exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
The Reason Behind The Reason
Secret Motivations For What We Do
The information on this page is offered as basis for each of the seven core articles plus selected others.
J.P. Morgan: "A man always has two reasons for the things he does - a good one, and the real one."
the family prejudice
People say all sorts of things, believe all sorts of things. And mainly, they believe what they were taught since early childhood. This kind of credulity is often culturally determined; in most cases, what we believe is just a family prejudice.
If you were born in the Far East, you might call yourself a Hindu or a Buddhist; if your parents lived in the Middle East, you might be Islamic; in other parts of the world, your heritage will have been Christian. Typically, belief-systems, carefully inculcated since the time a grandmother dandled a child on her knee, are defended as "right" and "good"; with other viewpoints, by default, seen as "wrong" and "bad." In times past - but still today in some parts of the world - people of contrary belief-systems were considered to be so "wrong" and "bad" that they needed to be killed.
Within this egocentric worldview, each person imagines him or herself to be sole repository of the "one true" religion, the "one true" sacred book, the "one true" set of doctrines - and even The Almighty suffers diminution here as private property, now given billing as "my" God, the "true" God, as opposed to infidels who worship a "false" God.
While philosophers, mystics, and thinkers have debated these issues for thousands of years, and though scientists and scholars on the other side of life continue to weigh the arguments, "true believers," in their hundreds of millions, dismissively cast aside all of this careful pondering in a hubristic flight of "certainty." For these shallow ones, capricious religious arrogance becomes dispositive as a substitute for wisdom. I well know the pitfalls here - it's what I did for a very long time.
the family prejudice: staying close to home
It is the exceptional individual who ventures far from the family prejudice. And, even if, upon reaching majority age, one sets aside belief-systems of near-relatives, usually, this is done passively, quietly, as we wouldn't want to invoke the ire of party-faithful relatives, now would we. Religious heritage, most often, if at all, dies of neglect, without sensationalism, rather than in search for what's real.
Rarer still is the person who, with a sense of top priority, embarks upon a proactive, creative quest for the truth; that is, with eyes wide open, accepting, no matter the source or destination, that which conforms to reason, and rejecting anything that offends deepest sensibilities - even if Grandma solemnly assured us that "this is what good little boys and good little girls believe."
what's wrong with us
Shouldn't we all be questing for the truth? Isn't this the intelligent and reasonable way to live? Shouldn't each generation become better? - more knowledgeable, more sophisticated, more enlightened, less superstitious, less doctrinaire, less credulous, as new insights, more complete answers, are explored and received, displacing the old.
But such equanimity and high-mindedness, in most cases, is asking too much of the average person. But why? What's wrong with us?
I have spoken of the dysfunctional ego which seeks to assuage the fearful sense of "not having enough" - because, more fundamentally, it sees itself as "not being enough." But let's go deeper.
Dr. Ernest Becker's Denial Of Death (1974) I count as one of the great books of the twentieth century. Blazing with break-through insights, his work explains how the fear of death is the primal hidden motivator of the unenlightened - the apostle Paul agreed...
We are terrorized by our own mortality; yes, one's birth certificate comes with an expiration date. That's very annoying to us, and even a subliminal realization that we will one day die, exactly the way a worm or an alley-cat does, makes us a little crazy.
I will say more about this proposition elsewhere, as it represents the best research of the great psychologists. In the final analysis, you must do your own reading and thinking. But I will just say that Dr. Becker is absolutely correct.
the existential terror of annihilation
It's not just losing the mortal body that troubles us. This ordinary-vanilla fear of death is actually a subset of one more deeply systemic - the ego's fear of annihilation. If we don't come to terms with it in this world, it will dog us, retard our growth, even in the afterlife. There are lots of people over there burdened by unprocessed existential terrors. See my article on "the 500 testimonies from the other side."
So, where does this leave us regarding why people believe the things they say they believe? - especially concerning God, religion, and death.
the worm at the core
To be mortal is to know the threat of cessation of physical life - the "worm at the core," as William James put it. Therefore, to bolster our frail selves - I speak now of the spiritually unconscious person - we seek for psychological crutches and props: we identify with heroes, attractive celebrities, impressive institutional pageantry, formidable groups, intimidating gurus, and fashionable trends of the world - an effort to add something, to enhance ourselves, because the Small Ego sees lack and shortage everywhere; a dysfunctional perception, a distorted view of reality, fostered by a self-assessment of "I am not enough."
The inner-child loves this identification, this untoward form of comfort and security.
drawing one's courage to be
The Latin root of identify means "sameness." To identify with something is to make oneself equal to it. For the Small Ego this enhancement and "ego-repair mechanism" quickly devolves to pathology; an effort, due to feelings of inadequacy, to counteract a haunting existential sense of "I am not enough."
Dr. Ernest Becker: "Man could strut and boast all he wanted [trying to deny his fear of death], but he really drew his 'courage to be' from [the things he identified with,] a god, a string of sexual conquests, a Big Brother, a flag, the proletariat, the fetish of money, and the size of a bank balance."
One of the most common, and surely the most potent, ego-supports is that of Institutional Religion. Few things juice the "Little Me" more than the fear of death, God, and judgment. And religion - I do not say spirituality, which is different - becomes the Small Ego's favorite means by which it negotiates the terrors of mortality. Under the guise of religiously posturing as a "good person," the ego, by such pious role-playing, attempts to cut a deal with the Grim Reaper, assuring safe passage to heaven, thereby cheating the greedy fires of hell, judgment, and a humorless God.
we make inward bedlam and will not come out
Let's listen in on the intense, often subliminal, negotiations:
"I'll be good and obey the church rules if religion can just preserve my life. I'll believe what you tell me to believe, I'll be a good little girl or boy, I'll obey all the doctrines, sing loudest in the choir, and pay money to The Nice Young at Church, if only you will save me from the terrors of death."
Marcia Lee Anderson poetically captures in profound verse this process of dysfunctional role-playing, the universal attempt to repress the fear of death:
We "feed on night, make inward bedlam, and will not come out ... This is our shelter against contemplation, our only refuge from the plain and clear."
Isn't this philistinism about the size of it? And this "shut-up-ness," as Kierkegaard called it, this closed personality, this bought-and-paid-for sense of justice, this divided personhood, this dereliction of divine call to unfold the soul, this misery-avoidance way of existing, serves as backdrop-motivator of so much that people do; most especially, as we grow older. With the finish-line in sight, well now, people really get intense, and often, so very religious. As the great psychologists put it, it's an "impromptu immortality strategy."
Editor's note : My observations of the aging process have led me to conclude, as death looms large, that people become either better or worse; most often, the latter: they become angry, petulant, touchy. As energy wanes, as old-age slows the frenetic pace, no longer is it as easy to hide from life, and one's thoughts of mortality, by smothering them with duties and errands. The temperature rises in the psyche. Now the images of fast-approaching doom mount by the day. The passing of a friend or relative accelerates this process of realization and impolitely jolts us into further awareness of our own remaining time. The studied indifference begins to crumble. At this stage, watch the fear-of-death on display: see the attempt, in its various guises, to "whistle past the graveyard at midnight" - see them prance and sing, thrash and pout, bluster and cavort, as they find themselves overwhelmed by the soon-coming, but what should have been the quite foreseeable, final curtain.
cherished notions of “motherhood and apple-pie” vary from culture to culture
Herodotus (writing circa 450 BC), in his treatise on the Greco-Persian wars, comments on “nomos,” the Greek word for “custom, convention, or law.”
He talks about the arbitrariness of “nomos,” of how people become accustomed to what they know and what they’re taught in a particular culture, religion, or society.
Herodotus offers a disturbing and graphic example of the mutability of “nomos,” which I will refrain from detailing as it might turn your stomach. However, let’s call the custom in question “X.”
barbarity to one, the good life to another
In Greece, Herodotus says, a certain activity “X” is considered a barbarity, something, according to his sensibilities, beyond the pale of what any person of even modicum advancement would tolerate. But, he asserts, in another society of the Near East, “X” is considered a normative expression of “nomos,” indeed, a reasonable, even honored, course of action, with the refusal of “X” deemed to be an atrocity and appallingly distasteful.
who wrote the html-code for your programming, what you believe
The great “father of history,” Herodotus, is correct, of course. That which the average person believes is simply a product of what Grandma said, the Nice Young Man at Church said, what teacher in third grade said. These early pedagogues “wrote the html code,” our cultural programming, for what would become our personal sense of propriety, of right and wrong. In popular parlance, we refer to this burdening weight of prejudicial assumption as our “baggage,” which is not easy to set aside.
It’s not easy to set aside because the “little voice in the head,” the dysfunctional ego, wants to revel in a personal sense of “I’m right” with the rest of the world as “wrong.” In this kangaroo-court dialectic, the ego serves as early developmental “scaffolding” and “training wheels” for what will yet become a perfected autonomy, an awareness of sacred individualization.
As I mention these things, some will say, “Yes, ‘nomos’ might be an arbitrary flight of mere convention or custom for others, but I belong to the ‘one true church’ and I was taught the ‘one true doctrines,’ so in my case I really am right.” Well, that’s what everyone says, don’t they?
Do you want to know the truth? - no, really, do you? I don’t mean what Grandma said, dear heart that she was, because she was a human being, too, struggling toward the light as anyone else, and likely just as deluded as the rest of the world.
Do you want to know the truth? The process begins with great discomfort, great cognitive dissonance: you'll have to admit that you might be wrong - about everything.
Anything that you’ve not proven – which is probably almost everything you believe – you must put to the side. You must learn to doubt. You must examine, scrutinize, each tenet of belief, rigorously, carefully, to see if there’s evidence for its support. You must rebuild your mental life, your world paradigm, brick by brick, in this manner.
You must “open a channel,” allowing yourself to be taught. It’s not easy – rather, it’s so easy -- that most will not do this and will continue to live in a fairy-tale world of insubstantial “nomos,” the shifting sands of culturally-determined, society-approved good and evil.
Let's say it again: If you do embark on this journey of sifting through all of one’s closely held beliefs, you will find that the vast majority of what you currently hold to be "the truth" to be expressions of mere, arbitrary “nomos,” with no basis in hard-core reality.
We are headed for Summerland, as we’ve often discussed in these pages. Over there, people can continue with their privately defined visions of “nomos,” and they can live as they want to live over there; that is, until it doesn’t work for them anymore; until the sense of emptiness in one's life sends one to overwhelming malaise.
Existential crisis will yet come knocking on one’s door, and then, to preserve one’s sanity, one will be forced into the “mandated solitude and introspection.”
directly or indirectly, more people have killed each other over religion than any other single cause
- Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization: The Age of Faith: "In Constantinople, more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in the years 342-343 AD than by all the persecutions by pagans in the history of Rome."
Think back to one of those unfortunate times when you were drawn into a religious argument. Remember how you, or the other person, grew apoplectic, more than furious, possibly, coming to blows. And why? It was probably in defense of some "true" doctrine, some concept of "my" God - as if The Almighty needed defending - or some technical point, some minutia of church law; at least... that's what you said.
Why did it matter so much? Was all the frenzy really about defending "true" doctrines? Or had the Small Ego become attached to, identified with, an idea? - and, in the process, had added this mental construct to its sense of self. In such case, the Little Me is not really fighting for pure doctrine, but its very existence. It's now a rabid quest for survival; because, if the debate is lost, one's very identity, one's psychological-life, stands in jeopardy of annihilation.
Why? It happens when we "identify" with some externality, when we make ourselves "equal" with it, as we attempt to enhance, to add something, to our needy inner selves. Therefore, to lose the debate about the bolstering idea is to lose ourselves, which is on life-support via the idea.
Allow me to restate this important principle: In those purple-faced moments, doctrine is mere side-show to the real cause of temporary insanity. It's the terror of death on display. Defeat in the debate would become an extermination of the "false self," as it has attached itself to particular ideas, as means by which it plans to fortify its frailty, thereby, it hopes, cheating death; therefore, the ego will fight for its very life. And if public laws did not restrain, the debaters would defend themselves with all manner of force, and kill each other - just the way religious people did this for thousands of years.
snowballs in July, Doc
A Feather In His Hare (1948)
Do you remember the old Bugs cartoon where he throws a snowball? The victim, mystified, ponders this anomaly: "Snoooow! In Juuly?!"
To which our long-eared hero retorts, "Well, ya see, Doc, it's too cold to throw snowballs in wintertime!"
"Ohhhhhh," comes the too-credulous accommodating response.
Bugs's schtick is a great example of sophism - a clever but specious argument designed to deceive the unwary. The root "soph" means "wisdom." We see it in the word "philosophy" which means "love of wisdom." The sophists in ancient Greece were skilled rhetoricians who could pick your pocket while cloaking their malfeasance in a thin veneer of apparent logic - just the way Bugs did it.
My children are age 30+ but, since they were kids, I've sometimes used "snowballs in July" as a catch-phrase to point out some bit of sophism in the world. All I'd have to say was, "Well, ya see, Doc..." and we'd laugh, as they'd understand my point -- our code-language for some ego's argumentation.
Sophism is everywhere - anywhere power is to be gained over people, we find deception dressed up as wisdom to fool the uncritical mind. But never so common, never so blatant, I think, as in religious discussions, where the stakes are so high for the dysfunctional ego - especially, in that forum, you will find egos saying almost anything to try to survive.
the Joker is wild
"Snowballs in July, Doc!" is a useful metaphor to describe the sophistry of those who attempt to defend the indefensible. But for those who buy-into this kind of delusion, it can all seem reasonable. Adding to the mayhem will be the fact that, quite often, in other areas of life, sophists might be fairly cogent and sound-minded, model citizens. So, what causes the short-circuiting of objective and rational thought regarding certain subjects?
In this group-of-7 articles I will be presenting research from the great psychologists to address this phenomenon. But, allow me to preempt myself by briefly mentioning what I call "the Joker is wild" principle.
In card games, "the Joker is wild" means that the Joker card can have any value its holder ascribes to it. The Joker can fill any set, can add completion to any attempt at fullness.
- If "snowballs in July, Doc" means sophism, an attempt to deceive the unwary with half-baked argument, "the Joker is wild" is the victim's participation, a willingness to believe whatever he or she needs to believe in order to keep one's life-paradigm intact.
In the "Jesus" and "Satan" articles, you will find theological arguments of Big Religion, which, by sweep of implication, turn God either into a monster or a wimp, as needed by the argument. The nature of God becomes collateral damage to another force in play.
Many religious people, attempting to be faithful to orthodox teachings -- or, rather, to what they want and need to believe due to the fear of death -- require Jesus to be God and require Satan to exist as the god of this world... because the Joker is wild... that is, these ideas are needed to "fill in the blanks," to provide a missing element of logicality, as required, in reference to indefensible ideas.
The principle of "the Joker is wild" gives coherence to a tortured logic, one in desperate defense of a premise.
Editor's note: And what is this foundational "premise" of so many church doctrines? It is the proposition, often unstated, sometimes published, that... you are not good enough... you are not able... you are defective, even from creation and birth... you are just sin-on-legs (never mind that God made you "in the image") ... further, God doesn't love you enough... he doesn't want you, he doesn't accept you - never could, never will - unless we, the religious hierarchy, act as mediator and convince an angry deity to allow you, in a close decision, to slip unnoticed into heaven - all of which mediatory-service to be rendered for the customary and usual fee, of course.
The doctrines of many churches require Jesus to be God and require Satan to be the god of this world because an underlying church-philosophy must be supported. Traditional views of "Jesus" and "Satan" become Joker-cards, in that, they take to themselves any value, whatever is needed, to make the underlying church-philosophy (seemingly) logical. Those who want to believe, or must believe, will say they are convinced by "Joker is wild" church teachings. And they will believe whatever they have to believe in order to preserve a salvation-paradigm which will protect them from the terrors of death.
Do you perceive how this works? It's a dance. See the two dance-partners:
(1) Institutional Religion needs certain doctrines to support an underlying anti-humanistic philosophy - which allows them to stay in business by keeping people fearful, guilty, and dependent; correspondingly,
(2) church members, burdened by fear-and-guilt, and a subsuming terror of death, will believe and swear allegiance to these psychologically-oppressive teachings, if only they might be granted "grace" and "forgiveness" to escape an angry God.
It is a terrible and horrid dynamic. I will have much more to say about this sad process. But what is the root-compulsion to believe in this kind of nonsense?
At the risk of being charged with repetitiveness, allow me to restate: the psychology of the "true believer" lies camouflaged within the Small Ego.
It's the hidden neediness, the systemic self-loathing, the attempt to find one's life-spring in the aura of some external other -- all founded upon a floating sense of "I am not enough," the pandemic terror of annihilation.
People's fear of death requires them to believe in fairy tales; prompts them to follow Dear Leaders; makes them obey at the snap of a finger.
The great psychologists call this a "human slavishness" embedded in the heart. Victims see themselves as children, dependent and servile - because they have not known the glory and dignity of what it means to be fully human, to have been created "in the image."
I came across this comment by Nobel laureate physicist, Dr. Richard Feynman - much in line with the "Joker is wild" principle:
"God was always invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time - life and death - stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out."
Not every perception of God, of course, is born of intellectual cowardice; but, far too often, Dr. Feynman's assessment finds its mark. The fundamentalist mindset will "invent" God as doing this or that in order to maintain current paradigms of life and the world. This is pure "Joker is wild" philosophy.
Editor's last word:
In the article concerning Eckhart Tolle and the True Self I stated the following, which extends naturally from the above discussion:
"The implications are utterly profound and far-reaching. No subject could be more important; because if we fail to come into our own, fall short of accessing who we really are, we'll be of little use to ourselves or others.
"Everything - one's entire future, all that we hope to do, accomplish, and possess - hinges upon first coming alive."