"Did you make disease, and the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind, after we made you?
and the Devil too?"
-Dear God, XTC
I just finished reading god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. He's given us another powerful work in the vein of Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and Bill Maher (Religulous). Team Rationality is ushering in a long-overdue examination of religion in the modern world. They make a strong case that religion is sick and dehumanizing. I would say more specifically, sick religion is dehumanizing. And we do have a global pandemic of sick religion: billions of believers stuck in low levels of consciousness, riddled with pathologies. 'S called Samsara where I'm from.
However, reading these best-sellers has inspired me to make a wish-list. Here are five things rational religion-haters should know:
1, There are levels of religion.
I keep noticing that what many rational types detest is not religion per se, but its least-evolved expressions. Over and over I hear atheists say "religion" when they are actually describing low levels of religion. That confusion is not helping. Eliminating religion will not eliminate low levels of development. And that's the real threat to humanity: Low levels of development in high positions of power. Saying "Religion" is the problem doesn't mean anything. What level of Religion is being referred to? For example, here are five distinct levels of religious expression, from lowest to highest:
Magical-Animistic : Recently in Tanzania, religious figures have murdered over fifty innocent human beings because they happened to be albino. The victims are killed so that their organs can be used in religious rituals that are supposed to create wealth. That's one of the things we get from a Magical mode of religion. Blood sacrifice.
Mythic : After the massacre of 3,000 Americans on 9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell claimed it was god taking revenge on our society for homosexuality and abortion. Mythic religion is that old-school religion of supra-natural allegory. Virgin births, raising the dead, walking on water, and the rapture. Except mythic believers don't consider their stories to be metaphoric symbols, they regard them as literal & real. Mythic religion guided George Bush through eight years as President of the United States, and coincidentally also guided the terrorists to commit mass murder.
Rational : Francis Collins, one of the World's most accomplished Scientists, calls his faith BioLogos, or theistic evolution. He sees Science, and the empirical method, as a form of worship. He rejects intelligent design. Believe it or not, there are plenty of rational people who have believe in a Divinity of some kind.
Pluralistic : For a taste of pluralistic Christianity, check out The Christian Pluralist by William C. Buffie, M.D. John R. Charles. They even incorporate psychology in their faith, exploring shadow / projection in the realm of religion. They embrace the Bible "as a story, not a weapon." Jimmy Carter has also demonstrated a strong pluralistic Christianity. He even taught Sunday School in a Southern Baptist church while President.
Integrative : In my opinion one of the most spiritually evolved Christians on the planet, Father Thomas Keating teaches a form of contemplative practice called Centering Prayer, which he describes as
". . . a journey into the unknown. It is a call to follow Jesus out of all the structures, security blankets, and even spiritual practices that serve as props. They are all left behind insofar as they are part of the false self system . . . The false self is an illusion. Humility is the forgetfulness of self."
These are five very distinct levels of the same religion, in this case Christianity, but it applies to any religion. (I forgot to list the highest level of Christianity, which is Buddhism. Kidding!). The point is, religion should not be regarded as horizontal & homogenous. All belief systems include a vertical chain of development.
The 'answer' to fundamentalism is not to get rid of Religion, but to get religion to evolve. How can we help Pat Robertson discover his hidden Father Thomas Keating? Will Francis Collins agree to mentor Sarah Palin? I'm kidding. But I'm not. The answer to low levels of religion is higher levels of religion. The real work ahead of us is religious development, not just embarrassing people into forfeiting their belief system (they will just trade it for an equivalent one anyway). If tomorrow, all the religions in the World magically vanished, we'd face the same dangers of low levels of consciousness in high positions of power.
2, There are healthy & pathological versions of every level.
A religious person can be healthy or sick at any stage of development. The answer to sick religion is healthy religion. While Pat Robertson told us 9/11 was God's revenge for homosexuality, millions of other Christians -at the same mythic developmental level- were organizing their communities to offer help and healing. Because that is what healthy mythic Christians do (and they do it better than just about anybody). For every sick fundamentalist there are many healthy believers contributing to society in a positive way.
3, The more people evolve, the less religious (fundamentalist) they are.
One definition of 'religion' is a partition between the saved and the damned, a boundary that separates 'us' and 'them'. When people grow, they include more and exclude less. As we live into higher development levels, our circle gets bigger. Evolving means a bigger experience of 'We'. Also known as Love ;-) As the self evolves, it recognizes more people (and plants, and animals, and things) as part of its own identity. That's why development creates security for everyone, it transforms 'them' into 'us'.
4, At its higher levels, Religion resonates with science and rationality.
That's because at its higher levels, religion becomes spiritual. I define religion as a belief system used to interpret Reality. I define spirituality as the direct experience of Reality. No beliefs are required for spiritual practice. (In Zen there is a saying: All beliefs are false.) Spiritual experience can often undo religious belief. Religion provides filters, and depends upon intermediaries and externally located salvation. Spirituality removes (or improves) filters through direct access to our intrinsic nature. Spiritual practices are empirical in this sense: You want to know something (like, what is Reality ) so you conduct an experiment. For instance, you may spend a few decades making your Subject an Object of awareness. You share your data (gathered through direct experience) to a group of qualified peers who have repeated that same experiment for centuries. They verify or falsify your findings, and you proceed with further experimentation. You don't have to 'believe' anything about it, before, during, or after. In this way, the contemplative traditions have evolved over millennia. They are in harmony with rationality and science, and generally welcome any methodology that might increase our knowledge of the visible & invisible Kosmos.
5, Everybody starts at the bottom.
Even if everyone in the World became Mensa-level enlightened today, every baby born tomorrow would have to begin at square one, and develop the old fashioned way. So far, we haven't figured out a way to skip developmental levels. However, we move through them faster than we used to. For instance, John Ashcroft may be a poster child for the low-level of Mythic religion, but a mere 100,000 years ago there WAS NO Mythic level of religion. It hadn't even emerged yet. Even 3,000 years ago, George Bush Jr. would have been one of the most evolved people on the planet. Not so much now. Now Mythic Religion is like, totally a crappy low level of consciousness, and most nine year olds or U.S. Presidents have access to it, thanks to recapitulation. Recapitulation? When we're born, we basically get a free pass to evolve up to the prevailing center of consciousness in the population. The level of consciousness we are immersed in (in the family we are born into, in the culture we live in, etc) exerts a developmental gravity. And that gravity pulls us up to it. But, when you try to evolve beyond it, to higher altitudes of consciousness, then that same center of gravity drags you back down to it. If you are below it, it lifts you up. Rise above, it will try to pull you back down.
That's why Mythic religious peeps are freaking out. Their World (view) is vanishing like millions of species God gave them Reign over. Eventually (if they don't destroy humanity first, with their lust for an apocalypse), mythic religion will become about as important to future generations as magic is to us. Magic should be used in Harry Potter movies, not for the religious murder of Tanzanian Albinos. Mythic religion should be a history lesson, not the guiding belief of a U.S. President. That's why Bill Maher's movie Religulous is funny: It's pointing out the fact that there are a LOT of people living with a World View that went out of style in 1637 (thanks, Descartes!). Bill Maher is hilariously pointing out the fact that religion is literally retarded, because it is developmentally arrested. I mean, it would be hilarious, if it weren't so appallingly true. Evidence indicates 70% of the world is at a Mythic (or lower) level of development. And they are religious!
If we get these five simple points into the debate about religion, I think it would help eliminate some confusion.