Why is Sola Scriptura so important to Protestants, and what does it mean?

Luther’s ideal had a noble aim: to remove institutional authority and any elite classes from scriptural interpretation, and place interpretation in the hands of lay folk. Luther’s view of course coincided with the invention and widespread availability of the printing press, and with the consequent rise of literacy and availability of the Bible across Europe. Before this time, only a small percentage of Church members (probably less than 30%) would have been literate, and very few literate or non-literate churchgoers actually had familiarity with Biblical texts. By the end of the 1500s, both of these conditions saw a pronounced shift. So again…it was a noble ideal, especially in the context of the abuses of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy in preceding years. Consider how revolutionary the idea was that any and all individuals could learn about personal salvation and spiritual life without prostrating themselves to some hierarchical authority, or paying lots of money for it?! This was, essentially, the beginning of the democratization of Christian orthodoxy — the elevating of individual ability to formulate and navigate Christian principles on their own.

Of course, any good idea can be taken too far. Some evangelical denominations assert that the Bible basically interprets itself, and does not require any education, or understanding of historical Christian traditions — or any other sort of preparation or education — to understand. Again, this is very empowering for each individual Christian to be able to navigate their own faith — and this certainly seems like a positive thing. But it also introduces an inherent weakness that we see echoed across many different areas of expertise in modern times: that any armchair opinion is equivalent to a well-researched, well-educated, well-informed opinion from an expert in that field. Sometimes, this can be liberating. But quite often, cultural pressures and pervasive groupthink begin to poison the well via things like the Illusory truth effect. Just because “everyone in the Church” is repeating something over and over again does not make it true…and yet this is how much of scripture ends up getting interpreted in modern times among evangelical denominations.

We can then add these additional interferences to the mix, which further dilute the ability of a sola scriptura approach to bear consistent or reliable fruit:

1. Distortions due to biased translation of the Greek and Hebrew. Unless a reader educates themselves on the original Hebrew and Konai Greek in which the biblical texts were written, how can they know they aren’t being sold a particular doctrinal view because of a particular translator’s decisions…?

2. Distortions due the original selection and canonization of particular texts. Most of the New Testament as we know it today wasn’t formally canonized until 363 at the Council of Laodicea — that’s about 300 years after most of the texts were written. But as many who have researched the early Church know, many additional texts were also circulated among the earliest Churches, texts which are today considered “extra-biblical” or apocryphal. So why aren’t those texts part of the “infallible single authority” under the sola scriptura doctrine? That decision preceded sola scriptura…and therefore disrupts its purity as a standard.

3. Distortions due to legalistic, literalistic methods of interpretation. This is a subtler issue to discuss, as it is grounded in the concept of hermeneutics — that is, the principles that guide how we go about interpreting a given text. Unless those principles are clearly thought through, we can inadvertently misunderstand scripture by forcing a particular filter or bias of interpretation onto it. And, unfortunately, that happens a lot in denominations that push sola scriptura into the realm of nuda scriptura (i.e. “scripture left naked” of all traditional contexts).

Sola scriptura also had a rather devastating effect on something else over time — something which was a far more liberating and “democratizing” idea in early Christendom. And that was the promise that holy spirit would continue to provide Christians with guidance and wisdom in their spiritual lives. In this sense, most scripture is the “milk” of the Word — the easily digestible spiritual food for young babes in Christ, teaching the most basic concepts. And, of course, what is easier to do, learn to listen to the subtle inner promptings of spiritual insight — or accept the presence and power of “spiritual gifts” like prophecy — and then develop mature discernment over time, or to accept rigid legalistic interpretations of a written document that “keeps things simple?” Tellingly, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul exhorted early believers to develop more mature spiritual insight through agape, holy spirit, and disciplined practice — instead of relying on legalistic habits like those of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or relying on simplistic “milk,” and never moving beyond it. Yes, studying scripture is part of the mix…but only part. Developing deep discernment, and reliance on the guidance and gifts of holy spirit, takes discipline, focus, hard work, and time. And yet this is the truly liberating and enduring power that Jesus offered as part of a revolutionary shift: everyone and anyone could enter the holiest of holies; everyone and anyone could participate in the Kingdom of God; everyone and anyone could receive the holy spirit as helper and guide. But too many members of the Church — both centuries ago and today — are simply not interested in exercising this incredible privilege and gift. So they rely exclusively on scriptural authority instead.

Just my 2 cents.

P.S. I thought this article from a self-described evangelical was a thoughtful take on sola scriptura vs. nuda scriptura: Sola Scriptura … Not Nuda Scriptura!

Where is the fine line between religion and common sense?

In most traditions that “fine line” is to simply be guided by love instead of dogma or rigid doctrine on the one hand, or cultural traditions on the other. Dogma is a kind of black-and-white reasoning that sees all situations through the lens of lockstep conformance. What is considered “common sense” can often be a cultural reflex that isn’t carefully thought through. Love, which in most religions was the original basis or inspiration of all primary religious tenets, is able to see through the eyes of compassion, acceptance, encouragement and support — it doesn’t rely on dogma. And when we can practice skillful compassion, which discerns the most constructive way to respond in each unique situation, we demonstrate wisdom. Ultimately, both “common sense” (cultural) and “religious” (dogmatic) responses to a given challenge become much more effective when framed with wisdom and compassion. In my experience, both common sense and religious doctrine are softened and refined by skillful compassion.

My 2 cents.

Was Joseph Smith a mystic?

Thanks for the question. I think it is difficult to know for certain. Joseph Smith did assert that he had mystical knowledge and insight — and he performed certain practices that had the appearance of invoking special spiritual consciousness — but he also did a lot of things that made these apparent mystical practices and insights seem a bit like a con-artist or circus performer, rather than the genuine article. This speaks to motivations, of course, and it is always difficult to know for certain what someone’s motives are — especially if they lived a long time ago. But consider these well-established facts:

1. When Smith — and convicted con-artist — utilized elaborate methods of performance to “interpret” the prophecy of ancient papyri while traveling around the U.S., this resulted in his Book of Abraham, one of the foundational scriptures of the Mormon Church. But when those papyri were later examined by archeologists, it was discovered that they were merely fragments of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Breathing Permit of Hor, and so on. In other words, Smith was completely fabricating his interpretation out of thin air, and making it more authoritative by misuse of these archeological props.

2. Once the earliest Mormon Church was established, Smith’s successor Brigham Young used his lieutenants to enforce rigid control over the Church — not infrequently resorting to murdering anyone who challenged Young’s authority, left the Mormon Church, or were considered any sort of threat.

Just these two points alone are fairly damning, and remind us of many other cults that have made things up and then rigidly controlled the power within the cult. Scientology is another excellent and well-documented example of this.

This is not to say that modern Mormons themselves aren’t good-hearted people, don’t do good work, can’t be compassionate and charitable servants of their faith, etc. I want to be careful to differentiate Mormons from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the Danites, etc. in that regard. But, at the same time, it’s pretty clear that Smith wasn’t a good person, wasn’t good-hearted, and engaged in some pretty nefarious deception and oppressive evil-doing while he was alive. Smith just graduated from petty conman (divining gold deposits) to creating a conman’s religion (again, much like L Ron Hubbard did with Scientology).

So was Smith a mystic? Possibly…just not a very kind, wise or genuine one. He certainly didn’t allow his mysticism to mold his conscience, the accuracy of his insights, or the compassionate efficacy of his actions…which leads me to doubt his level of mystical proficiency. Certainly he was not a mystic who followed Christ. Then again, there has been a long tradition of spiritual hoodwinking and cult creation in the U.S., so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people were (and are) so gullible. At the same time, what is fairly shocking is just how large and influential the Mormon Church became, when it was founded on such unsavory deceptions and power-grubbing machinations.

My 2 cents.

Are religions the manifestation of the human tendency to live in denial?

Thanks for the question Carl.

I would separate “religion” into two distinct categories or aspects, both of which can be found in almost all religions:

1) The esoteric, the mystical, the spiritual, the enigmatic, the intuitive, the acquiescent

2) The exoteric, the institutional, the dogmatic, the hierarchical, the rationalizing, the dominating

If there is a “spiritual” dimension of existence (even if it is exclusively part of our interiority), then aspect #1 is really just the sensitivity to, interest in, and exploration of that dimension. I would call this kind of religion an “openness to the infinite,” or spiritual curiosity if you will. I think most mystical traditions (Sufism, contemplative Christianity, Toaism, Kabbalah, Hindu mysticism, much of historical Buddhism, etc.) fall mainly in this category, and actually end up in conflict with traditions that emphasize the second aspect. This aspect of religion does not “live in denial,” because it is constantly questioning along deeper and deeper lines of inquiry. If you spend time with any of the great mystical traditions, it quickly becomes evident that they are attempting to penetrate truths beneath the surface of more superficial, materialistic presentations of reality.

The second aspect is all about control, power, orthodoxy, tribalism, and so on — also very common characteristics of human institutions. It is aspect #2 that tends to slip into greater and greater cognitive dissonance as it attempts to maintain its primacy over other social structures and centers of gravity in society — it perpetuates denial as a primary feature of its striving for dominance.

My 2 cents

Why do American Christians tend to gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?

Thanks for the question Alex.

I think the OP’s question is based on a popular misconception. If you look at the data (see Pew’s Religious Landscape Study), those who self-identify as Christian in the U.S. are actually fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints (i.e. pro-government programs to help the poor vs. anti-government, pro life vs. pro choice, supportive of same-sex marriage vs. opposed, protecting the environment vs. less business regulation, etc.). It is true that these proportions don’t mirror the general population precisely — Christians do tend to skew slightly more conservative on certain social, political and economic issues. Again however, within the Christian community, folks are fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints.

So that leaves us with two distinct questions:

1) Why are misconceptions about U.S. Christians so out-of-line with the available data?

2) Why do any Christians at all “gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?”

These are fairly easy to answer, IMO.

First, pervasive misconceptions about Christians and Christian beliefs have persisted for millenia…so that’s not exactly new. What is new is a media landscape that loves sensationalism, and that reliably turns its attention to the most vocal and “colorful” variations of any given group. All environmentalists aren’t vegans, all gun owners don’t love the NRA, all Muslims aren’t terrorists or terrorist supporters, and all Christians don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the strong cultural memes that circulate via mass media are compelled to capitalize on loud, combative, sensational extremes so they can maximize advertising dollars. So those who passively and unquestioningly consume that media can arrive at some pretty bizarre generalizations about various groups. Not that those generalizations have no basis, but they tend to focus on highly exaggerated “far end of the spectrum” squeaky wheels. Can we even generalize that U.S. Christians “believe in God?” Sure, that usually holds…but even in this instance there are plentiful exceptions (the Pew study reference above indicates only 76% of Christians are “absolutely certain” in the existence of God…).

Second, there have been concerted efforts by Right-leaning political interests in the U.S. to capture various groups, and generate opposition to others, for their own nefarious ends. You have the Southern Strategy, two Red Scares, the McCarthy era, and a consistent propaganda effort since about 1972 (by neoliberal think tanks, wealthy donors, conservative media, etc.) to demonize socialism and “big bad government,” and lionize free markets and “more efficient” business solutions that can supposedly remedy ALL social and civic issues. It is no accident that the term “godless communists” entered the popular vernacular, was perpetuated there, and was relentlessly associated with anything that interfered with corporate power and profits. For some time, part of the neoliberal objective has clearly been to consolidate very different ideologies under one single, pro-corporate, anti-government agenda. Each targeted group (fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, right-libertarians, gun-lovers, immigrant-haters, etc.) has been carefully marketed an appealing brand of political groupthink that claims to champion their key concerns. In reality, of course, those key concerns are always subjugated to the primary aim of disabling government in favor of enriching a few owner-shareholders at everyone else’s expense. It’s little more than a long con.

So, you might then ask, why don’t Christians see through the sham? This leads into an interesting discussion about whether culture determines religious orthodoxy, or religion influences culture. I think there is some give-and-take there, but that established cultural programming usually wins out in the end. Historically and into modern times, “Christian” nations generally do not reflect Christ-like values, but rationalize or justify pre-existing cultural values via distorted religious legalism. If all U.S. Christians really wanted to emulate Christ and follow biblical teachings, they would have difficulty being conformant capitalists at all — and certainly would not support the “greed, guns and greatness are good” sentiments that so permeate the political Right today. Authentic Christian believers do, in fact, tend to be much more Left-leaning and socialistic. I actually wrote a book about this issue, A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament, which covers the evidence to support this view with great care.

My 2 cents.

Is the aim of all religions to teach only moral values?

Thanks for the question. In my opinion, it is not the primary aim of religions to teach moral values. Often, religious institutions will, over time, elevate moral correctness or dogma to an excessive level — seemingly just so that adherents can be more easily controlled, or to create a standard of conformance that qualifies as the appearance of being religious. But when we read the scriptures of the world’s spiritual traditions, it rapidly becomes clear that there is much, much more being discussed there than “100 things we must do,” and “100 things we must not do” in order to be a moral person. Instead, the focus is often on a much more subtle development of character, or a specific quality of faith, or a transformative change in attitude, or ways to develop discernment and wisdom, or a clearly defined avenue to “all spiritual truths” — moral and otherwise. So morality, as such, really becomes a secondary property of spirituality; advanced moral values are a natural outgrowth of spiritual maturity — evidence of our progress, if you will — rather than a central aim.

My 2 cents.

Why is it immoral to hate people because of their religion? Religion is a number of views which you consider right. Isn’t it okay to judge people based on their views and their decisions?

Well, first off hate is generally either counterproductive or destructive — it very rarely helps alter an undesirable situation. In fact I would say that hate reliably makes everything worse for everyone involved. Also, hate most often issues from fear, ignorance and deep personal wounding…rather than, say, a place of clear-headed righteous indignation or concern for the well-being of others. When we watch children lash out at someone and scream “I hate you!” we instinctively know, as adults, that they are just hurting and irrational little toddlers. Hate therefore requires us to examine our own situation — our own hearts, reflexive prejudices, uninformed reactions, etc. — to see what needs healing. It doesn’t indicate anything about the object of our hate…anything at all, really, except that the object reminds us of our own immaturity, lack of compassion, and lack of skillfulness.

As for religion having some special class in terms of the judgments, prejudices or condemnations that may inspire fear and discomfort, I think the problem arises when we lump a bunch of folks into one big bucket. When we say “all white people are X,” or “all Americans are y,” or “all Muslims are z,” we are applying a generalization that is usually a) not very accurate or insightful, or b) has lots of individual exceptions. In other words, a particular “white American Muslim” won’t actually conform to any of the projected stereotypes — in fact, a LOT of them won’t. So what is the point of such generalizations? Generally, it is to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality, or an “ingroup vs. outgroup” orientation, that helps us feel better about ourselves, and perhaps a little more powerful. It assuages our insecurities and props up a weak and vulnerable sense of self. Unfortunately, this is precisely what leaders of hate groups and hate movements are counting on to gain more followers. And why do they want more followers? To empower themselves, because they are feeling the same vulnerability and insecurity.

So how can we address our own sense of fear, vulnerability, discomfort, confusion, insecurity and weak sense of self that leads us to hate a particular religion? That is a much larger conversation, but I would say it begins with educating ourselves about different cultures and peoples, traveling abroad, making friends with a different worldview and breaking bread with them in their homes, taking a long hard look at our own reflexive beliefs and attitudes, and beginning to heal some of our own emotional brokenness and loneliness. In my personal discipline, called Integral Lifework, the objective is to nourish every dimension of our being so that we won’t feel insecure, disempowered and hurting…and this process of self-care can go a long way toward healing the need to hate anyone or anything.

My 2 cents.

How do religious anarchists reconcile their religion and political views?

Most religions of the world (theistic or non-theistic) teach very similar principles with respect to civil authority: don’t make waves, follow the law, be a good citizen, and practice your faith on a personal and interpersonal level, rather than a political one. In fact, nearly all of them advise against overt political involvement (with respect to applying particular spiritual principles, for example), since politics is about worldly or illusionary power, and religious traditions are “supposed” to be about spiritual or ontological concerns. However, many also encourage compassionate action that could be expressed in one’s voting, or proposing legislation, or working to elect a candidate who seems to embody compassionate values.

Now in reality most wisdom traditions eventually get coopted by dogmatic “orthodoxy” and highly political institutions. This is where the worldly and political overtake spiritual, interpersonal and ontological concerns. It is in this context that the spiritual instruction of a given tradition will apply most directly to politics: that is, the politics of one’s own religious institution. Beyond that, the larger political sphere has little or no intersect with spiritual practices and beliefs (in terms of it competing with them), because it is not focused on the interpersonal. So, because the basis of your question assumes that there is a competing intersection, that is really where the disconnect resides.

In my own life, my personal beliefs and spiritual practice will continue regardless of the political environment I happen to live in. However, my investment in left-libertarian political solutions is grounded in my spirituality and informed by my personal beliefs. For me, moving away from individualistic materialism, conspicuous consumption, and corporate exploitation and enslavement is a spiritual as well as pragmatic imperative. Because I care about the well-being of my fellow humans, I would prefer they retain their personal and collective agency and liberty - and have relief from suffering - and the skillfulness with which I approach aiding others in this way is informed by my spiritual beliefs.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/How-do-religious-anarchists-reconcile-their-religion-and-political-views/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Why do large portions of Abrahamic-religions followers dismiss the eastern "inward" technologies and embrace the western outward?

I think this question has many answer which work in concert to annihilate reliance on the “inward.” These include:

1. It is easier to control people when they are not self-reliant but dependent on external authority and exoteric rituals, and religious institutions often end up being all about hierarchy and control. I’m quite certain this is why early Christian orthodoxy was so eager to purge the gnostic movement, for example, and why mysticism in general is often belittled (or forgotten) by mainstream Abrahamic institutions.

2. After the enlightenment it became increasingly unpopular to give any weight to non-emperical information of any kind - including introspection, intuition, contemplation or spiritual “ahas.” By the time postmodernism came into play, it was unpopular to include “spirit” in discourse at all. All of this has led to a Cartesian reductionism that excises the esoteric heart (and practices) of all religion.

3. Commercialism and commoditization have further eroded self-reliance and inward-looking discernment in service to profit: it is much easier to persuade people to buy things when they believe solutions to all of their needs are external rather than internal. In this way the profit motive has also infected religion as a cultural meme.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-large-portions-of-Abrahamic-religions-followers-dismiss-the-eastern-inward-technologies-and-embrace-the-western-outward-please-read-below/answer/T-Collins-Logan)

The Problem of Feminine Power: Testosterone, Cultural Evolution & the 2016 U.S. Elections

Western culture has a problem with empowered women. From a historical perspective this is easy to observe – and we’ll cover some of that briefly – but the more interesting and relevant question is: why? Why have women been so persistently held back, oppressed, dismissed, denigrated, ridiculed, shamed and abused both institutionally and culturally in so many Western societies? Why, in a country like the U.S.A. where liberty and opportunity are so highly prized, have women been subject to these same prejudices? And lastly, it seems obvious that any cultural currents underlying the denigration of women are particularly relevant in the 2016 U.S. election – but what is really going on here?

About the history. Some potent reminders of the subjugation of the feminine:

• Around 85% of the witches executed in Europe and the American Colonies during the witch hunts of the 15th through 17th centuries were women.

• In medieval Europe, women who spoke their minds in public – or challenged their husband’s authority – could be subjected to public shaming via iron masks that they wore for a day or longer.

• It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that women began to receive substantive rights to their own property in the U.S., Britain and Europe; before that, husbands and fathers controlled their property.

• The post-enlightenment awakening to the importance of higher education for women resulted in the first all-women colleges in the mid-1800s and a growing concern for primary school education for girls all around the globe. Up until this time, however, it was mainly men who were encouraged to pursue education (other than in a religious context, such as Catholic convents). In many Muslim countries, however, female education has trended in the opposite direction in recent decades.

• Women’s suffrage around the globe is a particularly glaring indication of female disenfranchisement: it wasn’t until 1920 that women had the right to vote in the U.S.; 1928 in the United Kingdom; 1944 in France; 1946 in Italy; 1952 in Greece; 1954 in Columbia; 1955 in Cambodia; 1990 in Samoa; 2015 in Saudi Arabia.

• In terms of basic human rights, 189 members of the UN felt it imperative to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981. As of this writing, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, Iran, the Holy See and the United States have refused to sign on.

• Considering that women in many parts of the United States – and many parts of the rest of the world – still have challenges asserting both their reproductive rights and their right to equal pay, we can see that the double-standards regarding female empowerment persist into modern times.

Shaming Masks - Photo Credit Craige Moore, Creative Commons License 2.0

Is this longstanding prejudice in the Western world a consequence of religion? No. The mistrust and disempowerment of the feminine has nothing at all to do with religion – though religious institutions have happily taken up female oppression and regressive conservatism in service to their parent cultures. As Christianity has been the dominant religious institution in the West, we can explore it as an example. In the New Testament, Jesus is a radical feminist for his time. He elevated women’s positions above cultural norms, honored female disciple’s behaviors and attitudes above his male disciples, responded to women’s requests and admonishments even as he chastised men's, ignored cultural prejudices around female sexuality and physiology, and forgave women of their most culturally despised sins. And, for a time, this liberation of the feminine endured; in the early Church, women held positions of authority, influence and honor. In fact, there are only two short Paulian verses in all of the New Testament that place women in subjection to men, and there is a high likelihood that those were introduced (“interpolated”) into the scriptural canon long after the earliest Christian texts were written. (For more on this topic, see this excerpt from A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament.)

So what happened? Pre-existing culture happened. Everywhere we look in those first few centuries of spreading Christianity, the surrounding cultures were astoundingly oppressive toward women: beginning with North African culture, Jewish culture, and Roman culture…and eventually arriving in Northern Europe. These were societies where women were treated as slaves, traded like chattel, and sometimes killed (“exposed”) at birth because they were less desirable than male offspring. And as Christianity gradually gained institutional authority in these regions of the world, it also gradually adopted the dominant memes of those cultures. Jesus’ example and the practices of the early Church regarding women were almost completely abandoned. So what began as a seemingly deliberate attempt to liberate women was often turned on its head in favor of existing cultural traditions.

Now Northern European cultures are an interesting, diverse and complex study in themselves – so can we really generalize about “anti-feminine” sentiments in this way? I think we can, mainly because of the historical evidence. We know of only one European culture that had hints of strong matriarchal traditions, and that was the Picts, whose culture and language had been diluted, assimilated or erased by the end of the first millennium. But, as alluded to, the West isn’t the only place where women are second class citizens. Many North African cultures have a problem with empowered women as well. And here again it has nothing to do with religion, colonization by Northern Europeans, or any of the other lazy explanations that are frequently invoked. Take for example female genital mutilation and child brides – these traditions predate the arrival of Islam, Christianity and the northern invaders by centuries, and persist equally across these cultures regardless of the dominant ethnic, religious, economic and political orientations. For example, Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country with completely different geography, ethnic groups and politics than Mali, a predominantly Muslim country; but they both practice FGM to an astonishing degree (74% and 89% respectively), and child brides are bartered off at about the same rate in both places (41-60%). Here again, cultural traditions seem to be the dominating factor, far outweighing any other influences.

But we must return to the why. Why are women so habitually denigrated? One theory that has been advanced by anthropologists and other researchers is that the cultural value of women was higher in peaceful and resource-abundant regions of the world than where resources were scarce or there was more competition with other inhabitants (see Hayden, Deal, Cannon and Casey). As the theory goes, because men had the physical advantages to become successful hunters and warriors, men gained prestige and authority in environments where those traits were important, and women’s roles became more supportive or subservient. Another theory posits that the introduction of writing and literacy pushed institutions and cultural authority away from the holistic and concrete oral traditions perpetuated by women, and into a linear, abstract and reductionist realm dominated by men (see Shlain). Another theory promotes the idea that the advent of privately owned land, agriculture and animal husbandry introduced the idea of reproductive ownership and control of resources through inheritance, where provable lineage and female reproductive capacity became essential mechanisms of patriarchal power that men felt compelled to control (see Ryan and Jethá). Yet another theory is that male-centric, warlike tribes steeped in cultural habits of domination invaded more egalitarian, cooperative and peaceful regions where women participated as equal partners, and proceeded to subjugate those cultures to the warlike-masculine-dominating archetype (see Eisler).

Although all of these theories have interesting evidence and merit, I don’t think any of them adequately explain female oppression. There is simply something missing – something more fundamental, more persistent, more universal…and more inherent. What is it? Well I think the underlying issue centers around the relationship between testosterone and similar dietary, cultural and physical habits that have arisen independently around the globe. Yes…you heard me: testosterone and dietary, cultural and physical habits. Bear with me here, as I think this will all come together nicely. To appreciate how this synthesizes, we need to understand something about human physiology: specifically, we need to appreciate the effects of testosterone on human behavior and development. Here are some of those well-documented correlations. Testosterone:

1. Beginning in the eighth week after conception, testosterone stimulates fetal differentiation to become male.

2. Strongly influences development of muscle mass and strength (and retention of these over time).

3. Has tremendous impact on sexual desire and impulses.

4. Increases feelings and expression of vitality, aggression and confidence.

5. Strongly correlates (and changes) with position of social dominance (higher testosterone reflects a higher position of dominance) and a desire to compete.

6. Seems to correlate with increased objectification of sex partner as a means to gratification (higher testosterone = higher objectification; interestingly, there is evidence that estrogen has a similar effect).

7. Offers strong correlations with violent criminality (higher testosterone levels in the most violent criminals).

8. May contribute to impatient, impulsive, risk-taking personality traits.

We should note that there are genetic predispositions, socialization, learned behaviors and other factors in play as well in all of this – and that correlations between certain behaviors and testosterone may indicate more of cofactor relationship than direct causality – but for now the details of those discussions will remain outside of our scope. Also, we should appreciate that many of these correlations are equally true for both women and men. What, then, in the most simplified terms, stimulates or sustains testosterone production as people age? Here are some broadly held conclusions regarding that:

1. Intense exercise, especially in bursts of activity and using the largest muscle groups.

2. Intermittent periods of fasting.

3. Having lots of sex, and lots of thoughts about sex.

4. Low carb, low sugar, low grain, high protein diet that includes healthy fats.

5. Receiving regular doses of Zinc (oysters, crab, other shellfish, beef, chicken, pork, beans, garlic, mushrooms, spinach, whole grains).

6. Receiving regular doses of Vitamin D (seafood, egg yolks, beef liver, beans, mushrooms, cheese).

7. Maintaining low levels of body fat.

8. Consuming foods with BCAAs (like cheese and cottage cheese).

9. Engaging in aggressive, risk-taking or violent activities.

10. Maintaining a competitive, dominance-oriented worldview and behaviors.

Can you surmise which cultures – historically – have promoted nearly all of these testosterone-enhancing components of diet, cultural values and physical habit as part of their societal norms…? Quite interestingly, most of them happen to be the very same cultures that have dominated the globe for centuries. Speaking specifically to pre-industrial proclivities of British, European and (post-colonization) North American cultures: what were the dominant features of day-to-day living in terms of diet, social mores and activities? Consider the habits, attitudes and appetites of explorers, the colonizers and imperialists, warmongers and revolutionaries…all those dominators who reveled in engineering competition and subjugating others in every aspect of life? Certainly we could have a chicken-and-egg debate around which came first – high testosterone levels or the conditions that helped to maintain them – but the historically prevalent power brokers and change agents in these cultures seem to be poster children for testosterone-enhancing lifestyles.

We can then even piggyback onto Jared Diamond’s hypothesis in Guns, Germs and Steel, asserting that perhaps testosterone has been one more actor that helped facilitate the Eurasian hegemony. And inherent to that testosterone-reinforced dominance (or at least thematically and biologically consistent with it) is patriarchy, male chauvinism, and general devaluation of the feminine. Even when women are themselves “masculinized” by testosterone and testosterone-enhancing activities, they likewise become aggressive, competitive, dominating, risk-taking and violent – establishing their primacy over everyone else who is “weaker.” Thus a primary feature of testosterone-reinforcing diets, culture and physical habits could at once be both the subjugation of other cultures, and the principle of “masculine” dominance, objectification and commoditization of others – from slaves to sex workers to sheeple...and most certainly "the weaker sex."

Testosterone-Dependent Dominance Systems

Now when we take a moment to step back and think about this hypothesis, one thing that rapidly becomes clear is that much of modern Western society is no longer conforming to its historical testosterone-producing advantages – at least not in many substantive ways. Habit-wise we have become much more sedentary, are consuming a lot more sugar and carbs, are gaining a lot of weight, and are generally amplifying the preconditions for Type II Diabetes in several ways. We are also exposed to a host of industrially produced antiandrogens (pesticides, insecticides, phthalates in plastics, and parabens in soaps and pharmaceuticals) that disrupt testosterone expression. Which begs the question: is the same level of testosterone-induced behavior still in play? Well I think it is…but only for those who succeed within the vestigial socioeconomic systems, traditions and institutions preserved from earlier eras. Remember the correlation between social position and testosterone? Well when human beings deliberately operate within a system that encourages and rewards aggressive competition, dominating tactics, oppression of anyone perceived as “weaker,” physical and sexual prowess, and patriarchy, the primacy of testosterone and its ongoing production is also encouraged in those who dominate. And that symbiosis amplifies itself over time, as testosterone in turn reinforces the attitudes and behaviors that produce it. It is a classic “The Wolf You Feed” dynamic where the testosterone-rich dominate the testosterone-poor.

Which is certainly one reason why – in our competitively capitalistic, hierarchically corporatist, domineeringly commercialized culture – men receive more pay than women, owner-shareholders lord it over worker-consumers, law enforcement perpetrates violence against citizenry, girls are sexually objectified at a young age, nearly half of all women experience sexual assault, the Stanford Prison Experiment had such predictable results, and nearly half the electorate fears allowing an empowered and experienced woman to become POTUS. It all fits hand-in-glove. And it doesn’t seem to matter how cooperative, genteel, educated, mutually supportive, peaceful or egalitarian a society becomes – the tyranny of testosterone can still undermine all such progress and reverse cultural evolution toward fascist sentiments and masculine-authoritarian leadership styles. More than just promoting a “Strong Father-Ruler” archetype to quash any spark of matriarchy, the tyranny of testosterone becomes a biological imperative to perpetuate reproductive primacy and control. In a pervasive – perhaps even global – societal reflex to stave of cultural male menopause, the fear of feminine power has become a sort of mass hysteria; irrational to its core, but also grounded in the physiological realities of the developed world that explicitly or implicitly erode testosterone-dependent dominance systems. One has to wonder whether the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the developing world isn’t at least in part another indicator of this same hysteria: men seeking to reassert masculine power as they see it being eroded around them.

Thus feminine power is not merely about a woman having positional influence, it’s about a woman exercising power dynamics that are alternative and contrasting to testosterone-related, "traditionally masculine" ones. It’s about a different mode of social organization, a different flavor of collaboration, a different pattern of interaction and communication, indeed a radically alternative political economy. Is it time to let go…? To elevate and embrace feminine power, and attenuate the masculine? I think it probably has been for some time, but even as the collective balls of society continue to shrink, the more conservative and fearful elements of our culture thrash against the inevitable, hoping through their frantic, last-ditch efforts to secure just a little more time for testosterone’s rein. And so we arrive at the 2016 election, where the archetype of feminine power has at least partially been embodied in Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, by contrast, has clearly expressed himself to be shaped by traditional masculine power, with no hint of the feminine and a clear discomfort with anything resembling feminine power. And now Hillary, as the Democratic nominee for U.S. President, has become the sole locus for cultural male menopause hysteria, with all its attendant fears and worries around demasculinization. But it is not because Hillary is a woman and Donald is a man that this archetypal tension runs so deep – it is because they each represent such different orientations to power…and to testosterone.

Before concluding, I think it responsible to at least give a nod to men’s movement. I actually think that issue of oppressive gender roles applies equally to men, in that men often feel trapped in the same cultural expectations that should concern all equal rights activism. In terms to causality or blame, it doesn’t really matter that the mechanisms that brought, for example, male dominance of civic institutions into being were “patriarchal” or “misogynistic” by nature, if the roles and responsibilities regarding men that are championed or imposed by those institutions are subjectively oppressive for men. For example, the gender inequality we find in military service, or high-risk jobs, or how custody and child support are awarded, or the imposition of a breadwinner role, or indeed differences in suicide rates and criminal sentencing. In these areas, the men are definitely at a disadvantage, and any remedies we seek to enable greater equality should take such disadvantages into account. In this context, I think we should be aiming for a clearer demarcation between what I have described as testosterone-driven attitudes, proclivities and behaviors, and what “should” define masculinity. In fact I think we can point to testosterone as a central actor in the systemic oppression of everyone - both women and men. That said, I realize that I have probably reinforced a dualistic gender bias by referring to masculine and feminine power…so perhaps we need to come up with a more gender-neutral, multidimensional language in such discussions. In this sense, it appears I still need to escape the cultural conditioning of my own language, as I have admittedly been immersed in some fairly radical feminism from a very young age.

To wrap things up, there are currently a few contrasting theories about the impact of testosterone on human cultural development. One indicates that lowering levels of testosterone in humans around 50,000 years ago facilitated more prosocial behaviors, and therefore stimulated the first art, technology and blossoming of culture (see Cieri). Another goes to the opposite extreme by asserting that testosterone is responsible for critical masculine functions and advances in human civilization (see Barzilai). Another hypothesis elevates the role of cultural conditioning in how much testosterone is generated in certain situations, indicating that biology itself is shaped by culture and reinforces that culture (see Nisbett & Cohen, and Richerson & Boyd). It is this last theory that I think is the most interesting, because it indicates a more nuanced relationship between the internalized beliefs that result from cultural conditioning, and how our bodies respond and adapt to culture according to those beliefs. The implication is that our choices and experiences over time will shape both our individual psychology and collective cultural evolution – not just in how we consciously shape our institutions, but in how our internal hormonal cocktail conforms to, and facilitates, those societal expectations.

For further reading:

















“Faith” as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character

Wedding Celebration!
Let's explore a concept of “faith” that seems to be missing from most popular discourse. Before we begin, why is this important? For me it's important because when I discuss any idea, I want to fully appreciate the words used to define it. Relying on reflexive cultural vernacular or tropish shorthand to describe a multidimensional experience or concept isn’t just sloppy, it’s disrespectful to consciousness. Why? Because if we fill our headspace with watery, half-formed pablum – whether it's the grandiose distortions of combative political rhetoric, the caustic brevity of texted or tweeted communications, the excremental deceptions of commercialistic manipulation, or any particular ideology’s hifalutin propaganda – that is all we will be able to offer back into the world. We will add nothing but the burden of our consuming and excreting, a regurgitation so shallow it can barely convey self-referential egotism. So why not actively participate in this amazing process called the Universe? Why not give back some paltry morsel of wonder by actually engaging our consciousness, nourishing it with nuance and complexity, and holding back those oversimplified regurgitations? Even though I myself all too often violate the principle of meaningful consciousness, I earnestly yearn for a revivification of discourse and language that stimulates greater depth and breadth of understanding – more gritty and wholesome substance to chew through, savor and carefully ingest. This, then, is my attempt to explore the concept of “faith” in just such a manner. My only caveat: as a consequence of honoring consciousness, this post may require a slower, more concentrated read.

Okay…what is “faith?” Here is how Merriam-Webster defines it:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1) : fidelity to one's promises
__(2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God
__(2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof
__(2) : complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs

In countless interactions over the years – and ongoing Internet exchanges – “faith” has almost universally been reduced to some sort of belief. Many Christians often seem to explicitly intend definition 2 a (1), “belief and trust in and loyalty to God,” and implicitly definition 2 a (2), “belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion.” For Atheists, “faith” most often seems to mean 2 b, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” From perusing debates between Atheists and Christians (on Quora for example) both parties appear to be exhibiting a similar flavor of “faith,” that of definition 3: “something that is believed especially with strong conviction.” However, in my view, none of these approaches to “faith” are the real deal. In the same way that Tang, Cheez Whiz, Crab Sticks, Wonder Bread, Maple-Flavored Syrup and Chicken Nuggets are unhealthy imitations of food, these popular conceptions that infer belief from faith (or rigidly equate the two) are heavily diluted echoes of the genuine article, full of ideological flavorings and non-thought fillers.

Now before we go any further, it seems pertinent to confess my perspectival bias: I am a big fan of the New Testament, have studied Christian scripture for many years, and love digging into the Greek texts for nuggets of wisdom that English translators may have missed (or understated) over the centuries. I also grew up mainly in the U.S., with a brief sojourn in Germany during my late teens, and so I am understandably mired in Western cultural memes. And although I believe it is possible to break free from the prejudices inculcated through these experiences, they have also provided some useful tools and resources. So I'll be relying on those to explore the meaning of “faith.” If this bias leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, please bear with me…there may still be some paltry morsels to be found.

Clearly a lot has been written about “faith,” and over the centuries. We have Thomas Aquinas artfully describing faith as a virtue of the mind; a supernatural cognition that reinforces itself through the knowledge it acquires; a habit of thought “which makes the intellect assent to things that are not apparent.” We have the fideism of Tertullian, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Pascal, Hamann, and possibly Kierkegaard, who actively dissociate faith from reason, insisting that faith can be productively nonrational – or indeed practically superior to theoretical thought – in its passionate convictions. We have William James’ similar exploration of religious belief as a leap in the dark that provides access to a “vital good” - a good otherwise inaccessible without taking this pragmatic risk. We have Bertrand Russell’s fervent skepticism and dismissal of all such risk-taking without sufficient evidence, asserting that all “faith” is purely emotionally based. We have the empiricism of Locke, who finds faith complimentary to reason – as long as that faith is proportionate to evidence, and a broad enough variety of evidence is allowed. We have Hegel’s immediate knowledge of the Absolute, the certainty that “my spirit knows itself, it knows its essence,” which develops from the subjective to higher and higher levels of objective knowledge. We have Eric Fromm’s differentiation of rational faith from irrational faith, which we will explore further later on. We have John Hick’s insistence that faith is a contextualization (“interpretation”) of felt realities in a given cultural milieu; a personal experience of God rather than a reaction to propositional evidence. We have James Fowler’s six psychological stages of faith development, which center around the source, shape, scope and stability of one’s evolving convictions over time. We have the modern tug-of-war between Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christian apologists like John Lennox, where the central knot of inquiry sets blind trust that defies all evidence against evidence-based belief that has sufficient warrant/credibility. This is just a smattering, of course, but still, among many of these explorations of faith, the concept of belief remains extraordinarily central. And this, I think, is a fatal amplification.

To understand why, let’s start with the Greek. The word most consistently translated to “faith” in the New Testament is πίστις (pistis), which is derived from πείθω (Peithó), the Greek goddess of persuasion and seduction. Peithó (called Suada in ancient Rome) was an attendant and possibly daughter to Aphrodite, and among ancient Greek authors was consistently associated with the divine force of love – the persuasion by which the human heart is moved, enchanted, transfixed and ultimately won over. In fact, she is described as “the Lady of the bridal chamber,” “handmaiden of marriage” and “friend of marriage” (Nonnus), not because of sexual desire (this would be Pothos’s domain), but because “wise Peithó” holds the keys “to love’s true sanctities” (Pindar) and guides all forms of love – Erotes – into fruition (Nonnus). Either despite or because of her wiliness, Peithó deserves “holy reverence” for the sweetness and charm she empowers in speech (Aeschylus). And this last from Nonnus’ Dionysiaca:

“And there came running thirsty at midday Aura herself, seeking if anywhere she could find raindrops from Zeus, or some fountain, or the stream of a river pouring from the hills; and Eros cast a mist over her eyelids. But when she saw the deceitful fountain of Bacchos, Peitho dispersed the shadowy cloud from her eyelids, and called out to Aura like a herald of her marriage: ‘Maiden, come this way! Take into your lips the stream of this nuptial fountain, and into your bosom a lover.’ Gladly the maiden saw it, and throwing herself down before the fountain drew in the liquid of Bacchos with open lips. When she had drunk, the girl exclaimed: ‘Naiads, what marvel is this? Whence comes this balmy water? Who made this bubbling drink…Certainly after drinking this I can run no more. No, my feat are heavy, sweet sleep bewitches me, nothing comes from my lips but a soft stammering sound.’ She spoke, and went stumbling on her way. She moved this way and that way with erring motions, her brow shook with throbbing temples, her head leaned and lay on her shoulder, she fell asleep on the ground beside a tall branching tree, and entrusted to the bare earth her maidenhood unguarded.”

To be clear, then, though the goddess Peithó offered the Greeks a doorway into the loves of marriage, her means are not always fair, rational or even truthful. But without submitting to her persuasion and guidance – and indeed the bridal chamber itself – we would never come to understand or even recognize what the many mysteries of love (or the many varieties of Erotes) are about. In this context it is important to recognize that it is our love, our understanding, our response to Peithó’s seduction and persuasion that moves us past an initial choice to a deepening fruition. Is pistis offering us a similar doorway via similar means? As an interesting correlation, perhaps the Gnostic (Valentinian) scriptures allude to such a process in the Bridal Chamber sacrament: for Gnostics, this was where redemption occurred, perhaps because this is where a unity of spirit, light, love and truth could be experientially validated. More abstractly, the sentiment of William James in The Will to Believe offers some parallel experiential variables: “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed;” and later “We cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve. It is as if a man should hesitate indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married someone else?” Here again, marriage is a handy metaphor for James, just as it was for Hafiz:

"I want both of us
To start talking about this great love
As if you, I, and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,
Do the wash,
Weave and sew,
Care for our beautiful

We all leave each morning
To labor on the earth's field.
No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two
Travelling minstrels
About this extraordinary existence
We share,

As if
You, I, and God were all married
And living in
A tiny

And of course New Testament itself alludes to the profound mystery in Ephesians 5:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

To introduce a more personal experience into the mix, I would recall my own baptism at age nineteen. The act itself was a sort of emotional catharsis, a relief that I was finally making a decision after nearly two years on the fence exploring Christian scripture and community. And of course I was expecting something of spiritual significance to occur – this was after all an invitation for holy spirit to take up residence within me. But, although my senses did seem more heightened during the ceremony, there was no heavenly vision, no doves descending, no infusion of blazing gnosis. I initially accepted this because baptism in the Church of Christ was mainly about contrition, humility and acknowledgement of my separation from God were it not for the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And I did feel these conditions acutely. Nevertheless, I was just the tiniest bit disappointed.

That is, until I went to change my clothes. My baptismal gown was a simple white robe, easily removed as I reached for a towel. The changing room itself had a large mirror on one wall, and as I finished drying off I looked over at the reflection of my naked body. In that instant, a force of insight as abrupt, thunderous and intense as a symphony erupting in a silent hall made itself known: this was not me, this was just flesh; a vessel, but not my primary identity. I felt this truth deeply. I studied the familiar lines, tones and shapes with a mixture of sadness, chagrin and acquiescence. It would be the first of many moments of letting go in my spiritual journey. And then, when my gaze met itself in the mirror, I encountered a hint of something even more alien, harsh and unyielding. I didn’t have words for it at that time, but now I would call it a subsuming suchness; a constructive negation. I was not ready for that encounter – in fact I would not be able to fully endure or integrate it for twenty more years – and so I suppressed it.

The insights about my temporal flesh I could accept, the possible glimpse of annihilative absolutes I could not, but the vehicle that delivered these conceptions was the same baptismal act. A simple intentional ceremony immediately manifested unanticipated, potentially far-reaching consequences. This correlation of personal choice and encompassing outcome – of disciplined volition followed by new insight – repeated itself countless times over the years. And those acts have not always had spiritual inspiration. Sometimes an aha-evoking moment was prompted by lust; sometimes by physical discipline or routine; sometimes by emotional anguish; sometimes by extreme stress; sometimes by deep depression; sometimes by willfully striving for some end and failing; sometimes by an unexpected surge of compassionate affection. By any measure, it seems to me this pattern of consciousness is endemic to human experience and growth, and that intentionality isn’t always predictive. As Rumi reminds us:

“Intellect is good and desirable to the extent it brings you to the King's door. Once you have reached His door, then divorce the intellect! From this time on, the intellect will be to your loss and a brigand. When you reach Him, entrust yourself to Him! You have no business with the how and the wherefore. Know that the intellect's cleverness all belongs to the vestibule. Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”

But wait! Such choices that lead to new awareness and deepening understanding are still “leaps in the dark,” aren’t they? There can never be adequate preparation or certainty around them, just a hope of outcomes that plots across a continuum of motivations (some rational, some impulsive, some felt, some intuited). And couldn’t these “leaps in the dark” simply be inviting all sorts of post-rationalized justifications, rather than stimulating substantive ahas? Mightn’t all the insight and wisdom we construct be an artificial narrative to help organize our experience? A reflexive will to meaning? If so, then any insistence on objectively conclusive causality – as independent from subjective felt experience or various forms of intuition – will likely create an endless, arduous and fruitless tension. In terms of pistis, must we then return to a fideism where faith and reason are inherently antagonistic? Well I honestly think this tension only arises when we restrict our discussion of faith to the impulse of belief. In fact I think this conflation or association is fundamentally disruptive to comprehending the dynamics of faith’s processes. For the sake of brevity and sanity, let’s depart from that assumption altogether.

How do we do that? For one thing, we can remind ourselves of other modern definitions of faith, and of other translations and usages of pistis over the centuries. Take Merriam-Webster’s primary definition, for example: allegiance to duty or person; fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions. Setting aside the prescriptive vs. descriptive debates in lexicology, this primary definition of “faith” has nothing to do with belief. Instead, it describes a quality of character, a mode of being and doing, a deliberate intentionality – none of which necessarily needs to be associated with particular beliefs. Erich Fromm touched on this in his writing, describing “rational faith” as “a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than a specific belief,” insisting also that such faith does not require a specific object. Contrasting it with “irrational faith” (which he viewed as an “emotional submission to authority”), Fromm asserted rational faith to be an essential component nonreligious as well as the religious thought, writing in The Art of Loving: “at every step from the conception of a rational vision to the formulation of a theory, faith is necessary: faith in the vision as a rationally valid aim to pursue, faith in the hypothesis as a likely and plausible proposition, and faith in the final theory, at least until a general consensus about its validity has been reached. This faith is rooted in one’s own experience, in the confidence in one’s power of thought, observation and judgment.” And when we look into pistis in the New Testament and other early literature, we encounter kindred conceptions of faith that are more aspects of character than dependent on belief: faithfulness, trust, trustworthiness, to be entrusted, to put one’s trust in, to give credence to, allegiance, loyalty, confidence and so forth. All of these are choices, volitions, responses and relationships with a consistent underlying theme: a stick-to-it-ive flavor of trust and hope. In fact Christians were described in the early literature as “those who trust” and “those who hope.” But what inspires this quality of hope and trust, if not belief…?

Closing the Circle

This is, I suspect, where the argument quickly breaks down for those who hesitate to look deeper, as it is so easy to fall back on the faith=belief misconception. After all, the majority of interpretations of the word “faith” – in modern contexts as well as the New Testament – do involve a kind of wishful thinking about speculative possibilities. Yet even as Christians acknowledge that belief needs to be active rather than passive (recalling the admonition of James 2: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!”), what motivates the activity of faith expressed in good works? It is, I think, the same question as before: what inspires hope and trust? The answer has been consistent within the New Testament and across centuries of theology; to summarize it with an oft-used metaphor: how does a child come to trust its parent? In part it is a confidence born of observed reliability and the power dynamics inherent to a parent-child relationship – this is true; but more than this it is the child’s deeply grokked intuition that they are understood, appreciated and loved. As a five-year-old, when a parent asks us to trust their judgment and instruction, we do so not because we always discern the rightness of their insights, but because they have demonstrated that a substantial focus of their existence is to care for us, nurture us, encourage us, protect us…love us. Because they have gently held us at our lowest and most desperate moments, we trust them to lift us up. In the same way, the Christian’s initial venture into “trusting God” is a consequence of appreciating the loving, gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ – we are persuaded by this demonstration of God’s depth of love that we can take the risk. Thus our choice to “leap in the dark” is grounded in a trust and hope inspired by God’s compassionate affection for our well-being – not our fear, not blind obedience, not compulsory acceptance or Fromm’s “irrational faith.” It is a consequence of agape, that divine force of love that bears copious fruit in the hearts, minds and deeds of “those who trust.” And if this trust isn’t inspired by love…well, then it probably isn’t authentic faith.

For the Greeks, it was Peithó who opened the door to love’s true sanctities; for Christians, it is pistis that shepherds forth the many expressions of a charitable character. In both cases, there is a dance of human and divine – a Greek goddess for the former, and holy spirit for the latter. In both cases, a divine intervention and inspiration to love is answered by a human heart, mind and will responding in kind. Beyond the initial persuasion to trust and invite love in, the fruits of that decision – an indwelling “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” – amplify themselves in word and deed. And this becomes an active, engaged, disciplined response, deliberately and persistently cultivated by “those who have their powers of discernment trained through constant practice,” and love’s expression becomes more effortless. This is the child’s growing up, learning to operate from a love that extends beyond parental dependency to an ever-enlarging sphere of love-consciousness. This is a journey of persistence, devotion and a single-mindedness of focus. That stick-to-it-iveness again. And while this may still be a co-creative effort, the emphasis of responsibility and accountability shifts to the faithful as they mature.

In a sense, I believe pistis ultimately becomes a stripping away of distractions, a distillation of effort, so that there is nothing else left but the fire – the consciousness of consciousness – which is the highest order of love; the Godhead beyond being-in-itself; the Absolute. And this, in turn, continuously manifests as integrity of mind, heart, spirit, being and will – all working in unison, dancing to the same music, filled and energized by the same flame. For me this is the essence of loving skillfully, of demonstrating coherent faith through compassionate action, of developing spiritual reliability and trustworthiness. The Christian demonstrates their faithfulness by welcoming and maintaining agape’s residence at the core of all sincere intentions, all confidence and credence, all allegiances and loyalties, all trust, and all beliefs. For any belief (or faith, or trust, or fidelity, or commitment) that does not flow from love is empty and pointless – a gong clanging soundlessly in the void. But with sufficient love…well, we can eventually develop the courage to accept that disconcerting enigma in the mirror, and embrace any absolutes reflecting back at us.

This kind of “faith” has an entirely different sense, flavor and feel than the pablum vernacular form so prevalent in modern discourse. This faith is grounded in reciprocal affections and trust, clarified intentions and observable actions. Again, a straightforward way of describing and evaluating this construction is an intentionally cultivated quality of character. And such faith has distinct benefits as well, because its practice (or praxis, if you will) evokes and reinforces those ahas mentioned previously. We might even call these fruits “faith-wisdom” (Pistis Sophia!), which is experientially validated and has obvious pragmatic utility, but more importantly harmonizes our thoughts and actions around the very love that inspires and nurtures us. For this and the more commonly asserted benefits (answered prayers, etc.) again mere belief seems insufficient – there must be a deeper conviction-in-action, bound to a deeper connectedness of being; there must be agape as the ever-present cofactor, the beacon that draws the angels nigh. For what is Divine pneuma if not an expression of purest and highest love?

Lastly, as a useful contrast, I’ll leave you with religious belief that eventually becomes devoid of faith altogether. From Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving:

“It follows that the belief in power (in the sense of domination) and the use of power are the reverse of faith. To believe in power that exists is identical with disbelief in the growth of potentialities which are as yet unrealized. It is a prediction of the future based solely on the manifest present; but it turns out to be a grave miscalculation, profoundly irrational in its oversight of the human potentialities and human growth. There is no rational faith in power. There is submission to it or, on the part of those who have it, the wish to keep it. While to many power seems to be the most real of all things, the history of man has proved it to be the most unstable of all human achievements. Because of the fact that faith and power are mutually exclusive, all religions and political systems which originally are built on rational faith become corrupt and eventually lose what strength they have, if they rely on power or ally themselves with it.”

T.Collins Logan, 8/28/2016

Do moderate Muslims really support terrorist acts by radical Muslims, as right-wing conservatives claim?

Thanks for the A2A. No that is not a viable argument.

There is actually some good research on this from Pew, Gallup and others. I would check it out by searching at their sites. However, here are some examples:

General overview of Muslim beliefs around the globe: Pew report on Muslim world paints a distressing picture

Interestingly, among all religions polled in the U.S., Muslims were the LEAST likely to support violence. See Most Muslim Americans See No Justification for Violence

Here is a good overview of research on Muslim attitudes towards terrorism:

Muslim attitudes toward terrorism

And here is a more complex overview of attitudes of tolerance and what contributes to them: Views of Violence

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Do-moderate-Muslims-really-support-terrorist-acts-by-radical-Muslims-as-right-wing-conservatives-claim)

Why is mysticism found in all religions?

Thanks for the A2A. Many fingers here already pointing to the moon, so I have little to add. Here are some thoughts:

- All religions are grounded in the same mystical experience - the direct apprehension of ineffable and unknowable; the felt experience of a shared ground of being (or a shared ground of consciousness, if you prefer).

- Different (cultural) traditions express that experience in different ways, and this leads to diverging religious systems. But it is the same fundamental experience.

- Esoteric schools or practices within each religious tradition attempt to recapture that initial flame of gnosis/insight/dhawq/aha. And to the extent that they do, their practitioners report conditions of mind, heart, body and spirit that parallel each other to an extraordinary degree.

- Exoteric practices are the “window dressing” on the core mystical experience, But form the enduring structures of many religions. As those systems and institutions (along with their power structures) evolve, the distance from the core mystical/esoteric ground becomes so exaggerated that - all to often - what remains is dogmatic legalism.

I think what adds confusion is the insistence on exclusivity or efficacy of one tradition over another, and this is an expression of spiritual immaturity. Other confusing factors are differences in language and concepts between traditions, which in turn make different practices or beliefs feel foreign to each other. But in my experience and observation, the differences are superficial. In reality, one practice resonates more with one individual than it does for another, perhaps because of culture, or because of each individual’s unique stage in their journey.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-mysticism-found-in-all-religions)

Do ardent theology and bible students have the most knowledge but the least understanding?

Thanks for the A2A Pete.

I think understanding (wisdom, discernment, skillfulness, etc.) are a product of increasing maturity over time, native capacities, receptivity, self-discipline, insight, life experiences, relationships, and the application of knowledge in the real world that will moderate a purely intellectual perspective on concepts, philosophies and so forth with felt experience and multidimensionality that aren’t available via academic study and discourse alone. “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies;” until the intellect subjugates itself to the heart’s capacity for compassion - and indeed the promptings of spirit - its understanding will remain incomplete. “Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”

Unfortunately, nearly all religious institutions (of any tradition) tend to exhibit a slow but inexorable decent into legalism and dogmatism - even the more progressive ones that inject postmodern skepticism into religious studies fall prey to this. And even with a good teacher, the student’s early conditioning to construct rigid, inflexible structures around their learning often prevents them from maintaining an appropriate openness to experiential integration, and to grokking the subtle nuances of the Absolute (let alone in non-analytical ways). Until the student begins looking within, institutions of learning all too often present a consumption model of inculcation that distracts students from deeper, multidimensional and unitive intuitions.

In this sense, then, “understanding” is a rare event everywhere in consumerist culture, and students of religion likely encompass similar distributions to the rest of the population.

My 2 cents.

(see https://www.quora.com/Do-ardent-theology-and-bible-students-have-the-most-knowledge-but-the-least-understanding)

Do ardent theology and bible students have the most knowledge but the least understanding?

Answering the question: "Do ardent theology and bible students have the most knowledge but the least understanding?"

Thanks for the A2A Pete.

I think understanding (wisdom, discernment, skillfulness, etc.) are a product of increasing maturity over time, native capacities, receptivity, self-discipline, insight, life experiences, relationships, and the application of knowledge in the real world that will moderate a purely intellectual perspective on concepts, philosophies and so forth with felt experience and multidimensionality that aren’t available via academic study and discourse alone. “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies;” until the intellect subjugates itself to the heart’s capacity for compassion - and indeed the promptings of spirit - its understanding will remain incomplete. “Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”

Unfortunately, nearly all religious institutions (of any tradition) tend to exhibit a slow but inexorable decent into legalism and dogmatism - even the more progressive ones that inject postmodern skepticism into religious studies fall prey to this. And even with a good teacher, the student’s early conditioning to construct rigid, inflexible structures around their learning often prevents them from maintaining an appropriate openness to experiential integration, and to grokking the subtle nuances of the Absolute (let alone in non-analytical ways). Until the student begins looking within, institutions of learning all too often present a consumption model of inculcation that distracts students from deeper, multidimensional and unitive intuitions.

In this sense, then, “understanding” is a rare event everywhere in consumerist culture, and students of religion likely encompass similar distributions to the rest of the population.

My 2 cents.

Do Christians believe chanting the Om mani padme hum sacrilege?

From Do Christians believe chanting the Om mani padme hum sacrilege? Quora A2A

Thanks for the A2A Deanna.

This is not a simple question to answer. Firstly, there are many different branches of Christianity; secondly, there are subtle differences within Buddhism regarding the Mani mantra’s intrinsic mechanisms. Taking these two variables into account, you can juxtapose one Buddhist take on the Mani with one denomination of Christianity and conclude that, yes indeed, reciting this mantra would be considered sacrilege. But then you could immediately juxtapose a different interpretation with a different denomination and conclude that, no, this would not be sacrilegious at all, but highly facilitative.

Let me turn this question around a little, placing it in a different context. Suppose you asked “Do Buddhists believe that reciting the Orthodox Jesus Prayer perpetuates delusion and suffering?” Here again, you will arrive at different conclusions depending one which Buddhists you ask, and what interpretations of the Jesus Prayer are being applied.

Personally, as a mystic whose practice is informed by both Buddhism and Christianity, I have no problem at all reciting either the Jesus Prayer or the Mani mantra. Why? Because I believe that, if a person practices either approach diligently, with the persistent shaping of underlying intent encouraged by each, they will arrive at the same interior space, the same fundamental ground of awareness, and extraordinarily similar ineffable insights. Via either path, a practitioner of either faith tradition will annihilate egoic identifications of self, explode a felt experience of compassionate understanding within their heart, and abruptly find themselves afloat in profoundly deep and swift river of unconditional acceptance, kindness and charity. At that point, any dogmatic differences between the two traditions becomes utterly irrelevant.

However, because of both misunderstanding between traditions, and substantive differences between the cultures within which various schools of spiritual thought have emerged (and are contextualized or interpreted), it is easy to find intellectual, legalistic or traditional grounds for rejecting the practices of other traditions. And of course this even occurs between particular disciplines of Buddhist teaching, and between particular disciplines of Christian teaching. It also occurs between different practitioners of the same teachings in each tradition, when those practitioners are at different stages of practice and maturity. IMO this is human nature.

I also suspect folks in each tradition want to enjoy a certain superiority over other traditions - and this also seems to be human nature. I attended a lecture of a well-known Buddhist monk a few years ago, and felt strong resonance with everything he said….until this statement: “A Catholic Priest once asked me to explain emptiness, but emptiness is for Buddhists. A Christian should have nothing to do with *emptiness*.” Well he was simply mistaken. In the Christian contemplative tradition, there are stages of awareness, insight and being that parallel the Buddhist experiences of emptiness, and they are extremely important in that tradition. Again, though, this may just be evidence of either an uninformed disconnect - or a pride in one’s own tradition - that interferes with folks grokking the suchness of each others’ particularity. Ultimately, when we find ourselves awakening to culminations (peak experiences) of Buddha-nature, luminous mind, the cloud of unknowing, a dark night of the soul, etc. those awakenings are One - without difference, and without even a concept of difference. Only when we begin to discuss, contextualize and integrate such encounters do language and culture demand we differentiate and contrast them.

I hope this was helpful.

How can you be existential and religious and in the same time, what does it mean to be existential?

In answer to Quora question "How can you be existential and religious and in the same time, what does it mean to be existential?"

Thanks for the A2A Alba.

This question can be answered many different ways, so I'll offer a few thoughts for you to chew over:

1. If a felt experience of existential angst persuades me that existence has no inherent meaning, I might reflexively cling to a shallow religious conviction that injects meaning into that apprehension of meaninglessness as a way to comfort myself. If I recognize what I am doing, I may still be existential in my orientation towards existence, but still cling to shallow religiosity as a coping mechanism.

2. I could also have a mystical experience in which I sense a unitive ground of being that connects all life - indeed all of existence. From this I glean a sense of spiritual unity within myself and inclusive of my surroundings, which seems to align with certain mystical branches of religious experience among various traditions (indeed nearly all traditions have such a branch). However, I may also at the same time feel separated or alienated from any traditional concepts of God or human society, so that much of mainstream "religiosity" really doesn't conform to my experiences or worldview. I may also feel that this unitive mystical state - and the entire interdependence of existence I am witnessing - has intrinsic meaning that is ineffable; in other words, it has no intellectually framable value, and cannot be communicated in words at all. As a consequence, the meaning that I sense or intuit is so inchoate that I can't rely on it to justify my existence to anyone else - or really even to myself without a fair amount of self-questioning doubt. In this sense, I may be both spiritual (or religious in a mystical sense) and existential at the same time.

3. Another variation is that I might discover that the material world really is mostly a pointless, futile creation, inherently prone to perpetual suffering, and that its only meaningful qualities arise from a profound felt experience of compassionate affection that I must consciously choose to pursue. In other words, I might recognize that all of life and existence are indeed utterly futile without the presence of love, and so I commit myself to cultivating and generating that love to imbue my own existence with purpose (and indeed to justify all existence) and to help alleviate the suffering around me. And, since this same perspective can be found among many different religious traditions, I am willing to adopt one of those traditions to help actualize this love-in-action. As I practice this faith, however, I never lose sight of the felt reality that all of this existence is a meaningless farce, illusion or dream.

4. Yet another variation of being both religious and existentialist is to progress through all of the phases of St John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. I do not mean the watered-down pop-psyche version of this experience, I mean the real deal...all the way to the end. Anyone who has committed themselves to this path understands what it means to be both religious and existentialist at the same time.

5. And actually, I would say that someone who really commits to delve deeply into almost any spiritual tradition, moving beyond dogma and conformance to the most authentic praxis of faith, will begin to sense the intersection of existential perceptions and religious convictions. A profound commitment to spiritual discipline will, IMO, lead almost everyone to a very similar experience of this intersect. I think this is likely why, for example, Thomas Merton, a Trappist Catholic, felt such a strong affinity with Zen Buddhist monks.

Apart from these examples, there are still others that illustrate how existentialism and religion or spirituality coexist, most notably Kierkegaard's elucidation of the (necessary) absurdity of faith when confronting the "infinite qualitative disjunction" of the Divine. In another vein, there is the choice of nihilism, but here also we can find spiritual traditions where being both religious and nihilistic is an acceptable stage of development.

My 2 cents.

What is the meaning of Pacifism/Biblical non-resistance?

In answer to Quora question: "What is the meaning of Pacifism/Biblical non-resistance?"

Thanks for the A2A.

Although John Simpson's answer has unfortunately been a fairly commonly held view among Christians throughout history and into modern times, it isn't a particularly sound or justifiable one in terms of the topic of your question: Biblical non-resistance and pacifism. The view also uses flawed hermeneutics in its exegesis. More on that in a moment. Mainly, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and really isn't concerned with the rulers and kingdoms of this world, but with the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and demonstrating lovingkindness towards others. That was the whole point of Christ's message - that is "the gospel." So when he says this (Matt 6:19-21): “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." He is instructing believers where to focus their minds, hearts and effort. Is war or combat used as a metaphor in the New Testament? Sure, for spiritual battle...but not literal battle. In this light, soldiering is a pretty major departure from the primary focus of loving God and neighbor.

It is also extremely difficult to justify violence of any kind using Jesus as the primary example of conduct for a Christian. There is a pretty decent article on wikipedia about the pacifist tradition in Christianity, and it covers some of this. (see Christian pacifism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_pacifism)). The main sticking point is that Jesus directly contradicts both violence and violent intent repeatedly in the New Testament, and promotes a decidedly accepting, forgiving, patient, compassionate view that trusts God to handle evildoers, confirming Him as the sole arbiter of ultimate justice. And why wouldn't Jesus affirm this, if the Kingdom of God is what matters...rather than earthly kingdoms? I'll list a small portion of the verses that capture this sentiment, but really the entire New Testament is like a poem to pacifism; you really have to dig, distract and distort in order to justify violence with any of its content. Some examples of this pacifist flavor:

**Matthew 5:3-12**
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

**Matthew 5:38-48**
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? 48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

**Luke 6:37-38**
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”

**Romans 12:17-21**
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine,I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry,feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

**Romans 13:1-7 **
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due."

**Ephesians 6:10-17**
"Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.14 Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, 16 and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

**James 1:19-20**
"Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness."

A smattering of other verses would include Matt 7:12; Matt 10:28; Matt 26:52; 2 Cor 10:4; Rom 8:37; Rev 13:10

Regarding exegesis, trying to infer meaning from Jesus not rebuking the Centurion in Matt 8 is a prime example of self-justifying fabrication. Using the same logic, you could say that because Jesus didn't rebuke the Samaritan woman in John 4, Christians can become polygamists or just move in with lovers and not get married at all. It's a ridiculous approach to interpretation, and John Simpson (undefined) makes similar hermeneutical errors repeatedly in his analysis.

As for the Old Testament, you cannot put new wine into old wineskins (Matt 9:17), and there is actually much scripture there to justify pacifism (see Wiki article above).

Finally, let's remember the ten commandments. Again, the emphasis is on love - loving God and loving your neighbor, and Jesus repeatedly affirms the importance of those first two commandments throughout the New Testament. But further down the list we find "You must not murder," after that "You must not steal. You must not offer false testimony against another. You must not desire another man’s wife, nor should you crave his house, his field, his male and female servants, his ox, his donkey, or anything else he owns.” And what is the basis of nearly all war? It has been about control of resources - land, waterways, trade routes, coveted raw materials, etc. In other words, war is almost always the result of craving our neighbor's house, field and everything else he owns, and murdering them to obtain it.

My 2 cents.

Will religion survive the 21st century?

In answer to Quora question: "Will religion survive the 21st century?"

An interesting question - thank your for the A2A invite.

To answer this, I think it will be helpful to define the terms I'll be using. To my mind, "religions" are institutions created by people for people - sometimes with constructive intentions, and sometimes not - and usually develop as hierarchical power structures with rigid dogmas that often undermine or contradict the foundational ideas of the religion itself. Thus, at different times, religious institutions have ended up having both an important positive impact on human civilization...and an extraordinarily negative or destructive impact. So, for example, while we almost certainly owe the blossoming of scientific thought in the Renaissance to the shepherding and preservation of ancient knowledge through medieval times by Christian monks and Islamic scholars, the world also experienced violent suppression of that very scientific revolution by those same traditions later on. This is one of the many ironies that crop up when weighing the benefits and antagonisms of religious institutions. In any case, whenever I refer to religion, I mainly mean the flawed, dogmatic hierarchies of power that reside in these irony-laden institutions.

With the advent and eventual dominance of scientific thought, the Western world began to shift away from the authority of one type of knowledge - revealed or "inspirational" knowledge - to another type of knowledge: a priori empirical knowledge. When that happened, a power shift occurred as well...away from religious institutions who had been the traditional "keepers of knowledge" to the scientific community. For knowledge is power, right? And although an academic or scientist might tend to dispute the observation, the relationship between the general populace and the scientific community began to emulate the dynamic between the general populace and religious institutions that had endured through earlier centuries. It was a gravitational shift of "faith" as it were, and, understandably, this resulted in a lot of tension between religious institutions and scientific ones. So although the average person did not really comprehend all the empirical evidence for, say, their doctor's medical approach, they trusted that doctor just as much as they had trusted the priests, miracle-workers and shamans before faith-in-science usurped faith-in-religion.

Now this is the heart of the point I am trying to make: religion endures in all human institutions that expect (or demand) obedience to a dogmatic expression of knowledge or authority - however that knowledge and authority is formulated. This is, for example, how we differentiate an informal community meditation group from a secretive and controlling cult. But it is also how we can differentiate feelings of love and loyalty around one's cultural identity from lockstep nationalism or tribal groupthink, or separate the pragmatic participation in a consumer economy from a worshipful devotion to greed and wealth-accumulation. One's "religion," as it were, is expressed in such attitudes of conformance and devotion, of a compulsory adherence to dogmatic systems. So of course there are those for whom "scientism" has become their religion, and others who worship "materialism," and others who are blindly devoted to "neoliberalism," or any number of other ideologies that have spawned, in essence, new religious institutions that are identical in structure and function to the more traditional, formally recognized religious institutions.

This is why I would say that religion tends to persist in human society, because this desire to belong to rigid, dogmatic hierarchies is part of us; I would go so far as to say it is a stage in our moral development. In yet another irony, the sacred texts of many religious traditions actually speak out against this kind of blind conformance to dogma. But when you consider that, for example, Jesus was one of the most outspoken advocates against "religiosity" in this sense, you couldn't paint a more extreme picture of these very institutional failings than the modern Christian Church (taken as a whole) that grew out of his teachings. So the early spiritual traditions themselves, even as they deliberately and passionately set out to destroy "religion," ended up creating new religious institutions that were the antithesis of their goals! And of course something very similar has occurred with science; for what set out to be a simple process of proposing hypotheses and carefully designing techniques and metrics to empirically test those hypotheses (and thus circumvent dogmatic rigidity), has now become (for many people) a rigidly dogmatic ideology that aggressively condemns non-rational felt experience, spiritual intuition, a priori induction, nuanced insights, intersubjective consensus, or anything else that cannot be empirically validated in black-and-white.

Again, therefore, this is a human failing that will repeat itself over and over again until our species matures past this stage of moral development. We just have to grow up a bit, and then religion as I have defined it can pass away more and more from our cultural landscape. But since you confined your question to the 21st Century, I think I would have to say that religion will endure and perhaps even expand for that period. As cultural and technological change continues to accelerate, folks will undoubtedly continue to want to feel secure in their hierarchical communities of like-mindedness. It may very well be that Scientism will become that expanding religion. Or, as the South Park folks proposed, Atheism may take on that mantle. Or perhaps one of the older religious institutions will have a resurgence. I don't know. But I do hope that, as individuals and increasingly as a collective, human beings will begin to seek out community and authority in different ways, ways that tap into our multiple dimensions of innate wisdom and intelligence, so that we can leave the conflicting ironies of religious institutions behind us for good.

I hope this was a helpful contribution to the conversation.

What are the main differences between Buddhism and other eastern ideas?

In answer to Quora question: "What are the main differences between Buddhism and other eastern ideas?"

Wow...this is a BIG question, and people spend years studying the subtleties of comparative religion to arrive at a satisfactory answer - satisfactory for them, that is. So to really understand the differences, you would need to explore all Eastern religions in depth as well as Buddhism, and then draw your own conclusions. And actually that is what I would encourage you to do, simply because it will be beneficial in other ways as well.

That said, here are some (relatively superficial) points of comparison for three Eastern religions:

1) In Buddhism and Taoism, the existence of a central creator deity is deemphasized and does not factor into routine spiritual practice or its objectives, nor are the other deities we find in religions like Hinduism considered very important (except in certain sects).

2) Although the methods and objectives of different schools of Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism - in terms of spiritual practice, peak experiences, insights and outcomes - are seemingly quite similar (in terms of meditation methods, states of consciousness, spiritual insights and various conceptions of "liberation"), the philosophical underpinnings are quite different. To adequately encapsulate those differences would take more time that I'm allowing myself in this Quora post, but in terms of a personal spiritual path, suffice it to say that Taoism leads to the apprehension of the single Source of all things, Hinduism leads to the apprehension of the unity of individual and Universal soul, and Buddhism leads to the apprehension that nothing exists intrinsically, but only in relation to other things. These are horrific oversimplifications, and do not touch on the broader objectives of each religion, but again...even this one aspect of difference is a much more complex topic than we can adequately discuss here on Quora.

3) Hinduism generally affirms the transmigration of the individual soul after death, Buddhism describes the transfer of conditioned experience into a new life, and Taoism implies a continuity of individual existence which is not interrupted by death. These all may sound like reincarnation on the surface, but they actually describe very different processes, with differing outcomes and differing intended emphasis.

4) Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism all have conceptions of karma, but each conception differs from the others in significant ways.

5) The consequences of not following the teachings in each religion with diligence, persistence and self-discipline vary in their particular details, but can nevertheless be characterized as "increased suffering."

6) There are venerated principles and historical figures in all three traditions - some of which are revered more worshipfully than others. And although each tradition would define "worship" and the objects of that worship differently, worship exists in all Eastern religions.

7) Non-attachment is an important concept and practice in Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, but here again there are subtle differences in how it is framed, how it is realized, and how it is operationalized.

8-) A profound attenuation of egoic self-concept is central to all of these Eastern religions, as is a nurturing of skillful, wise compassion towards oneself and others.

9) In my experience and observation, Hinduism tends to emphasize a more thorough, multidimensional cultural integration in religious practice than Buddhism. For example, you won't find a lot of music, theatre, literature or art as primary features or encouraged professions among the Buddhist traditions, but the Hindu traditions are rich with them. There is justification for a deemphasis of these areas among Buddhist scriptures which we do not find in Hindu scriptures.

10) And, of course, and perhaps most importantly, each of these religions has its own source material (its own "scripture" if you will), its own primary historical figures, and its own cultural artifacts, etc. that result from the regions and times in history where the religion developed.

Additionally, there are other traditions to be considered that I haven't touched upon at all - Jainism, Confucianism, Shinto, Sikhism - in part because I'm less familiar with them, and in part because I need to get started on some other tasks today and this post could turn into a lengthy essay! :-)

And that's just scratching the surface. But I hope it was helpful.

How is the Christian teaching of detachment compatible with maintaining gender roles?

In answer to Quora question: "How is the Christian teaching of detachment compatible with maintaining gender roles?"


I think you've struck upon a very good point.

The New Testament and early Christian writings are explicitly and implicitly clear regarding this topic: there are NO gender roles for a devout Christian - no differentiation between male and female at all - and this specifically correlates to an attitude of detachment regarding worldly things. Why? Because such worldly things include prioritizing family relationships, getting married, having children, and indeed having sex. The Christ-like attitude of detachment is one where everything - including all of these worldly desires - is subordinated to worshipfully loving God and charitable actions towards others; that is, agape in all its expressions. In the early Church, including the period covered in Acts, women had roles of authority equal to men, had equivalent spiritual gifts, and indeed both Jesus and Paul either submitted to or defended a women's equivalent (and even sometimes situationally superior) importance in the Kingdom of God. In other words, in concert with detachment and devotion to the faith, there were no distinct gender roles. The ONLY places where this non-differentiation is brought into question are 1Tim 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, sections which directly contradict everything else in the New Testament regarding the equivalency of men and women, and which I can only conclude are either later interpolations, or the result of Paul becoming old, crotchety and perhaps partially deaf to the Spirit of Christ as he returns to Levitical doctrines of his Pharisee days. Then again, Paul seems to be addressing marriage relationships in these passages, and, as we know, marriage is a concession for Christians who are unable to remain detached from their lust (this according to Paul himself!).

I don't normally promote any of my books on Quora that aren't freely downloadable, but this topic is covered in great detail in A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament; you might see if this is available from a library somewhere. Please read the section "The Liberation of Women." It speaks to these issues directly.

By the way, that Wikipedia article does a horrible job summarizing views on Christian detachment, so I intend to propose some edits to it.

My 2 cents.

How much harm are religious beliefs causing?

In answer to Quora question: "How much harm are religious beliefs causing?"

Thanks for the A2A Chrysovalantis.

It's very difficult to tease out which beliefs are "religious," and which are "cultural." For example, even though the Prophet Mohammad spoke against the "severe" cutting of women's genitals (Abu Dawud 41:5251), we find a women's clitoris being removed "for religious reasons" in some Muslim cultures. In those cultures where we have some knowledge of pre-Muslim practices, we also discover that female genital mutilation existed long before Islam, and that it is most likely this cultural practice that is being preserved. In a similar vein, the teachings and actions of Jesus were radically feminist (for his time as well as now), but many "Christianized" cultures maintain misogynistic values and practices, again for "religious" reasons. So is it religious beliefs that are causing harm, or cultural ones? Again, it is sometimes difficult to tease out which is which.

That said, as others have pointed out, the more "fundamentalist" any dominant religious attitudes and practices are, the more harmful they tend to be. Fundamentalism of any flavor - religious or otherwise (see Fundamentalism) - is extremely harmful to human beings because it is so rigid and judgmental. Blind, literalist, uncritical, unquestioning, tribalistic adherence to ANY dogmatic ideology corrodes and destroys all that is constructive, healing, kind and progressive (i.e. the greatest good for the greatest number). This is even true of scientism.

So how can we estimate the harm that "religious beliefs," as distinct from fundamentalism and cultural beliefs, cause in the world? Historically, we know that many "religious" wars were not actually religious in nature, but conflicts over economic resources, clashes of culture, or were racially motivated. Humans will find pretty much any excuse to create "Us vs. Them" antagonisms in order to gain or cement power and influence, and religion has often just been just one more pawn in that socioeconomic game. It is, I think, therefore quite difficult to isolate purely "religious" harm.

My 2 cents.

Christianity and Marriage Equality

Answer to Quora question: "What are some suggestions to being a Christian and believe in equality of marriage because I love and believe in both?"

Thanks for clarifying your question for me. Here are some brief thoughts:

1) Regarding nonbelievers, I would encourage you to meditate on 1 Corinthians 5:12: "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?"

2)Regarding the marriage of believers, that is a secular tradition. In fact, a careful reading of 1 Cor 7 reveals that marriage is a concession for folks who can't control their sexual urges, and that Christians should (ideally) "remain in the condition in which they were called." That is, unmarried or married, a parent or childless...whatever. At least that is what the Apostle Paul seemed to believe.

3) Regarding the sexuality of other Christians, I think it will depend on how you support your Christian faith. If you believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God in the static form it was canonized back in the 4th and 5th centuries, then you may struggle to justify your compassion, because both Paul and writers in the Old Testament used some pretty harsh language regarding homosexuality. However, if your faith is grounded in an ever-maturing spiritual understanding of Christ and his message - a process that is certainly described and advocated in many New Testament passages - then your compassion is easily defended regarding loving relationships.

Expanding on this third point, here are some passages to consider; once again I would encourage meditating on them as you are able:

- John 13:34-35 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

- John 16:12-13 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."

- 1 Cor 3:1-2 "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready..."

- 1 Cor 13:9-13 "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

- Eph 1:15-19 "For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe..."

- Heb 5:12-14 "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."

- 1 John 4:20 "If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."

I hope this was helpful.

Why are there different religions, and which one is best?

From Quora discussion: "We are created by the creator of the universe we are all humans then why we have separate religion or what is the best religion to follow up?"

Thank you for the A2A.

This is an age-old question, to be sure, but I think it has a fairly straightforward answer. As a Perennialist mystic, I believe that the same spiritual experiences – specific kinds of encounters with our spiritual ground of being – was the initial spark of all religions, and continues in the mystical and contemplative branches of those religions into the modern day. So a Sufi, a contemplative Christian, a Mahayana Buddhist, an Advaita Vedanta Hindu, a Taoist and a Kabbalist can find common ground in both their ineffable experiences of unitive, nondual consciousness, and the compassionate insights, intentions and love-in-action that is inspired by those experiences. What differs is the cultural and institutional context through which those experiences and motivations are interpreted, codified and managed; that is what religion is, after all: a cultural institution. In other words, when you shed institutional and cultural distortions that have been carefully constructed around spiritual experiences over centuries – usually to facilitate power, authority, orthodoxy, hierarchy and systematic controls – you are left with a fundamentally shared spiritual experience. So it is (mainly) these cultures and institutions that are different, along with the unique ways in which a desire for personal privilege and power over others has manifested itself. Sadly, this often results in rigid rules that abandon a spiritually-based intention of compassionate affection in favor of judgmental dogmatism.

As to which religion is best for you – only you can determine this for yourself. Why not try some out? Talk to some practitioners and study the “scriptures” of each? Spend time with different religious communities and see what you think…? Why not immerse yourself in their spiritual practices for a time, and see how you feel about them? Perhaps measure how each experience impacts positive, compassion-based interactions and insights in your life? Personally, I would recommend one of the traditions I mentioned above, and avoid anything dogmatic, highly institutionalized, or culturally insular. But that’s just me – I prefer the esoteric to the exoteric.

I hope this was helpful.

Religion and Moral Judgement

In Response to Quora Question: "Have religions demonstrated that they have special or better competence in evaluating moral judgments?"

Pretty clearly yes. Although from some points of view, that competence would be restricted to the historical and cultural context in which those religions evolved. But creating a moral narrative and framework for social relations has been a central feature of nearly every religion, and therefore the question of efficacy becomes a chicken-and-egg proposition: did the prosocial advantage of certain moral choices become experientially evident to an authoritative group who then enumerated, encouraged or codified them via religious language, or did someone who demonstrated particularly potent insight 0r wisdom more spontaneously inspire others that certain prosocial attitudes and behaviors bore religious weight, and therefore should be embraced? I think it has probably been a little of both, but clearly the advantages of the values at the top of the hierarchy in religious teachings across many different cultures - values such as compassion, forgiveness, patience, self-control, generosity, humility, gratitude, etc. - have been persuasive enough that many non-religious perspectives can agree with their importance. At the same time, however, when the esoteric nature of, say, lovingkindness is abandoned in favor of dogmatic legalism, this is where religion seems to quickly lose its moral high ground. This (seemingly inevitable?) institutional and traditional consequence is, in fact, what many religious revisions and reforms throughout history have sought to remedy, often when what had been prosocially advantageous in some dominant tradition became egregiously perverted by proscriptive controls.

So we might say that institutional religious dogma has not proven itself particularly competent in its moral judgements, but that prosocial habits born of spiritual insight (i.e. the esoteric musings within religious traditions) have been quite useful - and universal - as ethical constructions. In the sense that competence equates beneficial utility, it would be difficult to argue against, say, the Buddha's take on the nature of suffering, or the Apostle Paul's characterization of agape, or Hafez's prescriptions for joy. But of course this is all from the outside looking in. The depth of moral efficacy regarding any religious instruction will be most evident to an adherent; for example, a Taoist will apprehend doing-without-doing experientially, while a non-Taoist will only apprehend it intellectually. So once again we return to context: ab extra evaluation will never obtain or fully comprehend ab intra veracity. Nonetheless, from the outside one can still offer the hypothesis that certain universal and causal prosocial principles offered by most religious traditions provide a sound basis for meta-ethical hierarchies.

But are these hierarchies "better" or "special?" Well that once again begs the question of subjective and intersubjective context, but if we can agree that prosocial behavior is "better," then spiritually derived moral evaluations do indeed seem to be "special" in their clarity, efficacy and universality.