Maandag 24 Desember 2012

Jaco Steyn's New Spiritual Creed

Most contemporary debates about religious issues occur mainly between supporters of Religious Fundamentalism (e.g. dr. William Lane Craig and dr. Michael Licona) and proponents of Materialistic Atheism (e.g. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris). This usually creates the impression that there are essentially only two important ideas about the nature of the Divine and that people ought to choose between either the belief in the personal nature of God, or the idea that there is no God or Divinity. However, there is a third worldview based on the belief that the nature of the Divine is impersonal/non-personal. The latter outlook is not as well known to Westerners as the previous two, because it is closer to beliefs of the Far Eastern countries -beliefs such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Due to the influence of traditional Calvinist values and the fact that South Africa's Constitution prior to 1994 was based on faith in the Triune God of traditional Christianity, the vast majority of South Africans are at present supporters of Religious Fundamentalism. These South Africans usually assume that any person who does not believe in a personal God, is by default an atheist.

While the pursuit of pleasure and temporary material happiness provide ample purpose for many people, there are some people for whom that way of living does not provide sufficient meaning. They do not accept the assertion that the existence of human beings is a chance occurrence in a basically pointless and meaningless universe. Their faith and hope in the continuation of conscious existence after the death of the temporary physical body, provide them with a better sense of purpose. Consequently they are often less bitter and vindictive when they think back about all the seemingly unnecessary pain, suffering and strife that was part of a lot of their own life experiences.

Many people who have a need for a belief in something greater than themselves and a realization that there must be a Divine Reality “behind” everything, are often dissatisfied with the alleged characteristics of the Gods of most traditional religions. The idea that God is similar to an old man with a white beard who sits on a throne and who decided that most of his miserable creatures are destined for an eternal stay in hell, is for them incompatible with, for example the unconditional love that a mother should have for her own child. Many traditional Christians' constant emphasis on their God's so-called unconditional love for His creatures, in no way changes the awkwardness of their dogmatic ideas about hell.

People who feel comfortable with the idea that the nature of the Divine is either impersonal or non-personal and who are also comfortable with the idea that the transmigration of an immortal part of man from one body to another, is a more meaningful way of thinking about life after death, have an outlook on life which is part of what I refer to as the New Spiritual worldview. Many of them identify with some ideas of the “New Age" Movement -ideas which were popularized by recent films e.g. The Secret and What the BLEEP Do We Know!? The resulting fine-sounding idea that each person can create his/her own reality by simply utilizing their own personal thoughts and attitudes, appeals to many people who are disillusioned by traditional religious ideas and by the the self-centred materialism of most Westerners. However, I distance myself from that naïve “The Power of Positive Thinking” way of thinking and I also state that certainly not all spiritually conscious people identify themselves with that way of thinking. I realize that peoples' external circumstances and inherited genes also have a significant impact on their quality of life.

My own worldview and attitude towards life is closer to a more Gnostic and/or Buddhist worldview according to which all people are in a way trapped in an objective world in which they certainly cannot determine their own future mainly by having a positive attitude regarding their living conditions. The most important purpose of every person is to find ways which can help them to “escape” from this limited earthly existence wherein they are exposed to natural forces and the power of other human beings that are largely beyond their control. The nurturing of positive thoughts and meditation techniques, as well as the pursuit of spiritual values and a constant awareness of the Divine, can however contribute significantly to each person's path to ultimate liberation.

I will now compare my own ideas regarding the qualities of man, the qualities of the Divine and the relationship between man and God, to those of Religious Fundamentalists and Materialistic Atheists. Here is a brief summary of the Creed of my New Spiritual worldview:

·        Every living being has an immortal part which can operate independently of the physical body and which continues to consciously exist after the death of the physical body. This immortal part (soul) therefore usually transmigrates from one physical body to another.

·        There is an impersonal/non-personal Absolute Divinity which, as the One Reality, transcends all manifested things. This “Unmanifested” Divinity cannot sufficiently be defined by limited human terms. The Divinity is the inherent essence of all existing things, i.e. God is the Ground of all being.

·        There is a possibility of eventual merging between the immortal part of living beings and the Divine Absolute. This merging will result in the immortal part no longer being bound by a limited existence “inside” a physical body.

All three abovementioned statements are my own personal beliefs for which I have absolutely no  sufficient “empirical” scientific evidence. I also definitely do not declare that I know that the latter three statements are “true”, but that I believe in their validity and that I certainly believe that they make my life more meaningful. There is therefore a clear distinction between some people who claim that they “know” that their creed is the “truth”, and other people who admit that they cannot with certainty state that they “know” that their creed is really based on the “truth”.

Religious Fundamentalists usually refer to an immortal part or “soul”, which is part of every person and which persists after the death of each person's physical body. These souls differ from person to person and their statuses depend on all the good and bad thoughts and/or actions of each specific person. Every human being thus consists of a mortal part -the physical body, and an immortal part -the soul. The soul is more important than the physical body because it supposedly lives forever. All people are included in one of only two groups of people -the “faithful” group of people who believes the “right” things and lives according to the “right” way of life, or the group of unbelievers who doesn't believe in those things and live according to a certain way of life. The eternal part of the soul's “lifetime” after the death of the physical body, is therefore determined by what each person thought and/or did during a relatively short period averaging 75 years. Only the faithful group of people is destined to inherit eventual Eternal Life in Heaven.

Materialistic Atheists however, claim that everything is ultimately based on corruptible matter even human emotions such as love and hate. A person's consciousness “disappears” after the disintegration of the brain. Materialistic physicists claim that there are fundamental particles, which are the basis of all things, that cannot be broken down into smaller particles or pieces. Even a person's consciousness is therefore ultimately composed of millions of tiny particles. Consciousness disappears with the death of the physical body, after the particles have “broken away” from the original intact physical brain. There is an on-going debate between one group of quantum physicists who believes that everything is ultimately composed of waves of energy, and another group of quantum physicists who believes that everything is ultimately composed of fundamental particles, e.g. quarks. Scientists who are more “open” to the possibility of the existence of non-material things, tend to find the former theory more acceptable.

“Spiritually conscious” people believe that there is a non-material part of every human being which is immortal and which continues to exist after the dissolution of the physical body. Ghosts and spirits which are observed by some people, are also composed of energy that can function independently from their previous physical bodies. Buddhists refer to a mental continuum which moves from one physical body to another -similar to a flame being transferred from one candle to another. Many years ago some philosophers believed that every man consists mainly of a spirit, a soul and a body. Even the author(s) of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 referred to those three “parts”: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whereas the spirit is the Divine “essence” of each person, the soul moves from one body to another through a process of either reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. The difference between these two concepts is that reincarnation implies the journey of the soul from one human body to another, while the “transmigration of the soul”-concept implies the journey of the soul from a human body to an animal body and vice versa.

While I accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for the appearance of various life forms through evolutionary processes such as natural selection and mutations, I also believe that souls evolve by means of the lessons learned during many different lifetimes. The ideas and actions of a person not only affect other people, but they also have a significant influence on the future life of the person to which the soul “belongs”. Hindus and Buddhists use the word Karma to refer to the connection between “cause” and “effect” with regard to peoples' good and bad thoughts and deeds. It is therefore not quite true that you take “nothing” with you when you die. Your mood as well as the evolutionary level of development of your soul, which largely depends on your thoughts and actions during “this” life, become part of your next journey inside another physical body on earth, or perhaps in another dimension or on a different planet.

There are significant differences between (1) Religious Fundamentalists, (2) positive atheists and (3) proponents of a New Spiritual worldview, regarding their ideas about the nature of God. Religious Fundamentalists believe that there is an unbridgeable gap between their God and His creation. Their God is separate from and “beyond” His creation and can in no way be considered as being “equal” to it. No “part” of God can therefore be considered as being the inherent essence of everything inside His inferior creation. The panentheistic view regarding the nature of Divinity, which is part of a New Spiritual worldview, however acknowledges the reality of a Divine essence “within” all things. Divinity is therefore not similar to some “Super Person” who has emotions such as jealousy and love. Positive atheists reject both of these latter beliefs regarding the nature of the Divine. They assert/believe that the Divine/God is not real and that all ideas about its characteristics are wrong and based on peoples' wishful thinking. The atheist André Comte-Sponville, however acknowledges on page 82 of his book The Book of Atheist Spirituality, that one of the three classic arguments for the existence of God -the so-called cosmological argument, is the closest to being possible “evidence” for the existence of God:

“Of the three classical 'proofs' of God's existence, this is the only one I find powerful, the only one that occasionally makes me vacillate or hesitate. Why? Because contingency is an abyss in which reason loses its bearings.”

Therefore there must have been some kind of a beginning or “First Cause” to the perpetual pattern of “cause and effect”.

While it is impossible to sufficiently describe Divinity in limited human terms, some people still try to “define their understanding of it -people such as the theosophists and their definition of “Theosophic pantheism”:

“It is the doctrine that the root-essence of the universe is utter divinity, that divinity pervades throughout and is the substratum, the inmost, of all beings and things -every atom, sun, universe, man, god. Theosophic pantheism [similar to the contemporary understanding of the word 'panentheism'] excludes the idea that deity is separate from the universe [in contrast to both theism and deism]; and while denying monotheism [including traditional Christians' belief in the Trinity] and polytheism... Everything that is, is a manifestation, in one degree or another, of the allpermeant [all-pervasive?], divine essence.” [1]

Different terms have been used throughout the years to refer to the impersonal/non-personal Absolute Divinity. The German philosopher Paul Tillich spoke of “the God beyond God” and sometimes referred to the Divinity as the “Ground of all being”. Theosophists use the word Parabrahman to refer to the Unmanifested Absolute. Here is another definition that theosophists use to clarify their understanding of the Divinity:

“...the self-enduring, eternal, self-sufficient cause of all, the one essence of everything in the Cosmos. It is before all things in the Cosmos, and is the one sole limitless life-consciousness-substance from which starts into existence a center of force which may be called the Logos [the Word].”

Here is an “esoteric” interpretation of John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”:

The “Word” referred to here, probably has the same meaning as the Logos of the ancient sages and present-day theosophists -the Logos which emanated initially from the impersonal Absolute/Divinity. The manifested Cosmos then arose through the operation of the Logos, which is a “Creative” Manifestation of the Divine. The literal interpretation of this verse differs from the esoteric interpretation. The literal interpretation is the traditional Christian claim that Jesus as the “Word” part of the Triune God, had always been “with” God the Father. This faith in the Triune nature of God was the most important part of the notorious Nicene Creed, which was adopted in the year 325.

Based on their theistic religious outlook, Religious Fundamentalists believe that every person can have a personal relationship with God and that God is capable of producing “miraculous” changes in their lives and in the world. These miracles supposedly sometimes occur after a faithful person asks for them. The destiny of each person's immortal soul depends on their faith and/or the extent to which each person fulfilled God's laws and requirements. For example, Protestants emphasize the importance of faith rather than good works, while Roman Catholics emphasize the importance of both faith and good works. Muslims and Jews emphasize the importance of each person's obedience to Allah or Yahweh's rules, laws and commandments. All of them believe that the status of a person's soul can never be the same as God's exalted status - not even after the particular soul attained Eternal Life in Heaven! Materialistic Atheists assume that death is the end of conscious existence. Accordingly any discussion about the relationship between God and man, is therefore meaningless.

Some people had, at some point in their lives, a mystical experience of “oneness” with the Divine. During this experience they feel as if all things are part of only One Reality and that they are also part of that Reality. During this time they also have an experience of paramount Unconditional Love. When those particular people “return” to everyday life after that experience, they often passionately yearn back to that mystical experience. Those experiences often make such a great impression on people to the extent that they believe that its permanent fulfilment is the true goal of their lives. The eventual permanent mystical union with the Divine is sometimes presented as the ultimate goal to which all people should strive. Different faiths have different terms which they use to refer to that eventual merging or liberation. For example, “Esoteric” Buddhists use the word paranirvana, whereas Hindus refer to moksha. Proponents of the New Spiritual worldview believe that the pursuit of eventual permanent merging with the Divine, is the highest conceivable Ideal to which people can possibly aspire.

Eventual unification with the One Reality does not imply that your individual consciousness will thereafter disappear. You will not then turn into some kind of impersonal energy. You shall still be aware. However, you will then refrain from believing that there are basic unbridgeable differences between Good and Evil, and you will realize that there is only One Reality and that you and everyone and everything “around” you, are part of that harmonious whole. You will no longer find it necessary to hope and believe that you will only be liberated “sometime” in the distant future. Emotions such as hatred will disappear from your mind and you will henceforth be united with an all-inclusive “Energy of Unconditional Love”.


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