Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What I Believe

My sister Ruth has been reading this blog and she remarked that some of the posts here mostly dwelt on the negative--the problems of religion, utopias, political and ethical opinions, and so on. That's about what I don't believe in. This is about what I do believe in.

1. The mystical experience of communion with all living things is real. It is our sense of separateness that is the illusion. This illusion is fostered by the ego, a mental construct, a form of personal idolatry, the I that makes everything else Other. Hatred is a byproduct of this illusion. This includes self-hatred, which is actually based upon negative aspects of the ego that we have mistaken for ourselves.

2. Love is a simple recognition of the social nature of human beings, that we live by mutual support and cooperation, and that we live better the stronger that mutual support becomes. Competition only works within narrow prescribed limits within a framework of cooperation, and only when it serves to increase cooperation overall.

3. We do not persist in any self-aware form after we die. Any form of eternal existence as ourselves would become hell. The idea of the afterlife is only tolerable because we believe that we will meet those we love there, because it is other people who draw us out of ourselves. But eventually, even this would not be enough. If we persist in any form, it is as a droplet of water returned to the ocean that loses itself in the reunion. Whatever else may happen, 'I' will end. This is all the time you get. Use it well.

4. We continue in the world after death by becoming a part of those who love us. Mannerisms, ideas, memories, quirks, beliefs, all scatter into the world, to continue on, but without a name attached. We emulate what we admire, and try not to emulate what we despise. In this way what is good lives on.

5. The truth survives, and is recognized as such by most people when they hear it. A lie that is not rejected will cripple or even kill the person or society that believes it. Thus, the truth will win out, either in an individual mind exposed to the free market of ideas, or in a Darwinian test of fitness. Learn or die--it has ever been thus. This is the only real progress.

6. Most of the prophets, saints, and spiritual founders cited by religions knew what they were talking about. Their domain of expertise was the human heart and the relationships between people. On matters concerning history or the physical world they knew little, and staked no claims in these areas. Most of the clergy that followed them have no idea what they are talking about. In their hands the words of the prophets become a grey goo of hackneyed phrases, vacant sentiments, and tired superstitions, boiled and hashed to the point where it offers no flavour and little nutrition.

7. The life of the mind is a kingdom not of this world, treasure that thieves cannot steal. It is also a means of acquisition without consumption, accumulation without burden, and enjoyment without expense. Prophets and scholars have little money because they can't be bothered with it; they are already rich. Material wealth is little more than a distraction from true wealth.

8. The spiritual emerges from the physical but cannot be reduced to it. Reductionism of this type loses too much essential information--descriptions of neurological events do not capture the personal subjective experience of those events. The leap in complexity from basic physical structure to the phenomena of mind marks a qualitative difference, not just a quantitative difference. There will always be room for poetry, art, and music.

9. Real faith is not rote belief in articles of doctrine. These are mere superstitions. Real faith amounts to optimism, which, though keenly aware of the risks and disappointments of life, refuses to stop trying. This is faith in ourselves, in others, and in our ability to face the world together. Faith, hope, and charity are simply different aspects of the same thing.

10. There is no personal God or supernatual entity who watches over us. We will stand or fall on our own merits, and the merits of our communities, for which we share responsibility. This is justice. To ask any more is ungrateful and presumptuous.

11. Mercy is breathing. Earth is speck of living dust in a vast lethal void, the only life sustaining planet that we know of. Know how improbable you are, and be satisfied with life itself--even this is an extremely rare gift.

12. We do not own this world, nor anything on it. We did not make it, and we cannot replace it. We are, at most, tenants, who have the use of it for a short time. It belongs to everything that lives on it, past, present, and future. By harming it, we betray the trust of our ancestors, and the hopes of our children. And our children will despise us for it, and we will be remembered as selfish fools--if there is anyone left to remember us.