Friday, October 06, 2006

Some Thoughts on Religion

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

I have been practising Zen Buddhism for two years.

An interesting paradigm to keep in mind when considering religion is whether it is a subjective or objective religion. Objective religions are religions that describe religious ideas as being outside of our own minds or selves. Belief in gods or a god outside of oneself is an attribute of an objective religion. Eastern religions (or philosophies) are (or tend to be) subjective. The Buddha is not something outside of our own minds or selves.

It indeed seems to me that objective religions are a dying breed. Science seems to be gaining a monopoly in objective thought and all for the better in my opinion.

I myself have been thinking about experiences that are not objective or scientific in the sense that others cannot confirm them. I think it's safe to say that most of us have experiences like these. Science calls these things "hallucinations" and I really have no problem with that description, per se. The problem I do have with that description is that by calling these experiences hallucinations attaches negative connotations to them. Hallucinations are admitted as "normal" only if they come with drugs, illness, or whatever.

When I meditate I see funky colors, and walls look "electric", and all sorts of "stuff." From the first person perspective they are as "real" as (scientific) "reality". Actually, from the first person perspective they are more real than scientific reality because we can not practically experience all that science tells us is true.

I believe that all of our experiences (including hallucinations) can ultimately be complimented by scientific explanations. For example, science can (or will) be able to tell me that when I experienced viewing red this cluster of neurons went ratta-tat-tat. Science could also tell me whether I hallucinated it or whether red was really "out there." Science will eventually be able to explain in technical terms when I experience anger that I'm not understanding that the creep who swore at me has an ulcer which caused 'A' which caused 'B' which caused me to split my knuckles on his chin. As processing power improves hopefully it can save my knuckles or, even better, the swearing, or (even better) the ulcer, or even better, ... The problem is that the science for many of my experiences simply does not exist yet or I don't have time to learn it.

Before the last couple of years I chose to ignore any "abnormal" experiences and label them as bullshit. As it turns out, that is a poor coping strategy! I think science, by its very nature, has a way of minimizing the role of the first-person perspective and that's sad. I'm not stating whether paranormal things happen in the third-person scientific world or not, but paranormal experiences do occur in the first person and are an important part of being human.

I now see science as simply a tool for myself. If my head hits a wall two or three times I can compare notes with others to learn sumpthin'. Or maybe I already read about walls and just avoid 'em because they aren't terribly attractive to begin with. Or maybe I've read about walls but still choose to push on one for experience's sake.

Back to religions...they adapt. Above I said that objective religions are a dying breed but, in fact, they are simply morphing into subjective religions as science takes over their territory. Frankly, if religion helps people without limiting an individual's own ability to help other people (of all, or any, faith) then that's fine with me. (If I were a homeless person though, giving me food with a sermon attached wouldn't really be an example of a religion helping me although it would be an example of an individual helping).

What do others think or feel about this?

Much of what I've discussed here is similar to what I've read in The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus by the way.

The Author Drives A Toy Truck For His Son

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