This is one of those topics that just never seems to get stale online. mergyeugnau shared some of her insights on twitter just now that I feel are a mirror of what many out there are feeling about this topic. So, before her tweets get lost in the internet dustbin, here they are including my response. (with her permission)
OK, I identify as a mystic relativist. My own experience & beliefs are here: http://bit.ly/4dtNGP I believe everyone’s experience is true.
There’s a difference between experience and how it’s interpreted. Every experience is real, as an experience, but whether our interpretation of it is valid enough for others to benefit from it, is another matter. Clairvoyant experiences for instance are valid in my perception: but the experience of the seer, as well as their power of observation, their natural prejudices etc. all matter in how reliable they are as a witness. On a more common note: there are very few people good at perception to a degree that they make good witnesses in a police investigation. If that’s true when it comes to ordinary life, how much more true must it be for the more fuzzy issues on the spiritual planes?
I believe in cognitive dissonance as essential to understanding reality. My experience & yours can be opposing and both valid. (Cognitive dissonance is the ability to hold competing facts or beliefs in one’s mind at the same time. We all do it at some level.) I believe that the more consciously we acknowledge cognitive dissonance the less we’re compelled to judgment. Or to acknowledge one’s hypocrisy. I often do things that I can’t explain but I am honest about the inconsistency.
I love that. I have decided long ago that it’s better to be an imperfect vegetarian than to avoid even trying because I can’t manage perfection. Avoiding perfection like that can be a great excuse not to even try. Of course trying for an objective understanding is pretty hard if we’re going to let the dissonance stand without at least trying to analyze it. On the other hand: the differences can’t be analyzed without being honest about them in the first place.
I believe everyone on the bell curve from staunch atheist to staunch theist has the right to hold & express their beliefs *for themselves*
And that we all should be able to do so unmolested. I abhor proselytizing of *any form* whether missionary or sceptic.
Yes, organized religion can be & has been destructive, but so can organized science (e.g. crusades & modern warfare.) The problem is this
That all human endeavors and structures are composed of humans. And we have both the beautiful & the horrific within us.
Organized religion also gives us charity, art & literacy & organized science also gives us medicine, ways to connect & appease suffering.
In summary: We need *all* of human experience, belief & endeavor & any time we cross over to interfere with another we damage us all.
It’s sad that we’ve gotten to a point in our culture that I’m more fearful of talking about my faith than my sexuality, rape or politics.
That’s one of those statements that I both get and don’t. I guess the ‘our culture’ part is key. Being in The Netherlands of 2009 is different from being in the USA in 2009. In the US the dichotomy between the atheist scientists and the believer fanatics is so strong that any in between is at risk of being attacked from both. Or so I gather from these tweets. Which does remind me of how things were in The Netherlands when I was growing up. That is: back then religion was a taboo subject. The Netherlands have long prided itself on being a secular society where religion no longer played a big role. That is: those who did not believe in the sense of organized religion prided themselves of that. Those who were religious in the traditional sense, aka Christian of some denomination or other, huddled together and hardly mentioned their faith beyond their close circle.
Since then a lot has changed. ‘New Age’ has gone mainstream and things like alternative healing, vegetarianism, belief in reincarnation, near death experiences are now acceptable topics of conversation for many. There are few restaurants in The Netherlands that don’t have at least one, but usually several, vegetarian dishes on the menu. The term ‘New Age’ has lost much of it’s luster, but the movement itself has not. I do think Christians are still in a bit of a pickle though as are Muslims.
So, I don’t at all feel afraid to talk or write about these issues. I do it as a matter of course. Not out of bravery or anything like that. Simply because these topics fascinate me and are, these days, socially acceptable. I guess I’m lucky to be living here.
My point is this. Belief is not the same as action & an individual is not the same as a group. We must ALL live & let live in our diversity.
Organized religion *at its extreme* is terrible. You never hear of the millions of peaceful congregations of various faiths.
Churches, temples, monasteries, covens etc. throughout the ages have provided solace, education, charity and community.
A person who is judgmental & violent will use whatever tools they have to inflict harm, whether organized religion, nationalism or eugenics.
Group processes do go wrong sometimes. One thing the Hitler era has taught us, I hope, is that ordinary people can be guided into doing terrible things. Perhaps it should be remembered too that Hitler was merely tolerant of existing religion, he certainly did not actively support it. However to simply avoid groups because sometimes they go wrong is a bit ignorant of human nature. We form groups, that’s what we do. These days we have a choice which groups to join, how stable those groups are going to be, and how we contribute to them. And yes, that can include religious groups.
So, how do you, my readers stand on this one? Do you feel comfortable talking about where you stand on the spectrum between organised religion, spirituality, atheism and materialistic science? I think it would be helpful to share your age (at least roughly) and location. I’ll start. I’m 35, living in the Netherlands and having lived there for most of my life except one year I spent in the US when I was a teenager.