Islam, Terrorism and Religious Tolerance:

Summary:

We see in the world news a consistent trend of violence and terrorism associated with Islam, most of which happens in foreign countries, though some of which has recently had more of a direct effect here in Australia.  Whilst ideally human beings should feel equal outrage for atrocities that occur overseas and those that occur closer to home (and likewise feel equal empathy for those that suffer wherever they are), the reality is that we naturally take these issues far more seriously when they come closer to our immediate circle.  There is currently fierce debate as to whether Islam bears direct responsibility for breeding terrorism, or whether terrorism is more of a universal response to various other issues.  This is a topic, which brings together religion and politics, and it is one where we need to get our facts straight and be willing to face reality.

Conservatives in both religion and politics have openly condemned Islamic terrorism and militarism, and have argued that these are directly caused by Islam itself, and that every problem we see associated with the faith can be linked to the content of the Koran, and the central tenets of the faith.  Progressives on the other hand have argued that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, and that violence and terror is a universal problem, that all Muslims are being unfairly tainted with the same brush, and that Islam itself is not to blame.  Many progressives have gone even further and defended Islam, accusing the West of deserving terrorism both in response to our intervention in the affairs of the Middle East and the way we treat Muslims (and others) back at home.

Whilst I generally swing far more to the left then the right (on both religion and politics), this is one issue where I believe that conservatives are closer to the truth, although I believe that the left has good intentions (albeit intentions that are in this case misdirected).  The truth is that whilst the potential exists for human beings to twist and misinterpret any faith, philosophy or ideology, there is in-fact a direct causal link between the problems associated with radical Islam and the core tenants of the faith itself.  The Koran itself should legitimately be held accountable when we can see an obvious relationship between its content and the behaviour of some Muslims.

This however does not mean that all Muslims are bad people, or that they should be discriminated against or persecuted, or that all Muslims will eventually become terrorists.  Rather, it is a difficult question of how to respond to a dangerous ideology, when this ideology is held sacred by a significant number of people, who naturally have rights as human beings.  It is very difficult to conceive of how to restrict Islamic terrorism without becoming the persecutor ourselves; hence the topic is a true can of worms.  Whilst progressives are seeking to promote peace, tolerance, pluralism and multiculturalism, many of them are going about it the wrong way, by resorting to pure relativism (in believing that all faiths are identical and/or equal), and by confusing criticism of bigotry with bigotry itself.

This topic is the perfect example of why we need to redefine our model of religious pluralism, and offer a rational middle ground between religious exclusivism, pure relativism and the rejection of faith altogether.  We desperately need to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate criticisms, and understand the difference between true bigotry and the need for good people to stand up against true evil (or deep unconsciousness).  Seeking harmony between different religions does not mean that we need to be unrealistic and dishonest about the very real flaws in many faiths.  Rather, as long as we pretend that these flaws do not exist we only allow them to become worse.

We must seek to reform the world’s religions towards the ideal of a Perennial philosophy, in doing so celebrating their strengths whilst seeking to rid them of their weaknesses.  In doing so some of the worlds faiths (such as Islam) will need to either radically change into a liberal mystical form (and grow into a Perennial Sufi mysticism or move in the direction of the Baha’i faith), or disappear altogether.  We need a rational middle-ground whereby we can acknowledge the difficulties we face when a potentially dangerous ideology holds the hearts and minds of large numbers of people, whilst we seek to uphold our own ideals of freedom, equal rights for all, pluralism, tolerance etc.  However, we must not be afraid to ask the hard questions, and in times of war there sometimes is no easy answer.  We must admit that we have a real problem with Islam, and the problem will not go away by ignoring it and trying to play nice.  As for what the solution is I do not know; what I am sure of thought is that being dishonest about the situation is not helping anybody.

Main Article:

Religiously motivated violence is an issue that has plagued humanity all the way through human history, and since the events of 9/11 western media has continuously paid attention to the threat of terrorism.  Obviously it should be noted that the vast majority of terrorist attacks occur outside the western world.  However we in the west have not been immune to this problem, and recent events from late 2014 (with the Martin Place siege in Sydney, which some have argued should not be classed as an act of terrorism) – early 2015 have brought this to the forefront of conversation for those of us here in Australia, whilst the latter attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper attracted worldwide media attention.

These tragic events have once again spawned a wave of commentary on Islam in the media, with the conservative right condemning Islam as the cause of the events, whilst the progressive left seeks to separate religion from these tragedies, arguing that Islam is not at fault and that it is merely the actions of a few lone extremists that do not represent mainstream Islam.  Politically I probably fall more to the left then the right, and the same is certainly true when it comes to religion, in that I promote a refined form of religious pluralism and oppose religious exclusivity.  However, in this case I think conservatives seem to have a much better understanding of the facts at hand, although of course some far-right commentators and groups have used these examples to attempt to justify their own agendas.  It seems that as an extension of currently inadequate model of pluralism that is favoured by progressives, the left is in complete denial as to the true nature of Islam, the content of the Koran and the consequences of its central tenets (just as it is in denial as to the issues inherent in other faiths and their sacred texts as well).

Of course, religion itself cannot be blamed for all of the problems that plague its followers, and the left does indeed have a half-truth here.  There are indeed examples where followers of a faith misinterpret a text, and act against the tenets of their faith, whilst claiming to uphold it.  However, when we examine these cases in detail it is quite apparent when someone is twisting a text for their own reasons, and when they are simply following through on what is actually written (in which case defenders of scripture attempt to argue that a text should be read allegorically when it is embarrassing to them, regardless of the original context of the work itself).  Many issues that plague religion are simply a manifestation of the lower side of human nature, and the very same issues manifest in slightly different ways in various other fields, such as politics, business and so forth.  However, we need to acknowledge the reality that there are indeed many cases where individual religions condone and promote hatred, discrimination, violence and so forth, and hence when their followers manifest these features there is a link between the faith of the individuals and their behaviour.

It is indeed true that a psychologically and spiritually mature person can find the best in whatever culture and faith they are raised in and highlight those features, whilst someone who is immature can likewise do the opposite.  However not all faiths are equal or identical, and different religions have different strengths and weaknesses.  We do not have a problem with Sikh terrorists murdering civilians, or Buddhist monks preaching hatred against western civilisation.  Whilst there are examples where followers of the Dharmic faiths have been involved in local disputes (such as the problems in Burma), their religious texts do not generally condone and/or promote violence or hate.

Progressives commonly point out that Islam is not alone in having “difficult passages” in its sacred text, and that the same can also be said of Christianity and Judaism, amongst others.  Likewise they often also go on to point out that the religious right in America have a major influence on American politics and foreign policy.  Likewise, they point out that Israel’s actions and general policy towards the Palestinian’s in occupied (or “disputed”) territory may not simply be a case of political ideology, but may likewise be influenced by religious tensions between Jews and Muslims and a belief that Jews alone have a God given right to the land of Israel (Zionism).  Hence they argue that Christianity and Judaism are just as guilty of influencing religious violence as is Islam, and that an equal amount of justification for their atrocities can be found within the Bible and Tanakh as within the Koran.

In response, conservative Christians generally attempt to argue that Christianity is without blemish, that their critics simply misread the Bible, take it out of context and attempt to paint all Christians with the same brush due to the actions of a few misguided souls who do not represent Christianity as a whole.  Likewise, they are also frequently known to defend all of the actions of Israel, and to distance Judaism and Christianity from Islam (conservative Christians like to speak of the “Judeo-Christian tradition”, to separate it from the term “Abrahamic faiths” that those outside of their faith use to group Judaism, Christianity and Islam together into a general category).

In this regard Christian apologists play exactly the same game that Islamic apologists play, except from the opposite side of the table.  The problem is very much the same for both Christians and Muslims alike, in that many of them are in denial about the very real issues with their faiths, and they attempt to deflect legitimate criticisms back to their critics, accusing their critics of religious bigotry and racism, despite the reality that their critics are often accurately identifying bigotry within their faith.  It matters not how well we present our case against any religion; followers of those faiths who have made their identification with that faith part of how they see themselves (their ego, or false self) will refuse to acknowledge the case, and will use all manner of fallacies in order to justify to themselves (and other devotees) the deflection of their critics case.

Unfortunately the left side of religion and politics have in many respects become the friend of the fundamentalist, in that many progressives will not acknowledge that the problems with Christianity and Islam have roots in the foundation of these faiths, in their sacred texts and core concepts and beliefs.  Rather, the dogma of the left as a whole is that it is only that some misguided souls misinterpret portions of various sacred texts that we perceive problems in these faiths, and that the founders and founding principles and texts of all the world religions were pure vehicles for higher truths.  The problem is that this simply isn’t true; it paints progressives (who I count myself amongst) as being ignorant and/or dishonest about religion, and it actually goes a long way towards allowing fundamentalism and fanaticism to continue.

As long as progressives deny that there is anything fundamentally flawed with the Tanakh, the Bible and the Koran, there will be individuals who will read these texts as they are, and will take them seriously; including passages that (if taken seriously) bare serious consequences.  You cannot read the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths objectively and tell me that there are only a handful of “difficult” passages found within them; rather the opposite is true, they are filled with offensive concepts and commandments throughout.  Hence, as long as progressives espouse the dogma that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these texts, they are allowing these texts to retain their status as sacred works, and passively promoting them.

What we (those of us on the left) should be doing is being honest about the content of these texts, and promoting informed and reasonable views about them.  One can be informed and realistic about the nature of the Tanakh without being an anti-Semite.  Likewise, being realistic about the Bible doesn’t make you a bigot.  And again, being informed and realistic about the nature of the Koran doesn’t make you racist against people of middle-eastern descent, or Islamaphobic, or anything like that.  Rather, when progressives start to be honest about religion we will actually have more hope of being successful in our attempts at promoting peace.  Pretending that there aren’t any problems does not solve the problems; rather it allows them, and hence progressives that take the soft approach are shooting themselves in the foot, and refusing to stand up for the principles (freedom, human rights etc.) that are supposed to define their worldview.

Very few people on the left side of the political spectrum seem to understand the subtlety and complexity of the relationship between the three Abrahamic faiths, and their social effects.  It is indeed absolutely true that Judaism and Christianity both share many of the same flaws that are present in Islam, and I for one am quite open in my criticisms of them for these reasons, as I am with Islam.  The Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh, which appears in slightly modified form in the Christian Bible as the Old Testament) suffers from many of the same flaws as does the Koran.  The Tanakh is filled with “difficult passages”, and even the New Testament contains many problems, despite its far more pleasant nature by comparison to the OT.

As with Islam, there are many examples of real issues that occur in Jewish and Christian contexts today that can be directly linked to the content of the their sacred texts.  Judaism today however is (thankfully) quite different in the way that it is practiced by comparison to the religion that was practiced by the ancient Hebrews, and Judaism has been through many levels of reform through to the modern age.  That said, many Jews still consider the Tanakh to be divinely inspired and take it seriously, and would be hesitant to admit the great number of flaws it contains.

The nation of Israel has a very difficult relationship with the nations around it (of which I do not wish to discuss here), and it can possibly be argued that its actions have been motivated by an ideology that the Jewish people have a divine right to the land of Israel (Zionism), and that this ideology has inspired various human rights abuses, and contributed towards very difficult political territory (noting that Jewish people are also still victims of real anti-Semitism, and Hamas is a effectively a terrorist organization).  However, outside of the Middle East, one does not hear of Jewish people stirring up trouble for non-Jews due to their religious ideology.  Rather, Jewish people seem to be quite happy to allow non-Jews to live as they will, and do not feel a need to proselytize and convert others to their faith.

Christianity today is quite diverse in that there is a large spread from conservative to liberal believers.  We are all quite fortunate that very few Christians today attempt to enforce Old Testament laws upon anyone, but rather partial (or total) abrogation of the Jewish Law is a fundamental feature of Christianity.  Essentially we have a situation in which Christians generally believe that the Old Testament is the word of God and accurately represents the laws, behaviour and personality of God prior to the coming of Christ.  However, as explained through the Pauline epistles Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Law and brought about a new dispensation (age), in which these laws no longer applied.  There are several problems with all of this however, the primary one being that nowhere is there a specific explanation over which of the laws still apply and which don’t.  Hence, Christians themselves essentially pick and choose which parts of the Old Testament they choose to accept and which they don’t.

Fortunately for us today it means that we don’t have too many problems with Christians trying to enforce OT laws upon non-believers.  However, that is not to say that we do not still have problems with Christians trying to force their beliefs upon those outside their faith, and it is not to say that there are not real causal links between the content of the Bible itself and the behaviour of such Christians.  I for one am quite open in my criticism of some facets of Christianity and the behaviour of conservative Christians who take the Bible quite seriously.  Likewise, I again have been quite outspoken for some time in arguing that liberal Christians aren’t going far enough in their reforms, in that whilst I generally commend them for rejecting religious exclusivity, belief in eternal damnation and so forth, they generally still continue to give divine status to the Bible, and have not been strong enough in distancing themselves from various dogmas of their mother faith.

As with Islam, there is significant ignorance even amongst university-educated progressives as to the history of Christianity.  For example, the amount of times I have heard it stated that the doctrine of hell was invented by Catholics in the middle ages, and was not a feature of the early church, and likewise is not really espoused in the New Testament.  The problem with this statement is that it is patently false; in truth the doctrine of hell may have been extrapolated in the middle ages, but ultimately was taught from the earliest recorded times by the church fathers, and whilst there is certainly ambiguity about different terms used in the NT that are read today as referring to Hell, the passages are there, and at least some of them should probably be read in the way that fundamentalists today read them.

Likewise, the amount of times I have heard people claim that fundamentalism is a recent development in Christianity, only occurring in the last century in the US.  Again, there is only the faintest element of truth in this, as the label fundamentalism was only coined in the last century.  In truth however, nearly all of the core features of fundamentalism (as fundamentalists themselves defined it) can be traced back to the early church fathers who defined what orthodox Christianity was in the first place, and the only real grey area is the issue of how literarily the early church fathers read the Bible (I would argue that they read it literarily unless they were embarrassed by what it said, at which point they followed Philo in arguing for the absurdity of a literal reading).

The point of all this is that pointing out that there are likewise flaws in Judaism and Christianity does not mean that we cannot point out flaws in Islam, and it does not mean that we can’t argue for a causal relationship between the core problems of Islam and the behaviour of some Muslims.  Rather, we need to be realistic about all faiths, noting both their strengths and weakness.  We need to be able to give informed and reasonable critiques of any faith, ideology or culture without either going too far and being jerks about it, or on the other end of the scale being labelled as racists or bigots merely for objecting to offensive and dangerous beliefs.

Progressives are attempting to argue in favour of multiculturalism and religious and cultural pluralism, and to this I tip my hat (as it’s what I too aspire towards).  However, the way that many of them are doing it is invalid, and has dangerous consequences.  In wake of several of these attacks social media has been flooded with posts and blogs effectively siding with the terrorists, and accusing western civilization of deserving what was coming to them.  I agree that western civilization is not without it’s flaws, and I personally am sympathetic with many critiques of American (and allied) foreign policy.  However, this does not mean for a second that I sympathize with Islamic terrorists, as if their hatred for western democracy, pluralism and freedom was in any way justified.

It is quite ironic that so many liberals leap to the defence of Islam in believing that they are defending freedom, tolerance, pluralism and multiculturalism, when in reality it is the ideology of Islam that is the enemy of all the things that they seek to stand up for.  It is Islam itself that is opposed to religious freedom and pluralism, multiculturalism, women’s rights, LGBT rights, democracy and secularism.  Legitimate critiques of Islam are done on the basis of this reality; it is those that make informed criticisms of Islam that are in-truth defending the ideals that progressives are supposed to stand for.

Let us make this quite clear; critiquing Islam is not the same as demonizing all Muslims.  As most of us well know, the vast majority of Muslim’s living in western countries are willing to abide by the laws of our land, and separate their private convictions (which still may contain ideas that clash with the collective cultural norms and ideals) from their public life.  There are many, many beautiful Muslim men and women in both western and Arabic nations that uphold many of the great human virtues, and who can draw on universal ethics to inspire them to greatness.  Likewise, there are even Muslim mystics who soar to great heights of spiritual attainment, and pursue a path of divine love.  However, none of this changes the reality that Islam has no tolerance for religious freedom and/or pluralism, and it is only in western nations that Muslims can leave their faith (and even then it can be very difficult, if not impossible).

There is a difference between giving legitimate critiques of a religious belief and racism.  Most people that criticise Islam are not racists, and do not condone discrimination against Muslims themselves.  There are of course real examples whereby people do employ racism against people of Arabic descent as a response to Islamic terrorism, and there have been examples of westerners attacking Muslims or people they mistake as Muslims (such as Hindus and Sikhs) in retaliation for terrorist attacks.  However, much of the criticism of Islam that followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks has been accurate and fair, in that critics were pointing out that Muslim extremists were carrying out the commands of the Koran in murdering those that insulted Mohammad.  Yet when people such as Sam Harris point this out, they are accused of being racists.

Racism is discrimination against people on the basis of race, not faith.  Whilst criticism of Islam may seem to denigrate Arabic people in general, this is not necessarily the case, any more than criticism of Christianity in the US would be racism against white people.  Secondly, it is not bigotry to criticize someone’s beliefs, even if the beliefs in question are held sacred to them.  Rather, if religious beliefs are held to be above criticism then they gain absolute power, as they become untouchable.  When religious beliefs promote bringing all the world under the rule of a single religious authority and those beliefs are held to be above criticism, we are then in trouble.

Pretty much every single time I mention criticisms of Islam I get the response from somebody: “I know some Muslims and they are lovely people.  Perhaps you should meet them; you might learn something?”  Likewise, I have even got the same response when I have voiced criticisms of Christianity, despite the fact that the people giving this response should know that a great number of my friends and family whom I love and admire deeply are Christian.  Likewise, we saw the same response from Ben Affleck against Sam Harris and Bill Mahler(1), despite the fact that they made it quite clear that they were not criticising all Muslims as individuals, but rather critiquing bad ideas that are held sacred in Islam.  As stated previously, the majority of Muslims in western countries are happy to follow our laws, and keep their faith as a private matter.  However, the fact still remains that when a collective call to arms is raised by someone amongst their ranks in response to a perceived insult against their faith, we consistently see large numbers of Muslims come out of the woodworks rising up in violence and hateful rhetoric.

We also cannot afford to let conservatives be the only ones speaking out about Islam, especially as some of them are also failing to do so in a balanced and reasonable way.  Granted, there have been some excellent critiques of Islam by those on the right.  Likewise, there have been a handful on the left who seem to get it right.  However, if the left continues to define its position on the topic by its denial then they we risk giving fuel to the far-right (who would love nothing better than to completely discredit the left), in which case we have a situation whereby two equally unbalanced poles continue to fuel each other, and neither one resolves the situation at hand.  I personally was quite disgusted by the amount of people that I know that shared posts on social media or even wrote their own rants that basically sided with Islamic terrorists.  Whilst western civilization is certainly not perfect, the legitimate flaws of our culture do not legitimize the hatred with which many Muslims feel towards us.  Might I suggest that those that feel the need to so thoroughly critique western civilization that they would attempt to justify acts of senseless violence and terror might try living in a Muslim majority nation such as Iran, Syria or Egypt, and then see what happens when the “religion of peace” is given absolute power?

It is difficult to know what to do about Islam in terms of how to take action to prevent a threatening ideology from further harming the world, whether through acts of public terrorism, or through the human rights abuses that take place across the world in Muslim majority nations or enclaves.  It is hard to know how to institute measures to stand against evil without likewise becoming the very thing one is fighting.  Whenever someone mentions political measures designed to stop the spread of Islam (such as reducing or completely stopping immigration to Muslims, or even deporting Muslims, or halting or banning the construction and/or operation of Mosque’s and Islamic schools, or banning the burqa and hijab) it always makes me feel quite uncomfortable, as it blurs the line between persecutor and persecuted, right and wrong.  How do we stop bigotry without becoming bigots ourselves?

There is an example from history which is somewhat relevant to this topic and may give context to what we are facing (though it is an extremely touchy subject); that being Roman persecution of Christians in the first four centuries of the Common Era (which I will point out was actually quite sporadic, and was not the consistent and widespread persecution that many Christians would paint it as).  One may ask how that scenario is relevant to the discussion of Islam in the west today?  Certainly most people would view the Roman world as being the evil persecutor of innocent Christians, who were denied religious freedom and tortured and/or murdered simply for their faith.  Well this is true, but it is only part of the picture.  The Roman world was actually extremely pluralistic and tolerated all sorts of religious beliefs, as long as one was happy to take part in the state cult of Emperor worship, and propagation of the gods.

Christians weren’t so much persecuted simply for their personal faith; rather it was because they refused to participate in the state religion, and because they actively spoke against the empire of Rome (preaching its immanent destruction) and the religious practices and beliefs of everyone else (which they claimed were demonic in nature).  Christians weren’t trying to merely keep to themselves; rather they stirred the pot and stood against (what was then) the most powerful empire of the ancient world.  I repeatedly find it extraordinary that many Christians have claimed that Christianity can be credited for establishing religious freedom in the modern world, when in fact Christianity did the exact opposite from the moment it gained power.  When Constantine established religious freedom for Christians (which was later reinstated by Theodosius after it was revoked by Emperor Julian) Christians went about progressively removing the religious freedoms of everyone else, in as much was their capacity.

From this point through to the modern era Christians repeatedly brought about forced conversion on various peoples, and banned the practice of other religious traditions.  Granted there were some features of pagan religions of which I am glad have not survived, and certainly many of the traditions that were banned by Christianity were not enlightened paths.  However, Christianity also interfered with the practice of philosophy in the ancient world, and removed basic freedoms of large numbers of people over a significant period of time.  It took many brave leaders in the western world to bring about a process of separation of church and state, which has brought about the fortunate situation in which we pretty much have complete freedom of religion in our secular western world (though some conservative Christians feel persecuted that they are called out for bigotry when they express their opinions regarding the LBGT community).

I would like to make myself quite clear here however, I am not in any way condoning or seeking to justify the Roman persecution of Christians, nor do I condone the persecution of Christians today, nor any other group for that matter. Rather, I simply wish to point out that the Romans did indeed legitimately recognize that Christianity was a potential threat to its status quo, and this threat actually eventualized, as Christianity did much to prevent or even eradicate religious freedom within their reach in the ancient world.  Whether or not Christianity had anything to do with the actual fall of Rome, Christianity certainly was responsible for the fall of Roman religious freedom.

I do not wish to make it sound like Christianity did nothing good for the world; in truth I believe that it went both ways.  I do believe that the world would have been ultimately better off if Christianity had not become the official state religion of Roman world just before it crumbled.  However, that is not to say that there were not some horrible features of Roman society that Christianity stood against.  I may suspect that Christianity ultimately did more harm then good, but I would never have supported Roman persecution of Christians, let alone outright eradication of Christianity within the Roman Empire.  My point simply is that the Romans were right to be concerned about Christianity, and whilst they attempted to do something about it (in their own way) they still didn’t stop it, and what’s more they ended up looking like the bad guy (not saying they weren’t) for what they did to try and stop the threat.

If we apply this to our current scenario, we have a situation whereby our own culture is not perfect.  However, be that as it may, the fact remains that we do have a real issue in how to deal with Islam, and we must consider the possibilities of where this could lead in the future.  Having said that however, it is difficult to conceive of how we can act without being perceived as the persecutor.  In this manner progressives are currently making things very difficult, as they frequently stand alongside Muslim apologists, who claim persecution whenever a government attempts to do anything to prevent terrorist plots, or members of our community going overseas to fight alongside ISIL.  For examples of this I would cite numerous episodes of Q&A (on the ABC here in Australia), in which Muslims have repeatedly claimed that they were being profiled and persecuted whenever there were anti-terror raids on their community.  This is a double-edged sword whereby any action we take against Islam can potentially make us look like the aggressor, and in which Muslim apologists and their sympathizers on the left are making things worse by trying to claim that there is no problem in the Muslim world, and that we are fully responsible for all that has been done against us.

We have a real problem whereby anybody that publically insults Muslims is threatened; whether or not they are merely giving intelligent, legitimate criticisms of Islam (such as those given by Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris) or whether they are trolling Muslims, deliberately trying to provoke them (as is often the case with political satirists, who take their genre as a licence to be a jerk).  Time and time again these threats have been followed through on, producing consistent results that should shock us all.  Case in point, the film “Innocence of Muslims” was indeed a tasteless film (although it did contain truths in it, albeit poorly presented), though the response was something that we only see from the Muslim world.  Muslims all over the world responded with violent protests, storming US embassies, and committing acts of violence (noting that quite a number of people died) and vandalism.  Unfortunately, the reality is that Islam becomes more and more of a problem the greater the percentage of Muslims there are in a community, and when Islam is the majority faith a nation falls into theocracy, and human rights and secular values disappear.

The recent “Reclaim Australia” rallies directed against Islam were led by ultra-conservative Christian preacher Danny Nalliah, were attended by neo-Nazis and Pauline Hanson predictably made an appearance and gave a speech at the local Queensland rally.  I would personally never wish to be associated with such figures, yet I wish to be able to critique Islam and consider at least the possibility that we may potentially need to resort to some action in restricting Islam in Western nations; though I shudder at many of the suggestions offered to the latter, and I would urge extreme caution when considering such things.

We New Age spiritual types are supposed to focus on the positive end of every issue, and so I can kind of understand that progressives are trying to do the right thing by deflecting criticism of Islam, and trying to avoid perpetuating a cycle of retribution.  I suggest that we can do that without being wrong about Islam (or any other religion for that matter).  We can recommend that Islam follow the lead of western countries in becoming separated from political and social life.  We can recommend that Muslims follow liberal Christians in reforming their faith.  Obviously we cannot expect the Islamic world to instantly change from one pole to another.  As with Christianity it is only natural that reform takes place in stages. However, we ourselves must continue to show the way and inspire (fellow) liberals to keep moving and take the reform of their faiths to the inevitable conclusion, in which they distance themselves from many of the core features of their orthodox mother faiths.

I am unsure as to what the best approach is for the future, whether Christians and Muslims should seek to create highly liberal, reformed Perennial versions of their faiths, or simply abandon them altogether for the Perennial Philosophy.  The latter is certainly the harder option, and for many it is practically impossible.  However, if the former is to be the case then we have to ensure that reform goes far enough, as currently liberal forms of these faiths stop well short of the evolution that will be necessary for them to fulfil their ideals.  A truly enlightened person can be honest about what is, but perhaps may attempt to keep their focus upon a solution rather than getting caught up in fear.  However, passivism in the face of evil is not the same as what I am idealizing.  Likewise, taking sides with Islamic terrorists and joining in hatred against the west is the opposite of enlightened action.  We could have a difficult time ahead of us in cohabitating with Islam.  It certainly isn’t going to disappear or reform over night, and the potential exists for it to get much worse.  We will continue to have a problem with Islam regardless of whether or not Muslims (and others) have legitimate reasons to be upset with the West.  Even if we were to stay out of Middle Eastern affairs and correct any perceived injustices against Muslims in our own nations, Islam would continue to present problems.

Islam has a long history of taking advantage of progressive governments leniency, by attempting to secure greater and greater liberties.  Muslim activists do not simply push for an end to discrimination, but rather they push for special privileges, whereby Islam and the Koran are immune to criticism, whereby we cannot make images of Mohammad, and where they attempt to practice Sharia law in our countries.  ISIL is currently showing us the horrors of radical Islam, and it is difficult to imagine a true solution for this scenario.  Fortunately there are some reasonable conservative voices on this issue that recognize the seriousness of the situation and the need for us to do what is possible to prevent further atrocities in the Middle East.  However, whatever we choose to do there is no easy way out, and we could potentially make matters worse again.

As for how to deal with civil unrest back home, terrorist attacks and plots and Muslim activists who attempt to overturn western secular values, I personally cannot at this stage offer a solution or support any specific form of action to prevent further issues.  However, it is clear that my fellow progressives (remembering that I personally lean left) need to educate themselves as to the complexities of religion and its influence on politics and current affairs, and stop making excuses for Islam and blaming ourselves. The left seriously needs to get real, and perhaps integrate into its worldview some of the perspectives offered by modern atheists, who have given many well-reasoned and informed critiques of religion in recent years.

Having said all this, it is important that we don’t spend all of our time and energy focussing on fighting against Islam.  Rather, we need to actively seek to cultivate real lasting peace, by approaching the topic with the necessary depth that it demands.  Let us lead by example in finding peace within ourselves, forgiving others and reaching out to each other, whilst standing strong for the great ideals that we are privileged to benefit from in the modern world.

1)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vln9D81eO60

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Politics 101:

Summary:

Politics today is much like religion or football, whereby people commonly choose a team and barrack for them regardless of what they do, overlooking their flaws and likewise failing to see their opponents strengths.  I myself am only just beginning to dip my toes into the vast political ocean, but already I am inclined to suspect that different political and economical models in and of themselves do not hold the key, in the sense that one alone can be the best way to govern society.  Rather I am leaning towards believing that different political and economic models simply allow different aspects of human nature to express itself in different ways.  Ultimately we see the very same lower side of human nature (the ego) manifesting in all camps of political allegiance, particularly in the radical left and right, which seem to be locked in a cycle of reaction to each other.

Perhaps then, we could consider evolving these models in ways that allow the higher human values to express themselves but restrict the collective ego, rather than focusing upon the forces of the rich vs. the poor, government vs. business, rights vs. responsibility or freedom and human rights vs. national security.  It seems clear to me again that as with religion there seem to be irrational and unhealthy dogmas on both sides of the political spectrum.  As with religion however, there has never really been any doubt to me that I lean more to the left then to the right, though again I would not so much identify myself with the left as it stands, but rather seek to uphold some of its key ideals and evolve it into a purer vehicle for its core ethics.  There is real need for moderation on both sides of the political spectrum, and there are many issues where there are very legitimate arguments on opposite sides of the spectrum.  We have a real need for leaders with integrity to appear in the political world, who can put aside the dogmas of their party and weigh up arguments and evidence on their own merit.  In this respect we need leaders who are willing to risk their career by standing against their party (and its voters) when their own conscience calls them.

We have a need for progressives to be able to take a step back and consider that they can take their ideals too far, and that there are often complementary truths that need to be taken into consideration.  Likewise we have a real need for moderate conservatives who can give the other side of the coin to that given by progressives without falling victim to devils advocacy, as we are so commonly seeing from their ranks.  I dream of a future in which people are keen to talk about politics out of interest and concern with the world we live in, and whereby we can have passionate but polite discussions on real issues without the restrictions of social etiquette.

Main Article:

I will start by saying that I am really only quite new to politics, in the sense that I have only recently started to give it a fraction of my time.  Obviously politics has always affected my life and I have always had some awareness of it.  However I have chosen to put my time and attention elsewhere, for various reasons.  So, whilst I have always had opinions (or intuitions) on the topic, my thinking on the subject is quite primitive by comparison to my views on other topics, of which I have given myself considerable time to research and consider.  My point with this caveat is to simply state that these are introductory thoughts, and will preface any commentary that I give in the future.

Politics is one of those subjects that we are not supposed to discuss in polite conversation (along with religion), despite its great importance.  This is a real shame because essentially most of the things that really matter to society as a whole are at least somewhat political in nature, and we need to be able to talk about the things that are truly important.  The problem is that politics brings out the worst in people, much like going to football can turn otherwise civilized and rational people into foul-mouthed thugs, as their sense of critical thinking and caution disappears into a collective mob of rhetoric and polemics.  Politics divides people so severely, that those on the other side of the political spectrum are so commonly dehumanized and diminished as stupid, ignorant or just plain evil.  In this respect it perhaps goes even further then religion in polarizing humanity into ‘us and them’, and with equal potential for violence and war.

This is despite the fact that as with religion, most politically minded people consider that their side of the spectrum is actively seeking to make right all that is wrong in the world, stop the forces of evil and promote virtues which will lead to a free and abundant world.  It does seem to be true that different sides of politics have different priorities, as they consider different issues to be more urgent then others.  Likewise however, they often have different theories as to the best way to govern a nation, how to regulate business, whether to regulate the distribution of wealth (and if so, how to achieve this), and they differ in whether they place individual rights above national security, or support progressive, secular ethical ideals vs. traditional religious moral values etc.

However, it is not so much that very many politically minded people would be honest enough to say that they don’t care about others and they are only seeking to look out for themselves (and those on their team).  Rather, the vast majority believe that their party or ideology holds the key to shaping their nation into a successful and abundant country.  Therefore what we need is for people to be able to weigh up different arguments and theories to find out what works the best.  To do so properly we need to acknowledge that very few political issues are one-sided, and in probably most cases it seems that both sides have legitimate arguments for their case, even when the most appropriate action (when all is considered) may fall to one side.

To give a few obvious examples, the question of whether recreational drug use should be legal has strong arguments on both sides.  On the pro side of the coin, proponents argue (correctly) that making recreational drugs illegal creates a massive black market that is controlled by organized crime syndicates, and it pushes users to crime (and even prostitution) to pay massively inflated prices.  Furthermore, making these drugs illegal in many cases introduces toxic impurities into them (either through their production or being cut for the street), making their use far more dangerous.  What’s more, in many cases the drugs in question have previously been legal, and their abuse (and the consequences of abuse) have only gotten far worse since they were made illegal (case in point being amphetamines).  Likewise, proponents argue that governments should not attempt to regulate individuals states of consciousness, and that countries that put money into rehabilitating addicts rather then fighting a war against drugs have lower prison populations (and related costs), as well as far better success rates in rehabilitation.

On the other sides of the coin, those opposed to legal drug use point out that if recreational drugs are legal then this may create the impression that society approves of their use, and hence may encourage more young people (whose minds are fragile to the side-effects of drug usage) to experiment at younger ages, with tragic consequences for the users and society as a whole.  Likewise, they can argue that when drugs are legalized it can encourage drug tourism (such as Amsterdam is famous for), or result in addicts gravitating in large numbers in certain areas (such as around injecting houses, or clinics which give out methadone), which can stimulate crime and make the streets dangerous for non-users.  Furthermore, it can be argued that when drugs are legal users may quickly and easily graduate from entry-level drugs such as alcohol and marijuana to hard drugs like ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, heroin and ice (crystal-methamphetamine). It can certainly be argued that for some drugs from the latter category (such as ice) there is simply no safe usage, and simply trying the drug once can destroy someone’s life.  In this case both the users and society pay the price, as the users life is often ruined permanently from hard-drug usage, and such users will often struggle to hold down work (placing financial demands on their families and the states welfare system) and rarely pursue specialized education and training, and will often place demands on the nations medical and psychiatric resources, not to mention that they will often become violent and fall into crime.

In this example it is quite obvious that there are legitimate arguments from both side of the equation.  The question then is what is the most successful way to respond?  As far as choosing which path to take in response to the opposing arguments we need to be able to rely upon a systematic consideration of the relevant factors, along with analysis of relevant data to determine which method will have the most positive responses and the least negative ones.  There is probably no response to illicit drug use that can wholly stop the scourge of crime that relates to the industry, nor the personal tragedies and cost for society that comes from their usage.  Hence, when choosing a nations policy on such things one must put your own political leanings and ideology aside and consider what is the most appropriate course of action.  Of course data often requires interpretation, and different sides can often claim that the same data supports their contentions.  However, noting the difficulty of comparing apples with oranges, we need to take into consideration the statistical success and failures of different nations drug policies in deciding policy, and put this ahead of our own personal bias.

Another obvious example of a difficult scenario where there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the spectrum is the quagmire in Iraq, and the question of whether and to what degree western nations should intervene to fight against ISIL.  On the positive side of the equation, proponents point out that ISIL are committing human rights atrocities on a historical scale, raping, murdering and dispossessing entire populations, as well as targeting specific religious and cultural groups, hence designating their crimes into the category of genocide.  They point out that if we do not intervene then ISIL will probably succeed in capturing more territory and thus massacring larger and larger groups of people, making the complex and volatile nature of middle-eastern politics even more difficult, and raising the stakes of future actions in the area.

On the other side of the scale, those opposed to western intervention argue that western intervention was what created the power vacuum that led to ISIL’s rise to power in the first place, and argue that therefore we (western nations) have to bear much of the blame for the atrocities being committed by ISIL now.  They also go on to argue that if we intervene again (as with previous Iraqi wars) we may simply make matters worse and breed the next generation of Islamic militants, who may go further and further in their extremist ideology.  Furthermore, it has been pointed out how much money was spent on the original Iraqi war and occupation, and that in many ways Iraq was actually in a better situation before the invasion.  Whilst Saddam Hussein committed vast atrocities against his own people and posed a potential threat to other nations (as shown with his history in Kuwait), many have argued that the people of Iraq were still much better off before western intervention.  One could likewise argue that the threat posed to global peace and the level of atrocities committed against civilians is far worse with ISIL then it ever was with Hussein, and hence one could argue that western intervention does not bear positive results, but only makes everything worse on a grand scale.  Likewise, many people have quite legitimate suspicions about America’s interest in foreign affairs, suspecting that they have ulterior motives for getting involved in foreign conflicts.  Likewise, US military and businesses have been implicated in their fair share of scandals that blur the lines between who is on the right side of the conflict.

Whilst there are some issues that receive bipartisan support, can we imagine a situation whereby say a conservative voter with strong moral objections to recreational drug use would support lax drug laws, after weighing up the arguments on both sides and concluding that it causes the least amount of harm?  Alternatively, can we imagine someone with a history of recreational drug use voting in favour of harsh illicit drug laws, if the evidence was to show that such laws were best for society as a whole?  Likewise, could we imagine a pacifistic, left voter supporting western intervention to stop ISIL after accepting that despite the complications, they must still be stopped?  We humans need to become less predictable and stop just merely voting for the same thing that everyone else on our team votes for.  We need to weigh up the arguments on both sides, and then make what are often hard decisions, and remain flexible to change again in the future if the results don’t meet expectations.

I suspect that we are disadvantaged somewhat by our training in high school and university, when we were taught to write argumentative essays and engage in amateur debating, as these taught us to simply make a case for one side, and let our opponents make the case for the other side.  Imagine if both sides referenced the arguments on both sides, but then went on to explain the way that they personally weighed them up and thought through their implications, which led them to their conclusion.  Could this bring on a new dimension of depth in public debate, and potentially lead to more rational decision-making by our leaders?

Certainly this ideal is a far cry from the scenario we have at the present, in which each side make their own case and resort to heated polemics with their opposition, almost as if to imply that those on the other side were completely stupid, or evil (though I must admit, I am tempted to believe the latter in some cases).  We really just see the human ego expressing it’s worst features in these public debates (from our politicians, the media and the general public), which is exactly what we do not want when dealing with matters of life and death.  When dealing with the things that really matter we need everybody to find the best within themselves, take a deep breath, centre themselves in their soul and approach these issues with caution, patience and reason.

As it currently stands, each side drives the other into more and more extreme responses, and they frequently define themselves not so much in terms of what they stand for, but what they stand against, and whom.  Then we have the behaviour that accompanies the ideology.  Politicians themselves behave like a bunch of primary school brats, smirking arrogantly whilst they deliberately taunt the opposition, interrupting and heckling whilst their opponents speak in house, and so forth.  Political commentators frequently misrepresent and quote mine those that they disagree with, and some commentators take the form of political satire as a license to simply be a jerk, whilst convincing themselves that they are insightful and witty.  Of course, I could expect people to respond to me by asking if I have considered how unrealistic what I am asking is?  Do I really expect human beings to act all enlightened?  Let us be serious here, I work in retail, I know what people are like…hehe.  The thing is that people can also be amazing, they can summon amazing strength of character and will, and we all have the power to bring out the best in ourselves when it really matters.

It seems likely that it is in truth quite difficult for politicians to retain their ideals when they actually come into office, in that there are so many forces advising them this or that way and pulling at their strings, that it is difficult for them to stick to their guns.  I would imagine that they might find themselves in a position whereby they have to choose between holding strong to their convictions or furthering their career.  I believe there have been many examples of people who have gone into politics with strong ideals, only to find them difficult (if not impossible) to realize once they stood on the stage.

The left side of politics is heavily focussed upon social justice, protecting the rights of the persecuted, helping the poor and underprivileged, protecting the environment and interests of animals, investing in education, fair distribution of wealth and resources, and so forth.  In its moderate forms the left side of the spectrum has always been more involved in human rights, freedom of religion and political association, equal rights for all and freedom from discrimination and subjugation for women, those of colour, the LGBT community and others.  I really shouldn’t need to give a list of sources for all the good things that those on the left side of politics have achieved over the years, nor should I really have to make a case for the necessity of people campaigning for progressive values, as it should really be common sense.

However, it is indeed true that the left has its dogmas, and radical far-left governments have been far from the socialist utopias that their philosophers have dreamt of, often becoming totalitarian nightmares in polar opposite to their ideals.  In the case of more mainstream left-wing governments, it seems to be a common thing that they have real trouble with keeping a budget balanced, and seem to think that they can just spend other peoples money to make everything better in the world.  Furthermore, left-wing activists often go too far in reaction to subjugation of various groups, and sometimes end up trying to persecute the persecutors.  An obvious example is radical feminism, which in some cases goes into the realm of batshit crazy, and in reaction to real misogyny ends up resorting to misandry.  Likewise, attempts to promote sensitivity towards minorities often results in political correctness, which can make it difficult to discuss the elephant in the room (as is the case with issues relating to Islam).  This obviously has serious consequences, and it gives fuel to the far-right side of the spectrum when they wish to diminish everything good that the left stands for.

The conservative right certainly has many legitimate truths to express as well, such as that brilliant, hardworking people deserve success and should be able to reap the rewards of their endeavours without being brought down to the same level as those who did not put in the same effort.  It is often the case that successful individuals offer so much to their nation as a whole, in generating business they bring prosperity to their country, bringing employment to countless others and stimulating the economy.  It can be argued that capitalism has allowed and promoted the development of technology and raised the living standards of much of the world, helping to alleviate humanity from the suffering that previous generations took for granted.  At least here in Australia it seems that conservatives are the only ones that are in any way concerned about Australia’s rising debt and the weight that we carry in paying it back.  Likewise, conservative governments here have an excellent record in recent years of balancing a budget and even ending up in surplus, by comparison to the left side which spends and spends, often perhaps taking social justice ideals beyond what is sustainable (at least without improving other areas first).

However, conservatives have a bad history of trying to prevent progress in areas of human rights, as we have seen recently in the response of conservatives (particularly those with religious motivation) against marriage equality laws in the US.  Likewise, conservatives have a bad reputation for not caring about the environment (and our current Australian government is not helping this), raising suspicion that their strings are merely being pulled by immoral forces in the business world, that care not about the long term impact of their actions.  Far-right political commentators seem to take examples of those on the left taking things too far as justification for outright rejection of concern about fair distribution of wealth and resources, environmentalism, animal rights, rights advocacy for indigenous people, LGBT and women’s causes etc., almost appearing as if they are defining themselves by their opposition to everything that is good.

The question is how to find a healthy balance between the two extremes of the political spectrum.  Again, I would think that it is only common sense that one needs to balance complementary truths in this arena.  For example, it is true that the poor can often be mistreated by those with wealth, who often fall into corruption and greed, making it difficult for the underprivileged to rise up.  Likewise, it is also true that business can often put its private interests (greed) ahead of the good of a nation, its people, animals and the environment.  To a degree therefore it is absolutely necessary for a government to put into place laws and policies to protect the disadvantaged, and to prevent private enterprise from various abuses.

On the opposite side of the scale however, it is also equally true that human beings can be quite slothful, particularly if we are allowed to do so without any real consequences.  People can mismanage money, and if they get away with it they will generally continue to do so until it reaches crisis point.  Governments are just as prone to corruption and abuses as are private enterprises (or perhaps even more so), and taking freedom from business and citizens and giving it government just opens up other potential problems that can end in tyranny (and history is full of many examples of this).  The poor are just as prone to be unenlightened as are the rich, and in many cases they have simply tried to leech off those that are successful through their own initiative.  Snobbery occurs both ways, and the lower social classes are just as commonly snobbish towards educated and disciplined people as privileged classes can be towards the disadvantaged.

Hence, good policy should take these complimentary truths into account, in accepting the different ways in which the lower side of human nature (the ego) will manifest in different contexts, and attempt to encourage the best in everyone, regardless of their place in life.  Good policy will look at arguments on different sides and attempt to weigh them up and follow through on their implications, and seek out any available data to consider what results have been achieved from past experiences with different policies.  Likewise, good politicians will stay out of the taunting and bullying that is the norm in politics, and will approach their job with maturity and integrity, keeping their sights upon the ideals, which initially motivated them to pursue their career.  When this happens we can expect more and more politicians to “cross the floor” in voting against their parties line, and we can likewise expect to see more bipartisan support for policies, which are balanced and contain the necessary depth.

I propose that human beings strive to seek personal identity not in allegiance to a political party, economic model, religious organization, nation or football team, but rather through our continual progress towards a realization of the highest human ideals.  Politics should not be about competing parties and individual careers (and egos), but rather a think tank of ideas as to how best to allow humanity to realize its potential, balancing social justice with evolution and abundance.  We can all play a role in this process, by taking an interest in the issues that affect humanity both in our own nations and worldwide.  By paying attention we can start placing higher demands upon those that represent us, expecting them to uphold higher ethical standards (not least of which will be honesty), and holding the expectation that they will put truth and the common good ahead of their own careers.  When we the people invest ourselves in politics we will (hopefully) see a higher standard of candidates emerge, that rise to meet our lofty ideals.

Peace.

Science, Philosophy and the Supernatural 101:

Summary:

Whilst I am only beginning my in-depth studies of this topic, I feel confident about some preliminary judgments and conclusions. Science is a method, which has given so much to the world over the past few centuries, speeding up progress in so many areas at an exponential rate. Unlike other methods to attempt to learn about reality (such as religion and philosophy) the scientific method produces consistent testable results, and hence the scientific community has reached consensus on various fundamental properties of reality. This success has enabled rapid economic growth that has dramatically raised the standard of living worldwide, and enabled the development of technology and medicine that have largely solved many of the causes of human suffering through recorded history.

In many ways science has had to stand against religion in its quest to discover the true nature of reality, and many prominent scientists faced ridicule and/or persecution in their time for standing against the doctrines of “the church” (primarily orthodox Christianity). Incredible as it may seem, this situation still very much exists today, particularly in North America where the religious right are still trying to claim that the earth (and universe as a whole) is a mere 6,000 years old (as an approximation) and that various animals (humans included) have not undergone significant genetic mutations. Hence it is easy to understand why many might believe that science is immune to the curse of philosophical bias, and that scientists are the only ones that are able to leave their own personal dogmas behind in their work. Unfortunately, I argue that scientists too as human beings are likewise subject to philosophical bias, and that there are a number of very obvious examples whereby this is the case.

It is perhaps easy to understand why and how this has happened when you consider the details. Part of the modern scientific method is methodological naturalism; that being the presupposition of natural causes as the simplest and most likely explanation for any phenomena, excluding even the consideration of supernatural causes. Unfortunately it seems that there has been a collective move from the use of methodological naturalism for  scientific development to an unconscious and unquestioned acceptance of metaphysical naturalism (a philosophical position that states that only matter and material laws exist, and denies consciousness and/or spirit), as a philosophical worldview, and as the scientific worldview. This transition has been largely unconscious, and I believe that it needs to be discussed in detail to reveal a major aberration in the thinking of modern man.

As a result of this philosophical presupposition, many otherwise scientifically minded thinkers have rejected outright the possibility of various paranormal phenomena, on the basis that they believe them to be impossible before even investigating them. Likewise, many otherwise rational people have failed to accept the startling philosophical implications of highly successful scientific theories and repeated experiments, as they challenge the very foundational of the worldview (metaphysical naturalism), which has been confused with the method of science. Likewise, in regards to various human experiences and phenomena, which might be difficult for science to evaluate, many people have erroneously concluded that science has proven them to be impossible. Hence we find ourselves in the same stalemate position that we encounter with many religious believers, whereby they will not seem to even entertain the possibility that their presuppositions could be incorrect, and it seems that solid evidence and rational arguments only fall on deaf ears. We are here encountering the very same manifestations of the human ego that we encounter with religious fanatics; only that in this case the very people who so often cut through religious dogma fail to see themselves falling trap to the very same behaviour.

I believe that real evidence exists for paranormal and spiritual phenomena, and some of this evidence is scientific in nature (though it’s very nature may demand that we refine and evolve the scientific method to work equally well in all possible contexts). I believe that when all is considered objectively, the evidence strongly points to Monistic Idealism as being the worldview that accurately describes reality as it truly is. Monistic idealism states that there is in-fact only one absolute substance, and that substance is infinite consciousness, with all apparent diversity and interaction occurring within this singular consciousness just as our nightly dreams occur within the mind of the dreamer.

Whilst this may seem to defy common sense at first, I believe that this conclusion is not merely defensible, but unavoidable once all is considered. I believe that science already has 100 years of evidence performed under the strictest laboratory conditions that absolutely necessitates this conclusion, and I believe that the evidence will only continue to accumulate as science moves forward. I suggest that whilst accepting this model of reality may seem shocking at first to many people, it offers immense possibilities both for personal growth and creative power, and almost infinite possibilities for the development of technology and the expansion of human civilization, if approached correctly. Hence, science does not need to fear the inevitable here, but rather will only thrive as a result.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to get our heads around will be finding the correct balance whereby science continues to debunk charlatans and reject real pseudoscience, whilst it simultaneously evolves and expands to allow in many areas which it has to date unfortunately attempted to taint with the same terms. Science must continue to stand for truth, against the campaigns of religious fanatics, who have often attempted to push their ideology into the classrooms of public schools (and have at times succeeded). However, science must be able to recognize and question its own presuppositions, and whilst we continue to apply the method of methodological naturalism to scour the working of nature, we must not be afraid to accept the consequences of our search, when it leads us back to the inescapable and shocking view of the primacy of consciousness.

Main Article:

I have personally learned to be cautious about forming solid opinions until becoming well acquainted with the relevant data and arguments, at a level that is worthy of the topic at hand.  The question of science, philosophy and the supernatural is a vast one, and is perhaps somewhat more difficult to unravel than the question of how best to understand comparative religion if we presume that spirituality is objectively real (the premise of my first book).  As I see it this is because in this question we wish to apply scientific standards and methodology to the subjects of philosophy and spirituality (which traditionally go by somewhat different standards, and apply quite different methodology), and vice versa.

For this reason I would like to state in advance that the opinions expressed in this article are perhaps viewed as strong intuitions, which as far as I have seen (at this stage) seem to be supported by the evidence itself.  It is quite likely that my views on the subject will gain new depth over the coming 5 years (approx.) as I study it in detail, though it remains to be seen whether such study will change my overall conclusions (I personally do not think that they will).  Obviously also, the following is not intended to be a comprehensive word on the topic, but rather a quick summary of my leanings, and a hint of what I will publish here on this blog on the topic in the future, as well as what will end up in book form at a later date.

I am fully aware that I am courting significant criticism in expressing strong opinions on this topic well before I will be ready to defend them in the necessary detail that the topic demands.  I will in the near future post an article covering philosophical implications of quantum mechanics and an introduction to parapsychology. That article will go into some degree of detail as to various experiments from QM (in particular the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser experiments) and the arguments and counter-arguments of different camps as to their interpretations and implications. Also in that article I will give a quick summary of the field of parapsychology, and discuss in some detail the results of one large-scale parapsychology experiment, the Global Consciousness project, as its methodology and results are quite unique, and as the attempts at debunking them by naturalists that I have seen have been deeply flawed.  In doing so I believe I will be able to back up my conclusions (that I give here) with at least a preliminary demonstration of the evidence and arguments at hand.  Hence, I will progressively go into greater detail as to the specifics that I believe support my contentions, and I will just have to live with whatever responses I receive to my conclusions in the meantime.  With that said, let us begin.

I have personally had a great deal of personal experiences with spiritual and paranormal phenomena, and I believe that anybody else that has had similar experiences can attest that they cannot all be explained away as due to fraud, delusion or ignorance of natural forces.  The problem is then how to present arguments in the language and standards of science that can translate these experiences into useable knowledge about nature.  Science demands certain standards for any theory, and any claim about the nature of reality needs to be clearly defined, testable and falsifiable if it is to expect to be considered scientifically viable.  Failing this standard renders any claims about the workings of our world either out of the limits of science (and hence puts it in the realms of philosophy), or at worst it can attract the label of pseudoscience (junk science).

It is understandable why many people would feel that if a theory or claim cannot be supported by science then it should be automatically rejected, as science has been extremely successful over the past few centuries at revealing great mysteries that people of the past may have believed were supernatural in nature.  It is therefore a valid question as to whether there are fields of study for which science will not be able to illuminate, or whether scientific endeavours will eventually reveal all on every subject we can imagine?  The nature of consciousness is currently seen by many as being difficult for science to deal with, yet simultaneously there are large numbers of scientists devoting their careers to its study.  Many scientists and philosophers today believe that in the near future we will have a complete scientific (read naturalistic) model for the working of consciousness.

On the other hand, there are a significant number of professionals who claim that consciousness can never be understood in solely materialistic terms, as it is by very nature subjective and immaterial.  Such a view has become quite unpopular in western academia over the past few centuries, due largely to a bit of a mess associated with Rene Descartes.  As a result many westerners erroneously refer to any and all claims that consciousness is immaterial as being “dualist theories”, and then proceed to dismiss them under the assumption that mind-brain dualism is scientifically and philosophically untenable.  This is a great shame, as it reveals one of the great flaws in western education.

In truth, in most cases whereby consciousness is claimed to be immaterial and thus distinct and separate from the brain, the claim is made in the context of a monistic philosophical worldview (that being Monistic Idealism), which is the exact opposite of metaphysical naturalism (which is also monistic).  To dismiss all immaterial theories of consciousness as dualistic is just as erroneous as to claim that metaphysical naturalism is likewise dualistic and thus false (when in fact it also claims that consciousness and matter are ultimately the same substance, though in an opposite way to monistic idealism).  I will certainly write on mind-brain dualism in some detail in the future, as we really should be doing better on the subject then we are at this point.

Many people today believe that metaphysical naturalism is the scientific worldview, and claim that if you reject metaphysical naturalism then you reject science.  This is a slightly dangerous situation we have gotten ourselves into, as it appears to place science and spirituality in opposite camps directly opposed to each other, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.  Some of those that take such views are willing to accept that spirituality can still have the right to exist, as long as it stays out of science and remains a form of vague pop psychology that adds meaning to peoples personal lives, but doesn’t attempt to interfere in debates as to the nature of reality, or the interpretation of scientific experiments.  Still there are other naturalists (atheists) who would like to see the end of all religion and spirituality, and do not believe that there is anything at all worthwhile in the entire field, and that the world would surely be a better place when it is gone (which some believe is inevitable).

As for those modern thinkers that claim that there is no divide between science and spirituality and attempt to bridge the gap in the mindset of the scientific community, they are largely dismissed as peddling New Age nonsense, and tagged with the titles of pseudoscience or “woo-woo” (a childish insult which attempts to presuppose that any and all beliefs in the supernatural are ridiculous and unworthy of a serious response).  I do certainly agree that there are a great number of charlatans out there seeking attention, money, sex, power and so forth, and there are likewise countless nutcases out there making claims that are worthy of ridicule.  However, there are likewise many brilliant thinkers and scientists who I believe have correctly attempted to balance scientific endeavours with spiritual and philosophical studies.  What’s more, I believe that there are likewise many brilliant thinkers that have correctly identified the place in science for consciousness, in which consciousness takes the centre stage, not merely as an emergent phenomena or epiphenomena, but as the substratum of reality itself!

I also agree that there are many New Age writers who have perhaps not risen to the task of discussing the intersect between science and spirituality at the level that science demands, and this is perhaps where we (in the New Age movement) need to lift our game.  Part of the reason science has been so successful is the high level of precision that it demands in the use of language, and its insistence that a theory be testable and falsifiable to be considered scientific in nature.  There have been many New Age thinkers that have failed to meet these standards, regardless of whether or not their conclusions have been correct.  Deepak Chopra is frequently ridiculed by naturalists for his attempts to bring science and spirituality together.  I find myself in a difficult position with Chopra in that I really like the guy, I agree with most of his conclusions and I admire his passion, but I tend to agree that his means of expression has not yet succeeded in meeting the necessary standard.

Do I believe I can do better?  Well yes and no.  Chopra certainly has fair more precise knowledge than myself, a lifetime of experience, real academic qualifications and almost certainly a far deeper level of spiritual attainment than myself.  So, I do not mean to insult the man; rather if I met Chopra I would feel privileged to be in the presence of someone who lives their life fearlessly pursuing what they believe to be true and good, regardless of the backlash.  However, I would like to attempt to do things differently from how I have seen most writers in the field proceed, and only time will tell if I succeed in attaining the standard to which I aspire.

Most scientists consider the field of parapsychology to be pseudoscience, despite the fact that it has met practically every criticism that has been launched towards it, and established rigorous standards for its research.  I will personally invert the accusation, and state that those that deny parapsychology are guilty of pseudoscience; literarily refusing to accept the results of real science and refusing to accept reality as it is, rather insisting on the impossibility of phenomena, which have been repeatedly studied in laboratory conditions.  Parapsychology has successfully and repeatedly produced results so far beyond the realms of chance that in any other field they would already be well accepted, but under the presumption that they are impossible they have still not received recognition.

Likewise, I believe there is a vast ignorance amongst the scientific community as to the true implications of Quantum Mechanics, and the mechanisms involved in the experiments themselves.  Whilst most scientists merely scoff at the claims of New Age writers regarding QM, so many of them seem to have little understanding of what has actually been discovered in the laboratory, and it seems to me as if it is only those of us with spiritual leanings that are ready to accept the startling implications of science in this manner.  I will make the rather bold claim that there are many deeply talented scientists who should know better, that are making claims that are mutually exclusive with the data.

For example, naturalists commonly claim that the differentiations between particle and wave results in dual-slit experiments are the result of interference between the particle and classical, material objects, such as the instruments involved in making measurements in the experiment itself. This is despite the fact that in recent years this possibility has been absolutely ruled out through highly sophisticated experiments, such as the many variations on the Delayed-Choice Quantum Eraser concept. Such experiments have proven time and time again that it is knowledge of the “which-path” information of the particle that determines the outcome, and that this has nothing to do with any physical interaction.  Again then, I invert the charge levelled against the New Age movement in regarding to QM, and accuse much of the scientific establishment of pseudoscience, in refusing to accept the results of 100 years of experiments, and ultimately refusing to accept reality as it is.

Physics has quite literarily shown that reality is immaterial, as most of what makes up matter is simply empty space, and the only things that aren’t empty space (down into the realm of particles) have no fixed material properties, and only take on temporary physical properties whilst they are locked in interactions with other systems, in measurement and/or being observed.  Likewise, quantum entanglement has gone well beyond Einstein’s shocking discoveries with special relativity, and has shown that space and time are actually relative constructs, lacking objective and absolute reality, and can under certain circumstances be violated in ways that almost bring mockery to intuitive ways in which we view them.  I will argue that science has indeed falsified every facet of metaphysical naturalism (realism, materialism and physicalism), and has left in its place only one reasonable alternative to which evidence from all fields points; that being monistic idealism.

Modern western science and philosophy have become so biased against the possibility of an immaterial mind that they are going as far as to attempt to deny the existence of downward (mental) causation.  This is despite the fact that evidence for downward causation is abundant throughout life; one might even go as far as to state that it is one of the most self-evident facts of life.  And yet it poses a great threat for metaphysical naturalism, hence those that wish to see science wholly associated with this philosophical view have sought to deny it.  Furthermore, recent developments in neuroscience have been interpreted by many as outright denying the existence of free-will, an erroneous and outright dangerous claim, particularly when proponents of this view are quite outspoken in claiming that it is not merely a philosophical view, but a scientific one.

There is also some evidence that I believe is relevant, which is not specifically scientific in nature, but crosses over slightly into the realm of science and medicine.  Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s for short) have often been reported in cases whereby medical professionals have been able to attest that a patient shows no signs of life (heartbeat, breath, brainwaves etc.).  Hence those of us that believe that NDE’s are objective experiences of consciousness (spirit) existing out of the body have often claimed that this provides external verification of the reality of such phenomena.  In response, naturalists have attempted to debunk these claims and argue for a purely materialistic mechanism in the dying brain as the cause of the experiences.  Again however, it appears to me that such explanations fail for several obvious reasons; most notably they commonly assume that any evidence for upward causation (from brain to mind, for example the fact that altered states of consciousness can be induced through electrical stimulation to the brain) cancels out the possibility of mind being immaterial, along with the standard erroneous western objections to mind-brain dualism.

I would argue that there is abundant evidence for the brain-mind model of causation commonly known as interactionism, in which causality goes both ways; that being from mind to body, and also from body to mind.  For example, when somebody takes a mind-altering drug, this is an example of upwards causation, as a physical substance initiated changes in the consciousness of the individual.  Likewise, when somebody practices meditation or undergoes hypnosis these are examples of downwards causation, as free-will choices to direct the mind have corresponding physical effects in the changes to the brains chemistry and electrical activity.  It seems to me that naturalistic explanations for NDE’s appear to be approaching the subject not with the intent of objectively considering what is going on (the spirit of the scientific method), but rather with the presupposition that the claims of the people having NDE’s are scientifically impossible.

My contention then is that naturalists are confusing science and philosophy, trying to pass philosophy off as science, and unfortunately they appear to be getting away with it. This is a shame given the great success of science in showing how things really are and cutting through a myriad of speculative theories and providing consistent, replicable evidence for how nature truly works.  Unfortunately the lines blur between science, philosophy and religion when it comes to questions about consciousness, and interpreting data relating to the relationship between our perception of the mind and the physical organ that is the brain.

We should perhaps note a common erroneous claim made by naturalists, that if paranormal and/or spiritual phenomena were objectively real then this would necessitate that everything science has discovered about the universe is wrong, and that we need to start again.  This claim is actually quite easy to reject as it attempts to place the vast scope of science within the realms of simple black and white absolutes, when of course scientific knowledge has always been a continuum of partial, relative understanding of the working of nature, constantly moving towards a deeper, more fundamental conception of reality and natural law.  If monistic idealism is true, it does not mean for a second that we have to abandon what science has taught us about the world.  Rather, the only things that need to be abandoned are philosophical views that have been presupposed through erroneous interpretations and extrapolations of scientific data.

Monistic Idealism is the worldview of the Perennial Philosophy, as it is explicitly laid forth in the spiritual philosophy of various cultures and times (most explicitly to my knowledge in Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism and Hermeticism).  This view of the world has long been known to those who have studied consciousness in-depth through meditation, revealing fundamental and absolute truths about ourselves and the world around us. Whilst science has very much appeared to be the enemy of religion for some time, I believe that it is inevitable that the two come together, albeit in purer more evolved forms.  Science and spirituality alike must weed out the charlatans and the madmen from their ranks, and working together using different methods to provide consistent and cohesive knowledge about ourselves and our world.  When this occurs we will find ourselves truly in awe of the almost infinite potential for growth that human beings have before us, and the extraordinary possibilities for the development of technology using concepts from advanced physics.

Peace

Religion and Spirituality 101:

Summary:

Religion is a complex topic, and the perfect definition of a “mixed bag”. Spiritual ideals speak of unconditional and infinite love, compassion, forgiveness and grace, and aim towards sustaining deep joy and peace, whilst encouraging a healthy and whole life. At the same time religion creates vast divides between people, often causing hatred and violence, it has condoned and mandated slavery, the subjection and degradation of women, the persecution of homosexuals and others, and has taught fear of horrendous torment in the afterlife for those that reject it’s doctrines.

There is a very pressing need for us to reform religion and separate the spiritual wheat from the religious chaff. Religion needs to evolve along with every other field of human interest, allowing the timeless perennial teachings to find expression in the language and symbolism of today, whilst separating timeless and universal truths from the countless superstitions and harmful dogmas that weigh down religion. Spirituality needs to be freed from its association with hate, violence, bigotry, subjugation and denigration, and allowed to unify and heal, rather than divide and scar. If we do not evolve religion then we run the risk of having the baby thrown out with the bathwater, as critics of religion give us more and more legitimate reasons to turn from the faiths of old, along with some perhaps less legitimate criticisms of general religion and spirituality as a whole.

Followers of the world’s faiths need to be willing to see both the strengths and weaknesses of their own faiths, and must thus be willing to reform them from the inside out, as religious devotees often don’t take kindly to criticism from outsiders. Likewise, they need to be able to see the legitimate strengths in other traditions, without succumbing to a pure relativism that (wrongly) teaches that all beliefs are equal. We need to find a healthy middle ground whereby we attempt to heal the divide between followers of diverse traditions, without throwing out logic and reason at the same time in our attempt at attaining interfaith harmony.

I propose that there is room for significant diversity in religion without the need to see the followers of other faiths as ones enemy. We can acknowledge the core ideals to which most of us strive, whilst finding the middle ground between reforming and evolving our faiths, and accepting the infinite potential for diversity amongst world religion. I personally believe that spirituality is objectively real and offers much to both the individual and society as a whole. When reformed correctly individual religions can potentially become great vehicles for healing and progress on planet earth, rather then the confused can of worms that they are at present, and have been throughout human history.

Main Article:

Religion is and has been throughout history a mixed bag, or as I like to say, a “poison apple”. There is much to it, which is sweet, and healthy, yet it often achieves the opposite end to which it aspires. Many people today like to attempt to separate spirituality from religion, defining spirituality as ones personal relationship with God and ones individual path to peace, joy and wisdom. Alternatively religion often gets defined solely in negative terms, as the stale outward form of false ideas, or the epitome of human corruption. Still, there are many who view religion and spirituality as inseparable, and insist that one must seek spirituality within the context of a tried and tested “faith community” (usually their own).

The questions then are why is it that religion so often attains opposite goals of that to which it seeks to aim, and whether it is possible to reform the religious landscape in such a way as to keep the good and be done with the bad? Conservative follows of various faiths tend to argue that their faith alone is perfect, and the problems that we see with religion are the result of the natural flaws in other faiths, and human error in interpreting and applying their own tradition. Those on the liberal end however tend to argue that all faiths are equally true and/or false depending on how we approach them. They frequently claim that the founders of the world’s faiths were all enlightened sages who taught the same truths, and that it is merely our flawed human nature that misinterprets their teachings and creates the can of worms that is religion.

We should of course note that those that are critical of religion as a whole (i.e. atheists) argue that all religions are merely the result of delusion and fraud, and that the way to separate the good from the bad is to adopt a secular, naturalistic philosophy that celebrates basic moral and ethical ideals without any belief in supernatural beings and/or realms, or life before and after death. In cases of dispute we often find that the truth is somewhere in the middle of the different sides, and whilst this is not always the case, I will suggest that it indeed true here, though I will suggest that there is one camp that is much closer to the truth than the others.

As I see it, there is indeed a universal spiritual philosophy, which can be known as the “Perennial Philosophy”, that is found to varying degrees in most (but not all) world religions. For example, all forms of Buddhism, mystical forms of Hinduism (Kashmir Shaivism, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra etc.), the Sikh and Jain faiths, various forms of mystical Greek philosophy (Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Hermeticism etc.), various indigenous worldviews and even mystical forms of the Abrahamic faiths (such as Sufi Islam) etc. contain a whole series of common beliefs and practices, to the point that one can easily see the followers of these different religions all being ultimately part of one tradition, despite the variation in the outward expression of their path. However, this does not necessarily mean that all religions are equal or identical; rather the opposite is true. Most religions are different in significant ways, and some clearly better then others, though often it is the case that different faiths have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Religious conservatives fail to acknowledge the failings in their own faiths, and in doing so prevent growth and transformation. Simultaneously they overemphasize the flaws in other faiths and go to great lengths to twist their doctrines to make it appear as if there are problem when in truth there are none. Whilst they may be correct in noting that all religions cannot be equally true in their truth claims and in highlighting legitimate flaws in the relativism of those on the progressive side, they also have been guilty of fighting progress and evolution, and defending the indefensible.

Religious liberals on the other hand have to their credit been seeking to bridge the gap between the world’s faiths, and bring their followers together into one spiritual family. Unfortunately this has often been at the expense of reason and truth, as liberals have tried to deny that the flaws we see in various world religions are indicative of core problems with the texts and doctrines of such faiths, and/or with their founders. Rather the dogma of the liberal left on religion has been that it has merely been human imperfection that has misinterpreted the teachings and concepts of the various religions that has caused the many problems that we see. In making this erroneous claim they have unfortunately prevented rational discussion as to the very real problems inherent in religion, and given fuel to those who do, and attempt to steer people clear of particular faiths or even religion as a whole.

Critics of religion as a whole have many legitimate reasons to dislike religion. They are indeed correct in identifying that some of the worlds religious texts in truth are pretty awful in their content, retaining primitive and barbaric conceptions of divinity, and condoning and mandating slavery, the status of women as property under the ownership of men, denying freedom of religion and political association, persecution of LGBT and other groups, and have promoted horrendous concepts of eternal torment in the afterlife and so forth.

Making matters worse for religion as a whole, there has been very little acknowledgment of this reality by religious followers themselves. In response the conservative right frequently attempts to deny the flaws within its own faith, often going to outright ridiculous lengths to deny and twist reality to avoid cognitive dissonance. As one example, just check out the circus contortions performed by Christian apologists in attempting to defend the doctrines of orthodox Christianity and the content of the Bible (see Dr. W.L. Craig, J.P. Holding, Dr. P. Copan and more); it just has to be seen to be believed.

Likewise the pretentious posturing of the liberal left in attempting to excuse Islam of fault in subjugating women and preventing religious freedom in Islamic countries, and condoning and encouraging hatred and violence against the secular (and/or Christian) West is just as disturbing, and potentially just as dangerous. There is a very real need for those of us that are spiritually inclined to integrate into our understanding of this vast topic the issues which our atheist brethren have raised. Whilst I disagree with many of the more general statements and conclusions on religion expressed by prominent atheists such as Dr. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late great Christopher Hitchens (surely one of the greatest minds to have graced this planet in the past century), we simply must acknowledge acknowledge the reality of religions many flaws, and reform accordingly. Ultimately we need all religious followers (regardless of whether they lean left or right) to acknowledge that the founders and other major figures of the world’s faiths weren’t all liberated saints. In truth, religion is a field in which fraud, ignorance and delusion have been allowed to flourish and be seen as sacred, particularly when we have canonized ancient texts and refused to take a critical eye to their content.

As for whether religion and spirituality are separate, and whether it is still ideal to ground our spirituality in an ancient tradition, I personally have mixed feelings. I tend to agree that in some forms religion can be so dry as to almost be void of spirituality. We certainly all know people that are very religious, but almost totally lacking in real spiritual and psychological growth. Likewise there are many wonderful people alive today that are deeply spiritual but have rejected practically all forms of organized religion, in favour of a personal and individual path. In this respect spirituality can exist completely outside of and distinct from religion.

As a whole though I believe that for most people the two are deeply intertwined, and perhaps it will always be that way. The majority of religions inspire greatness alongside its repression, and there is a very real degree to which the personality of the individual determines which of its poles manifests at any one time. For example, even the early church fathers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian (who from their heresiological works come across to me as ranting fundamentalists) had moments of deep contemplation, speaking of divine love and peace. Islam simultaneously produces hateful fanatics and blissful mystics, whilst the religious traditions of India are rich with both profound truths and backwards superstitions. However we define the process of evolving our spirituality the goal is ultimately the same, of keeping the good and leaving the bad.

I am personally of the opinion that there is a great deal of good to be achieved by following in the footsteps of those who have walked the path before us, as long as we are careful to choose the right teachers, and maintain a healthy level of critical thinking. I have met many people that have told me that they don’t need any guidance from others or have no need for a spiritual community, however I have yet to be impressed (spiritually) by anybody making such claims. I do not doubt that it is possible for someone to be their own guide and commune directly with the divine without the assistance of others; it is only that I am yet to really meet anybody that has succeeded in doing so.

Those that have impressed me most are those that have dedicated themselves to years of study and practice under the tutelage of a particular school or path, but have remained open to the world’s traditions, and sought to avoid religious nationalism and bigotry. Spirituality will always be a somewhat personal journey, but there are many who have walked the path before us, and many of those have travelled quite some distance in their journey. The hard part is choosing the right community, teacher, text and practice to immerse oneself in, in order to go beyond a mere surface experimentation and penetrate deeply into reality. In this regard I can only suggest a healthy balance between the old and the new, between tried and tested ancient traditions and newer paths and practices, which may suit our age better.

From personal experience I can attest that spirituality is not merely something that has vague psychological benefits to some, but rather spirituality offers us the chance to find a truly healthy and balanced way of living and being, both individually and collectively. Meditation brings deep inner peace that can change us internally for the better, especially when we then cultivate mindfulness in the various day to day tasks of our lives, making even the seemingly mundane take on a deep satisfaction. The combination of movement, breath and attention as found in Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong has tremendous health benefits that go far beyond mere exercise, allowing many of its practitioners to retain health well beyond their years, as well as facilitating advanced spiritual development.

Spiritual philosophy offers deep answers to deep questions, and can guide one in moving through life with wisdom, grace, strength, humour and passion. Ideally, when spiritual virtues are integrated into various fields of human endeavour free from the dross of backwards religious dogmas, humanity will flourish and discover a hint of our true potential, both internally and a species. There are a handful of faiths, which can already be viewed as perfect expressions of a universal spiritual tradition. For the majority of religions however there is need for significant reform and growth if we are to be able to see one another as on the same side (or path), despite our differences. For some reform might mean that they are almost unrecognizable from their orthodox form, and in such cases it may simply be the case that it is best for them to be disbanded and abandoned. Ideally, religion and formalized spirituality with texts and teachers has the potential to guide humanity towards enlightened living, balancing our passion for this beautiful world and its many pleasures with knowledge of our eternal nature as Spirit, and the transcendent peace that is found in that reality.

In conclusion, we are still finding our way through the maze of comparative religion, attempting to find the best way to make sense of the light and shade. We need a redefined, refined model of pluralism that allows us to transcend our flaws and evolve our imperfect systems of belief into pure vehicles for divine truths. Of course such change cannot be expected to take place instantly, and we should not be discouraged by opposition when we encounter it. Rather, the things that really matter in life are worth standing up for, and future generations will surely be grateful for preparing the road for them.  The above is obviously merely a quick summary of my views on this vast topic.  I have in fact completed a comprehensive work on the topic (titled “The Web Unwoven”), covering various sub-topics in great detail along the way.  I will certainly be advertising here on this page when it becomes available to purchase or download, one way or another.

Peace.

James