Friday, July 4, 2008

Monoatheistic Entity (ME)

By Warren Redman
The recent spate of books and movies promoting the idea of God and spirituality or refuting the concept of a deity indicate one thing – God is big business. Put God or some similar highly spiritually evocative name in the title of your book and you’ll sell a ton. The entrancement of humans with the desire to make sense of ourselves, our universe and all that’s in it and to explain the otherwise inexplicable is one of the main phenomena that distinguishes humans from any other living entity. Not only do we need to explain; we need something to hang on to when doubt creeps in. Furthermore, those who believe in a “higher power”, or creator or God or other form of external entity that has a mysterious power over our fate and our world have a tendency to see themselves as more highly evolved than those who don’t.

Recent research has indicated that those living in secular as distinct from religiously-based countries are more likely to be content and at peace with themselves and their neighbours. This runs counter to conventional wisdom and raises some interesting questions. One of these questions is “how does the myth that religion brings about inner peace survive the facts?” Another is “what do people who don’t believe in God actually believe in that makes them more content?” A third is “what makes people stick to their religious beliefs in the face of apparently overwhelming lack of evidence that God exists?” I will have a mild attempt at answering these questions, partly to help myself understand them and partly to invite your debate. Most of all, I want to answer a fourth question: “in the absence of a belief in God what core belief can a person hold that takes us to the highest level of humanity?”

How does the myth that religion brings about inner peace survive the facts?

At least two of the world’s great religions – Christianity and Islam – have as part of their basis in the belief that our real bliss and inner peace and happiness is promised in the afterlife. A significant message to believers, or promised to those who can be brought into the faith, is that you will receive the blessings for this presently lived life in heaven. Struggle, therefore, becomes a virtue and is accepted by the millions who face everyday deprivation, misery and unhappiness because their reward will come as long as they pray and as long as they give themselves selflessly to the teachings of their particular religious branch. Facts, therefore, become irrelevant or easily refutable to those who hold onto their faith as a fact in itself.

What do people who don’t believe in God actually believe in that makes them more content?

A researcher, or rather a body of research might attempt an answer which would always fall short of anyone really knowing what disbelievers believe in. My own thoughts are simply that, based on my limited experience of being in other people’s minds and only my own inner searching to go on. It appears, on the face of it, that disbelievers generally don’t believe in anything specific at all; it is simply the absence of belief. The result of that, while not leading people to any great depth of thought or insights into who they are, at least has the possibility of them being free from doubt, fear and antipathy to others of different views. The absence of religious belief, therefore, also provides a stronger basis for the absence of negative beliefs.

The absence of a faith does not necessarily mean the absence of a belief. Atheists, agnostics, humanists are all examples of people who have thought out their views and adhere to a set of principles to which they adhere in life, usually of their own making or based on the values espoused by the societies or groups to which they attach themselves. Since there is no promotion of such beliefs, or organized attempts to bring people into the “fold”, those who hold views of this nature tend to hold them independently and are not easily identifiable. This in itself may serve to bring contentment.

What makes people stick to their religious beliefs in the face of apparently overwhelming lack of evidence that God exists?

Those who have religious beliefs have the belief itself as their evidence. If they believe in the bible, that is all the evidence they need. If they believe in the word of their priest or imam or other religious leader, no other evidence is needed. Only those who disbelieve would require evidence of the existence of God. The result is that a believer will never persuade a disbeliever or vice-versa. In-between, however, there are many who have doubts. These are the ones who become potential members of a religious group, and who keep the proselytizers continuing their efforts to add to their numbers. The doubters, who don’t find something to hold onto are also the ones who may experience life as more complicated and difficult and who, when they do “find religion” become the most ardent advocates of their chosen faith.

In the absence of a belief in God what core belief can a person hold that takes us to the highest level of humanity?

To answer this question I want to take a very idiosyncratic approach and to coin a word that demands an explanation. Monoatheism may seem something of a non-sequitur (as well as a mouthful), but it describes most aptly what I do believe. Before I go on to describe its meaning, I have to add another category of belief to the general understanding of religion, that is the belief in the efficacy of psychological typing, from Meyers Briggs, to the Enneagram, to Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) testing, among a barrage of others. The fervour that accompanies such instruments and their proponents is almost as strong as that of any religious sect.

As a Monoatheistic Entity (ME) I have the freedom to be me, together with the responsibility that goes with it and the complete accountability for my actions. To become a ME is not an easy option. It is a journey of intense and continuing personal growth, of learning from sometimes painful experience, of exploration and trial and error as well as the more formal education and personal study that provides a variety of others’ viewpoints. Monoatheism is the term I use for a belief in the one, unique and quite extraordinary individual who is me. It demands that I hold myself to the highest values in which I believe: that is firstly to hold others as being unique and extraordinary individuals, deserving the same respect, wanting and capable of the same love, having their own personal beliefs and values and potential for reaching their dearest goals in life.
Being a ME also means attaining a personal degree of emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual (yes!) fitness to the highest level of one’s potential abilities, without succumbing to the exhortations of others to fit into a mould of their making. This not only includes the pressures to join organized religious groups, or to fit into neatly-packaged psychological and sociological stereotypes, but also the whims of societies that create desires for products of little value apart from the apparent status they impart to the owner and the added wealth it brings to the producer.

A Monoatheistic Entity will learn from religious writings, as well as from philosophers, historians, artists and other creative minds. But the ME will learn more from his or her own personal experiences and own fertile imagination. Putting that experience to good use, the ME knows that the path s/he is on and the legacy s/he has to offer is a unique one. The ME understands and accepts that there is no life after death and that the soul has existence only in the living being. It is our duty to bring value to the living and the unborn. The souls of the dead exist as long as they are within the consciousness of the living.

The best example of this in my own experience is that of my great-grandfather, who died in 1947, when I was seven years old. As long as I hold not only his memory, but the essence of him within me, he will remain an entity that lives on. I will do my best to pass on the knowledge of him through me to my children and others, so that his light continues. But it exists only in us. It is not a free-floating entity that roams around in some mysterious way looking for a place to alight.

So it is with God. God can only exist if humans allow it to be so. Humans created the concept of God to deal with the vast unknowingness that faced early communities. It explained so much and, to the delight of men and women who loved storytelling, fitted perfectly within that tradition. It was also a superb way of organizing society and retaining control over it for those who enjoyed the wielding of power.

The core belief of the ME is at least as strongly held as that of any believer in God. The ethical values and integrity of the ME are based, not on externally imposed rules, but on the set of life principles that are part of the ME’s commitment to personal growth.

Monoatheism is therefore a choice of personal challenge, human development and belief in the value and uniqueness in the one entity that is constant from birth to death – the self. And since that belief is one which acknowledges all others as having the same value and uniqueness, it is one of acceptance and of love. It is an attainment of the highest level of humanity. And by definition, nobody has to join!

© Warren Redman, July 2008

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