What Atheists Don't Understand About Religion.
I think that often atheists get caught at the same boundary that christians do. They both think that God is the character in the bible. They are both stuck with the same literal image and the literal translation. Christians believe the bible is true and atheist know that the bible is not true. Of coarse atheist are correct but they are still missing the same underlying message and meaning that these texts hold and still when you mention 'God' to them all they can think of is a mythical character that they know is not real.
So, Atheist and Theist both have the same problem. They take "God" literally.
Imagine going to see a movie with a Christian and an Atheist and you sit in the middle. On the christian side the person is totally convinced that the movie is really true. The atheist overhears this and says "it most certainly is not true. It's scripted with cameras, actors, and special effects that make it look and seem real but it's not."
The problem is that when you are only concerned with what is "real and not real", "true or false" you miss out on the underlying points and metaphors of the movie.
Movies are a modern equivalent of the religious text or spiritual experience, and you can gain great insight into your self and the world around you by watching a good movie/myth if you can learn to see the underlying metaphors, and implications. Movies like 'The Matrix, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and most others are the same story of the hero's journey into the unknown.
In 'Star Wars' George Lucas was using standard mythological imagery.
The trash compactor is equivalent to the belly of the wale.
The story of unmasking your father and the machine vs. humanity.
The force. (that connects us all)
Luke had his real hand cut off by his father and now his new RIGHT HAND is a part of the machine (like his father) that he fights. This is a metaphor. It means in order to fight the system we need to use it, and technology will be as important in this fight as our right hand.
All of these mythical stories are written by men and so they reflect human psychology. If you listen to the stories, you can find a higher truth that you can apply to your own life. These higher truths are in all religions, and the truths are basically the same with different inflections depending on the culture.
These stories use what are called 'archetypes'. This word was coined by Carl Jung, who theorized that humans have a collective unconscious, (deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity.... a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas....) This shared memory of experiences has resulted in a resonance of the concepts of hero and heroine that transcend time, place, and culture. Jung called these recurring personalities archetypes, from the Greek word archetypes, meaning "first of its kind."
An archetype is a generic, idealized model of a person, object, or concept from which similar instances are derived, copied, patterned, or emulated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, personality, or behavior. Or a metaphorical character with certain qualities that represent an idea.
Jung outlined four main archetypes:
The Self, the regulating center of the psyche and facilitator of individuation
The Shadow, the opposite of the ego image, often containing qualities that the ego does not identify with but possess nonetheless
The Anima, the feminine image in a man's psyche
The Animus, the masculine image in a woman's psyche
Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images:
The Great Mother
The Wise old man
The Trickster or Ape
The Puer Aeternus (Latin for 'eternal boy')
The Cosmic Man
The Artist or Scientist etc.
Tarot cards, myths, religions, movies, books, fairy tails, and so on are all based on archetypes)
The way that religions come about is through the mind of men. So all cultures through time have taken these (what Carl Jung calls) elementary ideas and wrapped them in folk tails. Sometimes the only way we can grasp concepts about life is to see them played out for us in some type of myth.
It is said that awe is the hallmark of the religious experience. In Quaballa (jewish mysticism) the first step in the journey toward self realization is awe, or wonder. This is personified in the image of the fool. Mind open and free, in amazement of the beauty of life, he steps into the unknown. This is the same in many cultures. It's sometimes called a 'souls high adventure', the hero's journey, or 'the quest for the holy grail'. You enter the forest at the darkest point, were there is no path, and the powers of the unconscious rise up to meet you.
(There are many stories like this, it is a standard folk tail motif called 'the descent into the dark, or unknown, or subconscious', and is often represented by water and water creatures like the belly of the whale stories)
Jesus went into the desert, met the devil, and came under 3 temptations. Buddha went into the forest, and he too had 3 temptations. (basically the same temptations) Moses went up on a mountain and met with God and brought back the law. This is the hero's journey. Going into the unknown and returning with the knowledge of the unknown.
There is also the story of the labyrinth (the maze in which we are trapped) which leads to an inevitable center in which we must face the half-man, half-bull beast known as the Minotaur, (the shadow within ourselves) to over come it. The fools journey is a circular one. He goes from being a fool unaware of his stupidity, to knowing he is a fool, realizing his limited perspective. (The wisdom of our ignorance.)
It is important that we don't get caught at the boundary. Religion is just symbolic imagery and coded language that reflects poetically the mysteries of life/God/the universe. All is one. And the only way we can talk about this mystery of which we are a part is by using poetry and myth.
Life is a mystery,
Not just how everything came to be (the big T ultimate truth of reality), but life it's self.
Science can understand what it can measure. So basically matter.
But I am not Just matter.
Every living thing has a non tangible subjective interior as well as a tangible objective exterior.
When we speak about the tangible we speak in terms of facts and logic.
Any word you use to talk about the interior/ transcendent aspect of reality is poetic because it is not tangible. "spirit" "god" etc. (if you take it literally you are automatically wrong. This distinction is even made in the bible. Their is talk about reading "the word of god" (the holy text) in "spirit" and not in the "flesh".)
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned". - 1 Corinthians 2:14
In other words "if you take it literally you miss the point/it just seems like foolishness"
it is important to understand how things actually work, otherwise we just wind up looking at the world through meaning colored glasses. We project our understanding of self out there somewhere as a God. We say "God must be some kind of all-powerful man that did all of this for a reason", when it is really us that do things for reasons.
Someone once said that if horses created Gods they would look like horses. Man was not created in Gods image. "God" was created in man's image. (The bible says that because it is written from a mans perspective.)
"God" is a name, and a concept that has evolved out of a context, and we have made all kinds of images to represent this idea.
"God" is the transcendent mystery of all things, beyond all categories of thought.
"God" is not a thing, so the only way to talk about this mystery is to talk about it in "things" because we only understand things. We can't understand the mystery transcendent of all things. So we talk about "it" as poetry and stories.
Mythology is the finger pointing at the stars. But don't get caught in the finger, or you will never see the stars, and that is the whole point of pointing. Religion is the edge. metaphors about the transcendent. But don't get stuck on the image. Your ultimate image of "God" is your ultimate boundary from "God".
The best things can't be told.
The second best are misunderstood, because they make reference to the thing that can't be told.
I don't think we should be making any assumptions or coming to any conclusions without evidence. We have no evidence for anything non tangible so we can only talk about "it" poetically.
In terms of "The God Question", "The Big T ultimate Truth" or "The Mystery Of The Universe" I think agnostic is the only honest position. In fact I would classify my self as a "Hard Agnostic". Not just "i don't know" but "it can't be known" and/or "no matter what you say about it you are wrong, unless you say "I don't know."
Psychological explanations put the mystery in context, and it leaves the mystery mysterious.
You can appreciate primitive art in context and understand how these archetypes have evolved, their similarities and differences, universal ideas and the cultural costumes they appear in.
Also religion is often reduced to just the myth, but it's not the only power religion has because it is not the only thing a religion does. (although I could see why you would think that if your experience with religion is mostly based on orthodox Christianity.)
Their are many other traditions that don't even focus on mythos and when they do they do not take it literally. In the east their are many meditative and contemplative traditions that offer tons of knowledge of state training that has scientifically proven practical value (self control, focus, less stress, better health etc.) with no superstition required.
Any spiritual technology or spiritual experience that lasts beyond your experience of it is passed through a tradition.
So not only do we get metaphoric poetic value from the mythos of religion, but we also get spiritual technologies and contemplative practices. (also through peer review and teachers we can learn to grow and refine in our cognitive and spiritual development.)
I am concerned with people throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think we will ultimately need a healthy form of religion just like we will need a healthy form of government.
Just because the versions of these things we have had in the past have been corrupted institutions doesn't mean the don't offer necessary healthy values. (outside of superstition and bias decision making processes)
Joseph Campbell says when myths are working properly they serve 4 functions:
1. Mystical function - opens up a realization of the transcendent mystical source of everything that's mystery is also your own mystery.
2. Cosmological function - serves and incorporates the situations and concepts of the day. (incorporates objective scientific understanding, and subjective and relative worldviews and situations that people have to deal with today in our everyday lives.)
3. Sociological function - serves to validate and maintain a social order of a particular society. (to bind people together as a group that works harmoniously. So rights and wrongs and this is the main one still active in christianity. The only problem with that is that if it doesn't fulfill the cosmological function then it's concepts of right and wrong will be out of date.)
4. Pedagogical function - guiding the individual harmoniously through the inevitable crises of the stages of life in his world today in terms of its values and dangers.
I think Science/truth/Objective, Religion/poetry/Subjective experiences, and Relative values/Agreements are all important, but for the practical application of knowing how the material world around us works (the truth), the scientific method is the best attempt at a non-bias approach that one can have. Science is open to evidence, and to being proven wrong. Often Religion, and especially Dogma is not.
Some might say that science disregards the "spirit" (interior subjective feelings and relative values), and that may be true in some cases, but I think it is more the case that science realizes that we can only have facts about things in an objective material world. These people realize that there personal experiences, or ideas about things beyond a tangible, objective, material world are probably wrong, because there ideas about these things would be based on matter (all they know). If spirit and matter are opposites and we only understand matter then we should not be able to assume to know anything (especially facts) about spirit.
I would say that "spirit" manifests its self as or through matter, and that is the only way that we can know it, or at very least, study, and measure its correlates.
The Issue with most traditions is that they often try to reduce everything to it's subjective preference. I Like to think X so its true. "I know it's True cause I FEEL IT in my heart. (lost in their own delusional subjective experiences and ignoring the tangible objective truth.)
What is beautiful?
What is good?
What is true?
These are different questions.
I - Beauty- Art - Subjective Intangible Interior (the eye of the beholder) "This is what I like" (1st person)
WE - Morals - Relative (a balancing of subjective and objective) "This is good/better/moral/of value" - Agreement (2nd Person)
IT/IT'S - Truth- Science - Objective Tangible Exterior (it is what it is) "This is True" (3rd Person)
It's not all relative, it's not all objective, and it's not all subjective.
This is where most people get confused, They try and reduce everything to just one aspect.
Christians often reduce everything to just their 1st person subjective experience, what they like to think. "I feel it in my heart" and they ignore objective facts.
Atheists often reduce everything to what is objective and they often wind up treating people like things.
New agers get lost in relativism and can make no judgments about anything, almost everything they say is a performative self contradiction. (like: "it's better to think that nothing is better then anything else." "There are no facts." "everyone is right" "words can't communicate any real meaning" etc.)
If we can understand these different categories and how they relate to each other then we can comprehend how to understand and communicate about reality in a more accurate and effective way.
Religion informs perspective with meaning and purpose just like science informs perspective with facts about objective reality.
Who am I? Why am I here? (meaning and purpose are things science can't give you.)
If you really want to understand religion, your self, and God. I would highly suggest Books, Audio Books, and DVD's by: Joseph Campbell.
A good start is 'The Power of Myth' which is a 6 part interview series with Bill Moyers. Joseph Campbell was an American mythology professor, writer, and lecturer best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.
His work changed my perspective forever and I know it will do the same for anyone who really gets it. (no superstition needed)
I think if you go to your local library you can get the dvd of 'The Power of Myth' with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers for free, or you can download a torrent for it off of the internet.
He has a lot more media available but I think that is a good place to start.
Peace and Love, david