Copyright © 1995 Dan LaFavers
Give me that new time religion
Tired of the commercials for the Psychic Network? Blame Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin.
Where does one find a sense of spiritual self these days? Of what use are the images of heaven-in-the-sky and hell-in-the-ground when we know that it's the ozone layer and satellites in the sky and molten magma in the ground? In fact, what good are any of the old rituals, images, and brimstone after they wither away into the wispy shadows of mythology?
There will always be millions of devoted followers who are as sure of their religious convictions as they are about what they had for breakfast. However, a good many people, if they happen to think of it at all, consider religion and their culture's God to be some kind of invisible force of nature that is off in the distance, maybe waiting for them, perhaps to be sought after in time of crisis or extreme need. The words seem to come to us haltingly these days: "I don't know. I suppose I believe in God and all. I mean, it's kind of nice, you know, a kind force, love. I don't know what's really there, but I like to believe that it's something good."
There is no God, never has been, and never will be, other than that which we invent to explain the unexplainable and to provide a context which enables our complex human societies. It is quite obvious, it seems to me, that within the multitude of religions of the world, both present and historic, that there is a sense of common purpose which is independent of any of the images used to carry those ideas. Whether this idea takes the form of Jesus, Isis, God, Allah, Buddha, Gaia, Odin, Pan, Spirit Guides, or Zeus, God has always been with us in some form. However, these are not faces of the same eternal, supernatural man-like being, but faces of the same need which results from the manner in which human societies and mind evolved.
Religion and science were once the same thing. This is how it is supposed to be. Questions and mysteries about the world were once answered by mystics and priests; they lead us and explain the world to us, and we followed them because what they say made sense and we saw that they were wise.
However, once we lost heliocentricity and became just another floating ball of dirt in a big nothing, there has been a growing schism between science and religion. This didn't matter for a few hundred years because not many people actually knew that the Earth had been demoted from the shoulders of Atlas. With The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin placed a sturdy wedge between the two, and today we see science and religion, gods and atoms, suffering irreconcilable differences.
Until we can bring science and religion back into step with each other, we will continue to see the rationalization of religion and the mystification of science as people try to bring together in their mind what was torn apart by the Renaissance. We should not be surprised that the Catholic church has officially moved back the Creation to the Big Bang, or that mystical ideas like Crystallography, Astrology, and the Psychic Network are pounding away at our cultural subconscious, or that Creationism versus Evolution evokes such visceral emotion. The modern world tells us there can be only one god: Science or Allah, choose one. We won't because we can't, and it's driving us crazy.
Unfortunately, all we're doing is playing with the labels, shifting around various masks and rose colored glasses. We know we have a soul, because we can feel it and it has a tangible force in our life, but science tells us we're just so many chemicals and genes that can be manipulated by drugs and psychotherapy. How can they both be true?
Creationism specifically grows out of this deeply felt need to reconcile these two worlds. It says, "I acknowledge your scientific data and embrace it as the work of God." It's a nice try, but doomed to failure because, very simply, it is wrong.
And yet this need to reawaken the spiritual nature of Man will not simply go away and let scientific reason rule. This void, this missing piece, makes us vulnerable to cults and pop- culture religion. We start believing in ghosts, planets, pyramids, or anything else that tries to offer a glimpse into this part of us that we seem to have forgotten.
It's obvious that our traditional religious dogmas are not fulfilling that need any more. All around us we see the devolution that occurs when we loose our soul. The deeply rooted survival behaviors that evolved for millions of years take over. Tribalism, turf wars, anger, fear, win out over love, understanding, reason and forgiveness. When we loose our core, we forget that we live in a brotherhood of mankind, that all the people of the world are, like us, spiritual and connected, and that we should forgive other's that trespass against us and do unto them as we would like done upon ourselves. Whether this sentiment is part of a religious doctrine or social engineering does not change its fundamental essence and validity.
Traditional religious institutions no longer have the strength over us they once did. If we all could return to the flock, accept that we are washed by the blood of Jesus, or that we were chosen and led by Moses, or that there is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet, and if we lived our lives with genuine conviction according to those beliefs, we might be able to rekindle this lost soul of Mankind, that is, if we could stop killing and hating each other over the differences in the metaphors we choose.
Even those that do go to church and pray regularly must feel the tension between their religous faith and the ever increasing rush of science to explain away all the mysteries. We all know that heaven isn't in the sky, otherwise we could ride the space shuttle up and wave to all our dead relatives. We have moved heaven back into the shadowy unknown, and in doing that have moved God and our souls farther away from us, leaving us to scramble to get them back with all sorts of hysteria and silliness, even if it costs us three dollars a minute.
It's time to rejoin science and religion.
We must say, yes, I have a soul, and yes, there is a God, and understand exactly what that means in a secular, scientific, and traditionally atheistic context. Our religion must be able to provide exactly the same answers to our questions that science does. Like astrology in its prime, science and religion need to be the same thing.
This means taking God off of his omnipotent pedestal and asking why have societies invented gods, what purpose has this image served, and which elements of that image can serve us well today. It seems to me that God exists in exactly the same way in which honor exists, not as something you can see, touch, or talk to, but as an idea we have about ourselves, in this case, an idea that we are bound together as a single species, and not only by our tribal, societal, or familial boundaries.
And what of our spirit, our soul? It's not imperative to think of the soul as being separate from the body, as if it could go on thinking after the neurons stop pumping chemicals. The soul is not merely the mind, for the mind also tells us to fight, kill, and be angry, the way a dog will protect his territory or pack. The soul, rather, is the part of the mind that recognizes that we, unlike our animal friends, can choose not to be driven by the primal instincts that got us through the first hundred million years. It's the part of us that is capable of forgiveness, language, music and even science. Also, our soul lives not so much in our own bodies or even our own minds, but in the minds of all those we touch. The mere death of my body does not diminish the part of my soul that lives in others.
Even as we learn the physical mechanisms of the mind, and the chemicals and treatments that can control it, we can still acknowledge the wisdom of caring and the truth that who and what we think we are is what defines us and creates our world. Mind is a product of our bodies, and soul is a product of our minds. They should not be perceived as being at war with each other, but existing together to form a complete human.
I don't see how we can merge the two and still hold onto the same old mythologies. The idea that the entire universe, with all its galaxies and billions of years in the making, was created so a man on Earth could be nailed to a cross two thousand years ago will not be able to withstand reason forever. The belief that we are evil by nature, a soul at war with our body, or that we have original sin, is precisely what enables churches to have power over us, encouraging us to abdicate our responsibility and our mind in exchange for our soul. But today, when demons come not from the depths of Hell, not from outside us but from within us, from drug abuse, childhood violence and brain pathology, we need something more than the same old fables that have been dragged through the dark ages of Western European reasoning. We need new metaphors, new images, ones that grow out of logic, love, science, and which compliment rather than contradict the realities that we see in the modern world.
In John, chapter 10 of the Christian Bible, Jesus says, "I and My Father are one...the Father is in Me, and I in Him." Christians prefer to believe that this is his way of telling us that he alone is a messenger from God, rather than recognizing that the image of God is in everyone -- mind and body, spirit and material, religion and science, bound together with an understanding about ourselves that unites, rather than divides.
As research in psychology, medicines, genetics and anthropology advances, let us build our reason, our mind, our spirit upon them, rather than letting them throw our souls away along with the parables and mythologies which they contradict.