Star Wars and spirituality:

I’m a big Star Wars fan. Growing up I was warned by my (Christian) family to be weary of the Eastern philosophy spouted by Obi Wan and Yoda when they were teaching Luke Skywalker about The Force. Obviously, I do not share the concern of my family for Eastern philosophy; rather I think that they have the subject of religion largely back-to-front. That is, from my perspective it seems that conservative Christians attempt to twist fine metaphysical concepts from Eastern spirituality in an attempt to make them appear bad, whilst defending the very deep and explicit flaws within their own faith and sacred text.

Anyways, there is obviously no question that the concept of The Force was directly influenced by Eastern philosophy. I believe George Lucas has spoke of this openly. Star Wars is an important part of the modern psyche, and in many ways is the modern equivalent to the mythology of India or Greece, which often taught spiritual principles intertwined with an epic story of heroes and villains.

It is of course not uncommon for mythology to reflect common religious ideas, or to expand upon and develop them, or even to combine elements from different religions together and therefore create a new mythos. A number of prominent Christian fiction authors (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) have explicitly infused their writings with Christian theology. Likewise, there are countless science fiction books and movies, which have directly reflected existing spiritual worldviews, or expanded upon them.

As such, many spiritual teachers have at times used examples and language from Star Wars as a means of communicating with their students. I for one enjoy such things. However, I have also seen examples of conservative Christian apologists using the concept of The Force as presented in Star Wars as a means of attempting to demean Eastern spirituality. Hence, I would like to discuss this

Star Wars presents The Force as a kind of spiritual field that interpenetrates all life, from which everything gains its strength, from which force-users (Jedi, Sith and others) can draw supernatural power, and into which all life will eventually return. The Force is not said to favour light or dark, but rather is presented as essentially morally neutral, with the light and dark simply existing as opposite poles of its wholeness. Over the course of the canon (which goes forwards, then backwards, then fills various gaps…) we learn that it is the destiny of most beings to simply merge with The Force at death, and that retaining a degree of individuation after death is a rare feat only attained by a handful of Jedi.

Certainly there are parallels here to many different religions and philosophies. Once can certainly see parallels in the Jedi philosophy to Buddhism and Hinduism (amongst other Dharmic spirituality), Daoism and so forth. I have even heard it suggested that the primal battle between light and dark is parallel to Zoroastrianism, though one could just as easily claim the same of Christianity, or perhaps Manichaeism.

One of the clearest parallels though is obviously between the concept of The Force and the impersonal conception of God in Hinduism – Brahman. Brahman is explained in Advaita Vedanta philosophy as the substratum of reality, the ground of all being. All things exist within Brahman, and Brahman exists within all things as the Atman. The entire cosmos is but Brahmans grand divine dream, and the multitude of seemingly (but not actually) individual entities are asleep to their true nature, unaware of the greater reality that unites them, that exists within them, and that they exist within.

Conservative Christian apologists frequently attempt to portray this conception of Brahman in derogatory terms, as if it were not truly a conception of God, but rather a nihilistic non-existence, lacking love, life and so forth. On a number of occasions I have even seen Christian apologists attempt to claim that Eastern and New Age conceptions of God as impersonal lack any moral substance, but are morally neutral, like The Force, simply having a light and dark side, with no greater pure nature. This however is quite misleading.

Hindu spiritual texts state that Brahman is pure unconditional love, peace, infinite potential for manifest life, a great Mind without boundaries. The Sanskrit terms for this are Sat-Chit-Ananda, meaning (Infinite) existence, consciousness and bliss. Vedanta texts and seers both ancient and modern are quite clear that the dualities of the manifest creation are not contained within Brahman. That is, the nature of Brahman is peace, absolute unbounded love, and unity. This is happiness that is not dependent upon any circumstance, situation or person, and it can never be diminished nor disappear. It is always there, shining like the sun, and it can only ever appear to be obscured, but can never be extinguished.

The question of how one can equally accept the existence of a supreme reality that is absolutely pure, and simultaneously acknowledge the reality that the world we live in is filled with suffering, injustice, hate, violence and so forth is one that has long plagued theologians and philosophers. Christians have their own explanation, that God gave us all free-will in order to give life true meaning, and that humanity and some of the angels chose to disobey God and exercise our free-will in distancing ourselves from all that was good.

Many religions and philosophical systems over the years have attempted to answer this question. I feel personally that possibly the best answer to the question is to simply acknowledge the reality that this is something that we cannot really do justice to. That is, any answer I could give would largely depend on the perception of a larger picture, which would be largely (if not wholly) impossible for me to verify.

I will concede that naturalists perhaps have the simplest explanation for the suffering and injustice we perceive in the world at large, and I am not going to attempt to respond to the general claims of naturalism here. Rather, I am talking about how spiritual worldviews as a whole have to deal with the problem of suffering and evil.

The questions of evil and suffering are inherently difficult for any and all religions and systems of spiritual philosophy to explain, and I understand why many people feel that they are a deal-breaker for all beliefs in a benevolent Supreme Being. I am not going to attempt a proper exploration of this topic here, however I wish to make a point that this is a problem that all religions and spiritual philosophies must bear almost equally.   That is, Christian apologists and theologians cannot expect to side step their own responsibilities but then expect other faiths to bear the burden of this enigma alone.

From my own experience I would state that the material world is indeed filled with extreme polar opposites. Love and hate, life and death, pleasure and pain, success and failure, health and disease, prosperity and poverty, peace and violence, justice and injustice. Such is the nature of this world. And yet, we all have access to this great love that is within us at all times. It is always there, it is not dependent upon our state of health, our wealth, our age, the colour of our skin, our gender, our place within our community, or the state of the world around us. This love always exists, and we can choose to move into it through grace in harmony with self-effort. Such is the nature of reality.

This is what Advaita Vedanta teaches, and it can be directly experienced, not merely as a theoretical, intellectual conception, but as a living, breathing reality. I however am not merely claiming that Advaita Vedanta is the only religious or philosophical system to have taught this, or to have lead human beings into this experience. Rather, as a Perennialist I acknowledge that human beings from almost every nation, race and time period have experienced this same reality, though I do not claim that every religion equally represents this truth. Although I may critique the claims of conservative Christians and Muslims, I have no doubt that many amongst their ranks truly experience the peace of God in their hearts, even if I will still passionately argue that the doctrines of their faith (and the scriptures they hold sacred) do not accurately represent God in truth. Likewise, I will still argue that many of the world’s religions also simultaneously profess ideas that in actuality lead humanity away from the peace of God, and I don’t limit this criticism strictly to the Abrahamic faiths (but rather, I attempt to see objectively the strengths and weaknesses of the worlds faiths as they actually are).

Getting back to Star Wars, the picture of The Force as presented by George Lucas doesn’t seem to show the ultimate superiority of the light over the darkness. In this respect, this simply shows the choice of the founder of the mythos to create his own fictional universe in a way he chooses. This does not reflect back upon Eastern and New Age spirituality though. This is art imitating life, and one cannot then turn it around and criticize life on the basis of art.

There are indeed some amongst the vast world of ideas that do indeed claim that reality is fundamentally amoral, or morally neutral. From what I can see, it is largely those that seek to practice the black arts (whether or not they have any real, objective power) that espouse such views. That is, it is only really occultists and sorcerers that operate without any sense of right or wrong that seek to justify their beliefs and actions with such a philosophy. I believe that Anton LaVey is well know to have claimed that there is but one power in the universe, and that those that seek to only use it for light are fooling themselves into creating a false dichotomy, deluding themselves into thinking they are different from those that are happy to call on occult forces to harm others. LaVey does not speak for the spiritual community at large though; his was not the voice of Eastern philosophy or the New Age community as a whole.

One can argue as to whether strictly pantheistic worldviews believed in a moral purity behind the apparent duality of life. Such things are indeed up for debate. Perennialism and general Eastern philosophy are not merely strict pantheism however, though pantheism is part of their explanation of reality. I do know of many amateur philosophers that likewise espouse a form of moral neutrality. I would question how many of them have truly attempted to construct a systematic worldview. It is fine to speculate, but I am not convinced that such worldviews have truly been completely thought out.

Anyways, my point is that those that seek to artificially deride other religions have at times directly misused analogies from Star Wars in applying to real-life religions and spiritual philosophy. Let us remember that fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

May The Force be with you, always.

James

Advertisements

On interpretations of Scripture: Why many religious conservatives and progressives misread ancient texts, and misunderstand religion in general:

Note:

The following is a (somewhat) condensed adaption of a recent add-on I wrote for my upcoming book “The Web Unwoven”, the last extra material I wanted to add prior to publication. My original version of The Web Unwoven featured an in-depth discussion of Jewish and Christian origins and the nature of the Bible as a whole. However, the entire text ended up around 1,000 pages, which I felt was fairly well unreadable, so I eventually separated the text into two halves, the first of which I will publish shortly specifically on comparative religion, and the second half which I will later re-write and seek to publish separately.

Whilst reviewing part 1 (on comparative religion) I felt that I needed to put back in a (relatively) short discussion of the actual problems within some religious scriptures, and the way that people seek to view and interpret these texts. I feel it is fundamental to understanding comparative religion and religious pluralism properly. Hence, I feel that this is perhaps one of the most important sub-topics on which I can write (or speak). I believe that reviewing religious texts as they are will naturally refute the far left and right perspectives on comparative religion, and naturally push both ends towards the centre. Hence, this article summarizes a subject which I believe is central to why we are not currently resolving the problems inherent in religion, and I hope that it offers a solution and a way forward.

Please note that this article touches on things that really tend to upset a lot of people on both sides of the religious spectrum. Please understand that I do not seek to go about offending people, and that I do not take any pleasure from doing so. However, I think it is important to speak out on important issues, and I believe that the conclusions that I am laying forth here are well founded. There is no need for this to be taken personally. When I make strong claims about certain views being untenable, misinformed or simply due to attachment and bias, I do not mean to denigrate individuals that hold such views. We human beings are complex creatures and we have a myriad of different strengths and weaknesses. I know of many people that will hold the views of which I am seeking to refute, who have great strengths in areas where I am personally weak. So again, this doesn’t have to be personal.

Summary:

Religious conservatives frequently attempt to portray their scripture of choice as a flawless, divinely inspired work, whilst attempting to portray holy texts of other faiths in the worst possible light. Alternatively, religious progressives generally attempt to portray all holy texts as genuinely inspired texts that all teach the same philosophy. Hence, when critics point out obvious flaws in these scriptures, both religious conservatives and progressives attempt to argue that the critics are taking the text out of context (with the difference being that conservatives will only defend their own text, whilst progressives will generally defend all of them).

These approaches correspond directly with the overall views of comparative religion as taken by conservatives and progressives. Conservatives generally believe that their faith alone is good and true, whilst all others are evil and false, whilst progressives generally believe that all religions are equally good and true. As a result of this, both sides attempt to make the evidence fit their presuppositions, rather than considering the evidence as it actually stands. This approach has a long history through many cultures, in which human beings become psychologically attached (or even addicted) to particular texts and give them divine status, from which they attempt to defend such texts against any criticism and refuse to acknowledge the actual content of such texts in the context of how they were originally conceived.

If we actually approach the interpretation of holy texts without any presuppositions, we can see that there is a great diversity amongst the world’s scriptures, though I would argue that we can still indeed see a universal philosophy as the highest-common denominator between them. If we approach each text on its own merits, we can see that many of the criticisms of ancient religious texts are indeed legitimate (and are not simply the case of less mature believers twisting the tenets of a faith). Hence, I believe that genuine spiritual seekers should denounce the divine status of such texts. Likewise however, not all religious texts suffer equally from these flaws, and whilst some are the product of primitive superstitious minds, others espouse a sublime philosophy capable of leading a genuine seeker towards true liberation.

Whilst conservatives are correct that not all religions are equal or identical, and that they do contain mutually exclusive concepts, their general conclusion that there is one true faith at the exclusion of all others is completely untenable. On the other hand, whilst the common approach of progressives to proclaim all faiths pure and equal is also untenable, an honest investigation of comparative religion will indeed result in the conclusion that spirituality is truly universal, and no single faith or text can claim exclusive rights to truth. However, examining the world’s scriptures on their own merit will lead to the conclusion that we must differentiate between genuine spiritual insights and backwards superstitions.

Main Article:

Anyone that has ever been involved in debating religion knows that it is common for people to claim that their sacred text is being misquoted, or taken out of context whenever someone criticises some aspect of it. Practically everyone does this. The question is whether this is sometimes true, and if so, how do we differentiate times when it is from other times when it is not?

Obviously we must attempt to consider the facts on a case-by-case basis, and leave personal biases at the door. It is vital that we form our opinions on the basis of the facts, rather than trying to make the facts fit our preconceived opinions. Obviously religious literature contains a mixture of historical or pseudo-historical narratives, ancient law, mythology, allegory, poetry, philosophy and metaphysics. Once cannot simply read all religious texts in the same manner; however I would argue that it is usually fairly easy to determine which texts should be read in which manner.

A common problem that we face here is that human beings typically become psychologically attached to religions and sacred scriptures as wholes, and find it hard (or even impossible) to differentiate different features of said religion or scripture which may be true, from others, which may not. That is, we typically elevate our faith and scripture of choice to a divine status, and refuse to acknowledge its true strengths and weakness. Rather, we reject contrary views out of hand, as if the very fact that someone is not of the same persuasion as us renders their opinion ideologically biased, and thus mute.

The fickleness of the Greek gods and the evolution of Yahweh:

This behaviour has a long history, from ancient Israel and the classical Greek Empire, through to the Christian and Muslim worlds. Likewise, the same can also be found in the East, with the elevation of the Vedas to divine status within orthodox Hinduism, amongst other examples. The Homeric writings were held in high esteem in ancient Greece, to the point that the Greeks encountered natural problems as their own ethical ideals and conceptions of divinity transcended the norms of Homers time. In the Homeric works the gods were portrayed as fickle and harsh, with little genuine concern for human suffering, and this largely reflected social norms of the time (which were likewise found in other nations and cultures). However, the elite Greek philosophers of the 6th century BCE onwards held to higher ideals, to a universal morality and a more transcendent conception of Deity.

This produced problems in relation to the content of the Homeric works, as their content didn’t match with the new emerging ethical and spiritual ideals. As a result, prominent Greek intellectuals started to project their newer ideals back onto the Homeric texts, and sought to reinterpret them in light of the new standards. So, the mistake that some of the ancient Greeks made was to give (almost) divine status to the Homeric texts, to consider them to be flawless and beyond critique. As their own morality and metaphysics evolved, they didn’t face up to the challenges of the Homeric texts, and rather than accept them as simply being important works of classical literature, they tried to see them as they wished they were, rather than how they actually were.

We see a very similar situation with regards to the Hebrew Bible. That is, the Tanakh reflects the religious and social norms of the time and place in which it was conceived, leaving much room for critics to point out legitimate flaws in its theology, narrative and law. Whilst conservative Christians try to see Yahweh in the same conception throughout the Bible, mainstream Biblical scholarship recognises that the conception of Yahweh evolved over time, from originally being a tribal god – one of many sons of the supreme Canaanite deity El – into merging with El as the highest God in their pantheon, and later into a transcendent, universal conception of God.

The Hebrew Bible condones and mandates full-blown slavery[i], presents women as the property of men[ii], condones cultural genocide (including the slaughter of women and children), presents God as frequently lashing out against mankind in murderous rampages, demands the death penalty for all manner of trivial affairs, mandates a form of theocratic government in which there was no religious freedom, and it attests to the practice of human sacrifice in conflicting terms[iii]. Yahweh is presented for the most part in quite unflattering terms: As jealous, vengeful, petty and fickle.

Throughout much of the Tanakh we see the general theology of the text as a whole played out in the narratives that are told. We see a correspondence between the law sections and the stories of the Hebrews, whereby the laws are applied, often in a literal manner. Likewise, the general theology of the Tanakh – whereby Yahweh is thought to bless the Hebrews for obeying his covenant, and curse them when they break it and worship other gods – is likewise played out in the narratives themselves. So, we see a direct relationship between the laws, prophecies and the historical (or pseudo-historical) narratives within the text. For this reasons, mainstream Biblical scholarship largely accepts much of the laws and narratives in the Tanakh as being intended for a fairly literal reading (even if they reject the full historicity of the narratives in question), and see them in their historical context as being largely par for the course in the ancient Near East.

However, in due course Jewish culture developed, partially through the natural process whereby cultures evolve by themselves, and also due to their close contact with neighbouring civilizations and foreign invaders (Persian, Greek and Roman). At the turn of the Common Era we encounter Philo of Alexandria, a prolific writer and philosopher from the centre of Greek culture and learning at the time. Philo synthesized Greek philosophy with traditional Judaism, seeking to portray Judaism as a contemporary to the highest metaphysics of the Hellenistic world. However, as is typically the case, Philo did not see himself as changing Judaism, as reinterpreting it or merging it with Greek philosophical monotheism. Rather, he saw himself as explaining the true nature of the Hebrew scriptures.

Following in the manner of Philo came an abundance of Christian philosophers and theologians, who likewise reinterpreted the Hebrew scriptures to attempt to make it fit their own needs. That is, they claimed that the Jews themselves had misread much of their own scriptures, they mined the Hebrew scriptures for anything that they could reinterpret as prophetic of Christ, and one can argue that they blended the theology of the Hebrew bible with that of contemporary Greek philosophy.

Obviously there is much allegory in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. Psalms and the Song of Solomon are spiritual poetry, Daniel is filled with allegorical imagery, and the prophecies of Isaiah are also open for interpretation. Likewise, the Gospels themselves are filled with parables and the Epistles are somewhat open for interpretation as to the original theological and historical context of these letters. And obviously the Book of Revelation is filled with allegorical imagery that cannot be read in a strictly literal manner.  However, the fact remains that the allegorical excuse cannot be applied to the Bible as a whole. Let us now have a brief look at some of the specific problems with the Hebrew Bible.

Ethical problems within the Bible:

(Please note my previous article where I recommended my readers to check out Thom Stark’s online response to Paul Copan titled “Is God a Moral Compromiser?” for a detailed examination of this sub-topic[iv].)

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”[v]

In the above passage it is said that slaves are literarily the property of the slave owner, and a distinction is made between foreign slaves who can be ruled harshly, and Israelite slaves, which cannot be treated in the same way. There were provisions for Hebrew slaves to be released after six years (as with other ANE nations); however no such provisions applied to foreign slaves, who were seen as mere chattel. So, just as with slavery in the southern US states prior to the American civil war, a distinction was made between citizens of the nation that were granted basic human rights, and those outside the nation that were not.

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property (or money).”[vi]

Whilst some Christian apologists have been known to present this passage as showing that Hebrews weren’t allowed to mistreat their slaves, the exact opposite is indeed the case. Rather, the above passage shows that Hebrews were legally entitled to beat their slaves to a pulp, as long as they “recovered” after a few days, as the slave was their possession.

Furthermore, women in general were also treated as the property of men, who could literarily own a woman just as they could own a slave or animal. Critics of the Bible have long pointed to the rape laws in Deuteronomy 22 to highlight the injustices of Biblical law:

“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives”.[vii]

So, if a woman is not married (or pledged to be) and is violated, her rapist is “punished” by being forced to marry her, and she likewise has no choice but to marry him. To our modern sensibilities this seems to go against basic reason, but to the culture from which this emerged there was a simple logic behind this, as can be seen in the other verses from Deuteronomy 22:13-30 (read it all for yourself). The common logic throughout this section is that if a woman is violated then a property offence has been committed against her “owner”; either her father (if she is unmarried) or her husband. In the above cited passage from Deuteronomy 22:28-29, the rapist is forced to pay the dowry to the woman’s owner (her father), as his property was violated and he would no longer be able to fetch the price from his property that it was worth (the dowry upon marriage), not to mention that other potential husbands would not accept her, as she was no longer a virgin.

Of course, conservative Christian apologists have tried various tricks to attempt to defend the text. However, they all fall apart on close examination. Paul Copan has tried to argue that the passage cited above does not refer to rape, but merely consensual extra-marital sex. Thom Stark however pointed out that the Hebrew word used in the passage explicitly refers to the taking of something by force[viii]. Likewise, J.P. Holding has also tried the same erroneous argument[ix], as well as a number of other responses that stretch things even further. For example, Holding has also argued that the rape victim may have wanted to marry her rapist[x], and he has also argued that similar laws that are found in other cultures have been found to “hold the culture together”[xi].

Whilst on the subject, we should also mention that the Hebrew Bible also contains many examples of the Hebrews capturing “virgins” (pre-pubescent girls) as the spoils of war, or even simply because they “needed” them! In possibly one of the very worst segments of the Bible as a whole, Judges 21:10-24 tells a disturbing account of the Israelites complaining to Yahweh that they don’t have enough wives for all of them.  So Yahweh tells them to wait by the roadside until some virgins come past, and then leap out and grab them. The parent’s of the young girls complain to the Israelites, but the Israelites explain in response that they “needed them”. Likewise, multiple passages refer to the Israelites taking women (sometimes specifically referenced as virgins) as the spoils of war[xii], again with the blessing of Yahweh.

Another common criticism of the Hebrew Bible is that it presents Yahweh either ordering the murder of women and children (not to mentioned the indiscriminate massacre of adult men) in war narratives, or performing the massacre himself by supernatural means. For example, in the well-known story of Jericho we read:

“When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it; men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.[xiii]

Similar things are found throughout Joshua and Judges, and although we should note that there are good reasons for doubting the historicity of the accounts, the texts are clearly attempting to present a (pseudo) historical narrative, hence we may therefore still judge the morality of the text as it reads.

A number of Christian scholars/apologists have argued that the frequent commands to murder all women, children and animals along with adult men was simply typical ANE hyperbole, and that in such instances only the enemy soldiers (adult men) were actually killed. However, various examples from the Tanakh itself differentiate between civilians (women and children) and soldiers (adult men), thus refuting such apologetic claims. For example, Deuteronomy 20:10-18 makes a differentiation between how the Hebrews were to treat the “plunder” (women, children, livestock and treasures etc.) they took as part of their conquests, depending on whether or not the city was far away from them and not part of their neighboring nations that Yahweh had commanded them to take:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves…This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. 

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you…”.

So, there is no possible way to argue that in the second example the text does not explicitly command that women, children and livestock are to be killed along with adult men.

Likewise, in Judges 20 the Israelite tribes attacked a fellow Israelite tribe (the Benjamites) for failing to hand over some rapists, and killed nearly all the Benjamite soldiers, and all of the women and children.  Just to confirm that all the women and children really were killed in the story and it wasn’t merely ANE hyperbole, the next chapter (21) shows the Israelites being concerned for how the surviving Benjamite soldiers were to find wives, as they themselves had sworn an oath not to give them any of their own daughters, and all the women (young and old) had been killed. So they decided to attack another Israelite town (that hadn’t participated in the Benjamite massacre), murdered everyone except for virgin women and then brought the virgins to the surviving Benjamites as wives. So again, in the above example there is no possible way that the original massacre of the Benjamites could not have included women and children, as the rest of the story is dependent upon this being the case (and we should mention that the entire story is just rotten).

1 Samuel 15 tells of Saul being commanded (by Yahweh, through the prophet Samuel) to attack the Amalekites, being told:

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”[xiv]

So Saul attacked the Amalekites:

“…and all his (the kings) people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag (the king) and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs…”.[xv]

This angers Yahweh, because he had commanded Saul to kill everything, so Yahweh sends his prophet Samuel to rebuke Saul and to tell him that Yahweh regrets making him king. So again, contrary to claims that these passages shouldn’t be read literarily we have a case where the Israelites get into trouble with Yahweh for not taking his command to kill everything literarily.

And then we have Numbers 31:1-18, which tells of the Israelites going into battle against the Midianites, killing all the men and taking all the plunder (which is explicitly said to include people and animals) back to camp with them. However, Moses cracks it with them when they arrive:

““Have you allowed the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who…enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord…Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

So yeah, let us not entertain any apologetic claims that the Hebrew Bible doesn’t really mean to imply that the Israelites really killed civilian women and children along with male soldiers. And let us remember that in many, many passages, the command to kill women and children apparently comes directly from Yahweh, and that many of the laws (which were likewise regarded as handed directly from Yahweh) also command the destruction of civilians in war.

And then of course, there are various laws that demand death for things that we can argue were not really crimes (or not worthy of death):

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman…They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.[xvi]

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town…Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.[xvii]

Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death.[xviii]

Do not allow a sorceress to live.[xix]

A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their one heads.[xx]

“…Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death.

All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.[xxi]

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods”…you must not listen to the words of that prophet…That prophet or dreamer must be put to death…If your own brother…secretly entices you, saying “let us go and worship other gods”…Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death…If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods”, then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true…you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. [xxii]

And just to be clear; these are not isolated examples. Rather, these kinds of passages are found throughout the Hebrew Bible, and the above is only a very short list.

Again, in response to Christians who claim that such things were never meant to be taken literarily, I present the following example to show that at the very least, in some cases, such passages were indeed intended to be read literarily. Exodus 31:14 reads as follows:

Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.”

An example of this law being applied in practice can be shown in Numbers 15:32-36:

While the Israelites were in the wilderness a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

There are also examples in the Bible of Yahweh employing supernatural power to murder people for trivial things. In 2 Kings 2:23-24 we read the following:

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

This story seeks to illustrate the message that to mock one of Yahweh’s prophets is to mock Yahweh, and that Yahweh will have his revenge. Again, this is wholly consistent with the theology of the ancient Hebrews, as attested throughout the text. Without any supportive evidence (and contrary to all evidence), many Christian apologists (such as J.P. Holding) have argued that the above was simply a tale of some youths first harassing Elisha, and then attacking some bears, after which some of the youths were injured (or killed). To refute these claims by Christian apologists that we are misreading the text, take note of a very similar story in 1 Kings 20:35-36:

By the word of the Lord one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” be he refused. So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the Lord, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him.

Again, the point of this story was that Yahweh’s prophets must be obeyed as the voice of Yahweh himself, and anyone that defies Yahweh will die. We can therefore see how erroneous it is to attempt to defend the Biblical text, whether that be from conservative Christian apologists or even liberal, Eastern or New Age sources, who may also attempt an allegorical, mystical reading of the text to suit their needs.

So, we can see that critics are indeed correct in their critiques of the Hebrew Bible, and that it is actually those seeking to defend it that are twisting it with egregious misinterpretations in attempting to preserve it’s reputation. So, it is quite clear that the Bible has enormous moral issues.

Ethical problems with the Koran:

Similar problems are also found within the Koran. Two of the primary themes of the Koran are strictly exclusive monotheism (with dire consequences for those outside the faith) and a coming day of judgment in which sinners/non-Muslims will be condemned to eternal torment. For example:

“…then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.” 2:24

And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” 2:39

Yes, whoever earns evil and his sin has encompassed him – those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” 2:81

And whoever disbelieves…I will force him to the punishment of the Fire, and wretched is the destination.” 2:126

Those who followed will say, “If only we had another turn (at worldly life) so we could disassociate ourselves from them (those who worship other gods)”…And they are never to emerge from the Fire.” 2:167

Indeed, they who conceal what Allah has sent down of the Book…those consume not into their bellies except the Fire. And Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection…And they will have a painful punishment…How patient they are in pursuit of the Fire! That is (deserved by them)…” 2:174-176

Indeed, those who disbelieve…And it is they who are fuel for the Fire.” 3:10

And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers.” 3:131

We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve…And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers.” 3:151

Allah has certainly heard the statement of those (Jews) who said, “Indeed, Allah is poor, while we are rich.” We…will say, “Taste the punishment of the Burning Fire.” 3.181

And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger…He will put him into the Fire to abide eternally therein, and he will have a humiliating punishment.” 4:14

Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.” 4:56

But those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those are the companions of Hellfire.” 5:10

They will wish to get out of the Fire, but never are they to emerge therefrom, and for them is an enduring punishment.” 5:37

Indeed, he who associates others with Allah (anyone who ascribes divinity to any other being or god)…his refuge is the Fire.” 5:72

But those who disbelieved and denied Our signs – they are the companions of Hellfire.” 5:8

But the ones who deny Our verses…those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” 7:36

…indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. “That (is yours), so taste it.” And indeed for the disbelievers is the punishment of Fire.” 8:14

And if you could but see when the angels take the souls of those who disbelieved…They are striking their faces and their backs and (saying), “Taste the punishment of the Burning Fire.” 8:50

And of course, this is only a small sample. These passages are found throughout the Koran, and they are a defining element of it. Likewise, many passages urge Muslims to fight and forcibly convert others:

O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination.” 9:73

And when We intend to destroy a city, We command its affluent but they defiantly disobey therein; so the word comes into effect upon it, and We destroy it with (complete) destruction.” 17:16

And let not those who disbelieve think they will escape. Indeed, they will not cause failure (to Allah). And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy…” 8:59-60.

Fight against those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth (Islam) from those who were given the Scripture – (fight) until they give the jizyah (tax) willingly while they are humbled…May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?” 9:29-30

And when the sacred months have passed, the kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush”. 9:5

The passage directly above (9:5) clearly establishes that the Koran is not merely speaking of self-defense, but rather of offensive war against unbelievers. The passage goes on to say that if they should repent, convert and pay a tax they can be spared, after which it says, “Allah is forgiving and merciful”. So, when apologists claim that the Koran teaches forgiveness and mercy, this is the context in which it speaks.

Apologists and other defenders of Islam often claim that such passages are speaking of a spiritual struggle, as in purging the ignorance and hatred from oneself. However, to argue such a thing is to ignore the context of the Koran as a whole, as these verses are found repeatedly throughout the work. Furthermore, these passages reflect the historical reality in which Mohammad lived. The late great Perennialist Huston Smith argued in his book “Islam: A concise introduction”[xxiii] that Mohammad unified a previously war-torn Arabia, fighting only out of necessity for survival. However, history tells us that Islam has repeatedly sought to expand its power and bring the world’s nations and their people into submission to its totalitarian rule.

As with the problems inherent in the Bible, giving divine status to these texts takes a snapshot of human barbarity and makes it sacred, to be kept alive and passed down to future generations. Certainly, Mohammad himself preached a doctrine of judgment and hellfire, he himself held to the cultural norms of the day in regards to women (in which they were most certainly not treated as equals), he insisted repeatedly that no form of religion other than that which he himself preached was acceptable[xxiv], and Mohammad and continuous generations after him initiated war against people of practically all lands and faiths, seeking to establish a theocratic Islamic kingdom across the globe.

Obviously this doesn’t make all Muslims bad people; likewise criticisms of the Tanakh are not the same as anti-Semitism, and criticism of Christianity doesn’t denigrate Christians as people. However, it is vital that we recognize when there is a link between the actual content of religious texts and the problems that we see with the behavior of some of those who hold such texts to be sacred. Many religious liberals seem to believe that we can denounce bigotry whilst simultaneously upholding the Bible and Koran as they stand. I can only point out that this makes no sense, and this approach is destined to fail.

Many people have managed to avoid facing the issues inherent in various religious texts by convincing themselves that their critics are simply motivated by ignorance, bigotry and bias. However, even if someone is incorrect about many topics, it does not mean that everything they claim is incorrect by means of association. It is not hard in this day and age to get access to a translation of a sacred text in most languages. Therefore, there is no excuse now for being unaware of the actual content of these texts.

New revelations on the apocalypse of St. John:

Before moving on, I’d like to quickly point out that whilst most moral criticisms of the Bible relate to the Old Testament, there are some issues in the NT as well, most notably in the Apocalypse of St. John (Revelation). There are a number of different traditional views on the interpretation of Revelation, and many New Age authors have recently given their own opinions on this matter. However, upon a quick examination of the relevant facts, any informed and unbiased observer should be able to clearly identify what the text is largely about.

Aside from its introduction (which is largely an anti-heretical polemic), Revelation is a nightmarish recollection of visions, portraying a cosmic battle preceding the end of the world. Without a shadow of a doubt, Revelations was an outpouring of anger and hatred towards the Roman Empire, in hope of divine revenge as compensation for the hard times that had fallen upon Jews and/or Christians. Many scholars attribute the persecution of Christians under Domitian (81-96 CE) as the primary cause of the anger of the author/s, though the motivating cause could easily have been (possible) persecutions under Nero (60 CE), or even the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Either way, an objective reader must conclude that the author of the visions was largely motivated by the desire for revenge against the Romans.

Whilst the visions contain a vast number of symbols (of which the precise meaning are open for interpretation), there are a number of symbols that explicitly link the visions to the Roman Empire in the first century CE. Revelations 17 refers to the “whore of Babylon” as a clear code for the Roman Empire (Rome and the Roman Empire as a whole were often depicted as a woman – Roma[xxv]), saying she was “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus[xxvi]. Revelation contains many common symbols with the Book of Daniel, which presents itself as being written during the Babylonian captivity[xxvii]. The Roman Empire fulfilled the same role relative to Jews and Christians in the 1st century, given that Judea was under Roman rule, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE after 3 years of war, and Christians were alleged to have been persecuted by a number of Roman emperors. A number of other Jewish/Christian texts from the same period likewise use the same metaphor[xxviii], one example even being found in the NT itself (1 Peter 5:13).

Likewise, Revelations 17:18 states that the whore of Babylon is “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (clearly Rome, given that it was the center of the most powerful Empire in the world at the time), and 17:9 states that the woman sits on seven hills, referring to the seven hills of Rome[xxix]. Furthermore, the infamous passage about 666 being the number of the beast was almost certainly a reference to Emperor Nero. Jewish people had a numerological practice called gematria, in which letters were given numerical value. Nero Caesar’s name thus becomes the number 666 in its Hebrew transliteration from the Greek, whilst the Hebrew transliteration from the Latin becomes 616, which is attested in a number of manuscript variants as being the number of the beast. Likewise, Revelation 17:10-11 refers to seven kings, five of which have fallen, noting “the beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king”. Whilst the exact reading of this is complex, the seven (and five fallen) kings are almost certainly the Roman Emperors[xxx], and the reference to the Beast here references a legend in which it was thought that Nero would return from the dead.

Furthermore, the “mark of the Beast” almost certainly refers to the image of the Emperor on Roman coins, which was essential for trading in the Roman Empire. The Jewish prohibition against idolatry in the Ten Commandments[xxxi] was considered by many to include the images of faces on coins, hence simply using Roman coins could have been considered idolatry under Jewish law, and during the first Jewish-Roman war (under Nero) the Jews revolted and coined their own money, which did not feature any human faces on them. Furthermore, the “image of the beast” which men were forced to worship in Revelations 13:14-16 probably refers to the Roman Imperial cult, in which Roman Emperors were seen as gods, and the population were legally compelled to worship them and offer sacrifices to them. All of this combined means that there really isn’t much in the way of doubt that the author was indeed literarily speaking of the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE, and there are no shortages of sources that have reached this conclusion, dating back to the 2nd century CE[xxxii].

Now that we have dealt with the interpretation side of things, we may now consider the moral nature of the text itself. As a whole, Revelation is a nightmare of gruesome imagery, of supernatural entities torturing humanity:

Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake…The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died…[xxxiii]

And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.[xxxiv]

And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind…A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulphur…[xxxv]

If anyone worships the beast…They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presences of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night….[xxxvi]

The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath…and blood flowed out of the press…[xxxvii]

The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast…The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood…and every living thing in the sea died…The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire…God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath….From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds fell on people…[xxxviii]

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth…But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.[xxxix]

The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.[xl]

New Age authors James Redfield and Eckhart Tolle have attempted to present Revelation in terms of a coming golden age, in which large portions of humanity become spiritually awakened, and thus create a “New Earth”. Likewise, Edgar Cayce also offered an interpretation of Revelation as relating to the various stages and processes of spiritual evolution within an individual, and humanity at large. Whilst I admire Cayce, Redfield and Tolle (and particularly recommend Tolle as essential reading on psychology and spirituality), their readings of Revelation are quite simply untenable. Trying to imagine that Revelation is a spiritual allegory is like arguing that a horror movie is actually a love story.

Here is the part that so many people do not seem to understand:

Recognizing Cayce, Redfield and Tolle as overall preaching legitimate spiritual truths does not necessarily mean that we have to by association, accept every single view that they gave. Likewise, rejecting their perspectives on Revelation does not mean that we have to reject their overall worldview. Rather, we need to be careful that when we ascribe a somewhat enlightened status to someone, that we do not therefore abandon reason, and simply side with them on particular sub-topics whereby it is quite clear that they are simply wrong.

Can’t it all just be allegorical?

In the face of the above, many will still argue that the Bible and the Koran are allegorical, and that the primitive, violent language and imagery is simply allegories for the struggles of the soul. Many progressives respond to critiques of religious scriptures by stating that such critics shouldn’t simply believe everything the media tells them, as if it were only highly biased, tabloid conservative media that make these cases, contrary to what they encounter from liberal academics. We can however be honest about the reality of world religions and scriptures without condoning the overall methodology and conclusions of those that commonly are vocal in pointing out the flaws in various religions.

Claims that religious texts are allegorical can only go so far. One could seek to extrapolate the same methodology onto any text and thus conclude that it actually means the opposite of what it presents. Perhaps “50 Shades of Grey” is an allegory for a healthy, respectful relationship? Maybe “The Communist Manifesto” was a satirical critique of socialism, and perhaps Ayn Rand was a closet communist? Obviously, such things are utterly ridiculous. The same is true of the misuse of the allegory argument, which has now amounted to a blanket excuse for the flaws of many a religious text.

Obviously, people are free to believe as they wish, and I don’t wish to come across as being overtly harsh as to other people’s spiritual beliefs. I know many wonderful people who hold these common liberal views on religion (and I generally commend such people for rejecting religious fundamentalism). Ultimately my goal here is to counter religious exclusivity and to promote a more open, tolerant perspective on spirituality and world religion. However again, the reason why I also critique the current progressive approach is because it is clearly flawed, and it is preventing further progress. Religious liberals and those amongst the “spiritual, not religious” crowd should not take offense at this, as I believe that I am on their side. Rather, I wish to show how we can be far more effective, in taking a truly informed perspective on world religion, in order to lay the foundation for lasting religious reformation.

The difference between criticisms of other faiths and religious scriptures relative to the Abrahamic faiths:

A common claim made by fellow progressives is that the problems associated with Christianity and Islam are not specific to these faiths, but rather are shared equally by all faiths. I understand that many people believe that this sounds like a tolerant and mature perspective on world religion; the problem is that it is categorically false. The Tao Te Ching does not have a single passage that could possibly be read in a light comparable to the issues with the Bible or the Koran. I have never seen anybody quote a single passage from one of the many Buddhist sutras that compares in any way to the problems of the Abrahamic scriptures.

Amongst the vast Vedic library there are indeed some problematic passages, such as those that discuss the Indian caste system, or the place of women. Likewise, there are some Tantric practices that are quite challenging, of which we may find somewhat disgusting. However, again, I have never seen any evidence of issues in the vast Vedic library comparable to those found in the Bible and Koran. Rather, whilst there are legitimate criticisms to be made of some aspects of Indian religion and culture (which are reflected in some Indian texts), such issues are not of the same scale as those relevant to the Abrahamic faiths.

In seeking to present Buddhism as having the same potential for violence and other misuse as Christianity and Islam, many people have raised the example of the role of Zen Buddhism in WW2 Japan. Whilst it is indeed true that many Buddhist Temples were openly supportive of the Japanese governments war efforts, this doesn’t mean in any way that Buddhism was responsible for the military aggression and general wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese during WW2.

In his book “Zen at War”, Brian Daizen Victoria discussed various aspects of Buddhism that were adapted by the Japanese government in favor of their war effort. However, unlike the relative problems of the Abrahamic faiths, the most that could be produced was the emphasis of Buddhism on person spiritual development (rather than social activism), with teachings on inner peace and the acceptance of things as they are possibly leading to a failure of Japanese Buddhists to stand against their government. As far as I am aware, there aren’t any Zen Buddhist sutras that can be cited in favor of violence or other injustices. Rather, we just have the case that unfortunately the presence of a spiritual tradition within a culture did not prevent the people of that culture from being swept up in violence and injustice.

A similar situation is found in relation to Christianity in Nazi Germany. That being, WW2 Germany was predominantly a Christian nation. It is difficult to pin down the precise religious views of the Nazi party as a whole, as there are a complex mixture of different elements at play, and one will encounter a range of different opinions on the topic[xli]. Certainly at some times the Nazi party was professed to be Christian, as it presented its own form of anti-Semitic Christianity: Positive Christianity (which, by the measures of orthodoxy was certainly heterodox). Likewise, there were a number of prominent occultists within the Nazi ranks. However, it seems that by and large, the Nazi party were predominantly driven by racial and nationalistic ideology, though of course religious views naturally come into that mix.

In many respects the Nazi party waged a war against Christian churches, as part of broader measures that persecuted various peoples and organizations. However, the fact remains that the majority of Christians in WW2 Germany were either supportive of Hitler or passively complicit to the atrocities committed by the ruling Nazi party. Most members of the Nazi party and German soldiers considered themselves to be Christians (even if one can argue that their actions were not generally consistent with the teachings of Christ). There was a small percentage of Christians in Nazi held territories that were involved in hiding Jewish people and helping them escape. However, by and large, the moral teachings of Christianity did not lead to a widespread resistance against the Nazis by German Christians.

Here’s the thing, we don’t blame Christianity for Hitler, and neither do we have any right to blame Zen for Japan’s WW2 activities. Christianity has long had association with religious anti-Semitism (or more correctly, Jew hatred), with the Protestant reformer Martin Luther being a prominent figure in its development (not to mention many early Church fathers), and the NT shows mixed views in regards to the Jewish people. However, one can legitimately cite various NT passages as preaching love and compassion, and thus opposing the atrocities committed by WW2 Germany. Therefore, one simply cannot blame the Holocaust (and other atrocities committed by Nazi Germany) upon Christianity.

Hence, we can see that the military aggression and general atrocities of Japan and Germany during WW2 and their relationship to Zen and Christianity are a different category by comparison to the previously raised issues within the Bible and Koran. That is, we are not applying a double standard here. Rather, we are simply differentiating different cases whereby in some cases the religion (and religious scripture) explicitly promotes the injustices in question, and other in which they do not.

An example that is often raised by conservative Christians in their attempts to present Hinduism as a dark, demonic religion is that of the Hindu goddess Kali, and the atrocities that have been committed in her honor. Presented as a fierce, bloodthirsty deity with a garland of skulls hanging around her neck, the goddess Kali is presented in Hinduism as a representation of the destructive power of nature, and a divine power that destroys demons (which is often interpreted allegorically as destroying ignorance). In this sense, Kali is more akin to a Biblical angel of death than an evil spirit or deity, as the wrath of Kali is pretty much always directed at forces of evil. Mythological tales abound of Hindu goddesses transforming into Kali in order to kill demons, hence showing the inherent potential within the divine feminine principle to unleash awesome power to defeat evil.

The well-known movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” featured an Indian Thuggee cult that worshipped Kali and offered human sacrifices to her. Many people seem to think that this is the true face of Hinduism. There were indeed real Thuggee cults in Indian that were associated with the worship of Kali. They were essentially a tribe of professional thieves and murderers, and much of the literature about them claims that they worshipped in front of large statues of Kali. Likewise, in rural India there have been cases whereby sorcerers[xlii] calling themselves Tantriks (practitioners of Tantra) have told their clients to murder people (even infants) as a sacrifice to Kali in order to gain some boon from the goddess.

So, it is indeed true that Kali is represented in fearsome imagery as a bloodthirsty goddess, and that there have indeed been well documented cases of people in India committing atrocities in her name. However, this does not mean that this reveals the true dark nature of Hinduism. The earliest evidence we have for the conception of Kali is as a fierce protector of goodness, a defender of righteousness and enemy of evil (rather than a perpetrator of evil). Only later do we have evidence showing Indian cults and individuals doing evil works in the name of Kali. So, this is indeed a very different kettle of fish to cases whereby the original conception of a deity was as a barbaric tribal deity that incurred divine wrath on all those that defied it, and only later evolved into a benevolent, transcendent and universal deity.

These examples of the Thuggee cult and Tantriks committing (or ordering) atrocities in the name of Kali actually bear the same relationship to orthodox Hinduism as Theistic Satanism has to orthodox Christianity. That is, Theistic Satanism exists within the same overall religious bubble as Christianity, except that it exists as its polar opposite, opposed to all its central tenets. In a similar vein, the Thuggee cult exists within the vast, dynamic and diverse religious world known as Hinduism, yet they likewise defy all the central tenets of orthodox Hinduism (which has always taught strict moral and ethical codes).

In this regard then, using examples of atrocities committed in the name of Kali to try and denigrate Hinduism as a whole would be similar to citing examples of heavy metal obsessed teenagers committing atrocities in the name of Satan to denigrate orthodox Christianity. Obviously the latter is absurd; therefore, so is the former.

Whilst on the topic we should probably mention the Indian Aghori cult, an ascetic Shaivite or Tantrik sect known for their complete rejection of social norms and deliberate seeking out of various taboos. The Aghori’s denounce clothing, smear their (sometimes completely naked) bodies with cremation ash, meditate with corpses and human skulls, and smoke hashish (and/or marijuana) amongst other things. Hence, they deliberately seek to immerse themselves in unclean practices in order to realize the illusionary nature of dualistic opposites, and thus transcend duality and attain the state of liberation to which more orthodox Hindu sects also aim. Now, whilst the various practices of the Aghori may raise our eyebrows, I’m not sure if they are really harming those outside their sect, and we have no way to really assess their personal spiritual attainment.

Again though, it would be extremely misleading to present such examples as indicative of the true nature of Hinduism as a whole. Let us remember that even orthodox Christians have been known to whip themselves in imitation of the suffering of Christ. Likewise, we should note that in their descriptions of various heterodox Christian sects, the early proto-orthodox heresiologists (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Epiphanius et al.) cite various beliefs and practices that would certainly raise the eyebrows of modern readers. Hence, were it not for the state sanctioned purge of heterodox Christianity in the 4th century, we would know Christianity as having a similar degree of diversity to Hinduism, and one would be able to cite Christian (albeit heterodox) examples to parallel that of the Hindu Aghori.

I will certainly concede that the fearsome imagery and mythology surrounding Kali leaves the door open for people to commit atrocities under the guise of religion, citing Kali as their example. Regarding the use of dark and violent symbolism in religion and mythology, I’m not sure where we draw the line, and this is a problem that plagues many different faiths. This is perhaps a topic which should be discussed in more detail elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is a different case to that of the violent imagery found in the Bible and Koran, as in both cases we historical context of the works reveals that they were intended to be read largely in a literal manner.

The problem is of course that religious conservatives are compelled to argue that their sacred scripture alone should be read in the most generous light and that all others should be read in the worst possible way, whilst progressives are likewise generally compelled to argue that all scriptures should be read generously. And of course, people like myself will generally get accused of applying double standards when we attempt to differentiate cases whereby a text actually is bad and directly causes injustices, from other cases whereby a text uses symbolism which is taken out of context and misappropriated to support some aberration in the name of religion, or where atrocities committed by members of a religion are effectively unrelated to the teachings of the religion in question (as was the case regarding Zen and Japan’s WW2 atrocities).

Followers of Aleister Crowley and his religion Thelema often find themselves accused of child sacrifice. In the Thelemic holy book “The Book of the Law”, we find the following:

Now let it be understood that I am a god of War and of Vengeance…I will give you a war-engine. With it ye shall smite the peoples; and none shall stand before you…Worship me with fire & blood; worship me with swords & with spears. Let the woman be girt with a sword before me: let blood flow to my name. Trample down the Heathen; be upon them, o warrior, I will give you of their flesh to eat! Sacrifice cattle, little and big: after a child…Mercy let be off; damn them who pity! Kill and torture; spare not; be upon them! The best blood is of the moon, monthly: then the fresh blood of a child, or dropping from the host of heaven: then of enemies; then of the priest or of the worshippers: last of some beast, no matter what.”[xliii]

Now, that is certainly some nasty sounding stuff above, and if we took it literarily then one would certainly be right to view Crowley and his followers as bloodthirsty practitioners of a barbaric and wicked form of black magic. However, in truth, the above is simply code for sex magic, involving the consummation of menstrual fluids and semen in magical ritual (Crowley used to joke about masturbation as sacrificing children). Ok, so that’s still pretty full on, and I could understand many people still viewing it with repulsion. I have to say that I think Aleister Crowley had a sick sense of humor; not indicative of a spiritually advanced soul. However, it seems debatable as to whether they actually hurt anybody else outside of their own cult (directly at least), so one can certainly argue that their faith is perhaps less offensive than those religions that have indeed used violence against others outside their religion of choice.

I am no big fan of Crowley, and I am not seeking to defend him here. Nevertheless, my point is simply that whilst the above cited passages from The Book of the Law are pretty awful as read straight off the page, we do here have a true example whereby something that seems awful if taken literarily is certainly (at very least) somewhat less so in its true context[xliv].

This is indeed very different to the examples previously cited from the Bible and Koran, as in both cases we do indeed have direct evidence from the pages of history that they were originally intended to be taken literarily. That is, we know that many of the horrible passages from the Bible were intended to be taken as given, by the fact that they simply represented cultural norms of the Ancient Near East, and by the fact that the Bible contains many stories that relate to the relevant laws, showing their literal application. Likewise, the same is true of the Koran. That is, the pages of history tell us how Mohammad himself was said to have acted, along with those that directly followed him. Hence, with the Koran we can see that the atrocities contained within were acted out by those that were directly involved in writing the text itself.

If followers of the Abrahamic faiths are able to bypass and transcend the psychological processes that prevent them from viewing their own faith and sacred text objectively, they will see a completely different reality. Comparatively, the Bible and the Koran are not great texts at all; rather, they contain some of the lowest expressions of human potential in written form[xlv]. It is time for reasonable, intelligent and decent people to recognize the vastly inflated importance that has been given to the Bible and the Koran, and look elsewhere for spiritual and philosophical wisdom, both amongst the myriad of works that have emerged from all over the world over history, and also amongst modern works, many of which are free from the dogmas that have diluted true spirituality across the ages.

A falsehood repeated a thousand times does not become true:

The common and deeply flawed approaches of both conservatives and progressives in relation to religious scriptures are largely held in place through repetition, and because the public at large are dependent upon specialists to direct their opinion. Conservatives have armies of apologists and religious scholars trained from their very own universities that tell them exactly what they want to hear, regardless of what the truth actually is. Conservative academia merely exists to maintain the status quo, to uphold the divine status of the Bible and Koran. Regardless of what evidence and argument is given against them, conservative apologetics always holds their ground.

Likewise, progressives at large are influenced by liberal academics (who are also often university qualified) and otherwise well-meaning spiritual teachers, who tell them that religious scriptures should be upheld, and that we simply need to read them differently. In the cases of the Bible and Koran, liberal Muslims, liberal Christians and New Age spiritual teachers all largely seek to uphold the texts, arguing that all criticisms are the results of misinterpretation, and are largely motivated by bias and bigotry.

In both case, the common apologetics are preventing spiritual seekers from actually examining religious scriptures themselves, and/or accessing unbiased and informed opinions on them. Both conservatives and progressives respond to criticisms of their scripture of choice (or all scriptures for progressives) by viewing the critic as being misinformed by poor journalism and scholarship, driven by ideology and bias. Hence we need to spread the word that there is another option for how to view religious scriptures, and how to apply this perspective to our approach to comparative religion as a whole.

Throughout the 20th century there was an outpouring of Western esotericism and Eastern mysticism through the Western world, with Theosophy, Spiritualism, Edgar Cayce, Dion Fortune etc., through to a great number of Indian sages (Yogananda, Vivekananda et al.). Common to nearly all of them was the attempt to interpret Christianity in light of a Perennial Philosophy (which is basically philosophical Hinduism). As such, many tried to force their interpretations upon the Biblical text, with the sincere belief that they were actually revealing the original truth of the text.

For example, I am a big fan of Paramahansa Yogananda, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Yoganandas guru Sri Yukteswar wrote a book titled “The Holy Science”, in which he argued for the fundamental unity of all religions, in particular focusing on attempting to harmonize the Bible with philosophical Hinduism. Whilst I am personally a big fan of Yogananda, the unfortunate fact is that the view of Jesus and the Bible as a whole taught by him and his guru (Sri Yukteswar) is simply untenable. That is, whilst I am certainly down with their overall philosophy, their perspective on Christianity and its sacred text just cannot possibly be correct. I would like to emphasize the following, as I think it sums up the heart of the problem here:

Unfortunately many people who lean towards Eastern religion or general New Age spirituality can’t seem to accept that they can simultaneously acknowledge someone like Yogananda as a legitimate spiritual teacher, whilst rejecting his perspective on Christianity, as it is incompatible with the relevant data. Whilst Sri Yukteswar was no doubt a great yogi who may indeed have been extremely enlightened, this does not mean that his opinion on absolutely everything must necessarily have been correct.

The truth is that whilst I admire much of what most Eastern and New Age spiritual teachers have taught, very few (if any) of them have actually examined the evidence in question for themselves in relation to many of the world religions they seek to defend. Just to clarify, I am not saying that Eastern and New Age spiritual teachers are completely unfamiliar with world religion. Rather, I am only stating that they are not familiar with the textual and historical evidence that shows that the criticisms launched against some particular faiths are in fact legitimate. Hence, whilst their overall teachings may be good and true, they are largely speaking out of ignorance and wishful thinking when it comes to the problems inherent in many religious texts.

I personally suspect that higher spiritual beings do not attempt to directly overturn human belief systems, but rather leave that to us, and instead try to communicate to us through the context of our sacred beliefs. For example, in his altered states of consciousness Edgar Cayce was not told to abandon Christianity, but rather was told to view Christianity through the filter of Perennialism. Likewise, the same is true of countless people who have had Near-Death experiences, or visions and peak mystical experiences through the practice of meditation, or who have communicated with non-physical beings through mediumship and trance.

It is ironic that so few people within the field of religion itself can actually perceive the true nature of religious scriptures as they as are. Rather, it has often been those outside the field (that being naturalists – atheists) who seem to be some of the only ones able to look at texts such as the Bible and the Koran without presuppositions, and take the texts as they stand. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (amongst others) have all raised very legitimate objections against the Bible and the Koran, and a large percentage of religious people of all persuasions have failed to integrate the truths that they have spoken into their overall worldview (though obviously I disagree with naturalists on more general counts, such as the objective reality of spirituality as a whole).

I believe that the defence of certain religious texts is entirely untenable, and completely lacking in credibility. Now, I realize that the preceding and following statements could certainly be taken as offensive to many. However, we are not discussing the overall worth of human beings here. We are simply discussing whether particular perspectives on ancient religious texts are correct, and it is important that we view the facts without emotional attachment. As such, there are three reasons why such a large percentage of religious believers of various persuasions have taken obviously flawed perspectives on religious texts:

  1. a) The persons in question are simply unaware of the actual content of the text as a whole, the historical context from which it originates, and the ways in which the content of the text has a direct causal relationship with atrocities committed throughout the history of the faith in question. This is true of both progressives and conservatives that hold firm views about the divine status of religious texts (and defend them with fervor), yet have not actually read them for themselves.
  1. b) The persons in question are in fact intimately familiar with the source material in question, yet are so attached to a particular religious perspective that they approach the text/s in question with firm presuppositions, and then attempt to view the text in light of these prior beliefs.
  1. c) The persons in question have some degree of familiarity with a text and the criticisms of it, but they have been swayed by apologetic arguments in its defence from those of the same camp. This applies to conservatives that believe that their texts have survived centuries of attack, thanks to the apologetic responses of conservative Bible scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians. Likewise, this applies equally to progressives who are swayed by university trained liberal academics who tell us that Islam is a religion of peace and that critics of the Koran are motivated by racism and religious bigotry, that the Bible is an allegorical work and that the doctrine of eternal damnation in hell was invented by the Catholic Church in the Middle-Ages

In conclusion:

As a result of this, both sides attempt to make the evidence fit their presuppositions, rather than considering the evidence as it actually stands. This approach has a long history through many cultures, in which human beings become psychologically attached (or even addicted) to particular texts and give them divine status, from which they attempt to defend such texts against any criticism, and refuse to acknowledge the actual content of such texts in the context of how they were originally conceived.

If we actually approach the interpretation of holy texts without any presuppositions, we can see that there is a great diversity amongst the world’s scriptures (though I would argue that we can still see much common ground between them). If we approach each text on its own merits, we can see that many of the criticisms of ancient religious texts are indeed legitimate (and are not simply the case of less mature believers twisting the tenets of a faith). Hence, there is a need for genuine spiritual seekers to denounce the divine status of such texts. Likewise however, not all religious texts suffer equally from these flaws, and whilst some are the product of primitive superstitious minds, others espouse a sublime philosophy capable of leading a genuine seeker towards true liberation.

We can clearly see that the claims of conservatives that their religious scriptures of choice are alone good and pure at the exclusion of all others is completely untenable. Likewise however, the claims of progressives that all the worlds scriptures are equally good and pure and essentially identical in their core message, are equally untenable. However, despite the latter case, I will still argue that an honest investigation of comparative religion will indeed result in the conclusion that spirituality is truly universal and no single faith or text can claim exclusive rights to truth. However, examining the world’s scriptures on their own merit will also lead to the conclusion that we must differentiate between genuine spiritual insights and backwards superstitions.

In light of all of this may I suggest that we should seek to apply the following approach to reading and interpreting religious scriptures. Whilst this approach may seem novel and controversial to many, I would suggest that it is simply common sense:

  1. a) Firstly, we examine different religious texts on a case-by-case basis, and we do not approach them with presuppositions about their nature. That is, we remain open about the nature of a text until we have examined it for ourselves (or weighed up multiple competing views about it), and we remember that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in world religion.
  1. b) Secondly, we remember that even if we take a low opinion about a particular scripture, that it doesn’t necessarily mean that we reject everything that is taught and practiced in the faith in question, nor does it mean that followers of the faith in question are necessarily bad people.
  1. c) Thirdly, just because a faith and culture in general may contain much in the way of dogma and superstition, it doesn’t mean that people within that context cannot still have genuine spiritual experiences. That is, even in a faith that preaches hate, some followers will still find divine love regardless. Likewise, the opposite is still true; even if a faith had been purged of imperfection, human beings would still pollute it with the lower aspect of their nature.
  1. d) Hence, when we encounter examples of mystical streams within larger faiths that are dramatically different to the orthodox forms, we need not conclude that these mystical forms are the original, pure form of the faith. Rather, these may simply be examples of evolution within a religion, rather than a return to their primal state.
  1. e) Ultimately, we can take a critical view on particular religious scriptures (and religions as a whole) whilst still upholding a universal, timeless perspective on world religion and spirituality. That is, Perennial Philosophy does not depend upon all scriptures being pure and equal. Rather, when properly defined, Perennialism should differentiate between spiritual truth and religious dogma, both in the practices and beliefs of a faith, and in the scriptures that they hold sacred.

May we all be honest with ourselves and each other, transforming our inner states and reforming the structures in the world around us.

Peace.

[i] Whilst Christian apologists attempt to twist the source material to present Hebrew slavery as merely a form of employment.

[ii] If a woman was married she was seen as the literal property of her husband, otherwise she belonged to her father.

[iii] That is, portions of the Tanakh believed to be of older origin mandate the sacrifice of first-born male children (and animals), whilst accepting the power of a human sacrifice to gain the assistance of the gods, particularly in war, as well as demanding the literal sacrifice of the spoils of war (including people) to Yahweh. Fortunately, there was a later reformation following Jeremiah in which human sacrifice was denounced outright (regardless of which god it was to), and hence we see evidence of redaction in the Old Testament texts relating to this issue.

[iv] https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/essential-reading-on-the-historical-context-of-moral-issues-with-the-hebrew-bible-thom-starks-is-god-a-moral-compromiser/. Stark’s work can be read at the following: http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf.

[v] Leviticus 25:44-46.

[vi] Exodus 21:20-21.

[vii] Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

[viii] See Thom Stark, “Is God a Moral Compromiser”, pages 133-140.

[ix] In the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJpxUjOzuE, and he also provides a link to the following page: http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/sunday-study-does-the-bible-teach-that-a-rape-victim-has-to-marry-her-rapist.html.

[x]First, our subject objects that the victim may not want to marry the rapist. In modern times this would be a sensible objection; but for the ancients, this was a highly viable and indeed merciful solution…”; http://www.tektonics.org/af/ancientmores.html.

[xi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZv94om4Ry0.

[xii] For example, Numbers 31:7-18 and Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

[xiii] Joshua 6:20-21.

[xiv] 1 Samuel 15:3.

[xv] 1 Samuel 15:7-9.

[xvi] Leviticus 20:13.

[xvii] Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

[xviii] Deuteronomy 17:12.

[xix] Exodus 22:18

[xx] Leviticus 20:27.

[xxi] 2 Chronicles 15:13.

[xxii] Deuteronomy 13. Also Deuteronomy 17:2-5 and Numbers 25:1-9 continue the same theme.

[xxiii] https://www.amazon.com/Islam-Concise-Introduction-Huston-Smith/dp/0060095571.

[xxiv] Though it should be noted that at some points in the Koran, Mohammad somewhat accepted Jews and Christians as part of the same religious tradition as himself. Different passages in the Koran are both positive and negative towards Jews and Christians, though certainly the Koran is absolutely and consistently negative towards all other faiths.

[xxv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_(mythology).

[xxvi] Revelations 17:6.

[xxvii] Though modern scholars have good reason to believe it was actually written in the 2nd century BCE. Nevertheless, the book presents itself as being written during the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE.

[xxviii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whore_of_Babylon#Rome_and_the_Roman_Empire.

[xxix] And a coin from 70 CE shows Rome as a woman sitting on seven hills.

[xxx] The exact calculations are dependent upon both the time at which this verse was originally composed, and whether or not the author counted all of the Emperors from the “Year of the Four Emperor’s”, as the relatively short rules of Galba, Otho and Vitellius may not have been known throughout the kingdom. I cannot comment further on this.

[xxxi] Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 4:15-18.

[xxxii]In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules (the earth) shall be partitioned.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 26:1: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103526.htm.

[xxxiii] Revelation 8:3-9.

[xxxiv] Revelation 9:3-6.

[xxxv] Revelation 9:15-18.

[xxxvi] Revelation 14:9-11.

[xxxvii] Revelation 14:19-20.

[xxxviii] Revelation 16:2-21.

[xxxix] Revelation 20:7-10.

[xl] Revelation 20:12-15.

[xli] Of which I am not going to attempt to unravel.

[xlii] Whether or not they actually possess supernatural power through the practices of black magic, I think it is appropriate to refer to them as sorcerers.

[xliii] Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law, Chapter 3, Verses 3-24.

[xliv] That being, whatever you think of Crowley, surely ceremonial magick involving sex and drugs is ultimately less horrendous than bloodlust and human sacrifice.

[xlv] Though again, they are not wholly bad. Rather, they do of course also contain inspirational passages mixed in, which believers can quote mine in order to paint a rosy picture of their sacred text.

Easter and Spirituality:

For quite some time I have been intending to write articles to deal with the origins and religious significance of Christmas and Easter. Every year like clockwork, out come the articles, videos and memes, some of which give a bad representation of half-truths claiming that Christmas and Easter are both pagan, and the others again giving half of the story in claiming that they are not. At some point I would like to offer my own presentation of the facts on both Christmas and Easter, to try and bring some clarity to the subjects. However, today is not that day.

Rather, today I simply wish to talk about true spirituality and its relationship with the Easter mythos. For Christianity, Easter is a time of both mourning and celebration, for what they believe was the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Christians the death of Jesus was a cosmic sacrifice, God incarnating as a man and taking on the frailty of humanity, suffering and taking on death for the sins of humanity, so that we may be free of sin. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus is seen by Christians as the ultimate triumph, mankind being given the opportunity to share in eternal life through divine grace, accepted through faith in Christ.

Elsewhere I have already written quite a bit on the fact that there were indeed older pagan precedents for the theme of death and resurrection, celebrated at major seasonal markers (as is Easter – being celebrated immediately following the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere), which also associated the devotee with the deity, in order to give eternal life after death[i]. Unfortunately, this reality is still largely denied and derided by both Christian apologists and many secular religious scholars, bringing the field of religious scholarship into disrepute. Anyways, I will not be dwelling on that today.

Rather, I simply wish to speak briefly on the fact that through the incredible privilege that Christianity has enjoyed throughout the Western world over the past 2,000 odd years, many people have been taught to believe that they require salvation to be reunited with God. That is, we have been taught that we are dependent upon belief in a story, belief in a pseudo-historical myth to be freed from the natural consequences of our mistakes, and to have eternal life.

It is time that humanity at large came back into contact with the greater reality, of which they are part, and which constitutes our true, innermost being. Deep inside, within us all is Spirit, and you do not have to subscribe to a fixed belief system or religion to experience this. All you need to do is find true stillness and inner silence, and indescribable peace and love will reveal itself to you. Whilst followers of all faiths commonly experience self-validating visions and so forth that relate to the specific dogmas and myths of that particular faith, there are universal spiritual experiences that are not dependent upon faith in any conception of deity, scripture or creed. Even those that subscribe to metaphysical naturalism can experience this same inner peace, as it does not require any belief in the objective reality of spirituality.

As individuals, we basically all have issues that we struggle with, and we can all use a bit of grace. Grace however is not something that we have to earn or attempt to deserve, and likewise, it is not something that we cannot deserve and is simply given to us anyways. Rather, grace is part of the natural absolute reality, the substratum of the cosmos, and nothing we can ever do could take away our right to that grace. However, grace can be obscured and we can lose sight of it, as is often the case, and we can feel disconnected and alone in a cruel harsh world.

We do not need to believe in religious myths or stories to gain eternal life. We are eternal life. We can swim in the ocean of bliss, love and infinite creativity through deep meditation, and it is likewise possible to sustain this in everyday life, through the seemingly mundane world. For most of us it requires self-effort, but it is a path that brings true happiness, and peace to the world.

There is room in the world for religious mythology, allegorical stories that help humanity to touch that which is beyond form. It is important for us to remember however not to become attached to these forms, or to mistake them for the goal. The Abrahamic faiths in particular (but not exclusively) have been largely responsible for the idea that one needs to exclusively follow the tenets of one faith in order to find God, and that without perfect adherence to the dogmas of a particular religion one is denied eternal life in the hereafter.

The belief in eternal damnation is certainly the single most abhorrent superstition that has ever corrupted the field of religion, and it is time that it was rejected outright as being immoral, irrational and utterly supported by evidence or reason. Likewise, the idea that eternal peace could only be given to a small group of sentient beings on the basis of rather arbitrary and petty criteria is simply untenable.

Spirit is naturally eternal, and there is nothing we can do to lose eternal life. However, we can be unaware of the existence of Spirit within us and around us, leading to the temporary illusion that we have to struggle and fight in a cold and uncaring cosmos, devoid of meaning and compassion. Suffering befall us all, giving legitimate reasons to doubt the existence of anything beyond cold hard matter. Certainly, the injustices that we perceive in the world are extremely difficult (if not impossible) to harmonize with the idea that all life is created by a transcendent being with a nature of infinite love. And yet, this is the world we inhabit.

Injustice and suffering do abound in the world, and yet somehow, simultaneously, unspeakable, eternal, infinite love, joy and peace is only ever a moment away for any of us. What we seek is not far from us but right here, and with the right instruction, a little practice and some grace we can all experience it, and even live it continuously. I’m still working on it myself, but I have experienced this beyond doubt, from cosmic oneness and unimaginable peace in deep meditation, to a constant inner lightness through presence/mindfulness in daily life. Fluctuation is normal, but our internal state is within our power, as are our responses to the world outside us. We cannot control the actions of others, or the greater environment in which we live, or all the circumstances that we encounter in life. And yet we have great power over our internal state, and through taking responsibility for it we reclaim our own power, and contribute towards a better world.

Human beings have great potential to different extremes. We can be extraordinarily kind, compassionate, forgiving, joyful, brilliant and serene, and yet we can also be unimaginably cruel, unforgiving, vindictive and insane, and can fall into endless spirals of hopelessness and anxiety. We live in a world that has the capacity to sustain us all, or we can deprive ourselves and all other beings of a liveable world.

So, at Easter time I would like to say that we need not believe that Osiris really did drown in the river and was brought back to life by magic and the intervention of the gods, nor do we need to believe that Attis really was castrated by a bull and returned to life as a tree. Nor do we need to believe that Dionysus was really torn apart by the Titans, before later being reborn via the thigh of Zeus, or that Jesus was really crucified and resurrected. None of these are essential for becoming free of our lower nature, becoming reunited with God and attaining eternal life, regardless of whether or not any of these have roots in real historical events.

Grace is always waiting for us, balanced with self-effort that brings great rewards, both immediately and continuously throughout our lives. May we all find peace within us, living joyful lives of passion and creativity, and bless others around us and the world at large through showing the higher potential of humanity. May we forgive others and end the insane cycles of retribution and greed that have held us down for too long.

Peace.

[i] I haven’t as of yet published anything specifically designed to quickly summarize the evidence and logic behind this conclusion. However, for anyone that is reading this and hasn’t read my previous articles on the topic, please see the following:

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/the-pagan-parallel-thesis-and-why-practically-every-single-major-objection-to-it-is-false/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/on-christian-origins-part-1-why-i-favour-mythicism/

The wisdom of children:

 

On a lighter note to what I normally post on, I thought I would quickly explain something I have observed since being a parent. It seems to me that many adults have a somewhat backwards perspective on growing up. That is, whilst many of us recognize the innocence of children as something that lights up our world, I think the true wisdom of youth is overlooked by many.

Certainly children can be very trying at times. They can be fickle, demanding, and can become upset very easily. If we are honest we will concede that we ourselves were the same during our early years. Likewise, the latter years of youth also bring their own problems, with the teenage mind commonly rejecting tried and tested truths and choosing to learn the hard way that fire burns (figuratively speaking).

Traditionally, older generations have been considered the gatekeepers of wisdom in many cultures. There is certainly no question that this is still so to some degree. Human beings can indeed develop more and more patience, kindness and depth as they proceed through life. They can develop acceptance and compassion through hardship, and we can learn from our mistakes as we grow older, and look beyond the surface to the deeper reality as we learn from our experience.

However, it is unfortunately very common that we develop psychological aberrations whilst young, which become more and more entrenched as we grow older. Contrary to becoming wiser as we age, it is unfortunately considered quite normal to degenerate deeper and deeper from the natural wisdom of youth as the years pass. That is, the aberrations that we developed in our youth – frequently as a response to aberrations in the world around us – become permanent, and we get worse and worse with age.

It is no big secret that babies and young children (and also baby animals) exhibit a natural innocence that can soften the hardest of hearts. However, the wisdom of which I am referring to is also the ability of children to heal so quickly, to change one condition or state into another, to learn new information and change opinions and beliefs. Also of course, the other half of the wisdom of youth is the constant and undying urge to experience joy that can quickly override the pain that we naturally experience in this world.

The world around is constantly changing, and the younger generations enter the world open to new technology, new ideas, new ways of living and thinking. They can move with the times, keep up with developments and adjust accordingly. When they start developing bad habits or tendencies, they can quickly change (with a bit of help) and leave the issues in the past. When traumatic events occur in their life, they can display incredible resilience, and find a way to be joyful regardless.

Children remind us of the importance of being lighthearted, of finding reasons to laugh, smile, sing and dance. Obviously as adults we have responsibilities to tend to, and we do not merely have the abundant leisure time available to the young. However, we must find a way to retain our youthful exuberance whilst meeting the challenges of adult life. We must attempt to retain that joy and sense of fun as we age. I do know people in their later years that have managed to hold onto this wisdom, defying their age and remaining open to the new, and I think we can all aspire to this ideal. It is also time that we come to fully appreciate the potential wisdom of our elders again, and bring back the respect and dignity which should be due of those that have been on this planet for longer than the rest of us.

Obviously I am not the first person to point this out. There have certainly been well known movements in spirituality and psychology that have pointed to the innocence of youth as an ideal of which adults can aspire, or have called for adults to reconnect with their “inner child”[i]. However, I think it is worthy of being said again, so as to be reminded of what’s truly important in life. A truly fulfilled human life should seek to balance out a community mindset and compassion for others with a passionate attempt to life ones own life to the full, to take opportunities as they arise and smile all the way.

Human beings have an incredible capacity to heal, to evolve, and to express the highest ideals in their daily lives. I am still working on it, and struggling immensely at times. Being a parent is certainly challenging at times, but it brings the most wondrous rewards. Obviously parenthood isn’t for everyone. I certainly respect the choice of many not to have children, I understand that it is not possible for some to do so, and I understand arguments by some about whether or not we have (or could have in the future) problems with overpopulation, and/or related issues of overconsumption. Nevertheless, I believe we can all do well to learn from the young. Let us not think of children as inferior to us, for in some ways they are closer to the truth than we are, and they are the best teachers. May we all encourage each other to balance responsibility and vision with openness and joy. May we be kind and gentle with each other.

Peace.

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L1_9z32ZsU.

A Few Quick Thoughts On ANZAC Day:

For those of us here in Australia today is Anzac day, a day where we remember the horrors of war and the sacrifices of our ancestors that fought to retain the freedoms which we cherish. As with other days related to war and issues of national pride, it’s a day that can also divide people on the basis of their political allegiance. As I have been reminded by my conservative friends, we often find that around this time we encounter articles written to counter the “Anzac myth”, or to challenge the glorification of war. Many people on the left side of politics and religion feel that we have glamourized war, arguing that conservatives seem to actually like war, and act in ways to encourage or outright create it. On the other side, many people on the right feel deeply insulted by the disrespect shown towards the fallen by those that use Anzac day as an opportunity to criticize our brave soldiers.

The following statement is one that I will repeat in many different articles:

Whilst it is indeed true that the truth isn’t always found halfway between two opposing views, it is most commonly the case that it is.

War is a tremendously ugly thing. Obviously there’s large scale death of soldiers and civilians. There are all those that are maimed and injured, let alone all those psychologically destroyed (should we mention the high rate of suicide, substance abuse and other mental illnesses amongst victims of war). There is slavery, rape, and environmental destruction. And then there is the sheer cost of war. It is a sad irony that many times war has broken out because someone wishes to take power over another nation to make themselves wealthier, and yet war is surely one of (if not the) primary cause of poverty in the world. If we did not spend so much on war and defence it would surely be a different world.

And yet, when there are those who are driven by whatever ideology or desire to attempt to infringe upon the freedom of others, we need good strong people to stand against them. Indeed many atrocities have occurred at the hands of those fighting for the US, and I would presume that Australia, New Zealand and Britain would likewise not be exempt from this. However, this does not simply make us the same as those we have fought against, and we must all be thankful for our predecessors that fought to defeat the forces of evil.

There is a popular idea in New Age spirituality that you cannot fight against ego (or unconsciousness if you prefer) and win. It is thought that if you do you simply become the same yourself, in which case ego has won and you have lost. Rather, many people believe that you should only ever show love in the face of evil, and that in doing so one can transform your opponent, bringing them out of their unconsciousness. Unfortunately, because of this idea I have seen and heard many spiritually minded people argue that violence is never appropriate, apparently even in the face of opposing violence.

Obviously such an approach is completely untenable. I believe that the Bhagavad-Gita dealt with this issue wisely when it stated quite clearly that it is the duty of righteous people to stand against evil and protect against the collapse of culture. We should note however that the Gita also noted that to fail to defend oneself out of not wanting to cause harm to others would actually be to succumb to ego, in viewing ones opponents as merely the body to be cut down. The Spirit is immortal, it cannot be killed. Yet if someone is to try to take away your freedom it is your duty to stop them, even if it means killing their body. There is just as much ego in absolute passivism as there is in aggression, and passivism will achieve the same end, as it will only allow the aggressor to succeed.

I believe that the left are indeed correct when they point out that many in the right have glamourized war. It seems that it is difficult to fight a righteous war without being taken over the mindset of conflict. Certainly the US did largely save the world in WW2. Yet it does seem that many in the US have been taken over by this group-consciousness of believing themselves to be police and/or saviours of the world. How many movies have presented this theme quite clearly? What effect then does this group-mind have upon foreign policy and various other vital issues?

It is difficult (if not impossible) to look evil in the eye and feel love, but that is perhaps the ideal to which we should aim. To do everything possible in striving for peace, to offer compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness and infinite and unconditional love to all, and yet be willing to stand strong and fight when necessary. To be able to hold love in ones heart for an enemy whilst being willing to end their life if necessary in the horrors of war.

In this way we perhaps do not fight against ego, and we refuse to be pulled into it ourselves. We can fight against flesh and blood when necessary, but be careful not to create in ourselves an ideology that is dysfunctional in much the same ways as those we fight against. It is a common human tendency to swing too far one way in response to unbalance on the other side. We however have the ability to change, to grow. We must evolve if we wish to change the world in which we live for the better. And of course, the easiest and best place to start is with ourselves.

For we can find peace within ourselves right here and now (and of course, that it is the only place it can ever be found). Those that attain inner peace will never seek to impose their rule over others, nor wield any weapon in acts of violence. Real peace however will not lead to passivism, but rather make us strong warriors when necessary.

May we find that peace, lest we forget.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Lokah Samastah, Sukhino Bhavantu.

The Ego, and its role in ideology:

Summary:

Human beings commonly associate their very identity and substance as a person with their beliefs about various issues. Such association constitutes a false conception of self (the ego – noting that we are using the Eastern conception of the term here), in contrast to the true self (the indwelling Spirit), which is eternal and independent of changing physical, mental and emotional states.

We see the exact same patterns of behaviour occurring across humanity. Once someone has identified with an ideology they will go to great lengths to sustain that belief system, even in light of overwhelming evidence, which falsifies that ideology. It doesn’t matter whether it is religion and philosophy, politics and economics, racial or national identity or support of a football team or car manufacturer, the ego will refuse to see the weaknesses in the source of its identity, and will seek to diminish those that it sees in opposition to its ideology.

Whilst egoic thinking leads various people to believe that those that differ from them are suffering from a dysfunction of which they themselves are exempt, the reality is that the very same subconscious processes motivate people at opposite ends of ideological disputes. Hence, when attempting to promote progress in various fields we are not simply faced with the task of making the case for our perspective. Rather, we must face the ego of those that have identified with an opposing position. Hence, if we expect others to be willing to change beliefs which they hold sacred (whether religious or not), we must demonstrate a willingness to do the same when necessary.

Main Article:

The Latin word “ego” became popular in the English language as the translation of Sigmund Freud’s conception of “I” (as part of his three-part conception of self), though the meaning of the term has largely been expanded in everyday use. Many people are using it as an English translation for the Sanskrit word Ahamkara, and that is effectively how I will be using it in this article.

In its Eastern definition, the ego is the false self that cohabits the human being along with the indwelling Spirit (Atman in Sanskrit). The ego is our temporary sense of identity that the mind creates through association and attachment to various features of our life. Not knowing that we have an indwelling and immortal Spirit within us, we believe that our very sense of identity is dependent upon fragile and temporary structures, and hence we naturally seek to defend these structures. If our belief system is threatened then we feel threatened, and our response reveals that we believe that our very existence is at stake.

Human beings identify with various things in an attempt to increase the ego’s perception of itself, and this often involves diminishing others in return. The ego seems to think that it must drag others down in order to uplift itself, and in doing so it creates suffering for all. Hence, the ego will seek to only see the strengths of whatever it is identifying with (even to the point of seeing strengths that aren’t actually there), whilst refusing to acknowledge its own weaknesses. Likewise, it often refuses to see the strengths of those it views as opponents, and will seek to highlight, exaggerate or even invent flaws in those it opposes.

We see the very same egoic behaviour at play throughout human existence, from various forms of human interaction and relationships, to the interplay of religious, political, racial and national identities. The ego continually causes conflict, creates drama and causes suffering in many forms. Under the misguided belief that there is a finite amount of life force to be shared between living things, it behaves as if it needs to steal energy from others to be nourished. The ego sabotages relationships, causing all sort of dysfunctional interactions on the basis of various subconscious urges.

In the case of religion, the ego drives followers of various faiths to completely identify with their religious beliefs; to the point that they are willing to see those outside their sect as evil. Egoic thinking drives believers to refuse to accept evidence and logic that refutes their sacred beliefs, and leads to them developing all manner of defence mechanisms to hold their ground in face of information that should lead to a reasonable and intelligent person changing their opinion.

Likewise, in the field of politics, the ego drives people to identify with one side of the political spectrum, and to perceive those on the other side as being responsible for all the ills of their nation, or the world. Politics concerns various issues where there are complementary truths that need to be balanced. People on both sides of the spectrum take their identification as primary in their political beliefs, and fail to consider individual topics on their own merits. Hence we see both the left and right fail to find the right balance in complex topics where multiple factors need to be considered. Rather people on the left frequently always take the same side on every issue regardless of the specific details of the case. Likewise, those on the right do exactly the same. Hence both the left and right see each other as responsible for all the ills of society.

What irony that the very same personality dysfunction is at the heart of both extreme ends! Whilst the precise ideology that those on the left and right have identified with is different, the core dysfunction is the same. Again, the same is true in regards to conservative follows of different faiths. What irony that conservative Christians and Muslims are both operating from the very same core psychological processes, despite seeing each other as being at the opposite ends of eternity!

When I first started out as a writer I had this naïve idea that human beings were rational creatures, and that all one had to do was present an argument properly, well reasoned with reference to evidence and human beings would change their opinions. Unfortunately the reality is that the ego is incredibly skilled at holding its ground and avoiding letting go of the beliefs that it identifies with. Hence, human beings do not usually change their beliefs when they encounter evidence that rebuts them. Rather, they jump through flaming hoops and adopt all sorts of logical fallacies; often simply resorting to insulting those they see as their opponents in order to avoid facing the possibility that their opponent may be correct.

Human beings need to remember that we are capable of changing our opinions. If we expect others to do so, then the first thing to do would be to demonstrate it ourselves. There is an old saying that goes something like: “If you wish to create peace in the world, start with yourself”. I can understand if many people think that this is just a copout or that it is selfish, like it is suggesting that people simply focus on making themselves happy rather than fighting for the things that really matter in life. The truth however is that if we wish others to overcome their individual egos, and if we wish humanity at large to overcome large-scale collective egos (such as religious or political organizations, or national identities), then we ourselves need to lead by example by overcoming our own egos and finding real peace within ourselves. Peace really does start within.

Finding inner-peace doesn’t have to mean that you don’t stand up for what is good and real. Rather, finding peace first will mean that when you encounter resistance you wont take it personally, and won’t let your own ego sabotage the legitimate cause for which you are standing for. We cannot expect others to stop identifying with their philosophical and political ideologies if we ourselves are unable to transcend our own personality defects. Hence, we must lead by example by honestly seeking truth wherever it lies, and being willing to change our views when presented with reliable evidence and solid logic to the contrary.

The irony is that human beings fear that we will become less if we let go of the things that we have identified with. The truth however is that the exact opposite is true. In giving up a drop of water we gain the ocean. Whilst human beings frequently go from one egoic identification to another, the release of a false identity brings the opportunity to discover our true eternal nature. When we silence the incessant mental chatter and dis-identify from the voice within our heads we realise that we are not our opinions, beliefs, skills, habits nor preferences, nor is our true identity to be found within our flesh and blood. Rather, inner silence brings forth the indwelling Spirit, and with it comes unspeakable joy that is not dependent upon external circumstances, and hence need not come and go due to circumstances beyond our control. Rather, the inner peace that comes with true presence can be felt permanently, if we choose to cultivate it and transcend the ego.

I am a big fan of Eckhart Tolle’s writing. His books are not interesting in the traditional sense; he is not a captivating writer, nor a particularly charismatic speaker. He is however a very good spiritual teacher and he is utterly brilliant at highlighting the human condition. His insights into human behaviour are essentially spot-on, and for that reason I suggest that “The Power Of Now” and “A New Earth” are essential reading for everyone. They are books that should be read over and over again; not because they are captivating, but because they are true, and they can assist in probably the most significant transformation that anybody can undergo.

Peace.

The Web Unwoven – Sample Chapter:

As I am just about ready to self-publish my first book, I thought it fitting that after telling people that it was nearly finished for the last 4 years, it might be nice to give people a quick sample of what The Web Unwoven is all about.  Originally I had planned on covering the origins and content of the Bible (and therefore also the origins of Judaism and Christianity) in this first book, but due to the the sheer length of the work (and the time involved in editing such a work, let alone the cost of publishing) I have divided it into two. The first part which I will self-publish very shortly is on comparative religion and religious pluralism, whilst the second part on the Bible and the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition will come out at a later date (hopefully within a year).  So, here is the first chapter of The Web Unwoven – Part 1:

Chapter 1)     Introduction:

We live in a marketplace of ideas, beliefs, worldviews, paradigms, philosophies, religions and ideologies. They share many views and overlap in particular areas, and likewise contradict in other ways, often ending up at opposite ends of fierce debate. Religious beliefs play a significant role in society, influencing laws and popular opinions on morality and ethics. They are also intensely personal, as they relate to the very meaning and purpose of life, and give hope for a better life after death, as well as giving faith in a higher power that brings justice and grace. Most religions and systems of philosophy aspire to bring healing, forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, joy and prosperity to the world, and to a certain degree they generally succeed in doing so. However at the same time, religion has also been known as a political force that has been wielded to justify and create hatred, bigotry, separation, persecution, fear and superstition. Holding different religious views to those of society, family or other major cultural groups can produce a range of social consequences, from heated exchanges of words, to social exclusion and political persecution. In more extreme cases, many people have been killed or locked up for their religious views, and throughout history many wars have been fought over faith.

There are many religious debates and interfaith dialogues taking place today, as there have been throughout recorded history. However, it is rare that anybody actually changes their beliefs on the basis of these debates, and it is rare that any level of resolution is achieved. To some degree this is understandable, as personal opinion isn’t always something that can be analyzed and studied objectively, and the data and evidence making up the study of religion isn’t black and white. This can make it difficult to achieve resolution in a topic that is vastly complex, personal and sacred. Likewise, another major reason why resolution is rarely achieved through religious debates and dialogues is that human beings have learned to associate their very identity with their mental concepts. We believe that we are our thoughts, and religious beliefs are habitual thoughts that we consider to be above all other human concepts. When someone expresses a critique of our religious beliefs we feel as though it is a personal attack against us, or against all followers of our faith. As such, debates on religion tend to stir the emotions of all parties, and make it difficult to see reality objectively through the emotion that we experience when our sacred beliefs are questioned or ridiculed. The thing is that reality doesn’t change just because someone denies or derides it; hence there is no need for us to react emotionally to the disbelief and/or disrespect that others show in regards to our religious beliefs. It is understandable that we would take our religious beliefs seriously; however we have perhaps been guilty of taking ourselves too seriously to this point, as it has hindered our ability to sort out truth from untruth in the realm of ideas.

The topic of religion, spirituality, philosophy and the paranormal is incredibly vast, to the point that one can study it all their life and continue learning more. It is obviously not possible for everyone to personally study the topic in depth, and neither should we expect everybody to have the motivation and interest to do so. To reach a “big picture” understanding and construct a religious “theory of everything” requires enormous amounts of time, and one is required to resolve and conflate countless opinions and arguments in order to reach a cohesive and comprehensive worldview. Hence, as with other fields of interest, many of us find ourselves being influenced by accepted authorities, and we put our trust in them to accurately summarize the topic for us. Unfortunately, when these authorities themselves cannot reach the correct conclusions on a topic, they lead much of the general public astray. I would like to offer my readers my own personal approach to understanding religion, along with the evidence and arguments that led me to my conclusions. Despite the vast, complex and personal nature of the topic, I believe it is possible for resolution of interfaith conflict to be achieved, and for the followers of different faiths to therefore come to see each other as spiritual brothers and sisters. To attain this resolution we simply need to compare different beliefs and doctrines and follow them through to their logical conclusions. We also need to consider the bare facts relevant to the subject, and apply our natural human capacity for reason to resolve conflicting opinions, and sort through the maze of differing conclusions. Obviously I am not claiming to know everything on the subject of religion, nor do I wish to deny the necessity and worth of other books on the topic. Rather, I wish to offer a means through which religious dispute and conflict can be resolved, and through which we can all understand the relationship between different faiths. I also wish to offer an understanding of why religion has been a force for both good and bad, and offer a suggestion as to how we can reform it so that it continues to heal humanity, but ceases to divide and harm us.

I will argue that there is a singular spiritual philosophy that we refer to as the “Perennial Philosophy”, that is found to different degrees in most (but not all) of the world’s faiths, and that therefore most religions share common goals. However, I will argue that this does not mean that all religions are equal or that they are all identical. Rather, to the contrary, I will argue that most religions have different strengths and weaknesses, and that some are closer to a pure representation of the Perennial Philosophy then others. I will argue that whilst there have been many great spiritual teachers across the ages and from various cultures, the founders of the world’s faiths were not all enlightened sages. Rather, human beings have a great capacity to deviate from truth, and there have been many religious leaders over time that have preached their own doctrines, which have originated either through fraud and/or delusion. I also believe that many common religious ideas have developed through the common means through which human beings share ideas. As such we can trace the evolution of many religious concepts back through the ancient world, and gain context on the doctrines of the major religions in the world today. I do accept that many of my conclusions may be contentious, and my personal approach to attaining religious harmony involves facing the difficult issues surrounding religion, rather then attempting to sugarcoat them or simply ignore them. As such, I could understand if my opinions raised the emotions of some of my readers. Hence, I will ask for patience from my readers, as I will discuss each subject in considerable detail in order to attempt to convince readers of the merits of my conclusions.

I found myself feeling compelled to create this book because I felt that my own intuitions on the topic were not being fully represented anywhere. I myself am deeply indebted to many brilliant scholars, mystics and philosophers for much of the information that I am presenting here, and I do not wish to take the credit for the work of others. There are endless books on religion, spirituality and philosophy that offer insight into the topics that I could not give, and I do not wish to diminish such works. Rather, my hope is that my own work would compliment the work of others, and give my readers a means through which they can understand the ways in which different sub-topics of religion and spirituality relate to each other, and how one can harmonize the different views that are found in the religious world. Most books that I have read on comparative religion either seek to achieve one of three goals. Some proclaim one exclusive faith alone to be true, at the expense of all others. Others argue that the world’s faiths are all the same, at the expense of the details that show that they are not. Finally, some works simply seek to present information on different religions, without offering any opinion as to how one is to view their relationship to each other. What I have sought to do is to be realistic about the contradictions that one finds between different religious viewpoints, and yet show that we can resolve them and attain an understanding of comparative religion that results in friendship and cooperation between different faiths.

The Abrahamic faiths[1] (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have traditionally been quite outspoken in regards to expressing their explicit disapproval of other faiths, to the point of quite literally demonizing them and their followers as being agents of evil. Such a view has of course never promoted tolerance and unity between various faiths; at best it leaves an uneasy truce, and at worst it leads directly to various levels of conflict. There have also been ultra conservative streams of other faiths throughout history that have taken similar exclusive views towards other religions, although these rarely receive as much attention. At the opposite end of the scale there is a liberal movement that is very popular in the western world at the moment, which has presented the opinion that all ideas are relative and therefore equal, particularly in the realm of religious beliefs. In doing so they have argued that the religious beliefs of all peoples are sacred, and should thus be respected. Hence it has been argued that we should not attempt to argue that any faith is superior in comparison to any other, and that it is offensive to criticize anybody’s sacred beliefs. Those that hold this opinion often believe that all religions are ultimately cohesive, and form one universal spiritual tradition. Hence they argue that all major religious figures spoke of the same truths, and that all sacred scriptures preach the same doctrines; only that they argue that many devotees of these faiths have misunderstood the teachings of the founders of their faiths, and the texts which they have left behind.

Hence, religious liberals often claim that Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Plato, Jesus, Mohammed etc. were all prophets of the one God, and that the Tanakh, the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Buddhist Sutra’s, and the Tao Te-Ching etc. all speak of the same universal truths. I would like to discuss these two competing perspectives on comparative religion and consider whether they are consistent and cohesive, whether they are supported by logic and the relevant facts, as well as consider what the implications of each view are. Obviously there are other opinions on comparative religion aside from those expressed above, not to mention that many religious followers only have opinions on their own faith, and do not wish to pass judgment either way on other faiths. Hence, some views have been formulated to take into account many of the relevant facts and factors, but some of them only take into consideration very specific experiences and conditions relative to their own context. Due to the open access to information that we have in today’s world, we now have many alternatives to the traditional views on religion, for better and for worse. Consequently, as well as the well-known and structured religions of old we now have countless other worldviews, pieced together from various sources with an amateur DIY approach[2].

I have therefore attempted to do what I haven’t seen anyone else do in a way that has satisfied me. There are many books (and websites) written by conservative Christian apologists that have attempted to give a complete means of viewing comparative religion, through offering a defense of their own faith, and equally offering a scathing critique of all others. I have therefore set out to counter these works and the conclusions that they set forth, whilst making a positive case for my own views. In many ways you could say that I am likewise offering an apologetic for Perennial Philosophy, as well as offering a counter-response to Christian apologetics. Whilst there are many individual faiths in the world today, I have spent the majority of the book comparing the views of orthodox Christianity and Perennial Philosophy (as I see it). As I personally had a Christian upbringing, and as Christianity is currently the biggest religion in the world today[3], I believe that this is necessary, and I hope that my readers will grow through taking this journey with me.

I do not mean to single out Christianity for criticism however, or simply focus on its weaknesses and ignore its strengths. Rather, the conclusions that I reach from comparing Christianity and Perennialism should apply to religion and spirituality as a whole, and hopefully give the necessary context to put everything in its place. I do not wish to simply offer my critiques for the sake of it, but rather I am doing so in the hope of offering a solution. In the final chapter I will offer some conclusions that I believe we can be certain of once all is considered. I believe that many of these conclusions have the potential to dramatically change humanity for the better, were they to gain widespread acceptance. I am hoping to reveal a complete truth that unites people of different faiths, and gives humanity a template from which we can reform and evolve the subject of religion. I have offered what I believe to be the way through the mess of contradictory and internally inconsistent views, so that we may unweave the web of opinions and see the light that shines behind it. It is my belief that to create a convincing case you must look at every angle in the same context, in that merely covering part of an issue allows for people to dismiss strong arguments through circular reasoning[i]. The entire spectrum of information must be covered for the possibility of achieving resolution to be realized.

I have written this book as a comparison and consideration of different religious views; not a consideration of whether religion in general is valid. So, there is a whole category of views on religion that I have deliberately failed to cater for here; that being atheism or naturalism (depending on how you choose to label such views). There are actually a wide variety of sub-variants on the naturalistic philosophy, though they all claim that reality is wholly material, and reject any sort of belief in the supernatural or paranormal. Such a view is known by the technical term metaphysical naturalism[4], but could also be known as material monism[ii], in that it states that there is in-reality only matter, and that mind is a second-hand construct created from matter, and existing only due to matter. This view does not allow for the existence of any sort of spirit and/or soul, God/gods or any other non-physical or super-physical entities, existence after death in any form, or spiritual or mental interaction and intervention in the material world[5]. This non-religious worldview is of course very popular today, particularly amongst the highly educated ranks of people in western countries. It is however not a new philosophy, as there have been naturalistic philosophies in many nations going back millennia[iii]. I have deliberately tried to avoid making statements about evidence for or against the existence of the supernatural in this book, although occasionally I have found it relevant to the discussion at hand. I am personally a believer in the reality of spiritual experiences and the paranormal, and it is not possible for me to put that fully aside in writing this book.

So, for the purpose of this book I will assume that my readers are either already avid believers in the paranormal for whatever reasons[iv], or that my readers are willing at least to humor me in this regard, or even just ignore this point for the purpose of this book. I personally consider that question to be a completely different kettle of fish altogether[6], despite the efforts of some influential leaders from certain faith groups that have attempted to confuse this issue[v]. So, essentially I am asking the question:

If spirituality is real, then what is the best worldview for explaining it, and the various phenomena that exist because of it?”

Without any further ado then, let us begin to attempt to answer that question.

[1] Obviously named as such because all three view themselves as originating with the biblical patriarch Abraham. We should note that many Christians object to being identified in the same category as Islam. Rather they generally use the phrase Judeo-Christian tradition to identify their belief in the continuity of Christianity from Judaism, whilst rejecting any claim that Islam is in any way directly related to their religion (except to see it as having borrowed, copied or stolen many of its tenets, as well as those of Judaism).

[2] Again, for better or worse.

[3] Not to mention that it still maintains a privileged position in the western world.

[4] Not to be confused with methodological naturalism (which is the method of science), in which we presume a naturalistic explanation as the simplest and most likely explanation in absence of strong evidence to the contrary. In an upcoming book I will in fact argue that many people today have confused and conflated methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism, and confused science with philosophy.

[5] For example: Prayer, spiritual healing, manifestation, magic, psi or miracles of any sort etc.

[6] Which I will discuss in detail in a future work.

[i] Complex topics like religion and philosophy naturally involve many interconnected facts, points, sub-topics and arguments. In many cases during heated debates people on both sides are accused of using circular reasoning. A circular argument is obviously one whereby ones argument cannot stand on its own ground, but only seems to have strength on the weight of other facts and arguments. It can be quite difficult to avoid some level of circular reasoning in various topics (particularly religion), as ones entire worldview filters into each individual topic. Thus any point raised to support an entire worldview must to some degree refer to other topics that are important to the worldview in question. Having conceded this however, you can’t construct a large-scale argument for something as significant as a religion solely on the basis of individual arguments that cannot stand on their own merit. An argument must not rest upon things not yet covered or resolved, and a valid argument should not collapse on the basis of information not yet elucidated. If this is the case then it is likely that the arguments are in fact baseless, and are simply intellectual games or tricks, like constantly transferring credit from various credit cards to cover the fact that you are in fact broke. Ideally, slight diversions in the middle of good solid arguments should not be done for the purpose of providing presumptions on which the new argument will rest. Therefore, valid arguments should be able to stand independently.

[ii] By very definition monism refers to the existence of only one thing, and in philosophical contexts it generally implies that several things commonly considered to be separate are in fact part of the one thing. Dualism, on the other hand relates to the interaction and eternal relationship between two individual and distinct things. The terms monism and dualism can refer to a multitude of issues and topics in religion and philosophy. For example, dualism can refer to mind-brain dualism, subject-object dualism, God-creation dualism, spirit-matter dualism, or good God-evil god dualism. The brain-mind dualism is a common concept in western philosophy, relevant to the topics of religion, philosophy, psychology and medicine. Eastern religion and philosophy makes multiple use of the concept of monism, both in subject-object monism and God-creation monism, both which ultimately amount to the same thing when seen in the greater context of Perennial religious teachings (as will be shown later). Subject-object monism refers to a state whereby there is no distinction or separation between a perceived external universe and the being that is perceiving, observing or experiencing it. This concept has controversially been used by some in the New Age movement to attempt to explain the particle-wave duality of quantum physics, but most commonly it is known through the writings of various mystics in attempting to describe their experiences of cosmic consciousness. God-creation monism therefore is the application of subject-object monism to the absolute reality – God; seeing creation as existing within God, commonly with the metaphor of Creation as God’s dream existing within the mind of God, rather than being in eternal relationship and interaction with an independent creator as in the Abrahamic faiths. In this way Christianity can be referred to as dualistic compared to Perennial Philosophy, which is primarily monistic.

The term dualism often holds negative connotations, and is commonly used as a derogatory term to defame the belief of an opposing party. Many modern philosophers oppose the belief in mind-body dualism, just as in a religious sense dualism is often associated with Gnosticism, with its assertion that there is both a good God and an evil god. As there are various different contexts in which the term dualism can apply there is a burden for the person using the term to define what it is in particular they are referring to. In terms of ultimate worldviews, monism is commonly connected to the belief that there is only one singular absolute reality, from which all other things can be reduced. Naturalism (atheism) can be considered to be a monistic worldview as it states that there is truth only matter in existence, and that consciousness is only a by-product of matter. Hence this presents consciousness as a construct, having no ultimate separate existence of its own without matter, and ultimately existing only within matter. The complete polar opposite of this is the view of the Perennial Philosophy, which is expressed quite succinctly amongst the many Eastern philosophies (as well as others) in stating that the only absolute reality is God (or Consciousness, Spirit and/or the Self if you like), and that matter is a by-product of Spirit. The technical term for this view in western philosophy is “Monistic Idealism”, and it is found in many mystical traditions such as Advaita Vedanta, Yoga, Tantra, Kashmir Shaivism, all forms of Buddhism, Taoism, various mystical variants of Hellenistic philosophy such as Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Orphism and Hermeticism, and possibly even some indigenous Shamanic traditions.

There are countless other contexts to which we can apply these terms, therefore it is necessary to clarify what context they are being used in when using these terms, as sometimes the words monism and dualism are often just thrown around without explaining what exactly they are referring to, therefore having the potential to be misleading. It is also important to avoid seeing the term dualism as always being a negative term. It simply isn’t so, as those that use it in a negative sense often object to many monistic concepts (as we will see).

[iii] For example, some of the early Greek philosophers held a belief in metaphysical naturalism. Likewise the Bhagavad-Gita makes reference to naturalism as well (albeit in rather a negative light): “They say: The world is unreal, without a substratum, without a God, and without an order. Sexual union of man and woman alone and nothing else causes the world.” Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16:8.

[iv] There are many reasons why individuals such as myself believe in the supernatural. For example: Personal experiences, correlations between personal experiences and the testimony of other people, examination of various fields of research such as near death experiences (NDE’s), parapsychology etc., various complex philosophical arguments, and much more. Regardless, I am not assuming that all my readers accept the existence of the supernatural (in fact quite the opposite, I am accepting and acknowledging that many of my readers probably will not).

[v] Many Christian apologists (such as William Lane Craig) have argued that any argument or evidence for the existence of the supernatural is positive evidence for Christianity, as they have argued that Christianity is the only spiritual worldview that is internally consistent. There is even a specific sub-category of Christian apologetics called “pre-suppositional apologetics” that actually claims that it is impossible to make an argument for anything without presupposing the Christian worldview (yes, that is actually what they claim)! I have dealt with these arguments later on in this book, so please read on.

Book update:

So, things have been a little quiet on the blogging front as I haven’t posted for a month or so, but for good reasons.  We are doing renovations at home so I didn’t have access to my study (and the computer) for several weeks, and there has been plenty of work to do here.  I am about half-way through a lengthy blog piece on Paul, Marcion and Simon Megas, though due to the nature of the topic I am going to take my time before publishing it.  In the process of writing this piece I have realised that my previous approach to arguing my case wasn’t quite up to scratch, and whilst I still support the same conclusion on the topic that I have for a while, I needed to do a better job of arguing my case.  I will be approaching a number of well known scholars for commentary on this article, so I need to get it right; hence I will possibly take another month before publishing.  I do have several smaller articles in the works, so perhaps I’ll post one of them shortly to keep things moving.

I have been doing significant work towards publishing my first book, and the big news is that I have decided to split it in half (though not quite in the middle).  The book was approx. 500,000 words which translated to around about 1,000 pages, so it was very difficult to digest.  Plus, at that length editing takes a very long time, and the printing costs alone would be significant, meaning that print copies would have had to have sold for well over $50; probably not ideal for a first book.  So, I have decided to remove the material on Jewish and Christian origins and the nature and origins of the Old and New Testaments, and make a separate book out of that.  This leaves the first part of the book solely on comparative religion and spirituality.  Whilst I always hoped to cover all of the material in one book, I have been seriously leaning towards splitting it for some time, and I’m now convinced that its the right thing to do.

This should make each book easier to read and understand, as well as quicker, easier and cheaper to publish.  I know that some of my readers are more interested in the Christian origins material that I write on, but rest assured, that part of the book will indeed see the light of day, and I will be publishing a (relatively) condensed version of my origins theory on here in the very near future.  I am probably going to self-publish through Amazons “CreateSpace”.  Many readers will just buy an Ebook, and the print on demand option is very appealing.

So, much more coming your way from this department.

Peace.

James.

Clarity on “The Secret”.

Summary:        The popular New Age film “The Secret” contained many half-truths, as do many of the popular documentaries circulating on the Internet.  The concept of a “Law of Attraction” may have legitimate merit, but its presentation in the move was quite poor.  Most significantly, due to a contractual dispute between Esther Hicks and Rhonda Byrne, it turned out that Esther Hicks (who was almost certainly one of the primary sources for the material found within it) was edited out of the film.  Whilst there appears to be conflicting stories on how this occurred, Esther Hicks has stated that she was asked by Byrne to choose between handing over intellectual property rights from the film or being edited out of the movie.  In light of the fact that Byrne has been sued by several other people involved in the film who claim that they were duped out of a their share of the films earnings, and that Byrne also contracted a conman to appear in the film as an enlightened teacher, I personally suspect that Esther Hicks is giving an accurate portrayal of their falling out.  Furthermore, the presentation of the “Law of Attraction” concept in the Hicks/Abraham material is of a far higher standard (in my opinion), thus giving context to the half-truths that appear in “The Secret”.

Main Article:

One of the most popular concepts in New Age spirituality is that of the Law of Attraction, the belief that thoughts literarily create reality.  The concept is quite popular in 20th century western occult and self-help literature, though I would suggest that it has its origins in the far older philosophy of monistic idealism.  A fundamental feature of the worlds mystical and occult traditions is that the material world is a temporary construct that appears in the mind of God like a dream.  Hence, consciousness or spirit is seen as the substratum of the material world.  It is only a small step from here to argue that mind therefore has a direct causal effect upon the physical world.  This idea of the mental nature of reality is present in Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism (amongst other schools of Indian philosophy), all forms of Buddhism, it is present in the Corpus Hermeticum (amongst other Hellenistic philosophy) and is explicit in the 1908 pseudo-Hermetic book “The Kybalion”.

The popularity of the Law of Attraction in the West can be ascribed to a number of sources, such as “The Science of getting rich” by Wallace D Wattles from 1910, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill in 1937, “Power of Positive Thinking” from Norman Vincent Peale in 1952.  Certainly however the most well known proponent of the theory in recent times is trance medium Esther Hicks, whose vast literature on the subject was certainly one of the primary influences for the hugely popular and infamous telemovie come hit DVD, The Secret.  When I first watched The Secret I had distinctly mixed feelings about it.  On one hand it seemed like an attempt at another inspirational modern spiritual film in the theme of “What the Bleep….” (of which I also now have mixed feelings about).  On the other hand, it made me want to throw up.  It had all the features of a pyramid sales scam presented by a greasy used car salesman, and it wasn’t helped by the sole focus of the movie on attaining material wealth through supernatural means.

Furthermore, there is a scene where it jumps straight from one of the teachers stating that it is an awful lie that there is a limited supply of resources and that there is not enough to go around, to another boasting about how he owns several luxury homes, has servants and travels the world on a sort of permanent holiday.  This seems to be implying that anybody that has legitimate concerns with this philosophy is an “awful liar”, and hence appears to be shooting down legitimate criticisms of the philosophy with mere name-calling.  I would advise severe caution to approaching material resources as if they were infinite.  Clearly, if matter emerges from an infinite spiritual source then there could be some truth to this, but if it is false then treating material resources as if they are infinite when in fact they are finite would have disastrous consequences.  Even if the Law of Attraction is true one still has to find a way around how everybody could afford to be rich enough to servants.  The basic laws of commerce tell us that there needs to be a million people in the lower and middle classes for one person to be wealthy enough to have everyone else working for them.

Many of the same spiritual traditions that have taught that the universe is mental in nature have simultaneously encouraged an ascetic lifestyle, and discouraged the pursuit of wealth.  The Tao Te Ching spoke out against social and political corruption and injustice in as explicit terms as it could in its historical context, speaking up for those that suffered at the hands of the wealthy and corrupt ruling class.  However, mystical ascetism has often gone way too far in denying material life and diminishing this life.  In the first book in the “Celestine Prophecy” series, James Redfield spoke of the need to find a healthy balance between seeking a prosperous and fulfilling earthly life and traditional religious ascetism and charity.  In a sense then, I personally feel that the Law of Attraction can be one side of this balance, with modern spiritual works attempting to bring balance back to the spiritual views of the importance of earthly life in comparison to spiritual ideals.

My gut feelings told me that there was some truth behind this movie, but that it being distorted and perverted like a jewel covered in mud.  I had the same instinct when I first read the Bhagavad-Gita, of which a work colleague (who was a Hare Krishna) introduced me.  The translation that he lent me was their own translation, with commentary from their founder A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.  In this version, regardless of what the actual Sanskrit verse stated, the commentary just stated (paraphrase): “Well, since we are currently in the Kali Yuga (Dark Age) the only valid spiritual practice for mankind is chanting the maha mantra (Hare Krishna…etc.)”, even though the maha mantra is not mentioned once in the entire scripture, and the commentary often contradicts what the actual Sanskrit verses themselves state.

Upon later investigation it appears that my gut feelings were accurate.  There has been a significant amount of legal action following the success of The Secret, with Rhonda Byrne being sued by a number of people involved in making the film.  Firstly, she has been accused of denying employees legal contracts under the guise of them interfering with the films spiritual momentum, and then failing to deliver on her promises to pay those involved what they deserved(1).  Likewise, there are claims that one of the teachers featured in the film (David Schirmer) owed money to a number of past students and employees of his many businesses, which appeared and disappeared back into thin air(2).  Without knowing the ins and outs of the accusations I must say that I suspect that they are legitimate.  Obviously when someone like Byrne attains such vast success there will always be people wanting a share of it.  However the Secret never felt right to me, and these issues appear to me to support that conclusion. Furthermore, Byrne had a well-publicized falling out with Esther Hicks, resulting in Hicks being edited out of the second version of the film.  Hicks had featured heavily in the original version of the movie, providing a narrative throughout.  However, the version that most people are familiar with has a range of other people presenting the material in her place.

According to Hicks, she was asked to either hand over the intellectual property rights to the material or be edited out of the film, and she chose the latter(3).  I have seen it argued that Hicks brought on the problems by asking for more money(4), however that appears unsubstantiated to me.  The final version of the Secret affectively ended up effectively using Hicks material, by having her own students present the work without her.  Obviously Esther Hicks doesn’t own exclusive copyright on the concept, and her work was not the first to present the concept.  However, she was easily the most well known proponent of the concept in recent times, and due to her involvement in the original version the movie effectively ended up writing her out of her own film!  Adding to the mess was the way in which the film was edited, leading to an end result that deserves as much of it’s criticism as it does it’s praise.

Obviously the whole Law of Attraction concept has issues that need to be resolved or at very least discussed, completely outside of criticisms from naturalists, who believe that mind is simply a temporary construct of matter.  For example, one can argue that the concept would suggest that individuals are responsible for crimes that are committed against them, or diseases, illnesses and accidents that befall them.  Likewise it would seem to gloss over the manner in which corrupt rulers and business people sometimes (but not always) take advantage of the disadvantaged in order to secure their wealth.  On the flip side however, it suggests that we all have immense power to change our personal circumstances in ways far beyond what we could imagine simply from naturalistic cause and effect.  However, this article is not an attempt to resolve all those issues.  Rather, I simply wish to suggest that anybody interested in the concept look beyond the Secret (in both movie and book forms) and investigate Esther Hicks’s work, as well as the older material that presents monistic idealism in a different context.

Here is a clip from the original version of the film which featured Esther’s trance mediumship(5) .  This is what it should have been; beautiful, inspiring and uplifting.  These days I have learned to be cautious about reaching conclusions on things where I don’t know all the ins and outs.  In this respect it is possible that Rhonda Byrne may have done nothing wrong, and it is possible that my only legitimate grip with the Secret could be its cheesy tabloid presentation.  However, spirituality and religion has always been an area where devious and dishonest people have taken advantage of others for financial (and other) gains.  I suspect that the Secret was not without its worth, but I feel that its a sorry shame that its spiritual teachings were revealed to the world in such a dumbed down and distorted form.

1)  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/the-secret-of-rhondas-success/story-e6frg8h6-1111117271174.

2)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNaUgtTnz1U.

3)  http://www.meetup.com/Washington-Abraham-Hicks/boards/view/viewthread?thread=2283719.

4)  http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Esther_Hicks.  Note the poor quality of this article.  I am currently in the early stages of research for my second book (on Science and the Supernatural) and I have found that this website is all rhetoric and no content.

5)  www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbJ8dp4zK7A.