I was watching a video of a talk by the British Humanist philosopher AC Grayling recently. He spoke of Humanism as encouraging you to live for yourself. This did chime with my own Taoist / Buddhist views as the message I get from them is to attempt to be fully present in the moment and live according to your own reason. The Kalama Sutra makes this clear and any attempts to avoid this that I’ve seen boil down to a Theistic attempt to frighten people into agreeing with the speakers views, or those of their sect.
This got me thinking about Pascal’s Wager. This is a famous bit of thinking that attempts to make the case for believing in God. The idea is that God either exists, or does not; You can either believe or not. If you believe and God exists, then you’re saved; If not, then you’re no worse off than an Atheist. If you don’t believe and God exists, then you’re in some trouble; if not then you’re no better off than the Theist anyway.
There are a few problems with this. The whole question assumes that you have the right God, but how do Zeus or Odin feel about all this? It assumes you understand the nature of God properly, but surely an all loving God makes the wager irrelevant? It assumes the nature of an afterlife, but what about reincarnation? But, I think that there’s another story here; one of the poverty of the supposed victor.
The theist “wins” by worship and submission to the will of a God, and in loss is supposed to be no worse off than an Atheist. However, has the Theist ever really lived for their own reasons? They’ve lived for their God, for their faith; but never for themselves. So, if the Theist does win the wager, it’s a hollow victory. They won, not on their own choices or merits, but by blindly towing the line; who they were never really mattered. And in loss? The only life they had was thrown away living for someone else’s agenda. Not a wager I think I care for.
It’s been a bit of a journey to get to this point. I’ve been religious and also an Atheist. Now my own position is a recognition that we have been arguing about things that are very likely not intellectually knowable or answerable.
People have been arguing about matters of religion and suchlike since before the Buddha’s time, 2600 years ago. Fast forward to now, oh look, the arguments are still going on. If matters of God, the soul and the afterlife were answerable, don’t you think we’d have answered them in two and a half millennia? In my view, people spend a lot of time searching for the truth. We shine our light in search of answers, not realising that what we see are mostly shadows cast by our own preconceptions. Sometimes, we see our own shadow when we get in the way of the light and we call it “God”. The problem is we get a fixation on the shadows and paraphernalia. We have wise people throughout history pointing out a whole wonderful universe to us, we spend our time obsessing about them and their beliefs. We have a finger pointing at a stunning view of the world, but we stare fixedly at the finger, not the world.
I think that the only word for what there is, is Tao. You cannot really know it, define it or reason it. It’s best approached in an intuitive way and is certainly not a god as commonly understood. It’s a force that’s subtle and all pervading, all things are part of it and abide by it and in it. All of our scientific discoveries are merely us shining a light on part of it’s splendour, as for our spiritual knowledge this is also the case. But in truth, there is so much more to discover and our chief danger is to take the little we know and think that it’s everything.
I am reminded of the words of Hamlet to Horatio:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
This has been quite a hot topic in the UK recently. In light of tonight’s vote in the UK House of Commons, I’ve brought an old post out of the archives and am re-presenting it. We have made considerable progress on the rights of gay people and the differently gendered, in my view we should be pleased with how far we’ve come.
The opposition to gay marriage seems to me to be mostly religious conservatives, I’ve seen no secular opposition or religious liberal opposition. To my eyes, this opposition seems to be based on two arguments. The first is an argument from religious dogma, which boils down to what the religious book says. The second is based on an idea of the ownership of marriage by the religious. Note that I avoid naming a specific religion, this is a deliberate choice on my part as I think my comments are applicable to more than one faith.
Let’s look at the first argument, the argument from dogma. This really isn’t an argument, I’ve taken aim at religious dogma so often in the past that you can probably guess what I’m going to say here. This dogma is the unverified writings of a stone age priesthood, whatever it says was not written with a modern audience (or the modern world) in mind. I can assert this as the writer could not have known the future and so couldn’t be expected to anticipate the world these writings now find themselves in. What we have is two people in love, trying to be happy together, being blocked by some stone age dogma of highly dubious origin and transmission. Remember, the only claim this dogma has to authority is the idea that it’s the unaltered world of a god. I’ve aimed at that before, and will cover that ground again no doubt. On a personal level, I am mystified why it should be called “Gay Marriage”, or even “Marriage”, wouldn’t you want to lose the religious baggage that this label brings with it?
The second argument is that the religions they think they own marriage. No, I am not making this up. The argument is that because the word “Marriage” is defined in their religious texts which pre date the modern state, then the state cannot redefine them. Let’s look at this claim. The notion of marriage is recorded by the ancient Greeks, but we know that the Sumerians (3000 – 2000 BCE) had marriages. I think this casts doubt on the idea being exclusively owned by any current “in play” religion. Same sex unions are recorded during the Zhou (1046 – 260 BC) and Ming (1368 – 1644 AD) dynasties in China and in also Rome (the Emperor Nero). I think this disproves any idea that it’s purely a modern phenomenon.
For my part, I know that the world is in constant change. History flows like water, the evolution of the definition of marriage is simply that flow. It has changed between civilisations over time and will, no doubt, continue to do so. The institution of marriage is defined by the people in the marriages, they do this every day with the Karma they create through their actions and interactions. These ripples spread into the world, as if in a pool, not owned by either a religious institution or the state. This is about the right of two people in love to join together and make a formal commitment. That love and that commitment are what’s important, not the arguments surrounding a religious institution or secular state based view of marriage.
Finally, a quick note on the religious definition of marriage as “one man and one woman”. In the Bible, the old Testament prophets are show as having more than one wife. In both Exodus (21:10) and Deuteronomy (17:17 & 21:15-17) instructions are given for how they are to be treated. So, even the bible violates that definition.