This is the first in a new series of posts on what I call “crafting religion.” What I’m referring to with that phrase is the designing of valid religious practice and spirituality — and I’ll deal with the distinction between the two in the course of this series — through our own creative imagination, informed by something that I call the god sense.
There’s a connection between crafting religion and writing fantasy fiction, just as there’s a connection between the elements of fantasy and those of religion or spirituality. Crafting religion and writing fantasy are not the same enterprise, though — that should be obvious. The main difference between them is that they are done for different purposes. Fantasy fiction is art, done for the purposes of art, in this case to tell a compelling story, depict believable characters that the reader cares about, and create suspension of disbelief and immersion in the story. Crafting religion, although it should certainly include art, is done for different purposes, those of spirituality. And that almost brings us to the god sense, but before going into that I want to say something about a couple of barriers to the effort, one from the side of religion itself and the other from the side of skepticism.
The barrier from the religious side is a myth that is very common in religious thought and, if taken literally, can be quite poisonous, even more so than is usually the case. The myth I refer to takes a number of forms, but may in general be referred to as the Authoritative Origin Myth.
The Authoritative Origin Myth attributes to a religion’s origins something more than human effort and human creativity, whether it be gods or angelic messengers handing written documents to chosen prophets, ancient traditions handed down intact for generations, scriptures alleged to be of divine origin without particularly explaining how that came about, or whatever. The AOM (for short) amounts to a denial of the god sense; it implies that we, as human beings, have no connection to the divine of our own, but must have this knowledge handed to us by Someone Or Something Bigger And Better Than We Are. If we are going to craft religion, we need to dispense with this idea, and doing so is quite liberating; one is no longer compelled to accept the nonsense that accompanies the truth in every religion that people actually practice and teach — or at least, all of them known to me.
The other barrier is a reflexive, rebellious rejection of all religion and spirituality that characterizes a certain type of militant atheist: the kind whose atheism arises from a perfectly natural and understandable reaction to the abuses of religion experienced in childhood, either intellectual or moral, and either directly or vicariously via empathy for those so victimized. To become fixated on a particular set of ideas about the divine (remember, all such ideas are myths, which means the truth in them — if there is any — is the truth of metaphor, not literal statement) is spiritually crippling whether one’s fixation takes the form of belief or disbelief. Better to wipe the slate clean and forget about whether or not there is a God (as one’s imagination or cognition conceives him to be) or any other such dispute. That really doesn’t matter. We’re crafting myth here. There are truths, experiential truths, truths of the heart and the soul, to which myths refer, but they are usually not, and should never be taken as, literal statements of fact and so their truth or falsehood as literal statements of fact is irrelevant.
(One question I like to ask of this sort of militant atheist is: “You say there is no God. What would God be if he/she/it DID exist? Until we have answered that question, we have no way of knowing what you mean by what you say.” And then once we have God defined, we can go on to say, “Fine, you’re right; there is no such thing as meets that particular description. Now, let’s set that aside and move on to the point of spirituality, which has nothing to do with that idea anyway.” Atheism, as a counter to militant theism, can be quite useful, but when it becomes a rejection of all spirituality it has evolved into a problem.)
So, then, if in crafting religion we’re not talking about God, what do we refer to? (Actually we might end up talking about God, but only as a metaphor. Read on, please.)
It begins in the heart and mind, with the god sense. This is an awareness of something about our own circumstances, our own identities, our place in the cosmos, and the cosmos itself that rises above ordinary perception and gives to reality an added dimension, or several of them. Every idea of God or gods or cosmic principles or personal immortality or enlightenment or salvation or the transformation of the soul that has ever arisen in any religion ever crafted throughout the whole of human history has its roots in the god sense. (Well, except for a few that have their roots in deliberate deception for political purposes.) The god sense is dormant in most of waking life, as we focus on particulars and minutiae and fragments of reality. When it becomes active, we find ourselves recognizing that the boundaries we draw between one thing and another thing, and especially those we draw between ourselves and what is not-me, are not absolute — are, to some degree, arbitrary, and in all cases are conditional and circumstantial. Extending this awareness to its limit, we enter a state of awareness in which we recognize the essential oneness of all phenomena, and our own place as both a minute and insignificant part of that oneness and, on another level, as all of it at once in proper holographic fashion, each fragment containing the whole.
A lot of the history of religious thought is the story of people with awakened god sense trying to help others to achieve the same state, and communicating ideas that have been misunderstood and twisted about for purposes the founder would despise. (And in some cases, e.g. that of Jesus, also of the powers-that-be reacting with violent opposition to this challenge to the consensus awareness that supports their power. This especially is true of authorities whose power derives from religion, for, while the god sense in the past was the origin of religious orthodoxy, in the present it is its deadliest foe.) The problem here is that the fruits of the god sense, the knowledge that it provides, can’t simply be told to someone. This is a flaw in the nature of language itself. Language is a set of tag-sounds that apply to common experiences. If I write the word “laptop,” for example, as I just did, all of my readers will understand what I mean by that word, because laptop computers are commonplace and all of you have experiences that this tag-sound applies to in your memory. But this is only possible when the experience to be communicated is one that we share. If it’s not, I have to use metaphor, stretching the meaning of words by saying that what I’m really talking about, of which a listener or reader has no experience, is like this other thing that is more familiar, and the problem with metaphor is that it is easily misunderstood. Being misunderstood, it is also easily misused.
If you look up to the beginning of this post you’ll see the image of a wheel, which is a metaphor that I like to use in describing religious belief and practice. At the center of the wheel is a circle: an undifferentiated, unbroken whole. At the rim of the wheel is a number of discrete bumps. The center of the wheel represents the reality revealed by the god sense, which is One, and the rim of the wheel represents the reality revealed by ordinary consciousness, fixed on fragmented and fractal parts of the whole. The spokes of the wheel represent religions. Each one connects a point on the rim of the wheel with the center, and so each represents a pathway from ordinary consciousness to the awakened god sense. In the center, all of these spokes lead to the same place. Out on the rim, however, they are quite distinct, each with its own mythos and metaphorical expression for the god-sense reality. For the truly blind, this can even become something to fight about.
Religion consists of a set of myths conjoined with a set of practices, serving two purposes, both of them connected to the god sense. The first of those purposes is to awaken the god sense itself, allowing a person to directly experience the reality that it reveals. The second is to provide a framework of ritual and other behavior that allows the living of a life informed by that reality. In both of these purposes, it faces a paradox. The reality revealed by the god sense itself is one, unchanging, eternal. But the content of the consciousness from which we begin the journey, and also the circumstances of our lives, are not. Because religion connects the two, it must evolve and change in order to remain viable and valid in service to either of its purposes. And that means that it must be crafted, which is of course what this writing is all about.
In future posts I’ll go into some of the details of the process of crafting religion, but in this one the main point I want to get across is that the activity is both permissible and in fact required. The god sense is not something that only a few people possess, and spiritual truth is not something that must be given to you by an authority. As Jesus put it, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and the ability to experience it is your birthright as a human being.