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I spend a lot of time in search of understanding.  As thoughtful, empathetic humans, I imagine we all do.  It's part of what makes the ideological chasm between the Mainstream Believers and the Non-Mainstream Believers so infuriating.  I never understood the Mainstream Believers.  What they do, and how they think, was so contrary to my own inclinations and beliefs that I found myself regarding them askew, as some sort of bizarro-human class of beings.

And I knew they thought of me the same way.

So I've been trying to rationalize the actions of people I don't understand.  Not excuse them, or justify them, or anything like that.  I just want to have an explanation that goes beyond name-calling or insulting postulations as to their cognitive wherewithal.  Here's what I've come up with.

Christians pray for miracles.  They believe in miracles, and when miracles are perceived to have been performed, they see it as reaffirmation of their beliefs.

Witches perform spells.  They believe in spells, and when their spells appear to have worked, they see it as reaffirmation of their beliefs.

People who believe in the Universe, or Nature, thank it for its abundance.  They believe that by opening themselves to positive energy, they will receive what they desire; when that happens, they see it as a reaffirmation of their beliefs.

There are two common elements in the three examples given: people and focus.

We know that the human mind is an amazing thing.  It is also our only gate to the outside world.  Anything that comes to us from without, or originates within, must first pass through the filter of the mind.  This is where things get messy, for there is no ultimate filter.  There is no answer key, and so we as individuals must pilot ourselves in accordance with how we perceive reality.

For some, there is comfort in imagining a Father above us, caring for our every thought, prayer, wish, obscure family member, and sports team.  Remember being a child, carefree, and aware in some vague sense that your parents ruled the world and could take care of everything?  That is what makes the monotheistic mainstream so attractive to some.  Father knows best, but will also issue a smackdown to those who defy him.

For others, who have seen no evidence of a man in the sky watching over us, comfort comes from natural law.  There is solace in nature, in all its beautiful chaotic order, and we as natural beings are inextricably bound up in its potential energy.  People who tend towards this spiritual path believe in the exact same thing as the people in the previous paragraph, except that they don't assign it a familial rank or a vengeful demeanor.

And pagans and Wiccans and every other person who believes in anything bigger than the self all tap into the same well.  The difference is how you choose to focus.

For example: A friend of mine, who describes himself as a witch, was relating a story about a hideous ex-boyfriend of his, upon whom he regularly cast spells.  When I asked him if the spells worked, he explained it this way: "The spells don't do anything themselves.  All they are is a way for me to focus my energy.  My energy is what does the work."

What a revelation that was.  Suddenly it dawned on me that spells, prayers, meditations, and positive thinking are all branches of the same tree.  That no matter what you called your beliefs, they indubitably included a way to focus your mind and alter your perception, and that's all it is.  All the persecution, all the Crusades, the suicide bombings, the warring factions, the hatred between sects who used to believe the same thing but now don't for whatever reason... it's all simply because we use different words to explain the same things, and some people like these words while others prefer those.

To use another example, I am a songwriter.  When my muse comes to me, I filter the inspiration through a folk lens, because that's just what feels right.  If I were to draw an analogy between songwriting and religious interpretation, I should therefore want to vanquish anyone who writes pop music (and sometimes I do, but I digress).  Since folk music is supreme in my mind, anyone who writes any other kind of music is wrong, even though it's all music.

The trouble is that the closer you get to that Fatherly figure, the less likely his followers are to believe what I'm saying.  They don't want to be wrong; indeed, they are some of the most vociferously devout people I know, and I've spent hours talking to a lot of them.  But they're not wrong, exactly.  They just call the unknown something else.

As soon as we can acknowledge that we're giving different names to the same things, there can be an end to the absurdity that is religious war.  You may turn to the Bible for your allegories and moral compass.  I turn to how my interactions with others make me feel.  It doesn't matter.  It's the same thing.  And the idea that your way of thinking is the only way, or the best way, or the chosen way, keeps us in the spiritual equivalent of the Middle Ages.  The rest of humankind has evolved extensively since then, and we owe it to our fantastic minds to treat spiritual beliefs as what they are: different interpretations of the same story.

Originally posted to sea bear on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 09:11 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    You're the minority. It's supposed to taste like a sh*t taco. -Jon Stewart

    by sea bear on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 09:11:43 AM PDT

  •  Tips for free spiritual thinking (7+ / 0-)

    You're the minority. It's supposed to taste like a sh*t taco. -Jon Stewart

    by sea bear on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 09:12:06 AM PDT

  •  Metaphysics is not solely metaphor (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, sockpuppet, Urizen, msmacgyver

    People who assign their personal spirituality the title of "absolute justice" are very, VERY dangerous.

    •  Ayup (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sockpuppet, msmacgyver

      The metaphysics that are characterized by hierarchies (particularly those with absolute and unreachable "rulers") tend to spread their sense of division all the way down to individuals until every difference implies a separation and with it an "absolute" lack of empathy.  

  •  I like to say it this way: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, Urizen, joyful, artigiano

      There is one teaching, and all teachings teach it.

     That, to me, is another way of saying what you're saying.  I love this.  

    The love we seek may be the love we are.

    by wewhodream on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 09:19:05 AM PDT

    •  thanks! and thanks also (4+ / 0-)

      for a much more concise way to put it.  :)

      You're the minority. It's supposed to taste like a sh*t taco. -Jon Stewart

      by sea bear on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 09:21:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Respectfully disagree (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RonV, Amber6541, wewhodream

      There is an essential difference among teachings.  Some of them empower while others require subservience.  Those that require subservience (like fundamentalist monotheisms) tend to generate intolerance, competition, and divisions (between Us and Them, the saved and the infidels, good and evil, etc.), while those that don't tend to promote acceptance, cooperation, and unities.

      •  All that you say here (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I agree with.  When I say there is one teaching, and all teachings teach it, I am looking at a multi-layered scene.  I speak of what is called the Golden Rule, and also that all roads lead to the same "place", since we never left that place, which is not a place...nor could we leave...

        The love we seek may be the love we are.

        by wewhodream on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 10:17:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Perfect example (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sockpuppet, Urizen, wewhodream

        of what I'm talking about.  The subservient group (the Father group) tend to be less receptive to alternate versions of the same truth.  They're scared to be wrong, and act out that fear in the form of violence and prejudice.

        The ones who believe in the Universe, on the other hand, are far more receptive to the idea that there is more in common between spiritualities than at first appears.

        Different manifestations of the same universal idea.

        You're the minority. It's supposed to taste like a sh*t taco. -Jon Stewart

        by sea bear on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 10:53:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great points. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sockpuppet, wewhodream, sea bear

    Maybe: spirit + language = religion.  
    Therefore:  religion minus  language = the spirit we all share

    •  Beautiful. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Language is really such an insufficient way to express ideas.  You get caught up in syntax and subtext and semantics and the meaning of the thing is lost.  Mix that with religion and we're all f*cked. :)

      You're the minority. It's supposed to taste like a sh*t taco. -Jon Stewart

      by sea bear on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 09:59:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  to me: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sockpuppet, pat bunny, artigiano

    "It's the epistemology, stupid."

    Obviously we all need to accept the idea that there are entities at work in the universe that are larger than we are.  What makes a difference is how we perceive ourselves in relation to them.  The ideas like "god" tend to separate us from the larger entity by defining it as transcendental, which puts us outside of it, and defines us as inferior.  Others (wiser IMO) view themselves as participants in the larger and define it as immanent.

    The transcendental view sets up a world of hierarchies in which all people are essentially inferior to someone or something else.  The immanent world view eliminates the hierarchies and allows us to act within the forces of life rather than against them.  Those who see life as immanence aren't automatically excluded from the larger entities (Buddha, fr'instance, was an ordinary human who achieved oneness with all, unlike the xtian "son of god" who was heir to the ruling structure) and aren't automatically inferior to it.  

  •  Religion or magic? Maybe not the same thing. (0+ / 0-)

    Years ago when I was in college, I read "The Golden Bough" by James Frazer. It's now in the public domain. You can find it on wikisource.

    Here's a quotation (three very very long sentences):

    But if religion involves, first, a belief in superhuman beings who rule the world, and, second, an attempt to win their favour, it clearly assumes that the course of nature is to some extent elastic or variable, and that we can persuade or induce the mighty beings who control it to deflect, for our benefit, the current of events from the channel in which they would otherwise flow. Now this implied elasticity or variability of nature is directly opposed to the principles of magic as well as of science, both of which assume that the processes of nature are rigid and invariable in their operation, and that they can as little be turned from their course by persuasion and entreaty as by threats and intimidation. The distinction between the two conflicting views of the universe turns on their answer to the crucial question, Are the forces which govern the world conscious and personal, or unconscious and impersonal?

    I think it's interesting that he puts magic and science on one side, and religion on the other. But it makes sense: a scientist believes that nature follows laws and is predictable and can be affected by human effort, whereas religion believes that nature's laws can be changed by supernatural whim.

    So, praying for your football team to win or to cure your mother's cancer means you're asking a supernatural god to intervene. But asking a human being (scientist or magician or expert of some kind) to help your team win or cure cancer means trusting a person to do something.

    There's an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation in which Q has lost his god-like powers. There's an asteroid headed for a planet and he has a solution.

    "Simple: Change the gravitational constant of the universe."


    "Change the gravitational constant of the universe, thereby altering the mass of the asteroid."

    "Redefine gravity. And how the hell am I supposed to do that?"

    "You just DO it. GAHH! Where's that doctor, anyway?"

    I'm not trying to start an argument. Just thought I'd throw in a comment.

    Sure, understanding today's complex world of the future is a little like having bees live in your head. But, there they are.

    by Dbug on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 01:45:32 PM PDT

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