Posts categorized "Religion"

The Crisis of Meaning

I post because I want to be heard.  To be heard is reassurance that I exist.  When I know that I am heard, I know that I am supposed to be content.  So why am I still not content?  What is still missing?

Go to Facebook or Twitter during any second of any day and watch your friends do the same.  I don't need to explain this to you because I know you do it too.  You feel it too.  To post is to scratch an itch -- the relief is temporary and unfulfilling.  To write and record a song is the same thing, only 1,000 times more intense.  To write a book is also the same thing, only 10,000 times more intense than that simple post on Facebook.  Bloggers know it, musicians know it, writers know it...but we do it anyway.  We do it for the simple reason that we wonder whether our lives really have any meaning if we do not succeed at projecting that meaning to the outside world.  We want to know that our lives have extrinsic value.

Our current obsession with becoming famous is also fueled by this same emotion.  If a million people could hear my voice or somehow understand me, that would be better than one person hearing my voice and understanding me, right?  Or what if I could create a product that would be loved by 10's of millions?  Would I finally feel content that I have found meaning?

Ironically, we pretend we don't care about such impractical, unrealistic ideas like "the meaning of life" -- but I think we are fooling ourselves.  I think everyone is concerned with their meaning of life.  Single people often believe that their meaning of life will be revealed when they meet that special someone.  But, even after we have met that special someone, even after we build wonderful lives together, we continue trying to define, validate, somehow possess something as elusive as meaning.

Let's go even further.  We also identify with movements,  institutions, brands, and organizations because we seek meaning.  We are Christian, Hindu, Liberal, Conservative, Green, Harley-Davidson owners, H&M shoppers, Football fans, film buffs, Indie music fans, etc., etc. because we believe that being part of these "clubs" will give our lives meaning in the outside world.  We profess the values of specific movements or industries because we want to believe that, in doing so, we will belong....and in that belonging we will come to know a meaning that lasts longer than scratching an itch.

But does anyone really find their meaning in any of these ways?  So many celebrities have everything any of us could dream of...and yet we watch them go through embarrassing melt-downs before our eyes on reality TV.  They act completely ridiculous.  But, in truth, all of us do.  Could it be any different?

Something is fundamentally broken.  Our lives are being run by corporations.  The only meaning of a corporation is to make a higher profit this quarter than last.  That's it.  So the highest value, at the top of our society, is money-worship.  Not very meaningful.  Everything a corporation does...all the brands, all the sports teams, the media, all the films, all the content, everything...it is only there to serve that one purpose.  Our governments are also at the mercy of the financial industry, the oil industry, the defense industry, etc., etc.  So we cannot believe in business and we cannot believe in the State.  Where is the external meaning in this system?

Are we supposed to be naive enough to look for meaning in religion?  You want me to live my life in a silly and unsuccessful attempt to conform to ridiculous stories written by corrupt men thousands of years ago?  Sorry, you've lost me there.  I was talking about the meaning of my life, on Earth, in reality.

I ask again, where is the meaning?  I know this is depressing, but I also know you feel it too. 

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Defining God as ignorance (repost)

I'm reposting the following article from my archives because, when I did just that on Daily Kos the other day, it generated a fascinating follow-up discussion.  Click here to read the comments.

The longer one is free from the influences of religion, the more clearly one is able to see it.  I was watching a discussion on Slovak television last night between 5 scientists, from different fields, who all agree that science cannot explain everything and so, therefore, there must be a higher power or God.

Of course I've heard this argument before.  After all, it is probably the least controversial, most non-committal position on religion to say that you believe there "must be some sort of higher power".  While such a position on the matter is safe and non-offensive, it is equally absurd.

Next time a person says something along these lines, ask them exactly why they believe there "must be a higher power".  The experts I mentioned on this panel have apparently thought long and hard on the topic.  They explained that, while science can explain how things work down to the most intricate detail, science cannot explain why.  Imagine a child asking a question such as, "Why does the light bulb make light?"  You can explain all the details about electrons, circuits, etc., but you will probably only have the same question repeated, "But I still don't understand why the light bulb makes light."  Why light?  It's an interesting question that demonstrates nothing other than ignorance.  In this case, I'm not using the word ignorance as a negative thing.  To the contrary, to ask that question shows a sort of humble respect for the fact that we don't really understand space and time completely.

But it is a very long and absurd leap to say that, because I do not or cannot fully understand this matter, there must be a God in the sky who is watching us, who sent his only begotten Son, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, down to earth to save us from our sins.  A complex mind, a humble mind, is able to accept the fact that we don't know everything...we cannot know everything.  This doesn't make us weak, it makes us humble and respectful to nature and our place in it.  A simple mind arrogantly makes up or believes ridiculous stories in a desperate attempt to provide comfort by pretending that complete truth and wisdom can be obtained.

Another interesting example was discussed.  An environmental scientist discussed the idea of photosynthesis.  He described the perfection and elegance of this process.  He talked about how there is perfect balance, no waste, no externalities.  He concluded that only a Higher Power could have designed such a thing.  What he demonstrated was an embarrassing lack of understanding about the principles of evolution.  In fact, evolution explains photosynthesis quite well.

Evolution explains everything life is and everything life does.  Evolution involves living organisms competing for resources.  The sun is a resource and plants take advantage of it.  They also take advantage of water and CO2.  What they produce as a byproduct is oxygen.  But one organism's waste is another organism's resource.  Animals breath oxygen and can eat plants.  The net result looks like perfect balance, when in fact it is the result of a process.  That process is evolution.  Where there isn't enough water, plants don't grow.  Where there aren't enough plants, animals don't exist.  What we see is a state of balance, but it isn't because it was designed that way; rather, it is because some organisms died and others succeeded...some species lived and others went extinct.  While we humans might perceive a perfectly designed balance, it is only because we are biased by the perspective of our existence in a single space and time.  What some people can't comprehend is that billions of years led up to this moment and a lot of stuff had to happen to make things the way they are.  To fail to understand this is to fail to understand evolution.  Evolution is the most basic principle of science.  You cannot call yourself a scientist if you don't understand it thoroughly.

On a side-note, it cannot be true that both evolution is true and religion is true.  If you understand evolution as everything life is and everything life does, if you understand that every idea, every word, every thought is a product of the process of evolution (not just the biological aspects of life but also the behavioral), then you understand that our notion of religion is, itself, a product of evolution.  You understand that The Bible, The Koran, or any other religious work is simply a product of the process of evolution.  Evolution explains it perfectly.

One of the survival traits of being human is the desire to understand and explain.  It is this very important impulse which has led us to survive and thrive in a harsh natural world.  But we have to be honest about the limitations of this impulse.  The simple fact is that we will never know whether anything happens after death.  We will never comprehend the concept of infinity or understand what was before time.  We will never understand exactly how something may have come from nothing.  There are concepts we are probably not able to understand.  We have to find the courage to resist our egotistical need to feel that we know everything.  We need to stop "plugging-in" the concept of God whenever we encounter something we do not, and cannot know.  It is perfectly acceptable to be at peace with the idea that some things cannot be known.  The alternative (making up stories to explain the things we don't know or cannot know) makes a person look really silly.

Look at it mathematically:

(What we do know) + (What we don't understand, or "X") = (Complete and perfect knowledge)

Are we going to plug in religious stories and pretend we have complete and perfect knowledge, or are we going to find peace in letting "X" be "X" (which it always will be, regardless of how hard we try to explain it away)?

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Tradition (the final podcast episode of the 2010 season)

Sofia and I decided to make this the final podcast of the 2010 season.  With the work involved in the publication of my upcoming book, the continued recording of the full-length album, and with all of the other stuff going on in our “real lives” right now, we thought it would make sense to take a short break from the podcast.  So check back on February 4th, 2011 for the start of a new season.  Better yet, visit the podcast page and enter your email address to be alerted when the next show comes out.

We end the season with what is, perhaps surprisingly, a very important topic.  This is the season of holidays and the season of tradition.  In our search for an authentic life, each of us has to come to terms with what tradition means to us…which traditions to honor and which to discard.  Tradition, in our lives, goes beyond a holiday here and there.  Tradition is, indeed, the force that holds cultures and societies together.  When valued and honored properly, tradition is also a force that helps us collectively push back against corporate exploitation.  Without tradition, we are merely lonely, isolated consumers.  

Click the gray box below to listen in and take part in a coversation that is important to each of us in our search for an authentic life.

 

Abscondo Podcast - 27 - Tradition (back on Feb. 4th)

  Holidays

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Morality of Consequence

On this week's podcast, we discuss a very straightforward idea: morality is nothing more than a consideration of consequence.  We explain why this system of morality is superior to those offered by religion.

Click on the gray box below to play the podcast.

Abscondo Podcast - 18 - Morality of Consequence


Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

The Truth Is...

This week's podcast (click here to listen) is called "The Truth Is".  Sofia and I talk about the value of "truth-seeking" as we discuss the reasons why some chose a life of truth-seeking and why many choose not to.  We ponder the question "Is ignorance bliss?" in relation to some of the long-term benefits of truth-seeking.

I've long been intrigued by the topic of "truth-seeking" and how, in the current social climate where relativism is supreme and each of us are entitled to our own opinions, people no longer seem to care whether an idea has any basis in truth.  What I'm describing here is a lazy attitude where one can easy brush off even the most well-reasoned or well-researched statement or argument as "just your opinion", just at they do the same to the most ridiculous idea or argument.  However, during my years as not just a truth-seeker, but also a truth-teller, I've occasionally also noticed an almost militant resistance or backlash to certain positions or discussions about certain topics.  We might question the dynamics behind such emotional reactions.

What I finally realized is that even the most well-reasoned, most factual position does not tend to penetrate an individual who is not a truth-seeker (at least not immediately).  However, it is also true that, oftentimes, a strong argument grounded in deep and obvious truth has a way of "sinking in" over the coarse of months or years...as an individual unavoidably begins to perceive his/her world with the new "tool" of that new idea.  Indeed, each of us comes to truth-seeking not as a conscious act, but as an unavoidable consequence of truth being shined on us at some point.  So maybe this illumination sets off the process, but what we do from there is our own, individual decision.  We can only go so far if we do not consciously decide to seek truth as an end in itself.

So, the truth is, we all have to make up our minds about whether or not we value truth and the never-ending quest for more of it; or whether we, instead, place greater importance on things like self-preservation, short-term happiness, or social acceptance.  In this podcast, we acknowledge the genuine difficultly of this life-decision.

By the way, our listeners are encouraged to post comments to the show by clicking the "comments" link below.  Each week, I will write up a blog entry that corresponds to each show.  Eventually, when we have enough listeners, we'll discuss your comments on the previous show at the start of each show.

Enjoy!

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

The Abscondo Podcast

Podcast1802

The Abscondo Podcast is available for free on  iTunes.  It is also accessible via this direct feed or wherever you normally get podcasts.  You can also receive an email alert whenever a new   episode is available by submitting your email address here:

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The Abscondo Podcast includes conversations between people who are exploring new ideas and seeking truth.  The show is hosted by Mark Manney, an American writer, recording artist, and social comentator who lives in Eastern Europe with his wife Sofia (the show's co-host).  The podcast features interviews with inspiring people, intense conversation, and original music.

Take part in the conversation by leaving us a message at (206) 905-1386.  Write to us at abscondomusic@gmail.com.  We'll respond to your message on the next episode or even invite you onto the show as a guest.

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Tuesday morning advice

I don't know if people like us ever feel content. I don't think people were designed to feel content. Where did we get the idea that we should? We are only products of evolution. Everything we are, everything we think, everything we feel is only a function of evolution. If a creature is content, it will only lay in the sun and get eaten.

The trick is to use that discontent, that angst, that desire, in a way that makes us more fit to survive and thrive in this cruel world. Modern societies make us live so far from nature. I suppose it started with the oppression of the Church those hundreds or thousands of years ago...and carries on to the way we've constructed our societies.

We are taught that we should be happy and content.
We are taught that we should be disciplined and under control.
We are taught that pleasure is dangerous and a sign of weakness.
We are taught to feel guilt about our truest, deepest feelings.
We are taught that women are second to men, when you are the truly intelligent ones...your deepest intuition is what our species needs most.

The only thing I've ever found that resembles peace, if only for a moment, comes when I listen to those thoughts and feelings inside of me.  It comes when I block out the judgments of the world and, instead, use the judgments of nature that come from inside. When I have found other people to co-exist in the same way....that is the only true peace I've found...the only true validation of my existence. To exist or to coexist with the knowledge that what is human, dirty, and imperfect is exactly what is perfect. To understand that this sick society -- with it's medicines, vices, experts, and psychotherapists -- is the sickness (not what's inside of me).

To know this is to understand that life, as lived on the outside, to the outside world, is merely a game. These aren't really things we should fight. We should try to live in accordance with those unavoidable factors (the ridiculous creation of money, property, morality, and arbitrary rules), but we should never look at those things as anything other than a game.

Your feelings are perfectly healthy and perfectly attractive. Your doubts are only the cancer of society seeping through your skin. Your questions are only nature itself living through you.

You are as you are. What is just is. Your uniqueness is the reason for your life. This is true for you and it is true for all of us.

So go out and play the game, but know what is truly valuable. Don't let the world punish you with its judgments or expectations. Take what you want, but don't let those things dull you.  Try not to harm anyone or anything.  Find peace in beauty and the strength to face the ugliness of the next day.

Just some thoughts on a sunny Tuesday morning...

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Defining God as Ignorance

The longer one is free from the influences of religion, the more clearly one is able to see it.  I was watching a discussion on Slovak television last night between 5 scientists, from different fields, who all agree that science cannot explain everything and so, therefore, there must be a higher power or God.

Of course I've heard this argument before.  After all, it is probably the least controversial, most non-committal position on religion to say that you believe there "must be some sort of higher power".  While such a position on the matter is safe and non-offensive, it is equally absurd.

Next time a person says something along these lines, ask them exactly why they believe there "must be a higher power".  The experts I mentioned on this panel have apparently thought long and hard on the topic.  They explained that, while science can explain how things work down to the most intricate detail, science cannot explain why.  Imagine a child asking a question such as, "Why does the light bulb make light?"  You can explain all the details about electrons, circuits, etc., but you will probably only have the same question repeated, "But I still don't understand why the light bulb makes light."  Why light?  It's an interesting question that demonstrates nothing other than ignorance.  In this case, I'm not using the word ignorance as a negative thing.  To the contrary, to ask that question shows a sort of humble respect for the fact that we don't really understand space and time completely. 

But it is a very long and absurd leap to say that, because I do not or cannot fully understand this matter, there must be a God in the sky who is watching us, who sent his only begotten Son, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, down to earth to save us from our sins.  A complex mind, a humble mind, is able to accept the fact that we don't know everything...we cannot know everything.  This doesn't make us weak, it makes us humble and respectful to nature and our place in it.  A simple mind arrogantly makes up or believes ridiculous stories in a desperate attempt to provide comfort by pretending that complete truth and wisdom can be obtained. 

Another interesting example was discussed.  An environmental scientist discussed the idea of photosynthesis.  He described the perfection and elegance of this process.  He talked about how there is perfect balance, no waste, no externalities.  He concluded that only a Higher Power could have designed such a thing.  What he demonstrated was an embarrassing lack of understanding about the principles of evolution.  In fact, evolution explains photosynthesis quite well. 

Evolution explains everything life is and everything life does.  Evolution involves living organisms competing for resources.  The sun is a resource and plants take advantage of it.  They also take advantage of water and CO2.  What they produce as a byproduct is oxygen.  But one organism's waste is another organism's resource.  Animals breath oxygen and can eat plants.  The net result looks like perfect balance, when in fact it is the result of a process.  That process is evolution.  Where there isn't enough water, plants don't grow.  Where there aren't enough plants, animals don't exist.  What we see is a state of balance, but it isn't because it was designed that way; rather, it is because some organisms died and others succeeded...some species lived and others went extinct.  While we humans might perceive a perfectly designed balance, it is only because we are biased by the perspective of our existence in a single space and time.  What some people can't comprehend is that billions of years led up to this moment and a lot of stuff had to happen to make things the way they are.  To fail to understand this is to fail to understand evolution.  Evolution is the most basic principle of science.  You cannot call yourself a scientist if you don't understand it thoroughly.

On a side-note, it cannot be true that both evolution is true and religion is true.  If you understand evolution as everything life is and everything life does, if you understand that every idea, every word, every thought is a product of the process of evolution (not just the biological aspects of life but also the behavioral), then you understand that our notion of religion is, itself, a product of evolution.  You understand that The Bible, The Koran, or any other religious work is simply a product of the process of evolution.  Evolution explains it perfectly.

One of the survival traits of being human is the desire to understand and explain.  It is this very important impulse which has led us to survive and thrive in a harsh natural world.  But we have to be honest about the limitations of this impulse.  The simple fact is that we will never know whether anything happens after death.  We will never comprehend the concept of infinity or understand what was before time.  We will never understand exactly how something may have come from nothing.  There are concepts we are probably not able to understand.  We have to find the courage to resist our egotistical need to feel that we know everything.  We need to stop "plugging-in" the concept of God whenever we encounter something we do not, and cannot know.  It is perfectly acceptable to be at peace with the idea that some things cannot be known.  The alternative (making up stories to explain the things we don't know or cannot know) makes a person look really silly. 

Look at it mathematically:

(What we do know) + (What we don't understand, or "X") = (Complete and perfect knowledge)

Are we going to plug in religious stories and pretend we have complete and perfect knowledge, or are we going to find peace in letting "X" be "X" (which it always will be, regardless of how hard we try to explain it away)?

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

What is

They say that everything happens for a reason.  What in the world is that supposed to mean anyway?  Everything happens for...a reason? 

Taken literally, I agree.  If my wife left me, for example, the reason might be that I didn't treat her well.  If I had a car accident, the reason might be that I wasn't a careful driver.  But this actually isn't how that phrase is meant.  It is usually said by religious or superstitious people to mean the exact opposite of its literal meaning.  What they mean to communicate is that "the thing" has "just happened" and "the reason" will be revealed at some future time.  It is a nod to the notion of fate; that our life has already been plotted out by some higher power and all these things that are happening to us only serve the purpose of preparing us for this fate that already happened but actually didn't. 

I use this as an example of a kind of thinking that defines all religious or superstitions thought (as opposed to rational thought).  We observe the world either with the belief that God or the supernatural is in control, or with the understanding that the supernatural is an invention of our minds to make us feel better about "the natural" -- what actually is.  We either believe in destiny, or we believe in making our own destiny.  We either believe that the preachers, mystics, numerologists, and astrologist have merely come up with ideas and observations to describe reality, or we convince ourselves that reality somehow shapes itself around the mythical power of their ideas.  We either get it right or we get it backwards.

Is reality what is...with religions and superstitions existing in an attempt to describe it? Or is the idea what is...with reality shaping itself around it?  Take a simple example: do numbers exist as a verbal and written expression of the fact that our minds are clearly capable of perceiving 1, 2, and 3 items in front of us?  Or do items split themselves into numbers because the notion of a number was always some kind of universal truth which reality must conform to? 

Such questions may seem obscure or inconsequential, but it is what divides modern, rational thought from ancient, superstitious thought.  Superstitious thinkers believe that their religious or occultist teaches contain truth because, while the ideas may be ancient, they seem to describe the world of today.  A rational thinker would respond that, of course those ideas describe the world of today...those who came up with those ideas shared the human condition just as we do. 

How easy it would be to confuse our minds by cherry-picking facts to support our beliefs.  So many of us do this with the misguided notion that we will feel better and be more at peace when our beliefs are confirmed.  Keep a close eye on the individual who is in the process of explaining things away with the language of the supernatural.  Watch him get worked-up into a frenzy.  It is, in fact, that feeling of euphoria he seeks, not truth.  Drunk with his own illogic, it feels great to escape the rigors of rational thought for a moment.  I lived that way when I was much younger, and I agree that the confirmation of beliefs brings a temporary thrill, or even peace and contentedness if you are able to hold it in your mind.  But this state will always be temporary because it is wrong.  That which is wrong is that which does not conform to what is.  And when there is a gap between what is and what we believe, then reality seems harsh.

Greater and more permanent peace can be found in embracing the following idea: what is just is.  I have learned that what is is not threatening to me or my beliefs.  How could it be?  It just is.  And if reality seems to threaten me or my beliefs, then it is time to change myself or my thinking in order to conform to reality.  When we achieve a state in which our selves conform to what is, only then have we found the highest levels of peace, wisdom, and contentedness.  Only then can we hold opinions which are true and make decisions which are correct.   

To embrace what is is not to accept things as though they cannot be changed or responded to.  Things are the way they are because of cause and effect.  While superstitious thinkers are twisting their minds into knots trying to explain something with metaphor (usually confusing the two), others are simply noticing some of the patterns of cause and effect which quite clearly lead to a given reality or expected reality.  Some might be asking "Why does God let innocent Iraqi children die?"  I'd point out that the American invaders are there killing innocent people because the US government is owned by and run by corporate power...and that corporate power is interested in stealing Iraqi oil...and if that means having to kill those standing in their way, then so be it.  So, by simply looking at what is, my political position would be quite different from that person who asks unknowable, rhetorical questions and never dares to go beyond the question of why.

What is is that way simply because it is.  Language and ideas exist to describe what is, not the other way around.  What value is contained in an idea or belief system that does not respect what is?

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

The only pursuit that matters

And I felt something changing the world
Like a new constitution
A thief I would have to pursue
At all times
At all costs
The Truth

- From the new song, Cartoon Blues, by Bright Eyes

That's it.  This is what the great philosophers were talking about since Plato.  This is what the great artists, poets, writers, and musicians are constantly trying to express.  Do we choose to pursue the sometimes brilliant and sometimes monstrous truth, or do we remain in the dark, cold, empty caves of half-truth and lies?

Do you respect truth above all else, or not?  Are you strong enough?  The boldest and most authentic choice I've ever made in my life is to answer yes to this question.  I'm not claiming to possess truth.  I claim only to pursue it!  It is the roadmap to my life, my only religion.  And in the precise moment I became conscious of the concept, and internalized it, I initiated a process which never ends. 

The pursuit of truth is a bold choice that leads us to the extremes of bliss and the gutters of agony -- sometimes in the very same day.  And yet the reality isn't even this two-dimensional, because hovering all around our personal experience of bliss and agony we also hear the sound of life on earth being destroyed; minds being polluted with propaganda; human beings being kept in slave or near-slave conditions through the oppressor of economics.  In the back of our minds we hear the causes and movements which we believe in begging for us to pitch in; we hear our souls screaming about the way we hurt or neglect a family member; we feel the fear of a loved one who is seriously ill; the frustration and despair of old age choking us.  We try to forget both the lies we've told which have hurt others and also the truths we've told that have hurt others.  Then, in another moment, we might hear the waves of the ocean, the laughter of a naked young woman emerging from the waves, and the smell of the sand just after sunset.  All of these fragments, times a thousand, are bouncing around our minds and bodies during both wake and sleep. 

We are life becoming the instrument of evolution chasing its own truth.  We don't choke it or stop its flow with distractions; watching sports, buying too many clothes, worrying about being able to afford a car, being cool.  We allow our minds and bodies to be the instrument of truth, and by doing so we make the most of this life while also giving our existence meaning.

Yet somehow, we still get up on time, make it to work on time, shake a few hands, and do whatever it takes to function.  It isn't that we can live every action according to truth.  There are simply too many truths competing at any one time to know which one to act in accordance with.  That is why I will make the surely controversial claim that, what is even more important than one's action, is one's thoughts.  Are you keeping your mind locked on truth at all costs?  Are you allowing the ideas that emerge from your mouth, paint brush, instrument, or keyboard to reflect your pursuit of truth whenever possible?  Are you at least aware of those moments when you compromise one truth for another?  Are you struggling in that decision in an authentic way or just lying to yourself and others?

How is it possible that, in the midst of all this, we learn to not just be ok...but to live life as though we are making love to it.

That's the pursuit of truth.


Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).