Tag Archive | "God"

Peeling the Cosmic Onion – The Meaning of God


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From India Divyaa Kummar…

gothic-angel-wallpaper-for-blackberry-curve-8900-300x225God is a word which actually means every word and everything...so it works more like a symbol containing it all – or we would need to use every word in our dictionary to describe, understand, express or refer to God…

As long as we desire to ‘meet’ or ‘become One’ with God- we are going to have a ‘God’ outside self to do that with & the Godself That I Am cannot consciously Be. Our yearning-while it plays a vital ripening role in the unraveling of Self- at the very core implies some degree of a state/sense of separation. The gnosis that there is no God ‘out there’ shifts us from this desire into knowing its more about a growing awareness …of our Godhood or the state of consciousness we call ‘God’

Surrender or homage can be to Guru God or Self… all three states are seemingly the same &yet each is a subtle shift into establishing as authentic Self. When nothing-not even our guru or god stands between Self-when there isn’t even a grain of sand in between-do we truly abide in Self. Ultimately abiding in Self is beyond devotion, gyan even love .Devotion to whom? Love implies another. And Gyan-knowledge of Self is still a hairs breadth from being Self! And yet as Self- a state of being beyond duality & thus what we call contradictions- even though there is no other we view all as aspects of Self, and thus though one is beyond devotion love and gyan…they exist in relation to Self & all its reflections.

To see everything & everyone as Self- God- is being established in Self or the state of ‘seeing God!’ To know that nothing is not Self/God- is abiding in Self or the state of ‘seeing God’. This is the much spoken about purnam darshan; this is that full blown mystical vision that the mystics speak about! Indeed it is the yearning to receive some other… mystical … ‘purnam darshan’ – God vision that keeps us from this moment to moment purnam darshan… from this moment to moment here and now state of tangibly ‘seeing’ God!

angel-inspiration-10Self/ God/Consciousness is all pervading… present in the un-enlightened as much as in the enlightened; in the densest of matter as much as in spirit; in the smallest of small as in the vastness. There is not a single thought that is not ‘God’…even what seems to be ignorant of ‘God’ …is ‘God’… there is not a single body that is not ‘God’… even what seems to be separate from ‘God’ is God …! In this God vision as we see ‘God’ in every person, thing, happening, non happening… we move automatically from personal consciousness and its self that sees god…to Universal- God Consciousness!

God’ – ‘Consciousness’ – ‘Spirit’ implies a dynamic state of being… a kinetic state of perfection…. not something finished and done with! As ‘God’ – ‘Consciousness’ – ‘Spirit’ experiences, expresses, and revels in Itself, through its ‘individuations’, It expands, deepens and enriches Itself… and then ‘that’ enriched God’ – ‘Consciousness’ – Spirit’ has more to experience, express and revel in… and thus individuates, separates, sets forth, begins a new game, dream, venture … again…and again… infinitely…always from this ‘more’ enriched experience of Itself! Infinitely (in linear language, because ofcourse all of this ‘happens’ in the now! It’s the paradox of how All That Is …ever becomes ‘more’! Each such ‘cycle’ is also called one day of Brahma.

‘God’ and ‘the world’ is one reality –and these are just two (of the many) ways of perceiving the One. But please note they are only different ways of perceiving the one… and not two different parts! Like a drop of water is wet and transparent- you can’t separate the wetness and transparency other than in labeling it towards its understanding! And thus is the world (life, people, events & things) God or Spirit! Maya- illusion does not mean that the world does not exist- as from our point of focus it does- it only means it is not the only aspect! You have not viewed the whole- that’s the illusion!

God is no separate ‘Whole’… indeed there is no separate inviolate ‘Whole’ as we sometimes think. God in not a noun but a verb- the entire process of creation and thus all that is – even as individuations or in separation- makes up this ‘Whole’! God’ is not outside, but neither is God inside you…God is everything and everywhere!

Evolution is inherent in our DNA! God is in our genes! Our goal… is our Source!

We often think in terms of Gods creating us; but in truth it is we who create our gods! Sensing our purest qualities as ‘self’, but unable to accept this vision as self, we project them onto a ‘god’ or goal outside. Our highest potentials, the gods we seek to be, are in actuality our source and immanent in our Dna; that record keeper so to say that keeps all that we are intact within us while we play the game of seeming separation and ignorance.

552190-bigthumbnailAnthropomorphism, whereby we personalize or humanize an abstract god-like quality, to understand it better is the basis of all mythology. We bring the abstract to life, by assigning them name and form and history even. The intangible aspects that make up our universe are thus made tangible and easier to understand.

Our gods are each a unique exploration of the Whole- each a finely honed focus of the Whole; taking ‘back’ or actualizing an inimitable, distinctive aspect of the Whole! And thus each ‘god’ shows a different facet…none ‘teaching’ exactly the same! And sometimes humanity gets confused as to which is the truth! But that’s the whole point of creation! Whereby each individuation explores and actualizes a unique aspect of the whole for the whole! We imbue the whole with a unique slant! And thus must we not get perplexed by what the different gods are ‘saying’, but take from each god what helps us create our own vision and realization of the whole! For if we all ‘go back’ with the same picture…what a waste of eternity!

God is a frequency, a vibration… a state of Being… and thus His/Her names (also frequencies) are ‘Gods’ most original ‘form’…and thus in chanting or being one with the name… we are one with its frequency …and thus with ‘God’.

The grass is greener on the other side … of the cosmos ! God/Consciousness wants to explore Self through the human experience and mankind wants to experience self through the God experience! God/Consciousness gets set for the pleasures of amnesia /maya /forgetfulness and those within it are all set for awakening into remembrance! God/Consciousness want to descend to earth to be All That is –tangibly; and humanity wants to ascend to be All That Is –formlessly. As seekers we sometimes get too serious and judgmental about maya! We forget that as God/Consciousness I have willfully spun maya- and like any good author or movie maker- I want the experience to be all engaging- it ‘success/fulfillment’ lays in that surely? It’s like writing a book or making a movie where I want all to forget themselves and be wholly drawn into its illusory charms for that duration rather than be able to remain detached through it all ! Yet as its creator I know that in every story I create its ending is inherent – it cannot be any other way- thus as this nears, I will automatically and spontaneously leave it behind- but as its Creator I wouldn’t want it earlier than that! Indeed inherent in the forgetting is the remembering-its seeded unto the game –and it will happen at the right time for each of us Gods as The God playing the game gets fulfilled! And when it happens… as the Gods we are awaken from our creation… we condemn it not…nor judge the others Gods still playing!

12842bfbd160237ef5952509e35e2387It’s actually all in reverse! ‘We’ desire growth, evolution, God….when God/consciousness desires us to turn the corner and start returning ‘home’! Thus first God /Consciousness seeds in us the desire to set forth and explore…indeed to forget Him/Her …and dive into the game whole heartedly no hold barred… as required for any game! And when we as individuation’s have played our roles in the cosmic play …then does God/Consciousness seed in us the desire to return …rather than set out further…then are we drawn to the path! And as God./consciousness prepares us further towards dissolving unto Him/Her…then does the seeking heighten and the yearning deepens. And yet it is only when God./consciousness is ready to wrap up the game through a you…Only when God…Consciousness desires the final merger … mating … union … does it ‘happen’…till then the mating dance …the foreplay….is what He/She desires…and we remain ‘here’ separate yet closely entwined in divine embrace
In surrender. In love which has no goals…!

God is human – is this true or false? There nothing like true or false – those are only two points along the one continuum. And the answer can change at every point…till we can embrace all without rejecting the other! So yes god is human as all of us are! But then god is not human – as it’s when we dis-identify with our ego self – do we realize our divinity. The gods of mythology have a human personality each- but then that’s a way of describing the various aspects of impersonal consciousness ( Its called Anthropomorphism, whereby we personalize or humanize an abstract god-like quality, to understand it better is the basis of all mythology. We bring the abstract to life, by assigning them name and form and history even. The intangible aspects that make up our universe are thus made tangible and easier to understand.) Our gods are each a unique exploration of the Whole- a finely honed focus of the Whole… taking ‘back’ or actualizing an inimitable, distinctive aspect of the Whole! And thus each ‘god’ shows a different facet…none ‘teaching’ exactly the same! And sometimes humanity gets confused as to which is the truth! But that’s the whole point of creation! Whereby each individuation explores and actualizes a unique aspect of the whole for the whole! We imbue the whole with a unique slant! And thus must we not get perplexed by what the different gods are ‘saying’, but take from each god what helps us create our own vision and realization of the whole! For if we all ‘go back’ with the same picture…what a waste of eternity!

A meditative imagery: view self sitting across an exquisite glowing Shiva/or letter I. View behind this Shiva/letter I- a series of them –each becoming just a little taller, wider & glowing than the one before –like a finely graded series of statuettes going infinitely higher wider & taller till the last fills up the cosmos- formless indeed-only the glow perhaps- & know these are all ‘you’! Thus as your I Am presence expands –you abide in the higher & larger Selves- you abide as awareness Itself .But you simultaneously exist as all! You are simultaneously the largest focus of All That Is & the ‘smaller’ more finely honed current focus too! As you do this, he ‘you’ who was sitting across & observing these aspects of Self-disappears! There was no effort to move from the ‘personality’ ‘ego’ self …! As you became aware of, focused on &aligned with your (range of) I am presences…you automatically moved into It! Not looking at them anymore, but now looking through their eyes – as them! And ultimately as the largest- awareness Itself- established in your I Am presence! And yet, as current self, who is not anymore the personality but an aspect of the ‘I am’ presence!

Gothic-Angel‘God the Absolute/Spirit’ and ‘God the world/matter’ is One –and these are just two (of the many) ways of perceiving the One. Thus ‘God/Spirit’ and ‘world/matter’ are just different aspects of the One. Please note they are different facets… aspects… or ways/angles of perceiving the One – and not Its different parts! Like a rose is pink and soft- and we can’t separate a rose and its pinkness and softness other than in speaking or understanding it… like a drop of water is wet and transparent- and we can’t separate the wetness and transparency other than in labeling it towards its understanding! Likewise we can’t separate God the absolute and God the world. And thus is matter (life, people, events & things) spirit… and thus is the world…God. Maya/illusion does not mean that the world does not exist- as from our point of focus it does- it only means it is not the only state of being! You have not viewed the whole-that’s the illusion!

God is no separate ‘whole’ abiding somewhere in the beyond! Indeed there is no separate inviolate ‘Whole’ or ‘Absolute’ as we sometimes think God to be. There is no whole without its facets… and thus God is not separate from the universe, worlds, you and me… indeed all that is… even our world and the seemingly separated indivuated you and me… together… are the state we call God. Thus God the Whole/Absolute is not out there somewhere … but immanent in very atom of existence

God in not a noun but a verb... the entire process of creation in all its states and forms – even what we call maya – makes up this ‘Whole’ … God!

God is not outside, but neither is God inside us …God is everything and everywhere!

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Peeling The Cosmic Onion – The Gods Of Self


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35From India Corespondent Divyaa Kummar…

We often think in terms of Gods creating us; but in truth it is we who create our gods! As humans, we sense our purest qualities, but unable to accept them as ‘self’, we view them outside us initially…and call these our Gods and Masters. It is actually vision of Self – our highest ideas of Self encoded in our very Dna- but unable to claim these within us, we project them onto a ‘god’ outside.

Seers of earlier days viewed these highest potentials, qualities, essences ‘That” we truly are, and in order to describe them to the larger people, they gave them form and name. For example, describing life force as Shiva; abundance as Lakshmi; wisdom as Saraswati. And to further enumerate these qualities or essences, as each is made up of innumerable facets (for example life force can be expressed as power, as will and desire, as awareness even; and abundance is so many things at deeper and deeper levels: joy and bliss and profusion of all that is within to name but a few) and it could take sentences or pages or books to explore all the nuances of any one ‘quality’… were stories and mythology woven around them. This is called anthromopomorphism – whereby we personalize or humanize an abstract quality to understand it better! We give it human name and form and history even! We bring the abstract to life to understand it better! The intangible aspects that make up our universe, or explain what creation really is, was too subtle for initial mankind to truly grasp… and this tangibility made it easier! It’s truly what ‘stories’ are! It is what makes up most of mythology. For through these ‘stories’ can we more easily understand and identify the purer nuances of Self! And thus seek to be them!

And thus have our purest visions of Self, become our gods! And thus is our source projected outside as our goal! And thus are they all immanent in our Dna…that record keeper so to say that keeps all that we are intact within us while we play the game of seeming separation and ignorance! But bear in mind that the word ‘pure’ is without the judgment of being better than ‘dense’! For actually the only difference in pure and dense is the vibratory frequency at which I am exploring or experiencing Self! Thus yes, while pure does refer to our ‘finer’ vibrations …in the larger picture it is these finer aspects of self, which choose the ‘denser’ experiences to add to their finesse! And thus it works so beautifully! Finer aspects of Self, explore the denser realms to add to the perfection of Self …perfection doesn’t remain a static state of being! And yet, while we explore the more tangible realms we retain our purest aspects- outside us as gods to merge with! And within us -as our DNA to propel us forward!

154

From this follows the understanding that if our thoughts and feelings are the creative power through which we create life – then surely- critical mass humanity conjuring their gods in any given appearance would create these forms on inner levels? Whereby we would tangibly feel their ‘presence’ as such and thus consider them ‘real’? Strengthening our belief in ‘them’ and adding to that vitality that we first created on the inner planes! And thus drawing even more succor from these vitally tangible if not physical forms that hold (or are shaped by) our highest potentials! Yet if we can now make our gods more humane…not merely view them in the lofty, out- of- reach visuals that benefited us as early mankind, our gods will indeed exist as you and me…and the new avatars that the world is waiting for will ‘be’! Now is the time, and you are the avatar!

Lets take this a little further and view our gods in different ways- Mythological ‘gods’ which I have referred to above- the pure potentials and qualities That I Am. Thus qualities that makes up our very Dna! And our historical gods like Buddha, Jesus, Mahavir, Mohammed (to name a few) who as mankind actualized these pure potentials within them! The yet unknown gods that we are, individuations each on this same journey or play, unraveling the potential immanent in our DNA! What science calls extending the frontiers of our brain! And the Whole, Godself; from which we ‘descend’ metaphorically …for actually the cosmic play is happening within the Whole! Not outside as we usually conjure! There is no thing other than I…no ‘outside’! This is why there is no time and space! To grasp this beyond the intellectual, view in analogy yourself dreaming of visiting another country; conjure yourself older… and now younger; visualize what you consider ideal playmates to join you…and observe all of this happened within you, in the now! In that no space within you! And this is how we play our Cosmic game as God- within!

More so, our historical gods (like all of us) are each a unique exploration of the Whole; a finely honed focus of the Whole; taking ‘back’ or actualizing an inimitable, distinctive aspect of the Whole! And thus each ‘god’ shows a different facet…none ‘teaching’ exactly the same! And sometimes humanity gets confused as to which is the truth! But that’s the whole point of creation! Whereby each individuation explores and actualizes a unique aspect of the whole for the whole! We imbue the whole with a unique slant! We desire a distinctive experience for the whole! And thus must we not get perplexed by what the different gods are saying, but take from each god what helps us create our own vision and real-ization of the whole! For if we all ‘go back’ with the same picture…what a waste of eternity! And yet, bear in mind that actualizing any one aspect to its fullest potential, automatically leads to all our other divine qualities actualizing within us…for each facet is only a doorway! And once we ‘enter’ the whole through it, we actualize all that is within! And become the divine beings that we are!

And if we keep in mind, that ‘they’ our gods, are in the largest sense, ‘earlier’ aspects of Self (in non-linear terms or it all happens simultaneously) we do not feel so distanced from our highest potentials. As an earlier self, they are inherent in me and always there for me to tap into…and contribute to! For ‘they’ the gods are not stagnant, finished…but expanding every moment through us, their extended selves! Perfection is a dynamic state of being…not an end as we often consider it to be! And thus as current self taps into this ever expanding ’god or higher potential’, there is always more to tap into and thus further actualize! We contribute to our god selves even as they to us…what a beautiful cycle…!

 

 

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Peeling The Cosmic Onion – God Mythology


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From India Corespondent Divyaa Kummar…

We often think in terms of Gods creating us; but in truth it is we who create our gods! As humans, we sense our purest qualities, but unable to accept them as ‘self’, we view them outside us initially…and call these our Gods and Masters. It is actually vision of Self – our highest ideas of Self encoded in our very Dna- but unable to claim these within us, we project them onto a ‘god’ outside.

Seers of earlier days viewed these highest potentials, qualities, and essences as the way we truly are, and in order to describe them to the larger people, they gave them form and name. For example, describing life force as Shiva; abundance as Lakshmi; wisdom as Saraswati. And to further enumerate these qualities or essences, as each is made up of innumerable facets (for example life force can be expressed as power, as will and desire, as awareness even; and abundance is so many things at deeper and deeper levels: joy and bliss and profusion of all that is within to name but a few) and it could take sentences or pages or books to explore all the nuances of any one ‘quality’… were stories and mythology woven around them. This is called anthromopomorphism – whereby we personalize or humanize an abstract quality to understand it better! We give it human name and form and history even! We bring the abstract to life to understand it better! The intangible aspects that make up our universe, or explain what creation really is, was too subtle for initial mankind to truly grasp… and this tangibility made it easier! It’s truly what ‘stories’ are! It is what makes up most of mythology. For through these ‘stories’ can we more easily understand and identify the purer nuances of Self! And thus seek to be them!

And thus have our purest visions of Self, become our gods! And thus is our source projected outside as our goal! And thus are they all immanent in our Dna…that record keeper so to say that keeps all that we are intact within us while we play the game of seeming separation and ignorance! But bear in mind that the word ‘pure’ is without the judgment of being better than ‘dense’! For actually the only difference in pure and dense is the vibratory frequency at which I am exploring or experiencing Self! Thus yes, while pure does refer to our ‘finer’ vibrations …in the larger picture it is these finer aspects of self, which choose the ‘denser’ experiences to add to their finesse! And thus it works so beautifully! Finer aspects of Self, explore the denser realms to add to the perfection of Self …perfection doesn’t remain a static state of being! And yet, while we explore the more tangible realms we retain our purest aspects- outside us as gods to merge with! And within us -as our DNA to propel us forward!

From this follows the understanding that if our thoughts and feelings are the creative power through which we create life – then surely- critical mass humanity conjuring their gods in any given appearance would create these forms on inner levels? Whereby we would tangibly feel their ‘presence’ as such and thus consider them ‘real’? Strengthening our belief in ‘them’ and adding to that vitality that we first created on the inner planes! And thus drawing even more succor from these vitally tangible if not physical forms that hold (or are shaped by) our highest potentials! Yet if we can now make our gods more humane…not merely view them in the lofty, out- of- reach visuals that benefited us as early mankind, our gods will indeed exist as you and me…and the new avatars that the world is waiting for will ‘be’! Now is the time, and you are the avatar!

Lets take this a little further and view our gods in different ways- Mythological ‘gods’ which I have referred to above- the pure potentials and qualities That I Am. Thus qualities that makes up our very Dna! And our historical gods like Buddha, Jesus, Mahavir, Mohammed (to name a few) who as mankind actualized these pure potentials within them! The yet unknown gods that we are, individuations each on this same journey or play, unraveling the potential immanent in our DNA! What science calls extending the frontiers of our brain! And the Whole, Godself; from which we ‘descend’ metaphorically …for actually the cosmic play is happening within the Whole! Not outside as we usually conjure! There is no thing other than I…no ‘outside’! This is why there is no time and space! To grasp this beyond the intellectual, view in analogy yourself dreaming of visiting another country; conjure yourself older… and now younger; visualize what you consider ideal playmates to join you…and observe all of this happened within you, in the now! In that no space within you! And this is how we play our Cosmic game as God- within!

More so, our historical gods (like all of us) are each a unique exploration of the Whole; a finely honed focus of the Whole; taking ‘back’ or actualizing an inimitable, distinctive aspect of the Whole! And thus each ‘god’ shows a different facet…none ‘teaching’ exactly the same! And sometimes humanity gets confused as to which is the truth! But that’s the whole point of creation! Whereby each individuation explores and actualizes a unique aspect of the whole for the whole! We imbue the whole with a unique slant! We desire a distinctive experience for the whole! And thus must we not get perplexed by what the different gods are saying, but take from each god what helps us create our own vision and real-ization of the whole! For if we all ‘go back’ with the same picture…what a waste of eternity! And yet, bear in mind that actualizing any one aspect to its fullest potential, automatically leads to all our other divine qualities actualizing within us…for each facet is only a doorway! And once we ‘enter’ the whole through it, we actualize all that is within! And become the divine beings that we are!

And if we keep in mind, that ‘they’ our gods, are in the largest sense, ‘earlier’ aspects of Self (in non-linear terms or it all happens simultaneously) we do not feel so distanced from our highest potentials. As an earlier self, they are inherent in me and always there for me to tap into…and contribute to! For ‘they’ the gods are not stagnant, finished…but expanding every moment through us, their extended selves! Perfection is a dynamic state of being…not an end as we often consider it to be! And thus as current self taps into this ever expanding ’god or higher potential’, there is always more to tap into and thus further actualize! We contribute to our god selves even as they to us…what a beautiful cycle…!

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Atheism: The New Fundamentalist Regime


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From Larry Wohlgemuth…

I love to take shots at fundies because of their big-headed belief in their omniscience. It’s so unbecoming. Now atheists are giving fundies a run for the number one spot on my list. Their increasingly vocal claims that ‘there is no God’ comes across just as dogmatically as the fundie that predicts eternity in hell unless we follow their prescribed plan for salvation. Polar opposite twins.

I’m not sure where these militant atheists who demand I believe as they do are coming from, but I welcome anything that provides me more material. I can mock the self-proclaimed all-knowing no matter what their beliefs. However it begs the question, what’s happening to atheists and why are they becoming increasingly outspoken?

For any who may not know my position, you can worship mountain oysters as your God if you wish, I really don’t care what you believe. I understand my beliefs are what they are; beliefs and nothing more. While I try to live by them I’ll likely pull the big kackaroo only to learn the extent of my fallibility. Maybe there will be some tiny part that I got right, however my shortcomings don’t scare me nor do I anticipate an eternity of torment for my error; it’s just another lesson.

However I have to speak up about something I’ve observed recently that’s happening in atheism, mostly made up of people that once seemed extremely comfortable in their own skins. I noted in an online discussion the other day another indication of the increasingly fundamentalist atheist meme that more than implied the rest of us should change for our own good.

A woman stated that all who held religious viewpoints were insane and that science was the only true answer. Did she mean the science that bled us with leeches to cure disease, or that refused to believe in things unseen, causing countless deaths due to postsurgical infections because physicians wouldn’t wash their hands? Maybe she referred to the research grant whores who’ve propped up industries like tobacco in return for large sums of money, or the thousands of scientists who wrongly predicted a global cooling disaster and impending Ice Age in the 1970s. I’ll give more credence to science when they can at least replicate the feat of building the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Another guy was arguing in favor of the Golden Rule. Did he understand its origin was religiously based, with the first documented instance being 5000 years ago?

“This is the sum of duty. Do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you.”
– Mahabharata 5:1517, from the Vedic tradition of India,
circa 3000 BC.

A woman interjected the possibility that the way you want to be treated is not the way I would like to be treated. Taking her valid retort a step further, what if I want to be treated merely as a faceless cog in a society-driven machine, then wouldn’t the Golden Rule demand I labor to ensure that you are treated similarly? It would be a recipe for disaster for a society that applied it literally, but this man was just as intent on forcing his belief on me as any fundie I’ve encountered.

Maybe a good place to start would be with the definition of atheism:

a•the•ism –noun
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no god.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

This definition is from Dictionary.com, but several others were the same; each using the word belief, disbelief or both in their characterizations, and isn’t that the crux of the matter? When you come down to it, when all is said and done, atheism is simply a belief. Now maybe I’m wrong and they have some proof, so I’ll give them an opportunity to present it here.

Waiting.

Still waiting.

That’s what I thought. They can’t prove their position any more than the fundies can prove theirs, or I can prove mine, ergo the word belief. The only time beliefs become dangerous is when one group tries to foist theirs onto others, which inevitably results in violence. I see that possibility in both religious fundamentalism and the growing militancy in atheism. Maybe we should all take a breath.

In case anyone is interested, or even cares, this is how far I’ve gotten. If I see a chocolate cake sitting on the counter then I know a baker is somewhere to be found; I don’t have to see her to know she exists. The fact of creation demands that there be a creator in my thinking. Beyond that I’ve taken various religious, philosophical and metaphysical concepts and cobbled them into a sustaining faith, but I don’t have a clue if it’s right. However when I look at images sent back from the Hubble telescope I rest comfortably in the understanding that it’s something impossible for me to know while I’m on the physical plane.

So please, spare us your proclamations of omniscience and enjoy the ride, because we think you’re just as full of shit as the rest of us.

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The Multiplicity of God


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This is the promotional introduction to a documentary entitled “IN GOD’S NAME”, a CBS special produced in partnership with French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet. The film explores some of the most complex questions of our time and does so via the intimate thoughts of 12 of the world’s most influential spiritual leaders. Listening to the challenges our religious leaders face within their own religions, despite their absolute dedication and constant discipline, it becomes clear that simply to love our neighbors and accept them as we would ourselves is humanity’s biggest and most difficult test. In the end,  a planetary theology is without question an impossibility, but a universal experience is not.  At film’s end, it becomes clear this, above all else, needs to be our goal.

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Radical Christianity


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Religious radicalism is often attributed to the East. Brain-washing, extremism, indoctrination, marginalization of others, and learned hatred are time and again used to describe religions like Islam, amongst others, by the West. Extremism, however, is not indigenous to the Middle East. This is a clip from the highly controversial documentary “Jesus Camp,” a chilling reminder of how the perversion of any ideology, including religion, is tantamount to extremist mind-control. There are more of them out there than you think, and most especially in the United States of America. And let us not forget that George W. Bush is an evangelical Christian who often credits Jesus Christ with saving his life. No one can deny that the kind of thought process seen in this documentary influenced his now infamous administration.

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A Path Less Traveled


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j0442385September 11, 2001 changed the lives of so many people. RELATIVITY OnLine’s Dr. Ron Villejo continues where he left off last month in his second of a three part series of articles examining the after shocks. Each of us remembers the months that followed but for Villejo life was set to take a very surprising  turn. Just six months after the Al Queda slaughtered thousands of innocent people in the streets of America, he was sent to the Middle East on a consulting assignment, having never been there before. Fate took him to Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks. Life, as it often does, then simply happened.  

Have you ever visited a place, and found the place changing your life before your very eyes?  Is there such a thing as fate that happens in your life? 

Six months after the horrors of the September 11th terrorist attacks (2001), I made my very first trip to the Middle East.  And nothing about my life could ever be the same again.  It wasn’t anything that I chose to do – but, as I’ve come to see, a thing that somehow was chosen for me.  What’s more, to feel so much at home in the Middle East was something I could not have imagined in a million years!  I was a privileged boy from Manila, who became an American citizen from Chicago and who had rarely traveled outside the North American borders. 

How and why does a Filipino-American feel at home in Middle East?  I’ll tell you the story. 

I was working for a US-based international consulting firm, and a colleague contacted me about a consulting project in Bahrain – leadership programs.  Apparently my General Manager had assigned me to be part of this team, because of the successes I’ve had in consulting on such programs – and because, I imagined, he knew I was ‘game’ to travel to some place new.  At first, I had no idea where Bahrain was on the map.  So, yeah, it was new alright! 

The client was Saudi Arabian, the biggest oil producer in the world.  And, collectively, the projects we were doing for them came to be among the top two or three projects that our firm was doing worldwide.  Fairly quickly, I was involved in something that had high visibility in the firm – not just because of the business potential of working with this client, but also because there was quite a stir in the American media and public about the fact that the majority of the terrorists were Saudi.  

The trip from Chicago, through Amsterdam, then to Bahrain in March 2002 was interminable. We arrived in the middle of the night, tired but too restless to fall asleep.  Our client planned to take the team out for lunch, so he met us at the hotel.  The noonday sun was way too brilliant for my eyes, even while standing inside the lobby. 

Well before this trip, we were oriented to Arabic culture and trained on how this project was going to be different from others we had done.  We were schooled, for example, to never show the soles of our shoes, and this meant that we were to keep our feet on the floor whenever we sat with our client.  On our first meeting, I sat nervously like this, upright with a stiff back and as alert as possible in the haze of jet lag and sleeplessness. We were also told not to eat with our left hand, so even lunch and dinner were, at first, an awkward experience, as I kept my left hand on my lap and ate with my right hand. 

Further, we were not to extend our hand to shake an Arab lady’s hand, unless she extended it herself first.  Remember, we were working with a client from a country that was among the most conservative and strict in the Islamic world.  So, knowing this, I took these cultural lessons further and made sure that I made no eye contact with Saudi ladies (many were completely covered).  I also made sure that there was absolutely no risk of brushing up against them.  Now, don’t think I was taking this to an extreme.  I was spot-on with the extra caution I was taking.  In fact, our security detail in Riyadh, for another Saudi project, told me that, yes, even the slightest, incidental contact with a Saudi lady could land me in jail.

Thankfully, all such nervousness passed in short order.  I quickly and markedly came to relish my trips to the Middle East – which were about once a month, lasting two to six weeks. 

First, I found the diverse people in the region to be the friendliest I’ve known, without question.  For example, I was in Kuwait, and had a business meeting scheduled with a prospective partner.  But the taxi driver didn’t know exactly where the office building was, so without speaking English, he vaguely pointed me… ‘somewhere over there.’  After walking around for a few minutes, and running late for my meeting, I walked inside the Kuwait Finance House for help.  The Arab gentleman at the front desk must’ve seen on my face that I was lost.  Well, he not only gave me directions, but he actually got up and walked me to the office building! No way would this happen in Chicago. 

What’s more, the Saudi managers we were working withoften invited us for dinner at their homes.  I had my first ‘dose’ of their hospitality – and further lessons on their culture – when a colleague and I arrived to find our host’s wife and daughters separated from anything we did.  The four of us, including his brother, had a lavish spread for dinner, which his wife had prepared for us.  An Omani manager I was coaching offered to show me around Muscat, as our visits were often consumed with work so I had had very little chance to tour the city.  In Dubai, too, I easily made friends, in just a matter of a day or two, during extended layovers, for example, from Riyadh to Muscat.  For instance, an Emirati gentleman took me out for dinner, the first time we met, and we talked for hours as if we were brothers!

Interestingly, I’ve had a number of friends tell me that people in the region weren’t very friendly.  So they’d look at me with a fair amount of skepticism, when I kept saying the opposite. 

Second, I led more or less a sheltered life while growing up in Chicago.  I’ve mentioned in previous articles that for various reasons, my parents separated us from Filipino people and things.  So I effectively lost my country, my culture, and my native tongue.  But, unexpectedly, I found so many Filipinos working throughout the Middle East.  I hadn’t been around so many of them, since I was a little boy in Manila.  They’d smile that knowing smile at me – knowing that I was their kababayan (fellow Filipino).  Funny thing, though, once they’d hear my American accent, they’d get confused and wonder where the heck I was from – Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan?!?  I’ve had Filipino friends in Dubai jokingly tell me to keep my mouth shut and let them do the talking.

I joined this consulting firm, because I knew they had a strong presence in Asia – and more specifically because I thought I’d have an opportunity to make my first visit to the Philippines in ages and ages.  Well, I never made it to Asia, while I was with the firm, even though I pushed for a year to join a consulting project there.  Instead, I landed in the Middle East.  One key reason I felt so at home in the Middle East was the wide presence of my kababayan.   

Third – and this is the main reason why I felt more than just at home, but fatedto be here in the Middle East – I had a particular series of conversations, over time, with various Saudis.  A couple of them, on separate occasions, said I looked Saudi.  I was flattered, and thanked them.  But another incident made me shudder.  Three Saudi men asked me if I had trained them before.  I said, “It’s possible.  I’ve done many training programs before.  Where were the programs held?”  “Jeddah,” they replied.  “Well, no,” I corrected them, “It wasn’t me, because I’ve never been to Jeddah.”  These men were actually not asking to begin with.  They were convinced that I had, in fact, been their trainer.  When I joked, “Well, it must’ve been my twin brother,” they were not laughing in the least!  (Oh, man, I exclaimed to myself, I just had to slide out of that conversation.)  What I came to learn was that the Western province of Saudi Arabia, where Jeddahis located, was populated with Central Asians and other Asians.  One gentleman said I must be a “Bohari Saudi.”  I related this story to a Pakistani driver in Riyadh, and he confirmed that I looked as such. 

So I had begun to wonder, Do I have Arab blood in me?  I suppose it’s possible that I have ancestors from Central Asia.  But what I think is a more plausible explanation is this.  I do have Spanish heritage, with Spain having colonized the Philippines for almost four centuries.  And we know that Arabs had a strong presence in Spain at points in history.  Maybe some of my ancestors – from my great grandfather, and back – were Arab Spanish.    

But did fate bring me to the Middle East, because somehow it knew that thisregion was my home?!?  I’ll tell you, my relationships withthe Arabs in the region were more than just about friendships.  There was a resonating connection we forged witheach other.  Honestly, I think they loved me, because I could understand them.  I listened to them, with the kind of empathy in which I placed myself mind and spirit in their bodies.  In turn, I loved them because they’d share their personal stories and helped me learn and feel comfortable.  Over dinner, another Saudi gentleman mentioned having traveled to Makkahin the last few days of Ramadan one year.  He had brought his son withhim, but he felt the need to be in the mosque by himself, so he had him stay with his sister.  He told me about being very uncomfortable sleeping on the floor the first few nights in the mosque.  But by the fourthor fifthnight, it was a sort of revelation he had.  His eyes lit up in the dim light of the restaurant, as he related his story.  He said he felt close to God, at that point.  Americans don’t often talk about religion.  The country is so secular in its separation of church-and-state that it’s outside business protocol to talk about God or religion.  You just don’t do that.  But there I was, with this Saudi gentleman, talking about this very thing – the first of many such open conversations I’ve had.

Such talk of God didn’t so much shape my religious ideology and values, but more, I think, it gave a forum for the things that were already inside me, then, to come forth.  Interestingly, some friends have not only wondered whether I was Muslim, but have complimented me when I had said something that mirrored Islam.  This is my story – I was born Catholic, but gave up this religion in my teens for reasons I talked about in a previous article in this magazine (“The Evolution of Faith”).  I had never studied Islam, except for reading a few articles and a couple of books on Arab culture and history.  But clearly what was emanating from my heart and mind, naturally, was Muslim!

We did our best to accommodate prayer times, in scheduling our programs in the Middle East.  Besides the curiosity and learning I had around this, I came to pine, quietly, at the relative lack of sacredness in American society.  A Muslim friend tells me, his daily prayers help him not only to feel close to God, but also to rid himself of any negative feelings about anyone.  How wonderful, I thought.  Since arriving in the Middle East, I’ve incorporated prayer in my daily sitting meditation. 

Ron Villejo, PhD

ron.villejo@gmail.com

+971 50 715 9026

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The Coin of Islam


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nafjan1Before America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Sunni / Shia divide was lost on most Westerners. Setting aside the more complex issues surrounding Wahabis, Druze, Sufis, Ismailis or even Bahia’s, on its most basic levels, Islam is broken down into two primary sects. When one searches for the fundamental source of all differences between Shias and Sunni’s, it lies in the paramount disagreement between who was the last true prophet or great imam. Over the centuries, this disagreement has evolved into distrust, dislike and at times even hatred. RELATIVTY OnLine’s Saudi Arabian corespondent Eman Al Nafjan takes us across Islam’s dual-sided coin of identity.

Long before the Madinah affair, I’ve thought about writing a post on the difference between Shia and Sunnis and then I thought why put myself in a minefield of misunderstandings. After reconsideration, I reasoned that nothing ever gets resolved by keeping quiet so I might as well write. When the Madinah affair happened this week, I tried to get informed but that is not possible with our “on a strict need to know” basis news organizations and biased websites. Youtube is even worse, all I could find on there was a bunch of chaotic crowds that could be either Sunni or Shia. So this is not a post on that particular incident, it’s a general post from someone who was raised Sunni, visited Qatif (where Saudi Shias are concentrated) and taught hundreds of students of both sects.  

Before the international spread of the internet and Iraqi war, not much was heard or written about sectarian differences in Islam. The majority of Arabs are Sunnis with Arab Shias concentrated in Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq. In Saudi Arabia they are a minority with most originating from the eastern region. The break in Islam into the two sects reminds me of the break between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, with Shias resembling the Catholics with all these saints and rituals and Sunnis resembling Orthodoxies with an emphasis on puritanical practices. I have seen paintings of Ali bin Talib (RAA) that could just as well have been paintings of Jesus in a church with the beard and long hair. Saudi Sunnis interpretation of Islam could be considered as parallel to the Amish and Mormon interpretations of Christianity. If you squint and glaze over the details, the history looks quite similar, with Islam currently being in its own version of the Dark Age.  

At a more personal level my experience has been mostly neutral with phases of mystification with what I hear about Shias. However my sources were questionable as they were other Sunnis like myself. I have attempted a few times to ask Shias I know about their interpretation but it was awkward and uncomfortable. Online it’s even worse when you are looking for answers from a Sunni to Shia perspective and vice versa because those forums are just a bunch of narrow minded idiots exchanging vulgar insults.

Growing up, I would hear about Shias, mostly students studying at the colleges here in the capital. Within Saudi Sunni circles controversy surrounding the Shias centers around four claims:  

1- Warnings that Shias gain religious points by harming Sunnis

2- Watch Shias the day after Ashoora (Islamic day) because they always wear long sleeves and turtle-necks to hide their injuries

3- They reject and insult some of the prophet’s closest companions.

4- And of course Mutaa’ marriages (pleasure based marriages that are temporary and require no witnesses or legal papers). And I would like to note here that I was shocked to learn that this was also ok in Sunni Islam until very late in the Prophet Muhamed’s lifetime (PBUH).

When my family lived in the US we became good friends with another Saudi family who happened to be Shias from Qatif. Once back in Saudi Arabia, we visited them at their home in Qatif. It was quite fun. The family was liberal and we all sat together men and women. They also introduced us to the man’s brother and we got invited to the brother’s house as well. It was generally a pleasant experience. Qatif itself is similar to Qaseem; lots of old building and a whole bunch of areas that are called villages but to me might as well be one great big city because the distance between them doesn’t qualify them to be separate villages. They returned the visit when they came to Riyadh and the wife did something that my whole family thought was strange. They were over for dinner but she would not eat or drink anything. This could be something idiosyncratic especially considering that her husband was natural and dug in with the rest of us. But my family could not help but think that it was rude and that she might have done something to our food when we were over at their house. Again this might have nothing to do with religion or she might have thought that we meant to harm her as part of our Sunni practices. The friendship originated with the men and was strong between my father and her husband. The ladies, my mother and the wife were just playing nice and her not even drinking a cup of tea put a damper on things. Later on I got to know a lot more Saudi Shias as colleagues and students. What makes them stand out is their Arabic accent which reminds me of the Bahraini Arabic accent and the fact that they are generally more serious and hard-working than my Najdi and Hijazi students. They rarely have the spoiled materialistic air about them that the others do.

I predict that sectarian differences will remain for awhile and some warfare will be based on it, as is the case in Iraq. But eventually Arab Muslims will see the pointlessness of their squabbles and inequities. They’ll learn to be more religiously introspective rather than the current state of self-righteousness and fixation on correcting everybody else’s beliefs.

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The Evolution of Faith


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villejoSince the dawn of time, religion has meant so much to so many people. Even in a postmodern secular world, with words like “spiritual” and phrases like “life-force” becoming a part of the social matrix, religion and its many forms still make up the very backbone of cultures the world over.  For many, its different than it once was, but no less important. Staff Dr. Ron Villejo takes RELATIVITY OnLine readers into his own personal journey of faith.

Religion.  What comes to mind, when you hear the word?  What does religion mean to you?  How religious are you?  

What I write about, here, is a sensitive matter.  You may like it, perhaps because it resonates with what you believe or what you’ve experienced.  Great.  Conversely, you may detest it, perhaps because it runs counter to or even disrespects your beliefs and practice.  Apologies.  Regardless, please comment below.  

I’ll navigate this sensitive terrain, first, by owning up to some facts about me:  

I was born as a Catholic in Manila.  Filipinos are largely Catholic, because this religion was one of the enduring imports from the Spanish colonization of the early 1500s to the late 1800s.   

I am not a religious expert.  Outside of having attended all-boys Catholic schools, plus a Buddhism course in the university, what I know of religion comes from observation and experience, from readings, hearsay and conversation.  So this article is purely personal in its views and account.  Again, please comment and correct any mistakes I’ve made.

I no longer follow Catholicism and I am not religious by any stretch.  But I do very much believe in God and have worked to build what I feel is a good relationship with Him.  

One school I attended as a boy in the Philippines was Don Bosco, situated in Parañaque, a well-to-do suburb southwest of Manila.  We had our morning calisthenics in the expansive, cement grounds.  We’d also have our daily prayers at church.  The classroom process mirrored the regimented nature of our schedule, with obedience, discipline and attention being paramount.  

Some of our teachers were nuns.  I took a liking for our primary teacher – who was a petite lady, whom I found to be kindly by and large, but who also had a very strict, even mean streak about her.  I was occasionally petrified of this lady, but this incented me more to stay on her good side.  We had a fund-raising activity at one point, and I worked like gangbusters to raise the most money – mostly from my family and relatives.  And she loved it!  

But, at one time, someone did something wrong.  No one confessed to it.  So our teacher had us line up in a single file toward the front of the class, where she’d whack us on our ass, one by one, with a wooden yardstick.  For the life of me, I cannot remember actually being whacked.  But we know the defense mechanism of repression can serve to protect us from emotional or physical pain, that is, by conveniently sliding such a thing outside of our memory.  We can thank Sigmund Freud for this insight and mechanism :]

What’s more, my favorite teacher used a form of punishment that wouldn’t be acceptable, in the least, in many schools now:  She’d command a transgressing boy, for example, to drop his shorts and underwear, whack him on the ass, then have him stand outside the classroom for a period of time.  Half-naked!  I remember one boy, in particular, suffering such a shameful punishment.  He seemed like a nice and sweet enough boy that my memory of him – there, half-naked – is a discordant set of images about what the hell he did and why he was punished.  

So there you have it:  These were among my early inculcation into the Catholic religion – sacred and regimented, comforting yet embarrassing.  

Our journey from the Philippines to the US in 1968 seemed interminably long.  We had a 24-hour layover in Japan, and had a chance to tour jam-packed Tokyo and to shop and eat.  From there, it was a trans-Pacific flight to Seattle in the northwest corner of the US.  It was a mad rush to catch our connecting flight to Chicago.  I remember my 5-year old brother, feeling very tired and out of sorts, sitting on the floor and refusing to go any further.  I remember us being very irritated with him, but who could blame the weary kid for his recalcitrance?      

We as a family brought our Catholic practice to the US.  My friends over the years, both in the US and from different countries, saw the country as being diverse and tolerant of religious practice.  From my experience, I can vouch for this view as being spot-on.  In fact, it is the official position of the US to keep church and state separate – that is, the government is to remain secular and to allow its people the freedom to exercise their faiths.  Different countries forge different relationships between church (or mosque or temple etc.) and state:  Compare, for example, France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.   

The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, while a notable clutch of them say they have no religious affiliation.  Many things about American life, broadly speaking, were different from Filipino life.  But somehow the Catholic churches we attended – from our first Chicago neighborhood, to the suburb of Arlington Heights – had that same somber, sacred and regimented feel I had at Don Bosco.  So, in this respect, we felt very much at home in that new country.  

The handful of homes we lived in had just a smattering of religious objects – portraits of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, a couple of strands of palm tied into ribbon-like loops, a candle in small red glass holders.  But what I remember most was the crucifix in each of our bedrooms.  Our parents were clear that the crucifix was to be set high on the wall at the head of the bed.  It was never to be fixed on the wall, where our feet would be pointed to, when lying down in bed.  That would’ve been sinful, we were told.    

We attended church every Sunday morning, fasting for a short period before mass.  I cannot speak to all that was going on in my head in those fateful first few years of attending church in the US.  But, remember, American society is liberal and pluralistic.  Within such a milieu do Catholicism, its churches and its people lie.  For me, it meant that I began to wonder about and reflect on and to question and challenge what I was hearing and seeing.  

For example, in preparation for communion, the priest would refer to “the body and blood of Christ” – a small round wafer-like thing symbolized His body, and wine (or grape juice, I believe) represented His blood.  One by one, in a processional, each of us would walk on the center aisle toward the altar, and consume the body and blood of Christ.  Such consumption was, for me, one of the holiest moments at church.  Think about this:  To take-in, essentially, our messiah was quite a heady, remarkable thing.  But as a boy, I grappled with how to reconcile the physical reality of body and blood and the Jesus Christ we were symbolically consuming.  I grappled with this a fair amount.                  

Moreover, I understood in a general sense other key Catholic notions of “original sin,” crucifixion of Christ, and His rising from the dead.  I began to rail, in my mind at least, at the religious doctrine of humanity’s sinful nature – which we as Catholics, by default, inherited from the fall of Adam and Eve, when they ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  Yes, of course, I understood as an adult that original sin was distinct from personal fault.  Still, I came to sense some Catholics’ pervasive posturing of forgiveness, as if they were living proof of that sinfulness.  Of course, I do not believe there is an adult who is so saintly as to be doing everything perfectly right.  So he or she conceivably could have something, on any given day, to ask forgiveness for.  But think about a newborn:  This babe apparently needed salvation. too.  Why, I thought, isn’t a babe born innocent and pure?   

The answers to why are, of course, given in various texts and teachings, and one can basically make sense of such reasons and explanations – even if one doesn’t quite agree.  But here’s my point, as a boy growing up in the US, American culture was instilling in me its values and these I was taking in – in time more forthrightly than the body and blood of Christ.  What were those values?  Independence.  Autonomy.  Freedom.  Basically, accountability to self.  The self was where relationships, action and thought began.  Yes, if I did something wrong, I needed to be held accountable.  If not, then, it was flatly wrong, I believed, to be faulted by others or to accept blame willingly.  

My intentions here aren’t to get into a treatise about religion or to make this a lengthy memoir of my resonance and criticism of Catholicism.  Instead, it was to portray the culturally-derived seeds of rebellion germinating within my body, mind and soul.  In time, I stopped going to church.  I questioned many more things about what I was hearing and seeing – why, additionally, the church did not allow women to be priests?  The equality of men and women was being fought bitterly in many segments of American society, and this was yet another value that I came to adopt – egalitarianism as a fundamental right of both man and woman.  The church didn’t appear to espouse this.  

Why, more importantly, did some Catholics, whom I knew or heard about, lie to others, break the rules, hurt or kill others, and altogether sin?  Yet, they’d have the gall to expect that they will be forgiven just by attending church, praying regularly, and taking the body and blood of Christ.  Hypocrisy!  I don’t know, but I imagined that God did forgive them.  But didn’t they know that God was aware of every moment of their transgression – as well as the sincerity, or lack thereof, of their commitment to do right going forward?   Foolishness!

I remember, one time as a boy, a friend and I ditching Catholic Sunday class.  We didn’t just skip class, we actually snuck into a couple of adjoining rooms and disrupted the session by creating a bit of noise and teasing the students from the opposite side of the glass dividers.  We were being foolish, to say the least.  At bottom, we were being bad.  We owned up to that.  We didn’t get caught, so we never got into trouble.  

My rebelliousness, thankfully never an outright or major problem, was to evolve into an adulthood of choice, confidence and efficacy.  I never lost my belief in God, though I questioned Him several times.  Still, I never returned to the Catholic church, for I came to believe in the notion that God and His Kingdom were within each of us.  I never rid myself of my faultiness or limitations, but I’ve owned up to them and, most importantly, I don’t impose this on others or complain about it as if it were others’.  I came to believe that, based on God and His Kingdom being within all of us, to do good for others was in fact to serve God.  

For me, going to church and following its sacred yet curious rituals weren’t necessary.   

 

Ron Villejo, PhD

ron.villejo@gmail.com

+971 50 715 9026

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Being Godless


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godAs the first week of Ramadan unfolds, more than a billion Muslims around the world are reminded of the greatness of God and a higher power than humankind. Like Easter for Christians and Hanukkah for Jews, Ramadan is the holiest time of the year within the borders of Islam; a time for worship, respect and family. An individual known only as “Harbortenor” chose this time to submit an article arguing that there is no such thing as God.

Sin is different for different people and different gods at different times. In some countries people love their neighbours, in other countries people eat them. In Mexico, one man may marry one wife. In Yemen, one man may marry many women. In Tibet, one woman may marry many men. In Holland, a man may marry another man and a woman may marry another woman. We learn, therefore, that sin is geographical and that morality changes from time to time and from place to place.

But what is morality? Put very simply, it is about how we treat others. In order to live with a semblance of harmony in a social setting, we need to show consideration for others. We know humans do this. But we also know that various animals do it as well: dolphins, chimps, wolves…the list is endless. Many species of mammals have rules governing how to fight and how to reconcile. Even gestures of dominance and subordinance can be seen in a moral light.

How then do humans know what is right and wrong. To paraphrase Euthyphro’s dilemma: Is something good because some God commands it? Or does this God command something because it is good? If it is the former, then right and wrong are the product of God’s arbitrary and capricious will, and to heed his will and surrender to his morality would simply be blind obedience to authority—beyond the scope of discussion or appeal. However, if it is the latter, then good and bad, right and wrong are independent of God’s will, and knowledge of God’s will is redundant and unnecessary. We can discover morality for ourselves.

Where then do we get our morality if not from God? Morality has nothing to do with theology or philosophy. Morality is a product of biology. Scientists now talk of a moral grammar that is programmed into our brains and hardwired into our genes. There are certain schemas of behaviour that we are born with. We have an instinct for morality in the same way we have an instinct for language.

To say that people had no way to distinguish right from wrong until that precise moment Moses came down from the mountain with his ten commandments is to do a great disservice to humanity.

Some people may be prompted to ask why then, if we all have a moral compass, are there so many criminals?

There is a difference between deciding what is right and wrong and associating such an evaluation with the relevant emotion. Most criminals know instinctively that murder is wrong or cheating is wrong. But they do it anyway. So what is hampered in their case is not their moral compass, but their ability to make the appropriate emotional response. Knowing what is right and doing the right thing are two separate functions of the brain.

A crucial role in morality may also be played by memes: those non-genetic, cultural units—represented by an idea, value, or pattern of behaviour—that are passed from one person to another by imitation or instruction. To put it simply, memes are the cultural counterpart of genes.

Assisting a wounded member of the tribe, caring for an elderly relative, or showing reverence for one’s parents are examples of memes. Memes are just as useful in promoting this or that morality. The finer details may vary between communities, but in general, it has been found that the communities that survive are the ones that promote cooperation, negotiation, respect for authority, and so on. It is not in the tribe or community’s interest to waste valuable time, resources, and energy in in-fighting.

Our opinions on issues of morality are based on emotions, rational thought, or instinct. Consider the following newspaper headline: Mother kills her own four-year-old child.

Such an act would evoke disgust in most people regardless of time, place, or milieu. There would be calls for her to be severely punished.

But if we were to read the article further, we would discover that the mother was Akeda, a woman from Congo, where mercenaries from a rival faction had raped her repeatedly and killed three of her children. She was told that the only way she could protect her two-year-old infant was to pull the noose around her four-year-old child. It is a grotesque and unimaginably difficult thing to do. If she hadn’t done it, both her children would die. If she killed one, the other would survive. Akeda made the choice and did the deed. In doing so, she ensured the survival of her infant.

Most people, on being confronted with these facts, would feel an instinctive sense of pity for the mother’s plight. Even those who feel she acted wrongly would not call for a harsh punishment against her. Again, this reaction will be true regardless of time, place, or milieu. This is a classic moral case of emotion being overruled by instinct.

Another often-quoted example is of a train hurtling down, with a young man asleep on the tracks. The only way the driver can prevent a tragedy is to change tracks. But he notices there is a group of five children standing on the other track, and they will undoubtedly be killed if he changes tracks. What is the driver to do?

Most people from diverse cultures agree almost immediately that, in such a scenario, the driver will have no choice but to sacrifice the one man and save the five children.

However, consider the following scenario often quoted as a companion story to the previous one:

There is a doctor in a hospital. On one particular day he receives a patient who has had heart failure and needs a new heart. A short while later another patient is admitted who has had kidney failure and needs new kidneys. Shortly later, another patient is wheeled in who has liver cancer and needs a new liver. As the doctor contemplates how to go about treating these diverse patients, he notices a young man in the waiting room reading a newspaper and minding his own business. He looks in good enough condition. The doctor then wonders if he should sedate the young man, wheel him into the operation room, and harvest his kidneys, heart, and liver. In doing so he would save three people at the expense of one.

Most people from diverse cultures agree that to do so would be unethical. When pressed to explain how it is different from the previous case where one man is sacrificed for five, they were unable to justify their response. This is a classic moral case in which logic is overruled by instinct.

Things become more complicated in the example of the train if we assume the single person lying on the track happens to be the driver’s wife or mother or brother. What then should the driver do? What if there was a bridge above the tracks with a huge, heavy man sitting on the side of the bridge? If this heavy man were pushed upon the tracks he would die but the weight of his body would stop the train in its tracks. Should we push the fat man and save the five people?

Most people—in fact, almost all people—agree that it would be morally wrong to push the fat man off the bridge in order to save the five people. However, many are unable to articulate why they think so.

Marc Hauser, the Harvard biologist who came up with these thought experiments, backed up with statistical surveys, tells us that the responses to these case studies did not change if the person was religious or atheist. This is clinching evidence that one doesn’t need either God or religion to be moral. Morality is built into our minds and our genes. And because the moral faculty depends upon specialised brain systems, the failure of which can lead to moral deficiency, we would be compelled to treat criminals more humanely.

If we are moral, we are fortunate enough to have a brain that functions more or less “normally.” In many ways, this might be obvious, for it takes a seriously disturbed brain to direct a person to repeatedly kill, have sex with the dead victims, dismember the bodies, and eat them—as some serial killers have been known to do. It’s obvious that their brains are functioning very differently.

Seen in this light, it would seem that some of the religious strictures handed down to us are simply not powerful enough to stop us from disobeying if it goes against our instincts. A simple example is fornication. Centuries of flaccid priests and frustrated prophets have told us that sex before marriage is abominable in the eyes of the Lord—whether he be Allah, Jehovah, or Yahweh. They have been woefully inadequate in stopping people from fornicating. Fornicators instinctively see no harm in two unmarried consenting adults sleeping together. The only use religion has in such a situation is to make people feel guilty about what they’ve done, but it’s nowhere nearly persuasive enough to stop them.

For centuries we’ve had prophets, mullahs, and priests functioning as our morality bank, minting tokens of scruples and righteousness for us, crediting and debiting our piety account and keeping tabs on our collective conscience. It is my opinion that we don’t need religion to help us distinguish good from bad. We are born with this capacity. Morality is not divine, it is biological.

From Harbortenor…

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