Matt Rouge is back with his second guest post. Take it away, Matt!
In my first post here, I wrote:
[In the Mist, t]here is no one to confirm that, yes, one is just so right about everything. Indeed, the contradictions and issues one perceives impugn one’s ability to sort them all out, to paint the Big Picture once and for all. Should Michael permit, it is lack of ease and comfort in the Mist that I would like to explore in my next guest post.
Thanks, Michael, for permitting!
For more background, please read the above post, but I am going to get right into things here. One tenet of the Skeptic (capitalized per Roger’s excellent recent guest post) mythos is that “belief”1 is, as Marx characterized it, the opiate of the people. Thus, if we believe in God, we desire the comfort of a Sky Father in benign control of things, and if we believe in the Afterlife, we do so merely because we don’t want to die forever. Skeptics on the other hand, thanks to their superior intellectual constitution, are able to accept the harsh truth that God and the Afterlife do not exist.2
Yet, as I asserted in my preceding post, Skeptics are just as much in the Chamber of Maiden-Thought (and outside the Mist) as the religious fundamentalists and other “believers” they excoriate. Why? Because they have not accepted the death of the Western Myth.
The Western Myth3 is a concept I am introducing here, and I think it’s an essential one. Very much necessary yet currently lacking in the discourse of our culture, indeed of our world. What is this myth? On the surface, it is the strong, confident bones of Abrahamic religion, which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.4 To wit, there is a God, He created, knows, and understands all, which in turn means that all is understood, known, and created with a specific and perfect intention. Things are designed to work right, and when they don’t, that is our fault. In other words, when things go wrong, it is because we are sinners. Simple.
Thus, if you are gay, that’s your lifestyle choice, and you are a sinner, inasmuch as God didn’t create gay people, and He didn’t design people to be gay. If you stray in your marriage, you are a sinner, inasmuch as God designed the institution of marriage to work; He designed monogamy to work. There ought to be peace, yet due to bad people, there exist crime, war, and every ill of society. But don’t call it flaws in human nature; call it original sin.5 Or maybe Satan or Iblis is tempting you. Someone. Something.
Ah, but it’s so easy to ditch all this simplistic thinking, isn’t it? Just stop believing in those silly religions! Then we’ll all be thinking as correct as can be, right? Right?!
Not so fast. However much we wish to reject the surface beliefs of the Western Myth, its underlying assumptions are likely to stick around and mislead us. Let’s look at some examples:
- Freud was as big an atheist as they come, but he saw people more or less as perfect blank slates from birth, mentally. If you have a mental problem or illness, it’s due to things that were done to you. Probably by your mother in a time you can’t remember. In other words, it’s the fault of humans. Genes… what are those?
- Marx was as big an atheist as they come, but he saw class struggle and its end result as a historical necessity. Communism was meant to happen, and it would work. Later he would be treated as a virtual god in a secular religion.
- Similarly but at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Ayn Rand was as big an atheist as they come, but she saw her “objectivism” as being simply the truth, and so do her followers today. They believe that if government would only get out of the way and let the winners win and the producers produce, we would be living in a Libertarian utopia. It would just work.
- In the West and East, on the Left and Right, there has always been the desire to see leaders as right by nature. Comrade Stalin is just right. Chairman Mao is just right—consult the Little Red Book for details. The Fürher is just right. The Party is just right. The guru is just right. The Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra. The Bible, al-Quran, Book of Mormon, and so on are infallible. The Constitution of the United States is a document inspired by God and should be upheld at all costs. The examples of this type of thinking are endless.
- It’s not just the big issues of politics and religion. There is a tendency in matters of health to see the body as inherently healthy—if only people wouldn’t screw it up. Do you have diabetes or heart disease, or are you overweight? Didn’t you know that the right diet and exercise prevent that kind of thing! And if the conventional wisdom doesn’t work for you, then a vegan/low-carb/paleo/gluten-free diet will do the trick, since it just works.6
- Shall we delve into self-help and management advice? Let’s not. Suffice it to say there are a million books prescribing some type of mind hack or management method that is the way toward ultimate success. Once you know the truth, it just works. Of course, if it doesn’t work, that means that you didn’t follow the method correctly.
- Here’s one more. I think the whole global warming/climate change things is a good example of the Western Myth at work in a presumably secular but actually quasi-religious manner. There is a right way for the global climate to be, but we humans have sinned by producing greenhouse gases, and thus we will pay for our sins through a global climate catastrophe that will probably make us go extinct. We can only expiate our sins through the penance of drastically reduced carbon output.
Thus, the Western Myth is about much more than believing in a capital G “God”; it’s an approach to ontology (reality), epistemology (knowledge), eschatology (final destiny of things), and indeed all of the big questions we humans face. Ultimately, it is an approach to things that keeps us in the Chamber of Maiden-Thought and out of the Mist. I would say the approach comprises the following three beliefs:
- The answers to all questions are known by God or an authority figure. At the very least, all things are knowable.
- There is way to live (or do anything) that will result in optimal results. Things only go wrong when we violate this system.
- There are no contradictions. If something seems to violate the belief system, the person who experiences this perception is incorrect.
Skeptics think they have escaped the Western Myth by denying the theistic belief system of the West, but they have merely traded one surface for another while maintaining the underlying approach. They’ve repainted that ugly old Chevy, but the engine and transmission are the same. To wit:
- Science has discovered everything of importance thus far, and it is our only tool for discovering anything of importance. It hasn’t figured out everything, but in time it probably will.
- If people would simply give up their stupid religions and superstitions, we’d be living in a perfect world, or at least a much better one. Rational thinking is the key to peace and prosperity.
- Any phenomenon we say doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist. Each and every example to the contrary is the result of a hoax, hallucination, or misperception.
It is true that Skeptics hold beliefs that would pain most people, such as the belief that there is no God or Afterlife. They feel that they are therefore cognitively superior to those who don’t have the fortitude to embrace their surface belief system. Yet, as inheritors of the Western Myth, they have established a world that is as cognitively neat and trim as that of the most believing fundamentalist.
A further error they commit is the one referenced by the title of this post: they assume that people who have not embraced their surface belief system live in comfort within their beliefs. Yet giving up the Western Myth means traveling out of the Chamber of Maiden-Thought and into the Mist, where ease and comfort are not to be found.
As for myself, I have read about NDEs (near-death experiences), read transcripts of ADCs (after-death communications), and had many spiritual experiences of my own. Yet the vast majority of the accounts I have read do not indicate the presence of an ultimate controlling authority, nor have my own experiences revealed one. Put simply, people having near-death experiences do not shake hands with a God who then tells them “how it all works.”7
I will not say that the accounts bring no comfort at all; indeed they do. They indicate to me that there is a very good chance that I will not cease to exist when I die, that all the effort I am expending now to gain knowledge and grow as a person will not disappear in an instant. But the fact that these accounts bring some degree of comfort does not bring comfort itself. ADCs and my own spiritual experiences mesh nicely with the information presented in NDEs, and such meshing is good, it gives credibility to the “big picture” that begins to form, but it too brings only some comfort and not comfort itself.
Indeed, I remain in a state of discomfort and yes, to some extent, fear, for one must consider again the nature of the Mist, per Keats:
[A]mong the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the nature and heart of Man—of convincing one's nerves that the World is full of misery and Heartbreak, Pain, sickness and oppression—whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken'd and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open—but all dark—all leading to dark passages—We see not the balance of good and evil. We are in a Mist—We are now in that state—We feel the burden of the Mystery.
Put another way, when we are open to what we see and all its complications and apparent contradictions, we go “down the rabbit hole,” as Alice did in Lewis Carroll’s tale. For example, most NDEs are pleasant, but how do we deal with negative NDEs? In most NDEs, people present accurate information (i.e., they see the living as living and the dead as dead). How do we deal with the rare ones that do not? Most NDEs are fairly consistent in how they present God/Spirit/Source. How do we deal with those that present a specific religion as being true? Do we simply ignore the cases we don’t like as outliers, or do we try to integrate them somehow?
Here’s another example, a big one, at least to me. I say we need to be open to all phenomena, a principle that Skeptics of necessity must violate. Thus, I am open to UFO and related phenomena. I think there is absolutely no way that all of the cases come down to hoaxes, hallucinations, and misperceptions. Yet I have absolutely no idea of how to integrate the phenomena into my belief system. There are many arguments against UFOs being actual extraterrestrial craft, and one of the most famous of UFO researchers, Jacques Vallée, believes firmly that they are not. Per Wikipedia,
Vallée proposes that there is a genuine UFO phenomenon, partly associated with a form of non-human consciousness that manipulates space and time. The phenomenon has been active throughout human history, and seems to masquerade in various forms to different cultures. In his opinion, the intelligence behind the phenomenon attempts social manipulation by using deception on the humans with whom they interact.
Very well. If we suppose that he is correct, then how do we integrate that into a Universe in which NDEs are also true? If this non-human consciousness has some power over us, then what prevents it from having infinite power, and so on?
This to me is the most tantalizing fact: Regardless of how we feel about all the phenomena, and regardless of how contradictory or lacking in order we perceive them to be, we still exist in a Reality that is stable enough for us to exist and think about these matters. As a corollary of this fact, we likewise know that there is not a power in the Universe with the will and capability of destroying the Universe and life, since we are here.
Based on this fact and the phenomena I have perceived, I intuit the intention for us to understand Reality, which is in turn undermined by the intention (not necessarily a different intention!) for us not to understand Reality completely, or for Reality not to be completely understandable in the first place. It is this contradictory nature of things that occupies my brain on a daily basis and seems to threaten at times to burn out the neural circuits.
This approach within the Mist directly contradicts the Western Myth, which explicitly holds that the answers are known and contradiction is impossible. This approach I take seems to me correct, and it does give the comfort of feeling I understand something instead of nothing, yet the comfort is ultimately cold. The machine is beautifully designed and capable of efficient and cost-effective production, but there is always a wrench thrown in the works.
The Skeptics think that giving up “God” and the afterlife is the big challenge that people must face and will eventually face, since that’s just right, and the right thing will happen given enough time. But it is not so. The big challenge is to acknowledge the phenomena in all their complexity and let the Western Myth die. To leave the Chamber of Maiden-Thought as a species and go bravely into the Mist.
1Scare quotes because Skeptics use the word “belief” yet it does not operate in the mind as they think it does.
2Skeptics are correct that many beliefs are held out of a desire to assuage our fears and find comfort. They tend, however, to reason fallaciously that whatever belief brings us comfort must be “too good to be true.” Skeptics also correctly point out that religion and superstition bring people a great deal of fear, so in any case it’s difficult to sort out exactly why people believe as they do. It’s no doubt a combination of wishful thinking, social pressures, and the actual truth of many of the things believed. Skeptics are blind to the fact that they too are affected by wishful thinking (i.e., that each and every example of the paranormal is easily dismissible bunkum) and social pressure.
3I am distinguishing the Western Myth from the Eastern Myth (and other belief systems, such as African, Native American, etc.), although of course they share many things in common. Western culture has been dominated by the notion of a unitary, omniscient, omnipotent “God” who created all and therefore intended all in a way that the East has not. Nevertheless, owing to what may be called “human nature,” the East has produced a similar belief in infallible authority, such as the omniscient Buddha. As humans, we really want to believe that the answers are known—if not by us, then by somebody.
4There may be a tendency these days to think of Islam as a belief system of the Middle East and East, but it is very much comes from the same geographical and intellectual region as Judaism and Christianity. Consider that Thomas Aquinas cited Averroes (Ibn Rushd), who wrote extensive commentaries on Aristotle, and the picture becomes a bit more clear.
5I happen to think that the doctrine of original sin is pretty smart in essence. There is something inherently broken in everything, though not for reasons that Christianity would like to recognize. More on this perhaps at a later date …
6It’s more complex than this, of course, now that we understand genetics a bit, but there is still a tendency to see a particular diet or health regime as the way to health.
7This is not to say they receive no information at all about the working of Reality; they absolutely do. But the information they receive, outlier cases excepted, does not confirm the beliefs of any particular religion, nor does it confirm the existence of a unitary, all-controlling “God,” nor does it deliver a complete explanation of things. I think the teachings of Seth are a good example of information that jibes well with NDEs and explains a lot while shying away from a definitive explication of “how it all works.”
Addendum to footnote 7:
In reviewing this post, Michael wrote, “Some NDEs do involve the feeling that total knowledge of reality is being imparted, and that it all makes sense, it's all part of a master plan, every smallest detail happens for a reason, etc. I believe some other transcendent mystical experiences also take this form. Of course the NDErs (and others) find it impossible to convey more than a fraction of this infinite knowledge in words upon their return, but they do claim to have seen the whole plan.”
In response, I would say first that the nature and content of the “master plan” that is presented or experienced by NDErs and mystics seems to be significantly different than the nature and content of the Western Myth. From my reading, they see a reality (a kind of final or ultimate state of things) that is unitary and non-hierarchical and in which all of elements (people, spiritual entities, etc.) come together in a fully organic and autonomous fashion. The eschatology of the Western Myth is much more primitive than this: the righteous with God in Heaven, the evildoers in hell, and a “God” who has manipulated the pawns from start to finish. Forgive my negative characterization, but it’s definitely not to my taste, nor does it seem to be true based on observation of the world and history.
Further, NDErs and mystical experiencers describe, in my general interpretation, a kind of “ultimate rightness to things” that vastly transcends the concepts and content of the Western Myth. To cite one of my own spiritual experiences, I experienced a state once either before, during, or after sleep (that was not a dream) in which entities were communicating with each other and I was communicating with them, but we were not using symbolic language or even mental concepts as we know them. This jibes with what I have read about higher-dimensional communication and cognition, and it also jibes with the ineffability that people who experience the “master plan” describe. People who experience the “master plan” are not told “how it works,” and they can’t convey such a thing to others with words, since Ultimate Reality does not “work” on the level of our human cognition.
I think NDErs’ and mystics’ experience of the “master plan” is a true reflection of reality, actually, but I don’t think it solves the “problem” of the Mist. Perhaps I can make this quandary the topic of my next guest post, if Michael again permits!