientific, and profoundly inhuman. It is the viewpoint of the mythical mind and on all of its major elements it misses entirely the actual narrative of life on this planet. I have repeatedly labelled it a fraud, a lie, and devastatingly harmful to human consciousness and society.
The old story themes are initially found scattered throughout the earliest human writing, the Sumerian cuneiform tablets and the subsequent accounts of Sumerian mythology (i.e. Akkadian and Babylonian). Those themes have re-emerged endlessly down through subsequent history in ever new versions. They have shaped the major world religions, and even modern ideologies such as 19th Century Declinism. Note carefully those primitive themes still evident today in secular worldviews, including Environmental Alarmism, arguably one of the more prominent viewpoints of our era.
The core ideas of the old narrative have infected human consciousness at all levels and have had an immeasurably damaging impact on people, retarding them in subhuman stages of development. They have made the old story a narrative of despair, engendering pessimism, resignation, anxiety, fear, and even aggressive defense. The old story is profoundly mythical, irrational, and quite entirely against the evidence of life.
Those core old story themes- the problem of imperfection
(Explanatory note on material below: Most people have a hard time understanding the presence of imperfection in reality and life. The ancients assumed that imperfection was punishment for their being bad. Hence, they created the myth of some original perfection/paradise that was ruined by corrupt and destructive people. That myth distorts the history of life entirely. Life began in imperfection but has gradually been made something better by the emergence of human consciousness in early humanity. Also, our improved understanding of the role of imperfection in life notes its critical role in human learning and development. In the struggle against imperfection in life, people gain insights, make discoveries to improve life, and that results in benefit to all. Subsequently, there is gradual progress toward something better. The struggle with imperfection, or problems, brings out the best of the human spirit. Julian Simon noted this in Ultimate Resource).
(Continue with old story themes…)
The old story claims that life on this planet emerged in a pure beginning. The beginning of life was perfect, a paradise. In contemporary environmental mythology, Earth was a wilderness world covered with pristine nature and absent the “destructive presence of humanity”.
The old mythical story also claims that the original people were perfect, pure, and strong. This is known as “noble savage mythology” and is still a prominent view in the academic world (see Stephen LeBlanc in Constant Battles). The old story cannot admit that imperfection was present in the cosmos and life from the beginning. The mythical mind cannot comprehend imperfection in original creation or life. It cannot grasp any good purpose in imperfection.
To explain the obvious imperfection of present life, the old mythology claimed that early people must have committed an original error or sin and that ruined the perfect original paradise. The ancients must have angered their Creator who then punished them with consequent imperfection throughout life. This is how old story mythical thinking explains the presence of imperfection in life. The mythical mind resorts to blaming humanity. Mythical thinking takes a harsh view of humanity as “fallen”, corrupted, and as destroyers of some previous paradise. In environmental extremist terms, people are a virus on the planet, a cancer in life. Any human engagement of nature, or use of nature, is viewed as destructive.
So paradise was ruined and God introduced death, disease, natural catastrophe, and all forms of suffering as punishment for some original fall into sin.
Note also that the foundational idea in the old story is that of an angry, violent, and punishing God. A God that is always finding reasons to be pissed at the imperfection of people. A God that cannot tolerate imperfection in human life.
After the ruin of the original paradise, life then became a great struggle between the good and the evil. The old story claims that a great dualism now divides the human family. The early mythical mind concluded that the great forces behind life were dualistic- good and bad- and they were engaged in a great cosmic battle. This cosmic battle was waged via proxies in humanity- between the followers of the good and the followers of the bad. Both sides were obligated to engage conflict and destroy one another on behalf of the greater creating forces or spirits. The myth of dualism argues that we are obligated to become true believers and join the “good force/spirit”, the good religion, or good side (the “perfect”). We must then fight against our enemies that are on some other side, in some “bad” religion, or belong to some bad ideology (the “imperfect”).
After the ruin of paradise, the mythical mind also claimed that life and humanity were in decline toward something worse, toward some catastrophic ending of civilization and life. Life was in decline toward a great apocalyptic climax which would be the ultimate punishment from God. There would be some final catastrophe that would end life on earth. There would be some apocalyptic destruction of life and civilization. There would be an end of the world when God would purge the world of imperfection, of corruption (i.e. of industrial, technological civilization), and would then restore the original perfection.
While waiting for the end of the world, the mythical mind believes that people must also engage some salvation scheme, which often means offering a violent sacrifice to appease and please the threatening forces or gods behind life. For much of history the sacrifice has been that of blood offering. Or it may entail some radical change in lifestyle, some form of self-punishment and self-inflicted suffering (penance), such as a return to a “morally superior” simple lifestyle (i.e. poverty as purifying self-denial).
Again, the foundational idea behind all these old story core themes is that of a violent, vengeful, and punishing deity. That God is only satisfied with a violent solution to the imperfect world. He demands a violent atonement, a blood sacrifice, a severe punishment for wrong, a punishment of imperfection. He then requires the violent purging of the corrupted world, and violent destruction of his enemies in a great violent apocalypse. That will entail the sudden abandonment of the messy, imperfect historical process for an instantly installed utopia. The old story is all about violence, violence, and more violence against intolerable imperfection.
The apocalyptic destruction of the world and the subsequent restoration of paradise is how the mythical mind views the final stage of salvation in the old story. That is where the good people (those who believe and follow the good spirit) are to be saved and the bad people are to be finally punished, purged, and destroyed forever. Then, as noted above, the “true” God will restore the original perfection, or paradise, for his true followers.
The central theme of vengeful and punishing deity also re-enforces the long-standing perception that the core of reality is about retribution, payback, or “just” reward/punishment. The old story advocates payback as the very basis of reality and life (see comment below on the Greek view of fundamental reality). And punitive thinking sees payback everywhere in the natural consequences of natural law. This emphasis on essential payback has long prevented people from seeing the essential unconditional love that is at the core of reality.
Another way of viewing the old story is to recognize that it embodies the base features of animal existence. Those features have been made sacred in the old narrative. I refer to things like the dualism and opposition of animal bands- each small band against other bands. And the domination of alpha animals- that people are similarly subject to alpha gods and alpha leaders, religious or secular. And then there is the feature of exclusion and destruction of the competing other, the enemy. There is also the predator’s bloody meal which may be at the root of sacrifice thinking (i.e. the bloody meal to appease).
We now know that early people projected animal features onto the earliest gods and those features were then protected as sacred. Ever since, those ultimate ideals and authorities- the gods- have been used to inspire and validate animal-like behavior among their followers, re-enforcing the features of religious opposition, domination, exclusion, and destruction of enemies.
The old story and all its elements are a grand distorting lie. They miss entirely the actual story of the emergence and development of life on this planet. Unfortunately, the themes of the old story have dominated human worldviews since the beginning and are still prominent today in many religious traditions, and even in secular ideologies and mythologies.
The new human story
Over the past few centuries, science has uncovered the basic features of the actual story of life. We now know that reality and life began in imperfection, whether in the violence of the greater cosmos, or the brutality of early life with its accident, natural disaster, disease, predation and cruelty. The imperfection of life is not punishment from the gods, nor does the imperfection all through life deserve punishment. It is just something natural to life since the beginning. The imperfection of life is not due to some metaphysical evil force or the consequence of human failure. Further, the imperfection of life is not the dominant reality in life.
We can also conclude that the core of reality and life is not dominated by some fundamental principle of just reward/punishment (strict payback). The dominant feature behind reality and life is goodness and generosity toward all, both just and unjust. As a noted sage said long ago, the good things of life (i.e. the life-giving sun and rain) are given to all alike, without discrimination or exclusion. This is true of many things throughout life. The very organization of fundamental matter, the consistency of natural law, the foundational progress of reality and life toward more organization and complexity, the infinite energy of the cosmos, the unlimited natural resources on Earth, and much more, all express the fact that goodness and generosity toward all is the overwhelmingly dominant feature of reality and life.
And contrary to the old fall mythology, life is not declining toward something worse but is on an ever-improving trajectory, becoming something ever better than before. This site presents thorough evidence to affirm the improving trend of life. Humanity epitomizes the grand trend of improvement in that we have steadily become less violent and more compassionate than ever before in our past. Consciousness has enabled us to think humanely, to move beyond the barbarity of animal life. Since our earliest emergence we have been leaving brutal animal existence behind and progressing toward creating a truly human existence.
The defining summit of this progress toward a more humane future is embodied in our highest ideal- love. And we have discovered the ultimate expression of love in the ideal of unconditional. This is the absolute peak of what it means to be authentically human. It points us toward something infinitely better. With unconditional love there is no more tribal dualism and opposition, but rather one inclusive family. In unconditional relating there is no dehumanizing domination but the embrace and treatment of all persons as free and full equals. And with unconditional there is no exclusion and destruction of the other, but unlimited forgiveness and generosity toward all.
We have struggled to embrace imperfect life with all its problems as an opportunity for learning, developing, and growing. In a word- the great struggle for progress toward something better. And we have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. As noted above, people in general have become less violent, more empathic, and more creative. We have created civilization, and its influence on all life, as something that improves life for the better. To the contrary, there is no sound evidence of some decline toward a catastrophic ending.
All this “evidence” speaks to goodness behind life.
Despite the claims of many that they adhere to modern secularism, even atheism, few have fully embraced the core themes of the new story, the more humane features of an authentically human narrative. Many still hold firmly to the primitive myths of the old narrative. Look for instance at supposedly secular Europe. It is the greenest place on Earth, adopting environmental alarmism as its new ideology, which is actually just more of the same old, same old mythology and religion of its Christian past.
Environmental alarmists have created their own updated version of old story myths. They believe that corrupt humans have ruined the original paradise of a perfect wilderness world. They argue that life is now in decline toward some catastrophic environmental collapse. Hence, their salvation scheme- we must purge the world of corrupting industrial civilization in order to restore the lost paradise of a wilderness world. That is their proposed solution to the present imperfection of life, which they believe was caused by destructive humanity.
The old story is rightly defined as primitive, backward, and subhuman. More animal than human.
We understand today that there is no violent, vengeful, and punishing spirit or force at the core of reality and life. There is no grand dualism behind life (primitive tribalism or small band exclusion and opposition). There is no greater cosmic battle between God and Satan (a great enemy). The core idea of the new story is that there is only unconditional Love of a transcendent and incomprehensible nature behind all things. There is nothing to fear in ultimate reality.
Consequent to there being only Love behind all reality, there is no great struggle against some enemy. We are all full members of the one human family.
And the imperfection of life is simply a learning arena for humanity, where we encounter the problems of imperfect life and struggle with them. Our greatest struggle is with the inherited animal that still resides in all of us. This residual imperfection with our own violent and inhumane tendencies is the only “enemy” that we ought to fight.
Out of our struggle with personal imperfection, and the greater imperfection of life, we gain insights and find solutions to problems that benefit others. This is the “salvation” element of the new story. It is about the struggle to create an ever-better life on this planet. But there will be no apocalyptic collapse and ending to this story of life. And most critical to any new story, there is no need to appease some angry deity, or any other greater force. There is no ultimate threat of punishment or destruction. There is no need to engage some salvation scheme, unless you view any salvation in terms of the general struggle to make life better.
The new scientific story assures us that the future is open-ended for unlimited creative development and progress. We ought to celebrate how well we have done and that our future is “infinite in all directions”. Without the imperfection of life we would never have discovered our creative compassion to make all things better.
Added note: Any robust human narrative will not be bare-bones materialist in content. It will have a spiritual component to properly encompass the human impulse for mystery, something even science continues to discover and uncover, though it dismissively discounts mystery as eventually resolvable in terms of natural law or natural explanations. I do not see the two parallel tracks in science ever meeting and explaining the spiritual fully and properly. The two parallel tracks emerging from science include (1) ever more explanation of material reality and (2) ever more discovery of incomprehensible mystery behind all.
And my use of the term “spiritual” does not include most of what is understood as “religious”. My use of spiritual refers to something altogether quite different.
Summary list of grand narrative themes:
No original paradise, or better past. Life began imperfectly and brutally.
There has been no decline toward something worse. Rather, life has improved over time with ever more diversity, complexity, and order/organization (something better than before).
There will be no catastrophic end to life. Life is open and progresses into an unlimited future. The future is “infinite in all directions” (Freeman Dyson).
There is no punishing force or spirit behind life. There will be no final destruction.
The old story was fundamentally wrong in all its core themes.
A just-breaking-the-stream-of-thought quote: Pam Reynolds, in her well-known NDE account, stated that “Death is a fraud and a lie”. She was trying to express her experience of continuing life, and a stunningly better state of consciousness and life, outside of her dying body. She, as a person distinct from her defective body, did not die. She then embraced an entirely new view of dying and death. Many others that have had NDEs arrive at the same conclusion about death. They claim that we view death all wrong. It is not to be feared. It is simply a transition into inexpressible wonder.
This got me thinking about human views of death over the millennia. The earliest understanding of death concluded that it was a punishment for being bad. The Sumerian flood myth proposes this view. The Biblical Fall of Man myth (original sin of Adam) presents the same view- death was a punishment for sin. Then over subsequent time early people intensified the horror in the human fear of death. They claimed that after death people entered dark, dreary realms of ghost-like existence, populated by tormenting demons. Contemporary story-telling continues to embrace this pathetic view of death and after-death reality. Add to this the religious threats of confronting divine anger, judgment, loss, and worst of all- eternal torture in Hell.
Death then becomes a terrifying monster to many people.
Contemporary materialists have added their own dark views of the non-existence of the human person. On this point of non-existence after death: I have not seen one shred of good evidence- not in consciousness research, brain/mind research, or anywhere else- that consciousness, or the human person, is produced by the 3 pounds of brain meat in our heads. My conclusion from this? You are not dependent on the hamburger in your head for your existence.
Discussion group comment:
“A CNN anchor interviewed family members that had lost relatives to gun violence. Powerful stuff. They all shared the moments when they first discovered that a son, a daughter, a mother or someone else, had been killed. One lady, a pastor who lost her mother at the Charleston church shooting, had the following to say, “As a pastor I know that suffering is part of life….I know that my religion tells me to engage the process of forgiving, but I am not there yet. I don’t feel it. I don’t want to say just yet, ‘I forgive you for killing my mother’. I know that the God I believe in is patting me on the back and saying, ‘You take your time’. It will be a process that she may engage at sometime but she is in no rush”.
“The point of that lady pastor’s comments- I have never heard such a powerful statement of human struggle, of belief in what is right, of something better to attain, and yet not beating oneself up about those ideals, as to what is good or best. Just being imperfectly human in the present. Embracing that. She said that she would take her time to engage forgiveness. “I don’t feel it yet”. That should be the human response to many things in life. To tell your Deity, look this is what I am right now, what I am experiencing, what I feel. Accept this imperfect humanity struggling to be more humane. This is what it means to be human in an imperfect world. This is what I understand and feel from my limited perspective in this present world. Accept it as my experience. Sure, we try to be something better, but that is the struggle of life.
“My feeling in light of her comments- Embrace your imperfection. Do your best to be human and don’t beat yourself up over remaining imperfection. That was her point. She still hurts badly. But ultimate Love understands imperfection. And is patient with it. Love “created” imperfection in the first place.
“Don’t you think that ultimate Love gets being human in an imperfect world?”
Apocalyptic is the broad overall framework of the mythical mind. Apocalyptic has been called the “Mother of all theology”. I would extend that to include all mythology.
Apocalyptic is the theology of a violent, punishing God. That angry deity will punish and destroy corrupted people in a final fulfillment of “justice”- justice as payback. This harsh punishing understanding and approach has long defined justice for humanity.
Unconditional changes justice entirely. It offers a stunning new take on justice as no more “eye for eye” payback, getting even, or punishment. It re-orients justice to restoration, forgiveness, liberation, inclusion, and unlimited generosity. Unconditional fully humanizes justice. It states that there is no violent, punishing God. There will be no final payback or punishment.
Note: This site wrestles repeatedly with the emerging understanding of justice as restorative, while balancing the felt need for accountability for all human behavior, notably bad behavior.
Getting Intense with Unconditional
Do not glide over the adjective “unconditional” with a dismissive nod of familiarity. No conditions. OK. Got it. I would shake up any sense of familiarity with some far more intense definition. I would stress that unconditional expresses something much more explosive and liberating for human consciousness. It means “ABSOLUTELY NO conditions. Absolutely none”.
Let that stir your consciousness. Feel the full scandal of that. Do some mindfulness exercising over that. And relate that to ultimate realities with the dimension of infinitude.
And I would get even more intense and state that unconditional is the single most important concept/word in human understanding and language. Its liberating and humanizing potential goes extreme in the direction of ultimate humaneness (i.e. liberating entirely from the dehumanizing payback orientation of our animal past). It is the supreme ideal to define authentic humanity and ultimate realities. Unconditional takes the supreme human ideal of love far beyond what we mostly engage or experience in life. It takes us to the height of humane relating and existence. When you relate this type of love to deity then you are in the realm of the infinitely transcendent or infinitely better.
Because it relates so critically to “spiritual” realities, I would add the following: Unconditional completely overturns all previous theological understanding that has been oriented to threatening, punishing deities demanding that requirements or conditions be met. It spells the end of religion as a conditional institution that sets forth the requirements for inclusion, salvation, or success- basically, how to appease and please the gods. Unconditional changes everything- for the better. It revolutionizes ethics and justice systems that are based on payback. It ends violence thoroughly and for the long term by radically humanizing the ideals and authorities that validate violence (i.e. the felt need to appeal to something greater to justify payback behavior). It is the route to a better and more human future in thought and behavior.
Ah, how does one set forth the unlimited potential of this ideal? It goes ultimate and “infinite in all directions”.
This site tries by offering a thorough exploration of unconditional reality.
Something to mull over: “What is most humane is most true and most real.”
Related discussion group comment: “I have been coming at this from varied angles over the years and will keep working on better expression. But I am more convinced that to get to the ultimate truth about reality and life, to get to what is most “real”, we need to follow the human thing, what is most humane. Make this central to the discovery of truth. And then we can’t go wrong as in so much past religious endeavor. This seems so obvious.”
“What is most human, most humane? Love has long been central to understanding this. Love is the essential nature of human consciousness. And I would expand this centrality of love out further to such things as the search for the essential nature of the cosmos or reality itself. And the nature of life. It is about so much more than what we call the natural realm. And yes, this pulls us toward the supernatural.”
“We continue to embrace the most rational, the best evidence. That is all part of the search. But that empirical evidence does not get us to ultimate truth and has often left us in a meaning vacuum at the shore of Mystery. There is something that takes us further, something that is the safest guide to ultimate truth.”
“And this gets me to unconditional as the ultimate height of our search and discovery. There is simply nothing more humane. From this conclusion I take it that there is then nothing more true or real. This is the ultimate goal of all understanding, all searching, all meaning, all human desire. It answers all the great questions- Why something? What is the point of it all?”
“Think about it- What is most humane is most true and most real”.
Many have stated that the greatest question of all is “Why something?” Why this cosmos and life? I would suggest there is an even greater question- “What does it mean to be human?” This gets us to all truth, to ultimate truth about all things.
I am an entirely non-religious person but I have never understood the dogmatic denial of some greater Creating Mind or Consciousness behind all reality. Yes, I get the denial of a religious Creator as understood in world religions. I get the denial of the barbaric inhumanity that has been projected onto those monsters. I am with the atheist materialists fully on that point. But I have never seen any good evidence for throwing out the deity baby with the bathwater.
Further, I have never got the denial of consciousness living on after the death of the brain. Again, I get the revulsion toward a religious afterlife (the religious myth of heaven). That is my vision of Hell- an endless church service with endless hymn singing. God save me from the Christian heaven. But if the afterlife is about Enya, Andean flute, and the Mark Knopflers of life, and ongoing creativity of all sorts, then yes, I could handle that.
If the NDE accounts are right and the other realms are non-religious (unconditional, all forgiven and included) and just the beginning of freedom for more creative growth and exploration, then why not? What is wrong with an authentically humane future? Why such dogmatic investment in nothing, in meaninglessness? That is not the logical conclusion of rational science. And there is no final evidence anywhere that consciousness ends with the death of the brain. Consciousness does not die. It is fundamental to all else in reality. The human person does not die. That appears to be a sane minimal conclusion from such areas as quantum mechanics and its inseparable observer/observed reality relationship.
Note- taking other’s concerns into account: People urge me to be more balanced in regard to the place of religion in human society, to acknowledge its benefits. In a stab at moderation I counter that, yes, I am not advocating for people to abandon their religious traditions. But I am presenting the case that unconditional calls for such a complete transformation of religious/mythical thinking that the result would be unrecognizable to anything out there that we have known as religion.
Another: I would urge Christian visitors to consider that Paul’s Christ myth devalues and dehumanizes the historical Jesus with its central themes of vengeance, punishment, and violent destruction. To the contrary, unconditional highly honors the historical person by fully humanizing him with the most humane conception of love.
One more- On this site I repeatedly point to my personal take on the historical Jesus (someone entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus) in order to help Christians see the stunning alternative to Paul’s Christ myth and his apocalyptic religion.
Another “one more”: I get repeated push from some people to be more oriented to the practical here and now, and to let all this “spiritual stuff” go. To be more in this world. I agree with them about fully embracing the present. And that is exactly why I deal with all of this “spiritual” stuff. Because it remains deeply rooted at the foundations of contemporary human worldviews, fostering endless fear, depression, and despair, and other pathologies, in the here and now of daily life. My argument: you will never be free to fully embrace the here and now until you correct all this “spiritual” pathology at the foundation of human consciousness.
Jesus Versus Paul/Christianity
To fully understand Christianity- what is wrong and how to correct it- it helps to engage the following information:
Jesus’ core theme is presented in Matthew 5:38-48 (non-retaliation, the unconditional treatment of all people). His central theme of unconditional is part of a wisdom sayings gospel, known as the “Q Sayings Gospel”. It is the original gospel of Jesus. Paul directly attacked and rejected that wisdom tradition in 1 Corinthians 1-3. See Stephen Patterson’s “The Lost Way”. Paul argued that we do not follow the historical Jesus, or his wisdom sayings tradition. He argued that people must believe only his Christ myth, which he made the foundation of his Christian religion. And he tyrannically cursed those free spirits that refused to bow to his threats (e.g. Galatians 1:8-9).
In his writings Paul said almost nothing about Jesus’ actual teaching except to distort it as part of a larger project to reject and bury it. Note his Romans 12 comments, detailed further below on this page. Paul’s Christian religion embodies his project to reject, distort, and bury of the wisdom gospel of Jesus. Read more below.
Comment: Atheism is not the greatest threat to Christianity. Jesus is the greatest threat to the Christian religion. If you take Jesus’ core theme of unconditional seriously it will spark the collapse of the entire mythical foundation of Christianity. It spells the end of Paul’s Christ myth with its absolute conditions.
Summary of central difference between Jesus’ teaching and the Christ myth of Paul: Jesus’ core theme was the unconditional treatment of all people by God. Paul’s central theme was that a supreme condition must first be met (i.e. the sacrifice of Christ) before the Christian God would offer salvation to anyone.
Defining the core of Ultimate Reality (some theological musing)
(Qualifier: I do not embrace the assumption that science offers the only route to ultimate truth, to all truth about everything- i.e. scientism. I appreciate immensely the contribution of science to the search for truth. Any final conclusions that we make about anything must include related scientific discovery, as far as it goes.)
It is the most stunning discovery and realization in the history of human consciousness. There is nothing else remotely as profound anywhere in human searching, discovery, or understanding. I refer to the discovery that our material cosmos, and life, is infused with a creating and sustaining Consciousness that is Love. But it is not just love as we have long understood the term as our highest human ideal. Further discovery, notably from spiritual traditions, has added the critical insight that the creating and sustaining Love behind all is of the character of unconditional. It is absolutely ‘no conditions’ love.
Some of the best descriptions of this unconditional feature, that I have come across, are the NDE accounts where people speak of experiencing an Ultimate Unconditional Love that is, as they claim, “billions” or “trillions” of times better than anything that we experience here. These people are trying to express something inexpressible, something transcendent and incomprehensible, something infinitely better than the best that anyone can imagine or define. NDErs say that the love they experienced is simply beyond any terms or words that they can think of.
Add to this the equally important and related discovery that our essential person, our authentic or true self, is that very same love. We are never separate from that Love. We are that very same Love. But we do not lose personal distinctiveness in this union.
(Side note: One NDE researcher stated that philosophers and theologians have largely ignored the NDE movement. I would suggest this is because the discovery of deity as unconditional love overturns past theological understanding entirely. Across history the great religious gods have been understood as conditional realities- demanding that conditions be met for human well-being and salvation. Unconditional is therefore a major threat to conditional religions like Christianity in that it demands an entirely new theology. That spells unemployment for many theologians and religious leaders. Further note: I take NDEs seriously because I take conscious human experience seriously, while applying validating criteria as to what is humane and what is not. Again, what is most humane is most true and most real.)
To get some sense of just how profound and potent this unconditional discovery is, contrast it with the dominant themes of past human thought and explanation. Take a broad view of the full sweep of human perspective over history. Consider that mythologies, religions, and ideologies across history have never communicated the full scandal and wonder of this Love, but have buried it with the pathologies of conditional religion. Most systems of thought, philosophy, or spirituality have embraced prominent elements of payback thinking (i.e. retribution, vengeance, violent punishment, proper justice as rewarding good, punishing evil). Certainly, throughout history, the creators of belief systems also included more humane elements in their systems, such as kindness, mercy, and forgiveness in the gods. Those features are even found in Sumerian mythology, as well as in early Egyptian religion and elsewhere. But the nicer features have always been defined by larger contexts that were dominated by the harsh features of anger, judgment, payback, punishment, and destruction. Those darker themes have oriented general human understanding toward a threatening conditional reality for millennia. They have long buried the wonder of unconditional ultimate reality. The diamonds have always been buried in dunghills (Thomas Jefferson).
Over recent history it has become more clear that the nastier features of past belief systems have given us a profoundly distorted view of ultimate reality. The traditional views of the spiritual realm have entirely distorted human understanding of such reality. Our improved understanding of the critical feature of unconditional, or absolutely no conditions reality, now tells us that there is nothing to fear. There is no threat of retaliation, vengeance, or punishment from Ultimate Reality. There will be no exclusion of anyone. All are embraced by the infinite generosity of deity. There will be no final judgment, condemnation, or destruction. This liberating truth goes to the deepest roots of human anxiety, fear, worry, and despair.
When I survey the vast sweep of human insight across historical systems of thought, I can find nothing remotely as profound as the recognition that Unconditional Love defines Ultimate Reality. This is the single greatest discovery that humanity has ever made- that there is an incomprehensibly wonderful, even scandalous, Love at the core of all things, behind all reality and life. And it is not sullied by the slightest hint of threat, vengeance, or punishment. It takes some meditation, imagination, some probing thought, to allow it to fully permeate one’s consciousness.
How do I properly establish this “truth” that unconditional defines deity? How do we safely arrive at rational conclusions about ultimate realities? Can unconditional at the core be affirmed in any way by rational or evidential science? What do I base my conclusion upon?
First, let me affirm that I am as zealous an advocate for good science as anyone on the planet. The scientific movement of the past few centuries has been immensely beneficial in freeing us from the mythical, from the irrational, from the illogical, and from plain bad religious ideas and thinking. So take the following as not an attack on the credibility and value of science, but as just some counter to “scientism”.
Science will never be the final and ultimate truth-teller for humanity. It will not get us to all truth about everything. It has a limited mandate and a limiting methodology. We used to frame the mandate of science in terms of natural or material reality. We understood that science was about exploration of observable evidence in the material realm (i.e. empiricism). And of course, quantum mechanics has challenged our perceptions of material reality quite significantly (the older Newtonian worldview). But generally, the parameters of the older science still apply in many areas- that science is responsible to explore and explain what we perceive as physical reality, and the substance, patterns and laws that govern the material.
Notable scientists in a variety of disciplines have recognized the limits of traditional material or physical science. Martin Rees stated in Scientific American many years ago that it was embarrassing that after 400 years of science they (cosmologists, physicists) still did not know what the universe was made of. They had discovered that mysterious and invisible Dark matter and Dark energy made up some 96% of the universe. And we still do not even know what the visible 4% is really made of. So Rees suggested that we needed some new type of scientific approach to understand reality. Traditional approaches were not sufficient to fully understand the cosmos or physical reality. He recognized the limits of current science.
David Chalmers, near the end of his book ‘The Conscious Mind’, suggested that we needed some new approach to understanding consciousness, as the current science was not capable of resolving the consciousness problem. He said that we needed new “psychophysical laws” to explain the relationship between consciousness and physical systems.
And then Franklin Harold, in ‘The Way of the Cell’, argued that current biological science had embraced too much unproven dogma (“a paucity of evidence”) on the origin of life, its development, and what life actually was. He also argued for some new scientific approach to understanding such things.
(Note: Harold was not abandoning some version of “evolution” but simply advocating for something more evidence-based. I prefer to use something like “the long-term development of life” as there are too many questions re “the gradual accumulation of mutations on the genome” version of evolution, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis model. See also Lynn Margulis’ “Acquiring Genomes” and Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”.)
These skeptical thinkers were simply recognizing the limits of conventional science regarding the most fundamental issues- the origins, nature and progress of reality, consciousness, and life.
I see two parallel tracks emerging from science. The one track of ever more discovery and explanation of material reality. May this continue forever. And the other track of ever more discovery of profound mystery in and behind all things. Consequent to the persistence of mystery everywhere, people both inside and outside of the scientific movement have pressed beyond the current limits of science for a more full understanding and more satisfying conclusions. They have appealed to philosophy, ideology, and even to spiritual traditions to complete their understanding and explanation. This is where our fundamental impulse for meaning and purpose takes us. We simply have to know more than our current systems of explanation provide us.
Quantum mechanics also pushes us to look beyond the material as we have formerly known it. Many of the early quantum theorists became mystics when they realized the universe appeared to be more of a great thought than a mechanical or material machine. Humanity in general has always intuitively got this right- that we are part of some greater reality that is more of the nature of Mind, Consciousness, Intelligence, or Spirit. Unfortunately, such reality has long been horrifically distorted by the inhumane features of religious traditions.
Greg Easterbrook, in a long ago Wired article, noted that materialist scientists do just as religious people have always done. They appeal to the invisible and unknowable realms in order to explain what exists. Cosmologists, for example, appeal to un-provable multi-verse theories: the birthing of infinite numbers of universes till one (our universe) could finally fall together on the knife edge of Martin Rees’ ‘Just Six Numbers’. Rees lists six fundamental fine-tuned parameters, but there are more. Other scientists appeal to varied invisible forces, or for instance, to features of quantum reality in the endeavor to explain our visible reality. Some of these explanations appear incoherent and even irrational but great scientific minds embrace them.
Lee Smolin, in ‘The Problem With Physics’, says that string theory has reigned as dogma for over three decades despite never having been affirmed by any experiment. Others settle for explanation in some “Self-Organizing Principle”, a natural laws force that creates all things. Dawkins and Strauss, in their tours of recent years, have taken a similar tack that all can be explained ultimately in terms of natural law. Dawkins, stepping beyond the limits of final evidence, has created his own natural god in claiming that natural selection is “the source of all enlightenment” (The God Delusion). Others then annoyingly retort, “But what creates natural laws and sustains them in existence?” Damn infinite regressers.
(See also Roy Varghese’s argument, in “The Wonder of The World”, that human reasoning takes us logically and rationally to theism. But again, to re-assure the skeptics, it does not take us to religious theism. An important distinction.)
Those with more spiritual inclinations resist the claim that that all things will eventually be explained in terms of material reality and natural laws (dogmatic philosophical materialism). For instance, the “Panentheists” seek some new understanding of the spiritual in terms of embracing a deity that creates and operates through natural law, not violating natural law as claimed by religious traditions (i.e. the mythology of a miracle-working god that disregards and overrules natural law). This approach is similar to other endeavor to rethink spiritual reality in terms of what science has discovered… what some call the attempt to merge the conclusions of scientific discovery and spiritual insight. Certainly, any explanation of reality must embrace, at a minimum, what is now firmly established via science. But you can fully embrace scientific discovery, while at the same time recognizing the limits of science. Science will never get us to final truth about all things. And dogmatic materialist explanations for all things are not the obligatory and only rational conclusions from naturalist science.
Science will only take you so far, and then you must finish the journey of human meaning for yourself.
Over the past I have followed a number of interesting debates- mind/brain and neuroscience discussions, consciousness research, evolutionary research, and others. I appreciate the more moderate conclusions of skeptics like David Chalmers on consciousness, Franklin Harold on evolutionary biology, Lynn Margulis also on evolutionary biology (i.e. Acquiring Genomes), John Eccles on brain and consciousness, and others regarding discovery in their particular disciplines. Listening to these scientists you can rationally conclude such things as the fact that there is no final evidence that consciousness is a product of the brain or brain functions (i.e. mind from meat mythology, consciousness from the hamburger in your head). There is no final materialist explanation for the mystery and wonder of consciousness, or for anything else in material reality. This is not a dismissal of materialist input but just openness to a radical rethinking of the material and the material/spiritual relationship.
Again, quantum mechanics, with its inseparable relationship between an observer and observed reality, ought to disturb dogmatic materialist thinking about reality. The cosmos (material reality), life, and human consciousness have become ever more profound mysteries, the more that we have probed them. And contrary to the claims of people like Susan Blackmore and Stuart Hammerhof, we are not on the verge of a complete understanding of consciousness, certainly not in materialist terms alone. Some people, in making such claims, sound like the late 19th Century physicists who claimed that understanding and explanation of physics was almost complete with only a few loose ends to tie up. Then quantum mechanics began to explode in their faces.
I would affirm Chalmer’s conclusion that consciousness is “fundamental”. And I would go further to argue that it is creative of the material, not somehow just co-equal with the material.
The point of the above discursive comments: To arrive at my conclusion that the core, the foundation or essence of all reality, is unconditional love, I take insights from a variety of sources, from a variety of “evidence”. That evidence leads me to safely conclude that Ultimate Reality is Love of the highest form- that of absolutely no conditions.
As I have noted elsewhere on this page, I see in the general trajectory of the cosmos, life, and civilization a great trend of improvement, from something not as good, toward something better, something more complex, organized, and more suitable for the existence and expression of conscious life. I see endless improvement (rise, not decline) and that progress toward something better reveals goodness behind all things. Infinite Goodness at the core of all.
In this conclusion I am affirming human meaning and purpose in the most profound way. That which is most humane is most true and most real.
Using the material to reason back to the spiritual
When the historical Jesus said that the sun and rain were given to all alike, both just and unjust (Matthew 5:38-48), he was arguing that those natural elements were evidence that God loves all, including the “bad people”, or enemies. God does not discriminate or exclude anyone, no matter how terribly they have acted. God includes all and treats all the same, with unlimited generosity. God does indeed “love enemies”. And from the negative side of Jesus’ argument- God does not engage eye for eye justice, which is to say, God does not retaliate against offenders. God does not engage payback, or punish anyone. Forgiveness is unconditional and unlimited (see also Jesus’ comment about forgiving “seventy times seven”, or in an unlimited manner).
This is hard stuff from some people to embrace. The felt need for justice as payback or punishment is powerful. But is it authentically human?
I take the reasoning of the sage Jesus, his appeal to elements in material reality (i.e. sun and rain) to explain ultimate reality, as sound reasoning. He based his profound breakthrough insight regarding unconditional love- both the ethical and the theological dimensions- on his understanding that the good things in life reveal the unconditional Goodness behind all life. He used the material realm to explain the spiritual realm in a humane and proper way. (See more detail on his breakthrough insight below on this page)
Most important, I affirm that the best of the human spirit further reveals the nature of ultimate reality as love. The best in humanity points toward something infinitely better. Jesus also reasoned from the best in humanity to deity: (my paraphrase of Luke 11:13) “If you imperfect people know how to be good, how much more is God good, only infinitely more so”. He argued that if we imperfect people knew how to express love toward others, then how much more was God love of a transcendently perfect nature. Jesus saw love in humanity and then reasoned out to an infinitely better love in deity. Again, this was reasoning from something in natural reality back to ultimate reality.
(Side note: I am paraphrasing and changing the words of a respected religious authority? Yes, because he was not clear enough. He was also muddled on other things. Look, for instance, at his take on economics and business. “Give to whoever asks, expecting nothing in return.” I don’t think so. If you are an employer, you are responsible to maintain your business properly in order to continue to provide jobs for your workers. That means subcontractors must pay their bills, even if you must use the legal system to ensure payment. Also, unconditional treatment of all, unconditional generosity toward all, is primarily about the nature of Ultimate Reality. Human exercise of this ideal has to do with personal freedom of choice. It is up to the owner of property to make the free choice of what to do with that property in any given life situation. Again, someone like a business owner has responsibilities toward employees and the security of their jobs so that they may take proper care of their families. Common sense must also apply in the application of our ideals.)
Jesus understood that love of the highest kind- unconditional- explained ultimate truth, ultimate reality. Unconditional love was the highest reach of the human mind and reason. It was the most authentically humane ideal for any person to hold. Embracing his insight, we can safely define ultimate reality with what we know is the ultimate in goodness or the ultimate in humaneness. Absolutely no conditions love. This includes the facets of unlimited forgiveness, universal inclusion of all, and limitless generosity toward all. An infinitely better or more perfect God will exhibit the nature of this unconditional feature to transcendent quality. This is as sane, rational, and safe a conclusion about ultimate reality as we can possibly reach.
Our very ability to imagine something infinitely better also affirms this insight on unconditional. Our highest imagination of ultimate goodness is as valid a line of reasoning as anything else that we have discovered.
So I base my argument that Ultimate Reality (God) is unconditional love, of a scandalous and wondrously transcendent character, on varied lines of “evidence”. I base it on physical evidence, noted above, such as the grand trajectories of the cosmos, life, and civilization, as improving trends. I draw from spiritual traditions such as that of the historical Jesus, someone entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus. And I note the grand progress of humanity from a barbaric past and our development toward a more humane present. I see that violence has decreased and common love has grown and spread across the human family, and in this I see the presence of an inspiring Consciousness and Life (embodied in the human spirit) that is infinitely better love.
As I noted at the beginning, I also draw insights from the more historically recent Near-Death Experience movement. There is admittedly some strange and even fraudulent stuff going on in that movement, i.e. those accounts that try to affirm traditional religious beliefs such as hell. But there are also some very credible accounts that affirm that Unconditional Love is at the core of all reality. As with anything, I employ some baseline criteria for evaluating things and I apply that to NDE accounts. Overall, I take conscious human experience seriously. It is the most “real” thing that we know of in the cosmos, and it may be the only real thing (the observer of quantum mechanics). And where human experience affirms an authentic unconditional love, then it speaks to the highest and the best that we have discovered. That experience of unconditional is then valid, true, or authentic experience, no matter who had it or how it was achieved. “What is most humane is most true and most real.”
Note: the more credible NDE accounts affirm two elements of unconditional reality- that Ultimate Reality (God) is unconditional love, and that we in our most essential and real self, are that same love. We are not fallen, corrupt creatures. We have inherited an animal brain with animal drives and that results in bad thought and behavior. But that is not our “real self” (see, for instance, Jeffrey Schwartz’ You Are Not Your Brain).
I repeat my introductory paragraph on this subject from the top… “It is simply the most stunning discovery and realization possible for human consciousness. There is nothing else remotely as profound anywhere in the history of human search, discovery, or understanding. I am talking about the discovery that everything in reality (the cosmos, life on Earth) is infused with a creating and sustaining Consciousness that is Love. But it is not just love as we have long understood the term, even as our highest ideal. Other discovery (spiritual traditions) has revealed that the creating and sustaining Love behind all is of the character of unconditional. It is absolutely ‘no conditions’ love.”
Related comment from a discussion group: “The conclusion that unconditional love is at the core of reality is something outside of the mandate and method of science. It is more of a conclusion from the more humanized versions of spiritual traditions, but it also embraces input from the material. For my conclusion, I use as a springboard the highest human ideal of all- love. I reason that the most humane thing that we have ever discovered is therefore the most “true” and most “real” of all things (the comment below highlights this point). This is part of the sound reasoning that I find in the teaching of the historical Jesus.”
Another discussion comment- “Eban Alexander was right in his statement that unconditional love was not only the greatest spiritual or emotional discovery but it was also the greatest scientific truth. He got it. He was overwhelmed by unconditional love through his personal experience and did the best he could to present that, even though clumsily at times (i.e. The butterfly feature that distracted Bill Maher and affirmed his dismissal of NDEs. Maher missed entirely the central discovery of the NDE movement). But Alexander got the point that unconditional Love is the Ground of all, the essence of all, the substance of all reality (the nature of the light behind all things), the creating Source, the Life of all, the Energy infusing all, the nature of the creating Consciousness that we call God. God is love. Nothing is more profound in all reality for a human mind to center on.”
Another- “The power of Jesus’ breakthrough insight comes to one more fully when you contrast it with the history of human thought, and the general themes that have dominated human consciousness over the millennia. I refer to those “bad religious ideas” so prominent in the world religions. Ideas that have engendered such darkness, fear, worry, despair, and more over the millennia. Ideas that have incited and validated too much bad behavior and violence. Survey that incalculable harm done to billions of people over the years and then contrast that misery with this insight that there never was any threat, there never was a punitive deity, and there is no coming destruction. There has always been only transcendent Love behind all. Consider how this liberates and enlightens human consciousness. The larger historical contrast brings out the insight of Jesus all the more clearly and powerfully.”
Another- “Historical Jesus also broke the back of that primitivism about human failure being punished by disease or disaster. He said, “This man was not born blind because of his parent’s sin”. He sundered that correlation as not true. Natural things only speak to natural consequences of natural law. They are not evidence of some harmful metaphysical intention or intervention, certainly not some retaliatory or punitive intention. Again, the historical Jesus conclusion was that there is only infinite Goodness behind all. He spent considerable comment on this relationship between nature and how it could be used to understand the spiritual. And of course, Bob notes correctly that the human spirit is a primary source of “evidence” here also (that love defines deity). The best in humanity speaks to something infinitely better in deity.”
Another- “I have comment on my site noting that ancient people began to reason back from the material to the spiritual. However, they incorrectly picked the aberrational things in the material realm (disaster, disease) to define the Ground of all as punitive. That was a mistake- to conclude that natural disaster, disease, and so on, was evidence of punishing forces or spirits behind all things. Paul made the same mistake in Corinth, reasoning that sickness and death in Corinth were evidence that God was punishing the Corinthians for their sin. That is barbaric and distorting mythology. Jesus broke that pattern of payback reasoning by viewing the best in material reality as an expression of Goodness in deity. He took the most common things in daily reality, in the material world, and made humane conclusions about God as unconditional Love. Good exercise of rationality on his part.”
Another- “We use all sorts of things to help us sort out the fraudulent from the more credible. I use unconditional as the most truthful of baselines from which to evaluate all things. It is ultimate humaneness and therefore ultimate truthfulness and hence ultimate reality. We have discovered nothing more human or humane, and therefore nothing more “true” or “real”. This helps in understanding that ‘love is all’.”
“This new understanding in theology- that unconditional defines the Love that is God- comes from the historical development and progress of humanity. We understand that God is unconditional love because our species has become more human or humane over history. We have progressively learned what it means to be authentically human. We have come to understand that love is our defining ideal. And we have learned that unconditional is the supreme definition of love. We then rightly project this developing understanding out to define God, only in a transcendently better manner. We get it that God is ultimate Goodness or Love.”
Last one- “One of the reasons that I take the time to deal with this “metaphysical bullshit” (the comment of one pissed atheist) is because we need to clean things up at the most basic level if we want to see permanent improvement at more surface levels of existence. I also do it because the metaphysical, in all its variety, is still central to human perception, emotion, and behavior. Just the other night as I watched some late night comedy show to relax (empty chatter to relax the mind for sleep- actually recommended by sleep researchers), several guests brought up this issue of greater punishing forces. Of course, they were being flippant as it was a comedy show, but still it came through as their belief- that because bad things had happened to them so they concluded that they were being punished. One said this in relation to karma (karma was punishing her). The other stated that something bad happening to her was evidence that she was being punished by some greater force or spirit. Their comments affirmed again how common this stuff is in human consciousness. It is accepted as part of the background reality. Nasty natural consequences reveal some form of metaphysical punishing intention or intervention in life. It is as primitive as primitive gets but I hear it everywhere. No one questions it much. So as part of a general approach to unconditional I have been dealing with this ancient perception of retribution at the core of reality.”
Why go after the great fraud of apocalyptic? Why pick on apocalyptic mythology in particular? One theologian called apocalyptic the “Mother of all theology”. I would expand that further and call it the Mother of all mythology, and even the mother of much ideology. Apocalyptic has had more influence on human minds than any other body of ideas (i.e. Tabor’s claim that apocalyptic shaped all that Paul said and did, and Paul is the most influential person in history, shaping Western consciousness and culture more than any other single person). Note also Mary Boyce’s statement that Zoroastrianism was the most influential religion in history. Paul took up the core Zoroastrian themes (via Judaism) and shaped Christianity as an apocalyptic religion. And his religion then shaped Western consciousness and is still a dominant narrative today (i.e. environmentalism).
Apocalyptic embraces the single worst idea ever conceived in the human mind- that of a punishing God at the core of reality and life.
I go after apocalyptic because it promotes endless unnecessary despair about life, and too many people take it seriously. Watch how contemporary alarmists regularly traumatize public consciousness with an endless series of exaggerated crises and imminent disasters. The outcome is the widespread sense that life is in decline toward some great catastrophic ending. And note how this irresponsible alarmism scares children with things like “eco-anxiety”. But evidence shows the exact opposite to be true- that life has been steadily and irreversibly rising toward something better than before.
Julian Simon argues that the evidence provides good reason for us to celebrate how well we have been doing in making life something better. That evidence shows that we are not corrupt destroyers of life, we are not a virus or cancer on life. To the contrary, we are compassionate creators of an ever better world for all life. Check the evidence for yourself (see listed sources below). It gives good reason for an optimist narrative. Sure, apocalyptic can be fun as entertainment if taken at the level of something like a Terminator or Zombie movie. But it is utterly pathetic and consciousness-darkening if taken seriously as some expression of truth about life. Apocalyptic distorts life entirely.
This page explores thoroughly what are termed “bad religious ideas”, apocalyptic being prominent in this mix. We see these bad ideas first in the earliest human writing, that of the Sumerians. We assume their writings express what was also believed in the pre-writing or prehistory era.
Those early bad ideas became deeply embedded in human worldviews. They became the archetypes or grand themes of the human subconscious. And those themes have re-emerged endlessly over history. They emerged in ever new versions that were adjusted to differing cultures and societies. But the same core themes are visible in the succeeding versions. Those later versions have continued to express the same deeply rooted subconscious themes that have always shaped human outlook, emotions, and response. Those early bad ideas have long shaped how people see reality and life and how they respond to it.
And those ancient themes are still prominent shaping modern human thought. In the most basic way those core themes express animal drives that have been projected onto the spiritual. Those drives were made sacred in the earliest mythology. The animal and the sacred were pair-bonded at the beginning and have been hard to separate and purge ever since. The damage to emerging human consciousness from the protected animal has been profound. See detail throughout this site on the animal/sacred relationship.
Noble savage mythology:
Stephen LeBlanc (Constant Battles) notes that much of contemporary academia, and the public, believe in some form of “noble savage” mythology. They cling to the idea that in the past there was peace among people and ecological perfection. This thinking expresses the universal desire to believe that things must have been better in the past.
The noble savage myth appears to assume the related myth of the original perfection of all life (Eden, paradise) and then subsequent decline of life and humanity. The noble original people myth argues that humanity has degenerated from the better original species (hunter/gatherer humans) to the more corrupted present species of human (industrial, technological people).
But evidence affirms the very opposite to original noble savage mythology. Early humans were brutal, violent, and engaged in endless warfare. And to the contrary, over our subsequent history we have become notably less violent, more compassionate, more cooperative, and more peaceful. We have become something better than we were before.
Discussion group comment: More on understanding the humane nature of ultimate reality
The following comments are from a discussion where one person was arguing that the dark and violent things in life express something of the ultimate reality behind life, and show a dark side to that reality. I was responding that the nasty things in life- i.e. imperfection- are “aberrational”. They do not represent the dominant, defining theme of life and they do not define in any foundational way the creating Reality behind all. This person was arguing that the dark elements were “conflicting evidence” to my contention that unconditional Love was the true nature of the foundational Reality behind all. (Note: see more comment below on the argument that love is tightly pair-bonded with freedom and how this helps to explain the nastier elements of life.)
My response to the other person:
“(Name), Conflicting evidence? The “aberrational” violence, disaster, and disease in life?
“What about the dominant reality of the emergence and ongoing development of order in the cosmos and life? What about the myriad elements of fine-tuning in reality and life, that make life possible and beneficial. What about the growing complexity of reality and life, and so much more? What about the obvious goodness behind such things? What about the generosity that gives existence in the first place, that gives life, and grants consciousness to life? What about the progress of life toward more complexity, more beauty, and more bounty? What about the grand rise of humanity out of an animal past to become human? Humanity has become more empathic, more loving, and less violent over history. That is the dominant reality and trend in life.
“What about the greater creating Love that allows freedom of choice, learning and development, and patiently tolerates mistakes and imperfection? Not overruling, not intervening to override personal choice and freedom? What about the fact that an ultimate Love honors freedom so highly? What about our subhuman understanding of such incomprehensible Love and its valuation of freedom?
“And what about the commentator who said that to focus excessively on the dark side was “mental masturbation”, self-pitying despair that distorts understanding?
“The evidence argues that the dark side of life is the minority side, the “aberrational” side of things. The great mystery and wonder is the goodness that is everywhere present in existence, in life, and in humanity. Love is everywhere. Why do we not appreciate its prominence and give it the primary place that it occupies in reality and life?
“Apocalyptic, and religious mentality in general, has so distorted human consciousness over history with its darkening, dehumanizing myths that many of us have a hard time seeing the ultimate Goodness behind all. Lotufo comments on this thing of people believing that the core of reality is explained by retribution, or payback (e.g. the Greeks). But that view actually goes back further to the very beginning with the Sumerians already seeing the gods as retaliatory and punishing. That darkening and distorted understanding of reality has shaped human world views from the start. It has made it very hard for people to see what Historical Jesus saw…. that there was ultimate Goodness behind all things… notably in the rain and sun that is given to all alike (non-discriminating, unconditional generosity). Ultimate Goodness is also evident in the fact that there is no punishment behind the disease and accidents of life (e.g. Jesus’ comment that the man born blind was not punished for his parent’s “sin”), and so much more. He added that the great creating and sustaining Reality behind all is Love that cares for each falling and forgotten sparrow. And on and on.
“Its about choice- we can look at the nasty aberrations of life and conclude from such minority evidence that life is a horror and evil, or we can look at the majority evidence and conclude rightly that there is unconditional love at the core of all, behind all things. Love that respects freedom everywhere. Authentic love.
“Why so many people continue to choose against the best evidence and conclude that its all misery and darkness and ugliness…well, pardon my bluntness but that is wrong-headed understanding and choice….
“We have endlessly urged people to read the amassed evidence of such great researchers as Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg, and so many others. It becomes more and more inexcusable to continue to wallow around in this self-pitying mental masturbation when so much evidence points to such goodness behind all things. Julian Simon carefully looked at masses of evidence on the major elements and trends of life and concluded things were getting better. The evidence changed entirely his worldview and ended his depression once and for all.
“I’m stating things a bit bluntly, but its time for us to rise above the subhuman and enslaving impact of this apocalyptic nuttiness.
Response to other comment on the darker elements of life:
“I am not arguing for some thoughtless resignation and toleration in the face of suffering in life, or some giving-in acceptance of the nasty elements of life. Whatever some greater purpose might be for suffering, we respond at the level of our current understanding and feeling about these things. And that drives us to try to stop all forms of suffering. To do all that we can to solve suffering, and to end it forever.
“There appears to be, at times, excuse-making in religious traditions with regard to human suffering. Religious people will argue re suffering that “It builds character”. Or it exists “so that we can learn lessons”. Now there may be some truth to these responses so I would not entirely reject such thinking. But really, what did that young 12 year old girl in Somalia learn when those 3 men raped her, and then after she complained to the village leaders, they charged her with adultery and had her buried to her neck in a local stadium and stoned to death? What do such traumatized and terrorized people learn in the last few hours or moments of their lives? What character is built in trauma and terror?
“No. The only human response is that such suffering has to stop. Whatever it might mean in some greater scheme of things.
Comment: This page urges readers to look at the improving trends of life and take hope from that overall rise toward something better. This is not to deny the horrors we see daily on our TVs. It is an advocacy for proper perspective on horror. If you consider disaster and cruelty as evidence of some overall decline of life toward something worse then you are undermining hope.
So I urge that we place all problems in a larger context of the grand trajectory of life. That trajectory reveals such things as a long term decline in violence. It shows that our compassion-fueled endeavors to make life better are gradually working. Evidence affirms this. The future will be much better for our children. Context is critical and it affirms hope.
Comment on the forgiving response of the church members in Charleston after their fellow Christians were killed by the deranged young man.
“I am with you ____ on taking more time to engage such a powerful response (i.e. forgiving their offender right after the crime). It does not feel “natural” to do as they did. Like the shooting at that elementary school a few years back. One Evangelical father stepped outside just the day or two after to say that he was forgiving the killer of his little girl. I felt…”No”… give yourself a bit of time to process that horror…, to feel rage, anger, even what we call hate, and then wrestle with responding with something like forgiveness. Let yourself feel as most people do. But then, who understands the “supernatural” impulses that also surge through our consciousness, where that comes from and what it is all about.
“____, this is distorting caricature…your comment that ”Forgiveness seems so cheap and easy”. What they did in Charleston was courage beyond what most of us will ever be called on to demonstrate. True strength. As Dr. Martin Luther King said long before, “They exemplified the strength of love”. Gandhi said the same, “The weak can never forgive… forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”. Look at the dying Jesus, in horrific pain, tortured beyond comprehension, but remembering to forgive his tormentors (“Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”). Courage, strength, and humanity beyond anything that most of us will ever experience. The wonder and power of love.
“Quote from Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian journalist kidnapped in Somalia and brutally raped and tortured. One of the things she expressed after her captivity, “True power is derived from kindness”. I am endlessly awed by the human spirit.
Further response to the argument that forgiveness and love toward offenders equates with weakness, or mushy response, or that it automatically means dogmatic pacifism.
“To clarify more… yes, you have to stop Hitler, you have to stand up to the bully, you have to take control of those who cannot control their own worst impulses, and lock them up if necessary. But you do all of that in a spirit of love, not retaliation or payback. Not ‘getting even’. You act for the best interests of all people, at all times. That will keep you from triumphalism after you “back down your enemies” (i.e. the Soviets). Not gloating that you “won the Cold War” and “beat the Russkies”. Humiliating your opponent. See the comment of the Chinese sage on this (i.e. no triumphalism after engaging war to defend oneself). Or Mandela. As Payne says, you engage war to protect yourself, but you do so looking for ways to lessen your forceful protective response and to facilitate the ongoing decline of violence over history. Pinker gives similar good detail on declining violence over history and how to decrease it further. Encouraging the growth of empathy among many other things.
Another: “Yes ____. You did recommend Hector Garcia’s “Alpha God” to us. Thanks. And just as important to understanding that our violence springs from our inherited animal brain/nature, so equally important is to get Lotufo and Garcia’s point. Something I have been arguing for decades. That early people projected their inherited animal features onto their gods and then used those ideals and authorities to incite, inspire, and validate their worst impulses and actions toward others. The animal and the sacred have been tightly pair-bonded from the beginning and that explains why the animal still persists in human society, in our religions and justice systems as payback.
“And no one has ever argued for your straw-man view of stopping psychopaths with love. Hence, our repeated statements that love is responsible to protect against evil. But over the long term, human violence has decreased and human society has become less violent because of the growth and development of love, notably unconditional love. Again, excellent histories of violence- Payne and Pinker- show this. And its also evident in the response of Mandela. It is love in the mix that leads to that better, non-violent future, just as it does with children and criminals, in rehabilitation programs.
“Violent wars have not “generated peace”. That is a denial of the evidence. They may have halted outbreaks of violence for a while, but they have not set forth the alternative better future. They have not provided the full program for a more peaceful future. Payne and Pinker both wrestle with this and the dynamics involved.
Comment on Obama’s speech at the Charleston church memorial…
“If you did not see it on CNN, get a hold of a video of Obama’s speech at the remembrance service for the slain people in Charleston. Excellent. Unconditional is what Christians refer to in using the term “grace”. Underserved, unearned goodness from God. Unmerited. Obama was wrestling with this throughout his speech. But the full liberating impact gets lost in the conditional context of Christian atonement thinking. But let not my quibble on that detract from what the man expressed. I have all sorts of disagreements with his policies but I affirm the spirit of the man. His humanity. His groping for unconditional. Go Obama, go.
Comment on the full context for understanding the dark side…
“Someone suggested that my positive take on life as progressing toward something better was too Pollyanna. And my equally positive conclusion that the Ultimate Reality behind life was unconditional love, was also too Pollyanna. My response is that to reach proper conclusions about the true state of life, or anything in life, you must look at the complete picture. It is not about optimism or pessimism but about the actual state of something based on all the evidence available. It is about the correct perception of life according to the best evidence. My conclusion after considering the evidence is that it overwhelmingly supports a positive, hopeful view of life. It also affirms the dominant goodness of the ultimate creating and sustaining reality behind life.
“Understanding the true state of something- e.g. that life is improving- does not entail denying or downplaying the element of horror in life- the traumatizing outcomes from accident, natural disaster, disease, and the cruelty of others. But I would argue that we should not be swamped and overly discouraged by such things. The brutality in life should not shape our perception toward hopelessness, resignation, or fatalism, and cause us to give way to the disheartening sense that everything is going to hell in a hand-basket, that it’s all heading for disaster of some kind.
“So yes, we look the brutal aspects of life in the face but then find inspiration against the despair-generating power of such darkness. Unfortunately, over history apocalyptic mythology has played a prominent role in distorting human perception of the actual state of life, and has pushed people to see only the worst in life and to conclude that it’s all heading for some catastrophic ending. Apocalyptic generates despair and has ruined life for many. It is still a dominant feature in much contemporary story-telling.
“Good evidence shows that the opposite of apocalyptic is true for understanding the true state of life. This is not shallow optimism (i.e. Martin Seligman- the post-World War 2 trend in academia to claim that optimism was shallow, while pessimism was deep). It’s about actual reality and the true state of humanity and life. Its about the overall state of something and the long term trends affecting that thing. Consider that evidence when making conclusions about things. Evidence from the overall status of life, and the long-term trajectory of life, affirms that things are generally getting better.”
“____, just a comment or two on some things that you have mentioned in past posts. And I get it that you are probably playing devil’s advocate in your comments. You have said things about taking some of the darker elements of life and reasoning back to deity from those. That we should conclude that tragedy in life reveals something other than unconditional love at the core of all. It shows a nasty side to God.
“I would point to Historical Jesus to counter this argument. He denied that the harsher elements of life defined God in any way. You see none of this in his reasoning (at least in the Historical Jesus).
“He, to the contrary, affirmed that the better elements of life defined God as ultimate goodness and generosity, as unconditional love. Several lines of evidence express this. For instance, he saw the best in people as defining God as infinitely better (i.e. “if you being evil know how to give good gifts, then how much more is God good”). And in the natural world, the dominant elements of life (sun and life-giving rain) revealed unconditional generosity toward all.
“And he also argued from the negative that the bad things (i.e. the man born blind was not punished) do not reveal God punishing or taking vengeance on imperfection.
“I would follow this same type of reasoning to make conclusions about ultimate realities- God. And I confidently see all this as pointing clearly to unconditional love at the core of all. I have been thinking about this because of Lotufo’s comments on the Greek view that retribution was at the core of reality. This is a very common element in most people’s worldview. Look at comment on karma today. That it reveals a strict payback at the core of the cosmos and life. This misses the excellent reasoning of Historical Jesus based that unconditional love is at the core of reality and life.
Karma may serve some usefulness in relating to the natural consequences of natural law, namely, if you fulfil or violate natural law then you suffer related natural consequences. For instance, step off a high cliff and you will get hurt. Or, to the positive, plant seeds and you will get a crop. This even goes into social relating- be nice and you often get nice in return. Be nasty and you often get nasty in return. So people use karma to explain such natural consequences of life in the natural world with intimations that this points to some larger explanation about all reality (i.e. cosmic purposes and intentions).
But karma fails even as a full explanation regarding the natural realm because a larger and foundational generosity overwhelms karma’s supposed explanatory power about payback in the material world. Even the historical Jesus saw this greater foundational Goodness in his claim that the sun and rain (the good life-giving things of the natural realm) fell on all alike, both just and unjust. People did not get the ‘just results’ of their behavior, they did not get what they “deserved” (the natural consequences of their behavior), because even the “bad” people got the good things of the natural realm. And one could argue that the good given generously to all alike (sun and rain) is the prominent reality of the natural realm.
So be careful how you use karma to explain even the natural world. Karma points only to some limited natural consequences of the natural realm. It certainly says nothing about the nature of the greater creating and sustaining reality behind all, about its intentions and the outcomes toward people and their behavior. Sun and rain- prominent features of the natural world- point more to the overwhelming generosity that is expressed toward all people, and that is the underlying and dominant nature of all reality- both natural and spiritual. There is nothing karmic about this.
Authentic Liberalism- Its all about freedom.
(Note: I have used the term Leftist below not to disparage anyone of that persuasion, but just to define a political/economic approach. I know many good Leftist/Socialist people that exhibit genuine compassion and decency toward all. I embrace their concerns about poverty, fairness, exclusion/inclusion, and the success of all.)
The West has given the world the priceless heritage of Classic Liberalism via Britain (i.e. from the Magna Carta on down to parliamentary democracy). The Magna Carta may be considered as the first anti-bullying document. Kings were not to be treated as special, and not permitted to abuse others. All were to be equal and protected legally.
The key feature of this Classic Liberal tradition is the protection of individual freedom and individual property rights (protection from monarchal/state confiscation).
The modern Illiberal Left has never fully understood how individual freedom works to benefit life. Hence, Socialism has often stubbornly countered individual freedom with a collectivist vision, what it terms the “greater good”. This is more a moral/mythical perspective than an economic/political approach. Unfortunately, this Leftist collectivist route to some form of utopia has too often resulted in totalitarian outcomes. And the totalitarian outcome has always perplexed Socialists no end- why their collectivist programs persistently turn tyrannical. Former Socialist Joshua Muravchik, in his excellent history of Socialism, Heaven on Earth, details the unavoidable totalitarian outcomes from collectivist movements.
Yes, there is an element of freedom in the more contemporary collectivist programs (i.e. social democracy). But in any collectivist system, somebody must run the collective for the “benefit” of all members. Hence, more freedom for the enlightened elites that run the show while they employ state coercion to ensure all others serve their vision of the greater good. You see this in the use of central state power to enforce interventionist control via excessive and burdensome social programs, taxation redistribution, and onerous regulation. Enlightened vanguard Socialists have long believed that average people are just too ignorant to know what is best for themselves so they must be coerced into adopting the vision of the enlightened elite. And I don’t question that many subservient members of these systems also support the overall collectivist program.
Also interesting here is that the current environmental movement has been populated by Leftist refugees from failed communist movements of the pre-1990s era. They continue to agitate for centralized control of economies and lives via UN organizations like the IPCC. All for the “greater good” of the planet.
I am not denying the importance of contributing to some greater public good. But how do we best promote that good? Historical evidence shows that greater public good is a natural by-product of the creativity that is unleashed through individual freedom. This is the point of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” producing greater societal good via self-interest. Collectivists- Socialists, Communists, Greens- believe that individuals should be coerced to subsume their freedom to central state dictates that enforce the greater good.
Collectivist’s claim that they are not undermining individual freedom, what with their emphasis on local “democracy” meetings to decide all things in local situations. But that is often just the microcosm expression of the larger collectivism. It is centralism pushed at the local level under the appearance of democracy (enforced “localism”, part of a larger anti-trade, anti-market program). The local meetings must adhere strictly to the central collectivist vision. Collectivists do not trust average citizens with “too much” freedom to make right choices. Individual freedom of choice has long been demonized as selfishness and it opens the door to evil “greed” (i.e. “self-interest”).
You would think that we would have learned the lessons by now- what with the last century’s horrific outcomes from its varied experiments with collectivism. Note, for example, the human impoverishment and environmental damage from Russian and Chinese collectivism- their central planning of resource use aside from the wisdom of individual choice.
Freedom saves all
Our efforts to protect individual freedom since the early 1800s have given us the most powerful evidence of all that protected individual freedom works best to improve life for all. Over the last few centuries we have unleashed individual human creativity as never before in history and we are still just beginning. People have been set free to solve problems, to invent, produce, sell, trade, and buy, and they have created new wealth, lifted billions out of poverty, extended the human lifespan, ended diseases, learned to protect life from natural disasters, and overall improved the environment as never before.
This unleashing of individual creativity did not originate with monarchy or state government but it arose from the historical movement- Classic Liberalism- to protect individual freedom from state interference and control. It is a bottom-up reality not a top-down reality.
How successful has it been? Look, for example, at the individual creativity of people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and millions of others in small, medium, and large businesses. Creating products, services, and jobs for billions of people. Making life better for all. These people and their creativity were not the product of the central state bureaucracies that have more often obstructed and hindered individual creativity. Central governments have undeniable records of burdening and hindering business, and wasting the time and resources of creative people.
The fundamental issue is to trust people with freedom. Sure, given freedom some people will screw up, but most are responsible and will successfully better themselves and their families. That drive for personal success has been termed the motivation of “self-interest”. Collectivists have never understood this basic human motivation and have wrongly damned it as selfishness and greed. This distorted assumption is behind collectivist efforts to force redistribution of other people’s success (i.e. wealth).
The desire for something better for oneself and one’s family has more to do with basic human love.
Comment: Socialists/collectivists present themselves as the noble defenders of compassion to the greater good and the poor. They demonize what they call the harsh selfishness of the market system that is oriented to “evil profit”. But they have things entirely backwards. The proof of good from any system is in the outcomes of that system. One (the free market system) has liberated billions of people from dehumanizing poverty. The other (centralized state control) has repressed economic development and growth. It has hindered wealth creation and thereby harmed the poorest as well as causing immense environmental damage (e.g. Soviet Union over the past century).
Comment: You do not have to like the fact that some people make millions or billions of dollars. But understand how that benefits all, including yourself. Business- small, medium, large- is the creator of wealth in a society. And wealth creation is fundamental to any other good that you wish to accomplish in a society (i.e. to pay for social programs, to improve the environment). Business people invest their money to create new products, new wealth, new services, and new jobs.
The Communists in France, under Mitterand’s early 1980s Socialist government, were forced to recognize the critical role of business in creating wealth because of the disastrous outcome of implementing their system of central control. They tried to nationalize sectors of the French economy and that caused the economy to tank within their first year of governance. They immediately reversed course and backed off from intervening in the business sector, stating that they recognized that “business was the creator of wealth in society” (again, see Muravchik’s Heaven on Earth).
It ought to be evident now how wrong-headed it is to demonize business success and then to try to hinder or coercively redistribute that success. That Leftist approach does not understand wealth creation and too often ends up harmfully disrupting economic growth and development. Further, see William Bernstein’s The Birth of Plenty for the basic principles of wealth creation.
The urge to push central planning also has to do with the perverse moralistic urge to intervene and control other’s lives because some people believe that they alone know what is best for others. Those have often been the most dangerous people in life, satisfying their control impulse through totalitarian systems. That busy-body, meddling control is a failure to trust average people with freedom.
We all have the right to try to persuade one another in the free market of ideas. But we have no right to seek to coerce others via state mechanisms and central control. And economic freedom is the critical basis of all other freedoms. Wealth creation is fundamental to all other good in society, critical to all the social programs that people want, and essential to environmental protection and improvement.
Another line of comment: One quick short-cut to alleviate endless and irresponsible alarmism is to go directly to the foundational issue behind most alarmism and offer the following general affirmation: There is no ultimate threat behind life, whether spiritual or natural. There is no ultimate punishment, exclusion, or destruction. Everyone is safe, included, and fully forgiven. All will receive the full generosity of ultimate reality (Universe, Mind, Consciousness, God, or however you define Ultimate Reality). This assurance goes to the deepest roots of human fear, anxiety, and meaning. To put it plainly in theological terms- there is no anger, threat, or payback in deity. This “spiritual insight” cuts a significant taproot that has long fed human fear.
Humanity’s signally damaging original error was to believe there were violent or punishing forces/spirits behind life. That has contributed to endless varieties of alarmist thinking over history.
Our most important discovery, to counter that original error, is that unconditional love and generosity exists at the core of reality and life. We see this core goodness expressed in the endless rise and improvement of life (and yes, its more complex than just this- see new comment below on Defining Ultimate Reality). This unconditional discovery overturns entirely the whole mess of bad religious ideas that we have inherited.
Punitive deity myth has caused more damage to human consciousness and existence than any other single idea. No conditions reality has the potential for more liberation and benefit to life than anything else ever discovered. This is a central argument of this page. Ah, but I am repeating myself.
Note also new comment that “what is most humane defines what is most true and most real”. It might help to answer one of the most fundamental of human questions- Why something?- with the enhancing insight- What does it mean to be human/humane? This will help us get closer to ultimate truth and the nature of ultimate reality.
Religious visitors to this site may feel intimidated by what appear to be harshly negative comments regarding their religious belief systems. Let me re-assure such visitors that I affirm repeatedly any expression of the authentic human spirit, whatever the context that it is found within, religious or secular. And I affirm any and all attempts to reform religious traditions toward more moderate stances.
What I am proposing here is as old as human consciousness- the ongoing project to distinguish between the bad and the good, between the human and the inhuman. I am advocating the age-old endeavor to fully humanize all thought and action in human society. There is still too much residue of the inhuman at the very core of the great religious traditions. We can do much better.
Religious traditions should never be out-of-bounds to the humanizing project that has been extended to all of the rest of human thought and life. This is especially important because the core themes of religious traditions have long served as humanity’s highest ideals and authorities.
Comment: Some acquaintances have told me that the optimistic views presented on this page are “too Pollyanna”. My response is that an embrace of hope based on the best available evidence is not Pollyanna. And embracing hope or optimism does not entail the denial of the horror and trauma that life brings to many people. Authentic hope is about understanding the true state of reality and life as overall progressing toward something better, no matter what our personal experience of life entails. The greater context of life is the proper baseline from which to evaluate all things.
More on Pollyanna
Others have argued that the unconditional approach on this site is just too mushy to deal with the harsh realities of a cruel world. Unconditional treatment of all is a “weak response to evil”. Its application would produce dangerous outcomes with the bad guys getting off easy. So to be safe, we must maintain the threat of coercive punishment in order to keep people in line. We must threaten, engender fear, and control by force to ensure order is maintained and people do the right thing. Their argument is that we need “robust justice systems with strong elements of payback and punishment” to deal with bad people and maintain order in society.
A Balancing Approach
In response, let me first affirm to the advocates of strong payback justice that, yes, there is cruelty and horror throughout life, though often blown all out of proportion and employed to define the general trend of life as worsening. But yes, it is present all through life. And there is still too much of it. However, it is critical to sustained optimism that we maintain a clear view of the overall state of things, the bigger picture, as progressing toward something better. While problems exist everywhere in life, the evidence is that we are improving life on all the main fronts, notably in decreasing violence. Our efforts to make life something better are working well. This evidence sustains hope to continue to engage life and improve it even more. Exaggerating alarmism over remaining imperfection distorts our progress and undermines hope.
Further, the old payback justice approach has failed. It does not deal properly with the foundational issues behind the harsh cruelties of human life. Note that the discipline of psychology has exposed the failure of punishment-oriented approaches. Those approaches do not work with children or criminal offenders (see, for example, the Australian Psychology Society paper further below). My counter argument is that an unconditional approach is the most potent response at the foundational levels of human consciousness and experience. Far from being too Pollyanna or weak, it is the most robust response to what is most fundamentally wrong in life. Contrary to the claim that unconditional exhibits human weakness in dealing with evil, only the most courageous of people are able to engage unconditional in the project to make life something better. For example, see the comments of Martin Luther King and Gandhi below, as related to forgiveness after the Charleston shooting.
To further reassure the doubters, let me repeat that embracing unconditional is not a call for pacifism in the face of evil. We recognize that a small minority of the human family are responsible for most human violence and must be dealt with appropriately in order to protect others. Again, news media do not present that minority within a proper evidence-based perspective. Media tend to focus inordinately on the misbehaviour of that minority, giving the impression that their impact is common, widespread, and worsening. Media tend to generalize the minority aberration all out of context and out of proportion to its actual status and influence. That does not help us to understand the true state of things (again, see David Altheide’s Creating Fear: News and the Manufacture of Crisis).
But yes, those destructive few must be restrained if they are not able to restrain themselves, or are unwilling to restrain their worst impulses. However, even that preventative action must be done in the spirit of unconditional treatment of all. We are most authentically human when we act restoratively toward all others, not punitively.
Another: See new comment below on the struggle to maintain hope in a better ultimate reality (ultimate Goodness), while fully recognizing the imperfection that is experienced all through life. I embrace the view that life exists as a learning process. Hence, the necessary presence of imperfection in the slow and messy historical process, and our struggle with that imperfection.
Related: Few people make a clear distinction between the present imperfection of life and the ultimate Goodness that creates and sustains life (that intuitive process of reasoning from the known to the unknown). Many continue to project the imperfection of life- features such as vengeance, violence, destruction- onto Ultimate Reality (the gods) and then define the Ultimate in terms of such imperfection. Mythology and theology have always done this. Hence, the monster gods of religion.
And once again- Is it really necessary to engage this issue of Ultimate Reality? Yes. Ultimate ideals and authorities still shape and guide the consciousness of most people. And there is still too much residual inhumanity in such ideals.