Speculating with Campbell on the meaning of human life and experience Wendell Krossa
Or: How to tower in stature as maturely human, how to become the hero of your story or quest.
Joseph Campbell said that we all live a “hero’s quest or adventure”. Our lives and life experiences can be understood in terms of “the hero’s journey”. We all live heroic stories of adventure, struggle, suffering, conquest of monsters/problems, disintegration/re-integration, transformation, discovery and gaining insights that benefit others. I have added to Campbell’s basic framework, revising, paraphrasing, and changing some things.
Going right to the point on the big question- What is the greater goal or meaning of human life? Above all else that we might accomplish in life, I would suggest that we are here to learn what love is and how to love. Love is the fundamental reason/purpose for the cosmos, our world, and conscious human life.
Campbell affirmed love as the overall meaning of life in his comment that we become mature persons when we embrace “universal love”. Then we become the heroes of our story. I would use the broader term “unconditional” or “no conditions” to hone the definition of love. This boundary-breaking adjective takes love to a whole new level of courage and achievement. It is unconditional love that enables us to “tower in stature” as fully and maturely human.
Arguments for unconditional as the highest and most authentic form of love
Unconditional or no conditions love includes universal and more. Unconditional is about an unlimited generosity that demands absolutely no conditions of others before loving them. It is a big-heartedness that loves freely regardless of the response of the other person.
Note here the “hard sayings” of Jesus to “love enemies… to give expecting nothing in return”. (Insert note: I am referring to the Historical Jesus not the Christian Jesus Christ). Historical Jesus added that it is comparably easy to love and give if you expect an equal return:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.
Jesus’ point was that authentic mature love will not set any conditions before loving others. It is not dependent on similar response. And it is not limited to like-minded ingroup members. It will also love enemies. It is not tribally oriented or limited.
Unconditional love is the highest form of love that humanity has discovered and the ideal that takes us safely in the direction of a more humane existence. It guides us toward actions that cause the least harm to others. It provides the safest ethical standard to help us navigate the tests of life. How so? Unconditional urges us to be non-retaliatory, non-dominating, and non-punitive. There is nothing safer than these responses for assuring that the least harm is shown to others, and the most good is done to others.
Further, with qualifiers…
Unconditional is how we conquer our personal monster, our real enemy in life, the inherited animal impulses embedded deeply inside each of us, impulses that orient us to tribal exclusion and division (small band mentality), to domination of others (alpha male/female), to treat other’s failures with punitive justice (to destroy the offending/competing other). Unconditional persuades us to counter and overcome these inherited tendencies and thereby to “tower in stature” as a heroic conqueror of the “animal passions”.
Unconditional is about embracing traits like the unlimited forgiveness of the failures of others, forgiveness that is manifested in restorative justice approaches toward offenders (non-retaliatory, non-punitive justice). Unconditional is about embracing universal inclusion of all as equals (non-dominating, non-controlling forms of relating to all others, i.e. relating horizontally not vertically).
Unconditional takes us to the height of what it means to live as authentically human. It is the most humane ideal that we have discovered to shape our goals, our mission/purpose in life. It shows us how we can become the hero of our unique story, and how we can mature as human persons. Unconditional, as our highest human ideal, gives meaning to everything else. It answers the great questions of meaning and purpose: “Why existence?”; “Why this cosmos and this world?”; and “Why conscious human life?”
An insert qualifier:
Approaching life with an unconditional orientation does not mean pacifist inaction in the face of injustice, violence, or evil. In discussion groups you sometimes get participants who respond to the suggestion of embracing unconditional as an ideal with this distorting dismissal, “Oh, you’re saying that we should let all the psychopaths go free”. No. In advocating for an unconditional mindset, no one is suggesting anything so thoughtlessly irresponsible and extremist. Embracing an unconditional ideal to guide life does not entail the abandonment of common sense in an imperfect world.
An unconditional approach to human failure will hold all responsible for their behavior, and this will require the restraint and imprisonment of people who are not able or not willing to self-control their worst impulses. Unconditional will even regretfully engage war to stop aggression against the innocent. But it will do so with the non-aggressive and non-triumphalist attitude advocated by the Chinese sage Laozi, that does not gloat over the defeat of an opponent.
Unconditional love is not primarily about feeling, as the horrific inhumanity of some offenders rightly evokes rage and disgust. Unconditional is an embrace of love that intends to treat all offenders humanely, despite their offenses. Much like our human rights codes that obligate us to treat prisoners of war humanely. Illustrations of unconditional love of enemies are presented in movies like “The Forgiven”, “The Railway Man”, “Invictus”, “To End All Wars”, “Ben Hur”, etc.
Unconditional transforming humanity’s highest ideal and authority: Create a new God, a truly humane deity
(Note: Apply these points also to the newer “secular” versions of deity such as “Vengeful Gaia… angry Planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and payback karma”)
Unconditional points to a profound redefining of humanity’s ultimate ideal and authority- deity. It overturns entirely the long history of punitive, retaliatory gods demanding sacrifice/payment.
Deities, from the beginning, have been defined by features like tribal exclusion (true believers vs unbelievers), domination (God as lord, king), and retaliatory punishment (God as Judge, ultimate Punisher/Destroyer). These features projected onto deities have long validated the expression of similar features in the followers of such deities because people across history have venerated the gods as their highest ideals and authorities. From the beginning, people have naturally tried to model their lives and societies according to their understanding of the nature of their deities. This age-old human impulse to venerate deity as ultimate authority has often resulted in horrific outcomes because “we become just like the God that we believe in or worship” (Bob Brinsmead).
Unconditional rejects the baser features that have long been projected onto humanity’s highest ideal and authority. Unconditional fully humanizes deity. It makes God safe to use as a source of validation for human behavior and life.
History records stunning examples of the inhumane treatment of others in the name of God. For example, Christian crusaders near the end of the first millennium CE slaughtered Jews and Muslims because they believed their God willed the destruction of unbelievers. More recently, ISIS similarly slaughtered people because they believed their God demanded such harsh punishment of infidels.
Defining God as unconditional love will overturn entirely the subhuman features of deity that have long validated inhumane treatment of others. When unconditional defines the highest ideal and authority of humanity, then people wanting to treat others inhumanely are left without recourse to divine validation. They are left indefensible and facing personal responsibility for any inhumanity expressed toward others.
Unconditional deity fundamentally re-orients the primal human impulse to base behavior on belief- i.e. to validate our behavior with our beliefs, notably our beliefs regarding the nature of deity. Embracing unconditional in our highest ideal and authority will then enable a profound re-shaping of our responses and our treatment of human imperfection and failure. Where punitive, retaliatory deities have long validated human justice as systems of punitive retaliation, unconditional deity will orient us away from punitive forms of justice and toward the restorative or rehabilitative treatment of imperfect others. In a word- mercy.
Interacting with Campbell’s points on human story…
First, I would affirm with Campbell that we come from a greater Oneness that humanity has long called “God” (i.e. the Ultimate Creating Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Source, Spirit, Self, Goodness). As noted above, there is one transcendently dominant feature that describes this divine Oneness- Love. Not just love as we commonly know it from our experience, but Love that is inexpressibly, transcendently, and infinitely unconditional. Beyond words, terms, definitions, or categories. The God that is infinitely beyond our human-created theories of God. God as unconditional Love is a reality that is transcendently beyond the common understanding of the term “God is love”. Inexpressibly beyond the best that we could ever imagine. No religion has ever communicated this liberating wonder to humanity.
Historically, all religious traditions have been oriented to conditional reality- conditions of right belief (the “truth” of the religion), required sacrifice/payment, correct rituals and religious lifestyle, obligatory membership. An unconditional deity renders religion unnecessary, hence the religious hesitation to engage or promote such a God.
No conditions Love redefines the ultimate meaning of everything. The stunning new theology of deity as unconditional Love presents a radical new view of the cosmos, the world, and conscious life.
A related insight to ponder:
Consider that our true self is also defined by the same no conditions Love that is God. This ought to radically transform and reshape our sense of identity or self-image. We are not the fallen, “originally sinful” beings of religious mythology.
If oneness is fundamental reality, then the love that is God is inseparable from our human spirit and our human consciousness. Unfortunately, our core spirit and consciousness are clouded and inhibited by the material body and brain that we have come to inhabit. Our core nature as no conditions love is often distorted and even obstructed from full expression by our interaction with the animal brain that we have inherited. Our brain with its anti-human impulses to exhibit dualistic tribalism, domination of others, and the exclusion, punishment, and destruction of others, leads us too often to make choices that deny our true nature as beings of love. (Yes, I am affirming a form of “dualist interactionism” (immaterial mind interacting with material brain), similar to that of neuroscientist John Eccles.)
Further, regarding our origins in a greater Oneness (i.e. that we essentially belong to a greater Consciousness), some suggest that only part of our greater consciousness is expressed through our material body and brain. The human brain is a mechanism that limits our greater consciousness and enables us to function in a limited manner this material realm. Our greater consciousness is mediated through our physical body/brain and this limits our experience to the 5 senses of the human body/brain and the three or four-dimensional reality of this material realm. This limiting function of our brain enables us to experience life in this world. In this view, the brain is a transmitting organism, a limiting mechanism to make a life story possible in the here and now. (Note: Again, this view is more in line with Eccles’ “dualist inter-action”.)
Our origin in the Oneness or the Source that is Love, our inseparable union with that Oneness, according to Campbell, is critical to remember as we journey through life in order that we do not lose our humanity in this world where we engage our varied struggles with evil. Our true home in ultimate Oneness reminds us that the others that we battle against here- i.e. the imperfect others that we may view as “enemies” or opponents- they are part of the same greater Oneness that is love. They are still intimate family despite the oppositions/dualisms that we engage here (i.e. the dualisms of religion, politics, race, nationality, gender, or other).
The others that we may oppose/fight during our lives are also full equals in a greater Oneness. They are our brothers and sisters in the same family. If we forget this oneness with others (“our brotherhood with even our enemies”) during our righteous struggle with evil in this world, then we will lose our humanity, says Campbell. We will forget that “love your enemy” is the key to maintaining our humanity.
Others have suggested that we are co-creators with God, that we take part in creating this material reality as a learning arena, a place where we come to learn how to be human, to experience and act out a human adventure, story, or quest. We all come as “fellow actors in God’s theater”, says Campbell, playing our differing temporary roles, whether as good or bad persons.
And others yet suggest that we may even be responsible for choosing our unique life stories and the varied experiences of our stories, both good and bad. We may have chosen our bodies, our families, and our unique life stories, in order to learn, develop, and grow as human. If this is true in any way, then we cannot blame God for our troubles. I am not affirming these speculative things… just offering them for consideration. They point to alternative ways to view the harsher experiences of our lives. We may have chosen (in pre-existence) our unique life experiences as opportunities for personal learning and growth.
Insert: This is not a new take on religious predestination (i.e. that our lives were planned out in advance). As freedom is inseparable from love, so freedom remains paramount to our stories. We exercise authentic freedom of choice and create our stories on the fly, during our sojourn in this world. Freedom, with elements of indeterminacy and randomness, is inseparable from love. Where there is no authentic freedom of choice (free will) there is no authentic love.
Others have suggested that we come into life to fulfill some special mission, that we are called, or sent, to make some unique contribution to improve life, to make the world a better place. And we do this through living a unique life story. No one else can accomplish the unique mission that we have come to fulfill.
I affirm my main point again- that the core purpose of human life and story is to know and learn love. To learn what authentically humane love is about- that is, “unconditional”. To learn how to love in that manner, how to express the no conditions love that is our true self, and how to receive similar love from others.
Further, love is expressed through all the diversity of innumerable human lives and experiences- e.g. whether making an economic contribution, a political or social contribution, or something personal. Perhaps as an entertainer. Is there any greater contribution to improving life than that made by comedians? Putting hardship and suffering in its place (proper perspective), helping us to laugh at it all, and thereby lightening the dark parts of life. And what about the valued contribution of farmers growing food for all of us? Or sanitation workers preventing the spread of disease? There are no “useless” or less important human lives or stories. Despite the variety of our personal occupations, all of us contribute in some way to the grand overall venture of humanity learning and expressing love.
Our contribution may be small and hidden, or it may be offered in the larger public realm. Again, our contributions to life are as diverse as the opportunities to be human in billions of individual life stories. There is infinite creative potential in the freedom to explore, to experience, to create and innovate, to live a unique story.
I would offer, again, that unconditional love is the central point of it all. And that is something intensely personal. As we contribute in some area (i.e. our jobs), we do well to nourish love as the motivating and guiding factor in our actions. It matters how we relate to and treat others around us in all the mundane, ordinary, and private situations of daily life. Fundamentally, success in life (true human achievement) is about how we treat others as fellow members of the same family. All others remain our equals in this one human family despite their status or failures in this world.
Tackling other Campbell points:
We all face monsters in life. We experience problems, trials and suffering, things that we struggle with and try to overcome. Our personal monster/problem may be a physical disability, or mental/emotional problems, or some social issue, perhaps economic or political. Our monsters, and our struggles/battles, are as diverse as the problems of our complex world, whether public or personal.
Additionally, Campbell and others have noted that dualism is a vital part of this material realm and there is a greater point to the dualisms of material reality and life (i.e. the good versus evil dualism). Tackling dualism requires the preliminary qualifier that we should never make light of evil in this world and the consequent suffering that evil/inhumanity brings. But it helps to recognize that dualism serves the purpose, in this arena of life, of providing a backdrop or contrast against which we learn what good is. We would not know good without its contrasting opposite. The experience of evil in life provides an opposite that we struggle against, and through that “righteous struggle with evil” we gain insights, we discover humane responses, and we find solutions to problems, solutions that will benefit others. Our struggle with the wrongs, injustice, or evil of life is also where we learn empathy with suffering others (we “feel” what they are feeling).
Again, while being very sensitive to the horrific suffering that many people have endured, I would offer that it may be helpful to note that others have suggested that some forms of struggle and suffering are necessary and even good for us because we would not learn, we would not develop and grow as human, aside from such struggle and suffering. As Julian Simon said, our problems are good for us because they push us to find solutions and our discovered solutions then benefit others. Struggle brings forth the best of the human spirit.
Further, it is critical to recognize that our experience of evil and suffering is never some form of divine punishment. That religious fallacy must be rejected entirely. God as unconditional love does not punish human imperfection. And God does not punish people through the imperfections of the world (i.e. through natural disaster, disease, or human/animal cruelty).
Philosophical explanations of the meaning of evil and related suffering will never fully satisfy everyone. But it may help some to view the creation of this imperfect world, and its basic features, as fundamentally an experience and learning arena, with death serving the purpose of making this realm a temporary experience (a small part of a larger ongoing story).
Campbell adds that we will be “wounded” in our struggle with our monster/problem. “Wounding” is as diverse as differing human stories. Wounding may be physical, mental/emotional, or related to some social problem.
To reiterate, we may have chosen our unique problems and experiences of suffering before we came here. We may be more responsible for our lives than we realize. Let your mind toy with this suggestion (see, for illustration, Natalie Sudman’s “The Application of Impossible Things”).
I would add something further to Campbell’s good points, though in places he has intimated a similar insight. The greatest monster and the real enemy that we all face, and must conquer, the greatest problem that we must all wrestle with and solve, is the inherited animal within each of us (“the animal passions”, according to Campbell). The greatest of all “righteous battles against evil” is the intensely personal inner battle that takes place inside each of us. Here is where the role of unconditional as a guiding ideal comes into laser focus. And this is where we make our greatest contribution to making the world a better place. It starts within us, with conquering our own animal passions.
“Why do you worry about and judge the speck in the other person’s eye (their imperfections) when you have a beam in your own eye (your own imperfections)?”
Revolution, reformation, renewal, transformation, change… should all begin as something intensely personal. Within us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The great battle-line between good and evil runs through the center of every human heart”. The great battles against evil in life should focus initially and primarily within ourselves.
We have inherited a core animal brain. They used to frame this as the “tri-partite” brain, with the reptilian core (i.e. amygdala), the limbic system, and then the more human cortex at the surface.
The animal brain (and our past in millions of years of animal existence) bequeaths us with the basic impulse to tribalism (small band separation and opposition to outsiders), the impulse to dominate others (Alpha male/female), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other/enemy.
But we embrace a liberating qualifier: To paraphrase Jeffrey Schwartz, “We are not our brains”. Our core human spirit, our essential human self or person, our consciousness, is inseparable from the Love that we have long called God (our Source). We are not our inherited physical/animal brains. We are something much better in our essential nature, personhood, or being (the “real” us). We are most essentially beings or persons that are love. Love is our true inner nature. And this is why our expressions of love make us feel authentically and maturely human, especially the expression of unconditional love toward enemies.
I offer that the most important dualism of all to understand is the human versus the animal. The human in us- our human spirit and consciousness- is taking us in an entirely new direction from our brutal animal past. Our core humanity has set us on a trajectory toward a more humane future.
Evolutionary biology/psychology tends to devalue the human by defining it too much in terms of the animal, by viewing and limiting the human to a form of more advanced animal. Evolutionary biology/psychology then devalues human love as something to be explained in terms of the animal survival impulse- i.e. just another form of “species altruism”. No, human love is something far more wondrous and essential to the greater ultimate meaning of conscious existence.
And here is where Campbell shines when defining human story. He says that the most critically important transformation in human life is when we orient our lives to “universal love”. Then we begin to mature as humans. Then we become the hero of our story. Again, I would use unconditional love as a broader, more inclusive term.
What does the transformation to mature humanity entail?
Again, unconditional as a guiding ideal enables us to potently counter (overcome, conquer) the animal inside us by orienting us to embrace all others as fellow members of the one human family (inclusive, not limited tribal forms of love). Unconditional inspires us to treat all others as equals and to not dominate or control free and equal others (no alpha domination). And unconditional urges us to not destroy the failing other but to forgive the imperfection that we encounter in others. Our core self, as unconditional love, points us toward the restorative treatment of failure in others (toward justice as rehabilitation/restoration, not punishment).
Additionally, Campbell makes comments on the shamanic experience that involves a disintegration of the self, and then re-integration around something new, a new worldview and life story. When we orient our worldviews and lives to universal or no conditions love, that new center overturns entirely the old worldviews that were oriented to tribal exclusion, domination of others, and retaliatory justice. Unconditional provides a new cohering center for a more humane worldview and life story. It liberates our consciousness from the subhuman features of past narratives and enables us to build an entirely new worldview framed around new features, as listed above. (See ‘Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives’ for details on constructing an entirely new worldview oriented to unconditional.)
Re-emphasizing critical points:
The most important battles in life are not the great historical wars of tribe against tribe, or nation against nation. The greatest battles/wars are those that take place inside us. And this relates to the deeper meaning of equality in human life. There can be no outer material equality because life is shaped by hierarchies and pyramidal structures where only a few can reach the upper levels, whether in business, sports, politics, or entertainment. Only an elite few can achieve the highest success in the pyramids of life. But everyone has equal opportunity to achieve the greatest success of all in the most important achievement of all- love. Love is the foundational feature that defines real success in human life and story. It is the essential core nature of our human spirit and consciousness, and it gives singularly potent meaning to our existence. Further, love is the only lasting achievement in the cosmos. All else will be left behind and forgotten in this material world or realm. Only what is done in love lasts forever and reverberates to infinity and beyond.
Speaking superlatively, when we struggle and suffer in life, and then discover unconditional as the route to an authentically humane life story, that is the single greatest insight that we can discover, the greatest treasure that we can find, and living unconditionally is the greatest victory that we can achieve. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, then we can offer the greatest benefit or boon to others- to treat them unconditionally.
Unconditional points us toward the greatest revolution that we can bring to life, toward the greatest possible transformation of life, toward the greatest liberation that we can offer to the world (i.e. liberation from the inherited animal in all of us). The unconditional treatment of imperfect people around us (restorative justice) is one of the most potent personal ways to make the world a better place. Include here also the expression of unconditional love toward oneself and one’s own failures and imperfections.
Another way of putting this… We will all face some struggle, some experience of suffering, something we fear, perhaps opposition from an enemy, or some abuse from an opponent. If we choose to respond to that challenge with love, we then discover our true self as a being of love, and we mature into a heroic person through that experience and choice. Again, for examples, note “The Railway Man”, Nelson Mandela’s life story, the tortured prisoners in “To End All Wars”, or the mother in “The Forgiven’.
In all that we do, and should do, to make this life better- i.e. in sports, in business and work, in all public or social issues, or entertainment- we should never forget that how we treat others in the daily mundane interactions (the ordinary and hidden things) is what make us real successes and achievers, or not. Steve Jobs appeared to have understood this on his death bed when he apologized to his daughter Lisa for treating her sub-humanly at times. He had achieved great public material success but regretted that he had failed in his private life. He died wishing that he had treated his family members with more kindness while he was alive and healthy.
Added notes in conclusion:
The embrace of a no-conditions ideal to guide our lives will orient us to (1) the non-tribal inclusion of all others as full equals. It will orient us to (2) respect and protect the full freedom and rights of all others. And it will orient us away from punitive, destructive forms of justice and (3) toward restorative/rehabilitative forms of justice- i.e. treating all human imperfection and failure with forgiveness, mercy, and generosity.
Campbell also says that a “wise man”, or mentor, will give us a sword to slay our monster and help us to achieve our purpose in life. We all know such people among family and friends, people who give us advice from their own life experience. And again, unconditional love is that potent sword to slay our personal monster or enemy- the inherited animal in us.
From our struggle with this imperfect life and our struggle to learn love, we are transformed into a new person, into a better version of our self. Or better- learning to respond with love is the unveiling or expression of our true self. This is how we “discover our true self”. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, we then “tower in stature as mature humans”, we become the hero of our story, and we fulfill our destiny, we accomplish our mission. And that is how we help to create a better world, a new world, by first making ourselves better persons, by learning to live out the love that is our true self.
Another: Essential to becoming a mature human person is to take responsibility for our failures in life. Personal acknowledgement and embrace of our failures is the starting point of the life trajectory of personal improvement.
Another: Unconditional love is the key to unlock the meaning of the cosmos, this world, and conscious human life. It is the defining essence of our great Source- God. As someone said, “The very atoms of God are made of love, unconditional love”. That love then defines the essential purpose for the creation of the cosmos and life- that all has been created as an arena where we come to learn and experience such love, to receive and express such love. The imperfection of life, then, provides the background against which such love finds the opportunity to shine all the more brightly (in our battle with evil).
One more: The monster that we face in life is a two-headed beast. I noted the basic features of animal reality that we all struggle with- the impulses to tribalism (small band separation and opposition), domination of others (the alpha thing), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other. Across history, people have projected these very same features onto deities, onto humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- the gods. They have thereby created ultimate monsters that embody tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction. Consequently, conquering a monster in life is more than just overcoming the monster inside us- the animal inheritance in us.
Our battle in life includes conquering the monsters in our meta-narratives- i.e. the religious God theories that inspire, guide, and validate human emotions, attitudes, motivations, and responses/behavior. Religious gods- humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- from the beginning have been monstrous in nature and their features have been employed to validate the same monstrous impulses in people- to tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction. (My repeated use of this triad- tribalism, domination, punitive destruction- is simply illustrative of a larger complex of things. see Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives in sections below)
Unconditional is the sword that potently slays the monster in us and also slays the monstrous pathologies of humanity’s God theories (monster gods). An unconditional God does not validate dualistic tribalism (believers versus unbelievers), or domination of people (the myth of “humanity created to serve the gods”), and does not punish and destroy “unbelievers” (i.e. apocalypse and hell myths).
While each of us has some unique thing to contribute to life in economics, politics, occupation, social life, sports/entertainment, music, or whatever else that we choose to do, the one common factor in all human story is to learn unconditional love, to discover and achieve something of this highest form of love. When we orient our lives to this central ideal, then we have conquered our real monster and enemy, the inherited animal in us. Then we have become the hero of our story.
The problem with mythical and religious explanations of greater or Ultimate reality
Mythical and religious traditions emerged during the childhood era of humanity when human understanding was still primitive/elementary. The result was the projection of subhuman/inhuman features out to define greater or Ultimate Reality/deity. Early humans projected onto the gods features like (1) tribal exclusion of some (unbelievers rejected), (2) domination/subservience relationships (humanity created to serve the gods via subservience to priesthoods/religious authority), and (3) divine justice as punishment/destruction (apocalypse, hell). But we are now a more mature species and we need to put away childish things.
Those features have long been entrenched in our great religious traditions, and their God theories. There has been little serious effort to challenge or dislodge the core pathology that has been passed down to us from the ancients. Ongoing reform in religion must overturn those fundamental ideas/myths as they still influence so much else in life and society. Note, for example, the ongoing destructive influence of the nihilistic apocalyptic pathology (God as violent destroyer of all). This primitive mythology is now expressed through environmental alarmism scenarios with their consistently harmful salvation schemes (i.e. decarbonization).
There will always be profound mystery to theology, as there is about all reality, and that cautions us against dogmatism in our theological speculations. In addition, any theological speculation must include the framework of the latest discoveries from science, while noting the persistent tendency of materialist scientists to cross the science-philosophy boundary into metaphysical assumptions (i.e. multi-verse theory, see Sabine Hossenfelder in ‘Lost in Math’ or Jim Baggott in Farewell to Reality).
The long-term and widely embraced conclusion of humanity that there is a spiritual reality is a fully coherent and rational conclusion about reality and life. I do not accept the materialist argument that humanity needs to grow out of or move past the spiritual as with the suggestion of a frustrated atheist, “Let’s get rid of all this metaphysical bullshit”. Our project should be to reframe it all as something more humane while affirming and guarding the science/philosophy and state/religion boundaries.
(Insert note: While acknowledging that the spiritual plays a crucial role in human meaning/purpose issues, a healthy orientation ought to be toward full here and now involvement- i.e. to improving life in this world. The practical, real-world outcome of ideas is the true test of the goodness or usefulness of ideas.)
The human meaning impulse as expressed in spirituality, and spiritual beliefs, has always been something inherent to conscious human awareness. Even the Neanderthals exhibited such awareness as seen in burial site evidence (i.e. items included supposedly for an after-life journey).
It has long been the argument of this site that thorough long-term problem solving should also deal with the human meaning impulse and the meta-narrative themes that express/affirm such meaning. Pathology still dominates at this basic level in public consciousness. And while scientific evidence is always crucial in the problem-solving mix, such evidence does not sway many people toward more rational views due to their deeply held spiritual beliefs. This applies to both sides as secularist/materialist types often hold philosophical beliefs just as dogmatically as religious people hold their religious beliefs.
The above comments are not to discourage our atheist friends who have contributed so much good input to the project of challenging archaic religious beliefs. But their alternative, notably the more dogmatic forms of atheism, will never resonate with most of the human population. A better alternative is the more moderate “atheism”, as some call it, that has been more about the exchange of old unworkable/discredited gods for new ones- i.e. new god theories or ultimate meaning theories- that are more attuned to modern sensibilities regarding humane reality.
Now a change of scenery for a while: However, I am still going after those basic ideas/themes that have caused so much misery across history- a sample would include the themes of tribal exclusion (the “us versus them” small band mentality that denies human oneness), domination of others, and punitive treatment of the failures of others. These themes, and the impulses they validate, undermine humanity’s defining feature- love- and our embrace of them renders us petty and subhuman. They hinder our quest to become the heroes of our stories that we ought to be, preventing us from becoming mature persons that “tower in stature”.
I offer the material below on the basic features of human life story with no defense for my affirmation of the existence of a reality that humanity has long understood as “deity”. However, my belief in the great mystery of a creating Source, while embracing metaphysical speculation, is entirely ‘non-religious’.
Insert Qualifier: Why broach the subject of deity in a contemporary world tired of “God-talk”? Because deity has long been the embodiment of humanity’s highest ideals and it continues to serve, for most people, as their highest authority. “Most people”? The 85% of humanity that still affiliate with a world religion, with most of the remaining 15% also holding varied versions of deities (i.e. Gaia, Universe, Mother Earth, karma) though unaffiliated with a major religion.
The more straightforward rejection of deity by some does not liberate them from the primal human impulse for meaning and desire for ultimate answers. More dogmatic forms of materialism/atheism appears to lead some people to shift to “secular” versions of ultimate reality but versions that are still framed too often by the same old themes that dominated primitive deity theories across history. We all orient our primal impulse for ultimate meaning somewhere, in some ultimate reality, whether in deity theories, or quantum physics, or new gods like “Self-Organizing Principle”. Richard Dawkins locates his impulse for meaning in natural selection (i.e. his statement in ‘The God Delusion’: “Natural Selection is the Source of All Enlightenment”). Note how people project god-like capabilities onto these new realities that are quite similar to the features of traditional deity theories.
The ultimate meaning impulse takes us somewhere as vacuums of nothingness simply don’t work (too incoherent, irrational, and absurd). So try to deny long-standing realities if you wish but the natural impulse that they respond to and fulfill will find expression somewhere. Nothingness explains nothing.
Further, the tackling of God theory on this site is a continuation of a larger project to probe the root causal or contributing factors of problems, a most serious problem today being the persistence of apocalyptic hysteria and its highly destructive outcomes, notably the apocalyptic expressed in climate alarmism and its decarbonization salvation scheme, the project to overturn industrial/capitalist civilization.
Now back to the gods…
To begin, I affirm the foundational common belief of humanity from the earliest emergence of human consciousness in our species- i.e. the belief that we belong to some greater surrounding invisible reality that very much influences/determines how we live in this material reality. You see this fundamental belief in greater reality in the earliest human writing and mythologies, and even in prehistory art (e.g. John Pfeiffer- ‘Explosion: An inquiry into the origins of art and religion’).
People from the beginning have intuitively understood that surrounding greater reality was more than just energy, force (quantum force-fields in modern theory), or natural law. Greater creating reality (Source) was of the nature of Consciousness, Mind, Spirit, and therefore Self or Personhood.
Where the ancients went wrong (and where I part with them) was in projecting out the basest of animal features to define the greater reality, features like tribal exclusion (deities that favored true believer insiders versus unbelievers/outsiders), deities that related to humanity in domination/subservient forms of relating (i.e. deity as lord, king, ruler with humanity “created to serve the gods”), and deities that meted out justice as punitive destruction (i.e. deity as ultimate judge and punisher, destroying people in apocalypse and hell). Such features became foundational themes of later world religions. These base themes continue to dominate human minds today and define contemporary “secular” deities like vengeful Gaia, retributive Universe, angry Planet/Mother Earth, and payback karma. The age-old sacred has now been reframed as “secular” for the modern world. The basic themes of modern versions are often just the same old.
We can do better. We need to bring deity theories up to date with fully humane features that are more suited to modern sensibilities, and modern awareness of what is humane/inhumane.
It is particularly important to humanize deity theory because (as noted above) across history the reality of God has always been viewed as the highest ideal and authority of humanity. Add here the natural human impulse to base our behavior on our beliefs (to model our lives on what we believe is the divine ideal) and this makes it critical that our highest ideal and authorities are fully humane. A long-standing argument of this site is that nothing humanizes deity more than the feature of unconditional love. None of the world religions, while claiming to represent God to humanity, has ever communicated this core feature of deity to humanity.
Too much religious reform is little more than defensive tinkering at the periphery, unwilling or afraid to change core themes. Most religious reformism does not go to the core idea of deity, the idea that dominates and shapes all else in religious systems. And hence, religious pathologies (bad religious ideas) continue to infect and deform human consciousness.