The Truth of Religion (or: Yes, Virginia…)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of truth this holiday season. My oldest daughter is nine, and she still believes in Santa, bless her heart. The question is, do I?

I mean, think about it. I’m a pagan. I believe in, and have personal experience with, Apollo, Athena, Belanus, Cernunnos, Bridget, and various lesser spirit guides. Why not Santa?

ire24Well, one reason is that I know quite well who puts those presents under the Solstice tree; our credit cards have the scars to prove it. On the other hand, where does the magic of the season come from — the magic in the children’s hearts and in our own — if not from Spirit? And why not call that Spirit Santa Claus? (Have any mediums out there tried to contact him? I’m asking this seriously!)

Take another example: my second daughter, who is 7, believes quite firmly that Thor causes lightning. (I’m not sure what my 9-year-old thinks — she may be agnostic on the point.) I personally believe in Thor. But as for whether he’s out there with his hammer when lightning strikes — well, I’ve never seen him, and there seems to be quite a bit of meteorological evidence that it has something to do with charged particles in the ground and the atmosphere.

Nastier questions arise when you start mixing up pantheons like I have (e.g., do I believe in Zeus? If so, who’s really in charge of lightning here?). Then there’s the issue of angelic visitations, “aspects” of the God and Goddess of Wicca, Christians with powerful religious experiences, and all that. I mean, it can’t all be true, can it?? How do you decide?

Kinds of Truth

There are a few options I’ve seen people espouse here and there:

  • Everything is true, including Santa and Zeus and Thor and even Christianity. The problem with this is that in practice, you’ve got to be selective with your beliefs. Christianity is true except the whole thing about Yahweh being the only god. Norse theology is true except the bit about Thor literally causing lightning. Santa is true except the part where he puts presents under the tree.
  • Nothing is true; it’s all metaphorical, except physical stuff. There isn’t really any Thor; but his story is a nice metaphor for some part of the human psyche. The problem here is that there’s lots of evidence that something nonphysical is going on. See just about any other post on this site, particularly Trust Your Feelings.
  • Parallel truths. One option is saying that the spiritual stuff is true as a kind of “reflex” of the material world. For example, you can say that when charged particles create lightning here on Earth, Thor is hurling his hammer in the Otherworld. The problem is you need a huge number of Otherworlds to accommodate all the pantheons of the world. And how exactly do these Otherworlds interact with the physical world? And again, monotheistic religions basically say the other Otherworlds don’t exist. You can’t have Asgard and the Christian heaven and the Islamic paradise; one of these religions is lying. What to do? And what is the nature of “truth” in the Otherworlds — has Odin always been the Allfather, despite evidence that the most ancient Germans believed Tyr was? Has Apollo always been the son of Zeus, despite evidence that he came from a different pantheon entirely?

What do the Gods Themselves Say About It?

I asked Apollo this back at the Midsummer:

DJ: How can you be a god that used to be a god of disease, AND the son of Zeus and twin of Artemis?

Apollo: Well, my personal history changed as my character changed, naturally. They are different kinds of history, not in conflict. They are both true.

DJ: They’re both true?

Apollo: Absolutely. And I agree it appears to be a paradox. But remember that the personal history of a god is one way of thinking about that god’s character; the social history of a god is another way of thinking about that god’s character. They are ways of thinking. They are belief systems. They are both true — or both false — your choice. Or use the religion = language metaphor. “Apollo used to be a disease” is an expression in one language/religion. “Apollo is the son of Zeus” is an expression in another language/religion. They’re not translatable.

DJ: My brain hurts.

Apollo: Sorry. I can’t explain any better than that, using the vocabulary you have at your disposal. No offense meant.

Logjam at the Heart of Physics

Now cut away to physics for a moment. Throughout the 19th century, physics and chemistry were completely separate sciences, each with their own province of applicability, and each with their own vocabulary and symbol set. There was no way of “translating” between them. You couldn’t express the law of gravity in the language of chemistry, and you couldn’t express an exothermic reaction in the language of physics.

Then, with quantum mechanics, suddenly chemistry was “reduced” to physics. Physics had discovered the mapping, the translation, from the physical interaction of subatomic particles to macroscopic chemical processes. An exothermic reaction could be described in terms of photons, neutrons, and other little tiny spinning billiard balls. Chemistry wasn’t any less “true”, but the two sciences had effectively been collapsed into a single consistent belief system.

However, a price had to be paid, and that price sits at the heart of quantum mechanics. First off, of course, quantum mechanics doesn’t give precise predictions about the movements and characteristics of these tiny billiard balls, except as probabilities over large numbers of them. Second, they aren’t really tiny billiard balls any more — they’re both particles and waves, in some weird way that we simply can’t grasp. The equations are consistent, and they make very, very accurate predictions; but we don’t know what they’re really describing. Not only are these great truths unknown, they are in principle unknowable. The contradictions and mysteries cannot be resolved, any more than 2 can equal 1.

The great physicist Richard Feynman said, “No one understands Quantum Mechanics. Do not say to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, ‘But how can it be like that ,’ because you will go down the drain into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.”

In other words, at the bottom of physics is a conundrum that’s impossible to resolve, even in principle. If the physical world rests on a contradiction, what does that tell us about the ultimate nature of truth and reality? Are these questions answerable, even in theory? Does it make sense to even look for a single consistent model of the world?

Speaking the Truth

I wrote about this at length some time ago, when I talked about belief communities. In that model, your belief system is kind of like a language that you speak. You share your reality with other people that have beliefs roughly compatible with yours, just as you can speak with people who speak the same language as you do. If you change your beliefs, that’s like learning a new language; your circle of friends will probably change, and the reality you experience with them will change as well. I gave an example on seeing fairies, which comes from personal experience, here. As I came to believe in earth spirits more and more, I met more people who had seen them, and even stumbled on a training program for learning to see them — one I haven’t been brave enough to follow up on!

Pick Your Truth Wisely

So perhaps truth isn’t as solid and unyielding as we think; perhaps it really can change depending on your beliefs. Where I’m standing now, I see evidence for a multitude of gods and spirits; but if I change my beliefs, maybe all I’ll see is evidence for a single god, or no spirits at all. Where I’m standing now, Thor doesn’t really throw his hammer to create lightning. But if I change my beliefs, and my reality shifts accordingly, maybe someday I’ll glimpse his chariot in the clouds.

And as crazy as it sounds, I’m quite serious when I wonder… could I actually save a bundle next Solstice by leaving a window cracked??

Comments

  1. How does one resolve contradictory religions…

    How does one resolve contradictions within one religion?

    I will think about this. I’ve been skirting this topic for the past month now in my own musing…

    The quick answer is, of course, that there are exceptions (i.e., Santa is real, except when it comes time to put the presents down)… That’s most certainly not my final answer, though.

  2. I don’t really think you’re being entirely fair to the metaphorical approach. Saying things like “his story is a nice metaphor” uses patronizing language to completely minimize and invalidate what I think is an extremely valid viewpoint.

    Seiously, I’d like to believe in Magic and Personal Gods, but I simply do not.

    On the other hand, I do think there is more to existence and reality than a mechanical model, no matter how complex. I also think that symbol and metaphor are the primary means by which human beings make sense of their existence.

    From a practical viewpoint, I think the distinction might be irrelevant–everything we experience is double-filtered, first through our physical senses, and then through our perception of sensory input (i.e., our brain’s sorting-out of said input). The result is that from a practical standpoint ehre’s absolutely no way to concretely separate objective existence from our subjective experience of that objective existence.

    In other words, whether Apollo is a spiritual being with independent objective existence or an entirely mental construct that reflects a metaphorical aspect of your psyche (or your personal access to some sort of collective psyche, which may very well exist as well) is an irresolvable (and honestly irrelevant) question. There’s no way to ever be absolutely sure that your experience of reality–no matter how powerful it may seem–reflects even a shred of objective reality.

    I guess my point is that I think the metaphorical model explains things a hell of a lot more satisfactorily to me at least, and I don’t think it’s one that can be so easily dismissed. And the metaphorical model also isn’t mutually exclusive of “something nonphysical going on.”

    Like I said, I can’t actually bring myself to believe in a personal God or gods. The more I try, the more it seems preposterous and simply unlikely–at least until said personal God or gods starts talking to me personally. But that has yet to happen, despite my prayerful pleadings.

    However, the fact that I don’t think a personal god exists doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the existence of the divine. But I’m inclined to think that whatever divinity exists is completely transcendent, and therefore fundamentally incomprehensible to human minds as it is. So we understand it metaphorically, the same way we understand most things in our existence. Think about it, when someone tries to explain a complex concept to you, they usually try to do it by analogy. We reason by analogy, which is another way of saying we think by symbol and metaphor. I think its therefore entirely appropriate to admit that’s what we’re doing.

    I’m open to the possibility that the metaphor is really just metaphor for purely mechanical psychological processes. I’m also open to the possibility that it’s a metaphor for real transcendent deity. I’m also pretty strongly convinced that it’d be essentially impossible to objectively decide between the two.

  3. You can’t have Asgard and the Christian heaven and the Islamic paradise; one of these religions is lying.

    Why? If there are many gods behind the many religions, why not many afterlives? Assuming that it’s *not* all metaphor, then Christians have a deal with their god that dictates their afterlife, likewise Buddhists presumably will either reincarnate or cease to exist as dependent arisings, and so on. I may pray that Hermes will guide my soul safely to the realm of Hades. Why should someone else’s system have anything to do with the arrangements I have with my gods?

  4. Jeff Lilly says:

    Adam, I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Kullervo, I’d hoped you’d come by and comment on this post! I wrote such a long and involved reply to you that it really deserves its own post. 🙂 I’ll put it up soon. Thanks for the stimulation!

    Erik, I phrased that badly, I think. I totally agree that each of these individual afterlives could coexist, and I think that (in some sense) they do. What can’t be the case is that you have ONLY the Christian afterlife (as Christians claim), or ONLY the Islamic afterlife (as Muslims claim). That’s probably such an obvious point I shouldn’t have belabored it. 🙂

  5. This is quite off topic from the post (which has given me some food for thought, and for that I thank you.) but i wondered if i could ask if i could quote you on some of your information regarding Quantum Mechanics, Physics and (perceptial) truth.
    I’m writing a mini-thesis for College, looking at whether Spiritual healing exists/works and I’m using Quantum Mechanics as one of my angles to try and explain it.

    I just wondered if you had any sources on the matter and whether you’d mind me quoting what you’ve written here.

    In Love and Light,
    Willow.

  6. Jeff Lilly says:

    Hi Willow, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Feel free to quote as much as you like. (Are blogs permitted as sources these days?) I don’t have any specific sources for this information, just general background knowledge I’ve picked up from reading about it for years and years. However, Robert Anton Wilson has a great treatment on spiritual healing and quantum mechanics in his book Quantum Psychology, especially the chapter called “Taking the Mystery out of ‘Miracles'”.

  7. Willow, I wouldn’t recommend trying to use Quantum Theory to try to explain anything beyond rudimentary telepathy.

    Despite what the popular thought experiment titled Schroedinger’s Cat leads most people to believe, Quantum Theory does not give a way for people to change their environment simply by observing it in different ways. Also, most college professors greatly dislike the argument that simply because something is not unproven, it must exist… At least, that’s true of the ones who expect students to cite sources.

    A different approach to take would to explore the Placebo Effect. The placebo is probably the only objective theory that in any way shape or form supports the methods of spiritual healing, and it remains the only scientific pathway into the subjective world.

    As for Quantum Theory supporting rudimentary telepathy… There is an unprovable hypothesis that ghosted quarks could create a link between two similar structures, i.e., the brains of people who tend to think the same way. Because of this link, if one person has an experience that causes a lot of brain activity, the other person can have similar thoughts at the same time, no matter what their distance is.

    Keep in mind, though, that because quantum telepathy is an unprovable hypothesis, it has about as much scientific validity as Intelligent Design or the Flying Spaghetti Monster: that is to say, absolutely none.

  8. Jeff – To me, the questions you raise in the first half of this post are really about the differences between archetypes and specific beings (gods, goddesses, nature spirits). We can ask, Is Santa real, and miss the energetic blueprint this (or any other mythological, symbolic being) brings. You caught this with your comment about the spirit of Christmas. But when we wonder if believing in Zeus precludes the belief in deities, beings from other systems of belief, aren’t we missing the point of what these entities represent for us in the first place? To me, the “spirit” of Athena resonates in Hilary Clinton, Ariana Huffington and, my friend, Susanne. The gods and goddesses of Mt. Olympus grace the screens of our movie theaters and TV sets daily.

    Aren’t these spiritual beings really archetypal projections of the psychic construct of beauty, truth, power, wisdom–and other qualites–as viewed through the lens of whatever culture is perceiving them?

    Are not the nature spirits, while very real energetic forms, also depicted as representations that were drawn into forms dictated by the limitations of our culture, place and time? What I mean is, just because we can communicate with/sense or believe in an energetic entity–a goddess, a Yahweh, a Pan–are we not still subject to the psychic constructs and limits of our own minds?

    I dont know if Im explaining this clearly. But it seems to me that there is no conflict between coicident belief in Zeus AND Yahweh AND, for that matter, Bill Clinton, if one understands that the powerful, RULER OF THE WORLD archetype is working through all of these “beings”.

    In the same way,

  9. Willow, I would second Adam in discouraging you from using quantum physics to try to explain spiritual healing. That’s the angle that Deepak Chopra generally takes (you might want to take a look at his stuff if you haven’t), but as far as I understand, he is seriously discredited by quantum physicists. Basically, they say he has no idea what he’s talking about.

  10. Jeff Lilly says:

    Amy, it sounds as if you’re taking the “metaphor” viewpoint when you say “Aren’t these spiritual beings really archetypal projections of the psychic construct of beauty, truth, power, wisdom–and other qualites–as viewed through the lens of whatever culture is perceiving them?” I would say, well, maybe they are really archetypal projections, but I don’t think our ancestors viewed them that way. My understanding of the modern mainstream Heathen (Norse) pagan faith, and the faith of the reconstructionist druids that I know, is that these are real, separate beings that are a lot more than archetypal projections, and have powers far beyond such projections. An archetypal projection can’t really hurl a lightning bolt, but in Heathenism, Thor can. 🙂

    In my own meditations, I’ve encountered various kinds of beings. I’ve met my anima, for example, who is an archetype of some sort, and she freely admits it. Apollo, on the other hand, says that he is a god, not an archetype. Should I believe one and not the other?

  11. Jeff Lilly says:

    Willow, Adam, and Kullervo: I definitely agree that the way most New Age folks talk about quantum mechanics (including the ‘The Secret’ crowd) they reveal their ignorance. However, Robert Anton Wilson is definitely the exception here. In Quantum Psychology, he suggests a scenario in which neuropeptides, which are an important part of the immune system, are activated by beliefs, mood, and other factors, and may be responsible for the placebo effect (see Adam’s comment). Note that placebos have been shown to be about 50% as effective as codine, aspirin, and morphine in double- and triple-blind studies (I can give you the reference for that if you want).

  12. “I would say, well, maybe they are really archetypal projections, but I don’t think our ancestors viewed them that way.”

    Joseph Campbell would disagree with you. For what it’s worth.

  13. Jeff Lilly says:

    Kullervo — how so? Does “archetypal projection” mean something different than I think it means? As far as I’m aware, an archetype is a general, idealized model of a personality (see wikipedia). Models of personalities don’t throw lightning bolts or bring rain. So what is Campbell suggesting that our ancestors believed?

  14. Jeff,

    There is really nothing that can be decidedly proven outside our own existence (and even there it’s shaky ground, I dare say).

    When you talk about classical physics, quantum physics or any other model of reality, it’s just that, a model. Same applies to beliefs. You can’t prove that charged particles cause lightning, just as you can’t prove that Thor caused it. You can’t even prove that you saw the lightning, or that it was even there in the first place!

    The world rests on a paradox, so trying to find any kind of proof about anything is an exercise in futility. All you ever find is possibility.

  15. Campbell out-and-out says in The Power of Myth that ancient people understood their myths to be metaphors.

  16. On whether ancient man felt that their gods were simply archetypes, I can only compare them to modern man. Christian zeal leads me to believe that ancient man felt their own gods were as real as themselves.

  17. Jeff Lilly says:

    Vitor, nice to hear from you! Of course you’re right, from a logical point of view. But as I argued in ‘Trust Your Feelings’, a permanent state of agnosticism can be paralyzing, because you’re ignoring yor intuitions about what’s true ‘for you’. If you can quiet your logic long enough to hear what your heart is saying, you can choose a belief system that rings true and will be a good guide for your lifetime. (That’s my intuition/heart/feeling about it, anyway. 🙂 )

  18. Jeff Lilly says:

    Kullervo, I have ‘The Power of Myth’ somewhere — is that the one with Bill Moyers? Unfortunately we’re still digging out from our move, so it may be months before I find it… I’m sure that in some cultures the opinion of the elite was that the gods and myths were metaphors — e.g. later Hinduism and perhaps the Greeks (do you know, Erik?). But I find it hard to believe that folks would earnestly pray to metaphors for fertility, rain, relief from plagues, etc., or give gifts to the priestesses of metaphors for prophecy. 🙂 Adam, I think you’re right on this one, though of course it’s always dangerous to project modern attitudes onto the past.

  19. You’re right about it being dangerous to project modern thought into the past…

    The deeper that you stare into the well of history, the more you see yourself reflected in it. 😉

    I still think that it is highly probable that our ancestors revered the gods as real, though… simply because of the evidence that they performed their rites regularly, and the lack of evidence that they were just “playing along.”

  20. Jeff,

    I actually agree with you… looking at my comment again made me see that it was not very clear.

    I find the fact that nothing can be proven extremely liberating, as it allows each person to explore their own belief, without it ever being “wrong”, or “inferior” to another.

    Choosing our own beliefs is what gives us the power to shape reality, to turn our lives into ongoing works of art. A subjective experience of reality is the whole point of living, I dare say.

  21. If you look at how many wars have been fought in the name of religion, I don’t think you would say that anybody in history, early or otherwise thinks that their God is anything other than real. I don’t have a clue about the quantum physics that you discussed but I don’t think anyone is going to kill another person over a methaphor.

    My belief system belongs to no one but me. I like parts of every religion that I have ever come in contact with. My home has pictures of Sai Baba from India, Jesus, Buddha, Quan Yin, Mother Mary, American Indians,and animal totems. As a teenager and young adult, I read about Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses. In the past two years, I have attempted to study the Jewish Kabbalah. I have been a member of a New Thought church for about 10 years now. I have never seen a fairy and I remember telling someone years ago that his girlfriend was crazy for thinking that she had. Now, I would love to see a fairy or an elemental. I have an affinity for nature and especially trees. What does that say about me? That I am crazy? Maybe, to some people. Do I care? Not one bit.

    Jeff, I don’t always understand some of your articles but I find them all interesting and thought provoking.

  22. Jeff Lilly says:

    Vitor, what a great perspective! It seems to me that Patricia’s comment above is a great example of what you’re talking about, “beliefs-as-art”, in a way. 🙂

  23. I don’t think Joseph Campbell believed that all our ancestors thought that the Gods were metaphors, rather that certain ‘enlightened’ individuals (or, as Jeff says, an elite class) within a society understood them to be so. At least that’s how I understand his position from reading the ‘Masks of God’ series.

    Campbell cites an interesting example in ‘Primitive Mythology’ of an Australian initiation rite where a young man is whisked away from his mother and female relatives by the men dressed up in masks. In the distance he can hear the noise of the ‘great spirit,’ and is terrified that he is going to be devoured. After the ordeal of the initiation (that lasts for a few days) the terrible noise is revealed, and the young man is told that there is no ‘great spirit,’ its just a piece of wood whirled around on a bit of string. A bull roarer. I’m recounting this from memory, so some of the details might be wrong, but I’m sure it is revealed to the initiate that the power of the ‘great spirit’ is actually inside of him, and that he is the ‘great spirit,’ a mystery that is only revealed to male initiates.

  24. I really believe you’re onto something with the idea of “belief communities” and the idea that our beliefs are like multiple languages, which we can speak “with other people that have beliefs roughly compatible with yours, just as you can speak with people who speak the same language as you do.”

    I had a really profound experience this summer, listening to a Cuban American Quaker minister speak on what’s it’s like to have a rich, active spiritual life with roots in (literally) two languages, since his spiritual development occurred in Spanish in his youth and in English in his adulthood. Some of the language with which he has mapped his spiritual experiences does not translate well from one tongue to the next, and, to truly communicate his deepest experiences, he finds he must have access to to both languages at once–something linguists apparently term code switching. The point Benigno made over and over again was that “code switchers are not confused.” And what he meant–clear from the context, where he was discussing tensions between strictly Christ-centered Quakers and universalist Quakers, like myself, who draw upon many religions traditions in understanding our spiritual leadings–was that those whose religious experiences span multiple mythologies or traditions are not playing pick-and-choose, designer-style spirituality. (Though we are often accused of doing so.) Rather, we are code-switching–using the metaphorical language best suited to reflecting the lived spiritual experience we are trying to convey.

    I am not saying that God or the gods or Spirit is a metaphor–the first conclusion people jump to once you bring in ideas of metaphor when discussing religious truth. (You even did this a bit yourself, Jeff, in your original post.) Instead, I’m saying (as I think you were implying, in your Feynman quote on Quantum Mechanics) that, because we humans don’t understand the gods (Quel suprise! Humans don’t understand the ground of all being and ultimate meaning of the cosmos??? How shocking!) we only ever understand them through metaphors–imprecise, inadequate, but powerful echoes of a reality we can only dimly touch.

    Some of us have heard the voice of Spirit speaking in many different metaphorical/mythological “languages.” We have become bilingual through experience. We are code-switchers, and it can be hard for us to communicate in ways that others will hear and respect.

    But we are not confused–except to the extent that all of us, attempting to meet the eyes of God, necessarily are…

  25. Jeff Lilly says:

    Mahud, it’s interesting to compare your example with some of the practices of the later pagan era in Europe, when some keepers of the temples (I read somewhere) would use animated statues, noisemakers, and other parlor tricks to deceive the faithful; though I imagine that the point of these tricks were to increase donations and political power, rather than reveal a deep theological truth.

  26. Jeff Lilly says:

    Cat — beautiful! Code switching is a perfect metaphor here.

    I’m not a code-switcher myself (in speech), but my understanding is that what will happen is that the code switcher will liberally intersperse a sentence in language A with words from language B (as Caesar does, perhaps, when he uses Latin god-names when describing Gaulish gods), or else they’ll get halfway through a sentence in language A and switch to language B for the remainder. What’s fascinating is that the languages aren’t just slammed together at random. There are certain ‘join points’ where the languages can fit together; away from these joints, the languages can’t be attached to each other. For example, you could say ‘I saw das Hund‘ (I saw the dog), but it’s much less natural to say ‘I sah das Hund‘ or ‘I saw the Hund‘. The reason is that a sentence consists of words standing in relation with one another, and the tighter the relation between the words, the more difficult it is to code-switch between them. (Not that it can’t be done: you can even code-switch right in the middle of a word, sometimes.) If the religion:language analogy holds, this means that mixing religions is not as simple as just picking what you like out of a big smorgasboard of belief systems. Instead, there are natural joints where beliefs more naturally fit together.

    This sounds like an excellent topic for a post. Thanks, Cat!

  27. Code-switching—I haven’t heard of the concept before. I like it and it does fit with the way that I choose to look at my religion. I say “my” because it is only mine, my point of viewing all of the religious concepts that I have chosen to include in my view of God. I don’t think there is anything random about the way that my beliefs have come into existence or how they seem to fit together. There are difinitely connecting joints that fit well together as in Jeff’s examples. They are connections that work for me. I don’t expect that they would necessarily work for anyone else because they came about because of my own personal experiences with God. My view of God is definitely eclectic. I choose to call myself a Christian, even though my views are greatly expanded from the typical Christian religious views, because Christianity was the foundation that I started with in this lifetime. I have added on and built onto that foundation. And I am open to the differences, to the possibility that someone else’s views are just as valid as mine. The only things that I know about being a Druid is from this blog. They interest me. That is why I have subscribed, even though I don’t always understand the conversations that go on here. I love how connected to nature Jeff is and how he shares that love with his children. I am in awe of that love. You are all expanding my view of the Universe and God. Thanks.

  28. Campbell said a lot of things – and he had some really good insights, but I don’t take him as an absolute authority. Even in his own field, I think there are places where Mircea Eliade has a better record than Campbell.

    Jeff, to your question about the Greeks: some late philosophers (although more Romans than Greeks, I think) did hold that the Gods were human constructs of one sort or another, or that they were aspects of some One – there’s a fascinating book called “Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity”, edited by Polymnia Athanassiade, that goes into some of this – but I think the average religious person would *have* to belief in something more than that, or what’s the point? Paul Veyne’s book “Did the Greeks Believe Their Myths?” is pretty good reading on this question (short answer – yes).

  29. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks for your kind words and your perspective, Patricia! I personally feel like my connection to nature could be a lot stronger, since I spend a lot of time sitting by myself in front of a computer working at my day job. 🙂 But I’m headed away from that.

    You make an interesting point about having ‘joints’ that work for you, but not necessarily for other people, since they arise from your personal experiences.

  30. Jeff Lilly says:

    Erik, thanks for the info! Those books would be really interesting to read sometime. I haven’t heard of Mircea Eliade, but I’ll definitely seek her out.

  31. Jeff,
    Him, actually – Italian, I believe.

  32. Jeff Lilly says:

    Erik, I knew as soon as I hit ‘submit’ I should have checked on Mircea’s gender. 🙂 Here’s a link to the wikipedia article, for the curious (it says he’s Romanian): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mircea_Eliade

  33. I’ve recently become drawn to Mircea Eliade’s work, and made a brief post recently entitled Mircea Eliade’s Definition of Myth.

    I’m interested in his conception of the dialectic of the Sacred and Profane (which I believed he inherited from Durkheim), and his idea of the transconscious.

    …Eliade’s view of the unconscious and of the function of myth closely parallels Jung’s own interpretations. Eliade, however, arrived at his interpretations prior to his exposure to Jung. In contrast to Jung, Eliade roots the origin of myth, its prompting, in eternity; the mythic consciousness antecedes human history itself and, hence, the collective unconsciousness, Eliade refered to this eternal consciousness as the “transconscious,” a mental structure belonging solely to the realm of religious experience. The “transconscious” has its root in being, in the eternal itself. It is a “higher logos” beyond nature and all historical and natural conditionings—time, sin, self, etc. It is encountered by the mystic and belongs to the “fully awakened” person. For everyone else it informs a religious thirst in the conscious and unconscious. Cave, David, 1993, ‘Mircea Eliade’s Vision for a New Humanism’, p.69 (Oxford University Press US)

    I haven’t ready many of his works, but I’d like to get my hands of a copy of Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return

  34. This may be a bit late and I haven’t read all the comments, but you know, Steve Pavlina talks about this in one of his blog posts. It’s the same idea as what you have here–changing beliefs produces proof of those beliefs and connects you with people who have also seen such proof. He’s actually tested this pretty much scientifically.

  35. Jeff Lilly says:

    Clare, you’re absolutely right; while I’d read that article a long time ago (I do enjoy Steve’s stuff), I forgot about it when I was putting this post together. Of course, this idea isn’t mine alone, or Steve’s alone for that matter; I got the idea from Apollo and Robert Anton Wilson, as I say in the post. Wilson would probably claim that he got it from quantum mechanics and James Joyce. 🙂

  36. Wow, too much to read… But I agree with Apollo, “your choice” 🙂 I heard that a lot when I first started doing the psychic thing 🙂

    And I had a hankerin’ to post this on Santa…

    =========
    WHO IS SINTERKLAAS?

    Sinterklaas is the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived and worked in Asia Minor. He was born in the in 271 AD and died in the year 343 AD. In the year 1998 he would have been 1728 years old .

    St. Nicholas was a bishop of the Greek Orthodox church who lived in Myra in Anatolia which is now called Turkey. According to the legend he saved his town from starvation and he revived three dead children and he offered dowries to very poor girls. Sailors started believing in St. Nicholas because three sailors swore that he had calmed a very rough sea when they were at sea and in trouble because of bad weather conditions. Slowly people all over Europe started honouring and respecting St. Nicholas. Children, bakers, sailors, scholars, prisoners, merchants etc. started to believe in him.

    http://www.internet-at-work.com/hos_mcgrane/holidays/abhishek.html

    =======================

    But he morphed into Santa Claus, creepy, crawlie, commericial crap guy. It’s evident that Santa’s energy is in the hearts of many children, but I have hope that the other guy’s energy (or the other version) at least covers a goodly percentage of those hearts.

    I’m an Athena fan, btw, heh 🙂 To me, the idea that we encompass it all, explains it all…it’s all there, and we get to choose — and maybe we choose prior to this life… And yet in my “truth,” in this “reality,” it initially appeared that Athena (and others) chose me, but either way, it would be the same thing…all One thing 🙂 I now feel all of these goddesses (Isis, Athena…) and totems (Owl, Crow…) and others (Mary, Michael, Jesus…) are simply energy that, perhaps, over multitudes of lives have blended to become that which I am, the Heart (soul, whatever) of me anyway 🙂 But being that we’re all of it, I don’t hold these energies exclusively, of course 😉

    Freedom, choice… It feels very empowering to know that I am all of it, that my truth is all that matters, in my world 🙂

    That one old book didn’t mince words…but we wish to make it all so complex. Why does anything else matter if these two declarations are truth, and they certainly appear to be per my experience — “Believe and it shall be so” and “All things are possible.” It seems to me our potent need to know the why’s and the how’s are just a reflection of our need to control — which is all about fear, which, ironically, is nothing but a block to utilizing that power of “belief.” Hence, “fear not.” 🙂 … for I AM WITH THEE ALWAYS… I am thee 🙂 I am.

    Peace,
    Dove
    http://www.TarotwithLove.com

  37. Jeff Lilly says:

    Dove: Whew! What a core dump! I have to admit I don’t understand everything you’ve said word-by-word, but your overall point is crystal clear.

    One thing I’d note. You say that once you accept the oneness of all, and the fear is gone, there is no need to know the why’s and how’s of the universe. I agree — but I think finding out the why’s and how’s can still be an exciting journey for those like myself who enjoy the discovery for the sake of curiosity and appreciation of beauty.

  38. Core dump, lol Hey, I don’t know what it all means either, I just write what comes to me *wicked laugh* 😉

    But Jeff 🙂 how can there truly be any definitive why’s and how’s if ALL things are possible? … and all it takes is a “belief”? … and considering the ever-changing nature of this reality… I mean wouldn’t ya’ think “All” might mean it can happen this way or that or maybe both at the same time? haha Hey, a lot of things fall under the heading of “All” lol 😉

    This “exciting journey,” this desire to wrestle to the ground some supposed absolute why or how, would you consider that this might be a mask for “wanting to escape the discomfort of the unknown”? Hey, and that’s okay, just checking 😉 It’s all good 🙂

    But I think playing with the “magic” is MUCH more fun and exciting than trying to wrestle it to the ground… Maybe it ‘s a guy thing, lol 😉

    Hmm, a “guy thing” … masculine, left-brain, “logical,” control…

    Peace,
    Dove

  39. Jeff Lilly says:

    Marvellous!

    First: is it really the case that ALL things are possible? Mightn’t there be some limits out there somewhere? If you have a canvas, you can paint anything you want… as long as it’s a painting. 😉 From what I’ve seen, a lot of nature, and a lot of human experience, is a sort of “bounded infinity”: an infinite number of possibilities, but patterns emerge, tendencies are visible…

    But suppose these patterns and tendencies are just imposed by my own self, and All things really are possible. In that case the journey is really an exercise in creativity, isn’t it? What can you come up with? What are the limits of your imagination? That’s a worthwhile journey, isn’t it? 🙂

    I like to think that my ruminations have the spirit of, “Hey! Let’s see what’s on the other side of this mountain!” Not because I’m afraid of what I might find there, but because I like exploring! And if ultimately I’m creating what’s over there — then exploration becomes a kind of self-exploration, a pushing of your limits. Maybe that’s what you mean by “playing with the ‘magic'”. 🙂

  40. First, I like that word “mightn’t” lol 😉

    Well, I was about to answer your first questions, and then I came upon what one of my answers was about to be — “suppose these patterns and tendencies are just imposed by my own self” … and then it seems you have ultimately answered all of your own questions 🙂

    Ah, but I wasn’t suggesting that you might be afraid of what you might find on the other side of the mountain, but that you might have at least a tad of fear of not knowing what’s there or how it got there…and urgent or somewhat desperate need to know.

    Sure I can understand the fun in exploring, but it’s also kinda good to explore why we want or spend our time on certain things… I think maybe it’s a matter of degree. I mean, if one has a magic wand to play with their entire life, and yet they spend the bulk of their life trying to figure out how the wand works, how it creates all these cool things — that’s so sad to me, insane even. But hey, I s’pose if that’s what fills one’s life with joy, okay 🙂

    Like I indicated in a post not long ago, guys always wanna teach me what’s under the hood, and I so don’t care, lol I’m like, let’s go drive already! 😉

    ========
    And if ultimately I’m creating what’s over there — then exploration becomes a kind of self-exploration, a pushing of your limits. Maybe that’s what you mean by “playing with the ‘magic’”.
    =================

    “I’m creating” = playing with the magic 🙂

    Peace,
    Dove

  41. Jeff Lilly says:

    Dove,

    Well… When you suggest that I “might have at least a tad of fear of not knowing what’s there or how it got there…and urgent or somewhat desperate need to know”… What can I say? You’re right.

    I know this is true because I have attained states of non-fear, non-attachment, through meditation; and at these times there’s no desire to explore at all — just joy in being. I don’t spend all my time in this state because (a) it’s quite a bit of effort to get there (though I know the effort would decrease with practice), and (b) my regular non-ecstatic self is afraid that if I stay like that all the time, I’ll abruptly abandon my life and my family like the Buddha did, and just go off somewhere and be happy. So instead I’m sort of trying to transition my normal state into the joy-state, gradually and gently. Perhaps this journey is the source of the urgency… I dunno. But thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

  42. Awesome, I love being right, lol 😉 … and I’m glad I’ve stoked you on this issue 🙂

    I dunno nothin’ ’bout Buddha 😉 …but if he abandoned his family, they must not have contributed much at all to his joy. And joy is the deal for me — if it doesn’t bring ya’ joy, why do it?

    Everyone thinks/says it’s all about love, but really it’s all about joy … love is just the ultimate joy 🙂 But maybe we can get too much of even that, and so the real deal may simply be in finding that perfect blend (that balance for us) of thinkin’, explorin’, laughin’ (lotsa laughin’), lovin’ and trustin’, and maybe even sometimes fearin’ and all, but most especially with a big ole helping of that “joy in being” 🙂

    It’s not real obvious that I’m a southern girl, is it? lol 😉

    Peace,
    Dove

  43. Gotama was a mystic – and left unchecked, we can be dangerous.

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