Thursday, December 3, 2009

Existence and God

Existence is the capacity to be. Obviously everything that exists has the capacity to be. This means that everything that exists is contingent upon this capacity including the capacity itself. Any entity lacking this capacity is impossible. The impossible is that which cannot exist. Anything that cannot exist represents an analytic contradiction. A trivial example of such an entity would be a married bachelor.

One of the most profound analytic contradictions is an entity that exists and is both distinguishable from and more fundamental than existence. Such an entity is impossible because for anything to be both more fundamental than and contingent upon existence would be inconsistent with the meanings of the terms fundamental and contingent. The impossibility of all such entities means that the most fundamental thing in existence is existence itself.

Those who believe in a certain characterization of the one true God will generally take issue with this conclusion. This is because these believers regard God as the most fundamental entity that exists. This belief is based on their wholehearted embrace of the following propositions:

1. God exists
2. God is the Supreme Being
3. God is the source of every being that is distinguishable from it

For the sake of this argument let me define a being as any entity that exists and the Supreme Being as that which exists and is not contingent upon any other being. In other words, the Supreme Being is the most fundamental entity that exists.

If God is distinguishable from existence then the Third God Proposition requires God to be the source of existence. However, in the most elementary sense a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for one entity to be the source of another is that the former must be able to exist in the absence of the latter. But it is impossible for anything to exist in the absence of existence. As a result, a God that exists and is distinguishable from existence cannot be the source of existence. This means that for such a God the Third God Proposition false.

If we abandon the Third God Proposition and posit that God exists, is distinguishable from existence but is not the source of existence, then God is contingent upon something distinct from it that is not contingent upon it. This would mean that God is not the Supreme Being, which cannot be contingent upon anything other than itself. In other words, if God exists and is distinguishable from existence, then both the Second and Third God Propositions are false. But without these propositions what we are discussing no longer represents the one true God, thus falsifying the First God Proposition. This means that if the God of these propositions is distinguishable from existence, it cannot exist.

This does not mean there is no entity for which these God Propositions are true. Note that existence exists, is not contingent upon any other being and all other beings are contingent upon it. In other words, though none of the God Propositions are true of any entity that exists and is distinguishable from existence, they are all true of existence itself. This means that God can exist, be the Supreme Being and be the source of all beings if God is existence.

Certain of the theistically inclined contend that God is greater than existence. They typically characterize God as absolute Divinity, Love, Wisdom, Power and Presence. But these properties must exist in order to confer greatness upon God. Yet the premise that they exist means these absolute properties are contingent upon existence, and thus so is any greatness that God would acquire from them. In other words, existence is the source of God’s greatness. This argument is supported by the fact that one of the premises of the original Ontological Argument for the existence of God essentially states that without existence God cannot be the Supreme Being, regardless of its divine properties.

The proposition that if God exists, it is contingent upon existence is a logical tautology. This contingent being is at best a demigod unless this contingency is mutual. However, where God and existence are regarded as distinct beings, the proposition that existence is also contingent upon God is a matter of rationally indefensible faith. This faith-based proposition can only be logically supported if God is existence. In other words, from a rational theistic perspective either existence is God or God is not the Supreme Being.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Abusing Rationalism

Recall that in the broadest sense a rationalist is anyone who is predisposed to believe that all important knowledge is attainable. In this context note that one of the fundamental principles of rational dynamics is that the accumulation of knowledge brings with it greater power. This notion motivates self-centered individuals to seek knowledge for the purpose of increasing their power. In the long run, pursuing such an immature rationalist agenda will cause more problems than it solves. The great threat posed by rationalism is evident in the fact that the scientific and technological breakthroughs it continues to produce are providing increasingly efficient mechanisms for bringing about the end of humanity.

In the face of this danger we continue to eagerly embrace rationality. To understand why this is, first note that in more mundane circumstances it can be difficult to differentiate a rationalist from a mystic. But as situations become more challenging it becomes easier to distinguish those responding rationally from those reacting mystically. The rationalist contends that with sufficient time we can accumulate the knowledge to solve any problematic situation, regardless of its complexity. The mystic believes that for problems exceeding a certain scope, the knowledge to solve them either does not exist or resides forever beyond our rational grasp. It is this viewpoint that inclines mystics to appeal to external, often supernatural, agents for assistance with such challenges. This means that given the spectrum of perspectives extending from total rationality at one end to pure mysticism at the other, those adopting the more rationalist outlooks are more self-determined and personally empowered than those embracing more mystical points of view.

It is through the application of rationality that we increase our objective understanding of and control over our world. The subjectivity that manifests in the absence of rationality limits the precision with which we can share knowledge and experiences with others. This means that rationality is the most efficient mechanism for building an empirically confirmed consensus of knowledge that is immune to subjective uncertainty. Such a rationally-derived structure reflects the accumulated power of our intellect in that it is the foundation of our most consistent capacity to influence our surroundings. The story of the Tower of Babel is essentially the tale of a mystical God opposing such a program.

Appropriate resistance to such a rationalist agenda is based on understanding that increasing rationality does not necessarily correspond to increasing wisdom. As such, there is no guarantee that even the most brilliant rationalist has the maturity to pursue knowledge and accumulate the accompanying power, without also laying the groundwork for our extinction. This is because as long as knowing better does not automatically equate to doing better, we will always be able to think better than we can be.

This is the dynamic underlying the fact that, left to their own devices, immature rationalists have a tendency to be indifferent to the negative impact of their pursuits on others. These self-centered rationalists are often inclined to use the power they gain from amassing knowledge, to enrich themselves by exploiting others in ways that limit their victims’ growth. Such oppression represents the essence of evil.

To limit the spread of this condition throughout our society we must transition from a quest for the knowledge to subjugate our world, to an altruistic program to discover and fulfill a logical, unifying purpose that is not based on separating ourselves from everything else. The specific nature of this purpose will become evident as we find rational answers to our most important existential questions. These discoveries are the events that will facilitate the cultural transformation that will prevent our rational self-destruction. If we abandon the search for rational existential answers, this crucial social paradigm shift will most likely not occur.

In that eventuality, knowledge will become our ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The more we wield its accompanying power to further our own self interests, the more this knowledge will consume that which we should be encouraging to grow. Such ill-conceived choices are typically justified by our sense of self-importance, which expands with our power from a self-centered perspective.

In making the fundamental choice to always favor ourselves over others, we become susceptible to the principle of sentient dynamics that is characterized by the adage: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In this context, the power we gain from a self-centered pursuit of a rationalist agenda will lead to an increasingly brutal world in which people increasingly prey on each other until we completely devour ourselves.

It is important to realize that if this is to be our fate it will be the result of an abuse of the rationalist program. Our rational self-destruction would not be due to the fact that we went in search of rational answers; it will be because along the way we became lost in our own self-importance and failed to develop wisdom required to safely handle what we discovered.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tolerating Mysticism

Recall that in the broadest sense a mystic is anyone who is predisposed to believe there are mysteries that can never be rationally solved. To many rationally-inclined individuals, mysticism represents one of the great ills of our society. They point out that mystics were responsible for many of the greatest atrocities in human history (whether or not Adolph Hitler was a theist he was undeniably a mystic). But the fact that we can appreciate the wrongs done in the name of mysticism does not mean we no longer need it.

Early in the evolution of a society its awareness of the existential threats facing it exceeds its knowledge of their basic nature and how to eliminate them. During this period, the society is at risk of being undermined by fear of the unknown. The most common solution to this problem is for sages to develop a belief system that allows the people to push forward through this fear and uncertainty. This mythos provides the culture with certainty based on a belief that its people can influence the unknown to their advantage without ever fully understanding it. This situation often leads to the personification and worship of the Primal Mystery underlying all unknowns. And thus a new religion is born.

At about this point in a mystic culture’s history it transfers a portion of its fear of the unknown to the Primal Mystery, which represents the fundamental unknowable. As a result, most of those who worship the Primal Mystery also fear it. This mystical fear serves to keep its subjects from completely giving in to their most selfish instincts. This is why the Primal Mystery, which is the ultimate object of mystical fear, is the basis of morality for most mystics.

The mystics’ fear of the Primal Mystery also serves to inhibit their pursuit of knowledge. In the story of the Garden of Eden this fear kept Adam and Eve from initially eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Mystical restrictions on the quest of knowledge often lead to a situation in which a culture’s worshipful fear of the Primal Mystery limits the growth of its people. Such repression represents the essence of evil. To avoid this circumstance a culture must transition from a reverential fear of the Primal Mystery to a purposeful search for the complete connection to the Fundamental Absolute. This Fundamental Absolute is what will survive the solution of the Primal Mystery (i.e., the so-called ‘Death of God’), which is the event that usually facilitates this transition.

Has our society reached the point at which mysticism, the customs that sustain our relationship with the Primal Mystery, is doing more harm than good? This question is essentially asking if we are mature enough to resist our self-centered tendencies in the face of the temptations of the fruits of the unbridled pursuit of knowledge, without the influence of a real or imagined supernatural agent. Even if you believe that as an individual, you have the requisite maturity, would you trust the average person around you with the knowledge to reshape the planet?

If your answer is ‘no’, then while it may be okay for you to doff your mystic robes, you probably do not want to live in a world where no one who needs to believe in a Primal Mystery is inhibited by fear of it. Even with this fear consider the carnage mystics have caused under the influence of their misinterpretations and misrepresentations of its will. This indicates that at your core you believe it is still necessary for some people to remain mystics, even if you aren’t one of them. This is because most mystics are not mature enough to be freed from their self-limiting viewpoint. As such, even if you no longer share the characteristic beliefs of mystics you still believe the world needs mysticism.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are You a Secret Mystic?

Many of us would like to believe we are rational individuals living in an increasingly rational world in which mysticism is being correspondingly marginalized. Even though you may regard yourself as a fundamentally rational person, you could in fact be a mystic with a predisposition to hinder the advancement of rationality.

To understand how this could be, let me first provide some background. Mystics are essentially people inclined to believe there are mysteries that can never be solved. Whether the mystery is religious (“why did God create evil?”), philosophical (“why is there something instead of nothing?”) scientific (“how did life originally emerge from non-living matter?”) or personal (“why can’t I catch a break?”), if you accept that it can never be rationally explained you are a mystic. It is a disposition towards harboring such beliefs that fundamentally defines mystics, not the supernatural powers, arcane knowledge, meditative trances and various magical artifacts that are typically attributed to them.

If that is all there is to being a mystic you may wonder what is the harm in it? It might be kind of cool to be able to walk up to strangers at a party and introduce yourself as a mystic; thus implicitly claiming membership in a club that is often characterized as a exclusive, mysterious, powerful and perhaps even a little dangerous.

The problem with being a mystic is that it is an inherently self-limiting perspective. The critical factor in being a mystic is a fundamental belief that there are unyielding constraints on what we can rationally comprehend. This means that to be a mystic is to believe there is an absolute limit on the power of rational thought.

In accepting this premise mystics typically assert the existence of entities that transcend the boundary of rationality. These mystics recognize that they can never rationally understand these great, yet inherently mysterious beings. This situation eventually leads them to personify and worship, the Primal Mystery underlying everything that resides beyond what they perceive to be the absolute limit of rationality. This perspective characterizes virtually all of today’s religions. The fact that they are founded on the Primal Mystery is why all of our major religions are fundamentally mystical.

Ironically, there are people who think that religions have outlived their usefulness and at the same time accept that there are limits to the power of rational thought. Some of these individuals are not merely irreligious, they express open hostility towards religions, yet their mystical disposition is sympathetic to the idea underlying those ‘intolerable’ institutions. This situation is analogous to gay people who speak out against homosexuality.

No matter how rationally antireligious you claim to be, if you are inclined to believe we can never objectively explain what triggered the Big Bang, how consciousness manifests in the brain, why the uncertainty principle works or any other important mystery, then at your core you are a rationality-limiting, religion-sympathizing mystic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mind, Consciousness and Self-awareness

If you are reading this you have a mind. But a consensus has yet to emerge regarding what exactly a mind is. We tend to define the mind in terms of things like consciousness and self-awareness though there is little agreement as to what those phenomena are either. I maintain that in the simplest sense your mind is the convergence of your self-awareness and consciousness. Self-awareness is your perception of what you are and your consciousness is your perception of what you are not.

To be conscious an entity must also be self-aware. For example, the computer monitor displaying these words is not conscious of them because it has no sense of itself in the context containing them. In other words, there is no intrinsic component of the monitor can be interpreted by the monitor as representing the monitor displaying the words. By contrast, you are conscious of these words because in addition to interacting with them, you are also aware of yourself interacting with them. This is because there is an intrinsic component of you that is interpreted by you as you reading these words.

Self-awareness is the component of your mind that interprets the relationship between the entity reading these words and the being recognizing itself as that entity as a connection. As such, you are both the subject and object of your self-awareness. Consciousness is the component of your mind that interprets the relationship between the object of your self-awareness and these words (and everything else that you are interacting with in some manner) as a separation.

Elsewhere I have defined time as the separation between instances of the same being (e.g., the person who started reading this parenthetical and the person who is now finishing it) and space as the separation between instances of different beings (e.g., the opening and closing parentheses surrounding this example). In this context, self-awareness spans time while consciousness spans space.

Consciousness represents the boundary of our self-awareness in that it essentially delineates what we are not. Since we are shaped by what we are not, for many of us consciousness is the primary vehicle by which we can understand what we are.

In general the mind is a self-aware phenomenon that is self-limited by its consciousness, through which it acquires knowledge of the world around it. In this sense it is evident that though consciousness seems to be ignited in the brain it is not necessarily limited to it anymore than the illumination produced by a neon light is limited to the bulb.

Self-awareness is essentially our capacity to see ourselves in beings that influence us (typically our predecessor instances). The more self-aware we are the less of a separation we will perceive from others. Complete self-awareness would allow us to see ourselves as being connected to everything, thus invalidating the concept of "other".

Since consciousness is what limits our self-awareness, the less of it we have the more complete our self-awareness will be. Our consciousness keeps our self-awareness from being complete by allowing us to perceive certain entities that shape us as being distinct from us. In other words, our consciousness is the basis of our uniqueness. As a result, one of our primary goals as conscious beings is to transcend our consciousness and become completely self-aware minds that can see ourselves in everything and everything in us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Teleological Dynamics

In the preceding essay I proposed that we have free will but that in the long run its influence is subsumed by that of teleological determinism. Here I will explain how this form of determinism works and why in the end we are responsible for what it demands of us.

Let me start by returning to the proposition that we have free will but its scope is circumscribed by that of teleological determinism. If we accept this to be true it is reasonable to ask if we actually have free will or is there merely a deterministic illusion of it leading us between teleological milestones to our ultimate destiny?

To appreciate why I insist it is the former, note that as living, conscious matter we are advancing towards three seemingly divergent destinies. As material beings we are constituents of a physical universe that is taking us with it as it propagates towards its ultimate state of complete temporal equilibrium where all causal interactions cease. As living beings we are component organisms of an arguably universal symbiosis that is taking us with it as it evolves towards its ultimate state of perfect biotic equilibrium in which life is perpetually sustained. As conscious beings we are members of a spiritual union (recall that I define spirit as simply the connection among cooperating minds) that is taking us with it as it advances towards the spiritual equilibrium that is absolute Unity. Our free will is essentially our intrinsic capacity to choose to pursue any one of these destinies and thus potentially resist the pull of the others. In other words, we have actual free will as long as we can still choose to pathologically pursue life-ending temporal equilibrium, selfishly chase biotic immortality or selflessly approach Unity.

The destiny at the end of each of these paths teleologically determines the milestones we must traverse to reach it from our current state. For instance, the causal dynamics that play out under the pull of the temporal equilibrium define the material configurations through which we must propagate to get there from our current causal state. The biotic dynamics that play out under the pull of perpetual life define the living states through which we must evolve to get there from our current biological state. And of course, the spiritual dynamics that play out under the pull of absolute Unity define the spiritual states through which we must grow to get there from our current mental state.

Biotic dynamics are constrained both causally and teleologically by temporal dynamics. This is evident in that biotic dynamics causally emerged from temporal dynamics and will teleologically end prior to their cessation. By contrast, spiritual dynamics are causally but not necessarily teleologically bound by temporal dynamics. This is because the minds that are the fundamental components of spiritual dynamics causally emerged from temporal dynamics, but their ultimate Unity represents the end of all spiritual, biotic and temporal dynamics. In other words, where absolute Unity exists it transcends all dynamics. This means that Unity takes us beyond perpetual life and the end of causality and thus represents our truly ultimate destiny. This also indicates that two of the teleological milestones along our path to Unity are perpetual life and the end of causality.

As an ultimate destiny that is not impossible, Unity must exist somewhere in the realm of possibility. Since absolute Unity is the end state of all possible minds and is comprised of their perfect union, if any mind achieves it then every mind does. It is important to note that in limitless time, everything that can happen does. As such, in the absence of a requirement for time to be finite, absolute Unity is inevitable for all of us.

By definition, absolute Unity cannot be differentiated. As such, when we achieve it we do not simply become a part of it, we become Unity in its entirety. This means that in the end we are the entity that is teleologically shaping the deterministic milestones along the path to our ultimate destiny. Recall that where we have free will it shapes our path between these teleological milestones. This means that in the final analysis we both determine where we are going and decide how we get there. In other words, we are totally responsible for the shape of our path to our ultimate destiny.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Free Will versus Determinism

Whether we have free will or are simply dancing meat puppets gyrating to the beat of mindless determinism, is a question that has been debated for centuries. While the consensus has shifted back and forth over time, there is as yet still no definitive answer. I propose a compatibilistic solution that both propositions are true.

To appreciate how this can be consider the analogy of classical versus quantum mechanics in physics. Classical mechanics, in which all effects have definite causes, is completely deterministic. This perspective corresponds to a metaphysical domain in which there is no free will. But in physics the causal determinism of classical mechanics does not extend down to the smallest scale, which is the domain of quantum mechanics. On this level events occur with no deterministic cause. For instance, when an atom emits an alpha particle, it does so spontaneously, not because something caused it do so. This lack of quantum causality is analogous to a metaphysical domain that accommodates free will. These seemingly incompatible physical domains intersect since the effects that emerge from accumulations of uncaused quantum events represent deterministic classical events.

The essential difference between this physical analogy and the metaphysical context I am proposing to answer the question of whether we are governed by free will or determinism is that the determinism of the physical system is causal while that of the metaphysical dynamic is teleological, meaning it is shaped by its ultimate effect. The context of my answer provides for the existence of teleological milestones, which represent events that we are deterministically "destined" to experience. In this context our non-deterministic free will can select the specific direction of our incremental steps between these milestones. This means that metaphysically our free will does not determine where we are ultimately going but it can decide how we get there. In other words, we have free will that is effective on smaller scales but becomes increasingly impotent on larger scales. In general, our free will allows us to pursue goals that may defer our destiny but we encounter its limits when we try to elude our fate.

Free will is not simply our power to pursue our goals; it is our intrinsic capacity to choose which, if any of them to pursue. Our goals manifest within us as either needs or desires. The teleological pull of our ultimate destiny is the basis of our needs. On the deterministic level our needs represent our inexorable compulsion to advance towards our final fate, without regard for our uniqueness. We are pulled from the shortest path to our ultimate destiny by our desires, which represent our reactions to our uniqueness. In other words, where we are going shapes our needs and how we get there is shaped by our free will choosing from among our goals.

The question of whether we have free will or are controlled by determinism is generally considered in the context of causal determinism. I propose that we begin to transcend this form of determinism when our minds start to respond to the teleological dictates of our destiny. As such, initially the closer we are to the earliest, instinct-driven level of development, the less free will we have. This is because our choices are being made for us by our causally generated biological drives. At the other end of the extreme, as we approach the most mature, selfless level of development our desires are replaced by our teleologically determined needs. Here we also have decreasing free will since we are increasingly inclined to only do what teleologically needs to be done. In other words, we have free will from the time we can choose to either resist or give in to our baser impulses to the point at which we are no longer tempted by them. This indicates that our free will is at its maximum capacity when we are at the midpoint between the influences of causality and teleology where we can most easily choose between them.

I maintain that most of us have some degree of free will but it does not decide our ultimate destiny because of the overarching influence of determinism. In my next essay I will delve into the dynamics underlying teleological determinism and illustrate how in the end it all still comes back to us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Finding My Religion

In light of the concerns outlined in my previous essay, I do not see a place for me in any one of today’s major religions. I could only belong to a religion that is based on rational ideas, is all-inclusive and is so lacking in structure that it borders on anarchy.

At the heart of the today’s major religions there are mystical ideas that supposedly defy rational understanding. The inability of believers to grasp these core concepts without the assistance of intermediaries generally leads to the formation of religious hierarchies that often exploit those at the bottom for the selfish purposes of some at the top.

In today’s information rich environment, a religion based on rationality is less likely to form exploitive hierarchies of intermediaries to “the Truth” (though as long as its interpretation of the fundamental truth is incomplete, it would still prone to the formation of potentially divisive schools of thought). To see why this is, note that in non-religious, but rational, academic philosophy there are probably as many schools of thought as there are “great” philosophers. Yet an expert in a given school is not in a position to block a relative neophyte’s path to increased understanding in lieu of some selfish ransom.

Rational systems of thought provide intelligent, motivated seekers with a degree of autonomy in their efforts to realize a deeper level of understanding. This self-sufficiency tends to preclude the formation of exploitable hierarchies of dependency.

Recall that all religions characterize an ultimate state of spirituality and describe a means of reaching it. What distinguishes an all-inclusive religion is that it sees all paths as eventually leading to the same destiny. As a result, instead of promoting a single path to our final spiritual fate, such a religion endorses all paths.

Membership in an all-inclusive religion is based on whether or not an individual is advancing towards the ultimate spiritual state, which the religion insists everyone is. Such a religion ascribes to the precept that since we are all eventually going to reach this state, there is no justifiable motive for abusing and sometimes even killing people based on their belief in how best to get there. Though simple, non-religious compassion compels us to mitigate the negative impact of any inhumane practices that a spiritual path may promote.

An all-inclusive religion does not distinguish believers from non-believers in terms of better and worse. As a result, it decreases the likelihood of the former committing atrocities against the latter in the name of the religion.

Those who do not choose to follow any of an all-inclusive religion’s current prescriptions for spiritual growth are still considered members. They are simply viewed as exploring different paths to the same ultimate destiny. On significant occasions, individuals on such alternate paths uncover the most extraordinary spiritual insights. These ideas are sometimes needed to extricate a religion from the cycle of dogmatic stagnation that typically manifests when divergent voices are not heard. As a result, these irregular members are valued as a crucial factor in the continued advancement of the religion.

At first glance a religion with no hierarchy whatsoever, in which everyone is free to do whatever makes sense to them, seems anarchic. But there is more to such a religion then meets the eye if it follows what has come to be called the open source model. In such a system there is virtually no central governing authority and everyone is free to contribute in whatever way they can; though no one is obliged to do so. The members of such a group are united by a shared vision and enriched lives, not by executive edicts and taxing obligations.

Such a religion would be more accurately characterized as socialistically egalitarian. It is worth noting that socialism is based on a selflessness that is consistent with the core tenets of every worthwhile spiritual perspective. As a result, a religion based on this principle represents a step up from the totalitarian oligarchies that predominate these days.

Ironically, many of us on what we regard as non-religious paths to deeper spirituality are already members of what could be characterized as a religion that is rational (it makes sense to us), inclusive (we accept everyone else’s the right to pursue their own path to our common ultimate destiny) and egalitarian (we do not require intermediaries and so, there is no dependency hierarchy). Such a religion might not be embraced by those who prefer mysticism, exclusivity and/or structure. But for those of us who favor rationality, inclusiveness and freedom, this irreligious religion is less likely to divide, exploit and abuse humanity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Problem of Religion

I am an example of what has become a contemporary cliché in that I regard myself as spiritual but not religious. I define religion as a prescribed set of rites, rituals and beliefs that are supposed to provide moral guidelines to their practitioners, while deepening their spirituality. Though I appreciate the idea of religion in the abstract, I am not a big fan of how it is typically practiced today. The primary benefit I see in our major religions is that they sometimes give comfort to worthwhile people who would otherwise feel spiritually lost.

For me personally, the potential spiritual benefits of today’s major religions are simply not worth their secular costs. Since I am not a paragon of morality and spirituality, I have needs that the right religion could conceivably address. But my needs in this area are not great enough to force me to endure or worse, contribute to the difficulties that often manifest in and through religions.

As I see it, the problem with today’s religions is that they are generally divisive belief systems that are easily perverted for exploitive and sometimes even more appalling purposes. The divisiveness of religions is based on the manner in which they distinguish true believers from the rest of us. When religions regard infidels and heretics as inherently inferior, the religious capacity for atrocity emerges. This is because once a religion draws the line separating the sacred from the profane (or at best the mundane) between true believers and all others, it implicitly sanctions the former to treat the latter horrifically. Only in a religious context could the oxymoron ‘sanctified atrocity’ make sense.

The exploitive nature of religions manifests when they begin to develop hierarchical organizations. Such structures typically emerge when a religion’s core precepts represent arcana that require mystical interpretation. In such belief systems, the deeper your understanding of the founding principles (as subjectively assessed by other profound believers) the higher you are in its hierarchy. This dynamic generally leads to a perception that advancing your position in the religious hierarchy is synonymous with spiritual growth.

Once this view becomes commonplace in an organization that distinguishes itself from the secular world (in which spiritual growth is objectively demonstrated), the religion has essentially transformed itself from a spiritual vehicle to a political one. This invariably leads to increasing numbers of people of dubious morality and spirituality rising to leadership positions in the religion. Such leadership can, and with distressing regularity does, selfishly exploit its followers under the guise of promoting their spiritual growth.

Be that as it may, I do not subscribe to the cynical belief that religion is the source all human problems in the world. I maintain that it is the perversion of our basic survival instinct into excessive self-centeredness that is the culprit here. I do believe that the nature of religion makes it arguably the greatest mechanism available to us for amplifying the negative impact of our self-centeredness. Ultimately, it is not the existence of religion, but the manner in which it is often structured and practiced that makes it to such a destructive force in our world today.
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