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"I never doubt the existence of God"

Pew Survey shows gradual decline in those who answer Yes to that question, but a humongousdecline in 18-29 year-olds, between 2007 and 2009.

Gee, it's almost like that cohort experienced some sort of massive betrayal by an authority figure, isn't it?

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Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

fairly shallow to be that easily changed by economics+politics.
But that is petty on my part.
Maybe this is a reflection of the fact that no existing religion in America (that I know about) provides a moral system that says what so many now understand: that making one's living by doing economic harm to large number of fellow humans is really, really evil. Not "write an encyclical five years from now" evil or "put on the list of things you say you oppose but that you act like you don't care about", but "make fighting against it a center piece of the religion's attempt to influence society" evil.
There is a huge gaping hole in our society for a moral system that would systematically explain why what we can recognize as evil really is evil and why we should make that a core part of our social morality. In other words, provide the systematic moral basis for judging most of our financial sector to be morally lower than the child abuser from Penn State or the alleged shooter in Colorado and for treating them accordingly.
By the way, when I say "no existing religion", I am including Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Scientology too for that matter.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

actually has an argument against all of modern banking in Thomas Aquinas' On Evil. In the section that covers the capital sin of avarice, Aquinas considers the question of whether lending money at interest is a sin. He concludes that it is:

Now money, according to the Philosopher was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is its consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange. Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury: and just as a man is bound to restore other ill-gotten goods, so is he bound to restore the money which he has taken in usury.

In other words, money is what you use to buy and sell things. It is not itself meant to be bought and sold, which is what lending money at interest is. To do so is to immediately covet money for its own sake, which is avarice- not only a sin, but a mortal sin. And since all of finance is built on lending at interest, the whole edifice is evil.

But you'll never hear it from the pulpit of a modern church, Catholic or otherwise. Not yet, at least.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

Although you are right historically.
What I am trying to point at is not what morality religions might have in some dusty list that they rarely consult. It is what they care about enough to go out and act upon. Require churches to include birth control in the health insurance for their employees and that they are willing to go all out to fight against.
No church reacted to the fraud and theft by the financial sector with even a tiny fraction of that fury.
That includes meditation schools, many of them new to the West or newly invented, which we might not think of as churches or even religion.
The capacity to look at Steven Jobs help develop the iPad and recognize that as a good thing but at the same time look at his (one-step removed = not even the integrity of his evil) treatment of Apple's work force in China and say "this is morally evil and must be stopped" and to say it with such intention and force that action in that direction follows directly, that capacity does not exist in any organized form. Yet.
Any moral system that does not have this capacity is obsolete at this stage of human development.

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

"provides a moral system that says what so many now understand: that making one's living by doing economic harm to large number of fellow humans is really, really evil. "; amongst all variations of schools of thought associated with the Gautama Buddha such a teaching is inherent.

For a simple primer, please read "Buddhism, plain and simple" by Steve Hagen.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

I have practiced Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism meditation for over 20 years. Yes, the teaching is implicit in all school of Buddhism but what I was pointing at was a religion that would make mass economic exploitation/destruction something that they put a lot of energy into fighting. For example, the way Roman Catholicism fights against abortion.
In the West, I have not witnessed any meditative school, Buddhist or otherwise, that devotes a fraction of the energy devoted to psychological exploration to sociological exploration. I think this is connected to Buddhism in the West (as distinct from ethnic Buddhism brought along from the mother country) so far being primarily of the "creative" class. Also, that our capacity to take a critical view of social structures is to a large degree an emergent property: what we could do now is far more than was in any way possible earlier in human history. There simply was not the mass of educated people and the incredible wealth of communication and information.
Buddhism historically has shown almost no capacity to critique social structures. In most nations, it has been the religion of the elite and served their needs. That can be seen clearly in Thailand today. The worst manifestation was probably during the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s.
Buddhism's strengths lie elsewhere.

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

" but what I was pointing at was a religion that would make mass economic exploitation/destruction something that they put a lot of energy into fighting. "; appreciate the clarification. Basically, I concur but have to go along with Jung's saying: "Religion is a defense against the experience of God", with 'god' being as Joe Campbell described, "a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought"".

So I don't see a religion being what's 'needed'.

Of course, I also agree with Campbell's saying, "“The world is perfect. It’s a mess.
It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

You are right. It need not be a religion. A widely shared moral understanding would do the trick too. Maybe we just do without even that but get the job done anyway. Or maybe we don't. My preference is that we do (change society to be broadly humane and supportive rather than predatory).

Jung's saying: "Religion is a defense against the experience of God"
This was cutting edge back when he said it. Even now, it is sometimes true. Too often, religion is not even that.

“The world is perfect. It’s a mess.
It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”
This is both profound truth and utter bullshit.
The truth/BS ratio was much higher in the past and is falling rapidly. Because in the past, there really was nothing we could do about it. But with the kind of productive capacities humanity has now combined with the new communication capacities, it is simply indulgent nonsense to sit on our hands.

You are right that straightening out our own lives is crucial. When I point at the moral gap at the heart of society, it is because I think we need to mature as individuals in order for society to become more humane.
Many political movements wind up creating, at best, a deformed imitation of what they were really aiming for. Precisely because the members have not "straightened out our own lives". I have organized most of my adult life around doing exactly that and am a much better person for it. The straightened-out-ness of my life is something opinions vary on.
However, there is a limit to how well one can straighten out one's own life if the society around one is descending into predation and suffering. So what is needed right now is more connection between the "straightening out our own lives" and working for better societies.
Ok. That is what I tell everyone. Here is the part that is important to me but that maybe not too many others would agree with right now: I think we have reached the point at which god (in the Joseph Campbell sense) is ready to more fully take shape as human beings and as humanity. I think being god living as a socially responsible member of a mature humanity is a step higher in evolution than "transcends all levels of intellectual thought".

JoeInSF's picture
Submitted by JoeInSF on

Let's give the "doubters" some credit. It's possible that they doubt the existence of god just because they doubt the existence of god.

Totally agree that contemporary society lacks a moral framework. But for many of us, religion and morality are very distinct topics.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

Or more kindly, they are no longer relevant to the stage of history we have entered.
There are plenty of individuals who get this. Even small groups. But not yet any large coherent social force.
I guess I am making such a point of this because if some thought system, in whatever form, that did see the difference between making your living by contributing in some way versus making your living by hurting others as being a key moral point and that thought system were to become widespread, it would be a game changer.

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

Wonder what the response would be if how Joe Campbell described 'god' was the predicate upon which the question was asked?
(God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.- Joseph Campbell)

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

is why do you think "that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought" gives a shit about either the elites or non-elites.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

I am not so impressed with "that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought".*

"that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought" is the defense against being god among gods/goddesses.

*And yes, I am aware that "that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought" does not care much about whether or not I am impressed either.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

is that the society the 1% is destroying us into hides "that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought" more effectively right at the moment when "that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought" could be more visible.

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

The dynamism between competition and co-operation has been going on for sol long it's roots are forgotten. And in the duality of perspective that rules most homo sapien thought, it's inherent. BUT that is why Karen Armstrong has started the Charter for Compassion.

Referencing back to what Lambert wrote in starting this thread and what kathryn wrote in a comment re 'millenials' and what you wrote re 'religion', I offer this from Naked Capitalism:
"A century ago Veblen analyzed religion as the quintessential capitalist undertaking. It sells an inherently ephemeral product that cannt be quality tested. Most of the value of that product exists only in the minds of the purchasers, and most of that value cannot be realized until death. Dissatisfied customers cannot return the purchased wares to the undertakers who sold them—there is no explicit money back guarantee and in any event, most of the dissatisfied have already been undertaken. The value of the undertaker’s institution is similarly ephemeral, mostly determined by “goodwill”. Aside from a fancy building, very little in the way of productive facilities is actually required by the religious undertaker."

I have the impression that younger people see through the propaganda much more easily than their elders......but then I also remember the book and movie, "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" and how few 'escaped'.

Kathryn's picture
Submitted by Kathryn on

There is a break coming in the sociological paradigm that we know in the west. It started in the sixties with a sharp resistance against authoritarian structures but the group there that rebelled was very small. At the same time it was powerful because it didn't seek to supplant the authority structures in place.

And that has, generation by generation, been expanding. "Religion" and "God" are understood as synonymous by the millenials. They both represent authoritarian structures that exist outside of the self. You ask those same kids about whether they believe in the supernatural realm and they will be all onboard with that. The difference is that what once was required to transcend is now seen as imminent. The numenal is within and without and all around. It's quite refreshing. The "moral ethic" is communicated much more quickly and directly, person to person and not handed down by the authority. Because it is a bottom up moral movement, it can speak in greater moral terms of acceptance, inclusion and tolerance; at that lowest level there is a declining sense of in group and out group.

All of this is accelerating. Religion in its most rigid sense allows individuals to give up their own identity and authority in exchange for what they perceive to be safety. If it weren't religion, it would be the state, some individual, a corporation even. Along with this, because of the surrender of identity comes a mythic imagination --- the "truth" is what it needs to be to support the dominant authority desired. This is why no amount of facts will sway Republicans. In a big way, a lot of democrats digressed into this same mindset in 2008 and looked at Barack Obama as this same kind of authority figure, someone to keep them safe... and then they had to acquire that mythic imagination to cement that in, when their natural tendency is to question, and/or avoid such behavior. I have more faith that liberals can eventually see their own error in this -- and correct course. I don't think most Republicans can.

These ways of thinking are deeply entrenched. We are unlikely to change any Republican thinking in age groups over 25. We have to wait them out by generations, and really put the most energy into breaking liberals out of the stupor of fear. And we have to create as much space for the millenials as we can. They will be the new paradigm. But they will shift to the subjective, inward perceptive state of intuition, it will be more emo, it will be volatile in its own way. And it will be spiritual, simply because this is the necessary evolutionary path of "self" -- from outside authority, to internal autonomy to whatever then comes out of that.

Some people look forward to that last shift as the blessing of atheism. Me personally, I like the spiritual side of things. I like working out of the ground of being. If anything, I don't think there's been enough spiritual talk on the Left -- once you embrace the philosophical base that originated most religions -- well -- the 12 word platform creates itself.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

I think a lot of what goes right from here on will follow the kind of pattern you are describing. It seems like what Lambert has called the rhizome, an underground root network. Clearly, entrenched, institutional hierarchies aren't getting the job done.

"from outside authority, to internal autonomy to whatever then comes out of that."
Perhaps two directions simultaneously: shifting the location of "internal" deeper and deeper and at the same time coming from that internal autonomy to relate to the outside in a new, freer way.

You might find either Spiral Dynamics or Integral (Ken Wilber) interesting for a take on how the different approaches you describe (Republicans over 25, liberals, millenials) fit together in a larger pattern of evolution.
I really mean that as exactly "you might". You also might not.

Submitted by lambert on


I don't think that the ground of being is spiritual, if by that is meant supernatural. I think the ground of being is material. Of the same order as compost.

I have a lot more ease believing in the possibility of a thinking, ecology-wide mycelial mat than I do in any disembodied and/or transcendant God. Not transcendance is pretty much my motto in this matter.

One reason why the more animistic varieties of folk piety appeal to me more than "the one true God" I suppose.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

never doubted the existence of God is overdue to be broken over his knee. I think everyone at some point or another must stare into the maw of nonbeing, confront the idea that nothing is listening to our prayers. This is a transformative moment. What are you when you are alone, when the universe seems to press about you, dark and abandoned?

When I had such an experience, at the end of it I found something waiting for me, something worth loving. But everyone has to make their own journey.

reslez's picture
Submitted by reslez on

This is all there is. Being afraid doesn't change that.

Go forth and enjoy your life.

Litany of Gendlin

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.

And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

Remember that time before you were born? No? Does it bother you? Ok. Now relax.