Friday, December 19, 2008

No Bad People

There are no bad people.
Oh, there are ignorant people: people who just don't know; people who just don't understand. There are people who are full of fear. There are angry people. There are hateful people. And there are desperate people.
But there are no bad people.

Give and Get

In our world, so much emphasis is made on having things. It is leftover from the instinct to conserve -- like squirrels gathering nuts to survive the winter that never comes.
But we live in a world where our basic needs are filled. We can survive quite comfortably. And yet, we still try to fill that desire to simply "have".
Once again, our "evolutionary holdover" instinct sets upon us, and we endanger ourselves and others. For all this wanting is greed -- a desire to have no matter what the consequences to oneself or to others.
Greed is the very basis of our society. So much selfishness. And so many suffer for the extreme selfishness of so few.
We celebrate our holidays by teaching our children to want even more. And we spend ourselves into debt trying to fill the hunger we've created in them. The cycle goes on from generation to generation.
And we forget how to conserve at all!

Where is the compassion? Where is the love? How can we continue to think only of ourselves?
How can we forget that we are all interconnected through the Web of Life?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Revisiting the Garden

Many people today miss the points of their own mythology. Interestingly enough, the Creation/Evolution debate becomes nonexistent if we examine the Biblical Creation stories in their mythological context.
Perhaps the most telling tale in the Bible is the "Garden of Eden" story. This story is unique to Judeo-Christendom, as the "6 Days of Creation" story is a copy of the Babylonian Enuma Elish. The "Garden" myth focuses on the origin of suffering, for in this story all is in balance until mankind eats of the Tree of Knowledge and is then cast out of the garden.
Sadly, many believe this story is a literal tale, and so they miss the whole point of the myth. As myths use metaphors to tell their story, much of the "Garden" story becomes very clear when we but try to understand the symbols.
The Garden, it seems, is a peaceful and perfect place. This is where the animals and plants are. Here is where all is beautiful and in balance. Here is where the Tree of Life is. Here, also, is where God walks.
The Garden represents a time when we were in balance with the animals. It is a metaphor for a time when we were no different from animals. A time when we were emotionally-driven creatures -- not the somewhat rational creatures that we are today.
In the Garden we were cautioned not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. But the serpent, long a symbol of transformation and rebirth, encouraged us to do otherwise. And so, by eating of the Tree of Knowledge we were transformed from reactive creatures into active ones. That is to say that we went from lives of simply reacting to instincts and emotions to lives of active change. And so we began to shape the patterns of our own lives.
And so the "Garden" story represents the moment when we separated ourselves from the Animal Kingdom -- the time when we became human.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Season of Blood"

Four birds dropped from the sky,
And the twin brothers fell.
The eagle was wounded to the heart,
And the air stank with the dark stench of death.

Stunned Silence.
Fear. Anger. Hatred.

Holy War: Profane Peace.
Comfortless Caves: Contemplation. Conviction.

Traitors to the Nation.
Traitors to humanity.
A torrent of tears
in a Season of Blood.

Suicide bombers
to defeat the Undefeatable.
Fear. Bigotry. Retaliation!
No Peace! And no Justice.

Mothers cry,
And their children can't play together...
In peace.

To The Terrorists

To the terrorists I say: Who gives you the right to decide who should live and who should die?
You claim to be killing infidels, but in fact you are killing your own siblings! You claim Holy War, yet there is nothing holy about war.
You kill those you believe do not share your beliefs and yet the dead can never learn your beliefs.
You do not see the sacredness of life or understand its gift. And so you make yourselves, not the holy martyrs, but the damned!

Religion is Not the End-all

Religion is not the goal: it is the journey.
Religion is not the answer: it is the process.

Religion is the discipline we use to answer the great question of "Why?" It is a toolkit with which we try to get at spirituality. And the spiritual moment is the goal of our whole endeavour.

Religion and Spirituality

There is one question we all ask: "why?" This is one of the great questions of humanity. We want a reason for our existence. We want to know what our place is in the universe. And so we create religion as a methodology -- a tool -- to help us find this answer.
Spirituality is the meaning we seek. Religion exists to help us find spirituality. And this answer is an experience which cannot be fully described by words. It is the answer we find when we "plug in" to our proper place.
The problem in religion comes when people become blind-sighted to the machine -- religion. They look to their religion as the "end-all". They get caught up in the behaviors and habits of their religion, and they miss the spirituality altogether! They behave in certain ways because the believe they are supposed to. They live their lives as though they are following some sort of cosmic checklist. And they believe that their actions can purchase their spiritual goal for them.
In sharp contrast, spiritual people find the same experience no matter what their religious tradition. They behave in certain ways because they feel moved to. And they are much happier people. Although they may differ as to the specifics of their religious practices they agree on matters of the spirit. They find the same strengths and the same faults in humanity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Religious Machine

We all ask the great question: "Why?". We want to know why we exist, why things are the way they are, why the sky is blue... And we create methods to help us find the answers.
The moment when we find the answers we seek is something we call Spirituality. This is a moment of epiphany -- "born again" -- "enlightenment". Suddenly, everything makes since, although we have great difficulty explaining to others what these answers are. This is a state William James described as "mysterium tremendum" -- the great mystery, where we are "filled with the Holy Spirit" -- "the lights come on". Spirituality is the goal of our search for meaning.
The tool we use to find Spirituality is something called "religion". Religion is the method, the machine, which helps us find Spirituality. Now, religions are made by people, each from the perspective of its creator or creators. There are so many different religions in the world because we each see and understand the world a little bit differently. Yet each religion can lead to Spirituality.

The Religious Toolkit

Many of our religions hold the idea that things were once harmonious and perfect. But something happened which upset the balance. And so today, they maintain, we are constantly searching for some way to recapture the peace which we've lost.
From a purely scientific viewpoint, we lost the harmony the moment we came down from the tree, stood upright, and began to reason. Previously, we had been like every other species on the planet: governed primarily by passions. And so, when we stop behaving primarily by our passions, we upset the balance. We "ate from the tree of knowledge" and separated ourselves from the natural order. We stopped being animals and we became human.
And so we are forever on a quest to recapture what we've lost: the peace, the harmony, the balance. We search for it as a species and we search for it as individuals. And because we are a reasoning people, we ask a great many questions in order to try and make sense of it all.
Our search follows the pattern of six very basic questions: who, what, where, when, how, and why. Since we are very young we ask these basic questions. And we have very specific tools to try and answer them.
We have created disciplines -- special thinking tools -- to help us answer these basic questions. If we wish to know who we are we consult a biography or family tree. To understand what life is we have created philosophy. Where we are is explained through cartography and astronomy. When we are is handled through the elaborate histories we write. In order to understand how things works we have created biology, chemistry, and physics, among others.
Religion is the discipline we use to understand why. Religion is simply a toolkit for opening the soul. And the meaning we find is what we call spirituality.
Spirituality is the moment when we "plug in" -- when we become enlightened, or "filled with the Holy Spirit" -- when everything falls into place and makes sense. Spirituality is not a thing which can easily -- if at all -- put into words. Spirituality cannot be taught, only discovered. It is a thing which can be pointed to, but never fully described. This is the moment when we regain the balance we so desperately seek.
No one religion contains "all the answers" and no religion should have its myths taken at face value. Religion is a set of tools which can lead us to spiritual freedom and rebirth, but only if we use these tools correctly. There is no guarantee that we will find spirituality if we only practice our religions for what they, at first, appear to be.
Myths are specialized stories meant to teach us spiritual truths. Since spirituality cannot be easily put into words, we rely on myths to help us find some spiritual meaning. At first glance, myths appear to be miraculous stories of gods or messiahs performing impossible tasks by supernatural forces. Modern-day skepticism teaches us that myths are simple "grand fairy-tales" which are entertaining, but best ignored. But for those who study myths they are treasure chests full of spiritual gold.
Myths are central to religions. They are written in a special form known as mythological language. In mythological language very little is what it appears to be. Symbolism is the language of myth, with many items being representative of something much greater. And often mythological images are the same as dream images. For example, in myth water often represents the situation of the world. "Troubled waters" represent turmoil -- an image we use even in our every-day language! When someone rises above these waters, either by boat or by foot, they transcend the problems of the world. Often, there are signs that the myths contain hidden meanings and are not to be taken literally -- either through their use of "miracles" or even through statements such as "the people did not understand what had just happened."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Religion Is A Toolkit

Religion is simply a toolkit for unlocking the soul. Through religion we learn disciplines which can help us to lead spiritual lives.
Religions are composed of disciplines and myths designed to help our spirits grow. Often in religion, we are given examples of how one should live if he/she is a spiritual person. Many times we are given guiding principles to live by, and often we are even presented with a holy person to emulate.
So often in religion it is so easy to take the guidelines we are given and to use them as a checklist -- believing that we are successful so long as we do the things on this list. But when we do this, we miss the point of religion entirely. We become focused on the habits of religion rather than the rebirth of spirit. Often persons of religious habit grow very bitter and judgmental, because religion provides such little fulfillment as its own goal.
Often it takes conviction to find spirituality through religious practice. Religion offers guidelines, but cannot force a person to open his/her spirit. The spiritual journey must be undertaken by the individual. And so, each of us can find meaning in our lives through religious discipline, if we so choose.

There are so many different religions in the world. And each of these has been shaped around the culture in which it was born. This doesn't make any one religion more valid than any other. Rather, it offers differing viewpoints so that a person may choose what works best for him/her.
Among desert peoples religion often focuses on a harsh god or gods who demand strict obedience. But in the East, where life is not so harsh, often there are no gods in religion, and when there are they are often seen simply as embodiments of a greater all-pervading spiritual force.

Monday, May 5, 2008


When discussing religion a good place to start is by defining what religion is. This is not as easy as it first seems. For many years people have tried to define what religion is and what it is not. Even today people argue whether the eastern religions are really religions or simply philosophies. Also, people of the Eastern beliefs argue that they cannot find religion in the Bible of the Western world. Clearly, there is no consensus for defining what religion is.
When I try to tackle this problem I go about it by trying to understand what drives us to have religions -- or, more simply, what function religions play in our lives. It is helpful to try to understand the history of religion.
Anthropology shows us that the many ways we have to understand things were originally all parts of the same thing. That is to say that there was no difference between science and religion or religion and history -- it was all the same. Each culture had its own version of what seemed to be the truth. But as time has gone by we have diversified our understandings.
Now, when did we become human? At what point did we begin to distinguish ourselves from the other animals on the planet? We notice that we began doing uniquely human things at about the time when religious artifacts began to appear in our burial sites. This is what anthropologists see as the first signs of religion. It seems that we became human when we began trying to explain what happens after death -- trying to explain the unexplainable. I would argue that the one thing which makes us human is simply our ability to question -- to seek -- to try and understand things. After all, we are not the only animals who communicate, or even who use tools. Yet, we seem to be the only ones who spend our lives trying to figure things out. Perhaps in our prehistory something happened which piqued our curiosity.
In any case, it seems clear that our questioning was pretty basic until about the time of Classical Greece, when we began to specialize the disciplines for answering our questions. The Greek thinkers advanced the schools of Science and Philosophy as their legacy. They were the first to discover that the world is round, for example. Sometimes they were sentenced to death for their varied ways of thinking and teaching.
Since that time we have continued to refine our disciplines to make our answers even more specific. In the past few centuries we have honed our questioning skills, so that now we can ask very specific questions and get very specific answers.
So what are the basic questions we ask? From the time of grade school we have had these six questions ingrained in our minds: Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why? These have become our most basic questions. And we have made disciplines to answer them:

Who are we? -- This question is best answered by Biography. We learn about ourselves by learning about those who have gone before us. We spend so much time tracing our family histories. We look to the people of the past to help us define the people of the present.
What is reality? -- This is the realm of Philosophy. The Classical Greeks invested a great deal of time asking this question. For centuries people have tried to understand what reality is and what it means. Views on reality vary from the very solid view most people have to the idea that everything is an illusion -- a shadow of the way things appear to be.
Where are we? -- Geography defines our location. We map everything: our states, our planet, and even the stars! We like to know as much as we can about our neighborhood and the distant places beyond.
When are we? -- History is the study of past decisions and actions. We look to the past for direction for the future. We try not to repeat past mistakes. But we do try to build on our past successes!
How does anything work? -- Here we ask the question of process. We attempt to understand the building blocks, rules, and actions which govern reality. These are the sciences. We look to Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine, among others, to understand our physical reality. We have become so good at asking How questions, in fact, that science has become broader than the other disciplines.
Why? -- Finally we ask the biggest question to plague humanity: Why are we here? Here is where Religion enters the picture. It seems that Religion is our way of answering the Why question. Or, for the purposes of this book, Religion is our feeble attempt to understand the universe around us and our place within it. That is to say: Religion is made by humans to try and make sense of everything. It is perhaps our greatest and most mysterious discipline. It has caused more happiness and more misery than any other thing in human history.
Religion is both a personal and a cultural thing. It is defined by how we see things. It depends on our environment, our history, the influence of our neighbors, and any number of random things happening in our lives. The very way we understand things is so fragile that one tiny mistaken idea can mess up the whole thing. We build upon the beliefs of others: often our parents, teachers, and friends. Any misunderstandings along the way get ingrained in religious teaching until they are almost impossible to correct. Centuries down the road our misunderstandings may be repeated as facts.
Perhaps the greatest problem in Religion happens when people try to use it to answer questions it is not suited to answer. For many years people thought the Earth was flat -- a broad, round circle. This is reflected in many religious teachings throughout the world. However, Geography has taught us that this is not the case. Still, many of our religions talk about "the circle of the Earth" or even "the four corners of the world"! A more disastrous thing happens when people use their religious teachings as History or Biography -- to answer other questions it is not able to answer. Religion often clashes with Science when it tries to answer the basic How? questions. We need look no further than the Scopes Monkey Trial to see the problem. This is echoed by those who would try to answer Religious questions with Science -- it doesn't work because these are not the questions it was designed to answer.
Religion exists because we want to make sense out of life. We create religion. It is not given to us on tablets written in stone, or on scrolls handed down to us by the gods. Religion is a human way of interpreting the most important questions of existence.
Religion uses some specialized tools to achieve its goals. Myths and rituals are perhaps the two biggest. The lessons we learn in our myths can fire our soul, and our rituals help us connect with that which we call Sacred. These are some of the ways through which can find our spirituality.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Being Human

We like to differentiate ourselves from our animal brothers. But there really isn't that much difference between us. We share the same chemical composition as all other life on the planet. And we even share much of the same DNA with them as well, sharing more and more as we get closer in the evolutionary chain. Our behaviour is likewise very similar. Many times we accuse one another of "acting like animals". And there is a reason for that.
For we carry within us the baggage of millenia of evolution. The instincts and emotions which enabled our ancestor-creatures to survive are very much a part of us today. But in our modern world we are often held back in our development by what I like to call "evolutionary holdovers'' -- that is, survival instincts which are more of a hindrance than a help to us today.
We want peace and prosperity for ourselves and perhaps for all people. Yet we are constantly held back by strong emotions which rule our lives. And perhaps the strongest of these is fear.
Fear is an emotion and an instinct based on protection from things which may prove to be a threat. Fear responds to things which we know are a threat, things which we believe are a threat, and things which we don't know about. We can be afraid of people, animals, issues... even beliefs! And fear is an emotion that is easy to feed. Once fed, it grows first into anger, then hatred.
And strong fear requires a strong response from us: we can either fight against the thing which frightens us, or we can run away from it: fight or flight. Fear divides us one from another and helps build the world of mistrust and war in which we live.
So often fear is fueled by misunderstanding. We may believe the wrong things about other people, or perhaps we simply do not know anything about them, and so we fear them. As with all evolutionary holdovers fear is often irrational.

Now, we have seen how passions such as fear make us like our animal brothers. But just what is it that distinguishes us from them?
Many people would argue that it is our ability to communicate that makes us human. Yet, as anyone who lives with a pet knows, animals also communicate. Often their communication is through what we call "body language". But many times it may also be verbal. Animals have no trouble making their wishes and moods known!
Some may also argue that it is our ability to make and use tools that is the key to our difference. Yet, animals also use tools. I remember watching a nature special with an ape using a stick to ensnare some delicious locusts in a tree stump. Clearly a tool.
Is it our ability to build communities? We only need to look at the ants for that answer. For they are some of the most auspicious builders in nature.
Finally, we come to the argument that we are sentient. And that I can neither prove nor disprove, for sentience is not a concept we can measure. But there is a thing which I believe is key to the development of our thinking abilities.
It is clear that we think about things. More than think: we wonder. Our animal brothers are content to live life as it is handed to them. They react to the world as it changes around them. They respond to the stimuli of life. They do not make decisions about things as they happen, they simply respond to them.
Yet we act on our world. We do things because we want to, not because circumstances force us to do them.
And I believe the key to all this is our ability to ask questions. For this ability breeds the opportunity to not simply accept things as they are, but to try to understand them. We seek meaning. We seek understanding. And we base our actions on the answers we discover, whether they are correct or not. Questions unlock a whole world of possibilities for us that our animal brothers simply do not have.
Our questions tend to fall into six general categories. I call these the Six Great Questions. They are taught to us as early as grade school. They are: Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. These questions help us to define the world in which we live and our place within it.
And for each Great Question we create a discipline: a method for answering the Question. Disciplines are like tool kits: they contain many tools we use to explore the Great Questions. And when we begin to ask more specific questions, we may change the tools in our tool kits in order to ask those particular questions.
Now, the disciplines for each Great Question fall into general categories of study. And we know these well.
For the "Who" Question, we use the Biography Discipline. We study our family trees; our family histories. We study the lives of our friends and people in our communities. And we learn all we can about the famous people who have shaped our world. For, their lives touch our lives. And they help to define just "who" we are.
The "What" Question is answered through the Discipline of Philosophy. We seek to understand the nature of reality. And many times we get more questions than answers. But the questions help us to define our personal philosophies of life, and help us to explore the nature of being human.
We use Cartography to understand the "Where" Question. We map everything. We map our living room to figure out where to put the sofa. We map our neighborhood to locate the nearest grocery store. We map our cities, our states, our countries, our world. And we map the stars! We need to understand where everything is in relation to where everything else is. And by locating ourselves we know which things will influence our lives.
Likewise, we map events with the answer to the "When" Question. This is the tool we call History or Time. We look at the past and how it influences where we are today and where we are going in the future. And we are swept along in time, just as if it were the currents of a great river. We have some control over where we end up, but the general currents sweep us in certain directions. And we believe by seeing where they've led us before we can control where they will lead us in the future.
The How Question is perhaps the Question we are the best at answering. This is the realm of science. We try to understand how things are put together and how they work. We have created many different toolkits to answer the many different questions we have in this area. We have physics and astronomy. We have chemistry and geology. We have biology and medicine. And we have even created sciences to help us understand things we've created. We have such things as astronautics and computer science for these.
Our final Question is the Why Question. And here is where Religion fits in. Religion is the process of trying to find meaning to the universe around us and our place within it. It is an attempt by us to understand the order of things.
As with any of the Great Questions, the discipline we use to understand it vary. That is to say, there are many approaches to it. And often, these are shaped by our own experiences: by our environment, those we encounter, and the changing circumstances in our changing world.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fear and Meddling

Many people wonder why some must spend so much time obsessed with the daily doings of others. It would seem that fear is once again the culprit. For fear of others drives us to become watchful of them -- monitoring their movements in case they might decide to attack us. Again this fear is counterproductive, driving us apart rather than together.


Perhaps the greatest enemy we face today is fear. For it is an "evolutionary holdover" -- a survival instinct which is dangerous in the modern world.
Fear is the emotion which protects a living thing from dangers and potential dangers. Fear gives us the "fight or flight" reaction: we either face what we fear and try to defeat it, or we run away.
Many are protected by this instinct in the wild. But in our modern "tame" world, fear becomes an explosive commodity.
Fear works by making anything unfamiliar to us seem to be a threat. Over time that fear grows into anger for this threat, and still later it becomes hatred and rage. Much of the bigotry and injustice in the world today is the result of overgrown fears.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Part

God is known, in part, to all the religions of the world.
I say “in part” because our faiths have been formed by people who could only understand the world as they perceived it. Without a complete understanding of the diversity of our world it is impossible to fully understand our world. And likewise for understanding the Divine.
And so our world is full of people who lived in harsh climates who believed God to be an angry storm god. And in the prolific jungles, a mother-like spirit of fertility. In some places the divinity is understood as being many gods who influence the fate of the universe. And still others see no god-forms at all, but a unifying Whole to the universal whole.
I submit that our modern world of amazing communications makes it much easier to understand these many differing views of the Divine – and perhaps come up with a more complete view. For over a century we have been able to communicate with telephone and telegraph over incredible distances. And we have been able to travel by plane and boat to these places as well. More recently, we have been able to have images from distant lands on our televisions in our living rooms. And now we live in the information age. All one must do is touch the World Wide Web to hear the voice and thoughts of someone far away in the world. And we have access now to so many differing perspectives of the Divine.
And I believe it is now possible to gain a more complete understanding of “God” than our ancestors had. For religion is created by those who have lived before us. And they have only left us understandings of the world as they saw it.
Today, it’s like picking through a jigsaw puzzle of faith: trying to find out how all the pieces work together for a better understanding of the whole. I believe we can learn from our ancestors by understanding the many things that affected their world-view. If we can understand their climate and culture, and the peoples they interacted with, we can begin to unlock the mystery of why they believed the things they did.
And I believe that once we begin investigating, we won’t necessarily lose our belief in the Divine, but rather gain a stronger understanding. So many have believe that God is One, or God is Many; that God is formed, or that God is formless; that God is knowable, or that God is unknowable. And I believe that we can understand why they believed these things and maybe even understand how these things are not at all in conflict.
After many years of exploring these issues myself I came to the startling revelation one night that perhaps all these views are right after all. The solution I found was that God is the Living Universe: the sum total of all that exists. I came to understand that the universe is the largest living organism and that everything exists within it as a part of that much greater Body. God is One: the One of which we are all a part.
All the big things are made up of all the little things. Our bodies are made up of so many component cells. Our communities are made up of so many people. And our world is a diverse collection of many different living and non-living things. So too it is on the universal scale. For the universe is made of countless stars, worlds, and so much more. God is Many: the Many that we all are.
God is made of these many things: God is formed. And God is the Spirit which connects all these things together: God is formless. We can know this general view of God, but God is unknowable completely, for we are contained with it and therefore unable to see the whole picture.
The implications are enormous. Suddenly we are no longer the separate beings we appear to be: we are interrelated, interconnected, and interdependent. Many faiths use the phrase “The Web of Life” to describe this. Everything we do affects everything else everywhere. It’s like so many pebbles tossed in the Cosmic pond: the ripples may get smaller as they spread out, but eventually they reach every shore.
Another discovery is that we are all sacred people. If we are all a part of the body of God, then a tiny piece of that sacredness is in the heart of each one of us. There are no worthless or useless people. Indeed there are no truly evil people. Rather, there are misguided people, and those who fail to understand their potential and live up to it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Inner And Outer Paths

We travel our spiritual paths in inward and outward focused directions. We must first find the sacred within ourselves before we bring it out of ourselves into the world. We work on ourselves first and the world later.
Two of our greatest tools for spiritual development are meditation and ritual:
Meditation (or prayer) is an inner process. We look within ourselves for answers. We learn, we grow. We find the holy within us. Meditation and prayer are ways of connecting on the personal level with the Sacred.
Ritual (or worship) is an outer process. We put our faith into action. We practice compassion. We celebrate the chorus of life. We may gather for a formal worship service or we may simply "practice what we preach".
And these processes should be balanced in our lives. We take as we give, we give as we take. We breathe in, we breathe out -- since the moment of birth, every breath in is mirrored by a breath out. Balance is important. Balance creates the harmony of the world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


We live in a closed system, where nothing is created nor destroyed, but simply changed. Everything is in balance. Everything which is constructed must one day be destroyed. Every birth must be balanced with a death.
We must understand this balance and work with it. For every action there is a reaction. For every breath taken in one must be given back. And so we should strive for balance to work with the greater whole.

This seems to be a difficult concept for us. For we are, after all, animals; the product of centuries of evolution. And we contain within us some very selfish survival instincts. We want as much as we can get, for our genetic programming tells us that there will be times of need on down the road. Yet, in our modern world our basic needs are so easy to fill. Our own selfishness drives us to want more than we need: more than we can use. And as a result many starve and freeze, due to our greed.