Natan Morar, PhD

Why is Religion still a Thing, part 2

Look, I didn’t think I would write a second part on this issue. It just so happens that my expectations for an ending of the second day of discussions on a more common ground were not met. It seems to me that a consensus could have been reached between Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris, but hasn’t been reached because of a not-sure-how-useful insistence on particular courses of action instead of working together towards a better understanding of the problem at hand and — why not ?— coming up with potentially better solutions. Here is a link to that I’m talking about.

Sam Harris & Jordan Peterson — Vancouver — 2

Sam very well pointed out a problem with religions and some religious people and that is divisiveness. But I would argue that this is not a problem with religions per se, but rather a problem with humans so far. Moreover, Science is not capable, from my point of view, to offer a unified view of the world. Science, in the process of analysis, by definition, divides and cuts everything that it encounters, dealing in pieces ever increasing in number and ever decreasing in size. While it can get us to Mars, I don’t see how it can convince us to stop killing each other, or even killing ourselves for that matter…

Dogma and Revelation

Dogma and Revelation (Spiritual Experience) is like Mainstream Technology and Cutting-Edge Technology. Not all cutting edge gadget or piece of tech is useful and while there are always some early adopters, some technologies fade away in anonymity, while others which prove useful slowly get more and more adoption. See the case of smart glasses and contrast that to what happed with smartphones. Dogma lags behind revelation, but also as Peterson put it, the job of dogma is also to be a defence mechanism agains countless useless and even harmful ideas. But, so far, is seems like in our shared consciousness, the better ideas, the authentic revelation has always surfaced up. I believe we, only now, are beginning to witness the effect of the new doctrine of Christianity as it was laid down by Jesus. I don’t see it as a fluke of the brain that we developed our capacity for rational thought. I don’t think that we developed in spite of the harsh religious climate, but rather thanks to it. In other words, the religious scene contributed to the development of our thinking. I don’t think that the Enlightenment just sprung out of nothing. It was birthed by its environment and its environment was an expired version of Christianity, but which contained in it the very seeds of Enlightenment in the character and life of Jesus of Nazareth.

The practice of religions changes over time, it gets updated, and this is a sign of our developing understanding of what religions signify, what the world means, essentially. However, it seems that now, possibly, more than ever religious dogmas are further away from human mainstream though. And now, more than ever, we need a new Enlightenment. Sam and many more others, I think, sense this. Sam’s podcast is even entitled “Waking Up”. The issue is that he seems to limit this waking up to a mere discovery that religions are bull, that they are not literally true. While this is in some respects useful, it isn’t obvious that the immediate conclusion should be to abandon all religions.. by force… Moreover, as the Buddhists very well knew/know you cannot convince anyone that his/her religion isn’t true. In other words, you cannot take someones beliefs by force. We had some experiments with this in the Western world with Communism. You cannot force Enlightenment. Enlightenment happens. Enlightenment is a growing out of, not a ripping out from.

Sam Harris gave the example of the Buddhist doctrine of ignorance, arguing that it is a religion of questionable usefulness as it does not treat the problem of good vs evil. I think this is a superficial understanding. Wait a second… I am not implying that Sam thinks only superficially about these matters, but I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. I think the reason he interprets these texts literally is because he does not want to engage in metaphorical interpretation and, moreover, this is the way in which religious extremists tend to read religious texts. The way I see it — and this is a thing that is not only obvious to me, but also to others who have studied these matters in great detail, such as Alan Watts and Mircea Eliade — that Eastern religions do have a common ground with Christianity. To my understanding Buddhists’ belief that ignorance is the cause of evil rather than malevolence is not something irreconcilable with Christian thought. Buddhists say that the only reason you do evil things is that you are ignorant towards your true identity. You are the Buddha, yet you are ignorant to it. Not only that you are the Buddha, everyone else is also the Buddha. As an old haiku says:

“A long thing is …
the Long Body of Buddha;
A short thing is …
the Short Body of Buddha.”

You are committing atrocities towards your fellow human, towards your fellow living organism, because you are not aware of this fact; that you are one with your brother, lover, enemy, meal… and in hurting them, you are hurting yourself. Now, this is not different that saying that we are all sons of God. It is just less ‘in your face’ and less apparent at a superficial glance. What does it mean to be a son of God? What does is mean to be a son of a human being? A son of a human being is a human being. A son of God is God.

Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?”

And this is what Jesus just said, he did more than this. He ate and kept company with thieves, tax collectors, with people that were deemed most unclean by the doctrines in power back then. Probably a difference that I can see between the Buddhist and Christian doctrine is the hang-up on guilt that is still is very alive in Christian circles. Who knows what purpose that serves, though… However, it is not like the devices for transcending guilt are not present in Christianity, but rather that we are not yet ready to incorporate them.

Author of “The Shift: An Introduction to Freedom” • Relentless questioner, happiness seeker, writer, programmer, rapper, jack of all trades •