REFLECTIONS ON RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY AND POLITICAL ACTIVITY
When I was five my father began to read mythology to me . I found a great tension between the religion I was taught at school and the tales of the Greeks, Romans and ancient Egyptians. I remembered asking at school why the Christian stories we heard at school were true and the mythologies of the ancient world were false. No teacher ever adequately convinced me . The best they did was to tell me I was foolish or indeed odd.
If they want me to believe in their god,
they'll have to sing me better songs.....
I could only believe in a god who dances.
Companions the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and
believers. Fellow creators the creator seeks--those who write
new values on new tablets. Companions the creator seeks, and
fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the
-- Friedrich Nietzsche,
"Thus Spoke Zarathustra",
No polytheist ever imagined that all humankind would come to live in the same way; for polytheists took for granted that humans would worship other deities. Only with Christianity did the belief take root that one way of life could/should be lived by all.. If only one belief is true, then every other is wrong.
For polytheists, religion is a matter of practice,not belief, and there are many kinds of practice. For Christians , religion is a matter of true belief, and therefore every way of life which does not accept it must consequently be an error..
While many polytheists may vigorously defend their deities, they never perceive themselves as missionaries. It is certain that without monotheism humans would still be violent unstable beings ; yet history would have spared us from the wars of religion. If the world had been spared monotheism we would not have developed communism or indeed global democratic capitalism. It is possible to dream of a world free from militant faiths religious or political.
Yet it is also true that unbelief is a move in a game set by .believers. To deny the existence of a God is to accept the categories of monotheism. As these categories fall into disuse, unbelief becomes uninteresting, and soon is meaningless. Many humanists say they want a secular world, but a world defined by the absence of the Christian God is still a Christian world. Secularism like chastity is a condition defined by what it denies.. If atheism has a future, it can only be in a Christian revival and it is true that both Christianity and atheism are declining together.
Atheism is a late bloom of a Christian passion for the truth. No Pagan is ready to sacrifice the pleasure of life for the sake of mere truth.. It is an artful illusion, not unadorned reality that they prize. Among the Greeks, the goal of philosophy
was happiness or salvation, not truth.The worship of Truth is effectively a Christian cult.
The old Pagans were right to shudder at the uncouth earnestness of the early Christians. None of the Mystery religions of the late Roman Empire would have claimed what the Christians claimed- that all other faiths were in error. For that reason none of their followers could ever become an atheist.. When Christianity alone claimed they possessed the truth they condemned the rich and lush profusion of the pagan world with damning finality.
In a world of many gods, unbelief can never be total It can only be a rejection of one practice and gods and acceptance of others or else as Epicurus and his followers claimedthe conviction that gods do not matter since they have long ceased to bother about human affairs.
Christianity struck at the root of pagan tolerance of constructed interpretation. In claiming that there is only one truth faith, it gives truth a supreme value that it had not had before. It also made unbelief in the divine possible for the first time. The long delayed consequence of Christian faith was an idolatry of truth that found its most complete expression in atheism. If we live in a world without gods , we have Christianity to thank for it. Iamblichus of Chalcis commented
"You Christians have driven the Gods from the world and made it a lonely place".
Algernon Charles Swinburne writing in the late 19th century felt the same . In his poem Hymn to Proserpin he bold states
"You have conquered O Pale Galilean, the world has grown grey from thy breath".......
In D H Lawremce`s story “The man who died” Jesus comes back from the dead only to give up the idea of saving mankind. He views the world with wonder and asks himself; “ From what ? and to wha , could this infinite world be saved ?”
Humanity considers itself as perfectible beings superior to all other non human animals upon the planet and yet at the same time we never cease to escape from what we consider ourselves to be. Our religions are attempts to be rid of a freedom that we never perhaps have had.. In the last two hundred years the utopias/dystopias of right and left have served the same function. Today when politics is bland and unconvincing even as entertainment, science has taken on the role of humanity's deliverer..
I believe that we need a teaching that stresses that there is nothing from which to seek deliverance, a teaching whose aim is to free humanity from the yoke of salvation.
Nikos Kazanantzakis states my belief clearly “Whoever says salvation exists is a slave , because he keeps weighing each of his words and deeds at every moment. Will I be saved or damned? He tremblingly asks.......salvation means deliverance from all saviours...now you understand who is the perfect saviour. ..it is the saviour who shall deliver mankind from salvation.” or indeed Nietzsche once more claiming,
"Man is a rope, tied between beast and mg-back, a dangerous
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under.”
Many people today think that they belong to a species that can be master of its destiny. This is faith and not science. We do not speak of a time when whales or gorillas will be master of their destinies. Why then should we humans?
Science today has an authority that common experience cannot rival, yet let us remember that Darwin tells us that species are assemblies of genes, interacting at random with each other and their shifting environments. Species cannot control their fates. Species do not exist. This applies to us as humans. Yet it is forgotten whenever people talk of the progress of mankind. . We have now put our faith in that which originated in Christian belief and in the last hundred years it has been been taken over by scientific rationalism.
I believe that at heart humans and other animals are kin. By contrast, arising from Christianity humans are set beyond all other living beings, and have triggered a bitter argument that rages to this day. In Victorian times this was a conflict between Christians ans unbelievers. Today it is fought between secular humanists and those who believe that humans can no more be masters of their destiny than any other animal. This is the hope of rational science today for although human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same; a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive.
Darwin showed us that humans are like other animals, humanists claim they are not. Humanism insists that by using our knowledge we can control our environment and flourish as never before. In affirming this they renew one of Christianities most dubious promises -that salvation is open to all. The humanist belief in progress is only a secular version of the Christian faith.
Perhaps is is therefore impossible to describe an adequate definition of real progress. To anyone reared on humanist hopes this ls intolerable. As a result, Darwin'steachings have been stood on their head. Christianity`s cardinal error-that humans are different from animals- has been given by science a new lease of life.
Many thinkers like myself realise that humans can never really be masters of the earth. Our spirituality And sense of self must recognise that we are mere stewards of the biosphere and therefore must except a neo -pagan or pantheist belief For much of our history and all of prehistory humans did not see themselves as being any different from the other animals among which they lived. Hunter gatherers saw their prey as equals, if not superior and animals were worshipped as divinities in many traditional culture.
The humanist sense of a gulf between ourselves and other animals is an aberration. It is the animist feeling of belonging with the rest of nature that is normal. Feeble as it may be today the feeling of sharing a common destiny with other living things that is embedded in the human psyche.
Those who struggle to conserve what is left of the environment are moved by the love of living things, a "biophilia" a frail bond of feeling that ties humankind with the earth and that should form the basis of our spirituality./political activity.
"We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.