Who Speaks for Syntheism?

Many people believe that there is an afterlife with rewards or punishments based on how well we live. Yet this is not irrefutable evidence this exists. What, then, is the basis of this belief?

If you ask people why they believe (or don’t believe) this to be true, you will get varying responses. Nearly all of them neatly fall into the three categories of persuasion Aristotle identified over 2,000 years ago:

  • Ethos (appeal to authority) – The Bible / The Pope / My pastor / My guru / Richard Dawkins / some guy on the Syntheism.org blog says it is true (or not), therefore I believe it
  • Logos (appeal to logic) – This argument (for or against) is true, therefore I believe it
  • Pathos (appeal to emotion) – This emotional experience (or lack thereof) happened to me, therefore I believe it

Most people misunderstand authority. If I were to claim equal authority with the Pope, no one would believe me. Why? Is it because he is sanctioned by God, or the vast resources at his command, or the linkage to thousands of years of history, while I have none of those things?

No! It turns out that the source of his authority is that millions of people believe that one or more of these reasons is sufficient. For example, when the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches split in 1054, the Pope instantly lost authority with those in the Eastern Orthodox church. The only thing that changed were people’s beliefs about his claim to authority!

Why should this matter to Syntheists? Authority is an inescapable part of life. No one has the time and skill to validate every thing they hear and act on. It is so ingrained that we rarely even think about it.

Sytheism cannot appeal to a creator God or a divine book for authority. Everything we do around Syntheism falls in the realm of personal opinion (including this post!) So ultimately, YOU are the authority for Syntheism. Therefore, it is only appropriate that you help us create it. That’s the real meaning of “religion in the making”!

The role of capital in Syntheist communities

“The problem is that human creativity is lured into pouring all its energy into maintaining the system; this even applies to the theorists who are critical of the system. Only by stepping off, taking a position on the side-lines and constructing a world in parallel outside the system can the syntheist utopia be realised. A revolution always starts with a subtraction. We must retire to the position where, at long last, we can see the social entirety and then only act on the basis of this entirety, rather than devote ourselves to patching up a fundamentally defective system.”
Bard, Alexander; Söderqvist, Jan (2014-10-06). Syntheism – Creating God in the Internet Age (Kindle Locations 6260-6264). Stockholm Text. Kindle Edition.

Religions arise, at least in part, due to disparate wealth between social classes. Consider this quote from anthropologist David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years:

“Where physical escape is not possible, what, exactly, is an oppressed peasant supposed to do? Sit and contemplate her misery? At the very least, otherworldly religions provided glimpses of radical alternatives. Often they allowed people to create other worlds within this one, liberated spaces of one sort or another. It is surely significant that the only people who succeeded in abolishing slavery in the ancient world were religious sects, such as the Essenes – who did so effectively by defecting from the larger social order and forming their own utopian communities. Or, in a smaller but more enduring example: the democratic states of northern India were all eventually stamped out by the great empires … but the Buddha admired the democratic organization of their public assemblies and adopted it as the model for his followers.”

Monetary practices are a core element of all the West’s major religions. Examples include the Debt Jubilee in Judaism, the pooling and sharing of possessions in the early Christian church, or Islam’s prohibitions on loaning at interest (also in the Bible). These limits were a check on excessive accumulation of wealth at the expense of others.

Many of the goals for Syntheistic monetary practices are little changed. Ensure every dividual can meet basic human needs. Prohibit practices that lead to debt slavery. Limit actions that lead to long-term general pain (environmental damage, permanent underclasses) for short-term dividual gain.

Attentionalism (see The Netocrats) teaches us that the netocrat/consumtariat class division is an inevitable outcome. Nonetheless, it would be preferable to limit the impact of this split to attention and experiences. As access to God under feudalism was democratized during capitalism, we wish to democratize access to capital under attentionalism.

Syntheist monetary practices must start with an understanding of value. Consider how value is shifted between members of a society. Graeber calls out three main channels:

Exchange

This is the classic buying and selling in the marketplace with which we are familiar. It also includes loans, leases, and anything else where we quantify how much must be given by each party for a given transaction.

Communism

 “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. While few people think of themselves as communists today, this channel of exchange is common, often without thinking. Strangers answer questions about the time, the weather, or when the next train will arrive. We borrow a stick of gum, a light, or a pen. Family and friends cover restaurant bills, watch children or pets, and loan tools.

None of these involve cash or a debit card. Note how we often use exchange words like “borrow” and “loan” even when we are not keeping a ledger – exchange language is pervasive! The amount of exchange heavily depends on familiarity and trust. While we don’t quantify these precisely, we do notice imbalance. Someone always borrowing a cigarette eventually will find their circle of friends shrinking!

Hierarchy

Taxation, tithes, and slavery are all examples where value flows because of power differences. Those in power can compel those of a lower status to fund wars, build cathedrals, and work to exhaustion – or else.

The choice of channel is driven by many factors. These four appear to be primary:

Closeness of Relations

Smaller groups can function very well with little exchange or hierarchy. As group size increases, the need for interaction between unfamiliar agents increases. While this is not an issue for a stick of gum, few people will leave their children with someone they have not vetted. Hence the tendency for exchange as an arbiter between relative strangers.

Abundance / Scarcity

Economics arose primarily driven by the problem of how to allocate scarce resources. As scarcity increases, the more incentive there is to hoard a resource and only release it for maximum compensation. This can also apply if something is abundant now, yet may become scarce in the future.

Cost of “Guard Labor”

Negotiating, contracting, documentation, securing, and auditing scarce resources increase the costs of exchange and hierarchy.  Interestingly enough, economist Samuel Bowles estimates that over a fifth of the U.S. is employed in guard labor. This is driven by the heavy focus on exchange and hierarchy in early-2000s economic systems.

Agent Relativity

Class differences tend to lead to exchange, which is often a gateway to hierarchy. Kings can demand one-time tributes, which then turn into ongoing taxes. The rich are not inclined to let the poor take “whatever they need”, yet helping someone who is in the same country club is a different matter.

Given these considerations, what should be done? One recommendation for Syntheists is to discourage the use of money between members. Events like Burning Man show that it is possible for larger communities to function for short periods without money. This results in closer relationships and lower waste. It also reduces the power of wealth and hierarchy within the community.

Another idea is to explore the use of decentralized currencies such as Bitcoin. These currencies enable transactions between agents anywhere in the world with extremely low transaction fees. There is also a tremendous amount of innovation in this space worth watching.

On a related note, Syntheist communities can also experiment with locally-issued currencies. Bernard Lietaer, author of The Future of Money, notes that currencies based on crop harvests and other perishable items were common during the High Middle Ages, with tremendous benefits to local community members. Even today, concepts such as Time Dollars (global), Ithaca Hours (NY/USA), and Fureai Kippu (Japan) show that local currencies can provide a way for communities to share resources more effectively than with national currencies.

It may be possible to combine several of these ideas to provide a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) for Syntheists. A GBI is a distribution of resources without limits on how they are used. The idea is that dividuals can meet their basic needs without having to sell their time or hoard resources. The effect on poverty is obvious. The concern is that many would work if they did not have to. However, many rich people continue to work for other reasons. Most people want to do more than just sit around all day and would actually do what they love instead of what is required to make a living.

For example, a Syntheistic community would create its own decentralized currency. Each agent would receive a fixed amount of currency for common resources owned by the community – businesses, software, stocks, bonds, etc. As the value of the common resources went up or as resources are added, new shares would be created to maintain the value of a share. The new shares would be given to new agents through some mechanism such as voting or invites (similar to beta sotware). Why would members contribute to a common resource set versus keeping them for themselves? To gain attention! Similar drivers are seen in charities all over the world.

As you can see, money and religion are not opposed to each to, yet are closely related. It is an area ripe for further study and discussion, so please share your ideas and use this as you see fit!

The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan circa 1805-9 by William Blake 1757-1827

On Surface Tension and the Fathoming of the Depth Beneath the Storm to Come

There is a stone I wish to throw in the pond, wondering what ripples will be brought back to me.

Concerning the surface tension of names and the depths that rears beneath them, the trinitary concepts of Being, Nothing and the movement of Difference are standard, easily hooked up onto the traditions of philosophy from Parmenides to post structural process philosophers. The point where there is a storm brewing is Utopia – the Kingdom Come – whose injunction has found a peculiar home on the horizon, exactly by being both obscured by the cynicism of our age fueled by the doubt that makes us question the very goodness of our place in the world, but also by being this ephemeral thing over on the edge of possibility. Here the concept is actually mysterious and not clear-cut while its name is temptingly and trickingly clear.

Here the concept cannot be contained by an abstraction as its content wanders towards the very possibility of community and asks for a concrete realization of exactly the space in between being and its possible not-yet future that hovers over and beyond it. It is exactly in case of Syntheos/Utopia that we can fathom the risk involved, as the idea or fantasy of the possible has been for millennia distracting communities from the here and now as they attempt to reify their fantasy, obscuring contact with being through their single minded focus on a specific mode of the possible future.

Naming these ‘gods’ and worshipping them is such a small step, compared to the problems that hover above us in the task of actually plotting the complex reality of the intricate communities that are motivated by myriads of vectors of desire that are implanted by the ancient regime of hyper-capitalism, and the question of how they can be inverted/converted/ecoverted into Utopia.

The congregation and mass itself plays on the surface tension wrought by the rearing depths of our mind and the spirit machines that fuel our desires. Utopia itself being the remnant of a promise intrinsic to the Abrahamic religions that made us forgive the problems of the current in expectancy of the kingdom come that would baptize reality in the injunction of the deluge of grace. In this sense Syntheism is formally identical to this grand historical movement of expectation for the future.

But how exactly is the waiting converted into action instead of pacifying us like it has done throughout the ages?

Syntheism in its co-creative rituals and Bacchanals have got the first miracle of Jesus down: turning water into wine, bringing people together in a new way, high on the contemplation of the possible. But what about kicking the money lenders out of the temple? A sermon on the mount? Shaming the Pharisees by revealing their fetish of law? And the longwinded battle of conversion through letters akin to the apostle Paul? These moments brought down a spiritual empire and instated a new one, pointing to the revolutionary character of the movement. It brought with it a concrete dialectic that charged the fort of the old, and converted it.

The devotional ritual for Syntheos should thus be (r)evolutionary in action, not merely some formal procession where attention to an abstraction is enacted.

It is these questions that lurk beneath the surface, fueling the storm that is brewing around the world. It is pointing us towards an meteorology of the spiritual-political-industrial complex and the search for the butterfly that is able to flap its wing in exactly the right way to make the Storm come.


Image: The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan in Whose Wreathings are Enfolded the Nations of the Earth, circa 1805-9, William Blake 1757-1827.

Hourtopia – a participatory artistic take on “The Infinite Now”

You may already be familar with the Syntheist concept of The Infinite Now – the idea of a transcendental experience within which all of time and history seems encapsulated into one single moment  and place in passing. While The Infinite Now is of course the name of the Syntheist baptism act, and as such a both dividual and communal event of immense importance, the concept also refers to kairos, the classic Greek concept of time as a short moment when everything happens at once, as distinct from kronos, time as pure duration.Hourtopia

An interesting and highly recommended online participatory art project with a similar theme is Hourtopia. Please feel most welcome to check it out at the Hourtopia web page or on Facebook and make your own artistic contribution.

Where and when does all of history seem encapsulated into a short time span and at a specific place in your own life? Would you even like to contribute to Hourtopia with a picture of your own Syntheist baptism act?

Affirmationism

Syntheism owes a lot to the classical philologist, essayist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900). His controversial concept of the will to power was a reaction to the philosophical pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will to life. According to Schopenhauer, people are intoxicated with desire, whose lives therefore oscillate back and forth between boredom and pain because there is no natural end to the search for satisfaction but death. You quench your thirst, only to be thirsty again; and when you drink too much, you will be miserable or bored and longing for something other than beverages. The search for satisfaction continues and never stops, and it causes frustration, bitterness and unhappiness. Schopenhauer’s answer to this downward spiral was asceticism, detachment, self-denial.

Nietzsche inverts Schopenhauer’s cynical hedonism and invites his readers to seek creatively stimulating challenges beyond the confines of their comfort zone. He argues that happiness is an epiphenomenon of the search for excellence rather than an end in itself. He therefore champions man’s productive potential and promotes the affirmation of life, in spite of the iniquities of nature and history. Happiness lies in the exercise of one’s creative powers, in the joy of overcoming resistance, and one therefore wills resistance. In his naturalist worldview, the virtues and values we form indicate our physical condition as much as our sense of life. And when philosophers like Schopenhauer maintain that life is a nuisance, their judgment says more about their weariness of life than about life as such.

Nietzsche goes beyond René Descartes’ anthropocentric atomism. According to Nietzsche’s metaphysics, we are an inseparable part of the multitude of relations which constitute the world we inhabit. That is, one’s existence is entangled and intertwined with the history of the natural world—we can’t step back and look at life from afar. It is therefore impossible to estimate the true value of existence and of all the lives that had been lived plus the lives that will be lived in the future. In Nietzsche’s words: “There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’, be.” And further: “It is our needs that interpret the world, our drives and their ‘for’ and ‘against’.

It follows from his normative perspectivism that there are no moralistic facts, but only moralistic interpretations. He encourages his readers to overcome simplistic moralistic notions of life because man’s existence doesn’t serve a pre-ordained purpose: there is no secret message from God hidden behind the tears and bruises; there is no orchestrator behind the curtain. In the end, the world is immeasurably larger than man; it is indifferent towards his whims and wishes. After all, it is a simple scientific fact that the homo sapiens is not the measure of all things. And because we owe a lot to chance, we ought to develop a sense of gratitude (amor fati). Nietzsche promotes the affirmation of life that comes from an overflow of life rather than fatalism.

If we affirm one moment, we thus not only affirm ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event—and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.” And further: “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it. (…) The highest state a philosopher can attain: to stand in a Dionysian relationship to existence—my formula for this is amor fati.

His normative perspectivism is far from relativism because he is interested in the hidden implications and practical consequences of societal norms: what our beliefs and values do with us, what behaviours they inspire. He explores the moralistic forces which compromise man’s creative potential and finds that political ideologies and religious doctrines operate according to the same logic as do breeding programmes for animals. An ideology not only provides a narrative framework which makes sense of man’s position in the world, but also produces a certain type of man who is humble and benign, and who causes no threat to the community and to those in power who have defined good and evil.

Nietzsche associates Abrahamic moralism with resentment. Moralism is for the bullied and ill-constituted who are seeking compensation and plotting revenge. The priests, in an effort to protect their communities from the corrosive and toxic forces within, have successfully persuaded their flock to redirect their anger and frustration: everyone is a sinner who stands in need of salvation, so rather than accusing each other, one must turn inwards and better oneself. In Nietzsche’s view, it is crucial to save people from the concept of salvation. His immoralism relies on the idea that one cannot accuse the world as if it had an intellect or will.

He intends to inspire people to attain the power to expand their lives freely and actively. In his words: “There is thereby a counterforce which continually reminds us that there is no exclusively moral-making morality, and that a morality which asserts itself to the exclusion of all other morality destroys too much sound strength and is too dearly bought by mankind. The non-conventional and deviating people, who are so often productive and inventive, must no longer be sacrificed: it must never again be considered as a disgrace to depart from morality either in actions or thought; many new experiments must be made upon life and society, and the world must be relieved from a huge weight of bad conscience. These general aims must be recognized and encouraged by all those upright people who are seeking truth.

Nietzsche’s ethical love of life begins with intellectual honesty. He insists that truthfulness is an act of pride and self-respect, as it takes courage to face the truth head on in any situation, even if the truth is unsettling and terrifying. For example, it is cynical to argue that people are better off when they don’t know about the complicatedness of modern life. Why not appreciate the complicatedness of it all? Why complain and get upset? As Nietzsche asks: “What if these truths could not give us this consolation we are looking for? Would that be an argument against them? What have these truths in common with the sick condition of suffering and degenerate men that they should be useful to them? It is, of course, no proof against the truth of a plant when it is clearly established that it does not contribute in any way to the recovery of sick people.

Nietzsche’s Übermensch engages in the pursuit of greatness and explores new ways in which to connect our minds and bodies with each other. This ideal man does not thrive on barbaric cruelty or an inflated sense of self-importance, nor does he “perpetrate cowardice against his own acts”, but has the courage and the confidence to “face what he already knows.” As the affirmationist par excellence, he or she is strong and resilient enough to take life’s hardships as an opportunity to exercise one’s powers and faculties. Resentment comes from a misplaced sense of entitlement. According to Nietzsche’s definition, the will to power is the will that wants its own expansion and intensification. And what people may need more than anything in our age of cynical hedonism is a safe and stimulating environment where they can throw off the shackles which prevent them from increasing their power to act.

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.

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

Disclaimer

The ritual and practice described in this text is only a suggestion. There is no wrong way to do Syntheism. If you don’t like our festivals, gods, the way we use them or the names we have for them…. feel free to invent your own.