I remember the moment quite clearly, though I was sauced at the time.
It was 1989, the birthday party for my friend Marcy. I was in a new relationship with Rhonda, whom I loved very much–at least as much as I thought I could being so young. I knew I loved Rhonda and I knew she’d said she loved me, but I cried because I couldn’t feel it. I had her words and actions to go by and nothing else. I told her this but I don’t think she understood. I was a drunken mess. What can I tell you. I didn’t understand my own thought enough to explain it to her even if I was sober.
The reason I think of this melodramatic tirade from 20 years ago has to do with Colin McGinn. He is an atheist philosopher, one of the six interviewed on the Atheism Tapes
(well worth watching. It’s on Netflix
). In his interview he talked about the “god” concept being around–being so prevalent in society–because it answers the loneliness we all feel because of being locked in our own skulls. We make up this concept because we are all truly very much alone inside ourselves.
I call it the Tragedy of the Human Condition. We are unable to truly convey the thoughts we have. I don’t care how much of a command you have over your given language you cannot explain some thoughts so well they will be perfectly understood. That’s where art comes in, I suppose.
We are all alone. All of us.
Do you think perhaps that’s really why people can’t let go of religion? Why they can’t let go of god?
Our soon-to-be-former President and our destructive stay in Iraq spawned, among other things, a wave of atheist sentiment which included three great books: The God Delusion
, God is not Great
and The End of Faith
. All three of these approach the subject of atheism in different ways, each according to the backgrounds of their authors, and with different amounts of vitriol at our species’ destructive dance with god.
I spent a lot of time myself going over spirituality, metaphysics and religion over the last 20 years. I came to Zen Buddhism and Taoism early on in that search and liked them both. The fact that neither one requires a supernatural deity or a godman is even more appealing. I’ll come back to this later.
I went back and forth with Christian mysticism as well trying to strike a balance between the Catholicism of my youth and the things I knew made more sense. Some of that was also mixed in with Gnosticism, both in its historical sense and in its metaphysical sense. At this point I will direct you to Timothy Freke
and his books. He pushes his sources to the limit to make a point but his argument about the “Abrahamic religions” being false and destructive is a valid one.
Freke points out that the story of Jesus is a copy of the mystery cults that were found all over the Mediterranean at the time and posits the theory that the Jesus Movement was one started by Saul of Tarsus (Paul) among others as a Jewish version of the mystery cults. This makes sense given the fact that the story later recounted in the Gospel of Mark (upon which the other three Gospels were based) is essentially a godman story originally written in Greek for a Jewish audience (John Shelby Spong also speaks of this last bit in his Jesus for the Non-Religious).
It also makes sense when you consider that Paul himself never mentions Jesus as an historic figure. He actually doesn’t even care really whether Jesus existed. It was never important to Paul or to the movement he advocated. This last because Jesus never existed in the first place. Spong has a different conclusion about Jesus’ existence in his book, and his reasons are interesting.
I center myself around Christianity here mainly because it is that movement which is responsible for eradicating the other mystery cults that competed with it and directly or indirectly has caused most of the pain and suffering our race has endured for 2000 years. All this for a man who died so long ago if he even existed in the first place.
Personally I say sod the whole thing. All of it.
Zen Buddhism states that once you reach the other shore of enlightenment you leave the boat behind. Drop the crutch you needed to get across the room. Look at the moon, not the finger pointing to it. I can go on with the metaphor if necessary. I love the honesty in Zen. If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him. same goes for any godman.
My finger points to this: There comes a time, as Paul said, when you drop childish things. Religion is one of those things. If you want to know the nature of good and evil, look no further than the second chapter of the Tao Te Ching.
Jesus is dead, Lao Tzu is dead, Baba is dead, Buddha is dead, God is dead
. So’s Neitzsche but he actually existed. So did Baba for that matter….
I will leave you with three concepts: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, “all you need is love,” and the words of Zen Master Seung Sahn: Cultivate ‘don’t-know’ mind.