by Dwight Newton
It takes courage to be a non-believer. If you cannot stipulate god, ontology becomes highly personal. Reality becomes whatever the individual believes and belief is based on internal truth rather than consensus. By accepting prevailing beliefs about reality, the enormous fundamental questions of existence become neatly organized in an accessible package and eliminates the need to seek further answers (personal truth), thus relieving the believer from having to figure out the answers for himself. This was the revolutionary act by Buddha -- not his belief that suffering is caused by desire, but rather that this personal conclusion was achieved in contrast to the prevailing understanding of reality. Buddha was not satisfied with the prevailing answers, so he sat under a tree and meditated until his answer came to him. This answer gave him all he needed to cope with the human condition of existential angst.
In my study of belief systems I have carried away some fundamental pieces of personal truth, which may not be the truth most people get or the ones the believers would want me to get.
This is what I learned from Buddha: Figure it out for yourself.
Faith surrenders will, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a denial of personal responsibility for reality. If you believe that reality is personal, you have a responsibility to create a reality that is somehow at least non-destructive and is ideally highly creative. Because humans tend to herd, personal (some would say anarchic) views of reality are not fostered, and when personal reality conflicts significantly with the local herd, the consequences can be dire. The person who creates his own definitions risks health and welfare. The prevailing herd considers him insane, which by their standards is an accurate assessment.
Anthropocentric reality concepts are narrow-minded in the extreme. Look at science fiction. Anyone who thinks life on other planets will look or think anything even remotely like us, has never watched a National Geographic special about undersea life. Look at jellyfish, starfish, octopi, crabs. Imagine how an intelligent jellyfish would think about life on other planets.
How can we call the beliefs of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Aztecs and Egyptians "mythology," but call Christianity, Buddhism or Islam religion? Does it depend on the number of deities? Is it just because the latter are living beliefs?
This is what I learned from Jesus: Seek the beauty in life and love that.
A mere 400 years ago, Galileo was tried for heresy for proposing that the earth revolved around the sun. We are constantly re-defining reality in the face of new learning, but we are really still very far from a full understanding. Physicists, biologists, astronomers, philosophers are constantly redefining truth. The more we know the more we realize how little we know with any absolute certainty. The speed of light was considered a universal constant for decades until aberrations appeared where light seemed to travel faster or slower than it should. No one knows how a magnet works. We know how to create magnets, how to describe in minute details their effects and properties, but we don't know what magnetism is. Same with gravity. Same with aspirin.
Same with life itself. We are nowhere near being able to create life from inanimate matter or to definitively describe how such a thing might have occurred. This is the most astonishing mystery of all and is the single most compelling argument for deus ex machina. But I would argue that even if there is a God who caused life to exist from inanimate matter, this is not a sufficient explanation. I would ask, "How?" It is not sufficient to say God did it, even if it's true. Without a demonstration of method, the argument is moot.
Why not see belief as a creative act rather than subjugative necessity?
The religious extremist fears alternative views. I am happy to let anyone believe whatever they want because I believe reality is fluid and one belief can be just as valid as any other, even polar opposite, belief. I delight in the study of comparative belief systems, because I find it fascinating that so many contradictory ideas could be held by humans. The sheer diversity of religion and philosophy is the primary evidence I have for non-belief. Since there is, and probably cannot be, consensus, then any belief is as valid as any other and the only truth is that which lies within.
This is what I learned from Islam: Sound is a way to seek truth.
My ethos involves beauty and service to art. I am often not persuaded by arguments because I find them aesthetically unattractive, and that is sufficient reason for me to reject them. The aesthetic argument is disarming to most belief-based proposals because it is at once illogical and perfectly reasonable.
This is what I learned from my father: Serve the muse.
This is what I learned from Baha'u'llah: All beliefs are the OK.
This is what I learned from Mr. Natural (R. Crumb): It don't mean shit.
Last edited: 03/13/2006