I have never been able to accept a materialist account of reality. I guess the brain weighs about 3lbs, wet meat, enclosed within the skull. Yet what goes on in the interior of this organ is truly astounding; well if it goes on there at all, for perhaps what we call our minds, is non-local, not situated anywhere. The human mind is truly a creative piece of work; for we humans are self aware, questioning creatures, seeking meaning in our lives. I would suppose self consciousness is truly something astounding, and along with that the deep interior inner life, (invisible to all others) that humans live, only adds to the mystery. It is our greatest blessing and at times it can seem to be a curse. For because we are self-aware, and as far as we know, we are the only creatures on earth who are…. we can anticipate many things, our own death being one of them and perhaps worst of all, the fear of the actual dying process.
We are all deeply inward entities even if we are at times unaware of it. For the only way we can understand the reality around us is through interpretations, something that is not often agreed upon. I don’t think we actually create our own reality, but how we perceive it and live it, are based on personal insight or lack thereof. So our beliefs are important; it also underlies the importance of seeking to deepen our beliefs and also at the same time to broaden them. Knowledge lessens fear, especially of those who are different and walk a dissimilar path. If communication is not always possible with those who walk to a different beat, well then, study is always promising.
On the level of meeting others and communicating different philosophical, theological and psychological paths (as long as the beliefs are not harmful to the over all culture), then they can be seen to be on the same footing. When realizing that, it makes communication much easier. The planet is getting way too small for different ideologies and religions to continue killing each other. Though I am sure it will continue well into the future. At bottom, I think we are an irrational and self destructive species.
Ideals and beliefs are important. Some can be caustic, not only for those who hold them, but also for those who fall victim to fanatics of any kind who follow whichever kind of belief system. It is hard to be objective when trying to understand someone else’s position. We tend to veer towards those who belong to the same choir and either ignore or mock those of who have a different persuasion; well in any case I struggle against this tendency and am not always successful. In fact, there are times when I think it is impossible and real communication between different groups is very spotty at best. Well, again I am speaking from my own experience. For I find it difficult to truly listen to someone who is different and easily slip into stereotypical thinking, which is very common, and perhaps even more so now. There are so many internet ghettos out there today, that it makes me nervous. Enclosed groups are infallible, or they think they are.
We are not just rational beings; no we also have feelings and intuitions to help us to navigate our way through life. I think Ayn Rand, who I believe was a deep thinker and had something really important to say, was in the end wrong about her overemphasis on rationality and ego. I was in my twenties when I started reading her, and I guess I spent a couple of years going through her works (my favorite being ‘the Virtue of selfishness”; except for the chapter on religion; by Nathaniel Brandon). My least favorite of her writings, were her novels, though I did like her novel “We the living”. It is obvious I am in the minority here, for her fiction seems to be selling very well at this time. She had an airtight philosophy and I guess that was the problem. I remember thinking when I put down the last book, that her private life must be in shambles. You can’t deny the irrational and focus just on the rational without some serious repercussions. Both Nathaniel Brandon and Barbara (whom I have great respect for), his ex-wife, wrote books about Ayn, and did mention how difficult she was to relate to. However, both still have a deep respect for her, which I think is well deserved. I read her because I knew I am not overly rational, so I needed a philosopher like her to help me develop my own skills in rational objective thought. If I have ever reached that objective, it passed by me unnoticed. I try, but it is impossible to be totally objective for I bring my own bias with me, which at bottom are of course unreasonable.
I also suffer from a form of physic claustrophobia when I encounter someone who ‘seems’ to have a very closed and narrow belief system. I need inner space to breathe, and I don’t think I am alone in this. We use our beliefs as if they are protection from beginning to understand the deep mystery of life….who we are and in the end, why we are actually here. I often find ‘some’ atheist and fundamentalist to be stuck in a suffocating belief system that makes any kind of real communication impossible. I suppose that in the world of ‘debate’ it is these two groups who have the most fun debating each other. Debate can be entertaining but I have never seen it really go anywhere.
I am a Christian, my heart belongs to Jesus, and I am not ashamed of that. I also know that using my faith as a battering ram to try to force others to agree with me, is in the end, not only a waste of time, but harmful, and yes (again a Christian term) sinful. Belief systems are hard won by many; so it is good to always show respect, while also trying to deepen the ability to actually to listen to another’s point of view. Our words do not often change others, unless they are words of love, compassion and empathy, for the ones we come in contact with. The same goes for our actions.
Each of us represents the group we belong to. I remember in 1999, when I first got on the internet, the first thing I tried out was to dialogue with those of other faiths or no faith. I have come to understand, that no matter what we believe, each group has its own ways of dealing with others. Mockery and contempt is one of the main avenues taken, and it is often the rationalist that can come across the worst. Perhaps it is because they look upon themselves as a very small minority and it makes them aggressive; which I can understand. However it is really across the board the tactic of bulldozing those who are different. The internet has allowed otherwise very nice people, to become bores of great magnitude and shallowness, which allows them to do so, by using identities that can’t be traced.
It is funny, religion is condemned because of the way it can and does in fact, often look down on unbelievers….yet those who bewail this, also do the very same thing when they belittle anyone outside their camp. This kind of blindness, or double standard, is not unusual, that is why the world is in such bad shape, and I guess will not get better any time soon; if ever. I am beginning to believe the only way this earth will attain peace is if we simply kill each other off, that way peace will rein; though there will be no one around to name it, or experience it. Yes the last sentence goes against what I believe as a Christian, so in spite of it all, at bottom, there is always hope in the Grace and love of God at work in our hearts, as revealed in Christ Jesus. As a Christian I speak in terms I am acquainted with and I respect other interpretations in how God works in the world. I think the actual mystery is too large by far to be regulated to one way of seeing things, which is time bound and culturally formed.
I think one aspect of modern culture that will not go away and in fact is still growing, is the study of NDE’s and other phenomena, that people have been having from the very beginning of time. One book just out by Pim van Lommel, MD, titled “Consciousness Beyond life, the science of the Near-Death Experience”, which I think will have a profound impact on the study of NDE’s, is well worth the read. While it is true that his book will not convert anyone, I believe that as time goes on, the real possibility of an afterlife will become the norm. These studies are like revelations given to the common man, to bring back and try to teach us. The lessons are powerful, if only we can listen. I think I will write more on this book soon. Who and what are we? Perhaps it is in the personal inner experience that we have as human beings, which will lead us to some answers.
Science and faith are not at odds, and yes in the past there were mistakes, which go with any evolution of culture and religion; the point is to learn. If God exist, then the world is also his book and science can only lead us deeper into the mystery, just as the study of the so called paranormal experiences that mankind seems to be rich with. Yes there is a lot that goes on in our little three pounds of meat, stuffed into our heads, or is there more? Is the brain even located in the body or the brain for that matter? Non-locality seems to an answer of those who study consciousness and cannot accept the materialistic interpretation. We have too many instances were people have experiences that should be impossible if materialism were true. So the mystery deepens, perhaps it is really open ended and we are only at the beginning of our journey.