Friday, April 29, 2016

God Is Not Dead, We Just Look for God in the Wrong Places

There have been many pronouncements that God is dead.  The most famous perhaps is that of Friedrich Nietzsche, although it is widely misunderstood.  If you look beyond the quoted phrase, Nietzsche was saying that we have killed God.  That we have taken away everything that was magical in God’s creation and are left with nothing to moor us.  

“But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?”

This is not the statement of a Godless man, but one who realizes that our modern knowledge makes it impossible to believe in the God of the Old Testament and that we must find something else to believe in, to moor us.  

Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as the many discoveries of modern science regarding the history of the world just are not compatible with the Bible.  In a word, one cannot believe that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and that man is several million years old .. even modern man is about 50,000 years old … and believe in the God of Genesis.

But others have argued a more fundamental point, as do I.  The history of life on Earth has proven that the concept of a God to whom one prays and who is said to answer prayers and control life on earth is an illusion, purely a creature of belief.  So even if one looks at the Bible with a grain of salt and says that God guided the creation of the Earth and all that is upon it over this expanse of time, the God that we’ve been taught to believe in just doesn’t exist.

What kind of God would have allowed slavery?  What kind of God would have allowed the holocaust and all the other gross and minor inhumanities of man.  What kind of God would for some reason make a child suffer and die?  The questions go on and on.

In the old days, and even today, many people answer these questions, not willing to see the facts as evidence that such a God doesn’t exist, with the classic, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”  Because if they did not believe in God, what would they believe in?  As Nietzsche said, God is their mooring. 

The answer is not so much a “new” conception of God, but one that has existed almost as long as the world’s major religions … that God, that the Devine, is to be found in each of us.  It’s just not a concept that has received much exposure. 

All of the great religions except Christianity … Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism … contain the teaching that what we think of as being ourselves, our ego, is not our true self.  That instead our true self is variously defined as our heart, our true Buddha nature, our Divine essence.  Our suffering results from our true self having been buried under years of learned experience at the hands of our family, peers, and culture, of our thus identifying with and being under the control of our ego.  

Yes, even Judaism and Islam contain this truth, this perspective on life and man’s suffering.  But unfortunately, this truth is confined mostly to their mystical, spiritual arms … the Kabbalah of Judaism and the Sufi of Islam.  These truths are not stated in the Old Testament or Koran nor are the flocks of these religions taught this truth.  How sad.

As for Christianity, although Christ did not speak to this issue, some in the early church, such as Paul, and later Augustine, and then the Reformation, put forth the concept of original sin … that we are all born sinners because of Adam’s not heeding God’s word in the Garden of Eden and being cast out.  And that only God, or Christ, can bring salvation.  This concept is central to the teaching of the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations.

But as I noted in my post, “Our Culture Is the Serpent in the Garden of Eden,” I believe that this take on the story is wrong.  What then is the real lesson of the Garden of Eden?  

As told in Genesis, in the paradise that God created, man and woman were naked, but they were not embarrassed by their nakedness and they were one with all things.  The only thing forbidden to them was to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.   They lived in a world where there was no “knowledge” of right or wrong, good or bad, no cravings, fear, or strife.  Interestingly, the paradise of Genesis is virtually identical with the Buddhist Nirvana.

But they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The point is not so much that God’s commandment was broken and that they thus sinned and were cast out, but that because it was broken in this specific way, they lost their innocence and the world would never be the same.  

The story does relate dramatically, metaphorically, that man would be separated from the Tree of Life, from the knowledge of his true self, his God-essence, having gained knowledge of good and evil.  But not that man for all eternity will be burdened with original sin and be born a sinner.  That is the spin that Christianity put on the story.  And as a result, millions of people in each generation have believed, because they were so taught, that they were born sinners.  Not a healthy self-concept.

The teaching of this universal truth … that our ego is not our true self but that the God/Buddha essence is … is found in the teachings of the Buddha, in Sufi literature such as, The Art of Being and Becoming, in the Kabbalah, and in the Bhagavad Gita.  Contrary to the fear of Nietzsche and many others that man will be left rudderless without their belief in the old God, contrary to the proof they see in our modern culture of the death of the old God and the resulting waywardness of people, God has always been alive and well inside each and every one of us.  

But it is for us to rediscover it, to uncover it, and allow it to embrace us and transform us.  For example, according to Kabbalah, “every soul is pure in essence and the only salvation is to become enlightened (i.e. to remember the truth of who and what we really are). … Salvation is the process of clearing out whatever obstructs our manifestation of the concealed divine image. … Kabbalah leads to the conclusion that ultimately we must rely on ourselves - for we alone have the power to save ourselves.”  It is to our heart we must look for guidance, not our ego-mind.

If one were to ask why most of organized Christianity adopted the doctrine of original sin, and why in Judaism and Islam the teaching that the God-essence is in each of us is mostly confined to their mystical branches, the answer might be found in that statement of Kabbalah just quoted … “we must rely on ourselves, for we alone have the power to save ourselves.”  Organized religion could well have felt that that teaching would reduce its power and influence.   Or it could be that organized religion didn’t have faith that we, ordinary people, can save ourselves and thus felt we needed something external to believe in.

Having found Buddhism in my middle age and walked the path for more than 20 years now, I can attest that freeing ourselves from our ego-mind is not an easy matter.  It involves changing the habit-energies of a lifetime; changing everything we have come to believe about who we are.  But it is possible, with discipline and good teaching, to find the Buddha nature, the God essence, inside each of us.  First comes belief in the teaching, then meditation and practice, and ultimately self-realization.

God is alive and well.  The God-spirit is in each of us, no matter how high or low, no matter how pure or consumed with evil thoughts and acts.  We have all been led astray by the serpent of learned insecurity and the culture of “want.”  We have been programmed by our life experiences to act and think as we do.  But that is our ego, not our true self.  There is no such thing as a bad person; just persons who do bad things.

If we all sought to find the Divine in each of us, the world would be a very different place.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Cause of Urban Ghetto Violence Cannot Be Placed on a Failure of the Black Community

There are many, especially Republicans, who criticize Blacks for the violence in the urban ghetto community, which mostly falls on themselves.  The point is either made or implied that it has something to do with Black culture, that it is a failing of Black mothers to raise their children properly, or that there are too few two-parent households.

While there can be no arguing against the facts of ghetto violence, the causal connections often made have only superficial merit.  If one looks at urban slums/ghettos around the world, one finds gangs, drugs, and violence.  It makes no difference if one is in Asia, Africa, Europe, Los Angeles or New York City.  

Regardless what the race, color, or ethnicity of the urban ghetto dweller is … the incidence of violence in the urban ghetto is a universal fact.  It is instead the crushing, de-humanizing impact of urban ghetto poverty that creates a seedbed for violence.

In most global urban ghettos, the poor are also predominantly immigrants or migrants.  One could even argue that Black Americans are still to a large extent immigrants (forced) who have not been successfully assimilated into the larger culture.  This aggravates the crushing impact of the urban ghetto because people also feel, with good reason, that they are not welcomed, that they have no place in the larger society.

That the combination of poverty and urbanization should produce such an outcome should not be surprising.  And the impact of globalization has actually made it worse.  (See “Gangs in the Global City,” a conference and soon to be book published by the University of Illinois Press.)

Maya Angelou, in her book Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, says that the children of the ghetto are the way they are because they do not experience caring, self-respect, and courtesy in the home.  That has much validity, but that experience itself is in turn the product of poverty and the soul-crushing life of the urban ghetto.

I’m not going to go into the sociological reasons why the combination of poverty and urban ghetto produce violence.  Untold books and articles have been written on the subject.  The reasons are well known and the facts inescapable.  Yet we as a society, and all societies around the world, choose to point the finger at the people themselves and/or cultures rather than the situations the poor find themselves in because that is what is convenient for us.  

If it wasn’t the fault of the poor, if the problem wasn’t self-inflicted, then the larger society would have both a social and a moral obligation to correct the situation, to remove or at least ameliorate the causal factors.  But we do not want to drastically change the way our societies are structured, the way resources are distributed by government, the deeply embedded racism against the ethnic poor, and the pervasive discrimination directed towards all poor.  And so life for the poor continues more or less as it always has, even while receiving meager assistance in the U.S. and other countries from the government.

This is just one more example of the impact of the lack of humanity in our society  (see my post, “Healing Our Nation, Healing Ourselves”).  And our nation, as well as the rest of the world, will not move forward unless the essence of humanity is rediscovered by us humans, individually and collectively.