Tuesday, 29 August 2017

How to Believe (but not What to Believe)

Perfect love exists. Perfect, without blemish or flaw.
On the existence of God, it's likely I use the word God in a different way to how you understand it to mean. If you don't believe in God then I don't believe in the same God that you don't believe in. But I believe a conception of God is useful for describing an aspect of the human psyche, particularly an aspect of our common experience and shared reality.

I think it can be demonstrated that an idealised conception of universal life can be as real as it's possible for us to experience anything as being real. And I think it can be demonstrated that this is functionally utterly identical to it being completely true. We can't know ultimate truth, but the reality of universal goodness can be as real and true as it's possible for a thing to be. And if shared experience is possible then the shared experience of universal love can be real.

Furthermore, I understand how I believe and I believe I can explain it and I promise that it's safe. I don't care that you believe the same thing as me, so long as at the core you believe in life and believe life is good. That's the heart of the matter.

You just dream. That's all we can do anyway. Let's dream something beautiful into existence together. And let's fight for it. Dream life into your friends and family, dream life into the universe. Let all of reality live within you, because all that you can experience is "within" anyway. Your whole experience of life is through the psyche. It's literally all in your mind and you are imagining the whole thing. Because in making sense of your memory, your senses and your understanding you are using your imagination. Your sense and perception of the outside world is the product of your mind.

Alphonse Constant: magic is the product of imagination and will.

If love is the most important thing for you, then caring for those you love will be your highest priority. Which tethers you to reality, the here and now, what's right in front of you. So you can't get lost. But you can live as if the dream were real, but keeping your eyes wide open trying to make sense of it all whilst letting it rage.

And how do we fight? Well, any way we can. We gotta work it out.

So I look not to religious fact, but to a living experience of the sacred.The way not the destination. And my way is the way of the Risen Lord.

It's the name of a path, a way. It's just a name. The way is valid and sound. Not dogma. But it's not just any name, it's a name of hope. In my way I understand that incontrovertible truth is not a thing you can have, and that dogma is therefore always wrong. Resurrection life can only be a beautiful living metaphor, but you can know the life of it. So I don't claim or propagate it as truth, merely as a path - and a path that can lead closer to the truth precisely because it understands that it is not itself a truth merely a way. An approach to life if you like or a way of life.

I'm not asking you to believe, I'm telling you it seems to work. But name aside, if you read what I actually suggest as the path it has not nothing to do with any particular belief at all. Well, maybe I am a little suggesting what to believe but I'm not providing a map, merely perhaps suggesting a destination.

Look to whatever mythos and legends have found you and feel for the life in them. Let them have life in you, but don't be taken in by it - feel free to not believe in any of it at all as you can't know for sure anyway.  If at your core is the hope that love wins then you can sift through the life you find accepting and rejoicing in the good and reaching further into it.

But if we can have belief and faith that leads us into a closer approximation of whatever truth is then surely there are bad beliefs? Well, there are certainly bad ways of thinking. Ways that can only keep us away from truth and not lead us closer to it.
Astrology is a false god. Homeopathy is a false god. New Atheism is a false god. Evangelicism is a false god.
An explanation of what I mean follows, but first I will note that despite seeing astrology as a false god (although I will admit the fundamental interconnectedness of all things and that we are not disconnected from the heavens out of which we are made, we are all stardust) it amuses me no end that I am a Leo born in the year of the tiger.

A false god is an idol of the mind. A set of assumptions you look to instead of looking into reality.
New Atheism is the aggressive modern rational atheism of the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens et al. A highly evangelistic and self assured cult. Scepticism is a good approach, but that cuts both ways and it needn't lead to this kind of atheism.

I admire the fierce rationalism of New Atheism, but on the topic of spirituality they have decided they are right and refuse to understand. The language of spirituality is used in meaningless ways by many people. Nonetheless there is rich and deep meaning and beauty in spirituality. To decide and proclaim it is all nonsense and has no meaning is a proud blindness that shows no respect to those who think differently.

Modern atheism is an effective psychological wall against irrationality. But it's a wall that keeps you inside. There are ways of letting mythology having life within your psyche whilst retaining intellectual and psychological integrity.

Mythology is part of the psychological reality and makeup of humanity. To deny it any truth is to deny part of who you are, but to allow it truth without losing yourself, and genuine understanding, requires understanding the type of truth it contains.

Holiness and sacredness have profound and extraordinary meanings, transformative meanings, that can only be understood through experience. So if you're not willing to permit them any meaning you prevent yourself from understanding.

For those committed to atheism, as many of my friends describe themselves, this discussion can either be an argument - or you can be willing to understand how someone else sees the world and admit it might have value. You don't have to believe to understand, but you can't receive the life of it into your understanding if you deny it any life at all.

To understand something new is to be changed, and many people just really do not want to change. I want to change all the time because that is really the only constant in life anyway. I want to actually understand how other people see the world (a skill I'm trying to improve) and that means being willing to drop my own assumptions and accept that they have different experiences to me and have seen different parts of life to me. I can see more of the world through their eyes so long as I'm not determined that I'm right and they're wrong. I know I'm wrong, probably about everything, but then so is everyone else. Between us all we're closer to the truth than any of us alone.

It is an unfortunate truth that what you're able to think is, in large measure, determined by the conclusions you're willing to reach. An entirely natural, but utterly pernicious, human tendency is to reason in ways that come to the conclusions you have already come to.

It's pernicious because in this, totally normal, way of thinking you're not really looking for truth but looking to confirm what you already think. This is an example of a well studied aspect of human behaviour, a cognitive bias, called confirmation bias. You will tend to notice and seek out things that confirm what you already believe.

A genuine search for truth requires overcoming yourself and these subconscious biases. It's genuinely hard.

What you're not willing to question you can't know the truth about because you're not really willing to look. You'll see your assumptions instead of being able to encounter reality, and whatever reality actually is it tends to be far stranger than we're capable of imagining. If you doubt what I say try a search for quantum tunnelling as a lovely example of just how odd reality really is.

"The best possible compliment for a philosopher is to tell her that her ideas are obvious. It means she explained them so clearly you couldn't possibly disagree."

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