Beyond Belief - Or How We Can Stop Killing Each Other In A Few Easy Steps (version 1.1)
Subjective as Hell tract on the nature of religious belief.
Presented in E-Prime.
Belief: (bi'li:f) n. 1. a principle,etc., accepted as true, esp, without proof 2. opinion, conviction. 3. religious faith 4. trust or confidence, as in a persons abilities,etc.
( taken from the Collins Concise English Dictionary, third edition)
We all find it very easy to get into generalizations when we talk of religious belief. I have spent many years listening to people talk about how much carnage, hate, killing and suffering has been caused by Religion down throughout the history of mankind. Looking at it from one point of view, I have to agree with the statement that Religion appears to have caused more harm than good. Islam, Christianity and Judaism seem to me to be the main offenders, and all are monotheistic religions.
I spent a while thinking about this.
I came to the conclusion (again a vast generalization, but it seems all that we can use when speaking of such a broad cross section of humanity) that it all comes down to Aristotle's dualism. By dualism I mean, that Aristotle was one of the first to advocate the philosophy of yes/no (or in computer terms one and zero) and that objects had an inherent "essence" that was unchangeable. This train of thought inevitably leads you to simple answers, Christianity appears to be either True (completely) or False (completely) and the same with Islam, and indeed many other religions (or cults - I distinguish a cult from a religion by the fact that a Religion has political backing, whereas a cult does not).
This dualistic approach as many of you will have noticed does not really gel well with real life, there seems to be a considerable amount of gray in our daily lives, all does not appear simply black and white. If you take this black and white approach, then you are threatened by anyone whose "beliefs" (without proof, opinion, religious faith..) differ in any way from your own - the mere fact that they are viewed as different seems to some individuals to invalidate any model of the way Universe works that they use. All of these systems (religions) seem to have evolved from the same basic thesis of "what the hell seems to be going on in Universe" and used specific models (the scientific use of the word model) to explain "what the hell seems to be going on".
Differing peoples in differing areas of the globe from differing cultural, language and geographical perspectives have tried to use what they see around them to come to an assumption (or what they consider most likely) of "what the hell seems to be going on".
Some of these religions, have never really caused much damage in the world - Buddhism for one. Most of the "religions" that have not caused noticeable amounts of suffering and strife come from a quite mystical non-dualistic bent and acknowledge that depending on where you come from, you will generally have a distinctly different view of the world (take the Inuit say as compared with a tribe in Papua New Guinea as an example of differing perspectives) and relate to God, Goddess, Godhead, Buddha mind, whatever in a distinctly different way to groups that come from other Geographical areas or philosophical schools. These mystical groups tend to realize that different groups inevitably end up using different iconography, and have a habit as far as I am aware to respect any differences between "factions". None of these religions (with the one exception I know of being witchcraft) seem to come from the West, where Aristotle's true/false logic rules. This even goes so far as today's sciences (take the photon - is it a wave?, is it a particle? discussion - physicists had to abandon dualism completely to figure out what now seems like a simple idea).
The three options (atheism, agnosticism, belief in "God") that most people see as the only options seem to me to be a direct result of the education system in the West, or should I say indoctrination systems, in that these options, in most cases appear to be the only choices you are presented with.
By discarding any sort of spirituality or ideas about the nature of Universe, in my view you will limit yourself, and abandon a fun ride. Which oddly enough appears to be just what "they" (ah the omnipresent "they") want you to do, religion, the less organised the better, can be fun.
No model that attempts to take into account the "true" nature of Universe can be proved or disproved, we just don't have the information (as our brains reside within Universe, and a very small part of Universe at that, and to "understand" Universe we would have to have brains that are capable of holding "all" data in Universe which would take, well roughly a brain that would be equal to the size of Universe to contain all the information, which seems to be, plainly impossible).
Any model that YOU choose can also be a very effective form of rebellion - the biggest "fuck you" to all those people out there who try to program your brain for you. In my view, in the nature of religious models of all types, none can be empirically proven to be "true" or "false" but I find this the fun bit, so long as it works for you, does it really matter? You also don't have to stick to one model all your life, try out a few........see which one works best. To me it appears less a matter of what "is true" and what "is false" than primarily a matter of utility. Choose what you want to believe in and if it benefits you, than it has a certain amount of "utility" in your life, and if it has "utility" then should be worth keeping. Of course you should consider bearing in mind that what has "utility" for you might not have the same effect on others, or me, but that's ok...
Just for fun, why not try out Hanotheism, the belief that "there are billions of gods", pick the one you like best and have fun with it, and acknowledge that others do the same. Since no one knows everything, all models appear to be equally right until proven otherwise (which I can't see happening by next Tuesday). When you do that, it becomes immaterial whether the "god" or godhead or whatever specific model you have developed "is more real" than other people's. Science states that "religious" people live longer and are happier, so should that not be a reason in itself? You don't have to fuck with the beliefs of others to have your own.
The point being, that if you have a true/false approach to religion or spirituality, you will find that many ideas or opinions that you have, once contradicted by another group or person (even if they do not intend to criticize you or your beliefs) will immediately cause "you" (being a person who has a dualistic belief system) to feel that your beliefs "are being threatened" or invalidated by this other. Thus, you either have to convince him or her that you "are right" (convert them) or get rid of them (burn the damn heretic). Also this kind of thinking in my opinion tends to cause the individual to seek out more people that agree with exactly the same dogma as they themselves do, as a way of validating their own beliefs (This seems to lead to thinking that, the more of "us" there are the more "real" our Deity is.) When these groups form you tend to start to hear phrases like "Look all of these guys think the same way boy, and you're a long way from home." Then it tends to be in the interest of your own health to agree with them - or invest in some security for your home.
I am religious (or spiritual, it depends on your own definition) myself. My particular belief system (or B.S, as Robert Anton Wilson said) has been created as decidedly nonhierarchical, and as I am a solitary practitioner does not involve proselytizing. My form of occultism (as I adopt and incorporate aspects of various B.S.'s that have utility to me), Has been designed to skip over that wonderful gatekeeper, the priest or priestess that most of the organised religions use to establish control and place a filter between you and the divine.
Personally I worship alone, practice Magick alone, and really don't give a damn what people think. So long as their belief does not hurt anyone else or infringe on others belief systems (B.S.). My relationship with the infinite does not need the involvement of anyone else, it has been my experience that you cannot communicate with the divine via a moderator, however much fun it looks like to have a gatekeeper.
You are, of course, free to believe whatever you want. But remember as Timothy Leary said "any reality is an opinion" this just happens to be mine.
Peace and Hope
Dr. Timothy Leary
Dr. Robert Anton Wilson
Dr. Christopher S. Hyatt
William S. Burroughs