The Law of Change

All conditioned things are unsatisfactory.
All conditioned things are impermanent.
All things are empty, devoid of intrinsic, independent nature

-The three marks of existence,
from the Pali Canon

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: neither all thy Piety or Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

-Omar Khayyám, the Rubaiyat

The hardest questions in life are asked in innocence:

Why did my dog pass away?

Why do we have to die?

If one thing defines an absolute truth about life, it’s that things change, and quite often for the individual, they change for the worse. It’s can be a somewhat depressing fact of the universe that life is hard. It’s full of full of dangerous things that seemingly are dead set on making our lives risky: disease, radiation, war, volcanoes, old age, fast moving objects, predators; the list goes on endlessly. It’s an experience so universal that one could conclude that it is time itself that is set against us. The passage of time eventually destroys anything and everything that is conditioned, buildings, empires, our loved ones, us.

If time is our enemy then, it makes it important to know its nature. But time is a tricky thing to define. Many definitions end up in circles, and trying to nail it down beyond the somewhat unsatisfying statement that “time is what clocks measure” is the topic of many arguments among both scientists and philosophers.

But one aspect of time that’s beyond reproach is the Moving Finger that Omar Khayyám addresses in his verse above:  the truth that time moves inexorably from the past and into the future, and while redemption, forgiveness and reparation may be found, there is no undoing of past mistakes. This is the Arrow of Time. Life has no save points. There is no [CTRL] + [Z] in physical reality.

But why exactly is this? Both classical and quantum mechanics fall short here. In mechanics, there is no particular reason why time has a direction. Consider a movie where two billiard balls collide perfectly, each going off in their own direction. Play this movie backwards, and there is no apparent problem: the motion of the balls backwards to collision and outwards to their initial positions seems to the human eye a perfectly reasonable proposition. This process is what’s known as reversible.

However, when we just have two billiard balls on our table, things are simple. But if we have a whole game of pool things become trickier. A cue ball smashing into the triangle of balls is a process that’s not completely impossible to reverse, but would take very careful measurement and setup of initial conditions to make all the balls move back together in a triangle and then spit out the cue ball with all their combined energy. You can be absolutely sure that this will not happen randomly. And as the game gets bigger, the complications to reversing processes become all but impossible.

Let’s now say we do something horrible: we light a tree on fire, make a movie of it, and play it in reverse. Now something in this picture strikes our intuitions (and hopefully also our conscience) as clearly wrong. Thermal fluctuations and atmospheric ashes do not direct themselves inwards, their turbulent flows becoming smooth, concentrating until the carbon glows red hot, and all this energy being used to split and then fuse oxidized carbon atoms together into an intricate matrix of carbohydrates and metals that is capable of sustaining itself by energy from the sun. This simply does not happen by itself. The process of burning a living thing is utterly irreversible, so take care if you are ever contemplating doing so.

To get a grasp of the extent of the physical reality that underlies this irreversibility, look around you. If you are reading this in the comfort of your home, your first impression may be that not much is happening. This is an illusion. Our perception is attuned to the narrow band of phenomena where saber-toothed tigers pounce and beautiful people dance, because these are the things we need to be able to react to in order to survive and reproduce. Nevertheless, the physical reality is that all things are constantly in a state of relative motion. Clouds look initially static as you gaze on them, but as you keep staring, it becomes apparent that they are in flux, shape shifting as they pass overhead. So it goes with windows, tables, computers, mountains, planets.

If all things then are in motion as time passes by, what in this is the cause of our loss and grief?

The examples of reversibility and irreversibility above show us something about nature: as soon as things get complicated, they also become irreversible. But why exactly is that?

The answer to both of these questions is one that’s purely probabilistic in nature. There are many ways that a game of pool can go after we hit the cue ball, but very, very few that land us back in the situation we started in. There are many ways that the particles of the tree can fly once it’s lit on fire, but incredibly few ways that they can fall back together to be a tree.

The Law of Hard Knocks then, to which Murphy’s Law is but a lemma, is that there are many, many more ways that things can go wrong than ways that they can go right. Leave things up to random chance, and the dice is overwhelmingly loaded against you. That’s life.

This law is mathematically codified in physics as The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that as time passes, entropy in a closed system increases. Entropy is the property associated with the number of ways a given system can arrange itself. The Second Law is widely celebrated as the surest thing in science. Because it is an intrinsic property of systems of any real complexity, it’s not just that we can’t imagine how the universe would look without the Second Law, it’s that we can’t imagine any universe without it. The great physicist Arthur Eddington, who is credited for coining the concept of the Arrow of Time, once stated:

“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation”

He also made it clear that the Arrow of Time, the property of time moving in one direction only, is solely a property of entropy. However, he also stated that even though it doesn’t have any other physical properties, it is immediately recognizable by consciousness. Any observable process that doesn’t make sense when run in reverse is subject to the Second Law. And the Second Law deems that as time passes by, all things must return to dust. Does it absolutely have to be this way? No, because the Second Law isn’t absolute. There’s a chance that things can randomly run in the opposite direction, but this chance is so vanishing small that it’s easier to regard it as impossible.

Entropy has some properties related to the human condition that are worth noting:

It is the mechanism that causes bad things to happen.

It is the mechanism of impermanence.

It does not map to any physical property except the configuration of matter and energy as it relates to something else. In other words, it has no essential nature, only relational nature.

These three properties map disturbingly well to the three marks of existence as witnessed by Buddha several thousand years ago, once again lending credence to the argument that the Second Law is all-pervading not just scientifically, but also on the scale of humanity.

So if all things are at the mercy of the Second Law, why is it then that we’re surrounded by order? Truly if we look around us there are a great many things that are set in order, much higher than it was when say, the Earth first cooled billions of years ago?

There is an aspect of entropy that seems to clash with itself: chaos can lead to order. Death can lead to life. All it takes is a mechanism that constrains entropy to rise in a certain way.  Because the Second Law states that entropy is always on the rise in a closed system, and systems aren’t generally closed. Think of a windmill: it’s an arrangement of matter that causes something very chaotic, the weather, to be turned into something very ordered, electricity. Though it causes turbulence and therefore increases entropy in its environment, internally in the mechanism, entropy is reduced.

Let’s go back and have another look at the burning tree example. As it turns out, there is a process that comes very close to describing our impossible reversed burn scenario of gas, ashes and energy turning back into a tree: the growing of the tree itself. Through photosynthesis and other self-organized metabolic pathways, the tree grows, taking in energy from the sun, carbon from the atmosphere, and minerals from the ground. How then is this not in conflict with the Second Law? Because the tree is not a closed system. The sun’s rays come from the nuclear processes taking place in its core, which are very high entropy, but the rays themselves transmit lower entropy to the tree which utilizes them to create itself. In other words, the seed of the tree creates constraints that limit the number of possible ways the future might look for the tree, until the seemingly impossible happens with a high probability: the miracle of life.

Likewise, if you eat an apple from the tree, you increase the entropy in the apple by digesting it, which then leads to a lowering of entropy locally in your organism and thereby staving off your own demise. It takes the death of the apple to support your life. All this happens because you and the tree and all life is carefully yet robustly arranged in a configuration that allows for entropy to flow out of one subsystem and into another, and as long as the total entropy for the system is on the rise, the Second Law is appeased. Internally in the sun, entropy is always rising and eventually it will die. But here on Earth, that process of dying is the root cause of weather, photosynthesis, brains, trees, apples, puppy dogs, space probes, ancient sages and great Arab poets. It is a misunderstanding that entropy must necessarily end in total death and decay. It can just as well turn to life.

These constraints on the flow of entropy are so carefully arranged that they can perpetuate themselves, flexibly and with small variations so that they can always respond to the changes in their environments, just like the windmill turns into the wind, propagating endlessly and diversifying into endless forms most beautiful and wonderful. We call this mechanism of constraint propagation Evolution, which is arguably the most elegant explanatory tool we’ve ever encountered. Evolution is the mechanism that has life locked in a dance with the Second Law, ever postponing the inevitable and doing so with unfathomable beauty and efficiency for the last 4 billion years, exactly because the universe is such a dangerous place. The very thing that is trying so hard to kill you is the source of all the complex forms you hold dear.

Life is hard. As soon as we’re old enough to perceive the world, this becomes apparent. But if life wasn’t hard, we’d have no reason to exist the way we do.

What remains is the question: what do we call this this eternal double-sided law of entropy and evolution, yin and yang, death and life, creation and destruction?

The Chinese named it the Dao. I choose to call it Entheos, the Divinity of Change, the dynamic of cause and effect.

It is the core conveyor of creativity in the universe, a law that transcends the material, independent on everything but the interconnectedness of all things.

The worship of Entheos is nothing other than effecting change, by creating the constraints and frames into which your life flows by itself.

What is God?

The anthropomorphic concept of God, with which most people are familiar, portrays him as the highest authority in the universe, the moralistic Caesar and all-powerful creator of all that is; the all-knowing, all-seeing patriarch from whose mind the world has emanated; the loving father who watches every action we undertake and never fails to remind us that we must play by his rules in order to attain spiritual fulfillment. But there are non-anthropomorphic and non-hierarchical concepts as well. In Christian theology, the concept of God has changed innumerable times over the last two millennia, and atheism is only a response to certain specific concepts. As stated in a previous post, we all are part-time atheists, since we can’t believe in all concepts that have been invented and discussed in human history. In today’s consumer culture, the believers pick-and-mix their spiritual faith à la carte.

Syntheists claim that there is always at least one God in whom we believe, be it The People (socialism), The Individual (humanism) or any other sublime object. In Jacques Lacan’s terms, this sublime object is the “master-signifier” at the heart of “the symbolic order”: the one self-evident truth that does not represent anything tangible in the real world; the one symbol around which language circulates; the center of gravity that orchestrates and guides the semiotic process. The secularization process hasn’t made us materialists because we believe in something that is absolutely symbolic. Metaphysics is a neurological necessity. Apart from the benefits of religion in terms of physical health and well-being, there is more we can do: we can learn to understand how the mind works and creates new gods, and we can learn to create credible alternatives to the anthropomorphic and hierarchical gods from the past.

What is God?

In Daoism, God or the Dao is the differentiation process within nature, the generative algorithm which produces irreducible multiplicity (“the 10,000 things”). Due to the complexity and richness of existence, the Dao surpasses all comprehension (“The name that can be named is not the eternal name”). In Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda arises from the relations between our minds, but is also the divine force that co-creates the world in collaboration with those who think good thoughts, speak good words and perform good actions. In Baruch Spinoza’s philosophy, God is the one substance that has an infinite number of attributes that include both matter (res extensa) and mind (res cogitans). All is in God, but Spinoza’s God is more than these two attributes (pan-en-theism). Alfred North Whitehead’s God is both immanent and transcendent, an “actual entity” and infinite possibilities, the cosmic principle behind the creative process from possibility to actuality and novelty. His God is “the great companion”, the one entity that relates to all other actual entities in the universe, who changes in accordance with the actions of finite creatures. God is the possibilities from which we choose, and our choices create God who will present us with new possibilities.

Such concepts of God empathize the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of all that is. Slavoj Zizek associates the Holy Spirit with the community. People co-produce meaning through social interaction: God is in the future. What is the modern day equivalent to the “master-signifiers” from the past? It is the internet which connects people around the world. In Syntheology the Holy Spirit is Syntheos (“syn-” means “with”, “together”). Syntheos is the people who join their forces as equals and co-create something that is larger than its parts: art, ideology, religion, civilization, modern technology. It is identical with Zoroaster’s Mazda as the God who rises when people connect their minds. Syntheists promote an open and free internet because people deserve to be free to engage in any spiritual quest—their religion is the religion of spiritual anarchism. Syntheism is beyond the superstitious belief in moralistic Caesars and the modern atheist’s cynicism, it is religion as the most empowering, intimate and productive social activity ever invented.

Speculative Metaphysics

Syntheism is the idea that speculative metaphysics is a human necessity. Metaphysicians are concerned with the true essence or the fundamental structure of the world we live in: what is really there, what is it really like, how does it operate? As Immanuel Kant pointed out in his Critique of Pure Reason, we simply have to make synthetic a priori statements in order to make any intelligible experience at all, that is, we assume there were patterns and regularities “out there”. The neurosciences have identified the cognitive mechanisms responsible for the production of such metaphysical guesses. We are not aware of all mechanisms, but they nonetheless orchestrate our behavior. Metaphysics is a neurological necessity. What does this mean in practical terms?

As contemporary philosophy and the social sciences argue, it is the outcome of one’s guesses and expectations that matters. William Isaac James stated in the 1920s: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” It is the practical and empirical consequences which determine the relative value of philosophical doctrines and scientific theories. As Charles Sanders Peirce, the father of pragmatism, put it: “There is no distinction of meaning so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.” Peirce’s pragmatism is, in his own words, an application of Jesus’s saying: “You shall know them by their fruits.” What we conceive to be the effects of X is equal to the meaning we attribute to X. In short, things mean what they cause.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s view, one’s physiology has a decisive influence on his or her morality. The virtues and values we form are reflections of what and who we are, not imposed on us from beyond this world. In his monist worldview, one’s attitude to life indicates their resilience and health status, be it excess strength or physiological decline and decadence. The strong and healthy promote virtues of power (heroism, bravery, an appetite for danger), whereas the weak and ill-constituted promote virtues of kindness, humility and sacrifice. Nietzsche associated physiological decline with nihilism, the desperate man’s will to un-do, an-nihil-ate the world. According to his analysis, nihilism comes from resentment, fatigue and embitterment: “A nihilist judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist.” However, the world doesn’t owe us anything, and resentment comes from a misplaced sense of entitlement. Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” (trans-human) has attained the power to live actively, not reactively, and seeks to overcome any difficulty in his search for excellence: the search for creative challenges beyond the confines of his comfort zone.

In addition, Nietzsche studied and evaluated the impact of a number of virtues and values on physical health and one’s sense of life. In a similar spirit, Baruch Spinoza called any behavior “unethical” which diminishes one’s power to act, such as ignorance and false ideas that prevent us from acting constructively and intelligently. As a consequence, happiness arises from intelligent thinking and the increase in the power to act. It is not the pursuit of happiness, but the happiness of pursuit that makes life worth living. Their spirit brother Zoroaster promoted the same message 3,700 years ago. Zoroaster’s philosophy was about the empowerment of the people through intelligence increase and civilization. In a similar spirit, Nietzsche repeatedly empathized uncompromising integrity, the relentless pursuit of the truth. As a consequence, the worst evil of all is anti-intellectualism: the hostility towards intellectual pursuits, science, education, literature and art.

How does this all relate to Syntheist philosophy? Syntheism has adopted Nietzsche’s monism, Peirce’s pragmatism, Zoroaster’s intellectualism and the inevitability of metaphysics. Alfred North Whitehead defended speculative philosophy and thereby managed to close the gap between our everyday experiences and the counter-intuitive discoveries in modern physics. 20th century philosophy was preoccupied with word analysis, etymology and methodology, pretending that metaphysics had already been discarded. But, in Whitehead’s view, it is important to consider as many perspectives as possible, rather than establishing one perspective—biology, physics, psychology—as the only valid or privileged point of view (reductionism). A new trans-reductionist metaphysics is the greatest intellectual challenge of our age, requiring radically new thought and combining such opposing concepts as radical immanence and irreducible multiplicity, and everyone is welcome to contribute.

Atheos and the art of introspection

Don't forget to breathe

Don’t forget to breathe

“Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it – don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Become aware not only of the emotional pain but also of “the one who observes,” the silent watcher. This is the power of the Now, the power of your own conscious presence. Then see what happens.”

― Eckhart Tolle (the power of Now)

Introspection

All religions have identified the need to artificially introduce introspection into our lives. Modern man has a way of keeping the mind busy. Either working toward a goal or distracting ourselves, to take our mind off all our hard work and other worries. When we’re not doing either of these we too often feel stressed, as if we’re wasting time. All religions seem to agree that we all need to take time out of our busy schedules regularly to stop and think. To explore our minds to see whether we are in fact headed in the right direction in life. If the goals we have set for ourselves are the correct or worthwhile goals. Or just to let feelings stirred up throughout our day sink in and get processed. Introspection, contemplation, prayer, meditation, reflection and self-examination are all names of the same or very similar activities. The oh-so-popular-of-late Mindfullness probably belongs in this category as well.

“If you do not know to which port you are sailing, no wind is favourable.”

/Seneca the younger (Stoic philosopher)

I’ve identified two general themes of religious introspection. One is directed introspection; the practitioner is asked to meditate on specific topics, or ask certain questions. The other is to calm one’s mind and open it to whatever thoughts pop up and refrain from judging. The expressed goal of the second is often to be able to clear one’s mind entirely of thoughts.

Directed introspection

The Zoroastrian credo can be summed up as right thoughts lead to right words, lead to right actions. Much of the Zoroastrian scriptures are composed in verse and in the form of a mantra. Mantras are insightful thoughts; thoughts for reflection, contemplation and meditation on the universe, personal spiritual growth, introspection and commitment to the principles of the faith, as well as formulation of one’s personal goals. Here is a Zoroastrian morning meditation.

I pray for the entire creation,

And for the generation which is now alive

And for that which is just coming into life

And for that which shall come thereafter.

I pray for that sanctity which leads to well-being

Which has long afforded shelter

Which goes on hand in hand with it

Which joins it in its walk

And of itself becoming its close companion as it delivers forth its bidding,

Bearing every form of healing virtue which comes to us.

And so may we be blessed with the greatest, and the best,

And most beautiful benefits of sanctity;

Aidun bad – so may it be.

/Avesta, Yasna 52.1-3

Yoga is another form(s) of directed introspection. This will be an extremely condensed introduction. Originally Yoga was a collection of meditative techniques within Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism intended to help the practitioner (yogi) attain Enlightenment. But now in the modern world it is very popular primarily as an exercise technique. Yoga operates on the assumption that the mind and body are connected. To relax the mind, the body needs to be in “harmony” and “balance”. For example, anxiety and negative thoughts often lead to shoulders being pulled forward and up, as well as a general collapse of the bodies posture. This is bad for all manner of things, especially circulation and just keeping the brain oxygenated. The reverse can also be true. An unfit body can lead to soreness and ache, which in turn leads to negative thoughts. The idea is to work on creating a posture and muscularity of a happy and healthy person with the hope of the mind following and leading to a person who is actually happy and healthy. Mind and body in connection.

There is a vast variety of ways to practice yoga, but a general theme is that the physical exercise forms of Yoga places emphasis on keeping one’s mind focused on one’s body and on how muscles and bone interact in physically taxing positions.. Partly to block unwanted thoughts, and partly to increase the stretch. In all Yoga one of the most important factors often missed when looking at it at a glance is the great stress on the controlled and slow Yoga-breathing. When oxygen is constricted in the way it is in Yoga it acts to calm the mind of the practitioner further allowing them to “be in the moment”.

Christian prayers are also directed meditation, and places great focus on letting go of the ego (which is good) by completely focusing on Jesus and God (which I fail to see would in any way is beneficial to the practitioner or anybody). But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong.

Now and again the Catholic Pope makes decrees. They come in the form of letters to the bishops. In 1989 the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian meditation” was distributed. It warns against New Age practices which they say risk “degenerating into self-absorption” or “into a cult of the body”. It also warns that if “euphoric states” are attained this is not proper Catholic meditation. I tried my best to find some positive take-away from this. Here is the complete text if you wish to give it a shot.

The Trappist monk Michael Keating has created a system of meditation he calls Centering Prayer which is liberally based on the Catholic system and borrows heavily from Transcendental mediation. Here he describes it.

The Thinker, Rodin

The Thinker, Rodin

Free-floating introspection

Buddhist meditation is the other type of meditation aimed at clearing the mind of thought. The trick to them is to allow thoughts come crowding in and resist to urge to act on them or flee from them. Just let them wash over you. Open up your heart and feel them, but only observe. Just let them swirl around and hover in your mind. We (humans) have very well developed methods of self-deceit and self-denial. We are good at finding ways to avoid having to look at ourselves critically. We’re good at finding ways to mentally flee. The goal of this meditation is to stop fleeing. To accept yourself.

A simple guide to Buddhist meditation:

1. Find something soft to sit on.

2. Find a reasonably quiet room or outdoor space.

3. Sit comfortably. Preferably with a straight back. But if that is too taxing, feel free to slump forward. The point is physical comfort without allowing you to fall asleep. We’re aiming for relaxed yet focused.

4. Let your hands rest one in the other on your lap, palms facing upwards, or place your hands palm up on your knees with your thumb touching your second finger.

5. Close your eyes and start to count your breaths. Count on each breath in…breath one, breath two, breath three… Try to breath deeply and slowly. Relax your face and jaw. Relax your hands. When you get to ten, start again at one. If you miss ten and find yourself at 12 or 13, don’t worry; just go back to one. With each breath out, feel your tension going out as well.

6. When thoughts come into your mind, try not to follow them. Just identify them and let them go. The same with sounds and sensations. “I just thought about my car” “That was a dog barking” “I am hungry”. If you simply identify thoughts and distractions and don’t follow them or focus on them, they will begin to just pass by you.

7. End the meditation by beginning to move slowly. Open your eyes slowly, let your hands fall to your sides, stretch your toes, feet and legs.Come to your feet slowly. If you immediately hop into full-on action you’ll most likely lose the benefits.

8, Initially it is recommended to meditate limited periods, and then gradually extend the periods. 10 minutes is plenty when you’re starting out. The key to success is doing it regularly. It’s hard. If you push yourself too early you’re likely to kill the fun and you’re not as likely to find it as beneficial in the long run.

Science

Not only are there spiritual benefits of meditation. There are immediate and measurable gains from it. Here’s a study (done in April 2013) on the efficacy of meditation immediately preceding attending a lecture. There are no surprises here. Meditating students retain more information and score higher on tests. Here’s a similar study on yoga that reaches the same conclusion.

Here is a general summary of what science has to say about meditation. There’s a whole host of positive effects and no negative effects. It can help everything from PTSD to heart conditions to insomnia to CD4 cell counts of AIDS patients to just plain old stress management. No surprises there. So get on your knees and pray sisters and brothers. According to the science, what is of less consequence is to what you pray.

MIndfullness is so popular today that I won’t waste time describing it. There are many places to check it out. Here for example. What is relvant it that it has been proven to help all manner of mental and mood problems, like depression and anxiety. It also makes us more attentive. Which should be a pretty obvious gain. I think it is still worth noting.

 

References

Meditating Before Lecture Leads to Better Grades

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12671-013-0199-5

Same goes for yoga

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605190552.htm

The science on meditation

http://transformationalchange.pbworks.com/f/Health%2BBenefits%2Bof%2BMeditation.pdf

http://www.jpsychores.com/article/S0022-3999(01)00261-6/abstract

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938400003863

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289601000708

Science on Mindfullness

http://www.gwern.net/docs/dnb/2010-zeidan.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20462570?dopt=Citation

Yoga breathing

http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/Breathing.html

Zoroastrianism

http://www.heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/worship/healingprayer.htm

Guides to Buddhist meditation:

http://www.how-to-meditate.org

Catholic directed introspection.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19891015_meditazione-cristiana_en.html

The Trappist monk Michael Keating’s Centered Meditation. Link

 

Athea

The child god depicted nude, standing in a languid pose with his weight on his right leg, the left bent at the knee, the left arm bent and held out to support a fruit-laden cornucopia entwined with a snake, the right arm bent acutely with the hand toward his face, the forefinger extended toward his lips in characteristic fashion, his head turned to the side, his hair centrally parted, adorned with the plaited side lock of youth and surmounted by a hedjet-crown fronted by a Uraeus, atop the original headdress-like socle.

Harpocrates, Greek god of silence and secrecy

“I don’t think…” then you shouldn’t talk, said the Hatter.” 
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Trees are barren. Birds have flown south. Wings of insects long frozen. Crunching snow below your feet breaks the silence. When stopping to look around, to see if you are still headed in the right direction, silence.

We are now transitioning into Athea, one of the four main Syntheist festivals. We have named the period between the winter solstice and spring equinox Atheos. Atheos is the empty god. The god of nothingness. The god of not existing. The god of silence. Surely a god worthy of worship for an atheist.

We focus on darkness, moderation, introspection, solitude, stillness and emptiness.

Athea, winter solstice

All religions place emphasis on introspection, to regularly still one’s mind and explore what thoughts intrude. To force oneself to confront fears and admit our weaknesses. To resist the urge to occupy our minds with trivialities. A requirement for introspection is to have a space made available to us with few distractions. Temples have always been islands of calm in hectic cities devotees (or anybody off the street) can sit and collect their thoughts.

When was the last time you took some time out of your day to stop and reflect on your life or just observe what is around you? 

Some religious devotees go one step further. The God of Silence, worshipped in silence, is a deity that has turned up in many forms widely worshipped in many cultures, for a variety of reasons. Unlike other adherents, however, those specifically following the God of Silence in its various aspects have most often been mystery cults, and therefore didn’t write anything down. We’ve had to construct them based on odd scraps found in historical texts or simply based on guesswork from archaeological digs and artefacts. Here are a few we can let ourselves be inspired by for this season:

- Sige is the goddess of silence for the Gnostics. Pagan theology has a way of letting metaphor and reality blend and mix seamlessly. Sige is the mother of Sophia, the goddess of wisdom. Sophia is locked in an eternal struggle against the Demiurge of ignorance. It’s weapon to spread ignorance is the constant babble of nonsense. Ignorance is seen as a of force of nature that constantly needs to be pushed back, or it’ll over-run us completely. There are no preserved temples to Sige. We have no surviving idols or depictions. It wasn’t until 1945 and we unearthed the Nag Hammadi cache that we got an insight into this lost cult. We know very little about her worship in practce. But we do know that devotees stayed silent and were tasked with “confronting themselves”.

- Meretseger is the Egyptian (Kemetic) goddess of silence, vengeance as well as forgiveness. She was tasked with protecting the tombs of the kings. She had major festivals to her honour and a large dedicated temple complex in Thebes. We don’t know the practicalities of how she was worshipped other than that sacrifices was made to her. During festivals she was believed to inhabit her idol and if you would admit to your sins and repent in her presence she could grant you forgiveness. Since she had the head of a cobra and was to protect the tombs she presumably bit any tomb-robbers in the face? We really don’t know.

- The Greeks worshiped a god of silence and secrecy named Harpocrates. We know nothing of it’s worship today. To our knowledge there were no temples solely dedicated to Harpocrates. But his statue is very common in the temple of other gods. We have no idea what the significance might be. Apart from his image, all we know is that he’s the Greek God of Silence and secrecy. The rest is a well kept secret indeed.

During the Italian Renaissance ideas began to spread that there was some sort ancient pagan knowledge suppressed by the early Christian church that would explain some powerful ultimate universal truth of reality beyond that of what they were told by their priests. What this knowledge could be or what it would be for, or why it was a threat to the church is unclear. Secret societies were formed where these ideas were discussed. Harpocrates became the symbol for this entire movement. The members considered themselves very much Christian.

For reasons only Aleistar Crowley himself can answer, (presumably in a seance) Harpocrates also came to prominence in his movement Golden Dawn, the Thelema movement (that sprung from it) and modern occultism. Harpocrates came to symbolise “the Higher Self” and even “the god who is the cause of all generation, of all nature, and of all the powers of the elements’ and as such he ‘precedes’ all things and comprehends all things in himself”. Perhaps because these were inherently mysterious? The Sign of Silence was performed at the end of rituals to symbolise this mystery. Even though modern occultists often like to think their rituals involving Harpocrates are ancient, these should be seen as wholly modern inventions. I think it should be clear by now what Syntheists think about newly invented religions.

Aleister Crowley and the Sign of Silence (also known as Sign of Harpocrates.

Aleister Crowley making the Sign of Silence

-  The Norse god of silence, Víðarr. This is also the Norse god of vengeance. Which might explain the need for discretion since it’s never wise to announce these kinds of plans in advance. The reason given for Víðarr’s silence is that he was so focused when he killed the Fenris wolf that he was unable to speak. Either way, he was worshipped in silence. At his festivals followers would assemble and say nothing.

- Atri, technically NOT a god of silence. Rather the opposite. He is the vedic god of saving us from silence. During an eclipse Hindus were forbidden to speak. A demon had swallowed the sun. In order not to distract the demon-slayer, Atri, it was important to stay silent. Since he was worshipped in silence I think Atri qualifies for this list.

- Angerona is a Roman goddess of Silence. Appropriately for us today, she had a major annual festival on the winter solstice (they called Divalia) where her idol (with mouth bandaged over) would be placed on one of the gates leading into Rome. In the presence of her idol it was forbidden to express anguish or unhappiness. Which isn’t silence as such, but this was still her name. During this festival the ban covered all of Rome. People were then only allowed to say pleasant things to one another. She was the god who relieved men from pain and sorrow and could in certain circumstances also be the god of fulfilled desire. During this festival sacrifices were also made to Volupta, the goddess of sensual pleasure. Which I guess is the opposite of calm introspection. But who said religion always has to be serious and sombre?

- The Lord of Infinite Stillness (Silence) is believed to exist within and/or govern silence and is called on by Buddhist and Hindu adherents to assist in meditation.

- Quakers. A significant part of Quaker mass is to be spent in silence contemplating. Sometimes a Quaker mass is simply an hour of sitting in silence.They take utmost care not to disturb one another during this time.

- the Unnamed (or Unknown) God, aka Silence Incarnate. This cult is briefly mentioned by Paul in Acts 17:22-31. To its devotees it was considered the most powerful of gods, has no designated gender or personified characteristics aside from what the observer gives to it. Apart from it’s mention in the Bible this cult is lost to history.

Angerona, Roman godess of silence

Angerona, Roman godess of silence

As an ending note I should add that all religions condemn cruel gossip, obscene jests at an other’s expense, idle talk, and overly personal and curious prying. They condemn these for all the obvious reasons. It’s all about inflating one’s ego or aiming to damage another’s. Neither will aid you in connecting with those around you. Silence is always to be preferred to these.

References

Gods of silence

Sige, Harpocrates, Modern Harpocrates Thelema Crowley’s ritual of the pentagramVíðarr, Atri, Angerona, Quakers, The Unknown God

I am, because of you


One of my greatest heroes recently passed away, Nelson Mandela. Seeing his image or hearing his name makes me proud to be human, just happy to exist. So it was with heavy heart I received the news of his death. If we want to be more like him it is fitting to explore his philosophy of life. He had a simple credo, Ubunto, which I think, can be applicable to Syntheism as well.

The idea is that what we are, as humans, is created by others. Our place in our communities defines who we are. The human as a purely social animal. Without a collective to share with, we do exist, but not as humans. We need others to care about, affirm their feelings, hopes and desires and in turn be affirmed by others. People are not people, without other people.

 

I am because of you.

The longitudinal Grant study, where 237 Harvard students have been followed for 75 years, does strongly indicate that sharing and giving to others is what makes us happy. Another way to say it is that Ubuntu seems to be hard-wired into our genes. So we might as well live by it.

It’s not a complicated credo follow. But it is hard. It requires you to let go of your ego now and again and focus completely on somebody else, to allow yourself to be there for others.

Quotes on Ubuntu

“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

- Desmond Tutu

“A person is a person through other people strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”.

- Michael Onyebuchi Eze

“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

-Nelson Mandela

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_(philosophy)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Study

American Syntheist Philosophy: Robert Corrington on Ecstastic Naturalism

Dear Friends

I have had the most fascinatiing email discussion recently with American philosopher and theologian Robert Corrington. He is the author of the much recommended books Nature’s Sublime: An Essay in Aesthetic Naturalism, A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy and Nature and Spirit: An Essay in Ecastic Naturalism.

Robert Corrington

Corrington has basically studied and written about what we conduct here at syntheism.org for almost three decades. Unsurprisingly, he shares our love for Leibniz, Schelling and most of all the great American Pragmatists, such as Charles Sanders Peirce and William James.

As for the question on how to handle “The God Concept” from a Syntheist perspective, here is the response Corrington gave me and which I now publish here at syntheism.org with his kind permission.

First, I affirm that whatever is, is a natural complex, that is, that ‘it’ is in and of nature and is complex. There can be no such thing as a simple. There can be nothing out of nature, as nature has no boundary or circumference, and by the same logic, nature can have no center and no telos either internally or externally. It follows logically that God must be a natural complex that/who is in and among all of the other orders of nature natured. This is a finite but LARGE god that has great but not infinite scope—I prefer to say “indefinite” scope instead—a bit like the view of William James in his 1907 Pragmatism Lectures.

Hence, in terms of immanence, god is active in the world but in profoundly limited ways. For me, this is where god-ing and involution operate—on the outer edges of evolution. Our encounter with microbursts of spiritual energy lifts up our metaphysical gaze to an expanded consciousness and to an enriched sense of the infinite modalities of nature that simultaneously enables us to look downward into the abyss of nature naturing. Nature is all that there is and a deep pantheism starts from that realization—hence there is no place for an ontological act of creation in Neville’s sense. Rather we get my definition of creation in this definition of nature naturing: “Nature perennially creating itself out of itself alone,” while nature natured is: “the innumerable orders of the world where there is no order of orders.”

Following Feuerbach I argue that 99% of what we call God is in fact a species driven ego-ideal that comes from a kind of wounded narcissism in the pre-Oedipal stage that tries to replace a non-existent or weak parental ideal with a fiction of an omnipotent father idealization that operates as a projection of the idealized idol of our species-being. In one sense Karl Barth is right; namely, after Schleiermacher, theology becomes anthropology. And I say, yes it does, and that is a good thing—up to a point. The ego-ideal is a valid projection that quickens the selving process—its pilgrimage in the dark world of space, time, and causality. However, further individuation requires both deconstruction of these species-wide idols and reconstruction on the other side were we see images of wholeness coming out of the arts and no longer just out of religion with its tendency to lapse into heteronomy and violence.

Thus far we have the gods of the collective unconscious that get projected onto the infinite motility and movement of nature, and a unifying drive to find just one God to anchor the self in history and place. This drive fails for finite Dasein (Heidegger) or Existenz (Jaspers) as the psyche is geared to embrace a wild free zone of polytheism. Heidegger’s a-theism (and Neo-Paganism) has this part right—his topos is in the no-person’s land that is pre-Socratic and post-Christian. Few Heideggerians realize that the ‘master’ developed contempt for both Catholicism and Protestantism.  His eschatology is absolutely not Christian even if he uses language from the Christian world—but how changed in meaning!  There is no bridge connecting The History of Being with The History of the Sacred (Geist).

Second, we have the issue of nature naturing. Some simply equate it with God. I do not—that would be too simplistic. Nature naturing is the fecund ground of the potencies (Schelling), which serve as the enveloping womb for the complexes that are ejected into the world of nature natured. This transition, like Schopenhauer’s idea of the objectification of the Will, is a profound mystery right on the extreme edges of ordinal phenomenology and its own remarkable powers. The gods and goddesses of the collective unconscious, working through projection, arise in the liminal zone between the collective and personal unconscious—sometimes reaching consciousness and sometimes not. They are the standard bearers for the archetypes.

But, God is curled up in the very abyss of nature naturing—different from ’it,’ but an absolute kind of prevalence that I call, following Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine. I will have more to say about nature naturing and the Life Divine in the books I will be writing in the months and years ahead.

 

Social intimacy: Religion in the digital age

We all happen to be atheists. Of all the supernatural entities ever cataloged since the beginning of recorded history 6,000 years ago, more than 2,800 entities qualify as gods. Because most of us don’t know each one of them, we can’t believe in all those gods at once and are therefore necessarily «part-time atheists». Of course, there are many who claim that only their god is the true god, and that the belief in any other god(s) amounts to heresy and blasphemy. But they can’t escape atheism either because atheism is nothing but the disbelief in certain specific gods. They, too, reject a sufficiently large number of gods in order to be considered atheists. If someone believes in Allah, he or she does not believe in Odin, Krishna, Mars, Zeus, Mithras, Anubis … No matter how you look at it, atheism is logically inevitable.

Syntheists claim that religion is inevitable, too. But what is religion? It is rather difficult to define its true meaning and pure essence, and technical definitions are not very satisfying. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels took religion for the drug with which the proletarians dull their pain—«opium for the masses»—and which prevents them from overthrowing the bourgeoisie. Émile Durkheim identified religion with the social glue or social cement that bounds society together and keeps it functioning. Modernity therefore means to trade one religion (supernaturalism) for another (nationalism). Max Weber associated the decline of religion with «the disenchantment of the world». Ever since «societal rationalization» kicked off and reconfigured the social reality, religion has become synonymous with blind faith, superstitious nonsense and ultra-conservatism, whereas modernity is synonymous with progress. Factory chimneys became the new church towers.

However, religion has continued throughout the ups and downs of the 20th century. It is very much alive in our digital age. God is on Facebook (see here) and on Twitter (see here). Contrary to what Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber had predicted, religions began to adapt and develop in response to the modernization process, and early social thinkers couldn’t foresee this development because they were preoccupied with the decline of religion. In addition, religion has gone pop! It is hardly possible to count all religious movements which build from popular culture, but to give you an idea: Jediists take inspiration from the «StarWars» franchise, Matrixists from the «Matrix» trilogy. LaVeyan Satanists quote H. P. Lovecraft’s «Necronomicon» saga during their ceremonies. New Agers mix astrology with tarot cards, eastern mysticism, crystal healing, yoga, golden pyramid hats, special herbs for the protection against evil spirits, the belief in angels—and anything else they can get their hands on.

There are UFO cults such as Heaven’s Gate, Scientology and the Raelians, and there are neo-pagans and fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s «Avalon» series who combine Celtic romanticism with feminism, worshipping nature as the goddess who gave birth to all that is. Many believers, communities and those interested in religion have certainly benefited from popular culture and digital interactivity, while others call for restrictions and censorship, policing popular culture in order to keep their children safe from the occult. A few Christians and Muslims demonized (and put the «fatwa» on) the «Harry Potter» novels and «Pokemon». Secularization is not a once-and-for-all unilateral process that happens in all western societies homogeneously. Despite the decline in church attendance, religion has not disappeared. In most parts of the world it hasn’t lost its social significance. Recent data shows that Europe is the exception.

It can be argued that religions are «identity goods» like other products and services in today’s consumer culture. They have become brands like Apple and Abercrombie & Fitch. In the age of supermarket-type pluralism people pick-and-mix their religion à la carte and in accordance with their personal needs. In addition, religious communities take part in the production of commodities. For instance, al-Qaeda produce hip hop music videos and develop browser games in order to attract and recruit teenage warriors. As Adam Possamai put it: «Post-war consumer culture dominates the western lifestyle with its mass produced commodities. (…) Consumer choice is not limited to shopping, but is extended to education, health, politics and religion.» Philosophers, social theorists and cultural critics argue whether the consumers reproduce the status quo or undermine the social power structures through subversive acts of «bricolage» and «deconstruction» (see Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Cultural Studies, Slavoj Žižek).

What makes religion so irresistible, and possibly inevitable, are its social and experiential aspects. It gives our lives meaning and provides a stimulating environment where we may come as we are. We find ourselves among like-minded people, brothers and sisters, and develop a deeper sense of the connection and recognition we all desire. It is this «social intimacy» which both believers and pro-religion philosophers deem invaluable. According to Jacques Lacan, the «master-signifier» (God) is a shape-shifter: a hollow symbol or empty vessel at the heart of the «symbolic order» that can be filled with any substance (nationalism, egalitarianism, the belief in progress, fascism etc). God is empty and interchangeable, but whatever takes God’s place becomes God: the one supreme symbol towards which all other symbols gravitate; the center of gravity around which language circulates. Lacan’s structuralism makes God look like an unavoidable necessity.

A few New Agers believe that all gods are attributes of one and the same spiritual force, but the only thing the gods have in common is the simple fact that they are man-made. Following the (post-)modernist deconstruction of religion, it is now time to calm down and think of the opportunities we’d be missing if we didn’t take a pragmatic approach. We are already religiophobes, so why not try something else for a change? Not all religions are about supernaturalist nonsense and irrational beliefs. For instance, the Chinese philosopher Laozi sanctified the differentiation process through which the natural world emerges. It is fulfilling and rewarding to discover the treasures and benefits of religious practices.

Syntheists re-interpret religion as the most intimate and productive social activity. Philosophically speaking, Syntheism is the Hegelian overcoming of classical theism and modern atheism. As a matter of fact, we are free to create any gods we want, engage in any spiritual quest and build our sanctuaries anywhere in the world. We can subscribe to modern science and start a «naturalist religion» at the same time. Why not take inspiration from the sense of awe and wonderment we get when we study astrophysics, dig deep into the quantum realm or learn about the ways in which different species have evolved over millions of years? When asked why any enlightened and educated person would start a new religion, the Syntheist’s provocative answer is: «Why not?» Syntheism is a post-atheist, naturalist religion and the idea that spirituality is a choice, not a feature of the world. There is so much more to religion than the modern mind can guess. Since we’re already atheists, why not design a brand new god that is more credible than Abraham’s? Why not sanctify existence and the natural world? Why not try and practice spiritual anarchism?

Recommended reading:
Adam Possamai Sociology of Religion for Generations X and Y

Syntheism vs Cynicism

It is said that we live in a cynical age. Peter Sloterdijk discusses modern cynicism and ancient Cynic philosophy in Critique of Cynical Reason and explains why modern cynics and the ancient Cynics have very little in common. Ancient Cynics like Antisthenes and Diogenes promoted a simple, yet virtuous life free from social norms and conventions, material possessions and the artificiality of civilization, while mocking the great philosophers of their time for being pretentious snobs hiding away in their ivory towers and producing extravagant, impractical theories. Modern cynics lack both the biting sarcasm and the belief that virtue was the greatest good; they are jaded, disillusioned and politically disaffected, and they indulge in their chronic negativity. Their motto reads: «All revolutions thus far have failed, we can’t escape capitalist exploitation, and people are not to be trusted—so why even bother?» Karl Marx believed that the oppressed would stand up against their oppressors once they’d understand how they play into the hands of the upper class, but Sloterdijk takes a decidedly less optimistic stance. People actually know what is going on; they are aware of their situation and the devastating outcomes of their behaviors, and yet they play along, as if they didn’t know any better.

Rationalization

As the stand-up comedian George Carlin said, cynics are disappointed idealists: people who tried, failed, and gave up. Their attitude is rooted deeply in alienation and the false idea that people can’t neutralize the factors that contribute to their sense of detachment. In addition, cynics distrust people and their professed motives, believing that everyone is selfish and dishonest. In Sloterdijk’s words: «Modern cynicism presents itself as a state of consciousness which follows naive ideologies and their enlightenment.» And further: «The usual list of forms of false consciousness—lie, error, ideology—is incomplete. The current mindset demands a fourth addition: cynicism.» He identified cynicism with enlightened, yet false consciousness. He therefore argued that the Enlightenment never happened. Why did the Enlightenment project fail? Where did Immanuel Kant’s students take the wrong turn?

Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben as well as the profoundly influential sociologist Max Weber have put the blame on «the rationalization process» and its outcome: dehumanization and objectification, the disenchantment of the world, commodity fetishism, totalitarianism (Nazism and Stalinism), the Holocaust, etc. As Jürgen Habermas pointed out in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, the rationalization process emerged from cognitive-instrumental reason, one of the key pillars of subjectivist philosophy, leading to the colonization of the lifeworld. Alienation and cynicism come from certain specific thinking patterns based on cognitive-instrumental reason which turns self-reflection into self-objectification. In order to save the Kantian project of modernity and counter the dehumanizing effects of societal rationalization, Habermas redefined human rationality as communicative reason which is based on social relations of Hegelian recognition and incorporates cognitive-instrumental reason as well as moral-practical reason and aesthetic-expressive reason. Human rationality arises from intersubjectivity rather than subjectivity. In his view, it is the political philosopher’s duty to defend this substantially broader, more inclusive view of reason against the pathological forces of systems thinking.

Politically speaking, modern cynicism is anti-utopianism and, therefore, similar to passive nihilism. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, active nihilists seek to un-do, an-nihil-ate the world as it is, destroying everything in equal measure, whereas passive nihilists simply withdraw from the world—embittered, destitute, exhausted. Modern cynics, however, continue to play games the pointlessness of which they already figured out («… and yet they play along»). Although cynics and passive nihilists react differently to the current state of the world, both of them nurture their victimhood, and self-victimization diminishes the power to act. Helplessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nietzsche repeatedly stressed that small changes matter, but modern cynics don’t have any patience. They can’t take the long view nor think about long-term advantages, but stare at immediate concerns. And it is their impatience that exposes cynicism as a rather poor excuse. Cynics continue to engage in actions that make their prison walls thicker, and they excuse their lack of initiative by referring to their limited resources, as if they were supposed to solve all problems at once.

Act up!

How do we overcome cynicism? Is it true that one person can’t do much? What about Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai or internet-based initiatives like Avaaz and Rainbow Riots? Syntheism takes inspiration from the doctrines of Zoroaster and Baruch Spinoza, and it is from the two of them that I learned how to overcome cynicism. In Zoroaster’s view, people are the thoughts they think, the words they speak, the actions they perform. Any action leaves its mark on the constant renewal of all things. In other words, people are what they choose to contribute to the world and to their community.

Zoroaster’s philosophy begins with a simple question: Do you want to live in a world where the good deeds outweigh the bad deeds? If so, you have to increase the amount of goodness. If you want to change things for the better, you have to engage in good deeds, encourage good deeds, spread good deeds. Goodness will radiate and increase the joy and courage of those around you. But if we choose to engage in bad deeds, we invite misery into our lives. Spinoza argues that, in order to bring about change, we ought to join forces and thereby increase our power to act. As he put it, it is better to understand than to lament and complain. We are active participants rather than solitary observers. Cynics see themselves as detached, separate, disconnected from the world, and they are inclined to devalue intelligence. Relationalism challenges such thinking patterns. Humans are not self-closed, environment-independent beings because their nature is deeply, fundamentally relational. We are the people with whom we bond. Spinoza put his focus on dividualism and social inter-dividualism, Zoroaster and Habermas empathized intersubjectivity.

Russian LGBT Activism

When we combine their theories, we get Syntheos as the God who emerges from the relations between our minds and bodies. Every little change matters, and there are plenty opportunities to make small amendments, one obstacle at a time. Nietzsche’s response to nihilism was the pursuit of greatness, the desire to attain the power to live actively, which implies the search for resistance and the will to seek challenges beyond our comfort zone. It is not success or failure but the action for which we have the courage and confidence that determines who we are. Knowledge is empowering when applied properly. Relationalism and Habermas’s concept of communicative reason reveal the irreducibly intersubjective nature of human experience. Goliath may have been terrifyingly huge, but David was smarter.

The Religion of Spiritual Anarchism

In the 20th century we find an increasing number of new religious movements which take inspiration from such different sources as popular culture, esoteric traditions, pulp science-fiction stories, foreign folk mythologies and/or post-Renaissance occultism: Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympism, L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology, Anton S. LaVey’s Church of Satan, New Age spiritualists, Wiccas, The Temple of The Jedi Order, etc. All talk about secularization aside, the need for religion hasn’t disappeared, and sociologists as well as decidedly atheist philosophers have begun to discuss «post-secularity», «naturalist religion» and the revolutionary potential of religious practices (Simon Critchley, Slavoj Zizek, Robert Corrington, Adam Possamai). Where does The Syntheist Movement fit in this picture?

Syntheists reappropriate religion beyond the endless, tiresome fights between atheists and believers. This new religious philosophy has nothing to do with New Age spiritualism or the belief in the supernatural. Religion is without a doubt the most productive, creative and intimate social activity ever invented—and far too fulfilling and precious to be left to the believers. It thrives on the need for meaning, purpose, social belonging. Pop fans, art communes, squatters, Avaaz and Occupy activists, Jediists and Trekkies—such phenomena indicate our desire to take part in social activities that matter. After all, we are tribal animals who have the capacity to speak. Metaphysics is a necessity because language grows on us like a fungus. Syntheist metaphysics begins with process philosophy and monism: all is process, constant change, infinite differentiation, ceaseless creativity.

Syntheism means literally to be with God in the here and now, the Greek «syn-» is «with», «together». As a new religious movement and philosophy of life, it comes from the modern atheist’s desire to connect more deeply and meaningfully with his fellow human beings and from his search for spiritual empowerment. Syntheism is the religion of spiritual anarchism and the Hegelian overcoming of theism and atheism. People deserve to be free to engage in any spiritual quest as they choose, to hijack anything they like and enjoy from any religion, to build sanctuaries and perform ceremonies in any fashion they deem appropriate. Spirituality is commonly associated with the search for the sacred, whereas atheism is simply the disbelief in gods. Syntheist spirituality begins with the awe and wonderment we get when we learn about the ways in which different species have evolved over millions of years or when we dig deep into the quantum realm.

It is the same ethos as Baruch Spinoza’s «amor Dei intellectualis», the intellectual love towards God. According to Spinoza, God is the indwelling cause of all things («natura naturans»), all things are within God. The Universe gave birth to us, nurtures and eventually defeats us. It is infinitely complex, beyond comprehension, and we are immeasurably small, random products of physical forces and chemical patterns. Spirituality is a choice, not a feature of the world. After all, the sacred is man-made and still worth pursuing.

Adam Possamai Sociology of Religion for Generations X and Y
Simon Critchley Faith of the Faithless
Robert Corrington Ecstatic Naturalism: Signs of the World