Site project: Go after the real monster and enemy in life- the one inside us all (see story outline below). The “righteous battle against evil”, and making life better, starts inside each of us. As the sage said, “Why do you obsess over the ‘speck’ imperfections of others when you have your own ‘beam’ imperfections?”
See “Rethink Paul’s Christ myth” just below. Also below- “Framework for human story”, “The persistence of the spiritual (the primary impulse to meaning) in secular society”, and “Love- not the Higgs- defines reality” (Brian Cox on Joe Rogan podcast).
No religion- ancient, contemporary, or “secular/liberal”- has ever communicated the stunning unconditional nature of deity to humanity. All religion is essentially conditional- i.e. the conditions of correct belief, proper ritual, demanded payment/sacrifice, necessary religious lifestyle, mediating religious authorities, and the limited tribalism of believer/unbeliever.
What does an unconditional deity mean/involve? Some obvious conclusions: No ultimate tribal exclusion of anyone (i.e. no such thing as unbelievers rejected). No demand for payment/sacrifice. No need for a salvation scheme or program. No submission/subservience to dominating deity or mediating priesthood. No religious ritual or lifestyle. No obligation to join a limiting religious tradition/organization. No ultimate punishment or destruction (i.e. no torment in any hell). In other words- freedom to be uniquely human, to live a unique, creative human story. Freedom to join the human race. Freedom to embrace restorative justice. And much more…
Most critical- Freedom in the depths of human consciousness/subconscious from the “personality deforming influence” (Zenon Lotufo in Cruel God, Kind God) of the fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, and despair that bad religious ideas have long incited.
Qualifier: None of this comment ignores the beneficial impact of the better human ideals included in our great world religious traditions. The issue is that the better ideals in the religious mix have too often been distorted and buried by the nastier features in the mix. This is the problem of “diamonds buried in dung” that was noted by Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy. Or the “cognitive dissonance” that arises from merging great human ideals (i.e. “love your enemy” Matthew 5) with subhuman elements in the larger context (i.e. the epitome statement of hatred of an enemy that is expressed in wishing that your enemy will be cast into hell- Matthew 11 and following chapters). Religious holy books are full of such contradictions.
“Eye for eye” cycles
(Insert: The point here- We all need to be careful about cloaking our own “struggles against evil” with too much self-deluding self-righteousness. Remember the sage’s comment: “Why do you obsess over the ‘speck’ imperfections of others, when you have your own ‘beam’ imperfections?”)
Observe today’s ugly retaliatory outbursts of hurt for hurt (hate for hate, hit for hit), notably in the political, news media, and entertainment realms. The effect on the wider population is to evoke the response of revulsion in most people. As Dr. Phil said on a Joe Rogan podcast, “I don’t like that guy… because of what I see of myself in him”.
Most of us are embarrassed at the childishness of such retaliatory response and behavior in public figures (i.e. like three year-olds in the playground throwing sand back and forth). It mirrors back to the rest of us, the ugliness of our own retaliatory urges. This revulsion in turn brings out a desire for something better in most people.
And most of us are more subtle in our expression of retaliation. For example, if we feel that our spouse/friend is not showing enough affection, we then diminish/restrain our own expression of affection in response. Ah, we can be so smooth in justifying our subhuman responses to others, eh.
Remember Nelson Mandela. His signature statement, “Let us surprise them (our opponents/enemies) with our generosity”. As he reasoned: forgiving, inclusive love brings out the best in others. It turns enemies into friends. Not in all, but in most.
But it takes special courage to break a retaliatory cycle, to repress the urge to what we feel is our right to “justice” and our obligation to stand up to “evil” in the attacking other. It takes special enlightenment and maturity to squelch the urge to hurt back and to, instead, act like an adult and forgive, and take a relationship in a better direction. But that is how we become the hero of our human story (Joe Campbell’s point that we attain mature humanity when we orient our lives to universal/unconditional love).
One notable element in today’s eye for eye cycles: We all wince at the reactionary quickness of some to harshly condemn others, to ignore or dismiss the full context of their opponent’s arguments/statements and to frame them with extremist language as evil (i.e. a common slur is that so and so is “like Hitler”, or “racist”- and not denying such exists). When comedians engage such harsh demonization of their opponents, it is no longer funny. Good comedy is when the object of your humor can laugh with you. Good comedy refuses to engage the impulse to humiliate and hurt back.
In these payback cycles there is too much refusal to give others the benefit of the doubt, too much denial of any good at all in opponents, and instead judgemental haste to criminalize, condemn mercilessly, and then call for severe forms of retribution and punishment. Where is the human spirit in all this? Where is the awareness of our shared oneness in the same human family?
Remember Campbell’s insight that in “our righteous struggle with evil, we maintain our humanity by remembering our brotherhood with even our enemy (our essential oneness), by loving our enemy”.
Too much of today’s harsh condemnation of disagreeing others is not decently human by any standard. If public discourse has “degenerated”, be clear that all sides have contributed to this. And if we feel that ‘the other side’ has taken things to a new low, then respond by taking things to a new high. Do the human thing in response. Be something better. Remember Mandela. “Let us surprise them with our generosity”.
Note: On the felt need for punitive response to some original offense (i.e. hurt returned for original hurt given), an Australian Psychological Society report noted that punitive responses do not work with children or criminal offenders. Punitive response only re-enforces more of the same in offenders (pain for pain). Punitive responses “do not teach alternative human behaviors”.
Re-thinking fundamental ideas in human worldviews
A set of foundational ideas/themes has dominated human thought across the millennia and across world cultures. These themes continue to dominate today in our religious traditions and they have also been given expression in “secular” versions like 19th Century Declinism (“the most dominant and influential theme in modern politics and society”, Arthur Herman). The offspring of Declinism- i.e. Environmental Alarmism or Green ideology- has also embraced these same themes. This site offers alternatives to help shape new meta-narratives.
The outcomes of the ideas/ideals that we hold are both helpful and harmful. “Specific ideas have specific consequences” (Sam Harris). While good features in the religious mix have brought succour to billions, bad ideas in the religious mix have contributed to incalculable suffering over history. Bad ideas have often incited and affirmed our worst impulses. Bad ideas are most dangerous when they are attributed to deity because they are then given divine validation and protection (“protected under the canopy of the sacred”).
We are responsible for the ideas that we embrace and promote, and for their outcomes in life. We are responsible to engage the basic project of discerning good from bad in all areas of life, including God theory.
Effective long-term problem solving must engage the foundational themes in human worldviews. These themes are the product of our primal impulse for meaning (i.e. explaining ultimate reality). They are vital to the age-old practise of basing human behavior on related belief (ethics based on theology). These themes are fundamental to guiding, inspiring and validating human feeling, motivation, response, behavior, and life in general.
Note that the meta-stories of humanity, whether in mythological, religious, or ideological versions, have all embedded subhuman features like retaliation/retribution, exclusion, domination, punishment, and violent destruction in humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- notably in human God theories or deity.
Old story themes, new story alternatives (15 fundamental ideas to re-evaluate)
1. Old story theme: The myth of deity as a judging, punishing reality that metes out final justice- i.e. rewarding the good, punishing the bad. This myth continues at the foundation of the world religions and is now given expression in secular versions such as vengeful Gaia, angry planet/nature, retributive Universe, and karma. This myth of God as a retaliating, punishing reality has long under-girded human justice as similarly retaliatory and punitive. From the beginning, belief in a punitive deity has incited the demand for punitive response to human imperfection and failure.
This primitive view of deity as punitive and destroying is the single most important “bad idea” to engage and correct. All other bad religious ideas are based on this foundational pathology in human thought.
New story alternative: The “stunning new theology” that God is an inexpressible “no conditions love”, a non-retaliatory Reality. This means that there is no ultimate judgment, no ultimate exclusion of anyone, no demand for payment or sacrifice, no need for redemption or salvation, and no ultimate punishment or destruction of anyone (no such thing as “hell”).
The adjective “unconditional” points to our highest understanding of love and is therefore most critical for defining deity as transcendent “Goodness”.
(Note the qualifiers below on holding people accountable for their behavior, the need to restrain bad behavior, and restorative justice approaches. All necessary for healthy human development, in this world.)
2. Old story theme (Key element- perfection versus imperfection): The myth of a “perfect beginning” and that God is obsessed with perfection in the world and life. God creates perfection, is enraged at the subsequent loss of perfection, and now wants to punish imperfection. (This idea of deity obsessed with perfection originated with the misunderstanding that any good and all-powerful God would only create perfection, and if things are not perfect then blame bad humanity for mucking things up that were once perfect. It can’t be God’s fault.)
We- humanity- have always had a terrible time understanding and embracing imperfection in life and in ourselves. Imperfection, and fear of divine rage at imperfection, has long deformed human consciousness with fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, and depression. Yes, we ought to engage the struggle to improve ourselves and others, and to improve life in general in all ways. But we ought to do so without the added psychic burden of fear of angry deity or divine threat.
New story alternative: The world began in “chaotic imperfection” but has gradually evolved toward something more complex and organized. Life on this planet is never perfect, but it gradually improves. And over history, humanity has created something better out of the original imperfect, wilderness world.
In this new story theme, God has no problem with imperfection but includes it in the original creation. Imperfection (in a new story) serves the important purpose of providing an arena where humanity struggles with a messy wilderness situation in order to learn to create something better. And, most critical, we learn how to love in the process of engaging that struggle with imperfection in others (i.e. we learn more humane values in our “righteous struggle against evil”, Joseph Campbell).
Perfection, aside from being boring, does not bring forth the best of the human spirit. To the contrary, struggle with imperfection in life, and in others, brings forth the best in humanity. See Julian Simon’s comment that our struggle with problems in the world leads to creative solutions that benefit others (i.e. Ultimate Resource). See also the comment below on Joseph Campbell’s outline of human story and our struggle with a monster. That struggle is where we gain insights and learn lessons that can help others (e.g. Personal suffering can lead to empathy with others that similarly suffer). Read the rest of the opening comment here