Monthly Archives: May 2013

Fear and Spirituality

     Fear is a very strong emotion; fear of the dark, fear of pain, or fear of death. Going through life, we will inevitably experience all manner of fear, and often enough, we will allow this fear to control our actions. Philosophically speaking, I am inclined to assume that fear is not real. In the same way that good, evil, suffering, and morality exist only due to human consciousness, fear exists only as a result of human physical and psychological responses to external stimuli. Fear is ultimately a reaction to what we do not know. Fear of the unknown can be of death, pain, or any number of other things which we have not experienced before, and it is powerful.

     Fear of the unknown has proven to be one of the most dangerous factors in events throughout human history. It causes people to become irrational in their reaction to that which is often quite mundane. In the middle ages, those who didn’t understand Jewish culture and traditions most often reacted to Jews with fear. This fear led many to persecute and murder the Jews, purely out of a lack of knowledge of their own neighbors. Fear of the unknown sets us on paths which we, as reasonable, sentient beings, would not otherwise walk. When people don’t know about something, we naturally form hypotheses about it, and generally we would observe and test our environment to determine the truth. Fear clouds our judgment, and causes us to make the assumption that out hypotheses are truth.

     People who are trying to find their place in the universe, and who are attempting to understand life and death, will often make the assumption of the existence of a spiritual realm or being. This has led to the formation of religious and spiritual traditions through history. Those of us for whom death is a constant companion or fear will often make the assumption of an afterlife. There is, of course, no logical basis for this concept. There is no reason that I have to exist beyond the span of my life. It is a comforting thought to believe that I will live forever, but it flies in the face of reason to assume that it is true. This, of course, does not refute the truth of the statement, but to assume the truth is equally as bad as assuming its falsehood.

     Belief in God as more than the Absolute, the essence of knowledge, and as all existence, is something I used as a child to explain death. Fear of the unknown outcome of death led me to the ungrounded assumption that there is a creator-deity who is conscious in a human sense and accepts those who die back into his realm. This is, as I stated before, an illogical assumption. It has no foundation in objective experience, but it helped me as a child to grasp the enormous concept of death. The pantheistic, semi-deistic, and transcendent “God” that I have today does not serve to explain anything. I have accepted that I can’t know much of anything about God, the afterlife, or about spirituality. To come to this semi-agnostic state of religiosity means making the jump from the fear of the unknown, namely death and that which comes after, to a love of the known. Whether you want to have the same spiritual experience as I have had, or you believe in all the things I don’t, I recommend leaving behind fears and assumptions and embracing what you do know and what you can still learn. If you try to think about the universe as a whole and all the the knowledge there is to gain, you may just be able to see the face of God, something I try to do every day.

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Exploring Spirituality

     Paganism, or more specifically the modern neo-paganism, is a religious and philosophical path which has increased in popularity in recent years. Young people, disillusioned with their dogmatic, overly imposing, household religions, often attempt to return to a naturalistic spirituality which they see as ancestral.

     This topic is one which I have less of a passing interest in, it is more of a serious connection. Though I was raised in a Christian household, and I generally discuss my thoughts on this blog in semi-christian terms, I feel most connection to the pagan faith. It was the first time that I had thought about spirituality or religion in any serious way. I developed much of the basis for the eclectic philosophical religion I have today in my days as a solitarily practicing pagan. I found pantheism, I learned to question established religious thought, and although I became more and more deistic, I feel that, in a way, I grew “closer to God” in the process.

     What I hope this very brief summary of my experience with neo-paganism can pass on is that it is okay to think outside the box in terms of religion. Even though most people reading this most likely hold firm beliefs, I hope that you can perhaps think of this when teaching your children or friends about faith. It is an all too common problem for the developing mind of a teenager to be thrown into depression because of stifled free-thought. In closing, I would simply like to say that dogma isn’t just peddled by churches, it is the chief commodity of parents as well.

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Free Will and Dogma

     It can be difficult to put a definition with the concept of “free-will.” Until recently, I personally understood free-will to be the idea that God allows human beings to choose their own path in life. I am now told that it is really only the idea that people can “freely choose” to love God. Since I personally lean toward the deistic or pantheistic side of God’s relationship with man, I do not believe that free-will can be anything more than our right as individuals to take actions which influence the progression of events in the greater whole that is existence. The Catholic Church teaches that free-will does not imply any choice between possibilities, rather that it is the ability to freely choose to accept God.

     My question in response to this idea is simple. If this is a free choice and there is only one option, how can it be free? My teacher specifically says that free-will isn’t a choice between decency and sin, or between God and rejection of God, instead it is the option to “freely choose” God or to violate free-will. It seems that, logically, a choice cannot be free if there is only one option. When we observe false democracies in international politics, we never consider Cuba, China, or North Korea to be real democracies because they have elections with only one option. Clearly we are not freely choosing God if to do anything else is incorrect.

     The easy response to this is to say that by rejecting God we are using free-will, and we are suffering the consequences. This, again, can be countered by saying that by making a bad choice (as opposed to an incorrect choice or violation) we bring about legal, social, and spiritual consequences. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t have the free option to choose that path. This discussion in my religion class specifically revolved around the bombing in Boston.

     We were required to reconcile this suffering with the existence of a loving God, basing our arguments in Catholic doctrine. All the students (myself included) stated that the reason those men were able to cause pain and suffering was that they had free will, and therefore they were able to choose a destructive path of murder and depravity. The alternative choices were, in reality, infinite. This is what all of us understood free will to be, however we were incorrect.

     I will use this as an opportunity to, once again, point out the flaws with dogmatic teaching. We, as a class, were required to formulate our arguments based on Catholic teaching (with the exception of a few non-christian students), and this led many to give speeches based on things they didn’t believe to be true. Many students are agnostics or atheists. A few are Protestants. Not many have formulated views such as mine, but then again not many study these things as a hobby. When an educator chooses to force a specific belief on students, even grading based upon adherence to their doctrines, they alienate the students by preventing them from forming their own ideas. This type of teaching ultimately stifles free-thought and prevents interfaith discussion and theological debate. Of course that could be exactly the outcome a dogmatic teacher would hope for.

Works Cited

“Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man’s Freedom.” Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man’s Freedom. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a3.htm&gt;.

“Free Will.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm&gt;.

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