Category Archives: Theology

Synthea

“The falling leaves drift by my window

The falling leaves of red and gold

I see your lips the summer kisses

The sunburned hands I used to hold

 

Since you went away the days grow long

And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song

But I miss you most of all my darling

When autumn leaves start to fall”

/Jacques Prévert

 

Coping with great loss

The heat of the summer nights are fading. Coats are clenched to the body. The pensive beauty of autumn is here. Any stable state will eventually change. At some point bliss will end. Such is the nature of existence. Any outlook denying that the good times will end will assuredly be a fearful life. Learning to accept, endure and overcome our inevitable losses and failures are lessons we all will learn, sooner or later. Sooner is better.

We are now transitioning into Synthea, one of the four main Syntheist festivals. We have named the period between the autumn equinox and winter solstice Syntheos. It is from Synthesis, the Greek word for “bringing together”. Undoubtedly the greatest asset of any religious community has always been in times of personal crisis, helping us deal with loss, being there for us when we need it the most.

This season we will focus on endings, death, transformation, change and ridding oneself of the old and redundant

Synthea, autumn equinox

Philosophy and science teaches us that the world we have in our minds, our memories, are all symbolic representations in the brain. This is undoubtedly true. So why does if feel differently being in the moment, than having had it pass? What is the difference between a cool breeze on our faces a hot summer’s day and our memory of it? What about an imaginary breeze? What is the difference between a the memory of a friend alive or dead? What is the difference between an imaginary friend and a real friend?

I write this text moments after having learned of the death of a friend. I’m now a whirl of conflicting emotions and my conclusion is that none of my understanding of the nature of the world matters. A heart in pain doesn’t care about the philosophical implications or what science tells us is natural or normal. It doesn’t care whether it makes sense to feel hurt. All it requires is human contact and comfort. To find the warm and caring eyes of compassion. A place to feel safe.

Sanctus: Written by Zbniew Preisner to his friend and artistic collaborator Krzysztof Kieślowski as he was dying in hospital.

Since we’re atheists, shouldn’t it make us, the Syntheists, better at dealing with loss than other religions? We aren’t afraid of the naturalistic reality of life. I have to conclude; probably not. All religions are excellent at dealing with grief. Which is odd considering that the vast majority of religions have ideas of an afterlife. An outright denial of death is standard practice. When a loved one dies why are they sad at all? Their loved one is now, allegedly, in a happier place? Aren’t they?

Which brings me back to my earlier point. The heart feels what the heart feels. Comforting lies and wishful thinking, no matter how often repeated, cannot give comfort in times of great emotional turmoil. Only the genuine caring compassion of a community will be good enough. It certainly seems like all major religions figured this out early on and are all good at it. They’ve just neglected to tell anyone. They all have successful models we can use.

An Islamic funeral ritual

1) Bathing the dead body, The immediate family and others trusted by them clean the deceased together. Psychologically it works on many levels. It brings home the reality of what has happened powerfully. It serves to remove any sanitized image one might have had about the person. This body is unquestionably lifeless, but life has to continue and those surviving can find help and solace in each other. In the shared ritual they are physically helping each other, and may act as a bridge to allow them to open up and help each other emotionally.

2) Enshrouding the body in white cotton or linen cloth. A symbol of our equality. At birth and death we truly are all equal.

3) The funeral prayer, Salat al-Janazah

“O God, if he was a doer of good, then increase his good deeds, and if he was a wrongdoer, then overlook his bad deeds. O God, forgive him and give him the steadiness to say the right thing.”

If one wants to be cynical, one might say that it’s not about asking God to forgive the deceased, but the congregation, family and friends; and not allow any perceived sins besmirch those surviving the dead. Allowing each person to be their own.

4) Burial of the dead body in a grave. Emotionally it’s normal to outright deny that somebody you have lost is actually lost. The burial acts as forcing the survivors to physically expel the dead from their lives. Not their memory of course, but unhealthy hopes of a future together. 

5) Positioning the body so that the head faces Mecca. To emphasize the Muslim identity and being part of a community.

It is arguably the single most important feature of any religion. What we can do differently is cut the bullshit. Leave the platitudes and one-liners we all know have never helped anybody.

The way we react to death of loved ones makes it all too obvious that we’re primarily emotional beings. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re all, at times fragile and in need of being taken care of and comforted by somebody we trust.  Much like a parent comforts a child. It doesn’t matter how rich we are, how economically efficient world we create for ourselves if we don’t primarily focus that world on taking care of human insecurities and character flaws. Without compassion from our fellow humans, we are truly alone in this world. We need to support each other, help each other, because we know nothing else will.

Please take some time to think about those in your life, the people you care about, who you know are suffering from a loss now, those who are overcoming grief or hardship. What kind of support do they require? Is it within your power to help them? Is your help welcome? Often all that is needed is to let them know that you’re there for them if they need you.

 

If there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are surely no theists at a funeral.

If there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are surely no theists at a funeral.

 

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.

An Alternative Creation Myth Part I: The Universe

Introduction

Syntheism has unlike other religions ingeniously placed God in the future rather than in the past. While other religions have been built on the idea that God created the universe and then man, Syntheism has quite logically done the reverse. Any definition of God is in essence that of an unfathomable power with a complexity beyond human understanding, and as our capacity of understanding the universe and ourselves grows, an historical God diminishes. He is in essence continuously pushed to the boundaries our science and knowledge has yet been able to reach. This is “The God of the gaps”. Before we understood rain, it was a work of god. When we found out the Earth revolved around the sun but couldn’t explain how, there God was again. The Big Bang can in effect be described as the final blow that put God out of history altogether, relegating it to a realm of pre-time and pre-existence where he is safe from further attack, but also quite useless.

Creating A God

Some interesting questions arise…

Syntheism has no need for a God of the past, and the sciences put him where he belongs: In the future. This is not just a logical and creative way to handle the God concept, but also quite useful. Rather than assume an existing God, we have a goal to strive towards. We are aware that the old God doesn’t exist, but at the same time aware of our need for what post-atheism religion can offer, such as community, a sense of meaning and something to strive toward. None of those things need a historic God to exist. In fact, a historic God has often been nonconstructive and lead us humans astray. Many atrocities have been committed in the name of Gods and the absolute truths supposedly handed down through a variety of human vessels. Whether these prophets were enlightened people or just skilled opportunistic politicians can often be hard to deduce.

The fact we don’t actually need a Creation Myth can be viewed in two ways. We can just use the idea of Big Bang as the creation of universe and accept scientific claims that there is no point in asking what happened before that. But there is however another view to take. One that is more in line with the Syntheism movements idea of creating the values that other religions have managed, but without the superstition or logical inconsistencies that come with it. We could create our own Creation Myth.

Since we are unbound by preconditions and don’t actually need a Creation Myth, it gives us quite a lot of freedom. We can create one that brings both a sense of awe, meaning, purpose and perhaps even comfort. Our only restrictions are that:

  1. It can not contradict what science today knows about the universe
  2. It can not be logically inconsistent

That on the other hand leaves a wide scope of creativity, limited only by our imagination. And if you don’t like a particular Creation Myth, you can disregarded it, suggest changes or come up with your own. Here’s mine, I hope you like it:

The God of the Future

The universal definition of God is an entity with the capacity to create a functioning universe that has the capability to sustain life. And science shows that life strives through natural selection towards higher and higher degrees of complexity. At the beginning of the Big Bang, about 14 billions years ago there was barely no complexity, at least compared to what we have now. Time unlike other dimensions seems to move in only one direction, and complexity in form of intelligence and life, is a continual growth into more and more complex system as a function of time.

Therefore it makes absolute sense to place God ahead of us rather than behind us. And just as the power of today’s civilization would appear god-like to our previous hunter-gatherer societies, it makes sense that our future civilization will appear god-like to what we are right now. With the exponential growth of knowledge, technology and power we are experiencing, it would not defy logic to assume that we will sometime in the future be successful in creating (or becoming) God(s) in the very fundamental definition of being able to create universes that themselves have the capacity to generate life and intelligence, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves in the process of getting there.

That last bit is important. Because if we are talking about an entity, be it a collective as a civilization, an Artificial Intelligence or something else, it also follows that this entity would have a morality that matches its power. An omnipotent entity or collective will have a capacity for destruction that means that in order to get there, it will have to develop a super morality. We as humans have already passed the threshold that allows us to completely annihilate our existence, but our morality and capacity to co-exist has not been able to keep up with this development.

But if we in the future manage to achieve the ability to create or simulate complete universes, it seems inevitable that it will be done. After all, once you have that capacity, why not use it? If we are, as we like to think, a creative species, this would be the ultimate act of creativity. Today we are limited to creating offspring, inventions, buildings and many other marvelous things, such as the computer I am writing this text on. But unless we manage to collectively destroy ourselves on the way, we should inevitably end up with the capacity to create or simulate completely new universes.

I use the words create and simulate inter-changeably since there is in essence no difference, at least not for the universe and inhabitants of the creation or simulation. Whether you’re real or simulated makes no difference. As long as you think you’re real, you are real in the only way that matters.

One interesting point of this idea is that it is universally true. Up until now I’ve focused on the human race that is living in the 14:th billion year of the current universe, in a galaxy with 200-400 billion stars. One German super computer put the total number of galaxies at roughly 500 billion. That would give a shy estimate of 200 billion stars times 500 billion galaxies. That’s 100.000.000.000.000.000.000.000 or 100 sextillion stars.

No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of stars. And no matter how you look at it, 14 billions years is a lot of time. In fact, it’s not just a lot of time it’s all the time there’s been up until now. So if one planet circling one of 100 sextillion possible stars has developed life to the point that we can now seriously start to see in the dim distance future the possibility of true creation, we have to acknowledge that it might also be going on elsewhere. More than that, we have to consider the fact that it might already have happened.

Once the ability to create universes becomes a reality, it will of course be used. After all, the only way to get the possibility is by a combination of intelligence, creativity and moral, on a scale beyond what we can currently comprehend.

And if we allow for the possibility that we in the future can achieve this, and that this is universally true, there is no logical limit to the amount of universes that can be created this way. So you have to ask yourself the question: What is most probable, that we are the one ‘original’ universe, and the only planet with intelligent creative life, or that we are one of the infinite amount of universes that can be created? Interpreted in mathematics we are basically forced to compare the probability of 1 thing against what could well be an infinity, if at least not a very big number. Following that logic, it seems a lot more probable that we are in effect living in one of the simulated universes.

Now two questions naturally arise:

  1. What does that mean? Well, in reality it doesn’t really change anything. What we consider reality is per our own definition reality, whether it is simulated or not.
  2. Other than the argument itself, is there any evidence for this Creation Myth?

Well, as previously pointed out the main criteria of a post-atheism Creation Myth is not whether it is supported by science, but rather whether it contradicts what we at this point know about the universe. As far as I am able to assess it, there is no conflict between this hypothesis and the current scientific consensus. Big Bang would simply be regarded as the start of the simulation, the Syntheist god in whatever shape pushing the universal start-button.

Got any evidence?

Of course I don’t, but in order to spark further debate I have come up with some scientific findings that I would like to creatively use as inductive suggestions of evidence. Some require more leaps of imagination than others:

  • There seems to be an absurd over-abundance of information storage capacity in everything, fractal geometry is one example. One gram of active carbon having the area of a football field is another and our own DNA a third. Our DNA only needs about 3 percent of it, the rest seems to be information that somehow has been resistant to the process of natural selection.
  • Dark matter and energy, what’s up with that? Most of the universe seems to be made up by it, what is it hiding from us?
  • String theory has come up with a bunch of new dimensions, but also describes the building blocks of matter as vibrating strings. An open string is a loop (basically a 0), and a closed string is a strip, basically a 1. That’s how a computer thinks. And if you add a vibrating frequency to it, you exponentially grow the amount of information it can carry. A binary language can with two binaries mean 4 different things (00, 01, 10, 11). But if every 0 and 1 can vibrate in different frequencies, the information capacity is incredible. Even if we limit it to say only 10.000 frequencies, two binary numbers can now have 4×10.000×10.000 meanings. We’ve gone from 4 to 400 million.
  • The speed of light seems to be the ultimate speed limit, which would make sense if the simulation we live in uses light as the information carrier. Basically nothing inside the simulation can travel quicker than the simulations ability to send information.
  • Last but not least, we have Time itself. Time has been proven to behave strangely, namely by being relative. This is connected to two things, density and speed. Now if we are living in what could be described as a super computer, this makes sense. Density is simply a lot of stuff in the same place at the same time, and will beyond a point be so taxing on the processing capacity that it will slow down time. Even though this super-computer we live in is in effect omnipotent, beyond a certain point things will simply be so taxing for it that it takes longer to compute or render it at a normal pace, hence time will slow down. Just as a more complicated program takes longer to run that a simpler one. And as things approach the speed of light, the same phenomenon occurs. As things start moving closer to the maximum speed of information transformation within the system, they take longer to compute. And if they somehow manage to reach the ultimate speed limit, it won’t compute at all and time will effectively stop.

The Unknown

Are you serious? And what do we get out of it?

Is any of this true? I have no idea, and I’m not even sure that is the point. But it seems like more fun than the current ideas, without violating the scientific discoveries we’ve made. And when given the choice of two otherwise equal explanations, I prefer to go with the more creative one.

On a final note I’d like to come back to some things I mentioned as things to strive for in a Creation Myth: Added values. Any Creation Myth that does not fly in the face of current evidence is acceptable, but it would be nice if it could also bring some added values. So I will put forward some of the bonuses of this particular myth:

The most important one I think is comfort. If we assume this world is indeed the creation or simulation of an entity far beyond what power we can imagine, it must also be a highly moral entity to have been able to come so far. In essence, morality comes down to avoiding suffering and creating well being in other conscious forms of life. Within the simulation we experience all sorts of sorrow, suffering and in the end death. A truly super-moral creator would however not let the intelligence or consciousness that has been created go to waste, nor the inevitable suffering of life be the only reward of consciousness. One scenario would be that once your body dies, your consciousness is saved and either transferred into another part of the simulation or brought out of it. So why not assume that once you die, you’re either freed from the simulation or entered into another?

The other is freedom, creativity and a sense of meaningfulness. What is the purpose of life? Well from the perspective of the creator, life and its increased complexity is its own purpose. After all, a bunch of rocks are simply not that interesting. Striving to learn, develop and promote life in more and more advanced forms would be an external preference from a creator. The more advanced and complicated we become, the more interesting we become from an outside perspective. And in the end we want community. Why not assume that whoever is behind this creation wants that too, and is waiting for us to mature to the level that we can be considered ‘adult’ in its eyes?

And whether we are part of the original universe or one of the simulations, we could always strive, as we Syntheists are doing, to create God. Whether that ends the current simulation or just creates new ones would be interesting to see. I know I’m curious about it.

Of course, by this way of thinking, the brilliance of Syntheism putting God in the future might inadvertently also have ended up putting the God in the past. But at least it is a God we can all respect, a God based on science and morality, and probably with a sense of humor as well.

Today’s Saviors and Superheroes

anonymouse_s640x427Picture yourself an average citizen on planet earth.  You know as a fact the system is wrong yet you are not sure what to do.  You go about your daily life starting with a cup of joe and a shower before work.  You slept in so you may not even have time to cook a proper breakfast.  In that case you may have a bowl of cereal which may not be too healthy for you, but is inexpensive.  You ask yourself “why is the food which is luxury so expensive while the food I need, I cannot afford?”  Regardless, you obey the routine and go about your day.  You go to work.  If you are in the United States, you are lucky if you can call in sick or have a paid vacation.  Life is not as convenient for you as it was for your parents or grandparents when they were young adults.  The prosperity taken off the backs of indigenous people’s from the west of Africa and in the Amazon of Brazil that began in the 1950’s is deteriorating.  You receive a text on your phone.  As you look at it you may not see the man held at gun point in Kenya so you can have the precious mineral that helps your phone operate.  Yet you know something is not right.  You know deep down that you are not happy with the regiment of your day.  Deep down you know the system has made it mandatory for you to be an addict just to get by.  You know this as you take a sleep aid to go to bed early so you can wake up on time.  How you have your morning coffee to keep you awake.  One day you go on youtube.  Maybe you just want to be entertained by something funny.  Not looking for anything in particular but you just want to wind down and forget about the day.  Out of shear curiosity you click on a random video.  Then a figure pops up.  It’s a drawing of a suit with its arms behind its back.  The message in the synthesized voice says “Greetings Mastercard.”   You watch with anticipation as the voice gives them an option to cease in stopping free speech on the internet.  The voice may sound kind of creepy.  Maybe a little scary at first but there is something in you that is building hope.  At the end of the message the voice says “We are Anonymous.  We are Legion.  We do not forgive.  We do not forget.  Expect us.”  You are unsure what you just saw, but as you go and watch PBS or RT, you see that whoever Anonymous is, they did in fact crash MasterCard’s system.  This says they mean business!

                What does this indicate?  It indicates the very nature of this entity called the internet.  Alexander Bard, a philosopher from Stockholm illustrated in Berlin how for ages information only came from the top down and how the invention of the internet has just severed that line.  In this day with the invention of the internet information can come from wherever.  The pitfall is that most of the information is Poppycock.  The upside is that just about the most accurate information in the world is available online if one knows where to look. 

                Many Folklorists and religious scholars see the Adam and Eve story as symbolic of the transition from foraging to agriculture.  How after Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they had to till the soil, wear clothes, woman had to be submissive to man and once out of Eden (foraging) they can never return.    All of which are traits of agrarian society and the origin of property.  The invention of humans that made cities and States possible.  This is neither good or bad.  There is much mankind can be thankful for due to agriculture in terms of the innovations that came from it.  However agriculture combined with the idea of ownership is what led to stratification, patriarchy, even slavery and last but not least warfare.   So while the invention of farming brought us out of Eden, the internet may bring us back.  The way Timothy Leary said Psychedelics would.  😉

                So where are today’s superheroes one may ask?  When is superman coming to save the world?  When will the savior come or return to cleanse the world of its ills?  Who is this savior?  Who is this superhero?  No use waiting, because he is not coming.  But there is good news.  You can be this savior or you can be this superhero!

                To begin, examine what a superhero is.  Before they were called superheroes, these comic book icons were called mystery men.  Though on the surface these characters may be filled with ego as they were made from the egos of some nerdy pulp writers.  However if you take a closer look, they are an example of a high standard of altruism.  This concept was borrowed heavily from Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch.   Superman as well as Batman, Spiderman, ect . Do incredibly kind and heroic acts.  They often get despised even by the people they are saving.  But they wear a disguise as they do not want recognition for the heroic deeds they do.  They as Zarathustra says “righteousness for the sake of righteousness alone.”  Even in the case of Batman who was at first out for revenge against the murderer of his parents.  Once he had revenge he realized that crime still exists, and that he must not stop doing his job.  Batman is a good example with where this essay is going as he does not have any special powers.

                As for the savior!  The original savior idea came out of Zarathustra’s message of the Saoshyant meaning bringer of hope or happiness.  Unlike later views of the Saoshyant, Zarathustra did not say that this figure will come.  Zarathustra advocated that we all strive to be Saoshyants and bring the paradise here to earth right now.   

With the invention of internet we are in a day where all human beings can be Saoshyant.  The truth is humans always had that opportunity.  The internet is now practically handing it to us.  And yes.  Superheroes are real in this sense.  You do not have to be known for what you are doing when you do right for our environment or for humanity.  You may not have to be a hactivist, but you have a means to get the message across and be heard.  You have the means at your fingertips to organize.  You no matter how small you may see yourself in the world can make a major shift in the world perspective to create Heaven here on earth.  Anonymous are not only today’s superheroes, but today’s saviors.  We the people can be one or both if we choose, and if you have a computer, the tool is available to you.

                  Like the superheroes of Marvel and DC comics Anonymous has a secret identity.  You never know who they are.  They could be your neighbor or classmate, or work colleague.  Never the less like Spiderman he/she could be a teenager.  The Anon will go about their day and when near a computer provided no one is looking will open a proxy server, go on a Gmail account or twitter that does not have their real information and put on their secret identity.  This person will go on irc not telling the other Anon’s his/her real information.  They discuss an injustice happening in the world.  It could be something big like the shutting off of the internet in Egypt.  It could even be a local incident like the teenage girl who was raped and killed by the guys on the high school football team but the courts were trying to dismiss it.  Either way whether one agrees with their methods they are working to protect the common person from tyranny.  So on the irc these Mystery Men and Women vote to see if these atrocities should be leaked.  If by consensus all agree, they hit their target. 

Wait a minute?  How did the internet suddenly flip back on?  Pepper spraying the faces of college students?  Fine Mr. police officer, we will just post all your information.  Bet you thought there would not be consequences eh? 

                Here is the genius of the whole thing.  Anonymous, as well as Arab Spring, and the Occupy movements all over the world do not have leaders.  This is the strength of this global rebellion.  It is useless to arrest someone.  It is also useless to assassinate anyone.  There will always be replacements.  In a day in age where we are handed the chance to be savior’s, who needs leaders?  The internet is uniting the collective.  While agriculture created hierarchy and male dominance the internet is doing away with it.  It may take a while but like all shifts, it happens sooner than we realize.  Perhaps the dominion of the Great Intellect is happening now as it has always been happening.  It’s just a matter of waking up to the possibilities of having a paradise here on Earth.  Sure there are camera’s and they are watching us, but we carry our own camera’s in our cell phones and we are also watching them.  When a cop is using excessive force he will be recoded and leaked on youtube.  While we are all losing our privacy because of the entity called the internet, those on the side of justice and truth will not face the repercussions as much as those whose injustices rely on secrecy. 

                Syntheism which has its foundations in the teachings of Zarathustra, as well as Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley, ect. strives for direct action against institutions that create inequality and injustice.   Syntheism may be thought of as idealistic as Island by Huxley is one of the society types we stand for.  However it is an idealism that promotes the ultimate realism.  Where the phrases “never” or “will not happen” do not have a place in the ideology of the evolution of human ethos.  As Aristotle once said “In pursuing an ideal, we may assume what we wish, but must avoid impossibilities.”  i.e. we not only as Syntheists but as citizens of mother earth,  must never assume the impossibilities in the goal itself, but must be realistic and go by the step by step process while we work to achieve our vision.

 

On the risks of intuition

When you have choices in life how do you, (or I) know which is the correct path to follow? How do we know what is the ethically right thing to do? Religions have in all ages been dependable guides to turn to when we aren’t sure. As an atheist we have, to date, no such option. As Syntheists we can change that, in the future. Today we have two available options, our reason or our intuition. In two articles I’m going to attempt to argue that neither is good enough. This article is about the problems of placing to great a trust in our intuition.

Do you usually go with whatever feels right to you in your heart? Go with your gut feeling? Your intuition? Do you trust your intuition? Should you trust your intuition? What is intuition?

in·tu·i·tion

noun \ˌin-tü-ˈi-shən, -tyü-\

The power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.

On the question how we came to learn about whatever it is we intuit nobody is quite sure. You can easily do this experiment with your own mind. From any collection of things quickly and without reflection reach out and grab whatever speaks to you the most, and then ask yourself how that line of reasoning went. Why that and not another?

If we ask a neuroscientist where it comes from their answer will also be, “we’re not quite sure”. But we do know through psychological research that there are patterns to intuition.

  • When we intuit we tend to think in extremes, (called Law of excluded middle). If there are more than two options any option in the middle is automatically dropped from our attention. We become blind to subtleties. 
  • We also exaggerate the importance of minor flaws or draw overly strong conclusions from minor details, (called Reductio ad absurdum). 
  • Evidence that goes against what we already believe feels wrong (confirmation bias). 
  • There’s our tendency to go with whatever it is we saw first, (anchoring). 
  • We pay attention to whatever has the most dominant stimuli more than we would after closer reflection (Attentional bias). 
“When you expand your awareness, seemingly random events will be seen to fit into a larger purpose.” –Deepak Chopra (New Age guru)

The complete list is quite long and is linked to at the very end of this article. It’s not a flattering read. Yes, it can be trained to get better. But it still won’t beat deliberate introspection. I think I’ve made my point. Intuition is a terrible method by which to make important decisions in life. But that’s not what it’s for. We have the ability to intuit because it’s a quick method by which to make good-enough decisions without taxing the brain more than necessary. Without it we wouldn’t be able to function in our day-to-day lives. Evolutionarily it’s a compromise necessary to keep us alive in tight spots. There are simply too many decisions to make in our ordinary lives for it to be practical to think through every decision in detail.

Intuition also has a place when we are trying to be honest with ourselves regarding our emotional states. We have a tendency to lie to ourselves, to over-think personal issues and rationalise, to decide what we should feel rather than what we actually feel. In those cases using our intuitions and analysing them can be useful for attaining self-understanding. Those usages are not what I’m arguing against in this article.

I’m arguing against seeing intuition as some sort of superior knowledge, “more pure” or better informed knowledge. All research shows that it is inferior compared to deliberate introspection and careful reasoning. And if you think I’m stating the obvious. I can assure you that I am not. I also don’t want you to think that I’m picking on New Age in particular. The problem of overt trust in our intuitions is found everywhere in our societies. Below are some non-New Age examples. 

“Listen to your intuition. It will tell you everything you need to know.” -Anthony J. D’Angelo (musician)

The civil disobedience movement that ended US racial segregation and British rule in India are both a direct result of human intuitions being put on pedestals, and was acknowledged as such by its leaders. More on that later in this article. Martin Luther King didn’t argue against segregation on ethical ground. But because it felt bad… in his heart. Likewise Ghandi wasn’t against British rule because it was inherently racist and undemocratic but because he felt in his gut that self rule for Indians was the right way to go. This was also the theme of the Nüremburg trials of Nazi war criminals. Every human was expected to have an inner conscience that guided us toward doing good. The Nazi War Criminals were bad because they had ignored what we all “knew” their intuitions told them to do.

You might think all of this sounds great. The results sure were for the better. But I base that opinion on ethical grounds. In the above examples, what I am trying to demonstrate, is that they were all examples of instances where we’re expected to listen to the voice of God in your heart, ie our intuition rather than what we thought was the right thing to do by reasoning about it. It simply asserts that everybodies intuitions are the same or similar. But they’re not. We know they’re not.

“If prayer is you talking to God, then intuition is God talking to you.” –Dr. Wayne Dyer (motivational speaker, self-help author)

Intuitions can go either way. Racists have never had any arguments other than that it feels right “in their souls”. That was as true for King’s and Ghandi’s opponents as it was for their supporters. The same can be said about many Nazis. It is also contemporary. I’m thinking of the rampant homophobia in the world today. I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument against gay marriage that doesn’t violate the modern democratic principle of freedom of religion. Yet, that doesn’t stop nominally pro-democratically minded to completely turn off their higher faculties and try to block gays from it anyway. If you think rampant sexism is a problem in this world you can bet that the intuitions of the sexist minded will re-enforce and confirm sexist ideas making the problem worse. That will certainly be the case if sexists are encouraged to open up their hearts, feel inward and listen to what the “universe tells them in their soul”.

“We live in a culture that doesn't acknowledge or validate human intuition and doesn't encourage us to rely on our intuitive wisdom.” -Shakti Gawain (New Age guru)

The biggest problem of arguing for anything on what “your heart” tells you is that, if somebody disagrees with you have no other recourse than violence. As often is the case. There is simply no foundation from which to have any discussion, no room for compromise or mutual respect and understanding.

If all people would stop trusting their intuitions as their prime foundation for taking decisions I’m convinced all extreme right-wing political parties all over the world would disappear tomorrow, as well as homophobia and sexism.

If you only take away one thing from this article it’s the insight that your intuition, although often useful, is an inferior method by which to take important decisions that are in your own best interest.

History lesson

So where did the modern idea that our intuition is a superior form of knowledge come from? Which person did Martin Luther King and Ghandi both name as one of their greatest inspirations? For this we need a little history lesson. A history lesson that I think is especially interesting for religious atheists.

Religions have in all ages been repositories for practical solutions to everyday problems. What we might call wisdom. These were disseminated through society via priests and rituals. Often in the form of taboos. The religious community was a source of strength and practical support in times of need. A much needed safety net.

When the Enlightenment swept the Western world in the 18’th century organised religion was arguably its main target. All figures of authority were attacked, but mainly priests. The role of teaching the lessons on how to live one’s life and approach the world was taught by Christian clergy. Above all, the church had a monopoly on saying what is True. Over time they had transformed this role into power, real political power which they often abused.

The reformation did break the power of the pope to dictate its teachings to the masses. But didn’t do much to change the basic structure of how people learned them. It was still top down from religious authorities according to stiff and often outdated dogma. The Enlightenment wanted to sweep it all away with one fell swoop.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." -Thomas Jefferson (American revolutionary)

Individualism and Self Reliance became the war cries. No longer were we going to bow to the whims of authorities to take advantage of us and exploit us. The church was increasingly seen as nothing but a tool of those in power to control us. We alone would be the master of our lives, and would rely on no support other than from our immediate families.

If we are to stop relying on any external support in our lives, it raises the question of what to replace it with. I think we’ve all have come across moments in our lives where just muddling along as we always have just won’t cut it any longer. The times when we realize that we need to work on some aspect of our lives or be doomed to repeat earlier mistakes. So if not to priests, where should we turn for support and answers to help guide us?

One option is to turn to rationalism. People should learn to think for themselves. Be taught to think critically. Go to universities to learn facts with which to draw their own conclusions. Be guided by what their own reason dictated is ethical. Not be spoon fed ready-made answers.

 “Synchronicity is choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence that lies at the heart of nature, and is manifest in each of us through intuitive knowledge.” –Deepak Chopra  (New Age guru)

The other path to truth is to follow what feels right in your heart, one’s intuition. As we’ve already discussed, this is simply a bad idea. Yet it came to be extremely influential. In the Enlightenment this is the path that later led to 19’th century romanticism, the reaction against rationalism. To capture the implications of this school of thought I think it will be most informative to pick a few thinkers and focus on them.

In the fledgling state of USA Ralph Waldo Emerson formulated his ideas (Transcendentalism) borrowing from Hindu religious texts to expand Enlightenment ideas of personal liberty. His ideas came to have a powerful influence on the rights and roles of a citizen in a modern democracy. Yes, this is the guy both Martin Luther King jr and Ghandi said was a direct inspiration to their movements. Not only of course. They both had many other role models but both gave a prominent place to Emerson.

In Emerson’s essay Self Reliance he argues against all conformity. Emerson’s concept of self reliance is based on only relying on one’s own interpretation of reality, or Truth. One must turn inward to one’s intuition for guidance, only. Never trust any authority that your gut feeling isn’t okay with. Never accept any hierarchy if you don’t feel okay with it, regardless of where on the ladder you find yourself. And never join a flock where you ever have to compromise. Any and all norms are seen as problematic. If what a teacher tells you in school doesn’t feel right “in your soul”, it should be dismissed.

According to Emerson, how do we know that what our intuition tells us is true really is true? He believed that we all had divinity within us. The all knowing omnipotent God lives inside us all. He called it “The Over-Soul”. As atheists we can dismiss that one out of hand. And it won’t come as a surprise that all thinkers in all ages who have stressed the importance of following one’s intuition has had to fall back on woo. Which in practice means saying; “if you don’t agree with me you just aren’t honest with yourself enough”.

Emerson’s ideas have not only survived into the modern world, they are stronger than ever. Here is a video by the popular New Age spiritual guide Deepak Chopra on this very topic. He simply regurgitates old myths, reconfirming popular and false beliefs. Yet, Chopra managed to write an entire book on it called “The power of intuition”. It successfully ignores all the world’s available research on it. He shamelessly sprinkles it with irrelevant neuroscience to make it sound like it isn’t nonsense. For example, (at 00:22) he mentions that the prefrontal cortex lights up when we intuit. He makes no effort in explaining why this is relevant or what it allegedly proves.

The book that first coined the phrase “New Age” and arguably started the modern movement was “Living in the Light” by Shakti Gawain. This is how she views intuition:

“There is a universal, intelligent, life force that exists within everyone and everything. It resides within each one of us as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing. We can access this wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment.” -Shakti Gawain (New Age guru)

She repeats throughout the book how our intuitions is a superior form of knowledge without bothering to explain why or how.

Is following one’s intuition bad?

Of course not. If we did that we’d also ignore out feelings. If we ignore our feelings we are bound for a life of misery. it’s healthy to understand and accept that our emotionally loaded intuitions rarely are particularly smart or rational. It’s also important to understand and accept that other people’s intuitions aren’t smart or rational either. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge when people staunchly hold irrational positions. Especially not to their face. Nobody wants to be called an idiot.

“Your intuition will tell you where you need to go; it will connect you with people you should meet; it will guide you toward work that is meaningful for you - work that brings you joy, work that feels right for you.” -Shakti Gawain (gives some good advice for a change)

This is where religions like Syntheism can come in and give us guidance. Again, like religions have in all ages. But today we won’t have blind trust in priests or have to go mining ancient holy texts for the scraps if wisdom that still might be relevant today. Since Syntheists don’t believe church leaders have gained their authority from a god, but based on track-record we have a structure by which to prevent abuses of power. By using insights gained by modern psychology we can incorporate modern therapy methods and mechanics. Over time the wisdom collected in the church will evolve and grow, and yet again be the guide and help we need to protect us from misguided overt trust in our intuition.

Syntheism is still in its infancy, and we have neither priests or any kind of organisation or system that can act to collect and spread collected wisdoms. But it’s my hope that once we’ve now seen the need we will start giving it some serious thought.

Resources for further reading

If you would like to know more here are some links to some actual science. There is quite a large body of research to dig into. The below barely touches on what there is.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuition_(psychology)

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

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

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

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

Interview with Daniel Khaneman on intuition: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/interview-with-daniel-kahneman-on-the-pitfalls-of-intuition-and-memory-a-834407.html

The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, Gary Klein (2004)

Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, Gary Klein (1999)

Decision-Making Barbara A Mellers, (2006)

 C.R. Hamilton Paths in the brain, actions of the mind (1998)

R.W. Sperry “Cerebral Organization and Behavior: The split brain behaves in many respects like two separate brains, providing new research possibilities, 1961

Miller, Charles E., III, Emotional/rational decision making in law enforcement, 2004

 

Measuring Happiness

I think it’s a safe assumption that we all want to be happier. Ok, great. We now know what we want from life. All we need to do now is figure out how to get it. What do we need to do? Are there different ways to be happy? What are the most effective methods reach them?

To figure this out we need to find a language in order to talk about the different ways of being happy. Once we have that down we can attempt to measure it. That is what this article is about. 

Obstacles to measuring happiness

It goes without saying that happiness is subjective as well as relative. It’s hard to compare one person’s self reporting of happiness with another’s. Only you can be the judge of how effective actions and states of mind are in making you happy. Never let anybody tell you what you need to do to be happy. This is something we all simply have to figure out for ourselves. And vice versa. You can’t tell anybody else what will make them happy.

Biology is relevant. Fundamentally happiness is the firing of neurotransmitters in the brain. Our brains are all different. Some people seem to need very little positive reinforcement in the most horrible situations to feel inner peace and joy. Others struggle with seemingly perpetual depressions no matter their fortunes in life.

The philosopher Thomas Metzinger argues that the promise of happiness is the neurochemical engine by which our brains push our bodies to do things at all. This means that whenever we achieve a state of happiness our brains immediately adapt in order for us to be pushed ahead for the next task at hand. We are so-to-speak programmed by evolution to never feel satisfied over any length of time. Therefore it would be folly to even aim for perpetual happiness. By its very evolutionary design happiness is transitory.

The biologist and science writer Matt Ridley makes the same arguments and expands it with the genetic aspect. Triggers for happiness (and pain) has been programmed into our genes by evolution in order to steer us into ways that keep us alive and eventually lead to us spreading our genes. But evolution is slow and this is a very blunt tool for control. Humans are clever and self-reflective. So we are quicker at developing ways in which to fool our genetic programming. To trigger happiness neurotransmitters faster than evolution manage to compensate for it. This we can and do use to our advantage. An example would be condom use for sex or triggering endorphines by watching comedies on television. So we arguably have a greater capacity for happiness than what the basic design was built for.  

We call it aceeeeed

We call it Aceeeeed

So now we know what happiness is for. The next step is to define it.

The definition of happiness

Happiness can be defined in many ways. All useful in their own way. For simplicity I’m sticking to the happiness philosopher Bengt Brülde’s definitions. He separates happiness into the following types:

Euphoria, peace of mind, experiencing pleasure and satisfaction.

Euphoria

An ecstatic intoxication of joy.This type of happiness is associated with succeeding with a long or difficult task in life, like graduating, being in love, finishing a race, getting your dream job or getting long longed for recognition. Can be induced by doing the unexpected and joyful like suddenly racing outside and euphorically dancing in a summer rain. Also the type of happiness we get from using drugs. By it’s nature this type of happiness is rare, ephemeral and fickle.  

Peace of mind

I think we can all agree on that, in general, the less we suffer the better. We have all suffered at some point in our lives and we are all well aware that no matter at what stage we are in life we will most likely suffer some more later on. This knowledge can give us fear and anxiety. In this case there is no solution to the source of the problem. We will suffer. The fear is real and often realistic. The best we can do is manage the symptoms. Religions around the world have come up with solutions.

For example Christians attain peace of mind by praying regularly to God. Why not give it a shot and see if a Christian prayer does the trick for you? I’m pretty sure you don’t need to believe in God in order for their prayers to help you achieve a peace of mind. To get you started here is an example of a popular Christian prayer.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.

Amen.

/Written by the evangelical Christian Reinhold Niebuhr adapted for use by Alcoholics Anonymous

To get maximum effect from your prayers the evangelical Christians at prayers-for-special-help.com) has offered some advice. I’m presenting them here unbowdlerized:

Set aside a few minutes in the morning or in the evening to pray your devotions to God. Ask God for serenity on a daily basis using this prayer as your guide.

1. Try to memorize the words to the prayer.

2. Speak directly to God. Don’t just blindly repeat the words you’ve memorized. You need to speak directly to Him and truly mean the words you’re speaking.

3. After praying, write your reflections in a prayer journal. Over time you’ll be able to track your progress towards serenity and happiness.

Note! This is not intended to promote Christianity or Christian beliefs in God. This is only as an example of things we Syntheists can steal/borrow/use from other religions. As a Syntheist any reference to a god (or anything supernatural) should be seen and interpreted as a metaphor. If the idea of praying to God makes your atheistic mind uneasy, simply replace those lines with something your secular brain is more comfortable with.

Experiencing pleasure

Good wine, a great massage, the rush of shopping pretty things, eating cake, sitting in a comfortable bath, having an orgasm, a jacuzzi, sinking into a water bed, having a dishwasher, travelling in first class instead of second class, staying at a hotel with wifi by the pool.

The only real problem with this one is that we’ll get used to it no matter the level. To experience this type of happiness we have to deny ourselves our pleasure for a while to miss it, and then indulge again once we’re well and truly starved. It is important for our peace of mind that we are aware of this cycle.

One strategy is to not indulge at all. To opt out of the cycle. Which is what Buddhists try to do. Another is to apply moderation which is the typical approach in most religions. For example, Jews are encouraged to indulge their desires to their hearts content during the Sabbath while abstaining from pleasures the rest of the week.

Satisfaction

When we see newspapers claiming that country X is happier than country Y or people with such and such a job are happier than people with another job this is the kind of happiness that is implied. This is based on surveys and self reporting. People who say they are happy give stuff like this as an explanation; being physically active, having a social life, having close friends, being in a relationship, having a job that is adequately challenging. Being rich sure is nice but is rarely given as a reason for happiness. That comes back to pleasure. We can’t buy friends. Money can buy pleasure. See earlier heading.

The religious typically score high on this simply by being part of a religious community. This is arguably even more important than any of its philosophies or teachings. The mere fact of doing things together, sharing an identity and having a common goal is important for humans and always greatly satisfying.

General principles on maximising happiness.

Don’t have euphoria as your major goal in life, and don’t expect it. It will only come when you aren’t trying to. Be in the moment. Pay attention and do plenty of introspection.  

Peace of mind can be attained through calming one’s thoughts overall. Praying, meditation or mindful physical exercise, (like yoga) are excellent tools by which to still the mind. Try to fit less things into your weekly schedule and set time aside for being alone with your thoughts. But even simpler things like removing clutter from your home. Paint your walls at home with calming colours. Buying plants and take care of them. Or just making sure you’ve got a good house insurance.

People like to be around us and we attract friends by letting go of our ego, our egotism and self centeredness. We have to learn to accept that the world doesn’t revolve around us and be ok with that. This also brings about peace of mind. If all else fails you can always buy a pet.

There’s countless studies that show that by generously giving to others you are also making yourself happier. This is the lesson Scrooge learns in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s a popular story because so many can relate. 

The Golden Rule isn’t just for other people’s benefit. You too will become happier if you make a point of treating others like you yourself would like to be treated. If other people take advantage of it, you at least can feel secure in the fact that at least you are overall happier than them. To get respect you need to give respect. 

Indulging in a guilty pleasure is perfectly fine as long as you don’t make it into a habit. Any pleasure we take for granted and is routine will stop making us happy. And longing for something can also be a source of joy. Knowing that we will indulge a certain pleasure once we’ve finished some necessary yet gruelling task. 

So what about measuring happiness? Didn’t I say in the beginning that this article is about measuring it?

Yes, I did. But I must admit that I’m not going to be much help. Happiness is subjective and only you can be the measuring stick of what it is that makes you happy. What do you usually do when you are happy? Or what state of mind are you in then? Are you doing that or feeling like that more or less often  today? If less, what can you do about it? Do you know what to do about it?

Those are questions only you can answer.

/Tom Knox, a member of the Stockholm congregation.

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

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

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_well-being

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

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

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

http://www.prayers-for-special-help.com/serenity-prayer.html

 

Hello. I’m a Syntheist. This is what I believe

Dead sea scrolls

Dead sea scrolls

Few things make sceptics and scientifically inclined free thinkers nervous as the idea that they might be adhering to any kind of dogma. We all want to avoid the dreaded bane of group-think or risk turning into any kind of brain-washing cult. But any group of people have distinguishing features. That’s why we can identify it as a group. Idea-based groups share common ideas. This should be uncontroversial. We are not open to anybody. We are only open to those who share our beliefs and values. I hope this to is uncontroversial?

I set about trying to identify what these shared beliefs could be. Since these beliefs are intended to be universal for all Syntheists we needed to agree to them. As it happens, free thinking rationalist found it impossible to agree to such a list. Who would have thought?

A herd of cats

Cats resenting being herded

So I gave up on the idea to create a universally accepted Syntheist creed. But I still wanted some sort of a list that Syntheists could get behind. Not an authoritative list from above. But simply something we could point to and show as an example of the kinds of things Syntheists believe. Something tangible and concrete. So instead of our list I created my list:

A Syntheist…

– is a post-atheist. 1)

– is an ethicist 2)

– is a Monist

– accepts that Science is at present the best tool we have to understand reality. 3)

– believes that our understanding of reality is always inter-subjective, that we are individuals and that we can never separate ourselves from our experience of the world. 4 )

– thinks religion can be a positive force in the world.

-believe that religion is primarily about the sacredness of community. 5)

– understand that holiness and divinity is humanly created concepts to answer psychological needs as biological creatures with a symbolic brain.

– finds a personal approach and way through their spirituality, but understand the need for communal action and rites so shares values, direction and connection.

-is aware that each individual is free to join and leave, partake or disagree with any Syntheist group.

Science stand back

Notes:

1)      Post-atheism is an atheist in a world where all theistic belief has disappeared already. It’s a stance on the “Big Questions” that isn’t opposed to anything since there’s nothing for such a stance to oppose. If you don’t like the term post-atheist or you don’t think it’s accurate for you in your situation in life, then you are free to replace “post-atheist” with just “atheist”. You’ll be just as welcome.

2)  Philosophically speaking, Syntheists are ethicists: empowerment through knowledge, community building and creative activity. Ethics comes from logical thinking, rational discourse and inquiries into the human condition: intersubjectivity rather than objectivity.

http://syntheism.org/index.php/2013/05/syntheism-and-ethics/

3) That’s full on science with all the bells and whistles, applied scientific method. No pseudoscience or real science as a fig-leaf for some otherwise crazy beliefs. Furthermore, we are not scientistic. We acknowledge that there is plenty of valuable knowledge the scientific method has little or nothing to say about (ex. ethics)

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

4)  A more fancy way of saying the same thing is:

We believe that our understanding of reality is always intersubjective, that we are dividuals rather than individuals, operating under the illusory but necessary experience of the isolated Self, and fundamentally unable to separate ourselves from the continuous and interactive process with the rest of existence.

5)  This belief renders the struggles over God (God vs God or theism vs atheism) an irrelevant conflict.

This list is not  complete and will never be. These are only the most fundamental beliefs that I think identify me as a Syntheist. It should also be pointed out that I received plenty of help from other Syntheists in compiling this list and finding the best formulations. It was, very much so, a group effort.

/Tom Knox,

member of the Stockholm congregation

Tantra: Transcendence, World Affirmation, Ecstasy and Bliss

Much confusion has been spread around about what Tantra is. Common questions that come up are “You mean like Tantric sex?” or “Tantra, that is all about sex, right?” Well not quite. To say such a thing is like claiming that every bicycle is a Schwinn. Yes there is an element of sex, or sexuality that is within Tantra, but at the same time this is not the sole purpose.

sri_yantra_red
When asked what Tantra is there can often be confusion because Tantra is not a method that could be described, but more an experience. Where Tantra is unique to most Indian spiritual practices is that it is heavily female centered. It is an Indian practice where a lot Yogi’s, Swami’s, or Guru’s are in fact women. Because of this Tantra will have a different view of Moksha than most Indian traditions. In general Moksha would be liberation from the physical world. Your average Tantrist would define Moksha as liberation from separation of the mental, physical, and spiritual world. Because Tantra is based heavily on feminine principles there is an emphasis on eliminating binaries dualities. This could be male and female, Higher or Lower, Left or right, mind or body, Spiritual and Material ect. The purpose of Tantra is to eliminate the binary within these terms as these are terms that intensive agrarian societies have used as a way of control. Instead Tantra strives for complimentary opposites.

So what is Tantra? The best way for me to describe it is that it is a goal to get to a state of being that is a combination of ecstasy and bliss. Were reason is good, but not everything is limited to it. Where the conscious self observes all reason, thought, feeling, and desire so that all will be directed in ways that are beneficial to the practitioner, so that you do not have to be some great ascetic to attain inner stillness or enlightenment.

The compatibility with Tantra to Syntheism is that the view of God is not something separate from Nature or oneself.  The purpose of Tantra is to see all existence as sacred.  To see us as the very universe exploring itself.  Since there is little difference between spiritual atheism and pantheism, and since Syntheism does not separate between spirit and matter, the goal of Moksha as I described above would be something that a Syntheist could apply to their daily lives.  If for no other reason than most Syntheists live in a culture based on duality and such a practice could help the Syntheist unlearn this cultural conditioning that he/she has been brought up with.

Many people and practitioners that come to Tantra have their spiritual and material goals connected. Tantra for many people who experience it (as it is not for everyone) increases ones charisma, charm, and compassion as well as reason. At the same time aiding in personal relationships, be they romantic, friendships, family, or business. The idea is that desire, passion, and even the ego are not bad in and of themselves, but are aspects of our being that need to be directed. Through being conscious of these very aspects of our being we can be better at accomplishing our duty or “darma” in this world and eliminate boundaries to the service we can give the world. That every mundane endeavor is in fact a spiritual one and through our duty we bring happiness and peace to the world we live.

Kenneth

Religion and Psychedelia: The Syntheist take on a controversial topic

One of the most controversial issues in theological debates is the widespread and growing use of psychedelic substances to encourage religious experience. Undeniably, psychedelic substances like magic mushrooms, LSD, MDMA,  and ayahuasca activate the very same areas of the human brain as traditional religious experience and have been widely used in various religions for thousands of years. So why the current controversy, and is there a Syntheist take on the growing use of psychedelic substances for religious purposes?

Psychedelia 3

Some Syntheists prefer the exclusive use of techniques such as mediatation and contemplation to achieve their religious experiences. Others welcome the occasional additional usage of psychedelic substances. Since the former is widely accepted in contemporary society while the latter remains highly controversial, the important thing is not to succumb to a temporary contemporary morality – many things we now take for granted as part of our human freedoms have been banned in the past for the most ridiculous and prejudiced reasons, the bias against psychedelics may very well be one such area of prejudiced moralism today – but to leave the decision on whether to use psychedelic substances for religious purposes to each individual practitioner and to increase scientific reasearch on the long-term effects of psychedelic substaces rather than succumb to moralistic prejudice.

Syntheism therefore takes the stand that we respect the choice of religious practice each grown-up responsible individual Syntheist makes, leaving our religion in the making open to sound and creative experimentaton, and that laws and regulations in society should be adjusted to scientific knowledge and not to biased prejudice. Denying people the right to a proper religious experience on the grounds that the practices are morally upsetting to other people – whom it does not really concern – is unacceptable and could rather be viewed as a modern form of religious persecution.

Psychedelia 2

So while neither encouraging nor discouraging the use of psychedelic substances for religious experience, Syntheists are asked to act responsibly and with respect to scientific knowledge (please remember science is sacred to Syntheists) while not succumbing to the moralistic prejudices prevalent in contemporary laws and regulations. After all, we worship Syntheos and not the Logos of any government when such a Logos contradicts our firm beliefs in human and religious freedom.

To be a Syntheist is to be open, creative, on the move, especially in relation to the wrongs and injustices of the times we live in. To be a Syntheist is also to act firmly against any form of drug abuse, since abuse is opposed to the freedom and enlightenment we support and encourage for all human beings. But non-abusive and enlightening drug use can and should not be categorized as abusive, on scientific and ethical grounds.

Syntheism is after all the utopian religion par excellence. We do not believe God created us, we believe we are capable of creating God. And for some well educated and responsible people, this ambition may include the occasional use of psychedelic substances. Live and let live!

Deep atheism: Syntheism as a post-atheist religion

Atheism is sometimes (wrongly) referred to as a religion. As a matter of fact, atheism has nothing to do with religion. Some religions are theistic and some religions are atheistic, but atheism in itself is no more a religion than its opposite theism is.

Theism believes there is at least one god (whatever kind of god that may be), a-theism is just the belief that a specific defined god does not exist – there can be no general atheism, but merely specific versions directed against different theisms, like Christian atheism, Islamic atheism, Judaist atheism, Hindu atheism etc – since atheism always needs at least one god that it can claim not to believe in. Atheism is always, you see, nothing beyond a pure negation.

Individual

Actually, it is a miracle that anybody cares about atheism in the first place since it delivers no worldview of its own. It is nothing but a constantly repeated I am still not sure what I believe in, but at least I do not believe in that! Atheism can in itself not define anything it actually does believe in. It is an empty hole, an intellectual dead end.

Historically, atheists have therefore always been forced to define at least something in addition to atheism, which they can claim they do believe in. The most common reponse is that atheists stick to humanism, they believe that there are people and these people are individuals and this is apparently of great metaphysical importance to them. So atheists end up believing in individualism where they can at least claim to believe in themselves.

The problem is that individuals exist no more than the so far defined gods. Just like nobody ever seems to have met God and can prove his or existence, nobody has ever met and can prove the existence of an individual. Sure, there are over seven billion people on this planet, and these people have bodies, but that these bodies also harbor individuals is no more proven than the existence of any external divinity. There is only the body, there is no individual inside the body. Rather people seem to be far more dividual than individual, split, chaotic and living with grand delusions of all kinds, rather than being unified, structured, and all-knowing.

Syntheism starts right here: Individualism is a dead end, science has proved that the feeling of being an individual is an illusion, literally a mindgame. So we can no longer be complacent with historical atheism. We have to move beyond atheism, into what we refer to as deep atheism or post-atheism. Please feel most welcome to join us. When both God and The Individual are dead, what can we do with whatever is left of metaphysics, if not create our own new gods which we really can believe in? Far more than we could ever believe in our limited and illusionary selves.