30 September 2007

Really Real Reality

Disclaimer: This is not a rant, nor is it an attack. It is a statement of my own, very personal, views of religions and gods in general. I've shared some of these ideas before, but never fully fleshed out as they are here. I'm a bit hesitant about posting it, but it may help people understand why I react the way I do to some things. I will honestly be surprised if a single reader agrees with me, here, which is why I hesitate to post it, but at the same time I can't think of a good reason not to post it, so here goes:

Neither theist nor not...

There. That's a properly Zen subtitle. It refers to an idea common to atheists, that people are all atheists to every religion but their own, and that atheists just take it one god further. Maybe this is true for a majority of religious adherents; I don't know. It's not true for me. I consider every god ever conceived of by humans to be equally real. This does not mean that I "believe in them" any more than I believe in the couch I'm sitting on, or the wind outside. Asking whether I believe in a god is sort of like asking whether the moon commutes with happiness. It's irrelevant and very nearly meaningless.

Profound Triviality

So what do I mean when I say that all the gods are equally real? They are facets of human experience, personifications of human ideas and ideals, and fears. They are as real to each person as that person allows. They are as meaningful to each person as each person allows, or needs. Criticizing a person's choice of god (or lack thereof) is rather like criticizing the color of someone's living room. Getting upset about it is even sillier. Insisting that all people with unpainted living rooms are damned to hell, uh, sure THAT makes sense. It's even more bizarre to insist that all people who haven't painted their living room exactly the right shade of institutional green are damned to hell.

Truth and Fiction

I don't think that any one god is either right for everyone or the overarching reality behind the universe. I do think that we can learn things from the stories people tell about their gods. Taking those stories too literally, though, robs them of meaning. So does paying attention to only one particular set of stories. And so does ignoring the stories altogether, or belittling them for not being literally true. All stories are true, for a given value of 'true.' The truth one person finds in them may not be the truth found by another.

This is what makes stories, and gods, different from science and scientific fact. Facts do not change depending on the observer. Gods do. Experiments run by different scientists yield the same results under the same conditions. Stories do not. The same story can have many different endings and many different interpretations. In science, those interpretations are meaningless unless there is a way to test them against one another. In a story, there is no way to test for which interpretation is "correct," and even contradictory ones may be correct at the same time.

This, I suppose, is why so many latch onto quantum mechanics to try and validate their spiritual stories. Observer dependent! Wave-particle duality is true and contradictory! But these are still testable ideas. How do you test a story? A story relevant to one time, culture or person may be meaningless to another. The test of a story is not whether it "really happened" or whether it's "literally true." The test of a story is whether it has meaning for you, whether it tells you how to live in this moment, and the next, whether it has an impact on your view of the world. As soon as you start analyzing the story in terms of "fact" and "science," you kill its meaning. If it's a story about a god, you kill the god, too.


What I call the Divine is the sum total of all that is. Every god. Every person. Every story. Every molecule, atom and quark. Every death. Every life. Everything. To set up one part against another is a sickness. To say "this is divine; that is not" is a contradiction. If it exists, it is part of the Divine, even if it exists only in the human mind. Not one thing is separate from the Divine, nor can it be made separate. A savior is a useful image for those who feel entirely lost, but it becomes a liability after a certain point. It encourages feelings of isolation and separation. But how can you be separate when the Divine is everywhere? It is not only out there; it is also in here. The very idea of worship becomes heretical when you feel this. What are you worshiping? Yourself? The table in front of you? An ant hill in the yard? A bone buried in the earth for a thousand years? All are equally divine and worthy of worship.

Ending at the Beginning

The thing that I liked about paganism was the idea that there was a single Deity. Because we are male and female, we perceive it as God and Goddess, and God and Goddess each have thousands upon thousands of faces. But I found it rather silly to pick one, or several, of those faces and devote rituals to them. Why bother? There's a deeper reality. My sense is that those faces are stepping stones, somewhat familiar and humanlike. The trick is to move beyond them. Getting hung up on the faces is like getting hung up on the color of paint in the living room. It's missing the point entirely. So, yes, all the gods are equally real. But they're not the "really real reality."

Since as a human, I like to have a name for things, I reluctantly name the really real reality...Tao.


John said...

"Asking whether I believe in a god is sort of like asking whether the moon commutes with happiness. It's irrelevant and very nearly meaningless."

Exactly. But when asked, I usually say "No" because the very act of asking tells me alot about where the conversation is headed.

I do agree about stories. I love mythology and think that a lot can be learned from them.

The problem comes in when certain groups insist that their myths (and their interpretation of those myths) are historical fact and must be accepted as such by everyone.

These are the people who insist that their gods are 'really real' and would (I'm sure) be the ones most offended by your definition of 'gods.'

Qalmlea said...

Yes. They're the ones complaining that not everyone's living rooms are exactly the right shade of institutional green. And probably trying to ban any color that isn't at least SOME shade of green.