Beyond Belief, But Not Beyond Good and Evil.

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Robert Anton Wilson, quoted by Commenter “Nick” at Church of the Churchless:

DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING
This remark was made, in these very words, by John Gribbin, physics editor of New Scientist magazine, in a BBC-TV debate with Malcolm Muggeridge, and it provoked incredulity on the part of most viewers. It seems to be a hangover of the medieval Catholic era that causes most people, even the educated, to think that everybody must “believe” something or other, that if one is not a theist, one must be a dogmatic atheist, and if one does not think Capitalism is perfect, one must believe fervently in Socialism, and if one does not have blind faith in X, one must alternatively have blind faith in not-X or the reverse of X.

My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence. The more certitude one assumes, the less there is left to think about, and a person sure of everything would never have any need to think about anything and might be considered clinically dead under current medical standards, where absence of brain activity is taken to mean that life has ended.

My attitude is identical to that of Dr. Gribbin and the majority of physicists today, and is known in physics as “the Copenhagen Interpretation,” because it was formulated in Copenhagen by Dr. Niels Bohr and his co-workers c. 1926-28. The Copenhagen Interpretation is sometimes called “model agnosticism” and holds that any grid we use to organize our experience of the world is a model of the world and should not be confused with the world itself. Alfred Korzybski, the semanticist, tried to popularize this outside physics with the slogan, “The map is not the territory.” Alan Watts, a talented exegete of Oriental philosophy, restated it more vividly as “The menu is not the meal.”

Belief in the traditional sense, or certitude, or dogma, amounts to the grandiose delusion, “My current model” — or grid, or map, or reality-tunnel — “contains the whole universe and will never need to be revised.” In terms of the history of science and knowledge in general, this appears absurd and arrogant to me, and I am perpetually astonished that so many people still manage to live with such a medieval attitude.

Resonates with this:

One of Universism’s goals is to see if the opposite of faith, uncertainty, can be embraced with the same fervor people have for religious certitudes. If we can replace humankind’s dangerous urge toward blind faith with a commitment to an ongoing quest, or at least a steadfast open-mindedness, the world will be much better off.

People would behave in strikingly different ways if they were not certain of the unproven beliefs that faiths promulgate. People who question look at the world more attentively, and at their fellow searchers more forgivingly.

Resonates with this:

God Without Religion offers a way for individuals to discover and define God on their own rather than accepting the interpretation of a particular religious doctrine. Instead of providing answers about God as organized religions do, the book encourages readers to explore their ideas of God by asking a series of questions that ultimately expand their sense of identity. I call this “worshiping by wondering.” Wonder is the gateway to spiritual knowledge. The more questions we ask about the nature of God, the more profound the answers will be, leading to deeper questions which broaden our perceptions and expand our sense of self. Constantly challenging our conclusions and refining our knowledge of God promotes the deep spiritual growth needed to transcend the violence so prevalent in the world today.

Resonates with this:

“Outsidersâ€Â? have all the same human needs [as traditionalists] — for community, for a conceptual operating system, for metaphysical and not just physical shelter — but they find themselves unable to deny the central fact of our time: that all the old certainties are being destroyed by two great new transforming forces, science and globalization. (Science is now evolving so fast it’s trashing its own certainties.) To defend any crumbling fortress of certainty today is to go to war not only with the defenders of other certainties, but with reality itself. The reality is that we’re being hurled back to square one, to a naked primordial unknowing face to face with the universe that challenges us to rediscover it from the ground up. [ . . . ]

But the same forces that are stripping away the answers are equipping us as never before to live in the open questions. When you swear exclusive allegiance to no one tradition, their multiplicity is no longer a threat but a vast resource: the record of over 10,000 years of research, a grand reference library for the study of reality [ . . . ]

The crucial divide, as this new millennium opens, isn’t “God or Not� [ . . . ] It’s between those who are sure they know the answers (or know the only place to find the answers) and those who are living the questions. This could actually prove to be a matter of life and death. Daring not to know may be the only way humans will survive our nuclear-armed reunion, because it’s ignorance and wonder that unite us. Even two groups of people who are killing each other over their answers have the same questions.

Is it fair to say this — humanity moving, in Elaine Pagels’ words, Beyond Belief — is one of the central emerging memes of our time? However, here is the great danger:

In any situation, moral judgments are the sole responsibility of those involved. Every decision and behavior occurs in the context of unique circumstances and relationships, and should never be subjected to universal religious codes or absolute philosophical principles. “Good or evil” is a false choice that belies the complexity of our universe and the people in it.

Or, as quoted by Robert Anton Wilson, whom this post began with:

Nothing is true. All is permitted.

~ Hasan i Sabbah

NOT.

The central emerging question of our time that shadows this meme is: Can we who enshrine uncertainty and wonder avoid being arrogant in our doubt? Can we dethrone our own personal, convenient, self-permissive interpretation of the “truth” when the objective evidence of experience contradicts it, in replicable experiments repeated countless times down the millennia? Can we have the humility to admit that that objective evidence (which you can obtain for yourself at any time by flapping your arms and falling on your ass) often coincides with the core wisdom, the timeless part of many traditions?

Basically the two halves of the book project I’m working on — the yes-but. From the proposal:

We are at a crossroads between two very different kinds of uncertainty. One is uncertainty as humility in the face of the tough task of figuring out what’s best. The other is uncertainty as carte blanche to “create your own realityâ€Â? and decide what’s best — for you.

I want us to go with humility.

When it comes to metaphysics, we really don’t know. When it comes to morals, we do. Buddhism doesn’t posit a God, yet it’s in agreement with Judeo-Christian tradition that you shouldn’t kill, lie, steal, or screw around, and in agreement with Islam that you shouldn’t get drunk or stoned. There’s a purported Native American story circulating on the Web (as yet unauthenticated) about the “two wolves fighting withinâ€Â? –“the one that wins is the one you feedâ€Â? — that corresponds exactly to the Jewish idea of the yetzer ha-ra and the yetzer ha-tov, the inner inclinations to natural selfishness and spiritual kindness. This suggests that good and evil do express something about the “inherent nature of the universe,â€Â? or at least about our inherent nature and experience.

Throughout the human heritage — our “grand reference library for the study of realityâ€Â? – we find the insight that morality, in its essentials, is objective. It’s not a matter of “should,â€Â? it’s a matter of “is.â€Â? Experience has proven, over and over again, the truth of consequences: “If you do x, you get y.â€Â? And these reproducible experimental results, which have great predictive power, are summed up in the set of axioms called “wisdom.â€Â? Wisdom is the science of the spirit.

For example, just as one of the basic laws of Newtonian physics is “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,â€Â? one of the basic laws of moral physics is “What goes around comes around.â€Â? Or as Martin Luther King put it: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In the East, that’s called the Law of Karma; in the West it’s “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for as ye sow, so shall ye reap.â€Â? Don’t kid yourself: the universe is not a blank slate for your will to write on. You’re perfectly free to try to bend its laws, but it’s you who will break. You could try living “free from universal truthsâ€Â? like the law of gravity, too. Only in dreams and in fantasies like “The Matrixâ€Â? can we fly unaided.

Embedded in the time-dated customs and myths of every tradition is a core of timeless truth about what works and what doesn’t. Spiritual nomads go for that core. They don’t restrict themselves to one tradition any more than scientists will only study science done in one country. The point is to bring together the truest and most lifesaving information about reality. So spiritual nomads deliberately take their moral compass from all points of the compass.

That resonates with this:

Cosmopolitans believe in universal truth, too, though we are less certain that we already have all of it. It is not skepticism about the very idea of truth that guides us; it is realism about how hard the truth is to find. One tenet we hold to, however, is that every human being has obligations to every other. Everybody matters: that is our central idea. And again, it sharply limits the scope of our tolerance.

And with this:

The Open Source Truth Process aims to ensure that the Yoan Community’s core writings and beliefs will evolve over time, as everyoneâ€â€?based on each person’s own direct experience of Realityâ€â€?is invited to provide input and improvements. Through this process, participants will gradually uncover, refine, and document the Truth.

By “Truth” we simply mean the clearest expression of a system of ideas and beliefs that is most consistent with Reality as it is directly experienced. Ours is a truth that you can test and experience directly, with your own senses and mind. Our truth is not based on narrow human authority (dogma, received wisdom, and “imposed truths”). Rather, it is based on the broad authority of the collective, human experience of being-in-the-world, i.e., the human experience of reality. [ . . . ]

Our Truth Process depends on the increasing involvement of many people with diverse life experiences. Only through such diversity will our truths always be improving.

Please discuss.

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