PS to Ultimate Reality
In a more serious vein than the brief summary of theories about ultimate reality and appropriate responses to the different beliefs, the major gulf between the theories is whether one or more Gods exist separate from our universe. If we define the word “God” as the Absolute Reality, the Ultimate Creative Power, the Whole, the Source of all that was, is, or will be, is this creating power separate from its creation in nature and/or in time and space? How should we interpret the Bible’s statement that we are “created in the image of God?” One traditional metaphor suggests that we are like a drop in the ocean—of the same nature, inseparable, an infinitesimally small, participating part of the Whole.
To those who believe in a separate, all-powerful Being, the previous suggestion is not just heresy; it is a kind of arrogance which will invite eternal suffering at the hands of a jealous, wrathful Lord who judges humans from a throne in heaven. How would we evaluate a human who tortured other humans for challenging his power? We have seen some examples of that—Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein. Religious scholars recognized long ago that most of the “gods” worshipped by humans were projections of human qualities which had been magnified to infinite proportions. In recent years, there has been a movement toward changing our projected qualities from the emphasis on a “God” who proves His power by ruthless domination to crediting “God” with the human capacities for empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. The teaching of Jesus certainly supports this view of God as a loving father rather than a vindictive King.
The fact that we project our personal experience on the Absolute does not prove or disprove its “real” nature. Theories are based on experience and tested for accuracy by additional experiences. Individuals born into a judgmental or even cruel family can naturally assume that God must be the same or more so. In the ancient world, most cultures experienced life as a struggle for survival and they emphasized and valued strength, courage, and fortitude. Emotional and physical weaklings rarely lived to propagate their sensitivities. A current and plausible theory suggests that Christianity survived as a religion primarily because its followers helped each other. Support was not limited to blood relatives.
Of course, the most common reason for the acceptance of a particular belief system is that it is taught as truth when we are young and our “in-group” (support-group) accepts it. Challenging the majority opinion produces anxiety in most individuals, so they stifle doubts. As we gain self-confidence as adults, and especially if other opinions are readily available, it becomes easier to change from one group to a more compatible one. The United States at the moment is providing a wider range of groups practicing unique belief systems than at any previously known time or place. The Mediterranean world around the time of Jesus offers the most comparable period when many competing religions vied for followers.
As current societies struggle with the ethical issues of compassion versus personal responsibility, religions debate forgiveness/grace versus karma—the ancient eye-for-an-eye. Reincarnation offers a partial answer. If we have an infinite number of opportunities to keep trying until we reach perfection, we have both personal responsibility, reaping what we have sown, but also, theoretically, everyone can reach heaven and ultimate bliss. There is no cutoff point followed by eternal condemnation.
Individuals who seem to be suffering unjustly are naturally likely to reject the idea of karma. But karma is simply the consequences of habits which are mostly subconscious habitual emotions. In the continuity of life, what returns to physical experience or moves on to other levels of life is basically a collection of habits. These emotions resonate with related emotions, both similar and polar opposites. For example, as long as we have the habit of fear, we will attract both fearful associates who agree with our attitudes and reinforce them, but also we will attract predators to attack us, which then further justifies the habit of seeing the world as a fearful place. When we subconsciously feel we should be in control because we are responsible for others, we will attract others willing to let us carry them and/or we will attract others who feel they should be in control and we may end up unconsciously competing with potential team members. When we feel we should be in control simply because we have the right to what we want, we attract weak and submissive people we can dominate but also other strong, self-centered individuals who keep life a perpetual power-struggle. If we believe that self-assertion is unspiritual, we may block our basic life vitality and recuperative power and become ill.
Life is a constant balancing act as we try to meet our own needs while not denying the needs of others. When animals produce too many offspring for the available food supply, some die. When a few humans are too greedy for power or possessions, the society becomes unstable. In Brazil, half of the arable land is owned by 2% of the population. A report from the IRS covers 1977 to 1993. Nearly 2,400 U.S. citizens with the highest incomes paid no income tax in 1993 in contrast to 85 such individuals and couples in 1977. The number of Americans making $200,000 or more grew more than 15-fold from 1977 to 1993 while the number of people in that income category who paid no income taxes grew 28-fold. Mobutu, ruler of Zaire for many years, has amassed billions in Swiss bank accounts while many of his people starved and his country is now in chaos from civil war.
Evolution is not a smooth path of gradual progress. It is now recognized as “punctuated” by bursts of radical change usually produced by accumulated stress after long periods with little change. Yet, looking back, we have come a long way since the time of Jesus. An additional bit of logic supports the more positive conceptions of the Absolute. How could IT be less “good” than garden-variety humans? Obviously, none of us is perfect, though one of the reasons for individuals changing their church affiliations is the failure of their church leaders and/or members to live up to what they teach. If we define evil as life-destructive and good as life-enhancing, it seems obvious that absolute evil would have already been self-destructive. Since life is continuing to evolve, the “ultimate reality” creating it seems to be more like love than like hate, more like knowledge than like ignorance, more like faith than like fear, etc. There is a good chance that if we become more wise and loving, we can contribute to the evolution of consciousness and life toward their ultimate potentials.