It’s time to move on from the limitations and dogma of traditional religion and evolve to a higher level of consciousness as practiced in pantheism and Buddhism.
Famed mythologist Joseph Campbell once remarked that being a member of an organized religion is a sure-fire way for a person not to have a spiritual experience. In other words, many people get so hung up on the rituals and traditions of their religion (or their rejection of it, as with atheists), they miss the most important aspect of the religion itself: a chance to achieve a higher level of consciousness and commune with the source of life.
To make matters worse, millions of individuals around the word take their holy books (the Old Testament, New Testament, Koran, etc.) literally and justify all kinds of close-minded and destructive behavior, from damning disbelievers to hell to torturing or killing them for their opposing views or beliefs.
It is beyond all scope of logic and reason how individuals in the 21st century can read their respective holy books and interpret them literally, especially since these books were compiled centuries ago as collections of myths, parables, and didactic stories.
In contrast, does anyone today take the Greek myths literally? Does anyone believe that Hercules performed super human feats of strength during his 12 labors, like choking the Nemean lion to death or capturing Cerberus, the vicious guardian of Hades?
Perhaps once upon a time in ancient Greece the masses believed in those myths as literal truth, but I doubt very seriously if the disciples of Plato or Aristotle did. And I haven’t met any modern-day Greeks who want to damn me to hell or blow my brains out because I don’t believe in the 12 labors of Hercules as literal truth.
Yet today’s fundamentalist Christians do just that. Their most vocal leaders, like the late Jerry Falwell– God rest his smarmy soul!– routinely blamed all of society’s ills on gays and liberals, and Pat Robertson, the mean-spirited religious huckster who once ran for president, actually encouraged the CIA to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Needless to say, they were both strong supporters of George W. Bush and his unnecessary and destructive war in Iraq.
Even more supportive of the war were neoconservative Jews like William Kristol and Richard Perl, who egged Bush into invading Iraq in the first place. I don’t know if these guys believe in a literal translation of the Old Testament, but they may as well, given their bellicose brand of politics and alliance with fundamentalist Christians and right-wing Israelis.
Not to be outdone, Islamic fundamentalists have one-upped their Christian and Jewish counterparts by becoming suicide bombers and killing innocent civilians in the name of Allah.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter which religion these proponents of hate and war represent, they all share the same feature– a misguided and dangerous pathology that their religious/political beliefs are right because God is on their side.
This is where the militant atheists come in. Madeline Murray O’Hair was the first atheist I remember to make a big splash on the American scene back in the 1970s. She debated many religious leaders at the time and basically told all of them they were full of sh-t and that only idiots believed in an irrational sky God. Ironically, Ayn Rand, the goddess of “free trade” conservatives, was also an atheist, and once admonished William F. Buckley Jr. for essentially the same thing.
Renewing this argument on the contemporary scene are members of the scientific community who write books with self-evident titles like Sorry, You Can’t Prove the Existence of God! (a concept most of us learned in junior high school, if not sooner), and atheists who tell us how terrible religion is, as Christopher Hitchens does in his new book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens, of course, was the darling of the left until he sold out and supported the war in Iraq, so I don’t think we should take him too seriously about any subject. The reality is, today’s scientific skeptics and neo-atheists are not saying anything new since Madeline Murray O’Hair. Everyone knows you can’t prove the existence of God, and no one would deny that many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. Of course, the best line on the subject goes to the French writer Stendhal: “The only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist.”
In any case, skeptics and atheists are right when they maintain that society would be better off without the close-minded and dogmatic version of religion that has been so divisive and destructive over the centuries. But they are wrong when they jump to the conclusion that it is an either/or proposition and the absence of God in one’s life is preferable to the presence of God. This brand of militant atheism leads to nihilism, existential despair, or totalitarianism that existed in places like the former Soviet Union and Cambodia.
This is where pantheism and Buddhism come in. Although not the same, these two belief systems share many of the same aspects. With them, it’s all about higher consciousness and coming to grips with one’s true nature. In pantheism, the concept of God is not of a supreme being, but a natural life force which we all share. In Buddhism there is no God per se, but there is enlightenment and nirvana, or “highest happiness.” Even as dark a soul as Nietzsche admired Buddhism, calling it “the only positivisti c religion history has to show us.”
Moreover, both these belief systems are about the essence of religion without the ritual and dogma. They’re the logical destination for humans who have rejected traditional religion but realize– unlike atheists– that spirituality and higher consciousness not only exist, but are just as real as our physical beings. And the recognition of this reality is the starting point for self discovery and truth about oneself and the universe. It is the path that will ultimately lead an individual and a society to harmony and peace and love.