Section topic lists are below:
“Specific ideas have specific consequences”, Sam Harris.
“If love is not unconditional then it is not authentic love”, Bob Brinsmead.
A shortened list of Old Narrative themes, with New Story alternatives (see full version further below). Thanks to Bob Brinsmead for input on the varied themes below.
1.Old story theme: The myth of deity as a judging, punishing reality (i.e. threat theology). Contemporary “secular” versions include “vengeful Gaia”, retributive Universe, “angry planet/Mother Earth”, and karma. This ‘worst of all bad ideas’- i.e. a retaliatory, punitive core reality- has shaped human justice systems to be punitive in orientation.
New story alternative: God as no conditions love. There is no such thing as “threat theology”. There is only a stunningly inexpressible Love at the core of all reality. This orients justice to restorative approaches.
2. Old story theme: There was a perfect beginning to life (i.e. original paradise, Eden, or “the past was better”).
New story alternative: Life began imperfectly (original chaos) but gradually improves.
3. Old Story theme: Humanity began as perfect but “fell into sinfulness”, and now deserves to be punished. Related “secular” versions- i.e. original ‘Noble savage’ now corrupted in human civilization, and contemporary expressions of the essential ‘sinfulness’ of humanity such as the myths of humanity the “cancer/virus” on the planet, the unwanted intruder.
New story alternative: Humanity has not fallen, but has emerged from the brutality/imperfectness of animal existence to become ever more humane over history. The gradual improvement of humanity over history is evidence of the essential goodness of humanity that has been emerging, developing, and expressing itself. This essential human goodness foreshadows a revolution in human self-imaging.
4. Old story theme: Life as a declining, degenerating trajectory.
New story alternative: The long-term trajectory of life improves toward something better (volumes of good evidence affirm this “true state of life”- e.g. Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource).
5. Old story theme: Humanity has been rejected by the Creator. We are separated from our Source.
New story alternative: No one has ever been separated from the ‘no conditions Love’ at the core of reality. No one needs to be reconciled or “saved”.
6. Old story theme: Myth of a cosmic dualism between a Good Spirit and an opposing Bad Force/Spirit (i.e. the Zoroastrian dualism that shaped our modern religions and worldviews). A consequent human dualism- People are obligated to join the true religion, or system, in opposition to the false or unbeliever system.
New story alternative: We all come from the same Oneness and there are no fundamental tribal divisions among humanity, only the pseudo-ones that we create around religion, nationality, ethnicity/race, ideology, etc.
7. Old story theme: Myth of a violent, destroying God that threatens the total destruction of the world in an apocalypse.
New story alternative: Despite the problems in our imperfect world (i.e. natural and human violence) there is no threat of a final divine violent destruction and ending.
8. Old story theme: Hope for instant transformation of the world through a violent purging to attain some utopia.
New story alternative: Life gradually improves through human struggle with imperfect wilderness situations. See Arthur Mendel’s ‘Vision and Violence’ for detail on the “gradualism” of historical improvement, versus the utopian demands for “instantaneous transformation”, as in the violent purging movements of Marxism, Nazism, and varied environmental extremism movements.
9. Old story theme: The demand for a salvation plan/sacrifice.
New story alternative: God as no conditions love makes no demand for payment or sacrifice (no atonement, appeasement, or payback).
10. Old story theme: Belief that payback punishment is true justice.
New story alternative: Unconditional Love keeps no record of wrongs but forgives freely and without limit (seventy times seven). It embraces restorative justice toward all (no eye for eye but sun and rain given generously to all, to both good and bad).
11. Old story theme: Threat of future or after-life judgment and punishment- humanity’s primal fear.
New story alternative: Everyone is safe in the end. The unconditional Love at the core of reality inclusively and universally embraces all, both good and bad. And self-judgment is the worst judgment and punishment. It is the only judgment and punishment.
12. Old story theme: Myth of hero-messiah using superior force to conquer all.
New story alternative: God as love does not intervene, overwhelm, or dominate free others. Authentic love respects the freedom of all. God honors individual self-determination.
13. Old story theme: The fallacy of Biblicism, that religious holy books are special forms of writing and authority.
New story alternative: All human productions are to be subject to the same evaluating criteria of good/bad, or humane/inhumane. The sacred is not exempt from this process of evaluation.
14. Old story theme: God as Ruler, King, Lord, Judge.
New story alternative: There is no domination/subservience relating with authentic love. True divine greatness is to serve, to relate horizontally to all as free equals. God is a common, ordinary street-level reality, not an elitist reality.
15. Old story theme: Humanity obligated to know, serve, and love some invisible reality above humanity.
New story alternative: Our primary loyalty is to love and serve people all around us, where God dwells. There is no need to focus on some vertical religious dimension (i.e. the myth of a “sky God”). We only need focus on horizontal ‘here and now’ reality where God actually exists.
16. Old story theme: God as absent and silent during disaster and episodes of human cruelty.
New story alternative: God has incarnated in all humanity as the common human spirit/consciousness and is immediately present in all human raging against evil and all human effort to make life better.
End note: For more detail, see the full version of “Rethinking Fundamental Ideas in Worldviews” just below.
“The same mythical themes have been repeated endlessly across history and across all the cultures of the world” (Joseph Campbell). Today, these primitive “old story themes” continue to shape the worldviews of the majority of humanity that is affiliated with one of the main world religions. These mythical themes also shape the thinking of many moderns that consider themselves secular and even materialist/atheist. Over the past few centuries these old themes have been given new expression in our ideologies and even in science.
But the old story themes represent a worldview that does not present the true state of life on Earth or the truly humane nature of ultimate reality. Further, the “old story themes” have caused immense damage across history, inciting and validating the worst impulses of people to harm others. (Note: Historians- e.g. Herman, Landes, Mendel, Redles- have traced the role of these ideas behind the history of religious violence, and also their role in the mass-death movements of Marxism, Nazism, and now environmental alarmism.)
The “new story alternatives” are derived from contemporary science and the best of contemporary spiritual insight. They point more correctly to the true state of life and to a more humane view of Ultimate Reality or deity.
Also, the new alternatives potently overturn the ‘apocalyptic millennial’ complex of myths, the complex of themes that support the foundational mental pathology of belief in a retaliatory, punitive Force or God. A central project of this site is to bring down this greatest monster and enemy of humanity (i.e. Ultimate Reality/deity as retaliatory, punitive, exclusionary, dominating, and destructive).
These new alternative themes are also my response to the apocalyptic element in today’s climate change alarmism. I would urge people to probe the deeply embedded themes that continue to dominate contemporary public consciousness and worldviews. This will help to understand the confirmation bias of alarmists that, despite evidence to the contrary, endlessly claim that the “end of days” is looming just up ahead (i.e. the endless setting of end-time dates).
See “Religion represents God to humanity???”, “Rethinking 16 Fundamental Ideas” (Old story themes, new story alternatives), “History’s single greatest contradiction (the message of Jesus versus the contrary message of Paul)”, “Eye for eye cycles”, “Qualifier: unconditional is not warm and fuzzy pacifism (any common sense love is responsible to hold all accountable for behavior and to restrain violence)”, and “Rethink Paul’s Christ myth” (Historical Jesus is not Christ; he was anti-Christology)- all 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). Also, “Decline or Rise: The long-term trajectory of life (forestry facts, fish facts…)”.
Bob Brinsmead recently posted this comment in a discussion group… “Religion is something made by man. God did not make religion. Religion is something devised to control human behaviour using, among other things, fear and guilt.”
“I love that little book by Wilfred Cantrall Smith called The Meaning and End of Religion. He cites Karl Barth who said that the gospel was meant to be and should be understood as ‘the end and abolition of religion.’ Bonhoeffer dreamed of ‘Religionless Christianity’”.
My response to Bob...
“Religion is condition. God, as love, is no conditions. And if love is not unconditional then it is not authentic love (a Brinsmead statement). Parents/spouses/friends all get this in daily life. Our human rights codes get it and criminal justice systems wrestling with restorative approaches, also get it.”
“What humanity calls God, or Ultimate Reality, has never been a religious reality. God has been seriously distorted/deformed in religious traditions as something conditional, threatening (i.e. threat theology as the essence of religious versions of deity- with the features of judgment, exclusion, domination, punishment/destruction). And yes, love has also been in the mix of human God theories but it has been a subhuman form of love, a tribal love that favors believers but excludes unbelievers.
“Fortunately, all areas of life have been contributing to entirely new understanding of Ultimate Reality or deity.
“Sciences like biology (i.e. evolution) have revealed to us the gradualism in the emergence and development of life. That there was no perfection in the beginning, or loss of perfection, and hence there is no need for all the distorting mythology of gods angry at humanity for ruining some imagined original perfect world (e.g. Eden). In the actual story of life there is no evidence of deity bringing in subsequent imperfection (thorns and sweat and pain) and now threatening to punish people for ruining perfection and demanding salvation conditions- i.e. payment, sacrifice. And oh, all the fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt that religion has engendered around such bad ideas.
“And science with its presentation of natural law has overturned myths of intervening miracle gods that override natural law. Give that one to Dawkins. Any creating deity obviously uses natural law to create and sustain material reality. Panentheism gets this.
“And then humanity as a gradually improving species- the gradual improvement in human ethics/behavior (e.g. lessening violence across history). Also, the gradually emerging understanding in humanity that unconditional love is the highest form of love or goodness. And we then project this out to redefine deity as Ultimate Goodness. This leads to the stunning recognition that Love is at the core of reality as the Ground or Source of all. And it is ‘no conditions love’. The Ultimate Goodness.
“And our growing appreciation of democracy and equality in human societies. Our growing inclusion of all human diversity and all uniquely differing human stories. All such improvements point to our embrace of a more humane reality in all areas, deity included.
“Ah, this project of humanizing all areas of life, including our God theories.
“Religion has never got this right but only buried the diamonds in muck. Props to all the religious reform endeavors, but so much of that only obfuscates, distorts, and weakens the good features with contexts that refuse to let the bad elements go. New wine in rotten wineskins. Doesn’t really work.
“Non-violent atonement??? C’mon Weaver.” (A reference to Mennonite theologian Dennis Weaver’s attempt to merge a new theology of a non-violent God with the traditional theological concept of atonement as violent death to create a blood sacrifice. But best of luck anyway Dennis.)
Intro note on comment just below… “History’s single most profound insight”… The insight? That the core of reality (Source, Ground) was a stunningly inexpressible ‘no conditions Love’. This is entirely contrary to the mythical and religious theories of deity across history with their subhuman features of divine judgment/retaliation, tribal exclusion (believer/unbeliever), domination (humanity created to serve deity), and punishment/destruction (i.e. apocalypse, hell). The insight that the core of reality is ‘no conditions Love’ transforms our meta-narratives and overturns the entire complex of related themes that were developed to affirm the old beliefs in retaliatory, punitive deities. See “Rethink Fundamental Ideas” below.
Note: The Christ myth of Paul is primarily responsible for affirming and embedding the destructive theme of apocalyptic in Western consciousness (see James Tabor quotes in next section below). Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) also notes several features from the Christian tradition that formed the ideology of Declinism- a “secular” version of apocalyptic mythology. Two notable features acknowledged by Herman- the Christian belief in the loss of an original paradise and the need for violent purging (an apocalypse) in order to cleanse the world and restore the lost paradise. Herman states that “Declinism is the most influential and dominant theme in modern society”. It is the ideology of environmental alarmism or Green religion (Note: This site differentiates between the environmental concern that we all share and the alarmism that exaggerates environmental problems to apocalyptic scale, thereby distorting the true state of things- the endless prophesying of the end of days).
History’s single greatest contradiction? My candidate: The contradiction between the central message of Historical Jesus, and the central meaning and message of Paul’s Christ myth (his Christology theory). Or, “How history’s single most profound insight was subsequently buried in a major religious tradition”.
A side consideration: Think of the liberation that could have been promoted over the last two millennia if some movement had taken Jesus seriously (i.e. liberation from the unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame that come from harsh and threatening God theories- Zenon Lotufo). But no one, not even his closest companions, took his scandalous and offensive insights seriously.
The contradiction at the core of Christianity has to do with the following profound opposites- i.e. non-retaliatory behavior versus retaliation, the non-punitive treatment of offenders versus a punitive approach, no conditions versus supreme condition (sacrifice, Salvationism), unlimited love versus limited tribal love, the universal embrace of humanity versus the restricted inclusion of only true believers, and non-apocalyptic versus total apocalyptic destruction. You can’t get more contrary or contradictory than these entirely opposite realities.
Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God), and others, point to the “cognitive dissonance” that arises when you try to hold opposites in some merger.
“Greatest contradiction?” How so? Because of the historical and current world-wide influence of the Christian religion, and notably the influence of Paul’s Christ myth. This myth has shaped the version of Christianity that has descended down to our contemporary world (compared, for instance, to the prominent Jewish Christianity of the first century CE).
And also “greatest” due to the very nature of the contradiction itself. It is hard to find a more stark contrast between entirely opposite realities than that between the main message of Jesus and the contrary Christ message of Paul. I use the term “the main message of Jesus” in reference to the Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel, specifically the Q1 version, and the most important statement in that gospel as now found in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36.
Historical Jesus stated that, for him, the era of “eye for eye justice” was over. He rejected retaliatory justice and, instead, he promoted the restorative justice of “love your enemies” (Matthew 5). Why? Because that was what God did. It was what God was. The God of Jesus was love of a stunning new variety never before seen in the long history of God theories. Jesus’ God did not retaliate with eye for eye justice but loved God’s enemies. And the evidence? Jesus illustrated his point with the main features of the natural world. God gave the good gifts of life- i.e. sun and rain for crops- to all, to both good and bad people. There was no discrimination and no exclusion of anyone.
God’s love and generosity was inclusive, universal, and unconditional. Jesus used a behavior/belief pairing to make this point. “Do this… because God does it”. He based his behavior on a similar validating belief. Do this- treat all others with unconditional love- and you will be just like God (you will be acting like the children of God) who treats all with unconditional love.
The God of Jesus was non-retaliatory, non-vengeful, non-punitive, non-excluding, non-destroying and therefore non-apocalyptic. Non-apocalyptic? Yes, because a non-retaliatory God is not an apocalyptic God. Apocalyptic is the ultimate act of eye for eye retaliation, vengeance, punishment and total destruction.
Further, such a God would not demand payment or punishment for wrong. He would not demand a sacrifice for wrong. The God of Jesus would give to all, including those who do not pay back or respond in a similar manner. His God would not just love those who loved him in return (limited tribal love). His God was authentic universal and no conditions love toward all, without exception.
No sacrifice? Yes, this is intimated clearly in statements such as “Lend, expecting nothing in return (i.e. no payback)”. Expect no payment. Just love and give anyway. Freely. Unconditionally.
Try to get the “spirit” of the overall section and the central point of the message of the man (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36). Too many get sidetracked in what they believe are qualifying details that undermine the core ‘no conditions’ point that Jesus was making. Remember Matthew, obsessed with righteousness, and as the editor of this material from Jesus, added his own distorting qualifications such as “Be perfect as your Father is perfect”. Luke did a better job with this very same material, getting the spirit of Jesus in stating, “Be unconditionally merciful as your Father is unconditionally merciful” (my paraphrase of Luke’s point and spirit).
Note the same unconditional generosity and forgiveness in other Jesus material such as the Prodigal parable and the Vineyard workers story, and in statements on forgiving “seventy times seven” (unlimited). Also, in his inclusion of everyone at meal tables.
Paul outright rejected this central theme of Jesus and retreated to the old retaliatory, punitive theology of all past mythology and religion. His used the same behavior/belief pairing that Jesus had used, but he did this to contradict the central theme of Jesus. I think Paul did this intentionally as he knew he was confronting the central statement of Jesus. So Paul also based his behavior on a validating belief.
Further, Paul more generally trashed and rejected the wisdom tradition that Jesus belonged to (see his first letter to the Corinthians).
At first glance, it appears that Paul embraced the behavioral standard of Jesus in stating that it was wrong to repay evil with evil, to retaliate (Romans 12:17-20). But then he contradicted the new non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and stated that, to the contrary, his God was retaliatory. Paul quoted an Old Testament statement to make his point, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Paul re-affirmed eye for eye justice at the center of his belief system. And His God would punish and destroy all in the epitome act of retaliatory punishment and destruction- an apocalypse. “Lord Jesus (Christ) will return in blazing fire to punish and destroy all who do not obey/believe my gospel of the Christ” (Thessalonians). See his other letters for similar statements of the punishment/destruction of unbelievers.
And a closer look at Paul’s ethic in this Romans 12 section shows that his advocacy for non-retaliatory behavior was actually retaliatory in intent. You were supposed to engage such behavior in order to ensure that God would take vengeance on your offenders/enemies. Do such in order to “heap coals of fire on them”- to ensure that God punishes them harshly.
There is no greater contradiction in religious history than this one between Jesus and Paul’s Christ. It is the contradiction between non-retaliation and retaliation in deity. Between Jesus’ inclusion of all (sun and rain on all), and the Paul’s exclusion and destruction of unbelievers. This is a contradiction between no conditions love and the supreme condition of all conditions ever concocted- the demand for a supreme sacrifice to pay for all sin (i.e. the sacrifice of a god-man to pay for the sins of all humanity- see Paul’s letter to the Romans).
Paul’s term “Jesus Christ” is the epitome expression of an oxymoron. You cannot mix and merge these two entire opposites. Jesus is not Christ. He was against Christology or Christ mythology (see “Rethink Paul’s Christ Myth” below). Jesus is the anti-Christ at the heart of Christianity.
Paul shaped the version of Christianity that we have today. Christianity is the religion of Paul’s Christ (“Christ-ianity”). It is not the religion of Jesus (it is not “Jesus-ianity”). Christianity does not properly represent Jesus to the world. As Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy stated so bluntly, “The diamonds/pearls of Jesus have been buried in the subhuman context of the New Testament”. I’ve paraphrased their actual statements to soften the harsh bluntness of their words.
As always with any discussion of “no conditional reality”, and the related issue of restorative justice approaches, I assure readers that this is not advocating that we should feel fuzzy, mushy, or warm toward offenders and their inhumanity. Also, unconditional treatment of human failure is not advocacy for pacifism in the face of violence. Any common sense understanding of love gets it that love is always responsible to restrain bad behavior and protect the innocent (hence, soldiers and police forces). This responsibility to protect is not incompatible with love as so many conclude. It is the common sense responsibility of love.
But, regardless of how we feel, in the face of human failure our obligation is to treat all offenders humanely, with restorative justice approaches. Just as our human rights codes call for the humane treatment of prisoners of war. If for no other reason than the fact restorative approaches work better to lower recidivism rates with criminals and to protect the public.
Varied psychology forums (i.e. the Australian Psychological Society) note that punitive approaches do not work with children or criminal offenders. Such approaches do not teach alternative human behaviors. Punitive approaches only re-enforce subhuman ‘pain for pain’ or ‘hurt for hurt’ responses in people. Also, see the criminal justice classic “The Crime of Punishment” by Karl Menninger.
No conditions reality is about the nature of our highest ideals and authorities and how such ideals influence human thought, emotion, motivation and response/behavior. How do we become something better, something ever more humane, and thereby make life better for all?
The three worst features that deform human life- features of animal and primitive human existence. These have been responsible for incalculable suffering over history.
1. Small band or tribal exclusion of differing others.
2. Domination/control of others.
3. Punishment/destruction of differing others.
We counter the animal with human features. Think of the suffering that we can avert and the good that we can promote by just embracing and practicing the following.
1. The inclusion of all as equals.
2. The treatment of all without threat or coercion, even within the hierarchical structures of our societies- i.e. relating horizontally to all others as free equals.
3. Restorative justice- We hold all responsible for choices and behavior, but we offer all forgiveness. We are obligated to restrain violence but to do so non-punitively.
The two baddest ideas that darken and enslave human consciousness
The two most damaging and deforming themes ever concocted by ancient human minds continue today as the cohering center of the apocalyptic millennial complex of bad ideas, in both religious and secular versions of belief.
1. There is a great punitive, destroying Force/Spirit at the core of reality (i.e. angry God, angry Planet/Mother Earth, Retributive Universe, vengeful Gaia, karma).
2. Essentially corrupt people deserve punishment.
The great world religions hold varied forms of these two foundational themes.
We counter these two core pathologies with “spiritual” insights that present the best of a new theology- i.e. that God is no conditions love, the highest form of love that we know. God as Ultimate Goodness would embody what we have discovered- that unconditional is us at our best. There is no threat of ultimate punishment or destruction with such Love. This overturns humanity’s primal fears of after-life harm.
And we counter the fallen, corrupt humanity myth with the recognition that unconditional love also defines our real self. An essential self that is often clouded and buried by our inherited animal brain (animal-like features long hard-wired in our makeup from a long history in a primitive, animal-like existence). Fortunately, we are not our brains. We are not essentially corrupt but are most essentially good in our core being (the human spirit and human self). This foreshadows a revolution in human self-imaging. As Julian Simon said, “Humanity has been more a creator than a destroyer”.
The myth of sinful, fallen humanity deserving punishment has resulted in guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety over being imperfectly human. This guilt and fear drives the salvation industry- the felt need to be saved from our badness, and to pacify the divine threat that human badness supposedly evokes.
Religion represents God to humanity???
No religion- ancient, contemporary, or “secular/liberal”- has ever communicated the stunning ‘no conditions’ 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 excluded or 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 (i.e. embrace everyone in the greater human family, as free equals). Freedom to engage restorative justice approaches. And much more…
Most critical- Freedom in the depths of human consciousness/subconscious from the “personality deforming influence”- i.e. the fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, and despair- that bad religious ideas have long incited (Zenon Lotufo in ‘Cruel God, Kind God’).
Qualifier: The comment on this site does not ignore 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 contain too many such contradictions.
Re-thinking fundamental ideas in human worldviews
The ‘apocalyptic millennial’ complex of mythical themes has dominated human thought across the millennia and across world cultures. It includes the myth of a better past (original paradise, Eden), corrupt people have ruined paradise (humanity as essentially bad and the destroyer of the world), and life is now declining toward something worse, toward some great collapse and ending (apocalypse). Consequently, we must now embrace some salvation scheme to save ourselves and the world. The salvation usually involves some form of “coercive purification”- a violent purging of the thing that threatens our world. The purging is a punishment of bad people (the sins of the destroyers), and it clears the way to re-establish the lost paradise, or to install some utopia.
These themes continue to dominate today in our religious traditions and in the contemporary era they have also been given expression in “secular” or ideological versions like 19th Century Declinism- the belief that life is declining toward a great disastrous collapse and ending. Arthur Herman said in his history ‘The Idea of Decline’ that “The theme of decline is the most dominant and influential theme in modern politics and society”. The offspring of Declinism- i.e. Environmental Alarmism or Green ideology- has also embraced these same themes with its narrative that corrupt, greedy people in industrial civilization are destroying the natural world, and salvation now involves stopping/purging this industrial society in order to re-establish the lost paradise of a natural world.
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. Arthur Mendel notes that “the idea of apocalyptic has been the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Vision and Violence). Evidence? Historians Richard Landes, Arthur Herman, Arthur Mendel, and David Redles all show the influence of apocalyptic millennial ideas on the mass-death movements of Marxism, Nazism, and now environmental alarmism. Stunning stuff.
Examples: Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring contributed to the ban on DDT. Tens of millions of people, many children, died unnecessarily in the decades following the DDT ban. So today anti-GM activism has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions of children denied Vitamin A in Golden Rice (see Bjorn Lomborg article “Trashing rice, Killing children” in the National Post). Anti-fossil fuel activism (things like carbon taxes) also continues to impact the most vulnerable people in our societies with fuel poverty due to rising energy costs (see GWPF newsletters).
Other bad ideas in the mythical complex include dualism and its associated exclusionary tribalism- i.e. good people versus their enemies. And the domination of enemies. And the punishment/destruction of enemies. These themes have all been projected onto our ultimate ideals and authorities- our gods.
Bad ideas have too often incited and affirmed our worst impulses to harm others. Bad ideas are most dangerous when they are projected onto 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 discerning and then correcting/purging the subhuman features in our God theories.
Effective long-term problem solving must engage the foundational themes in human worldviews. These themes are fundamental to guiding, inspiring, and validating human feeling, motivation, response, behavior, and life in general. This site offers potent alternatives to help shape new meta-narratives, alternatives based on evidence and insights that affirm hope and love- the better impulses of our human spirit.
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.
(Theologians- e.g. Mennonite- have noted that punitive Western justice systems are based on Christian views of violent, punitive deity.)
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/violence, 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 argument 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