The Symbol of Life

The Symbol of Life is a mystical symbol, which represents four attributes of existence, Sentience, Meaning, Purpose and Wisdom.

Symbol of Life - White- Labeled
The Symbol of Life emerged (was revealed to me?) during three separate mystical trances over the course of about 18 months, in which I visualised each element sequentially.

After visualising “Sentience” and “Meaning”, I knew that the symbol was not yet complete, but after visualising “Purpose”, I knew that the “Symbol of Life” was both complete and symbolic of Infinite Reality.

Interestingly, enough, the representation of “Wisdom” didn’t emerge from a trance state, but instead its realisation occurred during my meditation of the Symbol itself. This is important, because it is only through contemplation of our experience and through continually questioning our own assumptions, beliefs and creations that we can ever achieve anything remotely resembling Wisdom.

While the symbol itself is finite and quite simple, it is of Infinite reference and symbolically fractal, in that it applies to every scale of consciousness, ranging from the barely existent, through to that which we would regard to be practically infinite and Divine.

Irrespective of the size of the symbol, there is always a finite space within the ellipse that represents purpose, yet there will always exist an infinite space in which Sentience can expand.It is only through the expansion of our finite awareness and understanding that we achieve Wisdom.

It is important to understand that Absolute Wisdom lies forever outside the grasp of any Sentience: Even for the Eternal Being, there is always potential to achieve infinitely more growth, understanding and Wisdom.

There is much meaning contained in the Symbol of Life and my thoughts here are certainly not the last word.

 

Sentience

Sentience is represented by a snake giving birth to itself, in the form of an Ouroboros, in the shape of the Infinity Symbol.

While the ouroboros has an ancient pedigree, and has traditionally been in the form of a circle, it has also increasingly appeared as an infinity symbol. Until my vision, I didn’t have any particular conscious awareness of the symbol, although I’d certainly have encountered it prior.

Traditionally depicted as a snake biting, or eating its own tail, within the context of the Symbol of Life, rather than devouring itself, it is giving birth to itself (although I suppose that stagnation, or diminishing of the Symbol could be regarded as the snake devouring itself).

Sentience, represents life continually giving birth to itself and forcing itself into existence. Failure to do so results in stagnation and death. Life can never know from where it has emerged, or how this has occurred.

In this context Sentience can also be regarded as a placeholder for existence itself and the Eternally unsolvable conundrum of “Why Something Instead of Nothing?”

 

Meaning

Parallel bars represent the forces against which life must struggle to overcome. They continually press against Sentience, threatening its existence and represent the challenges and difficulties from which we derive significance and value.

Should one cease to struggle against these obstacles, stagnation and contraction are the inevitable result, as one is slowly forced into spiritual retreat and a loss of meaning. Once one resumes struggling against these forces, so too does one regain meaning in their lives and resume their spiritual expansion.

Meaning within the context of the Symbol of Life does not entail violent conflict. Indeed, the most worthy struggles are those that are undertaken with the view to avoiding violent conflict and such conflict is often a sign of spiritual immaturity and absence of Wisdom.

Many of the struggles that we face are inherent in the very structure and story of our lives. For example, the ultimate fact of all of our existences is that death awaits all of us eventually. How we deal with and manage ideas about our own deaths as well as those of our loved ones is often a significant determinant of meaning in our lives.

Challenge also needs to be appropriate for our level of personal and spiritual growth. Too great a challenge and many will balk at the difficulty, but not enough and there is no challenge.  In either situation finding Meaning can be difficult.

Ironically, the absence of challenges in our lives doesn’t mean that Sentience can expand unhindered into Wisdom. If challenge isn’t presence, stagnation will also occur, because there is nothing to  motivate and drive Sentience into greater achievement and learning.

For example, imagine playing a game of chess against an average six year old, compared to playing against a Grand Master. For most people, a game against a three year old, would present no challenge and be meaningless within the context of the game itself (as opposed to one’s relationship with the child). Similarly, playing against a Grand Master would be equally without meaning for the average person as the challenge would be far too difficult.

 

Purpose

The oval represents sentience expanding into the unknown. What is contained within the oval is known, but irrespective of how much is known, there is always an Infinite yet to be explored.

Many spiritually insecure people argue that there is one path for all, be it “Enlightenment”, or being “saved by Jesus”, or whatever. The Symbol of Life illustrates otherwise. Just as one can move from the centre of the ellipse in any direction, so to can one fine purpose in any one of an infinite number of different kinds of life.

Just as each sentience is unique, so too is the source of meaning for each sentience. For some it will be striving towards the forever unattainable goal of Spiritual Enlightenment, for others it will be achieving a gold medal at the olympics, while for others it will be being the best parent that they can be.

Ultimate Purpose can only be determined by the individual connecting with their Ultimate Self (and as indicated by the Symbol of Life, this Ultimate Self isn’t stagnant and unchanging, but exists in a perpetually evolving, dynamic of progression .

Once this recognition has been achieved, one’s Purpose will become integral to the person and while a new raft of obstacles will emerge to provide meaning, acting in accordance with one’s purpose will become the path of least resistance.

Purpose is not to be confused with “Destiny”. In an Infiniverse in which every logically and mathematically possible outcome exists, there is simply no one best, or ultimate path for any particular sentience to take.

For example, when I was young, I was an outstanding singer, having appeared on TV and performed in several professional operas by the time my voice broke. I loved singing, so pursuing a career as a professional singer is a path that has undoubtedly kept alternate versions of “me” entertained for many lifetimes. The same could be said of my time spent as a soldier, or counsellor.

Today, I choose to be on the path of the mystic, but who knows how this path will change and evolve over whatever years, or days I happen to have left.

 

Wisdom

The area both outside and inside the oval represents the Infinite into which Sentience expands and the potential inherent within the Divine. Wisdom and understanding is to be gained by learning and experience of the new, and true wisdom requires experience and understanding of all aspects of existence.

At each point in time every Sentient has a certain finite amount of Wisdom that is expressed as the space within the ellipse, but irrespective of how much Wisdom we believe that we possess, there is always an Infinite amount of Wisdom yet to be discovered.

It is important to realise that within the context of any spiritual journey, whether Infinite, or just over the course of a lifetime, much of this new Wisdom will directly contradict that previously accepted.

If one imagines the Symbol of Life as being an onion with an infinite number of rings, one can imagine the spiritual journey as being a process of peeling layers off the onion from the inside. Each layer that is removed expands the empty interior of the onion, increasing our Wisdom.

But eventually, we will encounter a “joke layer”, which when removed off proves that everything that we previously thought to be true was in fact substantially incorrect. For example, we might discover that instead of being inside an onion, we were in fact inside a set of Russian Dolls.

To close one’s mind to continued learning (such as through the acceptance of  Dogmas), is to effectively put a brake on one’s ability to gain new Wisdom.

In using the word “Dogma”, I am not using it only in its strictest sense of “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true”, but also in respect to any belief, or idea that is held to be fundamentally correct, or beyond challenge.

The point is that as soon as you think you have the answers, you’ll stop looking for new explanations. Despite all the lessons that life might throw your way, you’ll cease to learn, cease to grow and start to stagnate.

The American businessman Ray Kroc, summed this up well, saying: “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.”

 

Russian Dolls

The Joke Layer: The onion becomes a Russian doll.
(Image Courtesy of Wikipedia). 

No Place for Humans in Heaven

TLDR: Traditional ideas of heaven represent a repudiation of our humanity, including free will, and need for challenge, purpose and meaning. And its boring!

 

doggie_heaven-767087

Golden Retrievers belong in Heaven. Humans don’t!
(Image unattributed please inform me if you know its creator)

 

Heaven is usually held to be the place where some people go, once they have died, to spend the rest of eternity in the infinite bliss of God’s company. Different beliefs have different criteria for those fortunate enough to earn a ticket to Heaven, with some holding that (almost) everyone gets in (perhaps after spending some time in purgatory, where they serve time for sins committed while alive), while others hold that only good people, believers in a particular deity, or even just a few of the “elect”, or “anointed” earn that reward.

Like Hell, Heaven is not a concept held by all believers in god. However, it is universally held by the major Christian and Islamic traditions, which means that some two thirds of the world’s population is likely to believe in it. Many people who refuse to believe in Hell are happy to believe that there is a Heaven. For example, Seventh Day Adventists, don’t believe in Hell, believing instead in the annihilation of evil doers (although this does seem little better than murder), with the good earning a place in Heaven.

Intriguingly, the Bible contains very little concrete information about what to expect in heaven, beyond a vague description in the book of Revelation. As with Hell, the Quran provides more explicit descriptions of the delights available, including the provision of sexual partners (although the famous reference to 72 virgins is actually found in the Hadith, or “Prophetic Traditions”.)

For Christians, most of what people believe about heaven is therefore obtained from extra biblical sources. For the most part, these beliefs generally mirror those described in the Islamic texts (sadly, the minus virgins),  and run along the lines of eternal, blissful enjoyment of life, spent in the company of God and with none of the problems and concerns of human existence.

Heaven is a place where evil cannot exist and good reigns supreme. Everyone in heaven is their perfect self. There are no poor or destitute, no hunger, disease, or aging and no wars, torture, or abuse. Its like living in a land of eternal, multiple orgasms.

While this sounds all well and good and at first glance it seems like Heaven would be the place that we would all aspire to ending up, there are quite a few problems with it, both as concept and as an ultimate destination for a sentient being.

Strangely, enough the idea of heaven as a place of ultimate, eternal perfection (UEP) is actually quite unbiblical. Firstly, Jesus makes it quite clear in Mark 13:31 that heaven is not for eternity, when he says “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away”. Accordingly, we are left to ponder what happens after heaven, but Jesus chose not to enlighten us in this regard.

Secondly, in Revelation 12:7-9, John of the Apocalypse categorically states that “there was war in heaven”. However, as is normally the case with respect to contradictions between what people want to believe and what the Bible actually says, both these passages are routinely ignored by the faithful, who continue to believe in the fairyland version, rather than the one described in the Bible.

Believe it, or not, the first problem with Heaven is the very absence of evil. While it may not seem like an obvious issue, it helps to consider some of the ways in which theologians explain what, here on earth, is called the “Problem of Evil”.

The problem of evil is that its very existence flies in the face of many of the claimed attributes of the monotheistic God. It simply shouldn’t exist!

If God is perfectly good, then he would seek to oppose evil and remove it. If he was omniscient, knowing everything that it is logically possible to know, then he would be able to unerringly detect it and if he was omnipotent, able to do anything he chose then he could effortlessly remove it. But there is evil and as a result, and this evil seems to refute the claim that there exists an all knowing, all powerful, infinitely good God running the show.

Responses to the problem of evil, come under the heading of “theodicy” are aimed at demonstrating that the existence of evil is perfectly in harmony with the existence of a perfectly good God. While I don’t have enough space to deal with each and every one here, some have significant implications for the viability of Heaven.

Alvin Plantinga is the latest in a long line of philosophers to argue that the presence of evil in our world is not due to the acts, or intent of God, but rather the fault of humans. This position, known as the Free Will Defence  holds that it is our exercise of free will that has bought evil into our world and which continues to keep it alive, even today. As a theory, it has Biblical backing in the story of the Garden of Eden and how Adam and Eve were thrown out after exercising their free will and sampling the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The problem with this defence is that it effectively compounds the existence of free will with the existence of evil. One is the result of the other. If one accepts this logic, then one is forced to also accept that a place in which there is no evil, is also a place in which there is no free will. In other words, anyone lucky enough to get into heaven will immediately have their free will removed and from then on in be condemned to act in a totally deterministic manner.

Without free will, people in heaven might as well be highly functioning, self aware robots incapable of any act of self determination that contradicts their programing. Given that free will is held to be an inherent characteristic of being human by many faiths and philosophies, sacrificing such a fundamental aspect of being human seems a repudiation of one’s very humanity.

Is such a price worth an eternity of never ending orgasms?

The second issue with the UEP (AKA fairyland) idea of heaven is that it seems a dangerously hedonistic and pointlessly shallow existence. There appears to be nothing more to the heavenly existence than pure bliss and pleasure. Indeed, if one were to consider what earthly experience might compare to being in heaven, the closest likely candidate seems to be heroin, which users describe as producing a sensation of blissful euphoria (Personal disclosure: I’ve never tried heroin).

Given this comparison, it is worthwhile to engage briefly in a bit of hypothetical speculation. Let’s imagine that there was a drug that produced the same effects as heroin, but had none of the associated health dangers, or potential for addictiveness. In other words, lets imagine a world in which heroin was perfectly safe to use, safer even than Transcendent Compounds. Furthermore, lets also assume that our technology has advanced to the point where all our survival needs were fully met through automated robots, so that no human ever needed to work in order to survive. Furthermore, our society has evolved to the point where each individual was recognised as their own master, and fully able to decide how to live their lives, so long as they weren’t hurting anybody else. Each of us could choose to spend our lives in whatever way we happened to see fit.

In this situation, would we regard we would regard a life spent on heroin as being a worthy one? Would, or should we aspire to live on heroin, safely enjoying the euphoria and bliss that accompanies its use? I would suggest not, as I think would most people, not because the pursuit of pleasure is a bad thing (although some traditions would attest to this misanthropic idiocy), but because in pursuing hedonism we miss out on what makes us truly human and the things that make us truly alive.

As philosophers since the time of Socrates have pointed out, there is more to a good, worthwhile life than the pursuit of blissful euphoria. Indeed, a life of hedonism is often as a symptom of a poorly developed personality.

Psychologically, it seems that most of us need a whole range of other things in order to be happy. Friendships, helping others, the search for knowledge, risking one’s fate, and overcoming difficult challenges are what provides most of us with meaning.

With the exception of friendships, it is hard to see how the UEP version of heaven is going to provide any of these needs. How can we help others, when there will be nobody in need? How can we search for knowledge and the answers to the big questions of science, meaning and the nature of god, when these will be handed to us on a platter? How can we climb mountains when they are all reduced to hills? Most importantly, how can we strive to face the monumental challenges that the very presence of evil in our world creates for us, if there is no hardship, tragedy, or even the hint of evil.

Symbol of Life - White

The Symbol of Life represents, Sentience, Meaning, Purpose and Wisdom as being fundamental to all life.

 

 

The importance of these challenges to what it means to be human should not be underestimated. Have you ever noticed that nearly everyone, irrespective of their station in life, seems to be functioning at the edge of their capacity?

People either push themselves, in order to expand the scope of their horizons, or they remain static, in which case their horizons and capacity to function inevitably shrink, as they slowly stagnate. Either way, our need for challenge, in order to feel truly alive asserts itself as we strive to make our way through our lives as functioning human beings.

With challenge comes the risk of failure and in some cases the risk of death. Indeed, for many people, our very mortality and capacity for injury is crucial to their pursuit of meaning and a satisfying life. If one couldn’t die, or get injured, where would be the fun, or excitement in jumping a motorcycle over a long row of busses? If everyone could do it, where would be the satisfaction of swimming across the English Channel?

And what of simple competition, where the success of one person ensures the failure of the others. For many athletes, the hard work and perseverance of training makes the victory all the sweeter, or the loss all the more heartbreaking. Who would bother to compete in the Olympics if nobody could lose?

And of course, the very existence of something like heartbreak (and the associated music) is absent in heaven, as is every other negative human emotion. While it may not be fun at the time, many people regard the difficult parts of their lives as being the most rewarding; as the times in which they have grown as a person and developed in ways in which they would never have dreamed possible.

I describe my own experience of exactly this sort of growth here.

And what of courage, valour, determination, sacrifice, fearlessness, dreams, and the many other positive emotions and virtues, which we value because they are a response to adversity and are demonstrations of a the depth of a person’s character? Without adversity, these like so much of the human experience is consigned to the dustbin.

But, by definition, these challenges are missing from the UEP heaven. Simply, there is nothing to aim for. Nothing to achieve and nothing to overcome. In reality, there is nothing to do, beyond imbibing the heroin, which is handed out freely at the door.

But if it is wasteful to spend our threescore and ten years on heroin, why is it that our major religious traditions are actively encouraging us to aspire to spending an eternity on the stuff? As Marx might have said, the answer seems to be that they are peddling opium for the masses. They offer a Faustian bargain for the unaware: Behave as we tell you. Follow our rules, laws and dictates. Believe our dogmas without question. Give us your money, so that we might grow fat on the toil of your backs. In exchange, we will guarantee that you’ll get to spend eternity on heroin.

But the currency for this exchange is high. Indeed, it is nothing short of the destruction of your ultimate self and the trivialisation of everything that you have fought so hard to achieve during your life.

It is a mockery of the challenges that you have overcome and the very qualities that make you human. The only thing that you get to take into the next life is your personality; who you are is all you will ever be. But everything that you have worked so hard to achieve and all that is worthwhile in your spirit are irrelevant in heaven. The “you” that gets into heaven is little more than a vague sentience; a robotic shadow lacking purpose, nobility and humanity.

Go to Heaven and you will be stripped of anything more than a desire to endure blissful euphoria for eternity. You will cease to be you. You will cease to be human.

Not only this, but you’ll be bored senseless. Think of any story that you want, whether it is based on a true story, fictional, mythical, or religious.

How many of these stories don’t contain a hint of challenge, conundrum, or problem for the main characters? None that I can think of. In other words, despite what we might say about the difficulties in our own lives, when it comes to the sorts of stories that we consume (and by extension, the computer games we play in a more modern context), we are invariably drawn to those which contain elements of drama and darkness against which the heroes strive.

Without these elements, these stories not only be boring beyond belief,  they wouldn’t even be stories.

For example, imagine if at the very first page of the Harry Potter series of books, or the Star Wars movies, or your own favorite story all the characters had been miraculously saved Deus Ex Machina, and transported to a fairyland UEP heaven.

Boring!

Harry Potter’s adventures wouldn’t have spanned seven paragraphs, let alone seven books and we’d have been left with the shortest and most pointless movies in the history of cinema.

If we can’t even go through our short three score and ten years without the stimulation and excitement provided by stories, how do you think we’d cope with an eternity of it?

If evil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, just to avoid the mind numbing tedium of an eternity with nothing to do.

By now, it should be clear that the concept of heaven, as imagined by the vast majority of the religious and faithful of both the Christian and Islamic traditions based on the repudiation of the very things that make us human.

It inevitably strip us of our capacity for free will while destroying the very things that make us human. And its so very booooring!

So, what might heaven actually look like? Obviously, it would need to be a place in which we had the capacity to exercise our free will. Secondly, it would need to be a place in which our very human need for challenge, purpose and meaning are met.

We can surmise that heaven would need to contain opportunities for competition, victory and failure. It would be a place where we could explore the fullness of being human and strive to improve ourselves, make a difference and experience achievement. In other words, it would need to contain obstacles, tragedy and perhaps even evil.

If you want to know what heaven looks like, open your eyes:

You are already there!

Worship of the Hell God as a Character Flaw

TLDR: Belief in the Hell God is unfortunate. Worship of this God is a Major Character flaw that puts you on a Path of Darkness and closer to Hell.

Billions of people in the world today actively worship a God that they believe is going to torture even more billions of people for eternity. This should worry you, especially if you are one of them.

In a previous post, I discussed how Hell is pointless because it fails to meet any of the moral justifications for punishment. Furthermore, I demonstrated that its existence would be completely alien to any genuinely loving, just, merciful and Good God. Indeed, the most rational explanation for the origin of the idea of hell is that it is a technique for controlling people through fear.

Today, I would like to discuss the psychological implications for a belief in Hell and why the worship of a Hellish God is the sign of a significant character flaw.

Abu-ghraib-leash

This doesn’t suddenly become OK because God holds the leash.

(Specialist Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner, known to the guards as “Gus”, who is lying on the floor. Image and Image text from Wikipedia entry on Abu Ghraib.)

 

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic household, attending mass every week, going to private Roman Catholic schools and receiving the Catholic sacraments. From my earliest days I was surrounded by Roman Catholic iconography, thoughts and assumptions. During my teenage years, my parents were heavily involved in their local church and in the emerging Catholic Charismatic Movement, which was a bit like Pentecostalism Lite for Catholics.

In those days, my sense of the connection to the Divine was embryonic, but real enough for me to never question the existence of God. I seriously considered becoming a Priest, at least until the age of twelve, when my sense of adventure lead me to decide instead on a career in the Australian Navy.

For many people, such a story would be the beginning of a rant about how they were permanently scarred by their early exposure to abundantly overt religion. Fortunately, my parents were genuinely spiritual and caring, providing me with an environment in which I felt secure, loved and valued. For this, I am in their debt.

It was around the age of seven that the concept of Hell began to seriously register on my small mind. Hell isn’t a big part of modern Roman Catholicism, but under the influence of my strict Catholic nun teachers, religious education and my own emergent understanding of death, it emerged as a very real concern for my future.

As a child I was continually getting into trouble. Today, I’d have been diagnosed with ADHD and most likely medicated back into “behaving”. Childhood tantrums aside, was I never deliberately mean, or nasty, but I was forever getting underfoot, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing and generally leaving a wake of chaos. Unsurprisingly, I was continually getting into trouble and aggravating my parents, who often responded with less than dignified anger to my troublemaking.

Over the course of months, I began to believe that I was a bad person and that I was going to go to hell. While I wasn’t obsessed with the thought, it was certainly an issue that began to prey upon my growing mind.

After yet another episode where I pushed my mother’s buttons once too often, it all became too much for me and I burst into tears, wailing about how I was going to go to hell because I was such a bad child.

My mother could have responded in one of three ways. She could have agreed with me and used the threat of Hell as a tool of control, she could have ignored my worries and let them fester, or she could have had one of those miraculous adult conversations that parents so often don’t seem to have with their children.

Thankfully for me, she chose the third path. Comforting me, she made it absolutely clear that while I was a naughty child, I certainly wasn’t a bad child and that there was nothing that I had done that would warrant my going to anywhere but heaven. She made it clear that I was just a child doing childish things and that her love for me wasn’t dependant on absolute good behaviour, but was unconditional and forever.

I doubt that my mother would even remember the event today, but for me it was truly transformational parenting and the sort of behaviour that I try to emulate when I am working with people spiritually.

Her comforting reassurance was enough to help me realise that the fires of hell were not in my future. Given how vividly I remember the event decades later, it will surprise few to know that it was with great relief that I went to bed that night.

I was fortunate. Over the years I have encountered dozens of people, whose parents took the exact opposite path to my mother. Since childhood, these people have been tormented with the “reality” of Hell and the belief that they could easily find themselves there. They invariably carry deep emotional scars and a foreboding sense of guilt just for being themselves and not being able to adapt to the dogmatic straightjacket into which they were born.

Invariably, the straight jacket isn’t discarded as an adult, which in turn leads to hypocritical behaviour as a person seeks to be their true self, while presenting a false face to the world in order to maintain their social acceptance. In many cases, the expression of the true self is regarded as somehow evil (even when it is obviously not) and held by the individual as being further proof of their ultimate damnation.

In several cases, these people have engaged in systematically self-destructive behaviour, almost as if they seek to act out the self that they have been told they are, at the expense of the self that they aspire to be. These behaviours have included everything from self-mutilation, to alcohol and drug abuse, to violent and otherwise antisocial activities.  This behaviour then feeds into and provides justification for the Hell narrative.

Should the straightjacket be discarded, the result is often significant social and family disharmony, up and including penalties, such as being disowned, disfellowshipped and rejected by one’s entire social support network. The person becomes free to plot their own path through eternity, but at significant cost.

Whatever the outcome, in my experience, inflicting the belief in Hell on children to the extent that they believe that it is a possibility for them, is uniformly destructive to the welfare of those children.

Make no mistake: Teaching belief in the Hell God is child abuse.

 

What is Hell?

Let us pause and consider what we mean when we speak of Hell. Both the Islamic Quran and the Christian New Testament are equally definite about Hell, although the Quran is especially graphic in its descriptions of the torments that await.

Judaism is mostly silent on issues of life after death, so Heaven and Hell don’t feature significantly within its theology.

At the most basic level Hell is considered a place of eternal torment (Matthew 13:41-50Mark 9: 43-49; Sura 4:56, Sura 19: 29 ) . Once you are there, there is no getting out Luke 16:26Sura 22: 19-22, Sura 47:15) so it is not like the doctrine of Purgatory, where there is at least some hope of escape.

Both the New Testament and the Quran make it clear that this is a destiny that awaits not only those who do evil in the world, but also those who reject the very teachings of Jesus, or Mohammed, respectively.

In other words, irrespective of which religion you are talking about, literally billions of people are condemned to eternal torment, not because they were evil, or caused harm to others, but because they couldn’t bring themselves to believe the unbelievable, or because much of their benign and even generous behaviour was considered sinful by someone else’s God.

 

Psychological Impact of a Belief in Hell

This belief has to be about the biggest psychological screw-over in history. To understand why, we need to put ourselves into the mind of a person who genuinely believes in the Hell God. So, for the remainder of this discussion, I’d like to ask you to imagine what it must be like to actually believe in this God with the same strength as you believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

Firstly, our God has no problem with sending billions of people into eternal torment, so what on earth is going to keep us safe? How can we ever know that we too aren’t destined for the fires of hell? Short answer: We can’t!

God knows our every thought and deed and no amount of pretence is going to fool him, irrespective of how much our hypocrisy might fool others.

When burdened with this belief we aren’t just walking around with a possible death sentence over our head, we are walking around with the certain knowledge that the slightest transgression or doubt could land us in the fires of Hell.

Without massive self censorship of our thoughts and behaviours, our doom is almost guaranteed.

But even if we, as Hell believers thinks that they we in the clear, imagine what must it be like to live in a world where most don’t share any belief in our particular God?

Every day, each of us talks and interacts with many perfectly wonderful and admirable people, many who would willingly take great sacrifices on our behalf and perhaps even give their own lives in defence of ours (think police, firemen and ambulance). But because they aren’t followers of our God, we must face the undeniable “reality” that all of these amazing, generous and compassionate people are destined for eternal torture.

Unless we are a sociopath, how can this not play havoc with our mind? Unless we were the most emotionally and morally stunted people on the planet, how could we not see that this represents the utter repudiation of love, justice and mercy? In holding that fundamentally good people deserve eternal torture, we are turning morality on its head.

That all these wonderful people are destined for Hell, can only play havoc with our sense of right and wrong.  When good becomes evil, and evil becomes good, any and all barbarism in the name of religion can, will and has been justified.

Most of us know good and evil when we see it. There is a reason that we cheer Luke Skywalker, over Darth Vader, or Harry Potter over Lord Voldemort. This is because we recognise that irrespective of their beliefs, the former represent the forces of Light and growth, while the latter represent the forces of Darkness and decay.

Once we believe in the Hell God, there is no real point in cheering any of these characters. None of them are believers, so they are all destined for eternal torment in the fires of Hell, irrespective of how good, courageous and loving they were during their lives. There could be no joy in these stories.

For the Hell Believer, there are no happy endings.

Staying in the mind of the Hell God believer it seems clear that they are already well and truly on their way there. Fear cannot help but be a major part of their lives. If not fear for themselves, then fear for those that they love and care about. In many religious communities, apostates are shunned, cast out and even killed. Fear of Hell for the individual very quickly morphs into actual Hell for the community.

The idea that belief in Hell has a corrosive impact on people’s wellbeing is supported by recent, robust scientific research that shows belief in Hell is significantly correlated with and causal to unhappiness.

Fear of eternal damnation leads to fear of any idea, or ideology that contradicts that of the Hell God, and the very denial of the universe discovered by science.  The logical conclusion of belief in the Hell God is a repudiation of reality itself, lest the self be distracted from worship and end up in the fires of Hell.

 

Worship of the Hell God as a Character Flaw.

Belief is something that is largely out of our own control.

We believe things because we encounter sufficient evidence for them and for a child raised on a diet of Hellfire and Brimstone, this evidence, in the form of social, cultural and parental “proof”  has been frequent and often overwhelming.

If you doubt it, just try to believe that you teleport thousands of miles in an instant, just with a single thought. With the exception of people suffering some sort of psychosis, I’d suggest that you’ll find it impossible to believe something so obviously out of touch with the reality based universe that most of us inhabit. Such is an utter contradiction of the reality that we’ve experienced our whole lives.

We can’t deny our own reality, even if we don’t necessarily all agree about what it looks like. For example, I have a schizophrenic friend, who routinely tells me that dead people are in the room and that UFOs hover over his house. Nothing I, or anybody else says is ever likely to dent the certainty of these beliefs.

In my experience, it is difficult for people raised within the Hell God traditions to ever fully escape the existential dread of this worldview. It can take an enormous amount of work and personal self discovery before they are finally free.

 

holocaustgermancitizenswitnesses

Multiplying this by Infinity doesn’t make this an act of LIGHT.

(Image: German citizens forced to confront the reality of the death camps after the Nazi defeat in WWII.)

 

Worship, on the other hand is a voluntary behaviour over which we have control. While we might believe that a particular God exists, it is up to us whether or not we decide to Worship that being, or follow its dictates.

Now, some may argue that Worship follows naturally from the existence of God to the believer. If you believe it is inherent that you worship. But, I’d disagree with this, and to illustrate I’ll use the example of an earthly leader.

Followers are to leaders as worshippers are to Gods. But whether we choose to follow a particular leader is something that we decide. Our decision to follow isn’t entailed by the fact that someone is a leader.

Not only this, but if the leader is barbaric enough, we have a moral obligation to not follow them, irrespective of what penalties might befall us.

For example, if our leader is Adolf Hitler, or someone equally abhorrent, most would suggest that our moral obligation not only involves not following them, but in the active obstruction of whatever diabolical plans they might wish to implement.

Resorting to the Nuremberg Defence in these situations is rightly regarded as a moral cop-out. Our own personal culpability is not rendered null and void, simply because a leader orders us otherwise.

Similarly, if our God-Leader orders us to obey Him, we have a similar moral obligation to refuse those orders if it is clear that this God-Leader happens to be a servant of evil.

Those of us with even a shred of compassion and empathy rightly quail when presented with images of the victims of humanity’s inhumanity to each other. Whether it is the holocaust, victims of crimes such as rape, murder or assault, the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or the brutal killings of the modern Islamic Fundamentalist we not only recoil from these acts, but understand that at they represent evil and the forces of Darkness at the most basic level.

Multiply these by Infinity and you have the depths of depravity that the worshippers of the Hell God seem to think is not only acceptable behaviour, but admirable to the point that the perpetrator must be idolised and elevated above all other beings.

Now, one might argue that in light of the brutality presented by such a barbaric and omnipotent being, the logic of Pascal’s Wager becomes even more convincing. Irrespective of what one might know to be the ethically correct thing to do, worship of such a being is an act of self-preservation, much as the following of an evil leader is also an act of self-preservation.

The Nuremberg Defence might have been a copout, but at least those people were still alive and well to make that defence, rather than being dead, or irredeemably broken by torture. Far better to stave off eternal torment through worshipping an evil being than try to face it down and face pointless suffering.

I certainly understand and sympathise with that argument. I doubt that I would have the courage to face down the barbarians who rage throughout our own world, let alone one who holds my infinite destiny in His sociopathic and heartless gaze. While I would hope to have the courage to spit in the Hell God’s face on Judgement Day, I can’t fault those who do not.

On the other hand, at least now we are being honest about the true nature of the threat and acknowledging that the Hell God is evil, rather than loving, merciful and just. Surely the moral reasons for opposing that being are just as real as those for opposing any other evil.

The greater the Evil, the greater the moral imperative to oppose its influence.

Irrespective of the justifications put forward, worship of an Evil God of Darkness is indicative of a flaw of character that mirrors that of any follower who obeys and idolises an evil leader.

Whether it represents a lack of empathy and compassion, cowardice, willful ignorance about one’s own path, or even a true commitment to evil and the Path of Darkness, worship of the Hell God is a sign that something Dark lurks within the breast of the worshipper and a sure sign that they are perhaps closer to the Hell that they see for others than any Heaven that they hope for themselves.

The Pointlessness of Hell

The material in this section originally came about because I was randomly emailed by some very rude Christians, who were determined to save my eternal soul from the barbarisms of their loving god. Intrusion into my private space arose because of comments that I occasionally leave on various forums in which I discuss theology and philosophy. A few of the offending (and offensive) comments are below. I only include initials, because I don’t really want to encourage either stupidity, or bad spelling and these people don’t deserve to get their names up in lights.

 

hell1180manuscript

 

Its Hell Out There!

 

” I think that you need to think about that. WE have been warnging yoU! we are telling you! you need to accept Jesus into your life. He loves you and is waiting for you. Other wise…I am sorry for you. You had your warning.” KTS

“Jesus doesn’t inflict Hell on anyone. People inflict it on themselves by refusing Christ offer to pay for their sins. I and everyone else sins each day. I am not perfect, I am only FORGIVEN. ” DR

“Jesus loves u and God, His Father does…but if u lack the Holy Spirit and you reject Christ, u will not see heaven. Read your Bible Greg. God is judge and love, both, not just one…that is how satan is deceiving many right now in this world. Please read your Bible, He will reap judgment on this world, really He is already by allowing things like disease, etc. Get a grip Greg, read your Bible and I will pray, the Truth of it comes thru in your mind and heart. Love u in the Lord.” BC

“Dude you seem to thrive on bigotry and insolence. If you know the word of God, then you are without excuse. Do you understand hyperbole? It.s used to compare our feelings for our family as hatred compared to the supernatural love that we have for Christ. We never stop loving our familys. Christ taught on the sermon of the mount that hatred is as murder. I’m no genius or expert in anything, but I know in whom I have believed. Sir/mam it takes guts to say what you’re saying, not because of the people in this forum, but because Christ will judge the living and the dead at His appearing as written in scripture” AL

This is only a sampling of the relevant hate mail landing in my inbox. But in each case, the writer obviously believes that their deity is going to inflict needless, eternal and evil torture on a significant section of the population, starting with one Greg Kasarik.

While the comments that I have received have been from Christians, what I have to say applies equally to Muslims and others who believe in a literal Eternal Hell.

Hell is pointless!

 

By it’s very definition Hell doesn’t achieve anything!

If I punish someone here on earth, it is with the intention of modifying their behaviour, so that they don’t repeat offend. In addition, one might argue that it is so that others might see the punishment and refrain from acting in that manner (although research, particularly on the death penalty shows almost no evidence of this).

One could also argue that it serves some metaphysical concept of “Justice”, in which case the proverbial “scales” of justice are weighed and an appropriate punishment given out, thereby balancing the scales because the perpetrator suffers an appropriate penalty for their transgressions.

Perhaps final possible reason for punishment is that of allowing the aggrieved party to achieve closure, in that they knowledge of the punishment helps to alleviate some of their pain.

Now, lets look at “Hell”.

The first two reasons for punishment don’t apply. By definition, it is for eternity, so nobody is going to be given the opportunity to reform and behave better next time. Also, as the punishment lies beyond our earthly gaze, it is an incredibly inefficient way of changing other people’s behaviour.

With respect to the first two reasons for punishment, Hell achieves nothing.

Which brings us to the third reason for punishment, closure for the victim. Care needs to be taken here as some victims would, through reasons of their own, seek to impose penalties far in excess of the original crime. The hilarious example occurred recently when someone tried to sue the Bank of America for 1,784 billion, trillion dollars. But the “victim” in this case is God, who we are being told is so aggrieved by my failure to believe in him that he demands that I suffer for eternity? 1,784 billion, trillion doesn’t even begin to scratch an eternity, but even if the punishment was that I suffer for this many days it would, in any reasonable assessment, judged excessive in the extreme.

When looking at the final reason for punishment, the impartial balancing of the scales of justice, we need to take a close look at the nature of the crime.

In this cases of the believers above, the crime was my “failure to believe”. Hardly the stuff that eternal torment should be made of. What about other crimes, such as murder, rape and the like? Aren’t these more worthy of eternal suffering? Indeed, take an unavowed mass murderer like Mao Zedong, who was probably responsible for the deaths of more than 40 million people; if we were to send him to jail for a full term of 25 years for each, he would “only” be in jail for a billion years. A fair whack of time, but not even a decent start on eternity.

The very nature of the “crime” is suspect. Most would agree that “Belief” is based on evidence. If I don’t believe, it is because there isn’t enough evidence.

For example, if I were to say to someone that I have a talking rabbit in my kitchen, would anybody expect them to believe me?

No! In fact, we’d doubt the rationality of anyone who did. A person couldn’t even “choose” to believe me, as no amount of choice on anyone’s part is going to be able to make them believe something as nonsensical as talking rabbits.

Similarly, if I were to challenge a person’s belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, they’d need damned good evidence to abandon this belief and no amount of “choosing” to believe otherwise is going to work.

Of course, organised religion has spent centuries coming up with formulaic phrases designed to make non-believers seem like they are actively defying God, rather than sitting around going WTF?

For example, I’ve routinely been accused of “hardening my Heart against Jesus”. How anyone can harden their hearts against something that they don’t believe in beggars the imagination. I may as well be accused of hardening my heart against fairies, Darth Vader, or Ralph the Invisible Pink Unicorn (RIPU).

Belief is all about available evidence and there just isn’t enough objective evidence to warrant belief in any deity, let alone the Christian one. This is made abundantly clear when you realise that after 2000 years, Christianity has only a 30% market penetration worldwide. Coca Cola has at least this much after only 100. And don’t get me started on the ubiquity of Microsoft Windows after less than a generation.

Whose job is it to provide the evidence?

I’d suggest that it is the responsibility of the guy supposedly running the show (AKA God).  So, if there isn’t enough evidence, and God is responsible for providing it, then I’d suggest that blame lies with him and that it would be totally unjust punishment me for his error. In fact, if anybody is going to end up in Hell, its him, on account of sheer laziness, and ineptitude.

But what of the nature of God? Is it plausible that he would be as offended and hurt as you surely must claim? I’d suggest not. As defined by the Hellraising monotheistic faiths, God is Infinite, Omniscient, Omnipotent, the source of Ultimate Good, and chock block full of justice, love, mercy and forgiveness.

I would suggest to you that an infinitely good, omniscient being is also infinitely well-adjusted with a psychological stability beyond comprehension. He can forgive the most grievous transgression not just once, but a 1,784 billion, trillion times. He will punish, but only to the point of necessity and no further. It is inconceivable that an infinitely loving being could pointlessly inflict needless suffering on a creature that he loves. Such a being would descend into madness in the blink of an eye.

For those who believe in Hell I would ask, do you have a pet, a partner, or children that you genuinely love? What madness would have to be eating into your brain to make you inflict torture upon them? (Hint: If you are fine with torturing someone you claim to love, you really need to look up the meaning of either, or both those words).

Perhaps most importantly, the Eternal Hellraising God is Omnipotent! He can do anything he likes! Can anyone seriously try to claim that an Omnipotent being doesn’t have a choice over whether to torture me for eternity, or not? He certainly does; that’s the whole point of Omnipotence! Yes, I have my free will, but don’t for a second try to claim that my free will invalidates that of a God!

If God doesn’t like how I exert my “free will” (and once again, belief has nothing to do with “free will”), he has the free will to choose how to deal with me. He can either educate me properly, as I would do for any of my children, or pets, or he can freely choose to inflict cruel, pointless and unjust suffering on me. If he chooses the latter, he is obviously a mad god and not worthy of anyone’s worship in the first place.

A More Likely Story.

In conclusion, I’d like to put forward an alternative, much more likely idea.

God is an infinite being, who as we have seen, possesses precisely the characteristics that would prevent him from needlessly inflicting suffering on any other being. Man (and I use the gender term for “Humanity” deliberately here) however, is greedy, fearful, egotistical and desperate for power over his fellows. A doctrine of “hell” doesn’t begin to match the behaviour that we would expect from a just and loving God. It does however, match what we would expect from any man seeking to exert control over his fellows. What better way, than to terrify believers into submission, so that they police themselves for heresy, rather than actively searching for the truth of God’s wonder and majesty?

Accordingly, I would suggest that any belief system that contains threats of eternal damnation, is of man, not of God and we should all recognise the implications this has for our lives.

Ironically, within the context of my own Mystical journey, I have begun to realise that just as states of absolute Joy exist, so to do states of absolute despair and misery. Darkness is real, and it is incumbent upon each of us to choose our own paths through Eternity. Some people will choose Darkness and I believe that the belief in Hell is one such indicator that a person has chosen a path of Darkness.

Ironically, it is the person who believes in Hell as a destination for others who is far closer to Hell than anyone else, if for no other reason than because his conceptualisation of reality actually contains HELL, and because they believe that it is a Good thing!

From there, it is only a small step into the Fires.

Who Are You, Without Using Labels?

People love to label themselves. At school, you are geek, jock, cool, nerd, in, or out. At work, you are what you do, psychologist, mechanic, cleaner, office worker, tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, or even just unemployed. In religion, you are theist (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, or whatever), atheist or agnostic. Politically, people are liberal, conservative, left, or right, socialist, or fascist.

 

Labels
Do “You” Exist Without Your Labels? 

 

It is easy to understand why people need their labels. Humans are social animals and naturally gravitate towards our particular tribe. Labels conveniently and unthinkingly assign us to a tribe and allow us to easily identify other members of the tribe. This in turn allows us to more easily find people who we are likely to get along with. Potentially, they help us identify friend from foe.

For most people, labels tell us where we belong and they provide an explanation about where we fit in the world. In doing so they can help give us a sense of shared meaning and purpose. They provide us with a sense of certainty that we can’t provide ourselves, mostly because we have no real understanding of who we really are.

 

Labels Can Be Useful, To a Point.

In a broad sense labels do make some sense. If I’m looking for someone to fix my car, it is great to meet someone with the label “Mechanic”.

When I say that I am a Mystic, I am identifying myself with a particular spiritual tradition in which practitioners experience transcendent states of Divine connection. But labels also confuse, because people seem to think that mystics necessarily believe in a whole bunch of other things that I regard as utter nonsense within our slice of the Infiniverse.

Examples include things such as crystal healing, telepathy, psychics, astrology and conspiracy theories. In fact, I’ve had a fair few people respond with unbridled hostility when they found that their assumptions weren’t borne out in reality, with one going so far as to angrily insist that I “wasn’t a real mystic” because I don’t believe that ESP exists in our universe.

Labels are an external imposition on the self that we use as a scaffold to fix our identity firmly in place. Ask someone about themselves and they invariably provide a list of labels that they identify with, rather than behaviours that make them unique. Indeed, in much of the world, social convention demands that we ask people, “What do you do?”, when in fact we want to know, “Who are you?”

Lacking any coherent self-image, people will strongly resist any urging to discard the scaffolding. They fear that without it, their sense of self is bound to collapse. Challenge their labels they feel that you have challenged the self and can lash out with considerable hostility.

 

Labels as Inconvenient Stereotypes.

Labels are nothing but stereotypes and when it comes to the deeper spiritual journey are useless and disruptive. For example, what does it mean to be Christian, vs Muslim? What purpose do these labels serve, but to reinforce the distinctions between two warring camps of dogmatic ideology? Each claims to worship a god of love, peace, justice and mercy, but each can barely restrain itself from attacking the other and each is adamantly certain that everyone else is going to spend eternity in Hell.

Rather than realising that all people of goodwill can find a way to work together, people would rather look at the label and simply assume. Whereas even the most simple understanding of the world should teach us that good and bad exists throughout the world, by only looking at the label we resort to the fundamental stupidity of “My Tribe Good. Other Tribe Bad”.

The main problem with labels and the reason why they are so destructive to your own personal journey as a spiritual being is that labels are something external to you and while you are defining yourself by an external label, you have abdicated your responsibility to define yourself. When you abdicate this responsibility, destroy any possibility that you will ever discover who you are and where your true path lies. Instead, you are placing your destiny in the hands of others and allowing yourself to be led like a sheep to whichever slaughterhouse that label happens to take you.

 

Defining Yourself Without Labels.

Who are you once the labels don’t exist? Do you even exist without your labels? Of course you do!

Far better that instead of labels, you define yourself around your aspirations about who you would like to be and the content of your actual behaviour.

The starting point for this exercise is not who you are in the here and now, but who your idealised self would be. If someone were to offer you a personality make over, to allow you to create the ideal you in an instant, who would you choose to be?

It is important that you understand that when I ask “Who would you choose to be?”, I am don’t intend for you to look externally and find another person, or storybook character that you aspire to be. Rather, I mean for you to look inside you and try to understand what your perfected self might look like. While real life and fictional heroes can certainly play a role in helping you realise the qualities that you can aspire to, they inevitably lack the complexity, nuances and subtlety that living the real you entails.

Once we have identified our Idealised Self, we have to take a step back and to brutally and honestly examine our current self to the view of recognising exactly who we are.

For example, if I reject labels and look at myself, I recognise that I aspire to be one of one of the Happy Ones and become an avatar for the Divine aspect of Joy. I have dedicated myself to a path of Light, even though I am still figuring out precisely what that even means. Right now it means that I become more generous, more helpful and more engaged in promoting tolerance, and challenging certitude, so as to bring the world closer to a state of peace and harmony.

This idealised self is necessarily vague, but is valuable because it doesn’t rely on labels imposed from outside, but realisations and determinations that I have found within.

Once I step into myself, I can see that compared to this idealised picture, I am still a greatly flawed person. On the positive side, I am generally happy, hopeful and optimistic, even in times of hardship. I love people and I enjoy helping others. I am determined and even courageous on occasion and don’t easily give up on people.

On the negative side, I recognise that I struggle in many areas of my life. I routinely find myself discouraged by the negative reactions of others and deep depression can overwhelm me, especially when the world doesn’t seem willing to provide any path towards the realisation of my hopes and dreams. Some of my relationships seem to be caught up in toxic death spirals for which I share responsibility. Occasionally my anger and frustration can boil over into dysfunctional rage that only causes more damage.

Once we have taken stock of who we are and who we would like to be, it then becomes possible for us to move towards the people that we would like to be and do so in ways that would have been impossible without this kind of self-analysis.

In identifying our best and current selves without using labels, we have achieved something that many people fail to achieve in their entire lives. We have begun to connect with our true selves and in doing so we have started a journey that will lead us to our authentic Heaven.

Without labels we are free to pursue our authentic selves, rather than someone else’s vision for us. For example, imagine that I was a Roman Catholic and wore that label like a second skin. You’ll note that once I take away the external label of Roman Catholic, there is nothing to tie me to the dogmas of the Catholic Church, such as attending mass every Sunday. Through the process of connecting with my authentic self, I have discovered that there are no strings that necessarily tie me into someone elses ideas of who I should be.

Once you have conceptualised yourself within this framework, it becomes obvious that your ability to move towards your idealised self is hindered, rather than helped by the adoption of labels.

For example, as a prospective being of Light, whose purpose is to spread happiness and joy in the world, I can see that it is more important to find others who wish to join me in the spirit of that journey than it is to find others who share my externalised label. Indeed, if I look for others who claim this label, I might lead myself in entirely the wrong direction. For example, I know two people who insist that they are “Happy Ones”, but any conversation with them is filled with misery to the point that it is obvious that the label they wear has little bearing on the reality within.

It matters little whether someone wears the label of Christian, or Muslim. What matters more is their commitment to the path of Light, the promotion of tolerance and their dedication to the path of joy. So long as someone holds to these ideals, who cares what label they wear?

 

Honesty About the Self is Crucial.

 

Issues arise when people are committed to Darker paths of fear, intolerance, hate and anger. While this kind of exercise can potentially allow a person to gain clarity with respect to their journey and begin to move towards their better self, there are some who will actively embrace these aspects of Darkness and strive towards becoming their worst self.

Very few people have the honesty to acknowledge the Darkness within their souls and recognise that the evil in the world is potentially present within the hearts of every one of us. I suspect that even fewer are able to admit to themselves when they are on a path of Darkness. Mary Wollstonecraft famously contended that “No man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

Instead, they will lie to themselves that they are committed to a path of Light, but justify their Darkness through other means. For these people, it makes sense to hide behind a convenient label that provides justification of their inner Darkness. How often in our world is death and destruction offered as a path towards Light? How many claim that the ends justify the means? How often do people shift the blame for their own Darkness onto the shoulders of others?

People fear uncertainty. To deliberately step away from our defining labels is to embrace fear and uncertainty and takes considerable personal courage.

With this in mind, it perhaps more likely that people will refuse to abandon their labels and insist that the path encapsulated by their label is the only sure path of Light. Indeed, most forms of dogmatic Labeling have at their heart the apparent belief that only by engaging with that Label can one truly be of the Light and that all other Labels inevitably lead to Darkness.

Sanctions against those who reject the Label can be both swift and severe. In many parts of the world, Apostasy is a capital offence, while religions such as Scientology and The Jehovah’s Witnesses shun and cast out those who would seek to gain awareness of their true self through rejection of the label.

This behaviour, while unfortunate. is a simple reflection of the fact that a significant proportion of the population are completely out of touch with their authentic selves, or incapable of admitting when their behaviours and aspirations conflict with their stated goals. It takes considerable courage to reject the label and to follow a different path to the rest of the Tribe.

 

The Joy of a Life Without Labels.

When living our lives as labels, rather than as unique aspects of the Divine Soul, we will never achieve our true potential, because we will never realise our Pure and Ultimate Self. It is only through the jettisoning of labels that we will take charge of our own lives and achieve the ability to shape our authentic destiny as we see fit.

Choose to be your Ultimate Self!

One Surprising Secret about the Law of Attraction.

Today, I would like to talk about the New Agey idea of “The Law of Attraction” and why it is destructive to the spiritual journey and the quest towards the ultimate Happiness that arises from being in tune with the True Self.

 

“The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne

 

Briefly, the Law of Attraction states that thoughts produce results and that like thoughts will produce like results. Negative thoughts will produce negative outcomes in the world, while positive thoughts will produce positive outcomes. The idea is based on the pseudo-scientific nonsense that everything “vibrates” at a particular wavelength and that vibrations of a similar wavelength will attract each other. By this logic, certain ideas occur at certain vibrations and these then attract the events at a similar level of vibration.

At a deeper level, it is believed that one can tailor one’s own thoughts to achieve a particular outcome, so that if you want find your Soul Mate, all you have to do is tell the universe, and put out that “intention” and that person will magically appear. If they don’t, clearly you were doing something wrong. Perhaps you were sending “mixed intentions”, or perhaps you didn’t really want a Soul Mate after all!

Adherents to this philosophy will often talk about “putting it out there”, as a way of saying that they told the universe that they wanted a particular outcome. In my own experience, when the outcome happens, they’ll talk incessantly about it, thereby earning Spiritual Awareness Brownie Points (SABP) from their peers, but when it doesn’t they won’t say a word, because it would mean that there was something wrong with their intentions and this would rob them of SABP while damaging their egos and social standing.

While the idea is itself over 100 years old, the most recent push for it came within a book called “The Secret”, in which the main idea was that if you wish for something enough, it will somehow manifest in the real world. Because of this, the Law of Attraction is also referred to by many as “The Secret”. An excerpt from The Secret official webpage tells us that

“Money is magnetic energy. You are a magnet attracting to you all things, via the signal you are emitting through your thoughts and feelings. Discover how to become a powerful magnet for the creation of personal wealth”

Those familiar with certain types of protestant Christianity will recognise a similarity between these ideas and the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” so much beloved of Evangelical con men everywhere. Prosperity Gospel has it that despite all evidence to the contrary God really wants us all to be really, really rich. Interestingly enough, the first step on the road to your wealth is to donate money to whatever Evangelist you happening to be listening to at the time.

With the “Law of Attraction”, the first step is to buy the author’s books, DVDs, and whatever else they feel will help you on your journey towards making them filthy rich.

 

Why people love the Law of Attraction.

What both of these deceptions have in common is their appeal to two basic human emotions: Greed and laziness.

Everyone wants to be rich. Everyone wants to be able to live lives of financial security, family bliss and career satisfaction. And far too many people want these things to be handed to them on a silver platter. Financial planning for a significant percentage of the population seems to rely on winning the lottery, rather than investing energy into achieving their goals.

So, when someone comes along and says that we can simply become a “magnet” for money by thinking the right thoughts, the response of many people is to jump on the bandwagon and to embrace the silliness wholeheartedly. So much so, that there are a staggering 21 Million copies of this book in print and it has been translated into 44 languages. It seems that the real secret to wealth is to dangle it in front of others.

The Law of Attraction is nonsensical on a multitude of levels.

At its essence, it is saying that if you wish for something hard enough, you’ll get what you want. It’s the Genie and the Lamp story without the genie, or the lamp.

If someone handed you a lamp and asked you to rub it, so that a genie would emerge and grant you three wishes, most would think them quite mad. But take away the lamp, add some pseudo-scientific nonsense about “vibrations” and suddenly people are rubbing like mad.

 

Conflicting Intentions. What Law governs the “Law”?

But what of these “vibrations”? What does it even mean to say that thoughts have vibrations? How are they measured? How does one vibration attract another? How is it that one piece of paper (money) has a different vibration to another piece of paper (a phone bill). How is it that electronic money has the same vibration as paper money? How is it that “wealth” vibrates at all? Which scientific journal can I go to have these questions answered?

What happens when intentions collide? Lets say I meet an absolutely adorable girl, who I am just crazy about. I put out my intention to have her as my girlfriend. But she finds me somewhat less sexy than Godzilla, so she’d rather cover herself in honey and dance on an ant’s nest than have anything to do with me.

Both our intentions are clear. We are both “putting it out” into the universe, but only one of us is going to get what we want Probably her: Honey and ants are so easy to find…

But what happens if she just wants a boyfriend and I really, really want her. Does that mean that my certain intention wins against her vague one? Does the universe put our opposing intentions on a scale and award the prize to the most intense winner? Does success come to the biggest couch potato, basement dwelling fanatics?

Of course not. Indeed it is amazing that anyone past the age of believing in Santa should continue to believe that simply wishing hard enough for something will make it come true.

Magnify this conundrum by 7.whatever billion people on the planet, each with their own conflicting desires, intentions and ambitions and it should be fairly easy to see just how silly the whole idea really is.

The “Real Secret”!!

Think of anyone who has achieved success in their life and you’ll immediately realise the major lie inherent in the Law of Attraction.

Ask these people what they regard as “THE SECRET” to their own success and they’ll happily tell you: Persistent hard work that adds value. And a few other things, like having fun while doing it.

Success requires what is called “Sweat Equity”, in the form of focussed, active effort that produces results over and above your financial input. It involves challenging yourself and overcoming your fears, doubts and inhibitions.

Very few people achieve anything in life without putting in the hard work to get what they want, whether it be money, soul mate, happiness, friendship, career, education or family. Sure, there are many people who inherit good fortune, but even then, their subsequent relative success depends largely on how well they are prepared to work towards their goals.

Because what are these things, if not the result of some sort of hard work, by somebody? Money doesn’t exist on its own. Rather, it is a store of value and that value has been created somewhere by somebody. In a primitive society, I’d use my labour to raise a goat, which would be tasty and therefore have some value. I’d then barter it with someone else, in order to obtain something that I might have needed (fruit perhaps from a fellow farmer’s orchards). Each time I put effort into raising goats, I multiply my wealth. Each time my fellow farmer tends a tree he magnifies his. When we trade, we both benefit, magnifying our combined wealth.

Money is simply an abstraction that streamlines the bartering process. By itself it has no value. You can’t eat it, live in it, or (Rule 34 aside) have sex with it, but because we all agree that it is an abstract representation of wealth it attains recognised value.

You can’t simply produce value and wealth out of thin air. Wealth is produced when people create things. Houses, cars and plasma TVs don’t build themselves, but require that someone puts in the hard work to build them. If you want them, you should similarly expect to put in the hard work to produce something that someone else also wants.

Obviously, in cases of charity, or hardship benefits provided by Governments, there is a recognition that not all people are capable of producing wealth in this fashion and that they should not be adversely penalised for it. But generally speaking, intentional failure to do so as a way of life is regarded as “Free Riding” on the efforts of others.

Even if “The Secret” was true and people could magnetically attract money into your life through thinking about it, unless they are producing something of equivalent in your life in exchange, it is hard to see how this is any different from stealing: Like any thief, you are taking other people’s hard earned wealth while providing nothing in exchange.

The example of money extends to every other thing of value that people might wish to “attract” into their lives. If you want to find your soul mate, you need to put in the hard work of finding them and the even harder work of maintaining the relationship over the course of a lifetime. If you want a good education and you need to put in years of dedicated study to achieve academic mastery. Want to play the violin and you need to practice on it every day for years to achieve proficiency.

 

There are no shortcuts!

For most of us, there is precisely no situation in which failing to work towards a desired outcome will produce that outcome. Sure, you might inherit money, or win the lottery, but wealth gained in this way is easily frittered away and lost. In fact lottery winners are more likely to become bankrupt than other people.

Because it hasn’t been worked for, windfalls have no intrinsic value, which is probably why so many people who win the lottery end up just as poor, or poorer than they initially were. A similar phenomenon can be seen in child and teenage stars, who’s success relates to their parents effort, rather than their own.

 

Is That “Intention” Even Real?

If someone isn’t prepared to put in the effort required to achieve their desires, I’d really have to question whether they really are “desires” (as opposed to ephemeral wishes) in the first place. For example if we reject a suitable job because it requires us to get up an hour earlier, or get home late (thereby missing our favourite TV show – and yes, I have seen this happen), how much did we want the job? If a suitable partner appears but we reject them because they live a few more miles away than we hoped, or they not quite what we expected, how much do we really desire that soul mate?

If we can’t put in the required energy to work with what the universe has already given us, why on earth would we think that we can put in the required energy to magically manifest it in our own lives?

 

Secondary Benefits of the “Real Secret”.

While we work towards achieving something we are developing a range of skills and significantly boosting our willpower, self-control and resilience. In working towards something we also learn much more about ourselves than we might otherwise have done. Hard work teaches us our strengths and weaknesses. It stretches us and allows us to grow as people, in ways that we could never have imagined.

There is a common saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. Why? Because busy people are not only active at working towards their own success, but are far more likely to be skilled in managing the tasks that they need to do in order to succeed.

The converse also applies. By failing to work towards our desires and by simply “putting it out there”, we are encouraging stagnation and sowing the seeds of our own doom when our failures inevitably catch up with us.

Often if we are failing to work towards our goals, it is simply because we have no idea of how to achieve them. In these situations, something like the Law of Attraction allows us to invest hope in something (much like people who habitually by lotto tickets they can’t afford), but will inevitably lead to depression because we will be unable to deny to ourselves that we have no real hope of achieving our aspirations, or ambitions.

 

Moral Bankruptcy and The Law of Attraction.

 

My final objection to the entire philosophy entailed by “The Secret” is that it is morally offensive. I’ve already discussed how, even if real, there really isn’t any functional difference between applying “The Secret” and free-loading off the efforts of others.
But as I write this post, many parts of the world are in chaos. Just last week a Jordanian pilot was burnt to death. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in the Syrian civil war. In the 1940s six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, more than the entire population of my home state of Victoria, Australia. Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed up to 45 Million, more than four times the population of New York City.

On a daily basis, thousands of people in our cities are being assaulted, raped, murdered and victimised. Many people I have spoken to over the years have described horrific treatment, often at the hands of those whom they loved.

If it isn’t our own inhumanity to each other, nature too causes its own share of misery. Ten years ago, over a quarter of a million people lost their lives during an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Five years ago, 160,000 people lost their lives during the Haiti earthquake. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death is estimated to have killed between 30-60% of Europe’s population, accounting for a staggering death toll of between 70-200 million people.

According to the “Law of Attraction” all of these people “attracted” this death and destruction to themselves. Despite what they might have said while being lead to the gas chambers, or fleeing death and destruction, the supposed Secret invites us to say that each of these people truly got what they thought they deserved. They truly got what they wanted.

Taken to its natural conclusion, “The Secret” becomes the ultimate tool of victim blaming. It teaches us that we are the sole agents for our own fortune and misfortune, conveniently neglecting the real truth that evil (for want of a better word) people exist and that the random forces of nature can easily overwhelm our defences. It is an abhorrent philosophy.

As someone who has been responsible for more evil in the world than he would like, I find it disgusting that those who I have treated badly,or abused should be asked to take the blame, rather than the real instigator: Me.

 

In Conclusion.

As a can be seen, the “Law of Attraction”, also known as “The Secret” is silliness on multiple levels. Not only does it encourage us to free load off the efforts of others, but taken to its logical conclusion it inevitably leads to abhorrent victim blaming and the mind-boggling conclusion that, despite all evidence to the contrary, people actively want evil things to happen to them.

In reality, the only “SECRET” is focused, productive, hard work. Only hard work will get you where you want to be and only hard work will allow you to achieve your life’s goals. Nothing of value was ever achieved without effort and it is this realisation that will allow you to grow as a person, to progress on your spiritual journey and to become the being that you would truly like to become, whoever that might be.

 

TLDR:

The one surprising secret about the “Law of Attraction”? That it is complete bollocks and that if you really want something, you need to exert some effort to work towards it.

Although that probably wasn’t too big a surprise now was it? 🙂

Apologising: The Forgotten Virtue.

When it comes to moral virtues, there is much talk about Forgiveness, but while forgiveness is a crucial aspect of getting along with others, it does not stand in isolation.

The other, much overlooked but essential aspect of forgiveness is that of Apology.

For example, the New Testament of the Bible, talks much about forgiveness, both with respect to forgiveness of sins and forgiving others. Jesus is famously thought to have the power to forgive the sins of his followers, but nowhere does one see him actually apologise for any of his own bad behaviour. These include lying (John 7:8-10), cursing a and withering perfectly good fig tree before trashing the Temple market stalls (Mark 11:12-21) and being involved in potentially deadly violence against the local constabulary (John 18:10).

Similarly, a search of books in print reveals many written on the topic of forgiveness, but few written about the virtues of sincere apology.

Ironically many of the books about apology, are rather about “apologetics”, which is the Christian field of study devoted to rationalising some of the gobsmacking errors and confusions in the Bible, including the transgressions of Jesus mentioned above.

This is a significant discrepancy. While forgiveness is hard, I think that the lack of appreciation for and discussion about apology shows just how difficult it is for people to apologise. It is so confronting that they’d rather not even talk about it.

The truth is that in many cases, forgiveness simply isn’t possible without an apology. Certainly, there is some considerable virtue in being able to forgive those who have hurt you, even when an apology has not been forthcoming. In these situations, forgiveness is less about the other person, and more about letting go of the impulse towards revenge and retribution. It is a recognition that one must move on from past transgressions against us, lest we become mired in dysfunctional, unresolvable emotions that will only destroy our lives.

Even with this in mind, an apology, when genuine reflects not only an inner awareness that a transgression has occurred, but also a commitment that the behaviour will not be repeated. A sincere apology is essential for the building of trust, because without any recognition of harm caused, it is almost certain that the behaviour will continue and the harms will inevitably magnify.

In practice, making an apology is fraught with danger and can take considerable courage.

When we apologise to people, we are admitting that we have not only made a mistake, but that our mistake has hurt people that we care about. To apologise is to let go of one’s pride and to drop the facade that we are perfect. Our own egos rebel at the very prospect, because our egos would rather justify all of our behaviour under all circumstances than face the reality that we are flawed, imperfect beings, who are struggling in a reality that we barely understand.

Apologising is fraught with danger in a way that forgiveness is not. In apologising, we are opening ourselves to the rejection of others. We are inviting not only their condemnation, but the very real possibility that they will seek to capitalise on our apology and extract concessions, or favours rather than offer the simple forgiveness that we might have hoped for.

Forgiving someone does not necessarily involve letting down one’s guard against future transgressions. For example, a wife may forgive her former partner for domestic abuse, but this forgiveness does not necessarily entail her resuming any form of relationship with that person. She is well within her rights to offer forgiveness, while acknowledging that trust has been irrevocably broken and that she doesn’t wish to have anything to do with that person any longer. Indeed, the genuineness of the initial apology will be shown by how accepting the abuser is of being offered forgiveness, but no resumption of former relationships.

The ability to apologise goes to the heart of your character. Who do you wish to be? Do you have the courage to behave in an adult way, or will you insist on continuing with childish behaviour that denies your own culpability while inevitably blaming others for your own behaviour.

Because the person who is incapable of offering apologies must necessarily find someone else to blame for the issues that they have caused. Inevitably this will revolve around shifting blame from one’s self to some external source.

Such a person will create toxic relationships because if they can’t blame their situation, society, or equipment, they will inevitably blame those against whom they have transgressed. There isn’t a whole amount of difference between the rapist who says that the woman was “asking for it” and the person who routinely says that someone else’s behaviour “made them so angry” that they lashed out.

In both cases, the true blame lies not only with the inability of the person to firstly control their negative impulses, but also to recognise that they and no one else is the only person responsible for their behaviour.

The only thing that we truly have control over is ourselves. In truth, the person who routinely shifts blame from themselves and who is incapable of apologising is one who has not only refused to exert control over the one thing that they can, but has simultaneously decided to try an exert undue and unfair control over things they can’t.

Such a strategy is doomed to fail and in failing, it is guaranteed to cause considerable damage to the person’s relationships.

 

Now I want to talk to you, the reader, personally…

 

In truth, none of us are perfect and we all make a mess of things on a routine basis. It is incumbent on us all to recognise when we are making such mistakes and to offer the necessary apologies.

If we lack the personal insight, or courage to recognise and admit when we are wrong, it will be impossible for us to ever live in a world dominated by forgiveness. We will forever be stuck in a world without love and without trust.

How can I continually forgive you, when your ego will never allow you to acknowledge the harms you have done? How can I extend trust, when I know that you will simply spit on me (literally) again.

Sure, I might not accept your apology, but that is my problem, not yours. Your apology is about who you decide to be and the person that you wish to be. Coward, or courageous?

I want everyone who reads this to make an apology that they know they should make, but have been too proud, or too scared to follow-up on.

Today!!

If you honestly think that you have nothing to apologise for and nobody to apologise to, then you are almost certainly the exact sort of person that I am talking about.