Religion is under attack from all sides. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hichens have written and lectured extensively against it. A growing trend is towards being ‘spiritual but not religious,’ with its implicit rejection of religion, while technical gadgets, such as the smart phone, iPad with the accompanying flood of computer ‘games, ’now fill the time that once could have been devoted to questions that only religion can answer. The epidemic of child abuse committed by priests and covered up by bishops has sapped people’s confidence in the Church as a moral compass, while extreme fundamentalists––Christian and Muslim––have persuaded us that religion is for the lunatic fringe. All of this is against the background of a materialistic and secular worldview that claims that all that can be asked of religion can be answered by science.
The beliefs that the Christian religion requires us to accept without question, such as the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection after being killed by crucifixion, and the various miracles he is purported to have performed, to say nothing about the Virgin Mary being taken up to heaven fully clothed or Lazarus being hauled back from the dead, leave most of us shaking our heads wondering how to integrate them with our modern understanding.
So should we, as Dawkins demands, just throw it all out? Should we dismiss religious teaching as improbable fairy tales told to fill the gap of ignorance, without sense or value, an opiate for the masses? Should we just ‘do our own thing’ with a potpourri of mashed ideas from the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, that is to say Sufi, traditions, all served up with a good dose of yoga? What would we lose as a consequence? How could we answer such a question in our ‘postmodern world’ where my truth is as good as your truth, where there is no orienting center to act s beacon and guide?
To answer such a question we should have some sense of what we are as human beings, what is our true or original nature. We need to reconstruct from scratch an understanding of our human nature, its psychological as well as spiritual aspects. One of the most distressing things about our age is that we have no psychological understanding at all, this having been usurped by neuro-science under the mistaken notion that the mind and brain are different names for the same phenomena.
I should like to use this web-site to explore with you some thoughts about you and me, not you and me the bodies, but you and me as the miracles that we are.
First I ought to announce my prejudices and biases. In this way you can opt out of reading what I have to say if these are fundamentally and irrevocably different from your own. I have had an intense interest in Zen Buddhism since 1955, have practice it consistently since 1964 and, as teacher and director of the Montreal Zen Center, have, since 1986, taught it to a vast variety of people from all walks of life. I have studied widely Western philosophy and science and am familiar in some depth with the Christian, Sufi, Hindu, and other ancient traditions. I was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Queen’s University in Ontario.
We all judge, theorize and evaluate within a network of assumptions, or beliefs, which together characterize our worldview. It will be as well to pick out a few of the prevalent assumptions and beliefs based on which we have until now tried to come to terms with human nature. I will then set out some alternative assumptions that will make possible an entirely different approach to understanding human nature.
Possibly the most basic assumption held by people who think about life and its meaning is that the world is essentially and only matter. This matter in some way, with the aide of accidental mutations refined by natural selection, becomes increasingly complex and gives rise to life and, eventually, to consciousness and thought. Living beings, including of course human beings, are complicated matter, which can be studied using the same scientific approach that has been used in studying the physical universe. Moreover, it is believed that everything in principle can be known, and that classical logic, along with the principle of cause and effect, is an adequate logical basis for gaining an understanding of life processes. Finally, life has no direction or purpose and the need to survive is the sole motivator in life.
As long as we stay with these assumptions we shall not be able to break the logjam in thought that stymies any worthwhile attempt to understand human nature or to understand religion, which I shall suggest is a natural outcome of life’s drive. Therefore, I suggest the following alternative assumptions. The world and life forms are not simply complicated matter but are the outcome of three independent aspects: intentionality, consciousness and matter. I will define these later and in the process I will refine this assumption. Life is not a mechanical process and cannot be studied using the same assumptions as are used in the physical sciences: life is essentially creative. Classical logic is not adequate for gaining an understanding of life processes, instead we need a logic of creativity that includes classical logic, but goes beyond it. The knowable is an island within the unknowable. To understand human nature one must start with what is best and greatest in human beings and account for its evolution. Evolution goes in the direction of increasing intelligence.
These then are some of my basic assumptions, or if one prefers, they are my basic beliefs. I shall hope to be able to post each month some elaboration, explanation or justification for having these beliefs, and with this perhaps we shall find a way by which we can rescue religion from the confusion of misunderstandings and ill-founded dogmas that characterize it at the moment. In doing so we may discover a startling new and meaningful meaning for the word ‘religion.’