In ‘God, Freedom and the NHS’ neuroscientist philosopher Raymond Tallis gives as a reason for his atheism the apparently insurmountable problems that arise from how our human timeliness could possibly relate to any concepts of timelessness. Using the example of the God-fearing Mrs Smith who having led a blameless life dies in 2017 and passes into eternity, he points out the inherent contradiction in the way we’d say in 2019 that she’d ‘been in heaven for 2 years’ – but of course Mrs Smith being eternal now, what could that even mean? And how exactly could God or any other atemporal being interact with us stuck down here in linear time?
Meanwhile, in The Order of Time physicist Carlo Rovelli riffs in a very entertaining way on the way that time passes faster at the top of a mountain than it does at sea level. It’s relativity of course – and the distortions in the space-time field caused by the mass of the Earth have to be factored in to satnav satellites to make them accurate, so we know that relativity theory works in the real world. But a weird result of this relativity is that it makes no sense at all to talk about a universe-wide ‘Now’. The example Rovelli gives is of your sister on the exoplanet Proxima B, 4 light years away. We are convinced that it makes sense, is a coherent concept, that we can know what she’s up to at the same time we’re doing something here on Earth, but due to relativity the idea is actually meaningless. Maybe you can see with your ultra-powerful telescope what she was up to 4 years ago – but she has a separate timeline and thanks to relativistic time dilation your sister’s time will be different to yours – you just don’t notice this in everyday life because of the small distances involved. It reminds me of when I was a teenager learning physics for O level, and suddenly realised that utterly minuscule though they were, space-time distortions would happen every time I moved, every time I approached or moved away from a building, every time I got up off the sofa to switch the light on… (In fact artificial consciousness researcher Stephen Earle Robbins has gone in to a fair bit of detail critiquing relativistic theory in terms of what it could possibly mean ontologically, and gives decently clear thought-experiments that show just what a problem this is – see his book Time and Memory).
Compare the last two paragraphs, then consider that this ‘impossible’ paradoxical interplay between the finite and the non-finite is an inherent aspect of our being alive. We all individually experience the seemingly contradictory interface between our individual minds and infinity all the time, every day. It’s only due to familiarity with it all, with a kind of learned skill set of the mind that develops after birth, that we fail to see this. Somehow, the world holds together, all of a piece. We are part of the world, somehow mysterious able to interact with that world and with each other, yet somehow isolated in our own separate timelines – contradiction again. Do we then reject relativistic physics? Maybe, or maybe it isn’t a matter of rejecting it but discovering and developing a wider, deeper picture that includes it.
(And again, note the strange lack of human drama, of human affect, in all this conceptualising. Is there a tendency to escape in there somewhere? It’s a strange tendency though, the way it keeps apparently showing us that we don’t exist, that we’re not meaningful, that there is no other reality than this contingency in which we live. We seek answers and get a kind of spiritual injury on the journey, an injury that triggers negative emotions.)
There is a known aspect to meditation, in Theravada Buddhism at least, whereby when a certain proficiency is attained an ultra-rapid flickering on and off of consciousness becomes apparent – reality itself switching in and out of existence. But what is it that sees the flickering on and off? If it is itself part of this switching on and off, how does it even become aware of it? If it’s separate from it, what is that awareness?
Similarly, if we’re all part of an inherently multifarious reality how can we even experience the illusion that it is unitary? Why do relativistic effects permit this illusion over small distances? And how do they permit it? Or to be precise, how is it permitted at all?
All this happens in consciousness, and that changes everything. The quality of being alive is an inherent aspect of the non-finite, the atemporal, precisely because it is not findable through ∑ . It’s a nice paradox – living beings are by their nature bounded and therefore supposedly finite yet the more we try to define those boundaries, far from finding some essence of life, instead we find it’s vanished. We seek to de-infinitise the infinite with our analytical intellect and end up asserting that ‘really’ life doesn’t exist. Infinity has now returned, but in a fake, lifeless way.
When disembodied rationality starts taking over intuition, intuition is smothered, life hides and science starts losing its intuitive power, becoming something more sinister, more mechanical. It’s after the important discoveries have come through in deep but only sketched form that the more overtly rational, ordered, quasi-mechanical approach comes into its own for filling out the picture and making it more detailed, so of course it’s essential – but in that subservient role. The profundity comes from intuition – the home of the woolly, the ambiguous, the impossible-to-quite-pin-down. All the stuff the (arrogant) ego finds offensive.
Seeking to somehow ‘solve’ the entire universe so easily shades into total intellectual arrogance.
There is a strange attitude abroad whereby it’s apparently nonsense to posit higher beings than us, yet at the same time either science has all the answers, or perhaps we’ll never know all the answers but science is (for some reason) the only way to discover the truths we can ascertain. Something isn’t right there – a kind of arrogant self-limiting, a denial, has crept in on the quiet. That denial – that there is in principle no higher reality – is supposed to be the reason for science’s success. But science is at its best (and is only true science) when it’s kept completely away from metaphysical pronouncements and used purely as a tool contained within an ethical worldview, for it has its own kind of provisional metaphysics, a metaphysics to enable a practical approach that is in fact entirely false outside of that ambit. The positive discoveries gained through science are truly great and a boon for mankind, but they only gain their positive aspect through being of profound worth, not just because they’re science and science is automatically great. This shouldn’t even need pointing out. As it is, science is very good at creating problems as it goes along – problems that being scientific, people feel need to be solved by more science, when perhaps a bit more humility might be in order.
As for religion, all that religious stuff apparently means that God thinks we’re special, but it was arrogant of us to think this – cosmically arrogant in fact. ‘Really’ we’re nothing, merely jumped up monkeys with a genetic spandrel that made us self-aware and sciency, so we could use that science to show ourselves how worthless we are. And there’s an odd self-contradiction. We are simultaneously unique in our reasoning capacity, yet mere arrogant animals too. Which is it? We are nothing – although with a unique ability of self-awareness that lets us regard ourselves as such – yet we can plumb the depths of the universe as no other creature can (apparently). But as the (supposedly) old Chinese saying has it, ‘when the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work the wrong way’. Currently we are simultaneously saying we’re shit and useless while then trying to face up to dealing with the enormous human-generated degradation wreaked on the planet. This planetary degradation certainly looks like it was caused by arrogance, but also over-optimism, thoughtless short-termism, vast corporate corruption, and of course misused science. It’s hard to believe that the best way of dealing with this mess is by emphasising our uselessness. Maybe regarding ourselves as inherently worthless when it comes down to it isn’t the best attitude to take when wielding enormously powerful tools like science. Maybe a healthy self-worth would bring better results for all. By putting ourselves cosmically in our place, we are undermining at the start our ability to know how to truly act to heal the damage we’ve caused. It’s adolescents who simultaneously feel self-indulgent self-loathing and over-confidence. With adulthood comes a much truer sense of responsibility, which depends on a foundation of not regarding yourself as totally useless – and how can we even start to heal the damage we’ve caused without a proper sense of responsibility? But we have arrogantly ruined our sense of self-worth in the name of science, then placed upon ourselves the responsibility in our supposed worthlessness and meaninglessness to clean up the mess we’ve made.
This is where we are right now, with our science. Where’s the arrogance really here? We obviously act appallingly in many different ways – and addressing that is part of the infrastructure of religion in the first place. Self-proclaimed ‘Atheists’ like to performatively witter on about fairy stories and comforting lies in a cold, dead, hostile universe, but the crucial aspect of religion is more to do with our self-awareness of good and bad, of good and bad behaviour, and the nexus between that awareness and how we actually act – what to do, or not do, and how to do or not do it, i.e. the quality of our consciousness and resulting actions in life. It’s where techniques appear, codes for how to act, how to behave towards others, yourself, animals and the environment, how to keep your mind from getting poisoned. It’s the nexus between method and result. Our human condition however is that this nexus is generally broken, and technique keeps taking over to the detriment of what the technique is meant to give us the intuition of. We can see this from a different angle in the arguing over whether bad behaviour stems from mental illness or just plain badness – the ‘mad or bad’ dichotomy. Here ‘mad’ is analogous with malfunctioning mental processes while ‘bad’ is analogous with moral failure i.e. deliberate harmful actions. One goes with a ‘sciency’ approach where things can in theory be fixable, the other is the realm of ethics. A similar contrast can be seen in law with the concepts of mens rea and actus reus – the intentions of the criminal, the acts that they performed. If the crime was committed without intent as a result of insanity that changes the character of the act somehow, in the eyes of the law and possibly for the victim too. Actus reus – agglomerations of molecules deterministically doing their thing / mens rea – the ghost in the machine…
As for religion, because of the hijacking of technique by the ego, in practice instead of a guide for cultivation of insight and intuitive understanding, it becomes a system of hounding us like animals trained for the circus by systems and countings, naggings and tablatures, codes and customs, jabbings and proddings, all of which lead merely to a neurotic self-checking self-attacking, a tense, anxious trying-to-be-good-ness that lacks heart and misses the point. The irony being of course that it’s the heart where all the goodness has its power. Heart comes first, not head. Spirit of the law, not the letter. The head, the letter of the law is still needed, but that doesn’t of itself mean that it should be primary – the heart should be primary. Why should the head be primary exactly? Yes it’s clever but in a particular way only, a way that lacks wisdom. Yet humans perennially struggle hugely with this. Somewhere, something is persistently wrong. The whole point of the New Testament is that it’s all about spirit of the law, yet here we still are with the letter dominating, and dominating through the centuries. When learning a language, grammar must be studied, but the living language goes far beyond this into realms of idiom, gesture, intonation – again, the letter versus the spirit. Only learn the grammar and you’ll never truly know the language.
Or sometimes we approach techniques and self-training in a different wrong way, taking the path of development whereby we work on gaining powers, occult or otherwise, and lose connection with our heart that way instead. This is the way of power instead of love. Power always burns out, love never does. Yet in the world power is feted, power is regarded as a treasure. How foolish. When will we ever learn? Will we ever learn?
The religious ‘techniques’ – of controlling passions, of trying to do and think good, of trying to keep the mind free from poison, of various rituals and observances, are meant to be to our growth as human beings as scales and arpeggios are to music. You practice scales and arpeggios in order to be able to play music well, not as an end in itself. And as playing a musical instrument well requires the technique in order to understand and interpret the music properly, with depth and your unique insight into that music, so too are the techniques of religion meant to be a necessary aspect of being a proper human, but in themselves are not the be-all and end-all. They are necessary but not in themselves sufficient.
There’s something of an analogy here with how we can minutely catalogue extremely close correlations between brain states and mind states but have no idea how what we see happening objectively translates into subjective experience. And precisely because we don’t actually know how this happens, many people say that nonetheless the electro-chemical goings on of the brain somehow ‘are’ our subjective states. Similarly, the techniques somehow become the essence of a religion, with pretty grim results individually and collectively. It seems to be an irresistible temptation for mankind to assume that objectivity dominates, or even is, subjectivity. Which is the wrong way round. Perhaps this back-to-frontness is what the biblical concept of the fall is about.
The problems caused both directly and indirectly by religion are legion. But this disconnect between the method and what it’s actually for is inbuilt in humans so is therefore in politics too, and in any and all of our societies and cultures. It’s there in everything we think, say and do. And to the extent that secular humanism blandly insists we’re somehow unaffected by this issue, that we somehow will be just fine without anything ‘spiritual’, or numinous, in our lives then it numbs us to our depths and to who or what we really are, and keeps us stuck within this problem.
The hard truth is that something like religion – a long-term, tried-and-tested, ultra-deep understanding of life that calls us to change our day-to-day ways of being which inherently includes community as a necessary aspect of its way in this world – is essential if we are to survive as a species, to end our constant warring, to stop hurting and to stop hurting each other and the planet. We have the capacity to be truly great in a way that humanists don’t properly understand – and that’s addressed by religion. Though to admit that would require dropping that ‘you are not the boss of me’ mindset that a lot of humanists have – the whole ‘we don’t need priests or gurus’ thing. It is a boringly inescapable fact that people vary in quality of character – we know from our own personal experience that some people are ‘nicer’, more understanding, more forgiving, more honest, more generous than others, and we know that this is a matter of quality of character, and that this is not a matter of intellect as such. But the ego tries to occlude this truth because it makes it feel uncomfortable, and so the ego prefers us to concentrate on cleverness as if cleverness per se is good. And it likes to put about this whole ‘we don’t need priests or gurus’ thing as if that solves the issue. But it’s a red herring – we most certainly do need guidance from people who have better understandings than us, whether they’re priests/gurus or not. It’s easy to pick up on abuses perpetrated by supposed spiritual ‘leaders’, and those abuses must be picked up on, but the arrogant ego makes far too much of it all, aggressively submerging awareness of the good work that genuinely advanced people do by promulgating this cacophonic sneering din. It’s not very philosophically clever either – a quick glance at the history of the 20th century shows that mass genocidal violence doesn’t need religion, but if widespread violence happens either in the name of religion or not, then religion per se can’t be the problem. People say that politically-inspired violence just means that it was the ‘wrong sort’ of politics, but that goes for religion too.
Alas, we are born into a world where we are accidentally trained from birth upwards to develop minds that put the technique above the heart. This is like the concept of original sin in the Orthodox church – we aren’t born with a stain on our souls as western Christians say, but we’re born into a human society that passes on a kind of mistake that leads to our estrangement from God, nature and each other. And due to the action of samskaras, forces of mental habit that get ingrained from childhood onwards, this mistake gets ingrained and thus requires committed, determined work to correct.
But we’re profoundly important to ourselves – so we need to examine this strange worldview, this attitude, this energy, that ‘really’ we aren’t important, or we only somehow think we are. Remember that it is only ever humans announcing these things, remember that everything including all objectivity exists in our subjective human minds. And we need to take a look at the game of saying we’re meaningless and worthless, while ascribing meaning and value to such statements.
Firstly, this ‘cosmic arrogance’ nihilism is transcendent, while denying transcendence. A commonplace example often seen out there in the wild is postmodernism’s reliance on shared objective meaning to establish that there is no objective meaning. This nihilism seeks a validity, a truth (ironically) that expands throughout space and time and is always and forever the case. How could it not? It states that matter is all there is and that it is brute and blind like Schopenhauer’s Will. The Universe is a closed system. There is thus no escape from this transcendence. And we are to believe that there is no such thing as transcendence. There’s some craftily-hidden arrogance, right there. And self-contradiction, too – if we’re pointless germs spread over the surface of a tiny planet in the middle of nowhere, how could we possibly make grandiose claims about the nature of the universe? This nihilism ought to pull the rug out from under its own meaning – yet on and drearily on it goes, as if its foundationally self-destroying nature mysterious doesn’t count somehow.
Denial of so-called ‘psychic’ phenomena is important to this worldview – it’s important to a lot of bien-pensant self-identified ‘clever’ people to keep us firmly grounded, on Earth, creatures of earth, trapped in the transcendence that isn’t. If anything ‘psychic’ is true, then even if the universe is a closed system, the boundaries of that system are so wide that it’s effectively open-ended whether the system is ‘truly’ closed or not.
Secondly, cosmic arrogance nihilism is clearly anti-religion rather than pro-truth, setting up a kind of straw religion by focusing solely on its bad effects, of which it must be said there are so many. But if you’re going to cherry pick, most stuff of value will have to be rejected. It’s a messy world, with good and bad, dark and light intertwined everywhere – be careful what you wish for, for if you reject anything that was ever associated in any way with badness, you will have to reject everything. The trick is to keep what’s good – this will automatically rule out extreme evil while enabling us to save and cultivate further goodness. And yes, we know what’s good – the denial of this is a key aspect of cosmic arrogance nihilism. Keeping what is good promotes discernment and develops intuition. Intuition may have a vague aspect but it can still paradoxically be sharpened. Pure logic intellect will never be able to understand this. Of course this takes work, but nothing of value was ever just plonked into our lap. The work is what leads to growth, and to keep that growth from becoming pathological (powers instead of ethical growth), then the heart must be the director of that growth, with the intellect as its loyal servant.
Cosmic arrogance nihilism (CAN) aims to securely implant the intuition that ultimately nothing is good and everything’s meaningless (and please don’t look over there behind the curtain where you can see it’s a trick because it relies on meaning to explain there’s no meaning), and it aims to plant this properly deep in our minds, out of sight. Intuitions are deep, wide-ranging, simultaneously clear yet blurred round the edges, rational yet with an emotional charge. (It’s why music is so important to us, combining as it does a kind of quasi-mathematical rigour and vivid, intuitive feeling, and in so doing providing profound comfort, inspiration, release from anguish.) But CAN starts out by flattering the ego – ‘you can have all the good things in the universe without that silly religion, it’s just naturally part of you’, then sneaks in ‘but it doesn’t mean anything at all, has no value at all’, which leads to a vague sense of there not being any meaning to what is either good or bad – an intuitive sense that precisely because it’s intuitive captures something of what this nihilism is really about. Which is a very uncomfortable feeling due to the self-contradiction, and which being deep and intuitive is pervasive, and spreads into the arts and sciences.
Every day I miss my beautiful little cat Jess, a Bengal-tabby cross who I took in after my mother died and had the privilege of looking after for 5 years before she left me at the age of, we think, 21 or 22. She was highly-strung, playful, imperious, quirky, demanding, whimsical, loving, dramatic, full of energy right to the end. She was my guru, and I learnt deep lessons, lessons I needed to learn, from her during my time as her pupil. One insight in particular is relevant here.
Cats don’t have the human sense of time. They know when it’s day and when it’s night, but they don’t regiment themselves to sleep at night and be active during the day. There is no symbolism of night and day there. They sleep as and when, doing their feline thing in darkness or in light, adjusting their behaviour accordingly. But us humans when we’re active in the dark prefer to have lights around, and we’ve got to a point in civilisation where we can immediately bring light into a room or just as quickly make the room dark. And I just saw it one day at dusk when I put the living room light on – the reaction from Jess wasn’t the human reaction. It wasn’t ‘ah that’s better he’s put the light on’, it was just a contraction of her pupils, nothing else. And I saw that from Jess’s point of view, when her human was around and about, lights would sometimes come on. Was there any connection in her mind that this was something to do with me? Maybe there was, but only in the sense of a realisation that when the human was around, lights went on and off. But this was irrelevant to her.
I then began wondering if Jess knew that my hands – the hands that cuddled and petted her and fed her titbits – were part of me or not? I began to suspect that she regarded them as servant beings associated with the human, there to attend to her whims and needs.
There was certainly proper connection there – it was clear when Madame was enjoying herself, and that she loved me too. She’d call me out of bed at 5 am for feeding, then come back at 6 am with a distinctively different meow to get me up and out of bed to be with her on the sofa. It wasn’t all about feeding. The sense of togetherness was palpable, and deepened year on year. So it’s not as if she was some kind of alien being. But her categories of thought were limited, the boundaries of her world far smaller than mine mentally as well as physically. Maybe you can see where this is going.
What did she make of the lights, and the hands? My insights were after all mine as a human anyway. Yet somehow there seems to be a hint of something else there too, just a hint of how we can perhaps sense more than we realise, however we conceptualise it afterwards. Again, that something being beyond limited conscious thought.
It is profoundly humancentric to assume that we’d know what sort of interest ‘aliens’ (whatever they might be) would necessarily take in us, but more importantly, what that interest would look like to us from our human viewpoint. Obviously we would be profoundly unable to do so, to an extent that we would struggle to even notice, never mind conceptualise – to an extent that would offend our egoic arrogance. We can’t even assume that any kind of what we call ‘alien’ interaction even is that – it could just be them passing through, unaware that humanity is even a thing, while we in our self-importance assume they’re interested in us. Worse still, the whole term ‘aliens’ comes with a vast quantity of cultural baggage that is in itself created by humans and thus totally humancentric. And we would have no more understanding of these forms of life than Jess would know about what I was doing while I was at work during the day. Worse still, ‘aliens’ might be ‘interested’ in us (if that’s even the right word) – but from the human point of view that would merely be analogous to rabbits in a research lab somehow deciding that they know what the researchers are doing, when really all they ever see is fragments of activity that are part of a context they have no hope of ever understanding. In which case we cannot in principle even state that it’s humancentric to say that ‘aliens’ would be ‘interested’ in us. We see odd things and label them ‘aliens’ but they could easily be signs of an intelligence far beyond us that is no more ‘alien’ than our hands are to us, an intelligence that knows what we’re about far more than we do.
And if you’re feeling unnerved by this, you might want to consider whether a certain arrogance is at play.
The real arrogance comes from not so much from science as scientism – we have indeed probed far into the deepest depths and out into the farthest reaches of space and time – but everything we’ve ever thought or done scientifically has taken place precisely within those bounds and no more, vast though it is from our vantage point. Yet those bounds could be trivial to other beings, in the same way and to the same degree that we regard our pets’ lives (physical and mental) as limited. Why exactly not? Yet it is somehow ‘cosmic arrogance’ to suggest this might be so – it’s colossally important for some reason to expunge such ideas from human culture. And yet the bounds within which we live could be (in fact actually are) limits within our own wider consciousness…
Haven’t I been agreeing with the ‘cosmic arrogance’ crew then? Not at all. If ‘cosmic humility’ was a thing, then we would be more readily able to accept the idea of superior beings that aren’t actually ‘aliens’ as such. This is an important point to winkle out, quite clear in itself but tricky to get out in the open precisely because of the human ego and its need to puff itself up, but here goes:
- Our consciousness is somewhat porous. Boundaries exist but they are not impregnable, and our consciousness is ultimately unlimited even though we are bounded. We can sense things ‘outside’ in some way, though our rational minds impose human categories on these things afterwards, and
- We don’t get to arrogantly decide what these irruptions from beyond ‘ought’ to be like, and
- Our intellect is a subset of our consciousness and not the sole differentiator of our significance. Some of the most evil people in history have been spectacularly clever – a clear sign that intellect while being a gift is not the sum total of what it is to be human.
Realise this, and we can see that it is entirely possible in principle that while we are ‘higher’ in some ill-defined sense than animals, we may well not be at the top of the tree at all, and it’s not that there are any animals on earth that are higher than us either. Worse still, it’s not even something we can prove or disprove via science, through looking deep into space with SETI and the like, as the whole universe could be as my world of humans was to my little Jess, in any mind-based way we could ever conceive in principle, at least while we’re enjoying our sojourn on this planet. Viewed from dimensionally ‘above’, the idea that the planet even rotates, or is part of a solar system that’s part of a galaxy, could be but one limited aspect of the deeper, truer reality. All our laws of nature would then be as minutely detailed descriptions of the surface behaviour of a soap bubble compared to the innumerable laws of the vast universe in which that bubble exists.
The porosity of consciousness is something in a sense ‘outside’ of space-time, or included within it. We have a piece of infinity within. And just to make it clear, wittering on about multiverses is merely projecting human-verses outwards. All those putative multiverses are space-time universes like ours overall while having different contents – we can’t think outside this universe-box. Unless of course they’re dimensionally entirely different to ours… in which case we’re getting back to there being completely different realities that may or may not interact with ours anyway.
But we have the ability, as part of our spark-of-the-infinite within us, to play a kind of trick on the ‘humancentric’ idea, by simply negating it. This is borrowed from apophatic theology. (And it’s worth considering that it can be applied to supposedly ultimate categories such as space and time.) It leaves us still able to sense the idea, and to intellectualise about it, but in an open-ended sense, a sense whereby we can pick up living qualities properly without their partial or total suffocation by the analytical egoic intellect. So here we have the concept that the ‘aliens’ are some kind of ET and we negate that. We now have other ideas that being in our minds are in a way still ‘humancentric’ but which don’t prematurely catch whatever the ‘alien’ thing really is in a net. This then leaves the intellect free to engage with those ideas more fully and deeply, with more nuance, with more complexity that also features simplicity. ∫ not ∑.
Historically, throughout the world there have always been found worldviews including ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ beings, both physical and non-physical. These worldviews put in our true place in the cosmos, not too high, not too low, intimately and inherently connected with all that is – yet through this bizarre, self-contradictory ‘anti-arrogance’ worldview, it’s been trashed.
A haughty attitude comes before a fall, and this is what we’re seeing right now with the poison of scientistic hubris spreading ever wider, oozing into the arts, into daily discourse, into our minds. But we need help. We are not capable of being proper humans fully on our own, no matter how much we insist that we’re top of the tree and can sort ourselves out solely by ourselves.
Sometimes it’s quite sad though, when we feel pressured by our supposed status at the top of the tree, and we feel we have to do it all on our own even though we’re imperfect beings. Which just adds to the stress of it all. Life is hard enough without that added pressure, and feeling like there is no help available will contribute to us acting in ways that lead to wrong results.
This is where it gets heavy. We have to consider that we may in some sense be ‘pets’, kept for various reasons by higher beings. As below, so above. And just as some pet owners should never be allowed near a vulnerable animal, so it may be with humans. Our humility should render us capable of understanding that maybe we do not belong to ourselves after all despite what our current modern culture tells us, and that we may in fact be in some sense ‘innocent’ and thus vulnerable in a way that perhaps isn’t easy for us – or at least our egos – to accept. When we see humans acting evilly, the serial killing, the genocides, the child abuse, the everyday violence of domestic abuse… this is because at a level we are unable to conceptualise or properly understand, our owners are mistreating us. Due to the limited mental categories inherent in our nature, we cannot formulate the reasons for our bad behaviour properly, but this does not mean we are guilt-free – we are inherently made with a moral sense. And yet we somehow find it under attack, just as a drug dealer would systematically torment their muscular but good-natured dog until it becomes a violent nightmare of an animal.
Religion hasn’t been good here, with its constant blaming of humans born into this world, when we should no more be blamed for bad behaviour than you’d blame a child for succumbing to the grooming of a particularly cunning paedophile.
But we still need to find our way out of this world, find our way back home. And in a sense the only way out is through. This is what all the old, deep religions of the world are at their heart about. It is why Hinduism and Buddhism both say we are to extricate ourselves from reincarnation, however you conceptualise it. We are in enemy territory on earth, held transfixed and distracted by shiny toys but also negatively fascinated by horrific atrocity and skincrawling ugliness. The way we are inherently made means that we cannot merely wish ourselves good, or wish ourselves rescued as if that sorts it all (though the latter wish may be cultivated into something helpful and good with some self-awareness and non-distracted discipline). Things certainly do work out in the end, but once what is truly happening on this planet becomes even a little clearer then the idea of just staying here, of being trapped in a purgatory that’s often more like hell, for any longer than necessary rapidly loses its appeal.
The something about us, or in us, that is hurt by the CAN worldview is vulnerable, subtle yet profound, gentle but powerful, at the core of our being yet pervasive. It doesn’t fight back in the same way that God doesn’t intervene, and this in itself is another example of how we are made in the image of God. We all have infinity at our core, and can always reconnect with it, whereupon we discover that infinity is not a cold, gleaming mathematical concept, but something much more lovely. Infinitely more lovely even. The fact that the world is the way it is should not be allowed – and need not be allowed – to overwhelm this.
Help is available. Arguing over where evil comes from, or why bad things happen, or the ultimate nature of reality, will distract you from making your escape. You are surrounded by darkness whether you realise it or not – keep your gaze fixed on the glimmer of light visible far above, and start heading towards it. Sense the help that is available. Listen for it. Act on it.