Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Basic dualities

Between God and me, I’m the one who says I’m not God. That’s just one way I can tell us apart. Some would call even that much delusional, though. Atheists say I’m delusional because there is no God. Post-modernists/Buddhists/New Age believers say I’m delusional because I’m in fact as much God as everyone and everything else is. While the latter is seen as religious and the former isn’t, there is a connection between the two. Both deny a duality between the material universe and something spiritual, meaning only something non-physical, that lies beyond, alongside, and/or within the material universe as a non-physical part of reality.

Atheists say there’s no reason to believe in anything beyond the physical universe as all spiritual experiences that purport to be evidence of such a thing are worthless, mostly because of their subjectivity. Of course it is objective that people have experiences one might label as spiritual experiences, but it is certainly arbitrary where one goes from there in analyzing them. Believers in a non-dual reality say that spirituality is just another side of the same coin as the physical universe. Actually I wish it were often put so concretely, but however someone says it, it is a denial that the material and the spiritual are different things.

There are two reasons why I don’t take the latter seriously. One is that it’s hard for me to see my spiritual experiences as not involving a separate reality. Some insult my intelligence for that, but it’s not just me. It’s the world as well. My spiritual experiences were about love and goodness not to be found in our world. Our world is hateful, indifferent, and false in many ways. One can argue that’s all necessary for our eventual spiritual evolution, but why? I don’t see a satisfactory reason. I see a world that is fundamentally manipulative, dangerous and unloving. My experiences of God are both a different quality from this and come to me not from sacred things in the world or through nature, but as an experience within my consciousness, separate from the world out there.

If my experiences of God are of this physical world, then they are something my brain can do to fill a void in my life. I’ve been willing to see this possibility from the beginning, that atheists might be right. But why believe this about a universe where spirit and material are the same things? What is spiritual then? Answers to that might include the connectedness of the universe or some global consciousness. So why would such connectedness or consciousness lie to me about being separate from me, which is my experience?

There are answers to that, of course, but then comes that second reason I don’t take such non-dualism seriously. Its proponents don’t know science. They have fantasies about quantum physics and neuroscience. Larry King had several guests on his show last week claiming that the Law of Attraction, a New Age fantasy about electromagnetism, is a great secret to life and completely documented scientifically. Right. These are not people who understand the material world well enough for me to listen to them about how everything spiritual is within it. God, who never has let me down as far as telling me the truth, tells me they don’t know spirituality any better than they know science. I believe Him.

There is something else I believe. I believe there is nothing real to the concept of sacredness. Many who believe in a duality between the material and the spiritual believe that the spiritual reaches into the material as sacredness. It is a very old trait for human beings to see the world as a combination of the sacred and the profane. It would seem that this duality led to the Old Testament concept of clean or unclean rather than that being a new idea among the Israelites.

Even most Christians haven’t hung on to everything the Old Testament declares to be clean or unclean. Biology has shown only one kind of flesh. Whatever one might say biologically about circumcision or menstrual blood, it doesn’t point to anything spiritual about them. Yet this idea is what sin is all about, about uncleanliness that eventually destroys one’s body. But the idea that sin causes death hasn’t held up to science. The causes of death strike good people and bad people alike. They can be identified as strictly material processes without any need for some additional spiritual factor.

“Spirit” cannot be the life force that people thought it was, now that we know the completely material processes that determine our life or death. “Sin” cannot be seen the same way either. It can still mean opposing God, but not be about unclean things as it once was. There is healthy or unhealthy in either a material or spiritual context, but there is neither clean nor unclean. There is neither sacred nor profane.

This is what I believe, from living my life, that there is a duality between material and spiritual, but no real duality between sacred and profane, only in people’s minds. Even defining those words is difficult. All I mean by spiritual is that there is something more than the material things known to science. That spirituality doesn’t shine through into sacred objects is just how I experience it. I experience Spirit as Paul described the Spirit living in Him and he in the Spirit, without the difficulties Paul had in linking this to his tradition. God is what God is, and He is not of this world, so He tells me.

Is there some other authority? People speak authoritatively about these dualities, from atheists to fundamentalists. I’ve listened, but as I’ve mentioned objections here to what I’ve heard, there’s always something that people leave out or gloss over.

There is spiritual, but not sacred. That’s my opinion. Some rational liberals are like that, but they tend not to believe in a God as personal as the God I know. I certainly don’t reject mysticism the way rational liberals do. Meanwhile most of religious talk is between those who believe neither in the spiritual nor the sacred and those who believe in both. If they’re both wrong as I believe, how long will it take for many people to see other possibilities? Is it 100 years, 500 years? Maybe it’s never. Maybe the spiritual is only for a few people.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong and either atheists or traditionalists do have the answer for the long run. Only every time I talk to God about it, He says they don’t even have these basic dualities right. What a strange world.

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