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I ain't goin' nowhere!

10/21/2003 5:17 AM
Mark Lavelle
I ain't goin' nowhere!
...unless you count having my body incinerated as going to hell.  
As far as I'm concerned there ain't no eternal, just like there ain't no free.
10/21/2003 4:57 PM
Craig Heaven and hell = carrot and stick
"As far as I'm concerned there ain't no eternal, just like there ain't no free."  
This is an interesting & compelling statement, Mark. I probably will fail miserably to think about this clearly, makes me want to ask myself, "if there ain't no eternal, just like there ain't no free, then what about the correllary notions...if there ain't no eternal, does that imply or otherwise open the mind to the notion that there *is* a moment; there *is* cost/benefit?" If one thing is believed to be false (things can come to me for "free") does it imply a belief in the opposite? (nothing comes for "free" - some strings are always attached), or does it imply more possibilities...such as the notion that binary logic is not sufficient to make stand in topographical relief the dynamic terrain that is human existence. Maybe its more 3-D.  
If there isn't any "free" then that implies a "cost" and the cost would presumably be "justified" by its associated a "benefit". So do the questions, "a moment for what purpose?" and, "at what cost a moment of certain purpose?" start to become more interesting?  
Lst night I watched some of the Bruce Lee documentary that is showing on cable, and one thing he worked with over and over was the concept of breaking free of one's own illusions and limitations based upon beliefs. He was quite committed to understanding his own limitations & it eventually led him to a philosophy of fluidity - he maintained the freedom to change his mind according to the changes all around him. He resolved to stay open, basically - to stay alert to the changing possibilities and adapt. He gave up the idea of a perfect way, a perfect understanding of how to approach the real & metaphorical challenges he faced in his art. He focused on the changing moment, and on its essential meaning within the changing context of battle. Understanding his opponents became an excercise in understanding himself. Understanding the nature of battle focused his mind on understanding his own nature. That led him to focus on understanding the nature of change, because he found that his nature was to change as life changed - to adapt to life as life adapts to life. Rigidity as cost, fluidity as benefit.  
Heaven and hell = carrot and stick. Since I'm not a mule, they don't have much meaning for me.  
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10/21/2003 7:56 PM
Mark Hammer
Believing, and believing "as if"
What makes a difference in the quality of life here in the real world, is the behaviour of people. Their behaviour, in turn, is guided by their beliefs, and the consistency with which they behave in accordance with those beliefs.  
So, assuming people have socially responsible, benevolent beliefs, what would increase the likelihood that they act in a manner consistent with them, and consistently so? For some folks, it is important to accept the material reality of the basis of their beliefs to attain that consistency of belief and behaviour. In other words, they need to accept that there IS physical/spiritual punishment for certain forms of behaviour and an associated state/place which they strive to avoid. To reject the existence of such a state/place, for them, would reduce the perceived need to act in accordance with those beliefs. Fair enough. A little concrete for my tastes, but good people are good people, no matter how they get that way.  
Then there are a bunch of people, myself included, who find the metaphor itself, sufficiently persuasive (and perhaps because of our upbringing, sufficiently unavoidable or unforgettable) to bring our behaviour into line, without having to believe in the material reality of that which the metaphor describes.  
Put another way, one needn't believe in the existence or reality of heaven and hell to live as if there *were* such a thing, the same way one needn't believe in real ghosts and angels to feel inspired by the notion of deceased loved ones appreciating one's acts of kindness, gratitude, or honour. Plenty of people will probably tell you "Well of course, they're not watching me from on high, but the idea of it is inspiring or gives me strength and motivation. The metaphor and the mental image gives meaning to my everyday life.".  
I don't ascribe to the view that either of these approaches is better than the other. What matters is the behaviour itself, not the engine that drives the behaviour. If the kindness shown to me comes from someone who treats aspects of a given theology as "real" is the same as the kindness shown to me by someone who teats the same or other theology as a good story with nice examples to follow, would/should I treat that kindness differently? I think not.  
From a pragmatic standpoint, believing *in* and believing *as if* can (and that is different than *do*) yield the same outcome. I value my religious tradition for the examples it gives and find that enough to encourage consistency in my behaviour even though I do not accept them as material or even metaphysical realities. And quite frankly, the notion of the divine that I have grown up around would suggest that the reality of such a thing does not depend on my belief in it anyways. It could exist quite apart from my belief in it. Who the heck am I? I'm just a blob of organic chemistry on a dying planet. Ants don't have to believe in the guy holding up the ant farm for that guy to exist, and any divine force does not similar require MY belief to exist or not.  
So, once again, it isn't a question of my belief, but of my behaviour. If I behave appropriately, it doesn't matter if I believe, just as if I believe it still matters what I do. Belief can *assist* action but the two do not go hand in hand.
10/21/2003 9:17 PM
Craig Thank you, Mark
You know, Mark, I really appreciate your presence here. Thanks for delving a bit deeper. I am going to keep this post - its very well-articulated, as usual.  
I don't have time right now to really take it all in but I want to revisit this post when I get home & see what else I can glean.  
10/22/2003 12:18 AM
Re: Believing, and believing "as if"
Ah (well stated as usual) but to many, believing is the essential element (without which everything else would be useless). Believing not so much in a future reward/punishment system, but in a real, literal--yet mystical and mysterious--one-on-one personal relationship with a higher power, being one with the source, so to speak, here and now. Many would say that 'being nice' is in and of itself a good thing but nevertheless does not constitute a vital connection with one's ultimate source of good (which would seem to be the whole point in the first place(?)).  
Correct me if I'm wrong, but religion is not the same thing as kindness. They are two distinct concepts with (hopefully) overlapping regions. Indeed; the 'religion' of some would seem to dictate militant UN-kindness to certain classes of individuals, while the materialist, 'un-religion' of others apparently encourages a sort of kindness to all.  
My question is why do most discussions of religion and spirituality seem to devolve so quickly into polemic debates surrounding heaven and hell and other hot-button, red herring, and straw-man-arguments, obviously designed to stir up contention rather than promote understanding?  
But, as you said, exactly; "who the heck am I?"  
I can not judge. I can not change another. I do not even possess the language skills to adequately convey what I feel in my heart. How can I presume to correct someone in a spiritual matter? My way is not right for anybody else, it is the way that is right for me alone.
10/22/2003 2:56 PM
Heaven and Hell, primitive nonsense. Does all the other life on this planet, animals and plants, have this option? Life isn't a test,it's an experience. Get out there and enjoy it.
10/22/2003 3:43 PM
Mark Hammer

I would agree with you wholeheartedly, and I think you spoke well.  
My question is why do most discussions of religion and spirituality seem to devolve so quickly into polemic debates surrounding heaven and hell and other hot-button, red herring, and straw-man-arguments, obviously designed to stir up contention rather than promote understanding?  
I think the answer to the question is that people are quick to believe that there are fewer functional roles of religion than is really the case. Person 1 may be persuaded of the unimpeachable value of religion by considering functional roles A, B, C, and D (though not clearly articulating or differentiating them), while person 2 thinks of functional role E, F, and G. They both believe they are discussing the same thing but really aren't. Because the functions and points of reference they have in mind are often so different, they find the other's views moot and unpersuasive at best, and reprehensible or poisonous at worst. A bit like having an argument over whether X-irradiation is "good" for you. Yeah, if you're fighting cancer it probably IS good. No, if you're pregnant, it probably isn't. Why would you want to force irradiation on a pregnant woman? Why would you withhold it from someone battling cancer?  
Religion is perhaps the archetypal case, but the tendency to move towards single-axis arguments is true of many issues, politics and science AND music included. Fighting the tendency to be single-axis-focussed and move towards a multi-dimensional consideration of any topic is hard work; that's why we don't do it often, not even "clever" people sometimes.  
There are numerous functional roles (i.e., what it leads to) of religion and to assume that social kindness or unkindness is the fundamental one would be inaccurate and incomplete. For instance, there is the individual spiritual journey which is entirely separate from any sort of "deserved" or merit-based post-mortem destination.  
One could easily make a matrix comprised of those who are neither kind nor personally fulfilled, kind but not fulfilled, fulfilled but not kind, and blessed enough to be both. Any of those quadrants can be occupied by someone connected with a religious tradition...or not. Similarly, any one of those quadrants can be occupied by someone who treats their theological tradition in a literalist or metaphorical way.  
Religion, literalism, etc., play different roles for each of those functional dimensions (leading a "good" life, reaching the fulfilling end of sspiritual journey), sometimes impeding, sometimes helping.
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