Thoughts on God, Religion and Human Purpose
I haven’t had cause to enter anything here since last fall. With travel this weekend from the Orlando area to Florida’s west coast and what I heard on the news – I’m prompted once again to speak.
In my driving yesterday, as in any day, I go five miles over the speed limit. But yesterday, like any day, those on the road with me were not happy with that. Be it a Sunday or Wednesday, people constantly endanger my life and theirs in their reckless pursuit of speed.
Couple that with the reports of women attacked in New York’s Central Park by drunken revelers and couple that with brawling between British and German Soccer fans – over a game. Another report tells of deaths and injury due to a drug called Ecstasy.
It just makes me believe that people in general are wanting. What they want I don’t know and I’m sure they couldn’t tell you. Happiness, perhaps? What will finally make people happy? It would be interesting to get a global consensus on that. If most could realize that when reaching the plateau, the simple creature comforts of food, clothing and shelter should do quite nicely. Throw in, though, a bonding and binding relationship with a fellow human.
I wrote the following article recently to discuss the titled topic, Thoughts on God, Religion and Human Purpose. After rereading this article I realized that I had hurriedly thrown words onto the computer screen and the ideas that I wished to imply may have become lost in a wordy, rambling way. I want to reorganize the thoughts and give it a better try. First of all, my thoughts on God. I don’t believe that any human has the true ability to describe God or tell me for sure that a God exists. When I see a beautiful sunset or see a scene of nature I am inspired and would wish to believe that a God exists because where would all of this come from. At the same time I know that a wild animal may come upon a human and kill that person and I wonder, “How could a benevolent God allow that?”
I have discussed God with many a folk, but being a resident of North America my discussions have been mostly with Christians who profess the belief that one Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and was sent to show us how to live together. But, then again, those words of wisdom have also come from Sidhartha Gauthama, (pardon me if this is misspelled, its Buddha’s real name), Confucius, Martin Luther King and a myriad of others. I believe that they, like Jesus, figured out basically that to live together we have to be good to one another and have a genuine compassion for one another.
Pretty basic, huh? I believe then that for human kind to live better lives we all need to be nice to one another. Its a belief that has to be understood and accepted to work.
Religion to me is a gathering of people together who share enough common beliefs about a deity, entity, spirit, creed or whatever, and that the beliefs on human behavior espoused by that group are their accepted religion. Again, no rocket science here. I believe that people want there to be a God AND a hereafter because to date, no one has died and come back to tell about it, excluding the Biblical description of Jesus doing just that. I mean, who wants to die? Its only because no one really knows what happens to our conscience after death that we are so frightened and typically on our death bed we cry out to our supposed savior.
Human purpose gets a little deeper. I’ve heard that there’s a basic part of our brain that controls the most basic of functions. Ones that primarily are basic sensations that require appeasement; eating, sleeping, sex. Human purpose in my humble opinion requires us to rise above those basic wants and subordinate our on well being for the well being of another human. Kind of like what Jesus reportedly did, sacrificed himself.
Unweened baby pups fight one another for the mother’s milk. Or, put a bowl of food down for two dogs and the larger of the two will generally bully the other aside. That kind of behavior is still exhibited daily by humans and is reported on the news every day. Murder, robbery, rape, spouse abuse, abandoned children, drugs, alcohol. This is what I meant when I called the writing Plateau. It meant rising above the animal in us and showing the traits of being truly human. Compassion, concern, forgiveness, the words describing this could be lengthy.
So there it is in a nutshell. If you’re in traffic tomorrow and someone cuts you off, that person is not seeking the human plateau that would make this a better world. That person is the larger dog, pushing you aside so you don’t get any food. When someone sees you in the grocery line with a few items and offers to let you go ahead of them, that person has made a step toward the Plateau. There doesn’t have to be a God or a Religion for us to do that.
I leave the original article should you wish to wade through it.
Plateau (for my friend, Richard)
Thoughts On God, Religion and Human Purpose
I am not a theologian. I am not a philosopher, doctor or scientist. I have no list of credentials to give credence to what I say. Only from the nearly fifty years of life on earth am I able to render the following beliefs.
Upon a recent visit to the home of a co-worker, I met her husband for the sole purpose of discussing religion, his beliefs and mine. He, Richard, asked me three poignant questions that day; did I know where I came from, did I know the reason for my existence and did I know where I was going after my existence on earth?
My answers were as honestly as I could render. I could only imagine why or how we came to be on this planet. If there was a purpose for my being here it was wholly unclear to me and I could not attest to there being anything commensurate with some “existence” after my human envelope expired. Richard took the opportunity to speak at great length about his beliefs which are from the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints. His espousal was from Biblical scriptures and added to by the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon details ancient writings reportedly translated by Joseph Smith from New England texts unveiled in the 1800’s. The writings document how some from ancient Israel arrived on American shores, having received their divine instructions from God himself.
Having ingested some of the Book of Mormon, more so of Biblical scriptures and writings by current day theologians on a wide variety of religions, there is a perceptible similarity in each. Whether it was Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Judaism or Christianity, whether it was the Bible, Koran, Talmud, Kabala; each religion and writings that gave each its basis, was a prescription telling one how to live one’s life on earth. Each would have it’s explanation of the three questions asked me by my friend, Richard. That is, how we came to be, what we were to do here and what would happen after this life.
While I have found it impossible to hang my hat on any theological precept, the religious teachings growing up in the Catholic church and the day to day experiences throughout my life leave me with the same inexorable result. I still don’t know where we came from, I have only a belief that my life’s purpose is one self-determined and thereby revealed here, and that I have no clue that there is an afterlife.
This writer’s inability to embrace one theological precept, to adopt and practice any one religion is that it is totally unnecessary. Men and to a lesser degree, women, have throughout history fought to the death over what they held to be the absolute “truth” or the “one true God”. If men and women were to act with total logic, they would have to admit uncertainty as to exactly what is the truth. Stories from ancient peoples, writings of human perception on historical events, form the basis for all theological concepts. But these are all writings or stories from humans, given to the writer’s own interpretation or embellishment. To fight or even argue as to which theology is correct is a wasted human endeavor. To discuss theological precepts is not, however, as people should always feel free to openly discuss what they have learned and believe without the fear of alienation, torture or death.
Most any religion that I have been exposed to has one basic similarity; that there is right and there is wrong. That is at least in the course of human interaction. Widespread cultures sometimes incorporate practices that would seem abhorrent to another, such as polygamy or self-disfigurement. Religious tolerance, though, has always aided unlike cultures living side by side without the move to violence. An exception to this would be one witnessing the mutilation or murder of an individual against their free will. Instances such as this have caused people to rise up in what they determine is a just cause to save the victim from the oppressor.
I look with chagrin when individuals try to espouse their beliefs to me. Most of my experience in this area has been with those following the Christian faiths and I admit I have had little exposure to actual adherents to eastern orthodoxies. I have studied Biblical scriptures with Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. While all freely admit that Biblical scripture is upon what they base their beliefs, when I read these teachings in detail I find those espousing these beliefs have a tendency to adhere to some of the teachings while conveniently sidestepping others. Some examples; Jesus told his followers to go forth and teach but to accept no money for what they did. Yet in many Christian religions, the priest or minister wears special raiments and accepts regular payment as if it were a salaried position. Likewise, Biblical scripture admonishes women not to adorn themselves yet go to many a “church” and women are replete with bangles, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. They color their hair and literally paint their faces. Men, not having been so in western cultures have begun copying this habit of adornment with tattoos, earrings and coloring their hair. You must understand how I can not lend an attentive ear to one who cannot adhere to what they themselves preach. Likewise I cannot accept those who are wonderful “scriptural actors”, giving emotional renditions of scriptural teachings.
Seemingly, the most important part of any religious person I have met is that their religion gives them a hope and a belief that there is an answer to what happens after our life on earth. It is a promise of eternity. The prospect of not being certain about anything after life is too unacceptable and many a religion addresses that as well as the eternity. The prospect of not being certain about anything after life is too unacceptable and many a religion addresses that as well as the other two questions posed to me by my friend. As for me, I cannot accept that which has no proof. I cannot blindly believe that there is a heaven that will be a reward for me based on my corporal behavior. So what is my belief, what is my religious philosophy? I don’t have one and to date have found no reason to adopt one simply out of fear of being on my deathbed, wishing and hoping that some benevolent deity will govern my post-life existence.
In summation I have to say that I don’t know who or what God would be. I would be very happy to be wrong, being shown that a benevolent creator of our universe held some noble purpose for us. I cannot waste time in argument that a deity chooses by divine intervention to save a woman’s husband from death on the operating table and wantonly allow the death by mortar fire of an innocent child by the proponents of war and violence.
Okay, you ask, if you don’t have a religious peg to hang your hat on, how do you govern your life? There I do have something concrete to contribute.
We are of flesh and blood. Inhabiting this planet with the human species is a countless variety of animal life. From the depths of the oceans to a lofty mountain peak, a wide array of life forms share this sphere in space with us. In the wild, the strong survive off the weak. Some animals eat plants instead of another animal but a great many animals survive only from the rule of predator and prey. We can’t discount the similarities amongst humans and the animal species. We eat to survive, breath oxygen, give off waste products, propagate the species sexually and can’t say with certainty what our fate may be day to day. We, like so many species have an innate protection for our offspring. Many a wildlife program will demonstrate the parental instincts in the protection of their young. We are also that way. While many animals may surpass humans in instinctive behavior, the bearing of offspring and their nurturing seems similarly strong for animal and human.
The development of the brain in animals and humans provides the distinction between the two. But in each there are “sensations” that demand appeasement. If we feel cold, we wish to be warmed. When we are hungry we wish nourishment. In an animal’s mind the most salient thought for the day would be food and shelter. These are basic sensations that must be appeased. For the human, food and shelter may be sustained by reporting to work each day, thereby providing for those sensations also. But in the human the mind is at a greater point of development and with the ability of the human mind to manipulate the world around us, many more sensations are able to be appeased.
We have manipulated our world to such an extent, at least in North America, that “sensations” can be wildly appeased. To travel a great distance we have the auto or train or plane. Our shelters not only protect us from the rain but have comforts undreamed of by past generations. We have entertainment of the visual and auditory senses in abundance. Radio, television and electronic communication offer a dizzying amount of stimuli. We go to work to appease the sensations of having food, clothing and shelter but the excess from providing these necessities gives us a cornucopia of sensations. The worldly goods provided us by either hard work or fortune leaves us far from those a century ago who may have worked from sunrise to sunset just in the hope of daily survival.
The greatest disparity between human and animals is in the development of the mind and communication. One element of being human is that emotions come so strongly into play in our daily lives. Certainly animals have emotions but since we do not communicate thoughts and feelings to the same degree as between humans, emotions at best between human and animal is demonstrated between pet and owner. But in humans its a whole different story. We have feelings, they can get hurt. Our emotions can be stung by jealousy, prejudice or envy. Did you ever feed two sibling puppies at the same time? Inevitably one finishes first and will go to the dish of the other looking to push that one aside to take its food. This is commonplace in the animal kingdom but is generally unacceptable between humans. This shows the basic difference between me and an animal. Somewhere in our minds there is the concept of right and wrong and for me to display that behavior at the family dinner table would definitely draw repercussions. Why? Because we humans can rationalize that there is a behavior above that of the animal. Here, compassion and consideration. We begin to identify basic human precepts between right and wrong; we begin to adopt “ethics” and “morals” that are cornerstones in peaceful human co-existence. These cornerstones are basic precepts that humans must endorse regardless of the theological precept that sprung them forth.
I watch the History channel a lot on television. I am fascinated by history. When studying how modern cultures and domains evolved, almost without exception it was as a result of human conflict. Some have tried to warn me of scriptural significance of world events. “There will be wars and rumors of wars” some will say. Guess what? There has always been wars. Go back to the earliest recorded history and empires arise and fall by the sword. And we are still fighting. The most notable conflicts today are still because of religious differences.
On a smaller scale, we read daily of conflict in the Western culture. Teens killing teens, teens killing adults, adults killing children. Road rage, people hurting people in disputes over right of way. Is this more prevalent than in days past? I have no numbers to support my belief but I do notice one trend. We have been likened before to the diminishing Roman culture, deprived of its power and vitality due to decadence. There I do see a similarity. I also have reasons as to why this is so and my judgments as to why people are killing and hurting one another in such abundance. Hundreds of years ago, before scientists could give explanation to thunder and lightning, these natural phenomena were incorporated into religious lore. What was not known about the world was given explanation by attaching a divine significance to these events. “God fearing” people a hundred years ago might have been so more out of not knowing than anything else. Again, we’re back to a person on their deathbed with total uncertainty as to an afterlife. A person then might have been more inclined to practice an ethical and moral life because of the punishment threatened by religious teachings. To other humans, though, immoral and unethical practices became easier to commit because of impunity. If someone robs a bank and doesn’t get caught, the chances of he or she committing this act again is strengthened. A person having strong ethical and moral beliefs will not commit the crime.
Hitler was not stopped by divine intervention. It took nations to come together to stop him. Jesus, touted by scriptures as the Son of God, was crucified by the Romans. Did the heavens part with angels racing to earth to end the scourge? No. Currently a man in Yugoslavia reportedly has allowed atrocities against other humans. Has a “God” come to earth to bring justice? No. Humans still act in an intolerable manner because of impunity.
Again bringing this to a lesser scale, people who are rude driver’s, speeding and diving in and out of traffic, are doing so because they are not being punished. Some do but that is only a small amount. A couple of weeks back I raked my front yard on a Sunday. I was at it for about forty minutes. There’s a stop sign at the corner but out of twenty five autos approaching the sign that day while I raked, only two came to a stop as the law dictates. Coincidentally, vehicles approaching from another direction would have caused the two to stop anyway. I witnessed two near accidents in that time as two vehicles running the stop sign did so at a speed that caused them to swing wide, narrowly missing oncoming cars. Over the twelve years I have lived on this corner, it is a rarity to see anyone observe the stop sign law. Put a police car off to the side and I’m sure every driver would have come to a complete stop. They don’t do so now because of impunity. They don’t foresee getting caught.
In conflict of global significance or just failing to observe traffic laws, individuals do so because ethics and morals do not govern their behavior. Like the lizard swallowing the eggs of the Quail, their behavior is at the level of the animal world. Though many religions dot the globe, none seem strong enough to cause most people to act in a compassionate manner toward their fellow human beings. For some reason they cannot subordinate the appeasement of their sensations for the good of the whole. Because of this behavior, many more marriages do not last, as the husband or wife’s desire for what they want out of the world becomes uppermost and the needs of the children is subordinated. Ethics and morals are becoming encountered more by children when they reach the educational system because Mom and Dad have too many personal wants and desires to meet their parental responsibilities. In this way I see the Roman decadence mirrored in our Western culture as Moms and Dads are just too “busy” to give their offspring an upbringing including morals, ethics and discernment.
Now comes the reason for the title of this article, Plateau. We, by our behavior, can separate ourselves from the animal kingdom by our thoughts and actions. These thoughts and actions can be noble and generous. We can rise above those whose lack of ethics and morals cannot reach the Plateau because they do not place such a demand upon themselves. Jesus Christ had reached the Plateau. So had Mohandas Gandhi, Sister Theresa and others who firmly believed that sacrifice was the most crucial behavior. Can you imagine our world if 99% of our population subordinated themselves in this manner when it comes to human interaction?
There are a great many sacrificing and giving human beings in our world today. There are those who donate time or resources to help those less fortunate. There are those who give no relevance to what material goods they have but instead what sacrifice can be given to help their fellow humans. Many have reached the Plateau, a way of thinking and behavior, but you don’t hear about it. Instead we hear more about the terrible and disreputable actions of others.
The practice of good ethics and morals must be taught from parent to child. Many elements of today’s entertainment are negative influences on children. The parents must teach discernment to the child to separate when behavior observed should be mimicked or discarded. On the corner where I live, seeing an adult run the stop sign with their children in the car, leaves me little hope that their offspring will obey the stop sign when they are old enough to be behind the wheel. Heretofore, ethics and morals most likely came from religious teachings. That is regrettable. I say that because as long as people accept one religious precept and close their minds to the beliefs of others, they will find more time to hate, discriminate or make war over who’s God is the true God, forgetting the most important message derived from religions. With most religions offering guides to living one’s life, as said early on, it must be remembered that you can accept uncertainty about who or what God is, what she or he looks like, how we got here, what we’re doing here and where will we go from here. Do not forget, in spite of the questions you have, the study and practice of an ethical and moral existence can help you reach the Plateau. Study, read, absorb and question. Figure it out. You do not need to know the answers to the heavens to know when to practice compassion. From the Plateau you will see that.
Charles G. Kellerman