In this article, Jonathan Haidt takes issue with the New Atheist position that religion does not have value. Some of his responses warrant further discussion... I was struck by the lack of depth with respect to his position on charitable giving, for example. This is the type of discussion that can benefit from a knowledge of integral development.
In a series of books (e.g., A Sociable God, Up from Eden, and The Eye of Spirit),
I have tried to show that religion itself has always performed two very
important, but very different, functions. One, it acts as a way of
creating meaning for the separate self: it offers myths and
stories and tales and narratives and rituals and revivals that, taken
together, help the separate self make sense of, and endure, the slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune. This function of religion does not
usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness in a person;
it does not deliver radical transformation. Nor does it deliver a
shattering liberation from the separate self altogether. Rather, it
consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the
self. As long as the separate self believes the myths, performs the
rituals, mouths the prayers, or embraces the dogma, then the self, it
is fervently believed, will be "saved"—either now in the glory of being
God-saved or Goddess-favored, or in an afterlife that insures eternal
wonderment. But two, religion has also served—in a usually very, very small
minority—the function of radical transformation and liberation. This
function of religion does not fortify the separate self, but utterly
shatters it—not consolation but devastation, not entrenchment but
emptiness, not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution—in
short, not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical
transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness
itself. (Entire Article Here)
Matt here. My argument for some time now has been that none of our current institutions encourage personal transformation -- and personal transformation is the cornerstone of the change that is required to live healthy and happy lives.
Many of us will find that our retirement savings will be substantially eroded. From an organic standpoint, this was to be expected. In nature, it is only prudent to store enough to get through the winter season. Our retirement plans assumed that we could store up decades worth of "nuts" and this is just plain nuts in an organic or natural world -- the world that we will revert to either willingly or unwillingly. Bottom line is that most of us will be working for much of the rest of our lives. Depending on how we structure this work, it can either be pleasant or a hellish experience.
Most of us will not be able to pay for expensive college educations for our children. "Higher" education will have to be restructured and it's about time.
We will be forced to transition away from an energy-intensive lifestyle to one that uses less energy. This will mean smaller and more energy efficient living quarters. It also means that big, inefficient homes will decline -- yes, even further -- in value.
We will shift from an emphasis on financial engineering to sustainable development engineering.
Currently, we are all scrambling to make a living. This scrambling makes it difficult to be bodhisattva-like. We can transition to a system that encourages us to find right livelihoods.
Independence will mean being near our food sources and possibly having our own paradise -- a walled garden.
It makes sense to integrate education, work, and leisure in a comprehensive institution/system that also integrates Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Where would you rather have your wealth stored? In a fund in which the principles have multiple houses and a big office or in an asset-backed account that is administered by a group of independent scholars that have taken an implicit vow of non-accumulation and sustainable living?
A fitting "post"script:
Right living is no longer the fulfillment of an ethical or religious
demand. For the first time in history the Physical survival of the
human race depends on a radical change of the human heart. However, a
change of the human heart is possible only to the extent that drastic
economic and social changes occur that give the human heart the chance
for change and the courage and the vision to achieve it. [p.9&10]
In a comment to an earlier post, I linked to an essay that I believe provides some good counsel for our times. The abstract of that essay follows:
An Abstract of "A General Statement of Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons"
Although "The Tragedy of the Commons" is widely acclaimed, activists in environmental causes as well as professionals in ethics continue to act as if the essay had never been written. They ignore the central thesis that traditional, a priori thinking in ethics is mistaken and must be discarded. Hence the need remains to give the tragedy of the commons a more general statement--one which can convince a wide public of the correctness of its method and principles. In essence Hardin's essay is a thought experiment. Its purpose is not to make a historical statement but rather to demonstrate that tragic consequences can follow from practicing mistaken moral theories. Then it proposes a system-sensitive ethics that can prevent tragedy. The general statement of the tragedy of the commons demonstrates that an a priori ethics constructed on human-centered, moral principles and a definition of equal justice cannot prevent and indeed always supports growth in population and consumption. Such growth, though not inevitable, is a constant threat. If continual growth should ever occur, it eventually causes the breakdown of the ecosystems which support civilization. Henceforth, any viable ethics must satisfy these related requirements: (1) An acceptable system of ethics is contingent on its ability to preserve the ecosystems which sustain it. (2) Biological necessity has a veto over the behavior which any set of moral beliefs can allow or require. (3) Biological success is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for any acceptable ethical theory. In summary, no ethics can be grounded in biological impossibility; no ethics can be incoherent in that it requires ethical behavior that ends all further ethical behavior. Clearly any ethics which tries to do so is mistaken; it is wrong.
February 26, 1997 Herschel Elliott Emeritus Philosophy University of Florida Gainesville, FL 32611
Intuitively, many people know this to be true. Most have not thought about how to live their lives under this new system of ethics. Over the years, I have given it a great deal of thought and the result is the "club" that has been described at this blog.
Young people in particular have a strong incentive to see society move towards this new system. The old one screws them big time. The following excerpt from Beyond Growth is relevant:
In standard economics ["mainstream" economics that does not acknowledge the Second Law of Thermodynamics] the balancing of future against present costs and benefits is done by discounting. A time discount rate is a numerical way of expressing the value judgment that beyond a certain point the future is not worth anything to presently living people. The higher the discount rate, the sooner that point is reached. The value of the future to future people does not count in the standard approach. [p.36]
This is in some ways related to the immorality of usury that I have discussed in earlier posts. Although I think that most people will find it difficult to move away from the current, materialistic paradigm, interestingly enough, unmanageable levels of debt may force people to another paradigm -- one in which there is not any monetary income for the creditors to come after. Although debt is an individual responsibility, it is also a societal problem. Debt is embedded in almost all costs of goods and services.
It is possible to see ones life neither as self-made nor as the product of human society alone but as a gift of the total evolutionary process. If I view myself primarily in this way, then it is appropriate for my response to be one of gratitude. The fitting ethical action then is service of that to which I find myself so comprehensively indebted. To serve the evolutionary process can be understood to mean furthering its inclusive work. One would then strive in general to contribute to the progress or growth of life in all its diversity of forms, beginning with human life but by no means limiting oneself to it. [From an essay titled Ecology, Ethics, and Theology by John Cobb, Included in Toward A Steady-State Economy]
There are so many reasons to live differently. Over the past few days I have come to realize that what I am proposing is a liberal arts club -- something that we can get involved with at an early age and have throughout our lives. Most people never get a liberal arts education and most of those that do inevitably enter the world of materialism.
In fact some people, who reason correctly, reason from different premises. They may choose to live simply so as to meet the needs of life with the least effort and with the least damaging impact on the environment. For such persons, simplicity and frugality can afford a better life because they allow more opportunity for leisure, for cultural and social activity, and for intellectual development.
The mass appeal, worldwide, of Christianity and its rival, Islam, is founded upon simplicity of interpretation. Christianity's triumph over Judaism, in the early centuries of the Common Era, could not have come about on a theological basis. "Believe that Jesus was the Christ and you will be saved and live eternally" proved irresistible on the popular level. Later this was matched by "Submit to Allah on the authority of Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets, and your will be rewarded in the life to come." [p.178]
This from The Age of Reason by Harold Nicolson (copyright 1960 or so):
Although himself a scholar he [John Wesley] soon realized that his message was addressed, not the sophisticated, but to the simple mind. 'Let me think', he said, 'as a little child! Let my religion be plain, artless, simple!' [page 384]
Contrast the above with this excerpt from the back cover [my copy, at least] of Lex Hixon's Coming Home:
How has Enlightenment, the ultimate goal of all sacred traditions, affected the lives of those who have attained it? What has it meant to saints living in modern societies as well as to traditional masters? Is there common ground between Tantric or Zen, Christian or Jewish, Sufi or Taoist ways to enlightenment?
Lex Hixon explores these questions in this portrayal of the experiences and teachings of contemporary and ancient sages from both the East and the West. Capturing the essence of major traditions, he shows how Enlightenment is not a myth but the full flowering of human nature, accessible to each of us.
Wouldn't it be great if the leaders of all religious institutions around the world had the balls to tell their "faithful" that there is more to spirituality than the simple "believe/submit and you will be saved" concept?
Maybe this excerpt, also from The Age of Reason [1960 or so version], may provide a clue as to why the leaders of established churches are not shouting from the pulpit that enlightenment is accessible to each of us:
"Methodism, for the working classes, proved a welcome emotional sedative, while it gave to the rich a sense of responsibility and a philanthropic conscience."
It's a marketing plan that endures -- to the detriment of advancement and unity everywhere.
An excerpt from a Tom Paine letter dated May 12, 1797 (page 196 of The Age of Reason):
As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the word of God, that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary; but I know that you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible; and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the case. You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is, that all are infidels who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New.
Paine is being kind when he says that our believe in one book is the result of education. When we believe in just one "truth" to the exclusion of anything else, we have been indoctrinated. By nature, man is not a curious being. There must of been something about our evolution -- bears in caves? -- that prevents us from climbing out of the valley to the ridges and peaks that would give us perspective.
While one can argue with Paine's Deist perspective, one cannot dismiss the fact that his perspective is much more uniting than that of the literalist believers that dominate our culture today -- maybe even more than they did over two hundred years ago.
Happy Easter! May you have the courage to climb to the ridges and peaks for your perspective on life and living.
Our dominant institutions are unable to change the destructive course of mankind. While some of these institutions may be able shift to the positive side of the equation, it is doubtful that it will happen fast enough to assure a quality living environment for future generations. Therefore, it is critical to form new institutions that can provide a model for shifting our behavior so that the rights of future generations to a quality life are recognized. Evidence is overwhelming that preservation and restoration of all natural systems is a key to a quality life.
In order to shape a new institution, it is helpful to list the positive and negative attributes of our dominant institutions. (Please note that there are exceptions within any institution. This is a general description of the attributes.) In my opinion those are:
Religion- A positive attribute is that saints and sages throughout history have realized the wholeness of the universe. A negative attribute is that the religion of those who are most powerful in society today is one of fear as the result of the literal interpretation of scripture that was written hundreds of years ago when the population and the knowledge of the universe was much, much smaller.
Business/Corporations- A positive attribute is teamwork and goals. A negative attribute is that, by design, corporations do not have a conscience.
Education- A positive attribute is the compact and pedestrian-friendly design of many campuses. A negative attribute is that the primary reason for existence is to train people to work for corporations.
Politics/Government- A positive attribute is that a certain amount of governance is necessary in order to maintain a free and civil society. A negative attribute is that government is controlled today by the influence of religion and corporations.
As you can see, this is really very simple. The complexity comes into play when trying to understand why we as a society have allowed the negative attributes of these institutions to shape our lives. Many of the recommended books in the column to the left attempt to explain our irrational behavior.
We can analyze this irrational behavior until the cows come home -- or are genetically altered beyond recognition and prudence due to the negative attribute of corporations. What we need to do is form new institutions that integrate the positive attributes of the above institutions. Let's at least start the discussion.
See this link for Albert Einstein's thoughts on religion and science.
The last paragraph of the linked excerpt is:
But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.
Two and a half pages that -- if reflected and acted upon by enough reasonable people -- can create a more comprehensive future.
This post touches on almost every category that I have formerly established. I am sometimes asked what I do. Maybe I should start referring questioners to the About area of this blog. I'm trying to find our why we as a society do not live up to our potential. The fragility of our present circumstance requires some integral and creative answers. We have to create a system that competes with the prevailing system.
Why a "private" hedge club? A public entity requires the oversight of the government. Why anyone would want this government involved in their financial affairs is a mystery to me. Fiscal irresponsibility aside, the government has a "leader" who less than 15 years ago was placed on a board -- through a favor from the well-connected -- and proceeded to distinguish himself during his tenure by telling dirty jokes.
Why a private "hedge" club? Most people have put all their marbles -- literally and figuratively -- in a system that is fraught with corruption and inefficiency. They need to realize that there can be a way to "hedge" the current system. The fragility of the current system is there -- for us all to see -- but yet we remain in a state of denial. (To be up front, this also permits playing the "fear card." A tool that unfortunately seems to be required in order to get the general public's attention.)
Why a private hedge "club"? A private club seems to me to be the only entity that can encompass all of the elements necessary to create a new institution. Education, a physical infrastructure, lack of dogma and doctrine, and longevity. The term "society" works as well but makes it harder to define the rules that are necessary for sustainability.
Primary Hedge Areas
One of the dominant -- read thought-killing -- characteristics of the current system is debt. Debt is all about possessing. The irony is that so long as debt is involved, the system -- not the bank per se -- possesses you. This is unhealthy and one reason -- in my opinion -- for the high levels of depression. (This reminds me of the standard Christian response with respect to the poor: They will always be with us. Baaad Attitude!) If one wants to hedge the current system, one would create an institution in which "banking" is equity only.
As has been pointed out in earlier posts, our education is primarily geared towards producing certified individuals, rather than critical-thinking individuals. Another dominant characteristic of the education system is that it is concerned with turning out folks who work/manipulate behind a desk -- or in a hotel lobby with a laptop -- rather than doing something that is hands-on. In the new global economy, your desk job will soon be done somewhere around the world where the costs are lower. Why would anyone want to sit behind a desk for 8+ hours anyway? The hedge club will commit resources to shaping an education system that includes hands-on activity and real-world projects.
Opportunity, not charity or propaganda. The current system's tax laws either encourage charitable giving or cause (special interest) giving. A hedge club can be structured to encourage members to quit giving to charity and propaganda. Pay your taxes and use the balance to build up equity in a system that builds and provides opportunity, rather than tears down and gives hand-outs.
Anyone who thinks the current system is not sustainable should contact me and make a commitment to help get the ball rolling. Hit the "Email Me" button (above left) and contact me. We can change the course of history this afternoon.
The problem with Christianity especially is that its living message has become incarcerated within a prison of metaphor taken as fact, symbol mistaken for reality and ritual for its own sake, a prison with bars of coral, slowly built up from the skeletons of once-useful images that no longer point to anything beyond themselves. God the Heavenly Father (who used to be accompanied by God the Earthly Mother before she was edited out of the Gospels) was an originally helpful but ultimately expendable way of pointing at the reality of a world from which we all emerge, and on which we all depend. But the experience of kinship and at-home-ness that Jesus was trying to convey gets disregarded when we start thinking of God as an entity -- or perhaps a team of entities -- real and separate from us, whose creatures we are and in whose charge we remain. God becomes a vaguely person-like projection: external, controlling, creating, and usually male. Having missed the point, we are left with a fuzzy surrogate in which all we can do is believe, and which all too often comes to symbolize not the potential for liberation but the necessity for obedience and the inevitability of guilt. [p.32]
The flip-side of aversion is of course attachment. They go together. Aversion focuses on loss, both actual and imminent. How can I ward off the threat? How can I get back the conditions I so ardently believe I need? Attachment focuses on the problem of how to accumulate and keep those conditions. The first feeling of attachment is meanness. I'd better hang on to what I've got. The sense of mine becomes very important -- my house, my car, my partner, my opinions, my achievements. I feel possessive about what I've got and done. They are things to be proud of. Again the fact that there are basic necessities to stay alive is misrepresented in the game plan as 'the more the better', so a general orientation of acquisitiveness arises. The more I've got, the safer I feel; that is the assumption. The converse reality, that the more I've got, the more I can lose, seems to have escaped us, or if not, to have had disappointingly little impact on the way we actually go about living. [p. 57]
Although they know in their hearts that they are worthless, people cling to life-styles, to ambitions, to relationships, to 'favourite' holiday locations...because they are scared of change and because they are scared of admitting that they made a mistake. They might have to make a decision, and they might have to run the risk of looking a fool. So better the devil you know, right? [p. 108]
If we could agree that for six months we would not ask How?, something in our lives, our institutions, and our culture might shift for the better. It would force us to engage in conversations about why we do what we do, as individuals and as institutions. It would create the space for longer discussions about purpose, about what is worth doing. It would refocus our attention on deciding what is the right question, rather than on what is the right answer. [p.3]
...We might put aside our wish for safety and instead view our life as a purpose-filled experiment whose intention is more for learning than for achieving and more for relationship than for power, speed, or efficiency. [p.3]
Choosing to act on "what matters" is the choice to live a passionate existence, which is anything but controlled and predictable.
Acting on what matters is, ultimately, a political stance, one whereby we declare we are accountable for the world around us and are willing to pursue what we define as important, independent of whether it is in demand, or has market value.
Giving priority to what matters is the path of risk and adventure, but I also believe that the institutions and culture that surround us are waiting for us to transform them into a fuller expression of our own desires. We have the potential to reclaim and experience our freedom and put our helplessness behind us. We have the capacity to experience an intimate connection with other people and with all we come in contact with, rather than feeling that we exist in relationships born of barter and instrumentality. We also have the capacity and maturity to live a life of service and engagement, rather than the primary pursuit of entitlement and interests that focus on ourselves. [p.7]
When we realize, as Jung stated, that all consciousness begins with an act of disobedience, then saying no opens the door to pursuing our own desires. Refusal becomes a realistic option when we realize that saying no is the beginning of a conversation, not the end. We may say no, and the people we work for may say, "You have to do this." That's okay. I can live without getting my way, but I cannot live without believing that I have a right to refuse what makes no sense to me. [p.28]
The question of commitment declares that the essential investment needed is personal commitment, not money, not the agreement of others, not the alignment of converging forces supportive of a favorable outcome. For anything that matters, the timing is never quite right, the resources are always a little short, and the people who affect the outcome are always ambivalent. These conditions offer proof that if we say yes, it is our own doing and it was important to us. What a gift. [p.29]
All together, the Yes questions transform our inquiries into a deeper, more intimate discussion of why we do what we do. They bring us to the larger question, a favorite of large-scale change consultant Kathie Dannemiller: How will the world be different tomorrow as a result of what we do today? This kind of question brings our purpose into focus. It makes us choose what matters for ourselves. If we want to create a workplace that values idealism, human connection, and real, in-depth learning, we have to create this ourselves. We take a step toward these ideals when we shift to the Yes-type questions, questions that are filled with anxiety and ambiguity, questions that force us to put ourselves on the line. [p.33]
Many acts of creativity, even new businesses, began with a decision about what not to recreate. The second wave of computer companies were begun by IBM graduates who were determined to create something different. [p. 34]
What will matter most to us, upon deeper reflection, is the quality of experience we create in the world, not the quantity of results. [p.37]
The most difficult aspect of acting on what matters is to come face to face with our own humanity -- our caution, our capacity to rationalize our willingness to fit into the culture rather than live on its margin. This is true in our neighborhood, among colleagues, and in the workplace. Fundamentally, to act fully on what matters means we are asked to claim our freedom and live with the consequences. The subtlety with which we deny our freedom warrants a lifetime of exploration, but what follows are some examples... [p.41]
Freedom gets confused with liberty (which means we are not oppressed). Freedom is not doing your own thing, but just the opposite. It means we are the authors of our own experience. It means we are accountable for the well being of all that is around us. It means we believe that we are constituting, or creating, the world in which we live. This belief is rare for most of us, because mostly we feel helpless. At these moments, we wish for better leaders, better government, and someone else to create the conditions for us to be free. As if someone else can give us our freedom. [p.46]
Often we become clearer about what matters to us when we are in a protected learning or spiritual environment: a retreat, a sanctuary, a vacation conversation, a workshop, or a coaching experience. In a moment of clear thinking and feeling about what matters to us, we may be determined to act on our insight. But as we return to the mainstream of daily life, the determination can become diluted. What happens is that when we reenter the culture with all of its power, we face once again the commitments we have made, and the expectations of those around us. The pull of getting things done and the questions of How? exert their force. These are the moments when what matters and what works seem most at odds with each other. What follows are ideas that help sustain our intentions in the face of it all. [p.49]
In the barter framework, the cost of the bargain is dependency: We have become so dependent on our institutions and their agents that we think they hold the key to what we most dearly seek. When we think that the only way we can get what we want is to bargain for it, we hand over power to others, including the power to define reality. [p. 61]
Intimacy, like idealism, has little market value. Intimacy can't really be measured and is difficult to price and purchase, try as we might. When you think of becoming an artist (the archetype of someone who is on intimate terms with nature, with ideas, and with the world of the senses), the word starving follows quickly. Intimacy also implies an element of activism, the willingness to show up -- often. [p. 66]
Technology is amazing, useful, efficient, and at times life saving. But it also has the effect of funneling us into a more virtual way of being and reduces our capacity to live a life that matters. For example, it gives me the illusion of going somewhere. Microsoft asks, "Where do you want to go today?" Well, I am not actually going anywhere. I am sitting right here in front of my monitor. For all its benefits, technology increases my passivity, it isolates me, and it automates more than just my work. [p. 70]
In a way, the loss of intimacy in our modern culture is making nature itself obsolete. In agriculture, we have the terminator gene in a seed. This means that the seed is good for only one crop and one harvest. The traditional regenerative power of the seed, as eternal giver of life, has ended. The moment the terminator gene was introduced, the life-giving aspect of nature was ended and now the ability to grant another harvest has been vested in Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland. [p. 71]
When speed becomes the measure of performance it governs the way we experience our lives as well as the quality of our lives. Speed becomes a reason to settle for lower quality and ignore our desires. A friend, Meg Wheatley, told me about a poet who agreed to publish a poem on a very tight deadline. When she asked how he could do that, he said, "All I have to do is lower my standards."
As an expression of this temporal materialism, we believe that we must postpone what matters until later in life. Young people believe that they need to make money first, and then do what will have meaning. They do this by getting on the "fast track." Living out a set of ideals, doing what I want, making deeper contact with the world, and really engaging those around me -- all get postponed. [p. 77]
If we decide to act on what matters, then we shift our consciousness about pace. There is always time to do everything that really matters: If we do not have time to do something, it is a sign that it dose not matter. If we claim our freedom and risk the possibility of saying no. If we love going fast and speed is our friend, then we need to ask what we are postponing. There is simply no way to shorten the time that depth requires. Any of the values we hold dear wilt under the pressure of time. It is difficult to imagine instant compassion, instant reconciliation, or instant justice. If we yield to the temptation of speed, we short-circuit our values. Ultimately we become disappointed and lose faith in our attempt to bring our strategies and models into the world. [p. 79]
To be a citizen, in the political sense, is to have voting rights, membership rights, and the right to create systems that support, not deny, our freedom. In the workplace we do not have the right to elect our leaders, and I do not suggest this. We do, however, vote with our feet, our hearts, our energy, and our care or indifference toward how the institution fares in the world. [p. 83]
Acting on what matters means that we will consistently find ourselves feeling like we are living on the margin of our institutions and our culture. This calls for some detachment from the mainstream. It means we have committed ourselves to a state of eyes-opening innocence designed to change the world we have inherited. The dominant culture will never fully appreciate the choice we make. This is the cost of citizenship, it is neither free nor cheap. It is a counter-cultural path, treating our work life and personal life as experiments of personal accountability. [p. 84]
I plan to share more from The Answer To How Is Yes in the next day or two. Find out about the role of the engineer, the economist, the artist and the architect.