– My Journey from Religion to Rationalism (continued)
So, what finally triggered that for me? It is in some sense ironic. The entire structure of the Christian church, the beliefs of millions, and the contents of my publication, which I spent decades of my life engaged with, all have their basis in one thing - a book. The biblical scriptures are the sole source of knowledge about the Judeo-Christian God. Many things have been said and written based on those scriptures, but it all comes down to the verses themselves. That is the foundation and bedrock and the sole and inherently authoritative origin of all such understandings and beliefs. A book - or rather a library of books.
With my back pressed up against my spiritual bubble of belief, I began to read some new books. These were things I had never bothered to read before, or if I had, I would have either dismissed them out of hand as unfounded speculation of unbelievers, or I would have reacted defensively to immediately seek and develop a Christian/Biblical “answer” to any threats to belief or to the truth of the Bible.
I am not certain which volume was the first crack, but I think it might have been Paul William Roberts book on the search for the original Magi. (See my book list for details on all these books.) In reading this wonderful account of his trip to Iran, he said things that suddenly made some other things make sense. A real eye-opener and a shock to me was the demonstration of the influence of Zoroastrianism on the Jewish people, and especially in the writings of Paul. Here, in this ancient religion, were many of the principal concepts of the New Testament religion pre-dating that source text by millennia, and obviously an original influence on Christianity. The concepts of a personal friend God (a “Daddy” God), heaven and hell, the devil, angels, a prophecied messiah and a second coming - all came not from Judaism itself, but from the ancient Persian religion of Zoroaster that preceded it and which directly influenced Judaism during those times the Jewish people were taken captive en masse to those lands. Generations of Israel’s people grew up in Persia during those times knowing nothing of their Jewish religion - only the religion of their captors. When they were returned to their own lands, they had to have the Law of Moses read aloud to them - they had never heard it read or taught before! (Events desccribed in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.) The influence of the Persian religion could not have been averted, and it is obvious once one knows about it.
This led me to investigating other influences on Christianity, most importantly that of the Gnostics and the Mystery religions of paganism. Much of what Paul wrote is gnostic in nature, even though he has been "cleaned up" and recast as anti-gnostic. Some of the structures of the original "Jewish" Christianity, such as the duality of the Priestly and Kingly messiahs, have been preserved up through the ages in the shadows and ritual elements of the Knights Templar and vaugely on into Freemasonry (see Knight and Lomas, and Gardner).
These readings worked hand-in-hand with other books that questioned orthodox secular understandings concerning human history and the nature of civilization. The wonderful speculative books of Graham Hancock, the new understandings about Egypt and archeoastronomy from Bauval and others, the important early human dispersion ideas reflected in the common myths of the world as exampled in “Hamlet’s Mill” and the encompassing work on myth by Joseph Campbell, all came at me with an undeterrable force. It was like watching a huge mosaic or jig-saw puzzle come together piece by piece to build a wonderful and incredibly huge picture. This vision was much larger than anything I had ever seen before. Then I read Daniel Quinn’s “Ishmael” and “The Story of B.” Whether you agree or not with his final assessments, these are stories that grab you by the neck and shake up your world. [If you have not read them, do not miss Quinn's books! For a list of other books that influenced my paradigm shift, I encourage you to check my book list. I am certain that there are many more to be investigated.]
From reading and studying one library, the Bible, I optimized my birth universe, the universe of Christianity vis-a-vis the Church of Christ, into a spiritualized perfection that left nothing, really, to hang one’s hat upon. By reading another library entirely, I found another universe. One less contrived to please and placate men, perhaps, but one that is reflective of and searching in the REAL universe that surrounds us, and the real and very ancient history of our species upon this planet.
I must admit that I held on to my Christian belief in God for a very long time into this transitional reading process. I did not want God to be unreal! I had much invested in Him! I thought there would be nothing left without Him. I once believed that anyone "losing their faith" would lead wretched and angry lives or else would drift into "make up your own religion" New Age ideas that I assumed were totally meaningless. Now I know that both of those fears are false. I have not lost my faith, you see. I know right where I put it. It waits in that small box called Religion that I can no longer enter, for I am now much too large to fit inside.
Find me a God with whom to struggle
And I shall gladly play for truth
And an end to our tears.
Let Him stand forth,
And I shall measure His foot.
I shall show Him our children,
Both bright of eye and broken
And I shall require of Him
1999 - A Bubble Bursts
One day in 1999, I stopped in my tracks because I suddenly realized that I no longer believed in God as I conceived of God before. It was really an instantaneous moment of realization - a “pop” of the bubble. I had simply read too much that made sense and that superseded the concepts I previously held. Those earlier ideas seemed so small all of a sudden. Now, outside of that old box, I flew far above it in the airs and spaces of an uncharted universe. This observation brought with it a sudden sense of vertigo. Looking down from this place was breathtaking and frightening. However, it is when the floor is pulled out from under one that things get truly interesting!
When it finally got through to me that my God was an illusion, I had many negative emotions. I was dismayed, disappointed, angry, and very sad. I will not say that I was devastated - for I had always prepared myself to seek and attain truths, many of which were not orthodox or easily owned, and this training paid off in making it easier to evaluate this new reality with some dispassion and curiosity. After a while, it was the curiosity that won out. I had read so much, by now, of different ideas about the world and human history that I realized my old beliefs were only a small subset of the doings of mankind and to hold on to them would be only a hindrance. I gently packed them all away and put them in my mental attic.
Well, then. Where do I land? Where can I find my base of operations and establish a center from which bearings may be taken in this uncharted territory? There is a natural philosophy that underlies all other philosophies. It is that of the child before she becomes indoctrinated by religions or cultures. It is the simple philosophy of knowing only what we see and hear and touch. It is the mindset upon which all the storied accomplishments of scientific mankind is based. It is the philosophy of being rational.
Rationalism is the simplest “clean slate,” “square one” philosophy one can assume. This worldview can entertain endless new ideas, but can only accept them as true if they are based on empirical evidence that can be repeated by someone else under the same circumstances. Under this view, extraordinary claims, such as the claim of a non-physical, invisible God, require extraordinary proofs before they can be accepted as rational. We understand that the human mind is creative and imaginative. It can dream up many fictions. We must be cautious and we must be rigorous in our analysis of such claims.
This is the place I landed. Rational thought. Rationalism. It is not a religion, but a stance. I began to read, once again. This time, I read the works of the rationalist authors such as Bertrand Russell and Joseph McCabe. I also began to examine works very critical of the Bible and of the religions founded on the Bible (such as Coote & Coote, Freke & Gandy, and Laurence Gardner). It became obvious that I had self-censored my own religious education by never reading such things before. I had always dismissed them out of hand. Now, the man behind the curtain was revealed with all his ancient gears and levers exposed for what they really are.
After this, I began to sense a change in my attitude toward this paradigm shift. I realized, I think, that all the anger, sadness, and angst that I initially felt, belonged in the box with the rest of my old religious philosophy. I realized that I am alive right now and that “right now” is important! My initial dismay and disorientation had given way to a new resolve to live my life fully in each moment. I realized that I was creating a new philosophy for myself - one of real happiness and joy in Life Right Now. This philosophy has an interesting benefit: a very important increase in self-worth assessment.
The Christian religion is founded on the concept that we humans are sinful, depraved, and worthless, and would be totally doomed except for the overriding and unfathomable grace of God. Even as a believer, I had overcome much of that idea in my preterist views, but the fundamental theme remained and filtered my assessment of myself. No matter what else, I knew it was impossible to compare myself with the powers and knowledge of God.
With God suddenly gone, I realized that even though I still knew little about my own species’ origin, and still do not pretend to claim great knowledge about the universe in general, I, like all of us human beings, am in a unique position of power and responsibility. With all the mystery of the cosmos surrounding us, it is a fact now that our human brains are the most densely complex objects that we are aware of in the entire universe! Does this mean that we should puff ourselves up and do whatever we want? Actually, it means that we should be proud of who and what we are, but be very aware that we are part of a gigantic system and are not essentially separate from the world we live in. It is the Christian religion that asserts that we are separate from our environment and that the entire world and universe is doomed to destruction at any moment by God. It is the Christian’s logical view that this Earth does not matter, and neither do our earthly lives. I now beg to differ.
Another side benefit of the rational view, already alluded to, is the huge increase I experienced in my appetite for reading new information. The joy is that I can read all things now without filtering them through a Christian worldview.
2001 - "It is better to create what you want than to get what you expect."
Now that I am "all grown up" and very much on my own, what shall become of me? I now determined that the question should rather be put, “what shall I become?” The pre-eminent characteristics of mankind are that we are self-aware and that we create things. It is evident now that I must create what I am to be and what I am to do with the rest of my life. As Christians, we do this by default - going about making our worldly lives work while assuming that the real life is the one to come when we will be eternal beings with God in a heavenly realm. Now I can see that the ongoing creation of our lives is the most important prime task of living. How is it that such a truism can seem so revolutionary? This is the price of the religious indoctrination in which we were enveloped.
2002 - Opening Up
I live an exuberant and invigorating life now, for I know to value it at every instant and to do so in intensity and with great honor toward it. I also believe in nurturing the creative energies I possess and focus them on the arts and crafts that I pursue both professionally and informally.
As a philosophical position, I am based in rationalism, but I consider my current process to be one of “opening up.” This means that I do not wish to become dogmatic about rationalism as a “tribal philosophy” like some hardened skeptics would have it. This is why I have not used the words atheism or agnosticism to describe my position. I feel that those terms are too defining and restricting, placing one necessarily in a structure of assertions that I do not wish to be subject to. Is there a God? I don’t know (agnostic view), but I would welcome proof of one (rationalist view). Until such a proof shows up, I must assume as a practical matter that no such God exists (atheistic view). But, I am always open to new information!
2002 - New research leading to a new path for exploration
The rationalistic position is where I expected to stay for a while, but the process of opening up and learning new things has pulled at my leash and made me perk up and investigate even newer things. It is invigorating to be truly wide-open and positively receptive to new philosophies and interpretations of reality. There is much danger of getting caught up in things of no rational value, though, if one is naive or witless about their explorations. This is why so many have been tempted into shallow and derivative pseudo-religions and superstitions. I feel that I have an advantage due to my journey, in that I can approach such new concepts with a background of scholarship, research, scientific skepticism, and the personal experience of having been consumed by a humanly constructed religious system. These things will help me temper and evaluate new concepts as they are encountered. I do not intend to ever be fooled again.
That said, however, I have found recently that, aside from the obviously shallow manifestations currently popular in our society, many of the so-called “New Age” ideas have much truth and depth to them. I am continually having my mind prodded by the terrific array of published thought - things I had no clue about before my big shift. Now I'm paying attention and it is very enlightening. The ideas of value, of course, are the ones that are not “new” at all, but very, very old indeed. My research into the past of Judaism, examining the ideas of Zoroastrianism, kept calling to me to try to take the research even further back in time. This path leads directly to the Vedic scriptures in India, and beyond them to what I believe is the source for those things–something that may be the true source of all human religious ideas, experiences, and constructs.
Much of my current interest and research has led me to try to understand the role of so-called “entheogens” in the establishment of the original religions of mankind, many tens of thousands of years in the past. Entheogens are the psychoactive plants that were fundamental to the most ancient expressions of the Vedic Indian religion. Much of the Rig Veda, the oldest of mankind's surviving scriptures, is a praising of ‘soma’, the vision-inducing plant of their culture. Psychoactive plants were the essential ingredient in the Greek Mystery religions, which used one in their final Inner Mystery rites, and they are even used seriously today in many tribal societies, particularly in the Amazon basin (such as the powerful Ayahuasca sacrament). The system of beliefs and techniques that developed out of plant usage may have become the first real religion of humanity–one that is still practiced today as a practical matter all over the world. This is what we call “shamanism” and it deals with healing and communing with nature through seemingly “mystical” experiences.
While at first glance, I might have dismissed this as just more human fiction, I was impressed with two aspects of it. First, the beliefs and the reported experiences of plant and trance-based shamanism are remarkably similar throughout the world’s tribal societies. Australian bush people, Amazonian curenderos, and African shamans all have the same experiences, report the same things, and operate in much the same manner as each other. Second, I was fascinated by the observations and speculations of the Swiss author Jeremy Narby in his book “Cosmic Serpents”, where, after personally experiencing powerful ayahuasca visions, realized that much of the imagery forms seen by himself and so many others was consistent with the structure of DNA. The shamans told Narby that their knowledge of the plants came directly from the plants - that is: the plants themselves told the shamans how to use them for healing and other purposes. Narby’s observation is intriguing in suggesting that these substances may provide a mechanism (a possiblility for empirical evidence) by which one DNA being (say, you or me) may actually communicate with another DNA being (say, one made in the physical form of a plant like a vine). There are further implications in all of this that deal with the nature and number of intelligent beings in our world.
Wild claim? Extraordinary truth? Only one way to find out. While remaining well on guard for human fiction, I am determined to follow any intriguing and promising path to new knowledge that may help me assess what is true. So, I am proceeding with my rational analysis and have begun to investigate the practices of shamanism and entheogens as it is still maintained in tribal societies today. Note that these are sacred plants and ancient rituals. They have nothing to do with recreational drug use or abuse and are quite antithetical to such abuses. Also, the ancient Ayahuasca medicine in the Amazon is notoriously difficult and unpleasant to work with, requiring much preparation and committment both physically and spiritually to gain the insights and visionary experiences that are desired and useful. I am willing to make those committments and hope to work with this ancient and sacred medicine in its natural and native setting soon.
It is exciting to be surprised by new information, and I certainly did not expect to proceed from my default rationalist position to actively investigate what most people would consider the epitome of mysticism! But, that is the way my world works now, and I think it is a wonderful way to be living.
I said it long ago, long before I stepped through that bubble wall of my old paradigm.
“Knowing the truth changes us....If our perceptions prove to be imprecise, let us humbly adjust them and go on into a new and more complete understanding. We must not be afraid to open all the doors and examine every doctrine.”
- David Crews, Prophecy Fulfilled, p. 361.
I have opened all the doors, now, and I am actively examining every doctrine and way of understanding our place in the universe. I hope this telling of my story will in some way help others to get their bearings as well. I can only say that I am now truly alive and truly happy in each eternal moment and the only thing I fear is the wasting of human potential. I will conclude this journal of changes by sharing a Morning Dedication that I like to read or speak to myself. I hope your journey will be as rewarding and interesting as mine has been and continues to be!
There is only this universe.
2015 – ADDENDUM
It has been many years now since I wrote this essay about my journey. During that time, I have vigorously continued my quest for truth, or as I would rather put it now, for "What is Real?" (Truth is one of those words that has become "loaded" with many meanings and I needed a more clear declaration of my intent.)
I have found much of great interest and import in the ancient rituals and techniques of shamanism, especially in the amazing insights gained from working with Ayahuasca, the Vine of the Spirit, in the Upper Amazon.
I have now traveled twice to the Peruvian Amazon, working with highly experienced and authentic shamans, to encounter what is known as the Mother of Medicines.
Working with Ayahuasca is a very challenging path that requires committment and stamina, but it has literally changed my life, taking me on yet another diverging pathway of knowledge and adventure.
The story of this new journey is beyond and a bit outside the scope of this website, but if you are interested, you can pick it up with my essay called "Ancient Songs and Green Magic," found at the top of my current blog:
The present moment is not mundane. It is, in essence, extraordinary. -DC
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