RATIONAL AND IRRATIONAL
of death will they live
~ ~ ~
If you were miraculously born in a planet as beautiful as the Planet Earth but without any other human being inhabiting it - just you yourself - would you be religious?
I am nor really concerned about religion itself as I consider religion both good and socially necessary, I am mostly concerned with the religious being and the being religious but what is religion, and why religion?
In a way religion may appear as a genetically encoded ordering factor in humans since as far back as our historical records and paleo-anthropological findings reach we find traces of one sort or another socially ordered society depending on some kind of religion, however crude or primitive that might have been. Also, we cannot deny that religion is a socially inherited cultural trait and that as such it is an experience common to all of us, no matter to which religion we do or do not belong; by do not belong I mean our current status as opposed to the one we inherited.
Religion has undoubtedly been the greatest moving force in history and notwithstanding its widespread actual decadence it still is a primary shaping factor of the human mind and, although now it is modern science that is starting to have a relevant historical force, it will never displace religion - most probably an alliance between science and religion will play the historical role in the future of humanity.
But why religion? Why this compulsive need to believe in a greater ordering entity to whom we ascribe creation and the ethical laws which must regulate our life?
The answers can be two: the first is that the word religion means tie together (from the Latin religare, gather together) and that is a social must to prevent man to annihilate one another or social disintegration; in a way it serves the need for self-preservation and continuation of the species, it is a regulating or balancing factor which promotes standards that allow men to interact and evolve as a society in a given environment. Speaking of religion as a genetically encoded ordering factor in humans and as a social must to prevent men to annihilate one another or social disintegration, brings to my mind Richard Dawkin’s words: "We are survival machines, vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known to us as genes." 1
The second answer is psychological insecurity - fear - fear of the darkness (this prompted my opening question). Let us face it, no matter how hard we exert ourselves trying to discover our origins and our destination at the two extremes we find only darkness, we do not know where we come from nor where we are finally going to and so we tread our lives on un-secure ground and the human mind seems to be very frail in this respect; nothing can be more destructive toward it than insecurity hence it must of necessity bridge the gap with some artificial means.
We can hardly deny that man’s most ancient intellective quest is the quest for origin and destination, as well as we just cannot simply accept that we sprung into being from nothingness and still less that to nothingness we shall return - that means dying, but not just physically. Physical death is a fact that we cannot escape and as such we are forced to accept it, what we dare not accept is that once we die we die for good - it is not just my physical frame which goes back to the dust, but it is "I", my "me" which goes with it - and that is hard to accept - extinction, and in particular spiritual extinction, is a most unwelcome fact for humans.
What I wrote does not imply that I am denying a supernatural - or supranatural - existence and ordainer, what formerly I called, borrowing Avicenna’s words, the Necessary Existent. And He cannot be disproved just because He cannot be proved; let us set ourselves just from a moment aside from cultural inheritances and Holy Writings, just as if we were, miraculously born, ancestry-less, in a deserted planet as beautiful as the planet earth and once more face the situation: in such loneliness would we or would we not devise something to put ourselves on more secure grounds? Would we not, as rational beings, be curious about our origin and destination and not finding any satisfactory answer incorporate into our rational side something which might even be irrational but which would serve the purpose so as to place us in a secure precinct, a sanctuary which would afford us protection by giving meaning to the two dark extremes of our existence?
Rationalize means to bring into accord with reason - hence we must make That Entity agreeable to our thinking - and that means giving it qualities and attributes which conform to our experience and necessities. That Entity will become all-powerful, all-knowing, all loving and eternal (the attribute eternal is perhaps the most important as "Verily, we are from God and to Him shall we return", 2 in such a wise defeating the unsolved question of the two dark extremes, origin and destination) but these elevating attributes will conversely place us on a very low stand for which we will have to serve, love and obey Him else failing we will be subject to his scourge and his wrath; we will face either eternal beatitude or fire and damnation in accord to our life conduct. 3
That Being, although in charge of the whole universe - is also very concerned about each and everyone of us and He will show no respite but on very rare occasions when He will send some mediator - usually an embodiment of Himself - to give us new teachings and laws in accordance with our epoch, understanding and environment and the followers of His mediator - or embodiment, more properly known as a prophet, messenger or messiah - will henceforth be the representative of a newly revealed religion displacing the precedent one which from one day to another will in all probability be heathenized.
Times are such that many a person break with tradition and step out of their ancestral line, that is a common psychological need facing many people nowadays, but alas! great multitudes step on wrong side tracks and cling strongly to them. Here I mean the multitudes attached to the countless sects sprung from the main world accepted religions, which sects are more often than not misleading and bringing to a fanatical stand - when they are not proving themselves really detrimental or noxious.
Let us face it, among the great religious systems of the world there is not really a great diversity: "As all men are alike (tho’ infinitely various), so all religions are similars, have one source. The True Man in the source ..." 4
Practically the ethical core is a common denominator in all religions while the doctrinal body is in accordance with the geographical locations, peoples and times when the revelation took place; from our contemporary point of view geographical places did not change, some populations did not change very much - but the times have changed indeed - our earth lost the privilege of being the center of the universe, we cannot anymore purify ourselves in the holy waters of the Ganges or gain salvation by ingesting every Sunday morning the body of Christ through the symbolism of the Holy Communion. I do not intend to be disrespectful to any one but the holy waters of the Ganges are becoming more and more polluted day by day and the symbolism of the Holy Communion is nothing short of the relic of an atavistic anthropophagous rite 5 carried over in an idolater’s temple full of images and statues to whom people open their hearts. It this respect nothing is better than that Islam which abated all the idols and forbade all images to the extent that no Muslim knows the face of the Prophet, in high contrast with them who for well nigh two thousand years kept that poor crucified being on a cross and still have no tendency to give him a respite, not to mention the iconography surrounding that old cross. Speaking of Muslims reminded me that "Every part of the body of a non-Moslem individual is impure, even the hair of his hand and his body hair, his nails, and the secretions of his body" 6 but the words are not written in the Holy Book of Islam, the Koran – that glorious Book so badly misunderstood in the Western World and vituperated by dark souls and obscured minds in the stark glass of ignorance and prejudice - but they are the utterance of a powerful contemporary Islamic religious leader, 7 a self-styled prophet of the Prophet, led far away from the Koran by some sort of malignant fantasies which, however, have been widely accepted in the Islamic world and are creating big problems world-wide. Obviously other religions besides Christianity have a rich iconography and in particular Hinduism and Buddhism but the reasons behind the iconography insofar as the far-eastern religions are concerned are different as a deep symbolism is associated with them, and it is a symbolism associated mainly with myths and not with historical persons; incidentally that is why the Bhagavad Gita is still so very attractive, naturally taking into account its ethical and self-cultivation core. But the mysterious Lao Tze has for me a still greater attraction as he does not mention that which cannot be mentioned while asserting that that which cannot be mentioned cannot not-exist, just like Avicenna who speaks of that Necessary Existent which I, ungodly as I may be, cannot reject but notwithstanding refuse to rationalize - I am a person without a god who cannot deny the existence of a god in the form of the Necessary Existent and there I have to stop, I let loose the ropes of salvation and have nothing to hang on but for the riddle of the Necessary Existent or the existence of that which cannot be mentioned and the kind of extinction which I will have to face not to mention the concern for my dark origins. That is a very difficult stance, leaving a paramount question open rather than rationalize and somehow incorporate it into my mind frame and set myself at ease. Was the Arabian Prophet addressing people like me when he uttered the words:
Say. O disbelivers!
The very first man who lived in the world, Adam, was indeed ancestry-less and although he had a new planet and a fresh creation all for himself still God had to create a woman to help him (to till the garden of Eden as "there was found not a helper fit for him" 9 ) but when they partook of the forbidden fruit the Almighty had to send them out of the Garden of Eden as they had become like unto Him with the knowledge of good and evil and also lest they would eat the fruit of the tree of life too and become immortal; thus their sin was brought to bear on humankind since the very beginning. In other mythological religious lore we read that a rhubarb plant sprouted on the ground from the semen of Gayomart and then this plant split in two giving origin to Mashye and Mashyane, 10 the first couple on the earth who, like Adam and Eve, were not slow to sin and for this they were damned to punishment in hell until the last days 11 (however it appears that they went straight into the world to mend their businesses and in the third generation Hosyang was born who was the first to introduce the Law of the World; he killed seven devils and prevailed on a she-devil). The depth of the symbolism in these, and similar mythical stories, is really astounding.
Of course, we can find so many myths for creation as there are root-populations on the planet; conversely we may turn to the scientific world and the theory of evolution or place our belief in the stories of Erich Von Daniken and Maurice Chatelain who are telling us that our ancestors came from places in space very far removed from the Garden of Eden, or to the "panspermia hypothesis", a theory by Fred Hoyle and Nalin C. Wikramasimghe, which asserts that "bacteria or viruses floating through the cosmos served as seeds for life on earth" 12 or turn to Lieh-tzu who tells us, concerning the origin of life and motion, that:
is a life that is uncreated;
There is not just beauty in these verses, but a profound understanding; there is rationality, there is knowledge, there is transcendence, there is science - there is "a time when there was no time", not the six thousand years or so of our biblical existence nor the four and half billion years of the radiocarbon dating of the solar system 14 or the three and half million years of descent from that Australopithecus Afarensis brought to light in 1974 in the very desolate, hot and remote plains of the Afar’s country 15 (Ethiopia) for some personal reasons very dear to me and not very far removed from where Oannes, "this strange fish-man rose day by day from the waters of the Erythraean Sea, to teach men the first elements of civilization". 16
Let us touch another topic: sin!
thou doest evil, thou doest punish thyself;
While these words, although from a different source are not at all different from the Hindu and Buddhist concept of Karma, from them we can surmise that sin means doing evil and that a retribution follows. Sin carries with it a social retribution, a moral retribution and in many religious instances an after-life retribution which more often than not is represented as eternal damnation in the flames of hell; if you never had a chance to see a Tibetan pictorial representation of the after-life state for the sinners and the ungodly you can hardly imagine what I will have to endure for eternity. Nor the not so handsome demons grabbling St. Anthony in the 16th century painting by the German artist Grumewald appear as really friendly beings to cope with. In the last case, St. Anthony’s, it would be well to study the symbolism hidden within, and that is something which I leave to the reader to discover for himself.
On a more rational side, sin is a violation of an established ethical code of conduct and also a violation of a social code of conduct which can be lawfully chastised even on the earth by a court of justice. Hence social sin is environment dependent while sin in the ethical sense is religion dependent, but religion - unless there is an inquisition’s revival - can do little to the western man except absolving him for minor sins after his recital of so many small prayers of repentance - usually once a week -
rosary in the hand, repentance on the lips, and the
or declaring him anathema for major sins and rely on God’s wrath toward the sinner to the delight of the devil.
"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own - a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty"; 19 conversely in some instances it is religion which is very powerful and can punish the sinner according to the Laws of the Book, like in those Islamic countries where you can have your hands cut off, be flogged, dilapidated and beheaded - depending on the type of sin which you incur into. But this is a relic of the past still lingering on mainly due to fanaticism kept alive by religious/political leaders who still maintain that "misdeeds must be punished by the law of retaliation"; 20 in so doing I think that they deprive the Almighty of part of the burden and hence they themselves feel so much more worthy of the gratitude of the Lord besides gaining earthly power with the law of terror. Ayatollah Khomeini maintained that "If the punitive laws of Islam were applied only for one year, all the devastating injustices and immoralities would be uprooted" 21 and, (I dare think) in the long run, following strictly these rules, all human beings as well - but for the very last executioner (in charge of the laws) who realizing his mischief would undoubtedly have to do away also with himself.
What, anyhow, is an ethical code - according to our standpoint in time and our understanding? Its best representation for a Christian is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; for an Hindu it is contained in the lines of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita; for a Tibetan Buddhist it can be found in Sgam.Po.Pa "The Jewel Ornament of Liberation", 22 for a Taoist it is contained in the Tao Te Ching or in the Analects of Confucius for a Confucian, in the Koran for a Muslim and so on for different religions - an ethical code is a code of conduct which reaches us mainly by way of revealed religion - as contrasted to sectarian derivations - hearken to these words:
"Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength to the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind and a guidelight unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit on the tree of humility. We pray God to protect you from the heat of jealousy and the cold of hatred. He verily is nigh, ready to answer". 23
When religion is fully accepted something is necessary to comply with its body of beliefs and rules, and that is faith - that which I call the irrational rational. Faith in part is a rationalization of facts not understandable, or often unacceptable, untenable or unbelievable, like a hoary being creating the universe in six days or the resurrection from the dead with the very same physical constitution they had before so as to enjoy eternal life on the earth: "Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let the feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life ...".24 Faith means also to believe, more often than not by the word, also facts which in effect are a symbolical representation of spiritual thoughts, something like the wrathful gods of a tantric mandala having a real existence instead than a symbolic meaning so as to bring us to overcome certain inborn tendencies which are socially detrimental: "Apart from one’s hallucinations, in reality there are not such things existing outside oneself, as Lord of Death, or god, or demon". 25 However good and helpful faith can be, at a certain point it becomes a limiting factor, an hindrance, as you cannot go past where you are stopped by faith. In the spiritual evolution of man faith is indeed necessary to a certain extent but at a given point it often becomes an insurmountable obstacle and, as it is so well evident today world-wide, a means of decadence of religion; whole multitudes of otherwise well-wishing and sincere souls have their reason obscured by unsurpassable and absurd tenets of faith and plunge themselves blindly into preaching and proselytizing, most of them unaware of their stand, so that chaos and nonsense can strengthen their grip on society.
The other aspect of faith is the belief in the words of a revealer to the point to put one’s life freely and willingly at stake so as to promulgate them: "Sir, the only method by which truth can be established is by martyrdom. The magistrate has the right to enforce what he thinks; and he who is conscious of the truth has a right to suffer. I am afraid there is no other way of ascertaining the truth, but persecution on the one hand and enduring it on the other". 26
the intoxicated lover, who at the feet of the Friend
am already dead with parting’s pain;
thou who asked a sign of the road to the sanctuary of my
and in our contemporary world, close to the end of the second millennium, martyrdom has still occurred mainly by the hands of those who declare themselves as upholders of these words:
By the declining day,
and while this means that we can have mystic experience from religion, much more rarely religion comes to us by way of mystic experience, that is, the mystic experience of a Man (The True Man is the source 4) who will then, as a representative of the godhead, reveal religion just like in the mystic experiences of the Burning Bush of Moses or that of the Bodhi Tree of the Buddha, or: " ... I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear." 33
heedless one! Did you ever set your mind
"Man is made of faith: as his faith is so he is". 34
Notes to chapter 4
- Quoted in The Mind’s I. Douglas R. Hofstader and Daniel C. Dewnnet.
Middlesex. Penguin Books. 1982.
long shall grief of separation from him slay me?
- The Fetha Nagast - The Law of the Kings. p. 118. Addis Ababa. Faculty
of Law, Haile Selassie University. 1968.