Friday, September 15, 2006

All dogma is false

I’ve been looking at various blogs lately, leaving comments here and there. My most significant visit, though, was to a blog where I didn’t leave a comment. It was a site where a blogger was thoroughly sold on non-dual awareness. I’m familiar with this Hindu/Buddhist/other mystic/New Age idea. Neale Donald Walsch’s three volumes on Conversations With God were all about this. I’ve read some of Ken Wilber’s writings that this is the pinnacle of spirituality. I’ve encountered several people on message boards who think this same way. They thought I was stupid to disagree with them, just like most atheists do when I disagree with them, just like most with traditional Christian beliefs do when I disagree with them.

It’s not as though dogmatic beliefs deserve such oneupsmanship, whether the belief is that there is no God, that the Bible has it exactly right or that any idea of separation between human being and God or between human beings from each other is either illusion or delusion, as non-dual awareness asserts. It’s the people who embrace dogma that make it so dogmatic. That was my insight I didn’t comment on, that reading yet one more person insisting that there is a universal awareness that we can share in if we overcome the delusion of separation made me realize how I have never heard this put in a non-dogmatic way. It’s just said that non-dual awareness is reality, and anything else is delusion. This is wisdom, such certainty? This is a unifying principle?

Why yes, it is unifying in the same way that dogmatic atheists and dogmatic traditionalists are unifying. Whoever believes in such simple beliefs with them has unity with them. Others are deluded, they say, with different reasons depending on which group is calling me names. I would call that conformity, not unity.

I wouldn’t be harsh in directly criticizing someone who has dogmatic beliefs. Directly I would be trying not to criticize out of oneupsmanship, but in an effort to find common ground. Failing that, though, it’s so much easier to be brutally honest, which I can be here. Here I can say that all of this certainty is utter nonsense. There is such a history of people experiencing separation in so many ways. So much of my life has been about overcoming that challenge. You say all of that is delusion? Prove it! There is no proof, just meditative experiences that push some to believe that they are already one, without actually having to change, as many religions would say is necessary.

Non-dualism is an interesting idea, as is the possibility that there is no God, as is the possibility that the Bible is dictated by God, but there’s another side to each of those ideas, one which for me is much more compelling in each case. I’ve argued each of those other sides. The details of that aren’t as important as how striking it is that such arguments make no difference at all to dogmatic believers.

Nor is this just about these three beliefs. Sometimes I have found myself in the same situation with my fellow liberals about narrower beliefs, such as supporters of JS Spong believing that Christianity must deny anything miraculous, such as those offended by my own belief that there never have been physical miracles, only mental ones, such as those who say any path in life is just as good, such as those who say God loves everyone equally. There is a difference between wondering about any of those things and turning them into dogma, where there is something wrong with anyone who disagrees.

In my 8 years on the internet, I know of no greater lesson for me than that the degree of dogma and oneupsmanship is greater than I ever would have guessed. It’s hard to find any discussion of politics and religion that isn’t dogmatic. Other areas are almost as bad. I spent time this morning reading someone who believes that much of the difference between socialism and capitalism is due to “narcissistic idealism”. Interesting, but while she may have not made up this phrase, it’s not clear to my knowledge whether there’s some truth to this phrase or if it’s actually an oxymoron, a clear indication of error. It’s certainly not absolute truth. The political bias of this person is obvious, making me think her reason for saying capitalism is healthy and socialism is sick is not primarily intellectual. It’s just like an atheist scientist saying that any good scientist must be an atheist. So much of what pretends to be intellectual discussion leaves out alternatives that are not left out for intellectual reasons but rather to raise some idea to the level of dogma.

I have adapted to this in one way. God is whoever and whatever God is. This is what I believe. I know my experience with God, the one who answered my prayers when I asked God to help me. I ask myself how close this God could fit any of the above. He could be something entirely within me. Atheists could be right. I doubt it, but they could be. God could be more traditional than I think. Not that either of those admissions make atheists or traditionalists happy, but with non-dualism it’s even worse. I can make no sense that any separation I feel from God or from other people is delusion, just the opposite. Someone I trust would have to tell me why I should move at all in that direction, someone like God. God says nothing like that to me. He shakes His head at the whole idea.

In none of those beliefs does the dogma that people express capture the experiences I’ve had with God. Instead the experiences I’ve had with religious people have led me to feel comfortable saying all religions are false, even if there’s some truth to some of them. Those who believe strictly according to religion are wrong. That’s my experience. That they are so dogmatic over many different beliefs points to this being human nature, not something beyond our nature. People like simplicity. People don’t like reality. Reality is messy and painful. Reality is uncertain, yet not to the degree that it makes any sense to say everyone is right. I see agnostics as just as wrong in this as anyone else, though rarely dogmatic about it.

Personally I found freedom in coming to believe that religions are all false. I wanted to find the perfect way of being a Christian. That there is none let me focus on following God instead of being perfect. I think that’s a much better approach. Now what does God say to me about everyone else’s dogma?

The Nazi in me would fix our right to free speech, require people to list the negatives to their positions, as drug companies are required to do, but that’s not American, is it? Dogma is American. We didn’t invent it, but we embrace it, liberals and conservatives.

God doesn’t encourage me to be a Nazi. It’s not just an issue with changing the first amendment being out of the question. I could imagine God telling me just to ignore those who can’t appreciate their own dogma, much less that there is a better way. It makes sense to me just to say anything I have to say and not worry that it’s drowned out by dogma coming from many different directions. Yet that’s not what God says to do.

God tells me to go ahead and say people are wasting their time in producing dogma and defending dogma. It’s worse than that. They are lying. Whatever truth there might be in just about any religious idea becomes a lie when put on a pedestal. God is available for anyone who calls for God. There isn’t so much separation as to make that impossible, but there is enough separation that calling out for God once is not the best way to do it. That’s not dogma. That’s just my experience. That’s what I can share, for any occasional person who’s interested.

Almost everyone prefers a different way of seeing it, a different God or something more ritualized than just speaking to God. They can go that way if they want to. They can encourage whomever they can to go with them. Reality will decide what is a dead end and what isn’t, only reality may take hundreds or thousands of years to get back to me on what’s real, and I don’t have that long. So I trust God. He’s made it easy for me to trust Him. Our culture seems to go out of its way to prove how untrustworthy it is. Maybe it’s more people’s natural affinity for dogma that does that. Religion doesn’t overcome that, does it?

It makes me nervous that I always come back to saying God can help you as He helped me. Almost no one hears that even when I know a fair number of people have read it. On top of that I’m not sure it’s true. My desire in saying it is so that someone else might have that much more encouragement than I had in pursuing God as directly as I could. Maybe it’s better if people have no encouragement at all, but are pushed toward God so strongly that they overcome that as well as other obstacles. Maybe my relationship with God is a fluke or the fantasy all these dogmatic people say it is. It’s messy, isn’t it? This is what the truth is like, not all tied up is a simple slogan, not dogma.

This I know is honesty, not dogma. That’s what I would want from other bloggers. I’m not going to get it from them. I get honesty from God. Either that or He has had an amazing consistency in lying to me for 17 years. I can’t imagine why I would be worth such an effort, but if I am, God wins, either to tell me the truth or to lie to me. He’s God and I’m not, for good, for evil, whoever and whatever God is. Maybe tautologies make the best slogans.

It goes beyond religion. All dogma is false. I’m sure there are exceptions. There always are. It’s just not possible to live by slogans. There is God. Live by Him or die without Him.


M.C. said...

Non-dual awareness is just seeing that the "I" story is just another story, another concept.

Saying that everything is one is just recognizing the artificiality of any boundary to the "I".

elbogz said...

Read this article on "Morton's Demon". It sheds a lot of light on how we evaluate information
Morton's Demon

DavidD said...

"Morton's demon was a demon who sat at the gate of my sensory input apparatus and if and when he saw supportive evidence coming in, he opened the gate. But if he saw contradictory data coming in, he closed the gate."

I wish there were a better understanding of this from either neuroscience or cognitive psychology. For now we just know there is prejudice that shields us from changing beliefs that are important to us. ("No, it can't be!") How does someone become so aware of such prejudice that one feels compelled to allow for it as the author of "Morton's Demon" felt about the geological column? I think it takes a lot of experience with seeing the facts change in science, in my personal story, and whatever else. At some point whatever is real becomes more important to me than my attachment to my fantasy that reality is just so. I guess that's how it works. Then again, maybe God deliberately opens the eyes and hearts of some, but keeps others closed. God didn't even let me get half way through typing that sentence before He said, "No I don't," repudiating Isaiah 6:10. God says to me He does not close anyone's eyes. Nor can He open anyone's eyes, or He would have given someone perfect faith before now, instead of it all being such dogma.

That's a belief that matters. If all religions and all dogma are false, then there's nothing to be gained by filtering information to protect any of them. I suspect that realization is part of becoming truly open-minded, too.