Thursday, January 29, 2015

Must We Seek the Divine?

(Originally published at in January 2015.)

The last time I wrote about my religious beliefs, I said that I was starting over, "rebuilding" my foundation. I intended to get to the bottom of whether or not God exists, and journey forward from there. Two interesting forks occurred along the way. I thought I'd take a moment to share them.

Spiritual Obligations

At some point after I began thinking about the divine and how I should go about discovering it, an important question popped into my head, which was, "What obligation am I under to look for God?" This was immediately followed by questions like, "How can God take away the opportunity of living with him if I don't follow rules in this life that I never knew I was bound by?" And "How can simply hearing 'the word' bind me to rules that must be followed if I am to ever live with God?" And "There are a thousand disparate religions with their own religious texts and rules, any of which I may hear at some point in my life, so, how should I know which are genuinely 'the word' of God?"

It was questions like these that made me realize that a rational God would not take away an opportunity to live with him if I didn't follow the rules that I never knew I was bound to follow. Which necessarily includes any rule that I must discover the rules, or even so much as care to. In other words, if God is irrational, I don't care to know him because he sounds like a moron, but if God is rational, then he will give me the same opportunity to earn "admission" into his house in the next life as he does now. The same goes for every other divine privilege, too.

Unconscious Mind

My podcast co-host Philip Eger has been working on a theory over the course of a year now on where the idea of God comes from. We discussed it early on in Episode 033 of the EVC podcast. Let me start with an analogy (written by me) that Phil related to my wife and I about a month ago:
Our minds are like a library. Our conscious is sitting inside the library at a table. Our subconscious is the helpful librarian. Our unconscious is the rest of the library, all the knowledge we were born with and obtained over our lifetimes. It's always expanding, and always concerned with both our conscious focus and the rest of the body. The librarian brings us the books we need, but also pays attention to our conscious focus, which is represented by a computer connected to the Internet (everything outside ourselves). The librarian sometimes tries to get us to notice things she believes will help us, the entirety of us, mind and body, in some way.

She must use language with which we are familiar. For many, this is religion. What they perceive as a manifestation of some sort from God, is actually just the librarian using familiar language to present us with something helpful, something we need for our own maintenance. Our unconscious doing what it can to ensure its survival.
People learn religious language early in their lives, and afterward their unconscious uses it to help them meet their needs. In other words, "God" is just our word for our own subconscious and unconscious minds. After all, what do all versions of God have in common? They originated in human thought. With this insight, Phil can take any creation of the human mind, including myth and scripture, and pull out significant information to help one better themselves. He calls this the "Allegorical Imperative". I'll let him elaborate:
Stories motivate humans to action. Sometimes these actions are beneficial for the individual and others around him. Other times the actions have monstrous consequences.

It seems that emotionally compelling stories applied literally to the tribe result in rulers, war, death and suffering. Whereas, it appears that emotionally compelling stories, compared and applied allegorically to the individual and his internal systems, result in improved mental health, physical health, independence, and empathy for the individual.

With this in mind, the Allegorical Imperative is an approach to take when you find yourself emotionally drawn to anything. A hobby, a political ideology, a movie series, a mate. May your first response to this attraction be "What does this thing I like have to say about my relationship with my mind and body?"

Check that first. That is where the value of any emotionally powerful idea lies. After you extract the allegorical value, now you are free to compare it to reality. Remember, your emotional mechanisms evolved way before your piddly neocortex. They are much stronger and much more compelling to you than facts.

Feed your emotions through allegory first. Then approach with a scientific rational eye, while the emotional beasts sleep off their metaphorical meal.

This will prevent a lot of humiliation later in life when you realize the thing to which you committed literally was only compelling to you because of its allegorical value, being based on a story rather than objective reality.
Applying this to people's sincerity in religious matters means that yes, their religious activity actually does help them in some way, and so its perceived as good and true. Now, with me, this only goes so far. It's a reasonable explanation for people's subjective experiences in religion and spirituality, but what about the experiences shared with others? That's a greater challenge I think, and a very interesting, scientific question.

Final Thoughts

I no longer feel compelled to seek the divine, nor do I need to approach religion antagonistically. Both forks as described above have given me, so far, all I've needed to move forward in my life. I'm not under any obligation to seek God, nor must I disparage those who do. (Plus, I'll gladly play along - to an extent - if it means maintaining a valued relationship. Who knows how my role might help them?) Theirs is an honest attempt at meeting their own needs, as is mine. So there you have it, a slightly different foundation than what I was intending when I began this rebuilding process.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Conversation on God

Episode 014 is a conversation on the concept of God. Phil and Skyler also briefly share their own spiritual or intellectual journeys as it concerns religion, to where they are today as two non-religious searchers for truth.

Listen to Episode 014 (1h35m, mp3, 96kbps)

Show Notes, "God"
Skyler's Column, "What I Know and What I Don't Know"
Skyler's Column, "Rebuilding my Foundation"
Skyler's Column, "Down with Conviction!"
Skyler's Blog Post, "On Gods and Rulers"
Skyler's Facebook Post, Considering the Power of God
Skyler's Blog Post, "Receiving God's Law"

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rebuilding My Foundation

(Originally published at in June 2013.)

"Resistance," to the Borg, "is futile." It's also human, very human. Particularly the type of resistance given to the changing of one's beliefs. And by "beliefs" I mean everything someone either thinks is true or knows is true with absolute certainty. Often their certainty is based on a very limited amount of experience, and they don't know what they don't know. Faith, the way I see it, is rational belief on the basis of limited experience. What is believed may ultimately prove false, but without faith one will never do anything. Nobody has experienced everything, and everybody wants to remove their "felt uneasiness." Like resistance, to act on the basis of faith is also human. I have performed religious ordinances and made covenants with others (seen and unseen) on the basis of faith. But I now find myself at a point in my life where I am stuck. Some things that I believed I now question. Let me explain.

What Was

For the last ten years I have claimed by word and by action to be a devout Mormon. Mormonism has and continues to be a very fascinating topic for me. When I (re)discovered the Gospel, I had a zeal to progress in "the Kingdom" and to do whatever was necessary to marry my wife in a Mormon temple. My faith was strong, and it transformed my life for the better. But my zeal was not founded on a spiritual witness of the truth of Mormonism, on any supernatural experience, that I believe other's have had. Mine was an intellectual zeal. And that zeal carried me toward exploring other unknowns, namely economics, political philosophy, ethics, and so forth.

The last decade has been one great pursuit after another, starting with my acceptance of Mormonism. It means a lot to me and I hope when all is said and done that I will die a Mormon. But let's not put the cart before the horse. Before now, I was prepared to live the rest of my life practicing my faith and encouraging my children and others to do likewise. In examining what that encouragement would mean, however, I began a process that took me from comfort in my faith to wondering whether or not I had a solid foundation by which to bear my testimony of the truth. It turns out that I have not had that solid foundation. And that realization pushed me to question more and more the Church to which I claimed to be a proud member.

What May Be

One of my favorite passages from the Book of Mormon is found in what has been unofficially called the "Psalm of Nephi," found in the Second Book of Nephi, Chapter 4, verse 34 which reads, "I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm." I feel very close to what Nephi is saying here. Because my faith has been based on the arm of flesh, meaning, my [imperfect] conclusions regarding Joseph Smith, his work, and the modern LDS Church, moving forward would mean confusion, and ultimately heartache.

I have very important questions regarding the modern LDS Church, specifically its post-Joseph Smith leadership and practices, the way it handles its finances, and the many traditions and folklore that it upholds that don't seem to be anchored in either scripture or factual history. Maybe it's all nothing. Maybe there are solid answers to all of my questions, but I have reached a point where I no longer trust myself to have the patience required by my limited time to find them. And more, I would only be continuing what Nephi was warning against, putting my trust in the arm of flesh.

Instead, I have decided that before I can continue supporting the modern LDS Church, I must determine if it is the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Before I do that, I must determine if Joseph Smith really translated the Book of Mormon "by the gift and power of God." And before I do that, I must determine if God really exists, and if so, if I can have a personal relationship with him.

Final Thoughts

Many reading this have already made up their minds about these things. The extent of my faith right now is the belief that if there is a God, he must be willing to have a personal relationship with his creations. If not, then what do I care about him? If he created the universe and then disappeared, then why do I care to know about him? I hope that's not the case. I really like the idea (based on Mormonism) of a personal God with a personal interest in seeing me become like him, ie. divine. But I will no longer stand on a shaky foundation. I will do what I can to know if God exists. If he has an interest in me, I won't give him any excuses not to show it.