Sixty five years of active involvement in popular religion, including two theological seminary degrees and forty years of professional practice, lead me to these observations about popular and mature religion.
This essay is not intended for those who are satisfied and happy in any popular religion. Nor is it a treatise against or judgment of popular religion. Rather it is an effort to clarify the nature and practice of mature religion in contrast with popular religion. I use popular religion as a backdrop for two reasons. First, widespread familiarity with the beliefs of popular religions, and secondly, the near universal understanding of basic tenants of popular religion and the relatively few attempts to correlate personal maturity with religious language.
Should a believer in popular religion happen to read this essay, he or she may predictably conclude that I am anti-religious, an infidel at best and evil (of the devil) at worst. Certainly I may be seen as "lost" and "in need of salvation" ideally, or perhaps elimination at worst. For sure, this essay will not be recommended to friends (though perhaps to enemies).
So, if one takes offense at my perspectives, I suggest laying this essay aside immediately and judge me as you will. I write mainly for myself, to clarify my true thinking and escalate my degrees of personal honesty.
If my confessions are useful to others they may be: 1. Drop-outs from popular religion who are yet to find a language for what I see as mature religious experience. 2. Dissatisfied and/or disillusioned adherents of popular religion. 3. Non-religious persons who may use my confessions as mirrors for clarifying their own pilgrimage in consciousness.
Nor is it intended to try to sell or promote mature religion--that is, to evangelize or proselytize true believers into what I call mature religion. Although those active in popular religions are apt to take offense or erroneously conclude that I am against them and/or their religion, nothing could be farther from the truth.
DANGERS IN SEEING
Dangers in noting these differences between popular and mature religion are mostly to those who note them, rather than to those yet caught up in practicing popular religion. The messenger, that is, is more likely to be rejected and/or harmed than are those who are the subject of the message. For those who are partially disillusioned and ready for more maturity in their religion--that is, more ready to hear, these noted differences may provide a language for thinking more clearly about their own experience. But those who are not yet ready will either not hear or else get upset and reject one who acknowledges these differences.
Isn't presenting these de-coded translations of religious language from popular to mature, as I do here, dangerous to those still in popular religion--like explaining Santa Claus or sex to children? I think not. The danger is more likely to be for one who does so, in the form of rejection and/or vilification of the message bearer for two reasons: 1) True believers who "take it all on faith" are not subject to, and therefore not vulnerable to reasonable ideas, as these translations are; and 2) Only those who are already on the edges of, or beyond the confines of popular religion and consequently in need of a language for thinking more clearly about their own experience will find these notions possibly useful in consciously considering what they already know.
In summary, I attempt these translations primarily for clarity in efforts to become more conscious of my personal experience. If others may use my personal de-coding in their own moves toward maturity, then I am glad. I have no desire to offend or upset those who find popular religion satisfactory for themselves.
IN A NUTSHELL
The premise of this essay is that mature religion is synonymous with personal maturity. To the extent that one is freed from repressions acquired in the process of adapting to social structures and returns to natural humanity, to that same degree he or she "practices" mature religion--that is, lives-out this delightful mode of existence.
Mature religion is, in effect, a by-product or result of maturing as an individual. Religious language may or may not be used, as I do here, to describe the perspectives of mature religion; but in either case, the focus is on a life style or way-one-lives, not the type of words chosen to characterize it. For many persons, secular or colloquial languages may initially seem better for thinking or speaking about this mode of living, since familiar religious words have become so identified with popular religion only.
In distinction, popular religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.), which I take as a back-drop for clarifying the perspectives of mature religion, is a predictable result of personal repression. The more repressed one is as a human being--that is, the more completely one exits in a state of "not-being" who he or she naturally is, to that same extent the person is likely to find solace and support in one of the popular religions.
Although attention is more easily focused on contrasting beliefs and perspectives, plus differing modes of behavior, the underlying theme of both types of religion is the degree of personal repression of those who are involved. The more repressed one is as an individual, with the projections which inevitably follow, the more likely he or she is to be a "true believer" in one of the popular religions. Conversely, the less repressed one is--that is, the more completely one returns to embrace and re-become a natural human being, the more fully his or her life is an expression of mature religion.
Consequently, the determining factor in each contrasting type of religion is less related to beliefs and practices of that religion than to the degree of personal maturity of individuals who are involved. Greater repressions reflect in deeper fundamentalism in a popular religion; greater freedom from such attempts to suppress and/or negate natural humanity reflects in fuller expressions of mature religion.
Even so, because we as yet have no accepted language for naming and defining degrees of personal repression and un-repression, I choose here to use contrasting ways of thinking and living for trying to clarify the nature of mature religion as I presently understand it to be.
Mature religion is the spiritual experience of a mature person. My primary purpose here is trying to distinguish mature religion from popular religion. By popular religion I refer to organized religion as practiced by average persons in the major world religions--Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc., and in the assorted sects, denominations, and sub-groups of each such religion. By mature religion I mean the relationship between a mature person and the universe or world in which one finds him or herself.
The primary subject matters of popular and mature religion are the same, namely, happiness or good living and how to find it; the relationship between finite persons and the infinite universe; how we go wrong, that is, err in finding happiness; how we get right or find salvation; and how we live daily life as individuals in relationships with others.
But past shared subjects, the differences between popular religion, as practiced by typical church-going Christians, and mature religion is almost diametrically opposite. In general, what is true for one is false for the other, and vice versa. Although the languages of each are sometimes the same, and the sense of personal well-being by those in both types of religion often appears similar, in fact on analysis the primary distinctions are vast.
The perspectives amplified here are, I think, common knowledge of the fullest developed, most mature human beings, but may be seen as pure heresy by the truest of believers in an objective God, as is common in popular religion. Although seldom, if ever, seen in such terms as mature religion as I present here, they are not unique to me or original in any way except perhaps as explained in relation to older religious terms rather than modern secular language.
In psychological language, mature religion represents the understanding and daily practice of those who are most "mentally healthy" or "sanest" among us (even if they don't use my terms for structuring their thinking), while the most dedicated practitioners of popular religion are also the "most immature" or least "emotionally healthy" members of society.
Certainly these potentially judgmental and therefore risky terms from psychology don't accurately apply to all those actively involved in the structures of popular religion, since there are many other pragmatic social and personal reasons for religious participation in today's society by psychologically healthy individuals. Still, I observe, psychologically "crazy" people--that is, those who easily fall into diagnostically defined psychological categories, are most likely to feel at home as true believers in popular religion.
My observations, I suspect, will be easily understandable by those "in less need of psychological counseling (recognized or not)," even if they conclude, "I never thought of it that way," while at the same time, most vilified by devoted followers of popular religion who will predictably view me as an agent of the devil, if not his personification. For saying, even thinking, such heretical notions, I would probably have been immediately excommunicated, if not burned at the stake in older times.
In the past I erred in believing that maturity (heaven here) is a natural outgrowth of popular religion pursued to its limits--as though immature religion (as I viewed it), if practiced diligently and long enough, would somehow phase into mature religion; that nourishing popular religion would naturally result in growth to mature religion; that sincerely practicing popular religion, truly believing its premises and living out its dictates, actually achieving its virtues would result in mature religion--that is, present tense salvation or personal happiness and individual well-being in the here and now as contrasted with popular beliefs in heaven hereafter.
Unfortunately, the facts I have discovered contradict my working premises of some 30 plus years. As it turns out, the more deeply one gets involved in popular religion, the further he or she regresses from mature religion. As best I can now tell, only when progress in popular religion leads to literal dis-illusionment and personal rejection of its basic beliefs is the path toward maturity opened.
Dis-illusionment, not confirmation of illusions, is the way toward fulness of life, present tense.
Like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and the stork story for where babies come from, more quasi-reasonable explanations of each only leads to more entrenched belief. Only when a child finally uses sense to see through such illusions is he on the path to personal maturity. And so with de-coding the personages and events of popular religion--that is, the gods, devils, angels, and heaven or hell as post mortem places.
Finally, the only way I have found into mature religion is out of popular religion, not necessarily the forms of its practices, such as, going to church, which may be reasonably engaged in for social and other than religious reasons, but without true belief in its premises.
Obviously I must generalize to write about such a vast subject--to, as it were, look on the phenomena as though I were far above. Of course there are many variations on the common themes, plus notable exceptions to each of my generalizations. Still, I think I fairly represent most common beliefs in major popular religious themes, namely: ideal human states (goodness); how we go wrong (sin); how we get right (salvation); and how to live well (eternal life).
Also, because I am obviously more knowledgeable about Christianity than other popular religions, I illustrate my observations about these differences primarily with examples drawn from this perspective. Even so, as best I can tell, the same major distinctions exist in all popular religions.
Mature religion is distinctly different from popular religion. In almost all regards except a shared language mature religion is literally an opposite of popular religion. Paradoxically (contrary to logic), mature religion is not the natural outgrowth of popular religion practiced longer or more diligently. In fact the deeper one goes in popular religion, the truer a believer one is, the less likely he or she is to ever exist in (practice) mature religion. Only when one succeeds in de-coding and hence leaving the illusions of popular religion does the door to mature religion finally open.
As is so with a secular Santa Claus, so with a religious God.
My subject in these comparisons is the beliefs and structures of popular religion, not what parishioners necessarily believe and/or practice. I am dealing with core beliefs, authoritative teachings of rabbis, preachers, and priests, rather than what parishioners may or may not practice--that is, catechisms which children may or may not even understand, let alone practice.
But, even if such beliefs are not consciously held by parishioners, even privately rejected, still the basic assumptions tend to creep into unconscious, life-structuring practices, e.g., beliefs in soul immortality and a magical god's help in emergency situations in life.
POPULAR VERSUS MATURE RELIGION
RELIGION VERSUS CHURCH
The beliefs of popular religion as exemplified in their overlapping theologies (my subject so far) are to be distinguished from many of the associated practices of organized churches, which are themselves quite realistic. In fact, for many persons actively involved in the organizations of popular religions, e.g., churches, mosques, and synagogues, these beliefs are a relatively minor issue and are of small personal interest.
Other realistic human concerns are, for such persons, the attraction of the churches. Such persons may be actively involved in these realistic elements without at the same time believing in the notions I try to clarify here.
Among these realistic elements in most popular religions, basic beliefs aside, are:
-- Human need for connections, for being-a-part-of as well as apart-from, as available in the social functions of churches, e.g., regular meetings, occasions to meet new people and get together with friends, as well as obviously social party events.
-- Support in personal crises, such as, loss of loved ones, family problems, and emotional conflicts, from priests and pastors as well as other caring church members.
-- Educational programs, including schools, weekday as well as Sunday, many of which offer higher quality education on non-religious subjects than is available in public schools.
-- Occasions for learning, practicing, and developing leadership skills useful in other more realistically relevant arenas, such as, economic, educational, political, and social arenas.
-- Participation in rituals, e.g., Latin mass in Catholic churches, in which beliefs are relatively irrelevant and easily overlooked as one enjoys feelings of comfort, ease, safety, familiarity, and mental freedom inherent in any established ritual.
-- Memory connections. Returning to childhood religious roots, e.g., churches similar to those in family religion of early life, even those abandoned during familiar disillusionments of growing up, can provide circumstances for re-connecting with long repressed elements of oneself, which were unwittingly severed during growing up years.
For instance, during singing old, familiar songs, sitting in similar style churches, going through the motions of known rituals, repeating learned prayers, etc., one may safely return in mind's eye to parts of him or herself either lost in times of religious rebellion or missed in the midst of other adult demands in the secular world.
-- Guidance and direction through inevitable life passages common to all, e.g., adolescence-to-adulthood (confirmation, baptism, bar mitzvah; marriage (place, officiant, and ceremony), and death (funerals and burial places).
Conclusion: For these and other reasons, non-religious aspects of popular religious organizations can provide invaluable occasions for fulfilling experiences of many real human values--all with little or no involvement in underlying beliefs.
I suspect that as much as 90% of active participation in established religion today is based on these everyday realities, especially for females, and engaged in apart from times of personal crises. As is well known, in personal emergencies, e.g., social suppression, serious illness, and "fox hole" type situations, people tend to look quickly for outside help. Here the beliefs of popular religion, being readily available and socially acceptable, offer tempting options ("God help me...," etc.). But in more stable, less threatening times, realistic motives probably account for most churchly involvements.
Point: My focus here on illusions underlying the theology of popular religion is therefore irrelevant to understanding the majority of daily religious activities.
TRUE BELIEVERS VERSUS SOCIAL PRACTITIONERS
In summary, this essay in its characterizations is only about popular religion as practiced by true believers--that is, those who actually accept and share in the premises and principles of each religion's founding fathers and their dedicated popes, priests, rabbis, preachers and other church authorities. As true believers these persons sincerely accept the fundamental beliefs of their religion "by faith"--that is, without question or doubt, and diligently try to follow its approved behaviors, doing its "good deeds," acting "right," and avoiding its defined sins, on the premise that the rewards and/or punishments are certain to be fulfilled either now and/or in later life after death.
In contrast, local groups of most popular religions also include many persons I characterize as "social (versus religious) practitioners"--that is, persons who are actively or passively involved in religious activities without actually sharing its beliefs, privately following its prescribed behaviors, or truly believing in its promises.
Instead, they participate for any number of realistic social and/or personal reasons, such as, community acceptance; finding and meeting friends; pleasing parents; education of children; something to do on Sundays when work fails to structure time; making business and/or political contacts; for a place and structure for authenticating rites of passage, such as, baptism, confirmation, marriage, funerals, and burial for their children and/or themselves, etc., etc.
Such "social practitioners" may enjoy the various religious rituals for their form alone (such as, music and meditation times), or endure and silently put up with those elements of the programs and services which they don't personally agree with or accept as absolute truths. For example, they may go ahead privately thinking for themselves, accepting any beliefs and/or church-approved behaviors they agree with, but not seriously affected by the religious precepts and promises, extolled, for example, at Sunday services.
Point: This essay on mature religion, in which I attempt to clarify by contrast with popular religion, is only about true believers in each major religion. Often, I conclude, they are a small minority, with the majority of participants being "social practitioners."
In either case, I limit my characterizations and contrasts here to those sincerely devoted followers who do truly accept their religion's beliefs and try diligently to live by its formulas in anticipation of its promised rewards.
In practice, of course, the distinctions I note here are rarely if ever as clear cut as I describe. Most of those active in popular religion fall somewhere between these two extremes--that is, they accept some but not all established beliefs, and try to follow some but not all of their church's directives. In which case, my descriptions here are only of that portion of their motivations rooted in congruent personal beliefs and shared standards of behavior.
My references here to popular religion are to the theological and fundamental principles underlying their organizations, not to the nature and meaning of the religious practices to many individual members. These noted characterizations are more typical of religious hierarchies, the authority structures, and many of those dedicated officials who represent the established beliefs of the religion, e.g., popes, priests, rabbis, preachers, etc.
In daily practice of services and church programs these primary principles and established beliefs are relatively irrelevant and often not even known to average parishioners. Many active church members, for example, find personal meaning and benefits from the organized activities of their religion, and could actually care less about the theology and established principles of the religion.
For example, in Catholicism, what the Pope thinks and decrees from Rome is of minor interest and certainly not a binding dictate to many Catholic members who find personal satisfaction in attending mass, engaging in various rituals, and meeting their friends at church gatherings.
Consequently, for those church members who are either ignorant of established beliefs or able to privately ignore them in favor of other benefits found in church activities, these noted descriptions may seem unreal, even harsh, and certainly not applicable to themselves.
Even so, I observe that the major beliefs of popular religion are so pervasive in American culture, both religious and secular, that they tend to be absorbed as though by osmosis by many citizens, even if not taught as such or even consciously believed in.
The illusion of an embodied soul with permanent existence, for example, is a fundamental belief of most popular religions, but is also commonly shared by the American population at large, including many who have outwardly rejected religious affiliation.
This study includes an analysis of popular religions which can easily, but erroneously, be taken as a negative judgment, even an attack on a practice which is obviously relevant to masses of people around the globe. My intent, however, is only to establish a basis for distinguishing and clarifying the nature of a contrasting type of religious experience which I see as more mature.
But that I view popular religions as based in illusions rather than reality (the first major distinction which I will amplify next) does not mean I put down on them or see popular religion as bad or necessarily unhealthy. Obviously, evidenced by their long histories and widespread popularity today, popular religions serve significant human needs.
Still, I do think that sincere participation in the beliefs of popular religions is rooted in an interruption of the natural creative process of all human experience, and that returning to this process inevitably involves dis-illusionment--that is, letting go of illusions underlying popular religions and re-embracing the natural human capacity for de-coding images into reasonable concepts.
Although participation in the illusions of popular religions obviously brings temporary benefits to many persons, these values only accrue as one continues to pay the personal prices of negating natural human capacities in crucial aspects of personal life.
Furthermore, facing the challenges of dis-illusionment, especially after long participation in any popular religion can be temporarily traumatic in a social context which views its religious beliefs as inherently sacred and hence beyond questioning.
However, returning to the natural creative process, sans illusions, brings freedom to participate in the delights of honest encounter with perceived reality--if, of course, one can avoid the tempting switch of trading illusions for despair. When so, the door to heaven here in daily life is also opened.
I consider the lasting values inherent in realistic, mature religion to far outweigh the temporary benefits of participating in the illusions of popular religion. Obviously, however, this is a choice each person must make for him or herself alone.
In either case, the observations which follow are only intended as evaluations of distinctions--that is, real differences between popular and mature religion, rather than judgments of either. I am not against popular religion in the sense of trying to put down on its beliefs and practices; nor is this a promotion of mature religion as a theory to be learned and sought by direct means.
By definition, mature religion, like secular happiness, is only a by-product, not an independent goal to be reached by conscious efforts beyond moves toward personal maturity or individual wholeness.
The good news about popular religion is that it has worked for a long time, especially for civilization at large and societies in particular, but at huge costs, I conclude, for individuals. But in this study I focus only on the possibly bad news, the consequences of personal repression in service of successful social memberships.
Throughout the essay I refer to what I call the Creative Process of ordinary human experience. I have amplified this view of basic encounter with the natural world in other essays (e.g., The Creative Process), but a summary understanding of how I use the terms: perception, imaging, conceiving, and becoming--the four "stages" of the Creative Process, may be useful in following my descriptions of popular and mature religion.
A brief summary is given at the end of this essay.
Three primary distinctions between popular and mature religion are: 1) Illusions versus reality; 2) Idolatry versus worth-ship; and 3) Beliefs versus believing. These three major differences are reflected in scores of other distinctions which are spin-offs or side-effects of these primary distinguishing characteristics.
If primary differences are seen as the heart of the matter, the remaining comparisons are like smaller windows for looking in on central distinctions.
First of all, popular religion is based on mental images--illusions, taken to be real by believers. Mature religion, in contrast, is rooted in reality as perceivable by bodily senses; all images are seen as mental pictures yet to be de-coded into reasonable concepts.
A second primary difference is that adherents of popular religion practice unrecognized idolatry. Although believers never see their devotions as such, analysis reveals actual icons (mental images) at the heart of worship in popular religion. Mature religion, in contrast, shuns assigning supernatural powers to specific mental images; no single icon is worshiped. Instead, the potential worth of every form of reality is recognized and valued--not because anything is inherently sacred, but because mature persons experience worth-ship in all things.
The third major distinction lies in the critical difference between beliefs (nouns) and believing (a participle). Each popular religion is structured by mental constructs taken to be absolute truth and then idolized as sacred beliefs. Mature religion sees all ideas (mental formulations) as temporal notions, none of which are made sacred as beliefs. Instead, practitioners of mature religion are actively believing in the presence of all perceivable reality.
BELIEFS VERSUS PERSPECTIVES
In the following section my major form of presentation is to choose a subject and then list various beliefs of most popular religions in one column and make a comparison with mature religion in a second column. It will therefore be tempting, but erroneous, to assume that the second column lists contrasting beliefs of mature religion. This is the unfortunate nature of such comparisons.
Actually, the difference between popular and mature religion is more complicated than merely contrasting mental beliefs--which would also indicate that personal maturity, the basis of mature religion, is simply a matter of switching from one set of beliefs to another. Nothing could be further from the truth. Maturing (as amplified in Part II of this essay) may indeed involve mental changes, but is largely a matter of becoming whole as an individual, not merely thinking differently.
Still, I find comparisons to be the best way of understanding anything--in this case, religious differences. But in an effort to avoid the error of seeing mature religion as simply holding different beliefs, I have chosen the term perspectives for the positions of mature religion in my comparisons.
Beliefs are deeply held premises, usually unconscious and hence not subject to reasonable consideration, while perspectives (as I intend the term) are simply ways of looking at things. Consequently, the noted perspectives of mature religion are not to be understood as deeply held beliefs, but simply as how things are likely to appear to a mature person. With this understanding, I may therefore note that:
Beliefs are to popular religion as perspectives are to mature religion. While beliefs taken to be sacred truths are the primary basis of popular religion, mature religion has no such beliefs. Instead, for comparison purposes, I note various mental perspectives which are characteristic of mature religion as distinguished from major beliefs of most popular religions.
In each of the following comparisons a familiar belief of popular religion is followed by a perspective of mature religion in the same area of thought. Obviously many of my subjects overlap, but each is a slightly different way I have viewed them.
Brief comparative summaries in the chart are followed by expanded explanations of many of these differences between popular and mature religion--that is, the beliefs of popular religion and the perspectives of mature religion (which has no beliefs as such).
A. SUMMARY DIFFERENCES
SUBJECT POPULAR RELIGION MATURE RELIGION
1. Basis Illusions Reality
2. Idolatry Idolatry Worth-ship
3. Beliefs Has beliefs Is believing
--Has faith --Is faithing
4. Maturity Immaturity Maturity
5. Consciousness Non-sciousness Consciousness
2. God Super Magician Ultimate Reality
--A Supreme Being --Supremely being
4. Body Dis-embodiment Embodied
--Having a soul --Being spirited
--Body and soul --Body/soul as one
--Spirit against flesh --Spirited flesh
5. Death Unreal Real
6. Heaven There & Later Here & Now
--Place to go --Way to be
7. Self Selfish/unselfish Selfing
--Selfishness as sin --Selfingness as essential
8. Sex Repressed Embraced
--Heterosexual only --Omnisexuality
--Lust is evil --Lust is natural
--General suppression --Responsible expression
9. Good & Evil Objective Subjective
--Inherent in deeds --Dependent on circumstances
10. Right & Wrong Knows right and wrong Beyond good and evil
--"Right" is objective --"Right" is subjective
--"Right" is regardless --"Right" is for me just now
11. Religious Language Literal Figurative
12. Hell Place Condition
--Underworld --Escaping world
13. Miracles Natural transcended Natural recognized
14.Time Eternal life Timely living
--Everlasting --Eternal now
--Extended infinitely --Fulfilled present time
15. Realm of Sin Acts Being
--Things to do or not --Ways to be or not be
--Shoulds and oughts --Wills and won'ts
--Crimes against society --Crimes against nature
16.Goals External Internal
--"Being good" --Becoming honest
--Overcoming natural --Becoming natural
--Being perfect --Being authentic
17. Mind Closed-minded Open-minded
--Sacred ideas --Flexible thinking
--Doubt is sin --Doubt is natural
18. Motivation Guilt Freedom
--Avoiding shame --Making sense
19. Power Projected Embraced
20. Stance Submission Erect
21. Answers Having answers Answering
22. Focus Behavior Becoming
--Acting responsible --Being responsive
23. Change Illusions of permanence Reality of change
--Rock of Ages --Moving sea
24. Pleasure Anti Pro
--Fearful of --Delights in
25. Truth Final word Evolving knowledge
26. Emotions Right feelings Real emotions
--What one should feel --What one does feel
27. Desires Right desires Real desires
--Wanting what you should --Wanting what you do
28. Mystery Strange images Edges of reality
--Wonder of supernatural --Wonder of natural
--Awe of illusions --Awe of reality
--Eliminated with knowledge --Embraced with knowledge
29. Love Choice Overflow
--Virtue to achieve --Result of wholeness
--Selfishness suppressed --Selfingness expanded
--Denial of self --Overflow of selfing
--Based on repression --Apex of full humanity
30. Caring Act based on self denial Essence of selfing
31. Helping others Highest virtue Highest respond-ability
32. Virtues Acts Sincere experiences
33. World Bad Okay
--Overcoming the world --Participating in world
--Trying to save and leave --Trying to cooperate
34. Salvation External Internal
--Ticket to a better place in afterlife --Fulness of life in here and now
--Reward for measuring up --Result of becoming whole
35. Repression Spiritual virtue Destructive process
36. Plans Planned universe Emerging universe
--Reality is ordered --Reality is willy nilly
37. Meaning External Self-created
38. Future Pre-decided Open
--Predictable and knowable --Unknown and unknowable
39. Justice Ultimate fact Human creation
--Eventual fairness --Reality is not fair
40. Rewards Guaranteed in future Inherent in events
--Goodness rewarded --Heaven here
--Badness punished --Hell on earth
41. Helping others Inherently virtuous Morally neutral
--Any time --Only when timely
42. Conscience Internal voice of God Parents internalized
--Inherent knowledge of right --Ingrained local mores
43. Survival Of best Of fittest
44. Religion Organized religion Religionless religion
45. Virtue External standards Honest expression
--Good for others --Good to me
46. Sacred Books Sacred texts No sacred words
47. Pragmatics Right and wrong Practical and impractical
48. Guilt Abiding shame Sophisticated innocence
49. Morality Inherent Learned
51. Natural desires Inherently bad Invaluable guides
52. Concerns What They Think What I Think
--Pleasing others --Being pleased oneself
--Other-concern is primary --Other-concern is secondary
--Looking good --Goodly looking
--Getting somewhere --Being here
--Improving the world --Experiencing the world
--Saving the world and getting out --Being saved in the world
--Impressing people --Meeting people
--Being good --Being honest
53. Frustration Uptight Relaxed
54. Love Self-denial Self-fulfillment
55. Mental Illness Diagnosable Not diagnosable
56. Soul Ghost in body Noun for being spirited
--An it, thing, or entity --An event in time
57. Reason Suppressed Encouraged
58. Responsibility Duty Ability
59. Sin Being bad Not being oneself
60. Nature Trying to change Trying to experience
61. Communion Images Reality
62. Evangelism Virtue Impossible
63. Approval Other Self
64. Independence Dependence Inter-dependence
65. Worship Idolatry Reality
66. Their thinking What they think What I think
67. Perfection Perfectionism Completion
68. Anxiety Frustration Calm
69. Posture Posing Appearing
70. Analysis Anathema Un-ending
71. Human nature Bad Essential
ILLUSIONS VERSUS REALITY
The major distinction I note, on which all other differences are based, is this: popular religion is based in illusions, while mature religion is rooted in reality. Therefore, the distinction between illusions and reality becomes critical in understanding this difference. Before noting other distinctions I try to clarify what I mean by these words.
ILLUSION: An illusion is a solidified mental image, like a frozen frame on a VCR or a single picture in a movie, used to short-circuit or evade the natural process of creative experience (which I have summarized as the Creative Process). Literally speaking, an illusion is a figment of one's imagination.
REALITY: A reality is an honest perception first imaged and then transformed into a sensible conception, an idea reasonably shaped from many perceptions.
Both involve images, but in reality images are fluid and quickly reasoned into concepts or ideas formed from multiple concepts. Insofar as personal perception is concerned, both illusions and reality seem to be real. A mirage, e.g., which is actually an illusion, may seem as real to an observer as does water itself. In fact, firmer illusions (images more solidified) may seem even more real than actual perceptions. A ghost image, for example, may feel more real than the perception of inner fear which it probably reflects.
Although both illusions and reality seem real to individuals who perceive them (or more so in case of firmly held illusions), a grammatical distinction may help clarify. From the standpoint of grammar, illusions exist only in the realm of metaphors or "as if" categories. Illusions are literally like such and such, as if they are real, but are not truly that to which they are similar. For example, a ghost (an illusion) is like a real person, but is not actually so. A mirage appears as ("looks like") water, but only wet H2O is real water.
But to make this grammatical distinction is not intended to imply that only reality is "really real" and consequently that illusions are "fake" or "false." Both are products of human perceptions, with the second as a more advanced stage. Still, to say that a tree is real--and a ghost is an illusion, is not to place perceived reality in an ultimate category, as though true objectivity were humanly possible.
By nature of human reality--at least as best I understand us, all our perceptions are finally personal, that is, subjective rather than truly objective, or limited to the ranges of inherited and activated sense capacities. Grasping ultimate reality or achieving absolute objectivity is not, so far as I know, humanly possible. Literal omniscience, even on any one subject, does not appear to me to be a human option.
Consequently, the noted distinctions between illusions and reality via accepted grammatical categories (metaphors for illusions, literal language for reality) are not intended to imply ultimate differences in reality itself, which finally remains (if at all!) beyond human comprehension, but are only about observable distinctions between illusions and reality.
Unfortunately illusions tend to get a bad name in current society, while reality is typically judged more favorably. We try, for example, to make our images look and sound real, as though they are bad if "only" imaginary.
But as I intend here, no such judgments, positive or negative, are implied for either. I do not mean, for example, that "Illusions are bad," or, that "It's good to be realistic." Reality is not "better" than illusions in any ethical or moral sense. One existing more in realms of illusion is not necessarily "worse off" than one who shuns illusions and tries to be completely realistic.
In fact, one in earlier stages of dis-illusionment, that is, dissolving established illusions into flexible conceptions, may initially feel more unhappy, dissatisfied, threatened, even disturbed, than one yet comfortable in accepted illusions.
Point: Noting distinctions between illusions and reality is intended here for pragmatic purposes only--not to put up and/or down on either. Understanding the difference is potentially useful when one desires a more stable connection with earthly reality and wishes to reverse the process of repression; but even this quest is not inherently virtuous, any more than religious illusions are innately bad.
The "good" of reality is only a qualitative or experiential value, not an inherent virtue in the sense of religious morality or even secular ethics--that is, more like a "good bowel movement" as distinguished from a "good deed." The word good in the first sense is only about quality of experience, not virtue in an act. And so with the good of reality.
Summary: As I mean the words here, there is no inherent virtue in either. Reality is not good and illusions bad, even though we tend to associate more negative judgments with the latter and positive with the former. It is not "better to be realistic" except in the sense of greater stability and more personal, present-tense satisfaction in avoiding illusions.
Positing that illusions are the stack-pole of popular religion, in contrast with reality as the basis for mature religion, I turn now to consider specific forms of what I consider to be traditionally accepted illusions.
An other-worldly, external God is obviously the grandest of all popular religion illusions. He, a personified, anthropomorphic, superhuman "it," is the grandest, most powerful (omnipotent) of all diverse sacred images, both positive and negative (angels, devils, demons, etc.), in the assorted rituals of popular religion. Associated acts, both mental and physical, aimed at wielding external forces for personal favors include "right" beliefs, "giving your heart to Jesus," devotion to Allah, prayer, attendance at rituals (e.g., church or religious services), "good" behavior, etc.
Although never seen as illusions by those devoted to the practices of popular religion, these forms of mental and physical behavior may be easily seen as such by those outside its sheltered confines. Mature religion is without such sacred illusions.
Transformed into personal experiences, perhaps the greatest example of individual illusions in popular religion is the belief that a person is an earthly representative of an external god and is therefore speaking or acting for him "down here." "God's man," for example, may sincerely believe that he is talking for God, speaking God-given words and/or giving God's directions about what others should and should not do.
Moses was a classic example in biblical history; many current day popes, priests, preachers, rabbis, evangelists, etc., present themselves in the same role as spokespersons for God, divinely directed to tell others how to behave in the world. "God told me to tell you....," even when cloaked with outward humility, must be the most obvious of all local religious illusions.
Secular examples of illusions on a less grandiose scale include beliefs in inspiration, as by muses (another illusion), or by beautiful women, certain geographical locations, and/or magical elements, such as, crystal rocks, rabbit's feet, etc. When internal breathing ("spiration"), as a metaphor for the natural mental flow of in and out connections between persons and the outside-of-skin world, is suppressed, then one is left in regular need of external stimulation, typically known as in-spiration--that is, "being breathed into" from without.
Once internal powers associated with normal, creative thinking are curtailed by repression and accompanying projections onto outside images (illusions), as in popular religion, then one does indeed exist in need of being "inspired (turned on, pumped up, en-couraged, etc.)." Once this mental stage is set, through an extended process of personal mind suppression, and natural powers are inevitably projected, then various "mirrors"--actually, illusions, may seem to (note metaphorical thinking) give back creative powers--at least when they are properly cajoled and/or catered to.
Illusions are mental constructs, literally, figments of imagination which are taken to be real, yet without confirmation by bodily senses. Reality, as understood here, is the world as perceived by our physical senses.
Illusions, formed when images emerging from perceptions are frozen, may be supported by other persons who share similar beliefs, but cannot be confirmed by sense data or reasonable thinking. In contrast, reality as perceived by one person can be confirmed by perceptions of other humans with similar genetically-based sensing capacities, plus by mechanical devices built to extend the range of human senses (e.g., telescopes, microscopes, cameras, etc.)
In common parlance, accepting illusions-as-real is often called "taking it on faith (even if it doesn't make sense)." Reality, in contrast, requires "being reasonable" about perceptions.
The first major distinction between popular and mature religion is that the first is based on illusions, while the second involves a relationship with reality. Each of the primary beliefs of popular religion, such as, God, Devil, heaven, hell, resurrection of the dead, etc., is formed from shared illusions of adherents--that is, imaged realities not perceivable by bodily senses and therefore accepted "by faith."
Perspectives of mature persons, such as, views on miracles, salvation, good and evil, death, etc., are formed from experimental encounters with reality which can be confirmed by physical perceptions of other persons as well as oneself, and "make sense" when data from human senses is shaped into reasonable knowledge.
Illusions are self-established, either from personal perceptions, accepted directly from other persons, or from reading the ideas of others. They require no outside (objective) verification. In fact, they often seem especially real when no outside confirmation is available and they are accepted, as popularly explained, "by faith"--especially by "blind faith" taken to mean without any proof or objective reasoning.
IMAGES VERSUS ILLUSIONS
An illusion is an image without substance. Images are natural and fluid; illusions are frozen images. Imaging, the natural second step in creative experience, is metaphorical thinking. In moving from perceptions to images we compare a present perception to a prior conception (step 3) and note that this perception is like a previous conception. For example with mirages, one perceives what "looks like" water (a prior conception) in the desert, and images it as such. So far so good. All images are metaphorical at first--that is, comparisons of an immediate perception with prior perceptions which have already been transformed into conceptions (e.g., named "water").
The error is not in metaphorical thinking itself (comparing one perception with prior conceptions), but rather mistaking it for reality and then stopping thinking and living with an as if as though it were real--that is, an escape from natural metaphors into metaphorical living. (One symptom of schizophrenia is as if living, that is, escaping from actual reality into existence in metaphors, living-as-if a metaphor is reality).
In effect, in popular religion one solidifies and bows before an image rather than keeping on thinking, as in, de-coding or continuing to relate a present image to other perceptions/conceptions from the past in quest of ever sharper conceptions. For example, in the case of a mirage in the desert, although one at first images a visual perception as water, based on prior conceptions with similar perceptions, in reality he keeps on thinking as he moves closer to the mirage. Perhaps such a line of continued thinking might involve facing the likelihood that no actual oasis exists here, and wondering what else might be giving this perception. Could this image be related to heat waves instead of liquid waves? Etc., etc.
But the relevant issue in remaining natural is that one keeps on thinking--comparing present images (in this example, water) with prior knowledge, and seeking concepts congruent with what he has experienced before, rather than camping down on a first image, freezing it, so to speak, and then treating it as though it is reality. Perhaps in this example, after solidifying the first image of water, one might drop down and try to drink sand.
Another example: Santa Claus may be a good first explanation of the spirit of giving behind those who actually bring presents at Christmas; but if a child doesn't stop there (solidifying a first image), he keeps on thinking--"But how did he get in if we don't have a chimney?" Or, "How does he get to all the children in the world in one night?" Or, "How do reindeers fly?" Etc. Eventually, if a child keeps on thinking rather than freezing a first image and concluding it to be reality, he may arrive at a more sensible explanation. This is the normal course of creative experience.
And so with God, Jesus, Satan and other religious images commonly encountered in societies permeated with popular religions. Perceptions come to us via all five senses. Most commonly we perceive first via vision, that is, through our eyes; but we also perceive sounds, including the ideas we hear from parents and other persons. If, for example, we hear about God and are told that He is omnipresent--that is, everywhere, a child might look for him under the bed at night, and, of course, assume him to be male rather than female.
So far, so good; this is the natural course of human experience before images become frozen. But problems begin when we stop there, solidify an image, assume it to be real, and abandon the natural process of making sense out of multitudes of perceptions.
This, I conclude, is what happens for dedicated followers of popular religions. Even though they may keep on thinking about other childhood images, such as, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, etc., true believers freeze early religious images in their first metaphored forms (e.g., God as a bearded man in the sky), take them to be real, and in effect bow before them after ceasing natural sense-making efforts.
In illusions, natural powers are repressed/projected--that is, denied within and only recognized as mirrored without. What actually exists "in here" is denied and thereafter only recognized as reflected, as it were, in frozen images which have consequently become illusions.
In largest perspectives, these are the gods and demons of popular religion.
After personal capacities are denied and projected, one must deal with them at arm's length, as though they truly exist as the images on which they have been projected. This is commonly attempted through efforts to please one's gods in quest of favors, and somehow resist one's demons in order to keep in good graces of the gods.
This begins, I theorize, with our most primal human capacity, namely, for "selfing" or "being oneself." When embodied self (genes for survival as an individual life form) is denied, one in effect dis-embodies himself, escaping into an illusion of separate existence as a soul, self, ego, or I. This primal escape begins with imaging a dis-embodied self. Probably this illusion precedes those more evident in popular religion and becomes the basis of them.
Before such an illusion, one exists as an embodied self. Body and I are essentially the same. Genetic (body) messages are either acted out automatically or come into awareness by way of desires or instinct-based urges ("wants")--for example, for air, physical comfort (warmth versus cold as needed for genetic survival), and nourishment (for fueling rapidly multiplying cells).
As growth continues and consciousness expands, physical needs/desires are expanded into psychic (mental) needs/desires also. These may be seen as "emotional needs," e.g., for support, approval, and affirmation.
In summary: before an illusion of dis-embodiment, one exists "wanting" comfort, nourishment, and fulfilled survival as an individual embodied self. So far, the term self is superfluous, because "what you see is what you get," that is, the bodied life-form is one, undivided; there is as yet no separate self.
But somewhere in childhood the illusion of an imaginary self--an "I" separate from "it (body)" commonly begins to take shape, first in imagination, an image like all other images; but then such an image is solidified into an illusion ("I" apart from "it") which may later be called a soul or self, and become a basic premise of popular religion.
I suspect that the timing of this first major illusion's development is related to the harshness of smoothness of a child's life circumstances. When conditions are more difficult, as in, poverty of food, tending, and care, I theorize that this illusion develops early (before age 3?), initially as an expression of survival instincts. The natural capacity of imaging (Stage 2 of creative experience) is simply used to ease difficult circumstances.
But when conditions are more ideal, as when all needed supplies are readily forthcoming and parents are attentive and loving, then this illusion may be delayed until one confronts harsher elements of reality outside a caring home. So-called "spoiled" children, or those "born with a silver spoon in their mouths," probably remain embodied longer than those in poverty and/or with less loving parents.
In either case, it seems that the creation of an imaginary self must be near universal, later if not sooner, depending on favorable or unfavorable childhood conditions. Imaging separation--that is, perceiving apparent distinctions between embodied self and other people and world-at-large, is, I reason, completely normal. But dis-embodiment only occurs when natural images based on real perceptions are frozen into an illusion of "I" apart from "it," it being body, other people, and the physical world.
Thereafter, instead of being an individual participating in a wider world beyond oneself, but yet part of oneself, one escapes into a solidified image, an illusion of separate existence. Instead of being one-at-one-with--that is, truly belonging, he becomes, in mind's eye, one who is separate from and existing outside of, or over against, the external world.
Commonly then, after identification with an illusion rather than body, one comes to view external reality, including his body, as foreign to himself. He is no longer one-at-one-with, one who belongs, as it were, in the universe, but rather an I versus it, not I and or in it as inter-acting parts of one whole. Thereafter, this world ceases to be "his home."
In broad perspective an illusionary self, an entity imagined to exist independent of external reality and only "trapped," as it were, in a present body (as "it"), takes either an above or below position in the world--that is, imagines itself to be higher/better or lower/less than the world beyond himself. In the first case one may become godly and rebel and/or act omnipotent (like he is the center of the world revolving around him, better than all), or he may see himself as "less-than" and therefore dictated and determined by the world. In this imagined lower position he is likely to comply rather than rebel, and act submissive and subservient rather than godly. The level plane of real humanity is escaped into illusions of being above or below revealed reality.
In either case, one is essentially set up for popular religion where such illusionary positions can become formalized with external supports in the beliefs and practices of organized religion. Those who have illusioned themselves above may further identify with an equally illusioned omnipotent god who personifies their own self image. Those who see themselves as lower or less than may, conversely, find ready support as willing servants of an imaginary god.
ILLUSIONS VERSUS DISILLUSIONMENT
In the value system of popular religion, "illusionment" is good and dis-illusionment is bad. "Better to keep the ills you have than to fly to those you know not off." And so it is in secular society as well, when one stops at this third stage of natural thinking--that is, gives up illusions but does not go on to become a participant in mature religion. Once one finds a degree of comfort in illusions, whether religious or secular in nature, dis-illusionment is likely to seem far worse than existence among unreal images. At least at first.
But in reality, disillusionment is but the first step in moving beyond entrapment in the static state of mind which characterizes popular religion. Unless and until one lets go of illusions he cannot become reasonable in forming personal concepts which fit real perceptions. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that one who gives up on popular religion, even if he dares divest himself of illusions, will move on into the lively realms of mature religion.
As is abundantly evident, many leave illusions of safety in popular religion only to find themselves at sea in the despair of existing alone in the universe "with nothing to believe in." Then, with secret envy if not conscious jealousy, they may long for feelings of security they once knew in dedication to a childhood religion. Such disillusioned folk often become open enemies of popular religion, probably in unconscious efforts to compensate for what may feel to be a deep loss.
The comparative impotence of intellectual liberals in contrast with powers often exercised by believers in popular religion is an additional down side of disillusionment. Those who believe they act for God and do not face challenges of reasonable behavior commonly wield massive, even cruel force, both in personal relationships and in society in general. Caught up in illusions of "being right" and "knowing what is best for everyone," they may freely trample over rights of others and even feel virtuous in their abusive evangelistic activities, since they are "only trying to help"--even to save you.
Fortunately, the initial anguish of disillusionment after long periods of living within the unrealistic comforts of popular religion is not necessarily the end of religious experience. If one successfully navigates the challenging waters of giving up illusions and re-learns (or re-finds) his own think-abilities--that is, becomes reasonable in arenas of mind previously frozen in beliefs, either religious or secular, then the door of creative experience opens to the further possibility of mature religion.
I interrupt this analysis of disillusionment to note a further fact about mature religion. Unlike popular religion which can be embraced by anyone and is indeed more appealing to those who are most downtrodden, lost, and/or emotionally immature, mature religion is not a simple matter of choice alone. For example, anyone can "give his heart to Jesus," as in Billy Graham-type evangelistic religion, and theoretically "be saved" and find peace of mind at once; but not so with mature religion.
Certainly choice--in the sense of making conscious decisions, is involved; but no amount of sensible thinking guarantees personal maturity required for this second, less familiar type of religion beyond illusions. For mature religion, mature personhood is required. Or, stated in degrees, as we commonly live our lives, only to the extent of one's individual maturity does mature religion even become possible. The less whole one is as a person, the less possible is mature religion--no matter how disillusioned he or she may be of popular religion.
Reason: even though popular religion can easily exist in the midst of personal immaturity, indeed seems to thrive best in the absence of reasonable thinking, one cannot become truly religious in reality beyond the extent of inner wholeness as an individual.
FANTASY VERSUS REALITY
Stated another way, popular religion is rooted in fantasy while mature religion is based in reality. Because fantasy is a fragile mental state, constantly subject to disruption by contradictory data, expanded knowledge, or undesirable realities which often impinge in spite of best efforts to exclude them, those who find their present security and future redemption there are well advised to remain close-minded in regard to sacred beliefs.
Not surprisingly then, doubt of any fantasy-based belief becomes in effect an ultimate sin, while faith is defined as blind acceptance of approved answers, especially of notions which are most unreasonable. Such true believers "just accept" irrational ideas "on faith."
In sharp contrast, since mature reason is based in reality, it faces no threat in expanded knowledge of this real world. Because doubt is a key to further research into reality, questioning present knowledge--that is, doubting the known, is welcomed in mature religion. In fact, in the creative process, doubting the validity of any mental image (Stage 2 of the Creative Process) is a crucial part of advancing on to ever more reasonable concepts (Stage 3). Open-minded children, not yet caught up in illusions, freely question everything--so much so that age 2 has been called the "Why? Stage."
This, I think, is the nature of natural thinking, the way a normal mind works unless frozen into solid fantasies. In mature religion one returns to re-embrace natural curiosity of childhood where one still "thinks for himself," "has a mind of his or her own," and in effect questions everything--that is, constantly doubts what is given as one continually seeks ever-more sensible concepts.
Relevant here is the contrast between the closed-mindedness of popular religion where doubt is a grand enemy, and the open-mindedness of mature religion where continual questioning of present knowledge results in a daily sense of wonder about every perception and image.
Insofar as immediate feelings of peace, well-being, and happiness are concerned, those found in popular religion and in mature religion are much the same--initially. Both bases, illusion and reality, may reflect in a sense of personal satisfaction which far outweighs the pains and vicissitudes of existence in a state of blind self-repression.
The difference, however, is vast in time and durability. A sense of satisfaction rooted in illusions is notably fickle, fragile, and commonly temporary, subject to loss whenever harsher elements of human existence crowd in, unless continually reinforced by outside supports--such as popular religion offers, and ever increasing degrees of personal repression.
In contrast, well-being rooted in personal wholeness achieved by healing inner-divisions required in repression, plus recognizing and accepting outward connections with society and the natural world, is, because based in reality rather than illusions, notably strong, durable, and constant. Such reality-based happiness is expanded rather than threatened or destroyed by increasing closeness and acknowledged unity with the natural world of human instincts and ever-evolving circumstances.
Finally, I conclude, the peace and happiness which, in the words of Paul in the bible, "passeth understanding (taken to mean cloaking eternal mysteries and limitations in human knowledge with illusions of certain answers)," is certainly more desirable than that promised if not delivered in popular religions today.
IDOLATRY VERSUS WORTH-SHIP
Idolatry, the second major attribute of popular religion, is particularly difficult for adherents to understand because one cannot see his own idolatry. Whereas idol-worship in others is often seen easily, the same is not true in regards to personal worship. Only in hindsight, as one begins to cease its practice, does personal idolatry begin to emerge into consciousness. So long as one is engaged in idolatry, it seems that blindly worshiped gods are in fact real.
Even so, idolatry exists in its practice, regardless of what an idolater sees or does not see. Even if the practice is unconscious, results are the same. And its long range consequences are costly, even while one is reaping the short term benefits of having a god.
Idolatry is believing in or living-as-though some external image--that is, an imagined entity "out there," either tangible like an Omnipotent Being (God or Allah) or intangible like a principle, practice, or idea (e.g., Perfectionism, Winning, or Woman-as-Goddess), possesses grand powers potentially available to a sincere worshiper, when in reality it does not.
In other words, the assumed benefits of any such worship, whether of a Heavenly Father or an earthly mother, etc., are literally, like the image itself, "all in one's head" insofar as reality is concerned. Apart from beliefs of practitioners, as in popular religion, icons are impotent except to the degree that worshipers project power onto them.
Summary: Idol-worship--never recognized as such by those engaged in its practice, is a prime identifier of popular religion. Even when adherents of one religion truly and sincerely believe their own god is real, and that only the gods of other religions are false, resulting in idolatry there, the fact remains that having a god is inherently idolatrous, whether recognized as such or not.
Idolatry is idolatry by nature of its practice, whether seen or unseen by its practitioners.
In sharp contrast, mature persons have no gods, either religious or secular--that is, do not engage in bowing before images (imagined representations) of any sort. Instead of worshiping icons, mature religion involves experiencing the potential worth-ship of all reality.
Personal powers inherent in genetic activations, such as, perceiving, desiring, feeling, and thinking, are not repressed inwardly and hence projected outwardly onto gods of various names and sorts. Instead, in mature religion they are embraced and activated in daily life in the continual process of knowing worth and value in all that is real. Sunday worship services, for example, where devotions are typically made to icons, are replaced by seven-days/week, 24 hours/day encounters with worthy reality. When so, all "services" are worship-ful experiences, without idolatry in any.
Idolatry is the practice of unrealistically imagining powers to exist "out there" in certain images, objects, places, activities, and/or persons. Although one never recognizes his own idols as such, preferring to think they truly have power to dispense desired favors if one lives-up to their expectations, and that one's adoration, devotion, and efforts-to-please are inherently virtuous, even necessary, they are often easily seen as unrealistic by others (for example, that the adoration of romantic love "is blind").
Idolatry may be religious (as in popular religions) or secular (as in an idolized mother, lover, or wealth).
Idolatry is personally costly because it always involves: 1) repression of real capacities and their imagined projections onto idols, or 2) living in a fantasy world of supernatural forms which are imagined to be manipulatable for personal benefits, either now or later. The daily result is lost contact with real human powers for creativity--that is, limited-but-wonderful capacities for flexibility, productive adaptability, and world shaping.
--Idolatry need not be conscious; in fact idolatry is almost always unrecognized by one who practices. "It seems real." Rather idolatry is defined by its practice, not levels of awareness of idolaters. Usually outsiders can see, e.g., the blindness of lovers, but it is hardly ever seen except in hindsight by those who blindly adore.
--"Idolatry" is a harsh but factual name. Most often when vaguely recognized it is seen in more acceptable terms like: worship, adoration, and love.
--Idolatry is socially acceptable, even supported when directed toward socially approved objects, e.g., political leaders, existing governments (e.g., democracy), parents, loved ones.
--Idolatry is the heart of popular religion.
--Idolatry is unrealistically elevating/degrading--that is, blindly giving unreal powers to an image.
--In mature religion one recognizes actual positive and negative powers and respects each accordingly, but always without judgment of either.
Seeds of idolatry are sown when a human capacity is repressed and, in effect, frozen at the image stage of the Creative Process. Normally, images formed from perceptions (Stage 1) are quickly de-coded, that is, transformed into conceptions (Stage 3) by the use of reasoning. But when this natural process is interrupted at Stage 2, the mental stage is set for initiating idolatry.
Without the benefit of "sense" (Stage 3)--both literally and figuratively--that is, without the use of 5 senses for "making sense," imagination is all we have to shape a perception. In this darkness devoid of reasoning, exaggeration is almost inevitable--as when a child's perception of fear is imagined in the shape of a huge monster.
When denied the light of reason, frozen and typically exaggerated images are kept so via the psychic process or repression, which is always followed by projection. When the content of repression is a human capacity, such as, instinctive selfing and sexuality, it is typically exaggerated and, like a child's monster imaged to give shape to a feeling of fear, projected onto a superhuman image then believed to hold the exaggerated powers.
In reality, all images are fluid (flexible, evolving, changing) like reality itself. They are continually being revised and/or discarded in light of new information mediated by reason ("sense making"). But idolatry begins when any image (usually exaggerated at first) is frozen, giving it the illusion of permanence, and thus inviting one to camp down rather than moving on to revised conceptions ("making more sense") now that a new image is present.
Then, with a frozen or seemingly permanent image, usually of exaggerated proportions, one faces the option of bowing before it, as though it were sacred, or else "keeping on thinking"--that is, going ahead to revise its shape in concepts more fitted with other perceptions.
Secular idolatry is equally unconscious and only recognized as such in hindsight, after an idol's clay feet become apparent. Common male idols outside the confines of popular religion include the more easily recognized gods of Fame, Wealth, Success, and Trophies (Winning). But most universal of all is goddess worship, ancient in time, but often resurrected currently with a local female who is then blindly enthroned, adored, worshiped ("the very ground she walks on"), and unconsciously viewed as the source of personal wholeness (getting a "missing half") and happiness (feeling "on top of the world" when together).
Obviously and predictably such "love" is blind, since its continuation requires not seeing the frozen images on which it is based.
In the sexual arena, where our second strongest instincts are operative, following idolatry (blind, of course) a male's natural sexuality, already repressed in service of social if not religious acceptance, may then be projected onto a woman as a new icon (or various of her body parts, such as, tits and/or ass) which are thereafter vested with powers to "turn me on" or "off," indeed to "make me happy" via limited but idolized acts of intercourse.
Common female idols in secular arenas include: Prince Charming, House Beautiful, Absolute Cleanliness ("next to godliness?"), Perfect Order, Total Peace (Universal Harmony), Ideal Husband, Beautiful Children, plus, of course, since she too has sexual instincts, a Skilled Astronaut ("man with a slow hand") to "fly me to the moon," occasionally ("when I want to go....").
Male gods, such as, a Heavenly Father in Christianity or Allah in Islam, are primarily a male creation which females often go along with but rarely worship with the devotion of many males. Such male gods, I speculate, first evolved in history as a compensation and wished-for replacement for earlier, closer-to-reality female goddesses. With dominant male gods, men more easily project their illusions of male superiority used to cloak the opposite reality--that is, natural superiority of women.
However they first came about, most popular religions are better suited for male than female idolatry. Females more easily pick and choose certain elements of masculine-based religion on which to project their own icons, such as, Jesus (as a religious Prince Charming), or Nurturing (Helping others) for projected motherhood. But in broad perspectives, most male-god religions better serve male idolatry. Even when females go along (in the absence of female goddesses today) they are rarely as devoted as true believer males.
BELIEFS VERSUS BELIEVING
Popular religion is characterized by established beliefs, set ways of thinking about certain ideas and almost all behavior. Although there are many variations in what right beliefs and behaviors specifically are, in common each popular religion is based on the assumption that it possesses the correct beliefs and knows the right way to live--even if its adherents fail to live up to their group's fundamental belief premises.
In contrast, reality-based mature religion is rooted in the existential experience of believing, rather than devotion to any particular beliefs--either about right thinking or acting. Stated negatively, in mature religion there are no sacred beliefs or ways of behaving which are inherently right or wrong apart from particular circumstances.
The ideas of mature religion are fluid and constantly subject to change, either by revision or dropping entirely in light of new information. The ethics of mature religion are always situational rather than regardless--that is, based on what is reasonably right at this time in this place in these circumstances, given one's best available knowledge, rather than on a pre-existing code of approved behaviors established by others.
In colloquial terms right in mature religion is more like "right for me just now" rather than inherently right or wrong regardless of who I am and what is happening at the time. Furthermore, a realistic sense of right, being reality based, is, like reality itself, constantly changing. What is right for one person in one place and time may be wrong for another person just then, and also wrong for the same person later in different circumstances. And vice versa.
But such situational ethics in which one carefully considers all that he knows, including awareness of possibly contrary notions of others, is not to be confused with "anything goes" and "whatever I feel like doing is right for me." Indeed, required attention to all one's knowledge as basis for a proper situational choice is generally more challenging than simply acting out a pre-judged "good" behavior--that is, "deciding for oneself" versus "just following orders."
This is the distinction between being believing and having beliefs (as in popular religion). Believing is daring to live by personal decisions made in light of present knowledge; as such it always requires courage, because each act includes knowledge that I may be wrong. In contrast, with the assumption of having right beliefs, only blind devotion is required--no nerve necessary.
Although the same root word (pistis in Greek) is used for the noun belief (or faith) and the participle believing (or faithing) and interchange is consequently possible, understanding the difference between static nouns (names of things) and lively participles (ing words) implying on-going actions may help clarify this noted difference between the practices of popular and mature religion.
Mature religion always involves the participles believing and faithing as descriptive of on-going processes and evolving ways of being, and only uses the nouns for grammatical purposes--as complete sentences in English require. On the other hand, the nouns of popular religion (beliefs and faith) are understood as literal entities, "its," things-one-may-have (versus be). Thus an adherent of popular religion quite literally possesses his beliefs and has his faith--like "things" gotten, to be protected, defended, perhaps promulgated to others, and constantly subject to losing if not blindly practiced.
In contrast, one may also drop out of mature religion when lively believing (being believing) is formalized into static beliefs--either religious or secular in nature; but continued participation in ever-lively encounters with current reality never allows for such apostasy. In mature religion one is regularly believing, but always without sacred beliefs.
Perhaps another grammatical distinction may help clarify, namely, the difference between being believing, that is, existing in this openly responsive state, and in contrast, having belief in some outside-of-self "object," such as, a god, an idea (called a belief in religion), and/or a form of behavior (often called "being good" or "acting right.").
The believing characteristic of mature religion is an internal condition (a way of being) and is not in anything, either an external "thing" or an internal "self." Mature religion is more like (note metaphor) "believing in yourself" as understood colloquially--that is, rather than "in Jesus," "in Christianity," or "in other people." Still, "in yourself" becomes inaccurate if taken literally (as though one actually has a self to believe in) as those in popular religion do in God.
Furthermore, the believing of mature religion is not even in reality versus illusions. A mature religionist does not simply shift from a belief in God (the familiar illusion in popular religion) to a belief in reality (this so-called "real world" as distinguished from an imagined other-world).
Literally speaking, mature religion is in-the-presence-of both reality and illusions, but not actually in either, subject, for example, to dis-appointment if "it" doesn't perform as expected, or a god "lets you down." In mature religion one is not subject to "being let down (disappointed)" if or when things turn out in unexpected ways, because his believing has always been existential (personal) and never placed in any outside "thing," such as, a predictable world or an omnipotent god.
Those in popular religion are constantly subject to being dis-appointed when things they have appointed to be with illusionary powers prove unworthy of their trust--that is, fail to meet personal expectations. Conversely, those in mature religion, those who be believing wherever they find themselves, in whatever conditions may presently exist, continue believing, since they do not believe in anything in the first place.
Beliefs are to popular religion as believing is to mature religion. Beliefs are frozen notions, the "pause button" on reasonable thinking. In popular religion certain beliefs are idolized and then taken to be essential for salvation.
Believing is living faithfully in the midst of and in personal response to perceived reality.
Although the words come from the same root, the noun, beliefs--like all nouns, stands for static entities, in this case mental notions which have been stopped and frozen in time, whereas the adverb believing represents ongoing experience in the world. Characteristically, because beliefs are essentially dead insofar as they exist in possession of so-called "believers," they require no faith for simply holding and idolizing, unwittingly projecting saving powers into them.
Conversely, believing, as a lively state of present existence in the regular process of creative thinking--where no notion is solidified and made sacred, does indeed require daily courage, faithing in its literal sense.
In mature religion, where mind, like body, is continually operative and nourished with mental "food"--that is, perceptions being regularly taken in and transformed into conceptions, thus creating mental energy, there are no sacred beliefs. No mental image is frozen and certainly not idolized as possessing magical saving powers. Instead, all notions are kept fluid and capable of being continually revised with incoming data as perceptions expand in time.
But in popular religion this type of courageous living is evaded by stopping the normal process of creative thinking, freezing, as it were, particular mental images which are then bowed before as though they possess supernatural powers for transforming personal life for one who simply takes them as sacred.
Closely related, and usually added as a secondary requirement in popular religion, are certain approved behaviors. Sacred beliefs and "right" behaviors in combination are typically taken to be the magical formula for "getting saved" by outside forces (such as, God or Jesus). Usually, however, "right" beliefs (the mental part of the act) are given higher priority in evoking magical powers in one's favor (e.g., salvation via "believing in Jesus"), with "right" behavior coming in second insofar as external power manipulation is concerned.
Even though there is crossover in using these two words, with belief sometimes expanded into believing, taken to mean mind/heart acceptance in popular religion, the distinctions in practice between mental belief and physical, living believing are vast and critical in understanding mature religion.
With these distinctions, believing associated with mature religion is almost the opposite of holding and following sacred beliefs as in popular religion. Although the same word is used, there is in effect no literal believing, no faithing required for success in the illusionary living of popular religion, and no sacred beliefs, no idolized permanent notions, in the daily believing, an earmark of mature religion.
As beliefs are commonly understood in popular religion, there are none in mature religion. However, the word belief may be useful in mature religion also--with further explanation.
Beliefs in mature religion are literally current opinions, that is, reasonable conclusions based on available data, as contrasted with absolute truths in popular religion. For example, the word believe might be used in this way: A person noting rain clouds in the East while the wind is blowing West might say, "I believe it will rain soon," meaning: "This is my opinion based on what I see."
As such, "beliefs" in mature religion are recognized as summaries of currently available information on a given subject as drawn by a particular person. Although such a "belief" may be firmly held at the time, even defended or presented to others, still it remains tentative, subject to change or dropping completely in light of additional information.
Also, because other persons may have differing perceptions and data, leading them to contrary conclusions, no "belief" in mature religion is ever assumed to be universal or right for everyone. When two or more persons are together each may have differing beliefs on any subject. These may be debated as data is shared; but in mature religion neither belief is assumed to necessarily be right for the other person. Even if comparisons are hotly debated there is always an underlying understanding that "I may be wrong and you right; but until I can see differently this is what I believe."
Obviously, with this understanding of beliefs in mature religion there can be no creed, dogma, sacred idea or book requiring acceptance of every believer--that is, no gathering around any one body of beliefs as is so in popular religions. In any group (2 or more) of mature believers many differing conclusions on any subject may be present. The communion of such believers is rooted in mutual acceptance of one another as persons of equal value, even with contrary beliefs on any one subject.
The guideline or criterion for beliefs in mature religion is the honesty of a believer, rather than absolute accuracy of a particular belief. Proper questions are less about rightness than about reasonableness to any given believer. "Does this make sense to me based on my best data?" "Is this how my perceptions add up to me?" "Is it right-for-me even if no one else sees what I see?" "Am I being honest with myself in my opinions on this subject?"
Certainly "beliefs" may be shared in mature religion. When, for example, one has no experience or limited data on a particular subject, he may temporarily accept the ideas of a respected other person. However, he would never conclude that the opinions of others are right-for-me until confirmed by his own perceptions of data and personal sense-making.
In popular religion illusions are solidified into beliefs which one accepts as The Truth, and then has, like mental possessions. Ideally, a believer then tries to "live up" to these beliefs and perhaps to spread them by convincing others to accept them, even as he or she did; but the relevant point here is the existence of mental possessions called beliefs, regardless of what such a believer does with them.
Those in popular religions who are more dedicated to a set of beliefs and who try harder to "live up" to and promulgate them (to evangelize others) may be called "true believers." Less dedicated or more casual members generally accept and agree with most of the approved doctrines but may be lax in their devotion and practice, and rarely try to convince others of their truth. For both, however, their shared religion is based on and exists around a set of basic beliefs taken to be sacred, with more or less relevance to daily living.
Accepted beliefs are maintained by closing one's mind to further examination, such as, applying "sense" or reason. Blind "faith"--that is, accepting-without-question, is a requirement. Doubting or questioning the truth of any accepted belief is predictably a sin to be avoided by true believers.
In sharp contrast, there are no sacred beliefs in mature religion. In the process of maturing, possessed beliefs are laid aside in favor of experiential believing (or faithing). All beliefs are recognized as but ideas or mental constructs, which may or may not be accurate or correct, but in either case exist as temporal notions, not as eternal Truths, certainly not inherently sacred and/or saving.
In mature religion all ideas, both religious and secular, are viewed as opinions which may be potentially useful mental guidelines, "working hypotheses," "theories" in the literal sense of the word--that is, not as Ultimate Truth to be accepted without doubt and/or further questioning.
According to popular religion there are two, distinctly different ways of knowing: 1) Bodily senses and "making sense" or reason; and 2) By faith, that is, hearing/reading/"feeling" and accepting, regardless of sense (even if it doesn't make sense)--that is, cannot be confirmed by physical senses or proven by objective means.
Since the latter way--"By faith," is the primary basis of popular religion, true believers predictably see it as best, and for many the only way of knowing which "really counts." Sense or bodily knowledge--where proof or confirmation by outside (objective) means is possible, and logical reasoning ("making sense") the regular mode, is either ignored/avoided and/or "looked down on" (considered inferior).
Conversely, in the secular world outside of popular religion, the first mode--perception by senses and then "making sense" of what is perceived, is the only credible way to know. Furthermore, even this type of knowledge is considered inadequate until or if it is confirmed by other observers and/or objective experimentation.
A belief is an illusion of certain knowledge, such as, God made the world in 7 days, justice will prevail in the end, good will be rewarded, the dead will be resurrected, or the right thing to do in any situation. When one sincerely believes in any such belief, like true believers do--that is, holds it in mind space with devotion and without doubt, a feeling of confidence and well being predictably follows.
For example, with the illusion of certain knowledge about the right thing to do, such as, the right person to marry or how to rear children rightly, all natural uncertainties in every human decision can be temporarily avoided, along with the realistic requirement of gathering as much information as possible before making up one's mind about what to do.
Or, correspondingly, if one presumes certain knowledge about what is wrong to do, such as, telling a lie or having sex outside of marriage, then one may simply opt to do what is right with the illusion of confidence inherent in certainty. The challenges of weighing myriads of real factors can be avoided, along with the courage required for making up one's own mind.
Indeed, with illusions of any certain knowledge (sacred beliefs), one may feel god-like, even self-righteous, and at the same time avoid facing the real life human situation of making responsible personal decisions at each time and turn of the way.
I enumerate this well known fact as a backdrop for clarifying the opposite situation in mature religion. Mature persons openly and consciously embrace the reality of limited human knowledge in every situation--that is, the absence of absolute truth, such as right and wrong or certainty about any outcome, and hence the necessity of personal courage ("nerve") if one is to live well in the face of vast uncertainties.
Now to the point: In mature religion one musters the personal faith for making all decisions within the framework of limited human knowledge--that is, without ever knowing for sure what is right or wrong or what the final outcome will be, and yet confidently choosing to decide for oneself at each juncture of life.
I call this rare but exciting way to live believing without beliefs--that is, moving confidently through everyday decisions like a true believer, yet without falling into illusions of certainty which are the bread and butter of popular religion.
To clarify this profound distinction, I have coined the participle word faithing as a synonym for believing without beliefs in order to distinguish this active mode of being present from the passive stance of popular religion represented by the noun, faith. As noted before, in popular religion "faith" (as a noun) commonly refers to a mental possession of a believer, even to the body of sacred beliefs of each religion--as evidenced in such statements as "keeping the faith."
Participles, however, such as, believing or faithing, more clearly point to the lively nature of this distinguishing type of human experience in mature religion. Mature persons possess no sacred body of beliefs which they accept "by faith." Instead they move "faithingly" through life, making responsible personal choices in each situation, without any illusions of certainty in regard to such decisions.
Although blindly accepting unverified, even unreasonable ideas as The Truth is typically identified with "having faith" in popular religion, this type of mental closure is sharply different from courageous faithing typical in mature religion.
In summary, the believing or faithing of mature persons reflects personal courage ("nerve" or "guts") required for being present in the real world of sensual experience, and making responsible decisions without the support of illusions of certain knowledge ("true beliefs" or The Truth) as is common in popular religion.
ANALYSIS OF BELIEFS
Religious beliefs are idolized theories, which probably began as honest perceptions formed into images translated into concepts (theories). In mature religion there are no sacred beliefs, because each concept is kept open to revision, even dismissal, in light of further perceptions. Given their flexible, permeable nature, all coordinated concepts (reasonable conclusions based on available data) are necessarily temporary and consequently unworthy of idolization.
In summary, for a mature person all thinking is "just thinking." All summary thoughts are recognized as theories and consequently sacred beliefs are impossible.
In reality all definitive-sounding statements which imply this versus that (e.g., right versus wrong) are literally correct only within the bounds of a particular language structure--that is, the structure and definitions of the given language are what allow this versus that conclusions to exist. Beyond this language, into reality which it evolved to represent, there are no such final answers. Like the image of a snake-biting-its-tail, every "tail" is but the "mouth" of another snake (theory).
FAITH VERSUS FAITHING
Whereas popular religion is characterized by blind faith, certainty in beliefs, and right answers, mature religion can only be understood as the participles of these three nouns, that is, the active and on-going meaning of these root words--faithing, believing, and answering.
Although these distinctions are difficult to make in grammar alone, each may become evident in colloquial expressions and in private experience. Each popular religion, for example, has its own set of beliefs or intellectual assumptions, which are presumed to be absolutely true, permanent, and unchanging. A true believer is certain that his or her accepted beliefs are accurate and correct within themselves. Certainty of beliefs is one of the surest signs of popular religion.
Faith is consequently understood as being absolutely sure that one's beliefs are true, especially when they are not reasonable. Blind, as a modifier of faith, is usually accurate and assumed to be virtuous in popular religions. Taking as true a belief which doesn't make sense, known as "blind faith" is an earmark. The less reasonable a belief is, the more blind faith is required.
Mental closure associated with blind faith is also reflected in a sense of certainty--as though one is absolutely convinced or certain that their beliefs are "right," which becomes another characteristic of true believers. Such persons appear to "know I'm right" and are certain that their beliefs are the correct ones. They "have the answers"--the right ones, that is. Consequently doubt becomes the grand enemy of those who believe themselves to "be right."
In sharp contrast, mature religion, based in revealed reality rather than in mental illusions, has none of these characteristics. With openness of mind, that is, without pre-determined "right answers," one in mature religion is without these popular illusions. He faces reality with full knowledge that he may in fact be wrong in all his premises. Without set or permanent beliefs, he proceeds with believing whatever he has found to be true. He courageously affirms his knowledge confidently, but with full awareness of human limitations--that is, no matter how sensible any notion or idea may be, it may be wrong. Even if an answer is true for him, it may be different for another person with differing perceptions. Or, what is true for one in mature religion at one time, may turn out to be untrue at another time or in different circumstances. Furthermore, as personal knowledge is continually being expanded through on-going experience in life, prevailing answers are constantly subject to revision in light of new perceptions and data.
The certainty of popular religion is replaced by confidence (literal meaning: con = with; fidence = faith) in mature religion. Therefore, with-faith, or faithingly, one confidently proceeds in life with his best knowledge, always in the larger context of knowing that he may in fact be in error. Doubt--that is, continually questioning prior assumptions, is no enemy in mature religion; rather it is a constant companion, always present and inviting one to wider realms of knowing.
Such living on the growing edge of limited knowledge, always answering without certain answers, believing without omniscient beliefs, faithing without owning faith, is inherently exciting. Every encounter becomes a new adventure, inviting the best knowledge one has and calling for fullest presence so that all senses are operative and responding to current reality.
Believing without beliefs is a way of daily living in mature religion, contrasted with beliefs as primary in popular religion.
This is also the accepted way of knowing in the scientific community as well as in the secular world at large, including individual persons who usually want confirmation by others before truly accepting what they have sensed, for example, flying saucers or noises in the night ("Do you see what I see?").
Within the scientific community as well as most of secular society, reliance on sense-data knowledge to the exclusion of faith-based knowing is almost as complete as is popular religion's opposite case. In harder sciences no allowance at all is given to any knowledge not subject to sense verification and/or objective experimental confirmation.
However, many persons, even hard-nosed scientists, who would never accept or credit faith-type knowledge in their own fields may be amazingly tolerant of immensely irrational beliefs in popular religion. Somehow they seem able to, in effect, check their otherwise rational minds at the door of churches or synagogues and uncritically accept or allow-without-conflict notions which make no sense at all to them.
(Because I have never been able to do this, I remain amazed at those who do so!)
A possible explanation is: Since perceptual knowledge (as valued by scientists) is never taken to be final, absolute, unquestionable truth, and consequently always exists on the edge of the unknown, scientists, for example, are familiar and often comfortable with remaining open-minded both to new knowledge in their field of expertise, as well as that in arenas outside their own field of study--such as, popular religion. This mental stance, in sharp distinction from that of true believers in popular religion, may be what allows them to remain open-minded about irrational assertions of popular religion.
IMMATURITY VERSUS MATURITY
As the title Mature Religion infers, another prime distinction in practitioners of each is in degrees of personal maturity--that is, personal wholeness of those who are truly in one or the other. Only to the degree or extent of one's personal maturity is participation in mature religion possible--but, paradoxically, the opposite is not true. While maturity as an individual is an essential requirement for participation in mature religion, and personal immaturity is indeed a major earmark of true believers in popular religion, I do not mean to infer that all those who participate in the activities of popular religion are inevitably or necessarily immature. As amplified in the Introduction, there are many good and practical reasons for open, even active involvement in many of the activities of popular religion. Still, however, sincere belief in the tenants of popular religion is, I conclude, more related to personal repression and resulting immaturity than an attribute of a healthy or whole mind.
Human maturity or personal wholeness is, of course, always a matter of degrees--some persons are less mature, others more so. On a scale of maturity grading from 1 to 10, those in mature religion would score closer to 10 while activists in popular religion would be at 5 or lower. The truest (most fundamental or radical) believers in popular religion might score at 1, while moderates are nearer to 4 or 5. As unrepression and personal maturity advances, so does the likelihood of leaving popular religious beliefs in favor of embracing perspectives of mature religion.
In summary: Mature religion is the life practice of a mature person, the way one lives to the degree of his or her freedom from repression and consequent personal maturity as a human being. Such a person may or may not think of his living as religious because the term has for so long been identified with popular religions only. From the perspective of popular religion, mature religion is in fact a religion-less religion in the sense that it involves no special practices or beliefs apart from the way a mature person lives. His life, we might say, is his religion--not something he has to practice or not, as is so with popular religion.
Because, as noted before, personal maturity is always a matter of degrees--some persons being less mature, others more so, and perhaps no one (so far as I know) being completely mature, what I describe here is, in effect, an ideal as best I can project or extrapolate based on limited knowledge I now have about the subject.
Therefore, in practice, the following descriptions and comparisons I make will only be accurate and applicable to the degree of one's personal maturity. The more mature one is, the more nearly accurate my descriptions will be. The less mature one is, the less accurate my ideals will be for that person.
For the very repressed, they will be proportionately inaccurate and probably make no sense at all. The contrasting perspectives and stances of popular religion are more compatible with personal immaturity (as I understand it to be).
In fact, immaturity resulting from personal repression is perhaps the prime requirement for devotion to any of the popular religions. The more repressed one is, the more devoted he is apt to be to his version of popular religion. As levels of maturity (wholeness) advance, dedication to popular religion will predictably decrease--except as one continues its practice for social and personal rather than religious reasons. So called true believers--those with "unshakable faith," are more likely to be the most personally repressed of all, and least likely to see any truth in my perspectives. In fact, they may even view my thinking as evil and of the devil, and me in great need of salvation.
But the relevant question now is: what is maturity and immaturity?
First of all, unfortunately the terms immature and mature often have judgments attached, such that the first is "bad" or looked down on, while the second is "good" and elevated. Accordingly, one "should not be immature" and "ought to be mature."
Although I cannot erase these familiar associations, for clarification I intend no such judgments here, but only use the clearest terms I know to distinguish two ends of a continuum, the first being more comparable with those in popular religion, and the latter as essential for mature religion.
Obviously, in accord with biological development, I consider "growing up" to be more natural and sensible than remaining immature, even if sanctioned by popular religion. Still, however, I intend no judgment of either condition--only that they are clearly different in many fundamental ways which can be easily associated with these two terms.
Mature religion is not only to be understood in sharp distinction from popular religion, but also as different from the religious practices of many who have either dropped out or never been directly involved in popular religion. I say directly, because most of the world today is so deeply infused with precepts of popular religion that even those persons who have never been actively engaged in its direct practice are almost inevitably under its influence--by mental osmosis if not conscious belief.
Maturity, as I view it, is being fully human--that is, existing with all natural (inherited) capacities embraced and activated. In broadest summary this means continually participating in the Creative Process of all human experience--that is, Perceiving, Imaging, Conceiving, and Becoming (absorbing concepts or knowledge into oneself). In colloquial language this can be summarized as being open to experiencing the world as presented--"being present" and continually "learning from experience."
As such, maturity is not a static state of arrival at some completed form of existence, such as, adulthood for a physical body, or a perfected spiritual state, such as sainthood, for a person in popular religion. Rather it is a way-of-being, a mode-of-living, which may exist at any age or in any social/religious structure.
To be mature, in this understanding, is to regularly exist with the natural creative process activated in daily living--that is, to always be perceiving and metaphoring images from each perception, which are continually being de-coded--that is, transformed into sensible conceptions, which are themselves always in the process of being absorbed into oneself as we literally become what we know (rather than holding knowledge in mind as a mental conception only).
Obviously, with this definition of maturity, adults are not necessarily mature, even if their bodies are full grown, and children may in fact be more mature than their parents as long as they continue to exist naturally--with the creative process activated in daily living. Maturity is consequently to be measured by anyone's existence within this natural way-of-being. To the degree that one exists as him or herself in this natural mode-of-living, then he or she is to the same extent a mature person as I mean the term here; or, conversely, to the degree that one negates the creative process and tries to live outside it (as in, freezing images and stopping sense-making), he or she is immature (not fully human).
As related to my subject, Mature Religion, I choose the modifier mature because this is the best description I have found for one who exists in a religion rooted in reality rather than illusions. From this perspective, those in popular religion may also be seen as immature, at least in their religious practices, because they have stopped the creative process insofar as their religious experiences are concerned. They exist with frozen images, solidified beliefs, which they in effect bow before rather than remaining fully human with them. They blindly idolize their illusions rather than continuing to decode them into sensible concepts.
For clarity, one further observation is necessary: seeing these distinctions between maturity and immaturity does not require a moral judgment of either. Insofar as ethics are concerned maturity is not better than immaturity. Nor is it bad to be immature. Maturity is in fact "more" than immaturity in that more of one's natural capacities are activated when he "keeps on thinking" about religious topics; but this does not mean better in any judgmental sense.
Immaturity, in this view, is "less" than maturity because unfreezing images (illusions) is not allowed; still, there is nothing wrong with "being immature (as in popular religions)" in any ethical sense.
NON-SCIOUSNESS VERSUS CONSCIOUSNESS
Another difference between popular and mature religion is: non-sciousness and consciousness. Popular religion is rooted in unconscious choices based on personal repression and requires continued suppression of natural thinking. It is, in effect, a psychological trick--that is, the result of abnormal mental activity. Real experiences commonly occurring in infancy, such as, personal irresponsibility, loving protection and care by outside forces (parents), and a resulting feeling of well-being, as though the universe exists as one's personal domain, are, through the capacity of imagination, re-created in un-real illusions which are then assumed to be real.
In psychological language, popular religion is delusional, that is, based on illusions believed by adherents to be reality. Needless to say, those who participate in such imaginary states do not see them as such. Indeed their delusions seem to be (note metaphor) more real than the experienced world around them. And the more religious one becomes in popular religion--that is, the more dedicated and devoted to its practice, the more delusional he or she also becomes. Doubters who still participate may be less delusional, but degrees of mental repression are still required.
The nature of these delusions varies from one major religion to another, as well as between various sects within each popular religion. But in general these psychological premises include projection of actual childhood experiences, either real or wished for, onto imaginary figures who are believed to keep infantile states operative past nursery times.
Specifically these typically include belief in a heavenly father assumed to be like an idolized earthly parent figure--that is, a superhuman person or force who manages the world and is well capable of taking care of individual persons if--again drawing analogies from actual parents, one "does right" and "sincerely believes" in his existence and powers.
A primary requirement of making delusional beliefs operative is personal submission, both in mind and body. One gives up natural thinking--that is, making sense, being reasonable, thinking for oneself, or using inherited mental powers for correlating personal conceptions with actual perceptions.
As with mind, so with body and behavior. Just as a true believer gives up his capacity to think for himself and draw sensible conclusions from his experience, so he gives up inherited options for choosing personal behavior. Instead of deciding on how to act and what to do in life, one submits his behavior to directions from external powers. He, in effect, turns himself over to the imagined powers of a superhuman figure or force. In Christianity, for example, he "gives his life to God (or Jesus)" who is thereafter assumed to be in charge of his thinking, choices, and behavior.
Although those who participate in such delusions--unconsciously, of course, typically assume themselves to be virtuous in their dedications, in actual fact they abandon self-responsibility and look to their father-figure to take care of them--when and if they "live up" to appropriate submission to him, similar to "behaving oneself" or "minding one's mother."
For clarity I digress to note another mental distinction commonly ignored in popular thought, namely, the difference between natural unconsciousness--that is, inherited bodily functions which easily operate without personal awareness or attention, such as, breathing, digesting food, circulating blood, feeling emotions, etc., plus personally learned experience, and what I have termed non-sciousness. Truly unconscious functions may sometimes be noted in awareness (consciousness), but ordinarily operate, as it were, "on their own," that is, independent of conscious thought.
That which is unconscious may or may not be subject to awareness, e.g., feelings of anger or passion; but in either case it exists independent of conscious thinking. One cannot simply decide, for example, to fall in love or feel passion. Truly unconscious events seem to "just happen" as though they have a mind of their own.
In distinction, non-scious--meaning not-conscious (rather than un-conscious), material begins in awareness and would naturally remain so; but is, instead, "pushed out," as it were, suppressed from awareness, and may eventually be re-pressed all together--that is, consciously forgotten. In this process one thereafter consciously exists as though "it never happened."
Achieving non-sciousness is unnatural--that is, a psychological process, and only occurs via mental abuse--searing, as it were, one's natural mind. At first, one may simply "try not to think about" whatever he wishes to deny in consciousness. In such lessor degrees of non-sciousness the thought (perception, idea, feeling, etc.), though denied, may yet be remembered (held and resurrected in mind space), and even "keep coming back uninvited."
But in time, with continued suppression, the mind becomes, as it were, damaged, injured, and rendered relatively dysfunctional as naturally evolved, in proportion to the degree of established repressions.
That's the bad news; but the good news is that non-sciousness can result in temporary states of euphoria and a conscious sense of well-being, apart from threatening or unpleasant perceptions denied space in consciousness. These states of illusionary happiness may even be extended through carefully arranged circumstances, contacts, and conditions--such as, organized religion and assorted religious practices (e.g., repeated rituals, church attendance, prayer, bible reading, "good" behavior, etc.) designed to promote and maintain states of non-sciousness--at least until such times as "reality rears its ugly head" breaking through mental barriers erected in the process of achieving functional non-sciousness.
In summary, unconscious knowledge is natural, either inherited in genetic structures or acquired in personal experience (e.g., facial recognition). But non-sciousness is an unnatural state in which natural knowledge and knowing is negated through a psychological process technically known as suppression and repression. In this process, one in effect moves "out of reality" and into a fictitious state of relative non-being. Instead of remaining whole, that is, in a natural state of "being who he is," he comes to exist in a self-deprived condition of being less than would otherwise be so.
The short term result of becoming non-scious in regard to certain life experiences deemed unpleasant or threatening may, of course, be beneficial at the time. Pushing certain immediate perceptions out of consciousness in order to focus more clearly on other memories or concepts may indeed be a creative use of natural mental capacities; but the problems of non-sciousness quickly emerge when such brief periods of selective attention become habitual in any arena of life--that is, when limited attention phases into further suppression and eventually becomes relatively solidified in full fledged repression.
Non-sciousness in popular religion is in direct opposition to consciousness which is essential for mature religion. Whereas popular religion is rooted in non-sciousness and requires continued practice in avoiding insight, mature religion is based in fullest measures of consciousness.
Stated in degrees, as human experience typically is, the more non-scious one is, the more successful he will predictably be in popular religion; but the more conscious he becomes the less satisfying he will find the images and rituals of popular religion to be. And conversely, the more conscious one becomes, the greater the likelihood of experiencing mature religion.
In colloquial language, "being reasonable" is dangerous in popular religion. Only blind devotion to established beliefs, often seen as "taking it all on faith," can lead to successful participation. Consequently, science, higher education, and counseling (therapy) are all threats to popular religion because each requires "using your head" or looking openly at data available to the senses.
In counseling, for example, the mode of seeking improved living involves bringing non-scious types of reactions and behavior into awareness, that is, becoming more conscious about what is actually happening in one's personal life and relationships. But whereas such expanded consciousness may lead to greater degrees of success in counseling, it will predictably become a threat to religious beliefs essential for success in popular religion. And so with scientific explorations and all other forms of "thinking for yourself."
In summary, popular religion is characterized by non-sciousness while mature religion comes with consciousness.
CONTENT OF CONSCIOUSNESS
By definition, con-sciousness means with-knowing; in contrast, non-sciousness, as previously explored, means not-knowing. To be conscious means to have one's mind open to awareness of personal perceptions and images which naturally evolve from whatever one has sensed. Metaphorically, consciousness may be likened to "mind space" available like a blank stage ready for a play to begin (mental production). When one is conscious this human capacity for "holding data in mind space" is active and embraced.
Personal experience is subject to full awareness on this metaphored "stage of the mind." Perceptions (whatever is sensed via the 5 basic sense capacities) are invited into awareness--entertained, as it were, on the stages of an open mind. Sights and sounds, for example, are acknowledged in awareness. Whatever one sees, whether or not it is seen by others, is openly recognized. And so with what one hears, smells, or feels.
Likewise with the images (mental pictures) one naturally forms from whatever his or her perceptions happen to do. These too are openly invited into awareness, allowed to play freely on the stages of one's mind. If, for example, a perception of fear is imaged as a ghost (a mental picture giving form to the feeling), then one who is conscious allows himself to entertain and confront the ghost openly in awareness.
The third phase of natural mental experience, following perceiving (#1) and imaging (#2) is conceiving--that is, transforming perceptions and images into concepts (mental ideas or notions). Conceiving may be seen in colloquial language as "making sense (mental)" of what one has sensed (physically) and imaged "in his head."
Conceiving is "being reasonable," or, in effect, "adding up" perception experience into a "sum total" which includes all available data in a cohesive summary. The crucial element in realistic conceiving is "making sense to me"--that is, adding up all one's personal experience, as contrasted with accepting concepts (ideas) from others or dishonestly omitting some of what one knows in order to agree with other persons--that is, not truly "being reasonable" with the sum total of prior perceptions and images.
Understanding the difference between non-sciousness and con-sciousness is a necessary basis for recognizing the predictable results of each.
Non-sciousness, rooted in repression of certain aspects of self (usually those which are problematic in relationships with others, beginning with parents and extending to society in general), predictably results in inner-division. Problematic parts of oneself are ruled out of awareness (kept off "center stage" of the mind) and then treated as though gone or non-existent. At the same time, self typically comes to be identified instead with imaginary aspects of oneself which are less in conflict with worldly relationships--a "good self" we might say, in contrast with the "bad self" which is repressed in quest of acceptance by others.
What begins with real self-created images emerging from actual perceptions phases into imaginary mental shapes which are then taken to be real, even though they only exist in reality as figments of one's imagination. Although they are assumed to be real to one who has repressed parts of his thinking capacities, namely, the inherited ability to make sense of experience, they are in fact illusions which only seem to be real--like mirages of water in a dry desert.
And when such illusions are treated as real over extended time, they become delusions--which are even more problematic in experience. An illusion of water in a desert, for example, may begin with an innocent miscalculation about sense data. Rising heat waves may easily be mistaken as reflections on water. But with natural thinking, one continues to consciously think about other known facts as he weights everything in quest of a sensible conclusion. "How," for example, "would a lake get in a desert?" "I must be seeing things," etc.
But with continued focus on an original vision and through repression--the denial of larger mental capacities for being reasonable, an illusion may easily be taken as reality and thereby formed into a full-fledged delusion. Such a thirsty traveler might abandon his camel (or car) and rush pell-mell into the distant heat, even trying to draw water from the dry sand.
As suppression precedes repression, so illusions are the first step toward delusions.
DELUSIONS AND POWER
Although delusions are patently unreal outside their existence in the minds of those who have hardened their illusions into such solidified images (forms of imagination), they may nevertheless operate thereafter as though (note metaphorical state) possessing great powers. In fact the actual B.T.U.'s of energy expended by those caught up into delusions is often greater, at least more concentrated, than forces exhibited by those using normal, real mental powers related to sensible conceptions.
"Believing it is so"--whether or not it is, can, as is often evident, seem more powerful at the time than consciously knowing differently. It would perhaps be difficult to overestimate the powers commonly associated with deeply entrenched beliefs cut off from refining forces of reason. When divided, as in a repressed person, from the following natural stage of creating sensible conclusions, the powers of blind belief will almost always overwhelm the more advanced though still fragile forces of sighted reasoning.
Relevant here are the possibly positive values of blind beliefs as exhibited in popular religion. Feelings of wholeness and unity rooted in illusions of favorable connections with the images of one's imagination are often vast, comforting, satisfying, and even to be envied by those who have become partially dis-illusioned--that is, moved further along the natural course of creative thinking by transforming their images (illusions) into conceptions.
Illusion-based feelings of personal well-being may become even more magnified in the company of others who share similar illusions. Identification of one's self with his private illusions is supported and expanded when apparently shared by other persons. This, I conclude, accounts for the temporal states of euphoria in true believers and the vast appeal of churches made up of gatherings of like-minded persons--that is, those with matching delusions.
My analysis of this psychic phenomenon with so many temporarily evident advantages--that is, the sense of power one attributes to and thereafter sees in his or her personal illusions and seems to experience in the company of other true believers is this: The nature of the psychic device, repression, is that repressed consciousness--"thinking" which is suppressed from awareness, is not simply of the ideas or notions avoided in remaining at the image stage of thinking, but also of personal powers generated in the process of creative thinking. Perceiving, imaging, and conceiving--the first three stages of natural thinking, are each accompanied with generation of bodily powers, "B.T.U.'s of energy," we might say.
But when we repress, even though we lose awareness of these personal powers, along with concepts thwarted from development when we stop at stage 2, the generated forces do not "go away," except from consciousness. In fact, they may even be exaggerated via repression, like pushing on the sides of a balloon seems to increase inside forces pushing back.
But cut off or lost from personal possession, such powers are inevitably projected "out there." Projection is simply the flip-side of repression. They go together, inextricably bound. What we repress "in here"--that is, exclude from awareness via non-sciousness, invariably appears reflected in whatever images we at first created ourselves.
This, I conclude, is what happens with images solidified into illusions. Self-generated powers which would normally become available for the next level of creative thinking are repressed within a person who denies expanded consciousness; but, though lost to personal awareness, they continue to exist in reality--even magnified through the mechanisms of denial, demanding, as it were, to be recognized in some form.
Images created in the imagination of non-scious persons become the fortunate recipients of these repressed/projected powers. Thereafter, blindly em-powered illusions mistaken for reality also seem capable of wielding vast powers over those who project onto them. The gods and devils, angels and demons, for example, in popular religion are typically assumed to actually be all-powerful, even omnipotent, as in, creating the universe and continuing to hold superhuman control over it and all planets, plants, animals, and people therein.
These blindly projected forces, only seen reflected in mirrors of self-created images assumed to be "out there," are further magnified by continued repression of even the most self-evident personal forces. Best Christians, for example, attempt to be totally submissive, subservient, and even impotent in the face of their assumed-to-be omnipotent God. "I can't do anything, but I have a God who can do everything," or so goes a popular belief of the truest believers.
The greater one's degrees of personal repression and its consequent projection onto "out there" images, the greater the powers of such illusions are thereafter taken to be. And, in the category of positive results, the greater the sense of happiness and well-being such a person may seem to experience, either now or to be anticipated in an equally imagined here-after--at least temporarily or as long as continually reinforced repression allows keeping illusions intact and apart from the often disruptive forces of reality.
Consciousness is to mature religion as non-sciousness is to popular religion. Just as popular religion is rooted in non-sciousness and requires its continued reinforcement in order to work, so consciousness is one of the surest earmarks of mature religion. The more conscious a person becomes--that is, the more diligent he or she is in facing the challenges of un-repression, the more predictable mature religion becomes.
Like popular religion, the aim of mature religion is fuller well-being--that is, personal happiness; but unlike popular religion the well-being of mature religion is based in reality rather than illusions--that is, happiness associated with mature religion is rooted in fuller personal presence in the world as we find it, not in dedication to illusions of how we might wish it were and imagine it to be.
SUPER MAGICIAN VERSUS ULTIMATE REALITY
To have a god (either one or more) is to practice idolatry, regardless of how devoted one may be to its worship. Yet this is the second most primary belief of popular religions. In contrast, mature believers have no gods, either sacred or secular. Instead they are godly--that is, they exist with finite activation of infinite attributes commonly projected onto gods and goddesses of all sorts. More specifically, mature persons who are god-like (not literal gods), are creative, possessive of limited powers and knowledge, and are supremely mortal (as distinguished from an idolized god commonly seen as The Creator who is omni-powerful (ruling the world), omniscient (knowing everything) and is immortal (having all the time).
The sin of having a god (either consciously or unconsciously), as viewed from the perspective of mature religion, lies in the required repression of real human aspects of oneself "in here" which are then projected onto an imaginary superhuman figure "out there." The widely assorted activities of popular religion (worship, prayer, good behavior, services to others, etc.) are ultimately aimed at impressing an idol-ized god in hopes of securing his favors, either now and/or later.
Regardless of how it is viewed by a practitioner (most see it as a sacred requirement for the rewards of God's help now and his gift of a better life later), any such subjugation of self and adoration of other is more clearly seen as idolatry--which, even as viewed from within a religion engaged in its practice, is often seen as sinful when recognized as related to the gods of other religions (e.g., breaking the First Commandment of Christianity).
In mature religion one has no such gods, nor does he practice any form of idolatry based on repressing natural human attributes and consequently projected (in mind's eye) "out there" onto an idol of any sort--either material (like an icon on a mantle or a woman in bed) or immaterial (such as, a "spiritual" image or public approval). Instead, he embraces all inherited attributes and capacities in a worship-full manner and responsibly seeks to work out his own salvation during this gifted life time.
Summary: One can worship a god (which is literally idol-atry) in hopes of wielding its powers in personal ways--the belief of popular religion, or one can be a person without gods, exercising inherited human capacities responsibly and worshipfully, in quest of heaven here.
The latter is the perspective of mature religion.
It is easy to see how Christian gods are viewed in the imagery of a Heavenly Father, because repression and resulting idolatry (belief in an all-powerful god) is typically begun in early family settings when an "earthly father" is commonly seen as Head of Household or the most powerful real figure in a child's family. Consequently, when images are first being frozen, as is the nature of popular religion, that they be exaggerations of real figures is easily predictable.
The move from seeing a real, powerful, earthly father to exaggerating his image into a super-powerful Heavenly Father must seem quite sensible at the time.
In older, pre-historic cultures where mother was still recognized as the most powerful family figure, imaging goddess figures--as seems to have been the case, would be equally sensible. Male gods, as currently dominate popular religion, are, I think, themselves a cover story for even more deeply repressed typical male knowledge, namely, of the actually greater powers of mother rather than father insofar creating life and daily living is concerned.
I theorize that all small children yet to fall under the debilitating powers of repression easily see through the now-accepted charade of father on a throne and mother as the "little woman" behind the throne. In real life, past or before this typical male illusion, small children must yet see that the true ruling force in present living is in the hands of mother who determines limits of immediate satisfactions, rather than in a largely absent father who is said to be Head of Household or King on the Throne.
Point: Before male religious gods are imagined, most children live daily with a female secular goddess-as-such, even if religious beliefs do not yet exist. I suspect that early learned responses to a female goddess not recognized as such, lie buried below all images of a supposedly real male god.
Although masculine god images are the idols of all present popular religions, I suspect that the pilgrimage of every male adherent on the path to wholeness and mature religion will involve unrepressing the more primal existence of goddess images underlying male gods.
Unrepression of easier-to-recognize male idolatry will, I theorize, be followed by even more deeply denied primal adoration of a female goddess--that is, earlier worship of a mother figure.
All this before freedom from idolatry is found in mature religion.
Of the three traditional views of God: theism, atheism, and agnosticism, mature religion is more like the third, yet not the same because it has a sensible perspective on beliefs in gods, rather than simply leaving it as an unknown, since it can neither be proved or disproved by sense data.
BELIEVING IN GOD
To sincerely believe in a god
is to blindly practice idolatry
According to latest polls
some 75 to 80% of Americans
practice such idolatry
HOW GODS MAY BE CREATED
I. Basic premises:
A. Creative Process of all human experience: perceiving, imaging, conceiving, becoming.
B. Process is commonly interrupted by the psychic device of repression--that is, pushing urges (instincts) and their natural expression out of conscious awareness.
C. Projection is the second half, the inevitable result, of repression. What is denied within does not actually go away, but only becomes lost to conscious awareness as a part of oneself. Then this "elephant in the room" is only seen as mirrored or reflected in various outside images.
D. Perceptions, the first step in the human process, are both external and internal. We get messages from "out there" beyond our skins, and also from within our skins, in the form of urges, inclinations, or feelings.
E. Perceptions from "out there" may be immediately explored with one or more of our five basic senses. A "dog," for example, can be seen and thus measured for size and shape, heard (barking etc.), smelled, and touched (if one is brave)--that is, "grasped" more realistically because we have various ways of comparing differing perceptions.
But perceptions from "in here," such as, urges and feelings (e.g., inclinations to bite or hit and feelings of fear), are not easily subject to sense evaluation. Fear, for example, cannot be seen, heard, smelled, or touched, and yet it exists as a powerful perception. Consequently the process of forming images of internal perceptions is vastly more complicated than "picturing" what is grasped (perceived) "out there."
F. In order to properly represent internal perceptions in appropriate images, the natural tendency is to create large representations because feelings, for example, do indeed seem to be "big." Fear, for instance, "feels huge." Consequently it truly needs a huge image to accurately represent what it "feels like." If a sound in the dark elicits strong fear, then a scary image, such as, a ghost, monster, tiger under the bed, etc. is properly called for.
And so with all other strong instincts structuring the genetic nature of human beings. What is felt to be "big" needs a large image to accurately represent what one is inwardly experiencing.
When any personal capacities are repressed within they are inevitably projected without. What is not seen "in here" is reflected "out there." Almost always the projected form, like that on a movie screen, is greater (more exaggerated) than it actually exists in the "projector (body of one who projects)," due to the nature of human imagination.
G. But without the benefit of 5 good senses for measuring an internal perception, as is always possible with external "graspings," the predictable tendency is to exaggerate or create enlarged images for mirroring what is actually perceived "inside." Just as an image of a limb moving in the wind or a board squeaking in the night--which might in fact be the real case, would at first seem inadequate for representing the size of a "felt" fear, leading to first imaginations (literally, image-making) of robbers, ghosts, monsters, etc., so it is with all other inside perceptions.
It is, therefore, natural to imagine powerful images to represent strong internal perceptions which are not subject to measurement with the five senses.
Inward perceptions are more difficult to image realistically than outward perceptions because such "pictures" are limited to imagination only. Whereas sight, hearing, smell, and touch can be used in shaping images of external perceptions, leading to a more comprehensive ("realistic") picture, inward perceptions are far more sense-limited.
Since, for example, fear cannot be grasped with the eyes, nose, ears, or fingers, determining its appropriate or realistic "size" is difficult to do. One typical result, given the extent of our imaginations made possible by expanded consciousness, is that inward perceptions tend to be exaggerated out of proportion to how they might be pictured, were other bodily senses available to more realistically shape the representing image.
For example, if one is unaccustomed to pain (an inward perception) and eats spoiled food for the first time, he may get a painful stomach ache. He may then "feel like I'm about to die"--probably an exaggeration of actual facts, and yet the powerful image of death itself associated with such pain may seem highly appropriate for one with such a pain.
H. Even so, when an external stimulus for inward perceptions is examined objectively--that is, by discovery and measurement with senses, it commonly turns out to be less powerful than the, for example, monster which first represented a night fear.
I. Point: Although we tend to imagine grand images for mirroring strong internal perceptions, in reality, they are commonly found to be exaggerated once de-coded into sensible concepts (Stage 3 in the Creative Process). Actually, all internal urges, drives, and feelings turn out to be relatively small and limited when examined in the light of consciousness. Fears, for example, giving rise to (projected onto) powerful ghosts and/or monsters, when evaluated in the light of day commonly turn out to be less than they seemed in the dark--that is, limited and hence manageable.
J. But--and this is the critical point here: left un-decoded at the picture stage of human experience, all created images cannot but remain in their initially exaggerated forms. Without proceeding to Stage 3, conceiving, we have no choice but to live with assorted ghosts which were at first proper mirrors onto which we naturally projected our first fears--etc., etc.
K. What are the major human capacities which become activated and expressed via the Creative Process? I have so far illustrated with the single emotion of fear, but this is only one element in overall human capacities. What are the larger gifts of Mother Nature to all us her creations?
In my analysis I find 3 primal capacities which are activated in one major human ability. These are: power, knowing, and "livingness," which activate themselves in personal creativity.
1. Power. First, all perceptions generate energy or power. Inevitably, fear, for example, is accompanied by the creation of energy-to-act. And so, I hold, with all other perceptions. Perceiving, we might say, is "ex-citing," or energy-producing. Each type of perception generates differing degrees of force, but all come with some power. An external sight (e.g., seeing light or a bright color) is less moving than an internal emotion (like fear), but both occur with degrees of resulting power.
2. Knowing. When the Creative Process proceeds normally, seemingly powerful images (e.g., ghosts, monsters, etc.) of Stage 2 are naturally de-coded into concepts at Stage 3. This mental process is called knowing or "learning from experience." In the noun form, this is known as "acquiring knowledge." Once power is generated via perceiving, then shaped into images and de-coded into concepts, we "know" something. As experiences escalate, we regularly come to "know more and more." Such knowing is, I observe, the second primary human capacity activated in the Creative Process. (e.g., Why? questions of "Terrible Twos")
3. Livingness. Power and knowledge lead naturally to a perception of life itself--that is, embodied "liveliness" or "knowing life" in its constantly changing forms. Later on, once names become available, this third capacity may be called mortality--that is, literally being a bodied creation, a "one" encased by skin. This third major human capacity is the basis for later concepts of self or soul--that is, illusions of existence as a separate "one" who is apart from "outside" reality.
4. Creativity. When the three primal capacities are embraced and activated in daily life, natural human creativity is the predictable expression. Creativity involves shaping the world as best we can in accord with instinctual satisfactions--that is, using power and knowledge to make things fit in with inherited desires in increasingly more satisfying ways. Nothing is more natural for unrepressed children than to immediately and consistently engage in "making the world" into their own version of the Garden of Eden, beginning with "creating" parents who act in accord with an infant's inherited desires.
Guided by major instincts for survival and replication, we humans are immensely flexible and adaptable to a multitude of circumstances--more so than any other complex life form evolved so far. Within this context, and before repression, we are naturally and expansively creative.
II. Results: GODS
Now back to my subject of how gods may be created. I theorize that the easily observable process of imaging a single emotion, such as, fear, in the form of a huge monster is but a simple example of the far more complex but still comparable process of imaging major human capacities in the form of a grandly magnificent god (or gods).
When either or all of these inherited human capacities are repressed, usually in service of social acceptance, beginning with parents and extending later to siblings, peers, community, etc., the natural progression of experience (Creative Process) is, in effect, squelched at the image level. With repression we begin by "trying not to think about it"--that is, to de-code images into concepts, and eventually suppress the capacity so fiercely that we no longer see "it" as a part of ourselves (in psychological language, we dis-associate our sense of ourselves from a threatening or unacceptable capacity).
But, as is the nature of repression, the flip side of this experiential coin is projection--that is, seeing "out there" what is denied "in here." This juncture, I hold, is where gods may first be created--"conceived" we might say, in a literal sense of the word.
When repression of major human capacities, namely, power, knowing, livingness, and their activation in creativity, occurs, they are inevitably projected into an appropriately representational form--as is the nature of all other smaller repression/projections. But the nature of overall human gifts in combination is so grandly wonderful that when their natural forces are repressed within, they need, indeed require, a fantastic image to reasonably represent them.
And, as with all other simpler repressions, when deprived of evaluation by the five senses (as is possible with external perceptions), exaggeration is the predictably result. Natural, inherently limited, human perceptions are easily exaggerated into supernatural proportions. Naturally limited human power, for example, "potency" we might call it, is easily imagined in its grandest form, that is, "omni-potency."
Naturally limited human knowing, when repressed and projected onto an exaggerated form, easily become supernatural "omni-science." Natural livingness or human mortality projected into its grandest proportions becomes "immortality." When, for example, knowledge of an obviously limited "fourscore and ten" year tenure is repressed and projected in its most exaggerated form, boundaried livingness becomes "ever-lasting life."
Furthermore, when the fullest expression of human capacities, namely, limited creativity, is repressed within and thus projected without, it too is predictably formed into a superhuman creator who not only made everything, but also, with his omnipotency, continues to manage all that is, "forever and ever."
This, I theorize, is what may have happened in the formation of popular religions. Once personal repression in service of social acceptance occurs--as appears to be so in all civilizations in recorded history, then personal projection predictably follows. And in the case of overall human capacities for power, knowledge, life, and creativity, these grand natural abilities require an even grander supernatural image to properly reflect deep awareness now darkened by the psychic device of repression.
An omnipotent, omniscient, immortal creator is, I conclude, but a predictable consequence of human repressions throughout the course of recorded history so far. Although such gods vary in overall descriptions as well as degrees of power and control from one religion to another and in the projections of adherents of each religion, various of these imaged attributes are the substance of gods which are the primal images (and idolatry) of each popular religion.
And as with organized popular religions, so with the gods of secular segments of society.
SANTA CLAUS AND GOD
Santa Claus, plus the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are to secular society in America as is God, plus Jehovah and Allah, to popular religions around the world. Each of these graphic images may be a proper metaphor for introducing children to grander human experiences they have evolved to represent, which may yet lie beyond the knowledge of those who hear of them.
These secular images, however, represent much smaller experiences, such as tradition, caring parents, and the elusive Spirit of Giving--each of which is difficult if not impossible to convey in literal language to small children.
But the second more universal images, easily able to cross borders of nations and blood lines of ethnic groups, though still in the same category of language metaphors (figures of speech), represent significantly, even infinitely more expansive human experiences, namely, spiritual encounter with the ultimate in reality--not merely a meeting of sense perceptions, (like seeing a sunset or tasting sugar), but indeed an encounter between the wholeness of an individual (body, mind, and spirit connected) and the essence of reality itself, that is, the absolute apex of human possibilities, the place and time where maximum happiness phases into eternal joy, where fulfilled immanence is miraculously transformed into personal transcendence.
Young minds, yet unaware of vaster dimensions of potential human experience lying beyond sense perceptions and instinct satisfactions, such as, food and defecation, are, through the use of these familiar metaphorical images, invited to look beyond individual obvious facts of gifts at Christmas and Easter, or compensation for lost teeth, to even greater possible experiences as their physical and mental capacities expand.
Such images point, as it were, to even greater human possibilities than many tangible presents once a year, or mere monetary compensation for personal losses. Ideally, they serve to keep young minds open through the door of imagination to rich social, even beginning spiritual options yet ahead.
And so with the grander metaphor of an omnipotent Sky Father, a Cosmic Magician, a Super-Daddy as it were, in many ways like an ideal father in the home, yet infinitely greater in his powers and certainly without the flaws so obvious in many earthly fathers. Most every child knows something of the immediate, though often all too limited, satisfactions found in having a good daddy; what better image is universally available for pointing toward the infinitely greater culminating human possibility of encountering not just an obvious-to-senses bit of human reality in the home, but to the yet unreachable (due to limited development of consciousness and dearth of personal experience) possibility of literally knowing ultimate reality?
Ideally, all such imaginary images, both secular and religious, functional metaphors pointing beyond themselves toward human possibilities yet ahead, are de-coded as soon as emerging capacities evolve, into concepts which may open the door for experiences they could only point toward before.
In the case of more limited secular images (Santa Claus, etc.), as reasoning powers of consciousness expand and additional knowledge is gained, a growing child soon begins to see through the metaphors themselves, hopefully beginning to also know the larger experiences they were created to represent, e.g., the wealthy powers of social traditions for shaping and maintaining communal connections, the potential of larger love beyond genetically structured parental care, the possibility of human wealth past what money can buy, and, of course, the grander Spirit of Giving which lies well beyond the temporal satisfactions of getting.
And in the case of more universal religious images, such as, an all-powerful Super Magician in the sky, lie the larger spiritual possibilities of seeing the grandly miraculous nature of perceived reality on the earth itself; of knowing transcendence of self which can only be glimpsed in the delights of sexual orgasm where ego is briefly escaped; of exodus from entrapment in limited dimensions of time and space into the freedom of knowing eternity and heaven here; of embracing human capacity for creating meaning in even the simplest and seemingly most mundane of ventures in a universe devoid of inherent wonder; of becoming creative oneself as contrasted with the far lessor illusions of possessing an Omnipotent Creator of the universe and us within it; of believing daily without the burden and limitations of specific beliefs; of living freely and responsibly in the ever-unfolding world, without guilt-provoking tyrants of external shoulds and oughts; of encountering worth-ship of all reality, which a Sunday worship service can only point toward; and, of course, of loving oneself, others, and even the earth at large as pointed toward in the limited images of family caring, making love, and even the illusions of an all-loving, though distant Sky Father.
Unfortunately, the easier temptation in the face of faith required for becoming whole and encountering God here, is to move from illusions to delusions, from imagined images to solidified systems of irrationality, rather than daring the challenges of dis-illusioning oneself on the longer path toward embracing experiences only pointed toward with the images themselves--both secular and religious.
But what could illicit greater sympathy than observing the mental limitations of an adult who still sincerely believes in Santa Claus and expectantly hangs his stockings on Christmas eve, or yet places his falling teeth under his pillow at night--that is, one yet to share the larger understanding of potentially useful traditions and the greater pleasure of giving which the fun of getting can only point toward?
Answer: The temporal satisfactions and spiritual limitations of adults in popular religion who yet insist on keeping traditional images of God and other religious figures, times, and places, as literal entities "out there" rather than de-coding them into peak spiritual experiences "in here"--that is, knowing the joys of letting go of a possessed God and becoming god-like oneself.
Ideally, religious language is a set of apt metaphors, literally, figures of speech, which point those who see them in their imaginations toward far grander truths of spiritual experiences lying beyond the challenges of immediate de-coding into concepts--comparable to the lessor but still significant experiences possible beyond de-coding images of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.
But in practice, what is sadder to witness than grown children still believing in Santa Claus--that is, the reality of childhood metaphors, or true believers in the icons of popular religion?
Jesus reportedly lamented many years ago for those "who have eyes to see, yet see not," and later folk wisdom has noted that "none are so blind as they who will not see."
As yet remains so today....
Our most primal urge
is to create a world
in our own image
to shape things
so as to enhance satisfactions
But into this malleable space
come parents who say "No,
you can't do that," and
"You must do this"
thus threatening our most powerful
genetic drive by saying, in effect,
you can't be godly
to which the strongest say
"Oh, but yes I can" and/or
"Betcha' can't make me"
while weaker ones give in
via compliance and goodness
to lessor rewards of parental godhood
unwittingly setting the stage
for later membership in popular religion
where earthly parents are replaced
by a Heavenly Father
onto whom repressed creativity
is grandly projected
Then later still
when instincts to create
phase into urges
to also re-create
when inclinations for the fun of world-shaping
are expanded to include the pleasures of self-making
or as adult's say, "with the onset of puberty,"
when sex first raises its threatening head
in every family's Garden of Eden
then a second stage is set
for birthing the Heavenly Father's mirror image
in an Earthy Devil
thus completing the dualism
inherent in popular religion
Meaning of this poem:
We all have two primal instincts with a phasing transition:
1) Creation--creating a world fitted to self survival and its enhancements.
2) Recreation--having fun as oneself in doing all things.
3) Re-creation--advanced pleasures, where fun phases into ecstasy, in the re-creation of one's self, or crudely seen as drives for a) selfing, and b) self-replication, or "being ourselves" and "making more of ourselves."
But god is born when primal creativity--world shaping, as all children are first moved to do in satisfying necessary needs (air and food) and enhancing delights, is repressed in favor of pleasing god-like earthly parents, mostly mothers, on the way to their later replacement with a Heavenly Father in popular religion. All primary human creativity, first repressed in quest of mother's approval and favors while one learns to "mind your mother"--that is, give over powers of creative thinking to another, and then obediently follow her direction, thus becoming "good" by a family standard.
This sets the stage for popular religion where the earthly world is expanded to include a heavenly world in which the first female goddess is replaced by a male god and "minding" is enlarged to include one's total mind in all arenas of beliefs and behavior as deemed important in popular religion. Creative thinking, first handed to mother in limited realms of her approval, is now expanded to include all matters in "God's approval," as interpreted and mediated by church authorities.
Summary: Primary, god-like creativity, the inheritance of all children--best seen in "minding"--that is, "making up one's own mine" or "choosing for oneself what-to-do in the world," is initially squelched in quest of lessor (but necessary) favors resulting from pleasing one's mother in the limited world of her desires. This family experience sets the stage for fuller psychic repression as required for expanding obedience to a god in the "other world" beyond family.
But the second phase of human development, called "puberty" by adults, involves awakening of expanded instincts of re-creation as well as creation--that is, for making more of ourselves, or what adults may see as adding "sexiness" to "selfishness." These secondary instincts are accompanied by capacities for expanding limited delights of fun to advanced pleasure of ecstasy--from "feeling good" to "feeling great," from contained selfhood to exploding selflessness--that is, from obvious immanence to what seems like transcendence (as in orgasm).
Perhaps it is the seemingly uncontrollable nature of transcending orgastic pleasures over the more manageable choices of immanent fun that sets the stage for a good God's shadowed form, namely, a bad Devil.
However it occurs, the onset of puberty, when capacities for re-creation (procreation) are added to those of creation, when urges for re-production come to those of production, when options for ecstacy are expanded to those of simpler pleasures--sets the stage for the second major form of human idolatry to be institutionalized in popular religion, namely, Satan or the Devil.
Just as repression of human creativity comes to be projected onto a good God The Creator, so repression of capacities for procreativity come to be mirrored in his darker shadow, seen as a bad Devil who tempts us to "feel good" rather than to "be good."
And somehow on the path from lessor pleasures of "having fun" creating, to the culminating delights of "having sex" for re-creation, "feeling good" comes to be seen as "being bad." Paradoxically, what begins with the heart of God, ends up in the hands of Satan. And the dual idolatries of two primary human capacities, repressed inwardly and projected outwardly onto God and the Devil complete the positive and negative powers operative in popular religion today.
DIS-EMBODIED VERSUS EMBODIED
Another of the surest and most universal earmarks of those in popular religion is a sense of themselves as dis-embodied--that is, an illusion of existing as a separate and/or separable soul or self in a body, but not truly of the visible body. Resulting, I speculate, from the inner division created in the process of personal repression in quest of social acceptance and approval, such believers rationalize their own split-ness with the illusion that "it"--the part they have tried to divide themselves from, is not "I."
For example, natural instincts for replication and aggression in its service, are typically judged to be bad and repressed in society. When a person seeking social acceptance, beginning with parents, tries to "be good" and "not be bad," he or she is likely to begin suppressing these natural instincts. If temporary denial phases into fuller repression, such a self-divided person may, in service of continued repression, come to see these natural elements of inherited self as "not me."
But if signs of "not me" continue to exist, as inevitably they do, then such a person may easily come to further identify himself with a fictional entity imagined to exist apart from "his" or "her" body. Thereafter, inherited body is seen as foreign to "me," who is assumed to exist as a separable entity.
The use of repression as a socially acceptable means of coping with requirements of society is apparently so universal that few if any ever grow up without some sense of personal dis-embodiment--that is, of imagining themselves as an "I" apart from "it (body)." But through the process of unrepression, recognition of this assumption as an illusion gradually begins to appear in consciousness. The badness of the natural world fades as genetic identity increases. Eventually, if one is able to navigate the treacherous waters of unrepression without falling into despair, the truth of being embodied as a natural life form in this diverse world begins to become evident.
Although initial recognition may be traumatic as one becomes dis-illusioned about the illusion of dis-embodiment--that is, as one accepts facts of natural life as distinguished from beliefs of popular religion, the rewards of earthy identification begin to appear. As one comes first to see and accept the reality of literally being embodied rather than existing as an entity who has or is in a body, internal dis-unity is gradually healed. The near universal illusion of body and mind (or soul) fades as one re-becomes whole as bodied/mind or minded/body--in either case, as a unified being who only exists embodied.
Then, as a sense of internal integrity (being embodied) replaces illusionary identity with a self-created ego, soul, or sense-of-self as an "it" in possession of, or possessed by, a physical body, personal wholeness gradually expands to include the world beyond one's own skin. That is, instead of being, in effect, a stranger or visitor to this foreign world perceived as alien to a real home (e.g., "in heaven"), one comes to feel the fact of existing as an integral part of this present world.
He comes, that is, to feel at home in the world as it is. He recognizes in time that the illusion of independent existence as an "it" has blinded him to facts about inter-dependence--that is, that man, like all other living creatures, only lives in a constant flux of co-existence with the elements of the earth. Skin is but a pervious divider between embodied life forces and outside elements upon which an embodied self is and remains eternally dependent.
In colloquial terms, he "comes home to the earth" as he accepts a-part-of-ness--that is, existence as one life form who is a part of the universe. The illusion of independence versus dependence is replaced by the reality of inter-dependence. Accepting the reality of inevitable connectedness, he stops trying to escape, suppress, or even change the world as it is. Instead, energies previously given to such vain efforts are redirected to the reality of successful participation in the world as revealed.
Self-repression as a means of coping with society is replaced by self-expression--that is, freed from illusions of dis-embodiment and existence as a foreigner in an alien world with goals of control and/or exodus, one becoming whole within begins to seek creative wholeness without as well as within. Instead of trying to, in effect, get out of the world, he devotes himself to becoming more fully in reality--that is, to creative self-expression in the present world.
As the reality of participation replaces illusions of separation, feelings of unity, wholeness, and well-being based in the reality of actual connectedness begin to arise within. But whereas similar feelings of well-being in popular religion are rooted in illusions of connection with images and the company of others sharing similar illusions, the happiness of those in mature religion appears in actual participation in reality.
Because the happiness of those in popular religion is rooted in illusions of disconnection with earthly reality, it exists in constant threat from intrusion of reality into one's fragile mental escape. Any elements of bodily existence, such as, forces of instincts or nature, non-religious "bad" desires, and other indications of mortality--especially actual death, pose obvious dangers to an other-worldly type of happiness. Even rational thinking, another capacity of natural humans, becomes a regular threat to happiness rooted in mental illusions rather than actual reality.
Conversely, the sense of well-being associated with identification with genetics and the natural world, being based in reality, is enhanced rather than disturbed by evidences of earthiness and human mortality. The more connected one comes to perceive himself, the greater the natural happiness which ensues. Reasoning, being an innate human capacity, becomes a regular friend and source of both power and happiness for an earthy individual. Reality-based persons delight in the ever-expanding nature of human information acquired through our given capacities for sense making. Even the sting of death is lost as one comes to accept and consciously participate in the natural flows of live beginning with birth and culminating with death.
As described before, the basis and essence of popular religion involves repression of human instincts and inclinations, including power naturally produced by them, and consequently projecting these forces onto self-created images "out there," seen as gods, angels, demons, fate, muses, etc.
Literally, what is denied "in here" is only seen reflected in external illusions. Paradoxically, as noted before, the process of repression/projection also typically results in exaggerated senses of power. Human potency, for example, is exaggerated via repression into godly omnipotence. Limited human knowing becomes mirrored in an omniscient god. Natural mortality is seen exaggerated in notions of personal immortality.
Overall, squelched natural human creativity--that is, inherited forces for continually re-shaping the perceived world, are denied and then imaged in a Grand Creator who is assumed to have made the world and everything in it, and remains the source of all creativity.
But with unrepression of naturalness, dis-illusionment--that is, dissolving illusions back into reality, is also accompanied by un-projection--withdrawing powers blindly given to illusioned images. Returning, as it were, back to the real world of natural human existence also means re-embracing bodily powers previously only recognized in projected images.
Personal potency, powers of knowing, and embraced mortality free one to exercise creativity in shaping materials, relationships, circumstances, and assorted forms of self-expression ("art").
BAD VERSUS OKAY
If popular religion is characterized by illusions of separation from the world as revealed to our senses--either now and/or later, mature religion involves the reality of participation in the world as we find it to be.
Typically, believers in popular religion seek to be separate from the revealed world, as though they are not truly part of all that is revealed to our senses. Through identification with illusions of an other-worldly god, they often see revealed reality as bad or unholy and therefore to either be changed or escaped from. In practice they make a virtue of trying to change the world to "make it a better place," assuming that the way it is is not okay, even naturally evil.
Personal virtue is taken to exist in separating oneself from the natural world while yet alive, in view of an ultimate separation after death into an imagined other, better world. Most popular religions assume this better world to be away from this bad earth, typically "in the sky" or somewhere else called "heaven." Other religions who do not hold for an otherworldly heaven, imagine their adherents to be reincarnated in increasingly better forms in this world. But in common, popular religions share a view of what amounts to: "This present world is a bad place and the ideal is to separate oneself as fully as possible now in view of a better place or state later."
In sharp contrast, mature religion holds no such negative views of the earth and the natural order as revealed in evolution and human nature. Instead, the world is recognized as morally neutral, that is, neither inherently bad or good in a judgmental sense, but, in colloquial language, a "pretty good place to be," since this appears to be our only real option.
Consequently, instead of making a virtue of "trying to change the world to make it a better place (as though God goofed)" and/or to separate themselves from revealed reality, those in mature religion seek fuller participation in this present world. Rather than trying to escape from nature and mortality, they aim at increasingly more active involvement in the world as found to be, not, for example, to be immortal (live forever) but to become fully mortal--that is, human.
A theme song of popular religionists might be: "This world is not my home; I'm just a' passing through...," reflective of premises and illusions of another invisible world. Its adherents seek at-one-ment with illusionary figures from another world, with whom they hope to be re-united later. In this world they can only have a sense of unity with like-minded persons who share their own versions of whatever these images are like.
ERASED VERSUS REAL
In popular religion death is effectively erased, as though it doesn't really happen. Death is only seen as "passing on or over." Illusions of immortality, perpetual human existence, are de-coded in mature religion, where death is seen as real, an actual end of individuality, "dust to dust," the conclusion of a continuum beginning with conception and birth. In mature religion, death is not inherently bad; indeed, ending life may sometimes be desirable in face of extreme suffering and natural debilitations of old age.
In mature religion, the "sting" of death is not inherent in ending life, but a result of major sin. When real life is not embraced, real death becomes the ultimate threat, supporting illusions of god and notions of soul salvation to facilitate an escape. Were it not for real dangers of abuse by immature persons, and/or religious authorities, benevolent euthanasia might be a virtue in mature religion.
SUPPRESSION VERSUS EXPRESSION
Natural selfing is rooted in two overlapping, yet distinguishable, instincts, namely, genetic drives for self survival phasing into drives for self replication--or, as commonly seen, for being "selfish" and "sexual."
In popular religion these two instincts are sharply divided and systematically repressed from conscious awareness. But, as is the nature of this psychic device, what is repressed within is inevitably projected without. This is where a major distinction begins in popular religion. Repressed capacities for selfing, divided into self survival and self satisfaction are typically projected onto an imaged God who then holds power for life and death (survival) as well as self satisfaction, seen as salvation or fulfilled happiness.
But, paradoxically, instinctive powers for sexuality are split apart and projected onto an imaged Devil, with accompanying judgments of good and evil. After projection into the hands of God, powers for ultimate survival and personal happiness are seen as "good," while drives for self-replication are conversely viewed as "bad" or "of the Devil," if not carefully limited to religiously approved types of activation.
The overall result is cloaked (repressed) selfingness mirrored in imaged powers of God. With slightly less cloaked sexuality reflected in forces of the Devil, the consequent battle is between trying to "be good" to please God and gain his favors of ultimate happiness and to avoid "being bad" (primarily, sexual) by "giving in to the Devil's temptations."
But whereas selfishness can be functionally repressed as "all bad," obviously necessary continuation of the species requires that some limited degree of sexuality be consciously accepted and socially allowed.
This paradox has been historically resolved in popular religion by allowing a small part of natural sexuality, namely, that essential for basic reproduction, to be permissible if carefully kept controlled by the authorities of popular religion. In practice this tolerance for a small part of overall sexuality has commonly taken the form of heterosexuality in religiously controlled marriages, primarily allowed for reproduction only.
For example, in Catholicism, reproductive sex is allowed in monogamous marriages sanctioned by the church, but strongly condemned outside of marriage or in any other form of expression than heterosexuality. Even in a sanctioned marital bed, pleasurable aspects of sex are frowned on in favor of total emphasis on uncontrolled reproduction (as functional in church survival). Predictably, unmarried religious authorities (popes and priests, etc.) are expected to be completely "good (chaste)"--that is, essentially non-sexual.
In summary, sex in popular religion is largely repressed, but since total negation is impossible without destroying the future of organized religion itself, heterosexual reproduction in church controlled marriages is allowed. Even so, sex itself is judged as obscene (if not totally bad), both outside in society and even within the confines of sanctioned families. And overt lust, especially if directed toward anyone other than a legal spouse, is systematically judged as inherently evil.
Overall, most sexuality in popular religion is seen as "dirty" if not evil, and typically viewed as obscene (even when sanctioned, as in the "missionary position" in monogamous marriage), and is suppressed in general.
Mature religion's perspective on sexuality is distinctively different. First of all the common division of instincts in popular religion, with "good" selfing projected onto God, and "bad" sexiness assigned to the Devil, is not made in mature religion. Instead, both inter-connected drives are acknowledged as primary elements in natural humanity, neither being inherently good or bad, but both essential in achieving full selfhood--that is, wholeness and happiness.
Mature persons also recognize another primary distinction commonly missed in popular religion due to repression of instincts from awareness, namely, the difference between being sexual and acting sexy--that is, consciously embracing a capacity inwardly and acting it out with others.
Because this essential distinction is commonly lost to awareness with immature persons, due to projection of sexual powers onto Satan, they are understandably threatened by sexual passions which may move them to act irresponsibly with others--that is, to do or "act out" whatever they feel, without the guidance of conscious reasoning. Repressed sexuality and powers generated by natural passion thus remain a constant danger in social situations.
In an effort to avoid such social dangers, popular religion often attempts to head off "temptations" by condemning not only socially dangerous behavior, but also the very desires ("lusts") which are a first sign of emerging passion. Unfortunately, this attempt to, in effect, nip overt, flowering sexuality in the bud of desire, backfires quickly. Relief from threatening lusts gained by squelching natural desire only works temporarily because such denials also tend to exaggerate forces they aim to kill, leaving such persons even more frustrated than before.
But maturing persons who avoid this frustration inherent in attempting to split self and desire soon learn the difference between being and doing--that is, that sexual passion can be acknowledged, embraced, and contained within oneself without acting irresponsibly with others (doing sexually inappropriate deeds).
Because they are conscious both of inward desires and social restrictions, mature persons can feel natural lust and yet act sensibly in revelations and/or expression in words or deeds with others. In societies, such as ours, which have dealt with sexuality mainly by fierce social and legal suppression, this embraced human capacity for responsibly containing sexual desires is especially useful. Such conscious deceptions can be invaluable in responsible citizenship.
Consequently, embraced sexual forces in mature persons are available for personal use in powering creative living, both alone and in society. When feasible, passions may be expressed directly in overtly sexual expressions; but, as is most often the case in suppressive societies, social deception and conscious sublimation are the functional modes of exercising powers generated by natural sexuality.
Deception involves responsibly cloaking sexual desires and expressions in the presence of still-repressed persons and legal structures designed for suppression. The critical issue in such carefulness is that deceptions are always aimed outwardly rather than inwardly--that is, that a passionate person fool others as appropriate without ever fooling him or herself in the process. While remaining fully conscious of natural desires, a mature person carefully shapes all sexual expressions in functional forms in each set of circumstances. Mostly, as noted, such deceptions involve total concealment without any overt expression--that is, acting non-sexual while being passionate.
Healthy sublimation involves similar social deceptions in forms of expression--that is, powers generated by sexual desires are diverted from overt sexual activity and sublimated into other more socially acceptable forms.
After unrepression, mature persons, as noted before, recognize the difference between being sexual and acting sexy, and use this knowledge to be responsible in society. For example, sexual passions may be sublimated into socially acceptable art forms. Such a responsible artist may be fully conscious of the source of his passions, as he expresses (sublimates) their powers in his chosen art form, and yet acts appropriately otherwise.
The more mature a person becomes, the more completely sexually generated powers may be contained as such and artfully sublimated into any socially acceptable form, such as, serving others, making money, playing competitive games, as well as creating various forms of art. The critical factor in all such sublimations is that in mature religion a person never deceives himself about the source of passions, even while expressing them in non-sexual forms of any type.
Also, for mature persons with developed capacities for being sexual and contained, and who are beyond common judgments of good and evil forms of sexual expression, and into the use of reason and common sense for making decisions about sexual activation in society, many other sexual freedoms are possible.
First of all, the whole subject of sexuality, seen as a genetically ingrained human capacity is on-scene rather than obscene--that is, within the arena of acceptable conscious thinking, without constrictions of repression and judgments of "dirty," "sinful," etc. Also, with discretion which takes into account the inhibitions and repressions of others, along with attention and respect for existing social mores and legal structures, sexually related conversation and sharing of personal perspectives and experiences becomes potentially on-scene too.
Past (or before) conscious thought and/or talk about sex, natural passion itself is freed from shackles of negative judgment in mature religion. "Lust," a sin in popular religion, is recognized as the sexual face of all desire, itself but nature's way of translating genetic needs into personal awareness so that blind pursuit can be moderated sensibly.
One of the ways church authorities in popular religion maintain control of their followers is by assuming management of powers projected externally. In the case of sexual repressions typically projected onto Satan ("The Devil made me do it"), church authorities take advantage of the repressed state of their followers and presume to know right and wrong means of expressing forces denied in awayness.
Typically this control is effected in two arenas: inward and outward. First, popular religion's attempt to maintain existing repressions by condemning desire itself ("Lust is evil"). But since repression also results in fooling one who denies a desire--that is, does not make it go away but only excludes it from awareness, desire's forces remain operative though-out-of conscious direction. Religious authorities take advantage of this fact by assuming control of the second arena, namely, outward activities--that is, by defining good and evil sexual behaviors.
Commonly such management has taken the form of limiting "good" behavior to that which supports church authority and organizational needs, e.g., heterosexual activity within the confines of church sanctioned marriage. Any other form of sexuality, such as, auto (masturbation), homo, or bi-sexuality is judged to be evil and soundly condemned.
Ignoring (or never recognizing) the essential distinction between being sexual and doing sexy things, those in popular religion are consequently limited to confronting the massive forces of this second most powerful genetic directive, in the outside arenas where they may be given form and expression--that is, in the ways and places where being takes shape in doing.
Furthermore, under the limiting pale of religiously defined good and evil forms (e.g., sex as "good" in marriage and "bad" elsewhere), and no affirmation of being itself (passion embraced in awareness), two dangerous consequences are predictable. First, with no awareness and/or attention given to facing and embracing the human capacity for being sexual and acting responsibly at the same time, members of popular religions are commonly left significantly immature in this aspect of themselves--that is, not personally learning to activate and contain these powerful, ingrained forces which are repressed and cut off from reasonable mediation in expression or concealment. They are left, as it were, sitting on a ticking time bomb without conscious access to controlling when, where, or if it is to go off.
Secondly, due to the nature of repression, consciously denied forces tend to be exaggerated when only recognized on the feeling level. Also, when all potential arenas for activation save one (heterosexual sex in marriage) are denied and judged as evil, this one acceptable means of expression tends to take on vastly exaggerated significance, since it must bear the entire weight of forces which would otherwise be dispersed (experienced, even if not openly activated) in many other arenas of life.
Bottom line: Even though traditional means of coping with the powers of sexuality by suppression and negative judgments of all potential forms of activation except one have obviously been functional for organized religions and perhaps secular society as well, still the costs insofar as personal development and individual happiness are concerned, have, I conclude, been immense.
Maturity, in contrast, is marked by omni-sexuality, that is, being pervasively selfing and sexual, but highly discriminate in object attractions (males to scoping and females to security) and consistently responsible in social expressions. In these parameters, one may often appear to be non-sexual and is in fact not vulnerable to typical seductive presentations.
Summary: In popular religion, sexuality is primarily suppressed except in extremely limited church-approved arenas, e.g., procreation (not for pleasure) in monogamous marriage. All other forms of sexual expressions, including talk are condemned as wrong or evil. All overt sexuality, even of allowed forms, is socially obscene.
ACTS VERSUS BEING
Sin is an extremely significant matter, both in popular and mature religion, yet with radical differences in definition. In largest perspective, sin in popular religion is related to acts--things to do and not do, while mature religion views sin in the realm of being, that is, ways to be or not be.
In popular religion sin is largely seen as misbehaving and/or holding wrong beliefs. As such, sin lies in two categories: sins of commission and of omission--that is, doing bad things and not doing good things. "Things" include deeds, thoughts, feelings, and desires, e.g., adultery, holding wrong beliefs, selfishness, anger, and lust.
In mature religion sin is falling short of godly glory--that is, failing to realize, embrace, and actualize full degrees of inherited naturalness, failing to become in real life who one is created capable of being, e.g., by repressing selfing and sexual desires.
Although popular religious beliefs commonly hold that sin is "against God" and his expectations of human beings, closer analysis reveals such sin as more like crimes against society rather than against Mother Nature--that is, social wrongs, deeds which endanger existing social structures (e.g., theft, in societies based on private property rights), or threaten religious authority over individual participants, such as, "wrong" beliefs, doubting church authority, or lust which may endanger church sanctioned marriage. In contrast, in mature religion, crimes are against nature, literally, beginning with human nature but extending to the natural world beyond individual humans.
In mature religion sin can never be pinned down and inherently identified with any act, whether of hand, mind, emotion, or desire. Always, as noted before, sin occurs in the dimension of being which underlies every act. In broadest summary, sin is understood in mature religion as non-being--that is, any human move or choice involving denial and/or attempted negation of inherited capacities ("being who one is"). In colloquial language, such profound escapes from embraced humanity may be deceptively seen as "not being oneself" or "trying to be who one is not."
In psychological language, such attempted escapes from natural humanity are primarily sought through the psychic device of repression--with its inevitable flip side, projection. Control of anti-social impulses is, of course, essential for existing as oneself in social circumstances, beginning with family, but sin begins when pragmatic outward suppression phases into inward repression--that is, when "fooling others" turns into "fooling oneself."
Such self-deception may occur through the formation of, and escape into, a false self (a fictional ego or erroneous sense-of-self), or simply by denial and attempted negation of actual capacities and elements of one's natural self. Although specific forms of such sins vary from person to person, as well as society to society, most commonly repressions occur in the broad dimensions of selfing and sexuality--that is, natural urges to survive and maximize personal satisfactions, and to replicate one's genetic heritage.
CLOSED VERSUS OPEN
In popular religion, realms of acceptable thoughts are severely restricted, not only to blind acceptance of sacred beliefs, but also to many other arenas of natural thought. Each religion's beliefs are held in a tight circle of mind space, with no contrary possibilities or application of reason allowed with even remotely related subjects, such as, thoughts of suicide, murder, adultery, incest, theft, or even natural selfingness.
For immature persons, even daily conversation with friends and loved ones is severely restricted to established notions, both sacred and secular. Contrary ideas, even questioning of already accepted notions, are impossible without endangering a relationship. Such persons, as are common in popular religion, may be described as "touchy," "argumentative," or "easily upset" if one does not automatically agree with them. They are, as it were, "ready to fight or flee" if their own thinking is not accepted as "right."
In sharp contrast, the natural mind, operative in mature religion, is open, without restrictions to any thought which may arise, and to application of reason to any established belief or notion. Mature persons are not mentally prejudiced, that is, automatically closed-minded when confronted with "different thinking," even seemingly bizarre notions not previously considered. Honest conversation is easy in mature religion because no thought is off limits; no belief is inherently sacred, even if long held. One need not be on guard lest a mature person take offense, because open-minded persons take delight in "thinking outside the box"--that is, in expanding the circles of present knowledge.
In keeping with these contrary mental stances, doubt--that is, questioning a belief, is a sin in popular religion, but a virtue in mature religion.
In summary, closed-mindedness is to popular religion as open-mindedness is to mature religion.
ANSWERS VERSUS ANSWERING
In popular religion one "has the answers" in the form of accepted beliefs held sacred and hence not subject to doubting which characterizes a natural mind. One's sense of confidence is based in his or her possession of assumed-to-be-right answers.
In mature religion, in contrast, one is regularly answering--that is, responding to questions from others as well as oneself with reasonable summaries of acquired information, but--and this is the crucial difference: without any sense of possessing final answers about anything. The confidence of one in mature religion is based on real experience gained through practice in answering questions, both in his own mind and as posed by other persons--not in the illusion that any particular answer is permanently right and inherently sacred, not subject to honest doubt.
Practice in "thinking for himself"--that is, forming images from personal perceptions and then de-coding each one into a reasonable concept which is absorbed into oneself, inevitably results in realistic self-confidence. But confidence rooted in embraced ability for answering whatever one wonders about, is sharply different from that gained when one freezes the natural process at the image stage and assumes any answer to be final, inherently sacred, and in the possession of one who has stopped thinking about its subject.
Summary: In popular religion one finds confidence in assumed-to-be-right answers; possessing them "makes" one feel confident. In mature religion one is naturally confident in the embraced capacity for answering, not in an assumption of having right or final answers. New or expanded information, including contrary opinions of others, poses no threat to reality-based confidence, because each new bit of data--whatever its source, is but material for answering in increasingly more reasonable ways.
PERMANENCE VERSUS MOVING SEA
Popular religions major on illusions of permanence, while mature religion focuses on the reality of change.
I suspect that threat related to change has been one of the most powerful motivations in the historical development of popular religions. One of the most evident of all characteristics of reality is that it is continuously changing, never permanent. Although popular religions resist the so-called Theory of Evolution, preferring the illusion of a time-locked world and a belief in "Creationism," few things are more obviously true and universally supported by all forms of scientific investigation than the absence of permanence in any element of the natural world--that is, continual evolution, ever-evolving changes in every natural thing, human beings included.
Easy to see and say; but accepting these observations as facts of life about the world, especially us humans within it, and participating joyfully in the mysteries of evolution, ourselves included, requires much courage.
It must seem easier to close one's eyes to obvious information and, with the human capacity for imaging perceptions (Step 2 of the Creative Process), in this case a wish to avoid faith in living in an evolving world, to imagine permanence and create illusions to support such a desire.
This, I speculate, is precisely what has occurred in the historical roots of popular religions and yet remains operative today--that is, in the face of faith required for openly participating in inevitable changes in the real world, our ancestors opted for closing their mind's eyes to threatening facts about change, created images of permanence (e.g., an unchanging God seen as a Rock of Ages) and then escaped into their illusions--as is yet evident in religious descendants in popular religions today.
Although there are many spin-offs from a primal desire for permanence, imaged as a Rock of Ages in the midst of the apparent moving sea of natural life, such as, unchanging "right" beliefs, and permanently virtuous forms of behavior, another of the most basic differences between popular and mature religion may be self-identification with permanence or with change.
Even if my speculations about the history of popular religion are erroneous, more evident is the fact that those in mature religion recognize, accept, and participate joyfully in the ever-changing nature of the universe, our own planet Earth and all within it, our assorted civilizations and their diverse societies, and most relevantly of all--our evolving, embodied selves.
In practice, this means that mature persons let go of illusions of permanence, both in and out of popular religion, and proceed with forming reasonable conceptions based on real perceptions about change. Then, with faith, they go on to Step 4 of the Creative Process where knowledge is absorbed into self--that is, they come to live as persons who literally are changing.
In this latter state, which we might call "being changing" versus "trying to be permanent," mature persons are continually alert to changes in the world, including ever expanding knowledge of how reality works and evolves, plus changes in themselves as they age and acquire increasingly sharper concepts. As soon as any new concept which synthesizes larger amounts of data is developed, a maturing person begins immediately to absorb this "head knowledge" into himself--that is, to become wiser by living-out in daily life what is first seen in mind's eye.
Instead of closing one's eyes to the obvious evolution of earth and all within it, as is common in popular religion, in mature religion one looks openly in quest of discovering changes as quickly as possible, and then, rather than resisting change and wasting energies in maintaining illusions of permanence, he seeks ways of increased self-involvement in the assorted ebbs and flows of life in the real world.
He does not simply switch from worshiping permanence (as projected into images of an unchanging god) to worshiping change instead. Although such switched idolatry might be more realistic than clinging to illusions of permanence, still one's actual presence in various processes of change would be hindered by such secular worship.
Instead, a maturing person simply sees--without judgment, negative or positive, the signs of changing reality and chooses to participate whole-heartedly in all recognized processes of this ever-evolving world.
When so, the delights and joys of heaven here become his daily fare.
FINAL WORD VERSUS EVOLVING KNOWLEDGE
religion has the final word; mature religion faces evolving knowledge. In mature religion
there are no literal facts, that is, assumptions of ultimate knowledge (omniscience, final
answers, objective truth). Even best-evidenced conclusions, e.g., "The sun rises in
the East," are recognized as potentially erroneous--that is, more related to
appearances related to where an individual stands, than to The Truth about external
STRANGE IMAGES VERSUS EDGES OF REALITY
Understanding is making a sensible connection between a new and unfamiliar perception (sight, sound, etc.) with an older familiar perception--that is, smoothing the rough edges of the unknown with the oil of the known, using consciousness to harmonize a currently discordant "sound (perception)" with the older music of experience. In colloquial language, understanding is "making sense" out of non-sense (not-sensed) or that which exists outside the limited arena of previous sensations coordinated through reasoning. Before understanding, one says, "I don't get it." Afterward, "Now I see."
In a phrase, understanding is cloaking mystery with a veneer of knowledge.
Incentives, indeed blind drives, to understand any mystery are probably rooted in instincts for survival. Any familiarity (current understanding) which one has endured in the past comes with a measure of safety and feeling of security. One knows, for example, that "it"--whatever one has previously experienced, explained, and hence knows not to hurt or kill (threaten survival), so, if new and potentially threatening perceptions can be "tamed" by identifying them with older and safer knowledge, then danger to survival is at least cloaked, if not erased.
Until this juncture is reached, persons are still in the process of maturing. We all naturally "want to understand" so that odds of survival are enhanced, even if wonders of wondering yet lie ahead. But this is exactly where popular religion begins and the process of maturing is interrupted. In order to maintain illusions of safety associated with understanding, one must close his mind to seeing limitations of all human knowledge (stop the Creative Process), including the ever-present possibility of being wrong.
This is the doorway to the dedications of popular religion--or the invitation to advancing maturity and the eventual reality of mature religion.
The challenge of maturity, and thus the stance of mature religion, is to preserve and use these fragile cloaks without ever forgetting the eternal wonder of abiding mystery beneath them.
The unfortunate curse of popular religion is to erroneously conclude that cloaking is erasing, that a candlelight of understanding truly eliminates the dark unknown which forever surrounds us all. Certainly this illusion of omniscience--which may either be first or second hand--that is, that I have a final answer, or I have a god who does, may bring the temporal comfort of certainty, but at the eternal cost of lost wonder and awe in everyday life.
In sharp contrast, mature persons never lose awareness of regular awe because they remain in conscious touch with the miraculous nature of reality itself. They need no supernatural mysteries to evoke wonder, because they never lose sight of larger unknowns surrounding all human knowledge. Nor do they need an awesome afterlife to compensate and reward them for boredom and sacrifice in this one. For mature persons, present daily wonder is more than enough.
WONDER AND AWE
Certain knowledge, as reflected in "having right answers" oneself or else possessing an omniscient god who does ("I may not know the future, but my God does") removes one from conscious contact with regular facts of human life, namely, both the unknown nature of the future (as in, what happens after death, or marriage, or whatever), as well as the actual rightness of any daily decision (Should one use sugar in coffee?, etc., etc.).
This, of course, is an underlying appeal of popular religion, namely, an illusion of certainty about the future, as well as rightness about daily decisions. But a part of its cost is stopping at the image stage of thinking and closing one's mind to natural sense-making--that is, de-coding images into concepts.
When, however, one moves on toward maturity by continuing in the Creative Process, amazingly recognition of inherent limitations in all human knowledge, and consequent awareness of ever-present mystery ("Will this work, or not? What might happen...?, etc.) comes with the gift of regular wonder (wondering what will happen next, and if any decision is right).
In summary, beliefs of popular religion come with promises of later awe, as in meeting God in heaven, but the perspectives of mature religion come with the presence of awe now--or, as voiced by Lily Tomlin, of "awe infinitum."
CHOICE VERSUS OVERFLOW
Popular religion commonly assumes that love is a matter of conscious choice--that is, that one can become loving--rather than "being selfish" or "hateful" and unloving, by acts of conscious willing. In Christianity this choice is thought to begin by "believing in Christ" or "giving one's heart to Jesus (called conversion)," but is then followed by "deciding to care for others" rather than remaining selfish and self-centered.
But suppressing selfishness in favor of loving others is typically attempted via the path of personal repression, that is, trying to negate natural capacities which at first seem to be at odds with Christian principles--especially the goal of loving others instead of self. Good Christians try to "not be selfish" and to "love other people" instead. The goal, obviously, is virtuous; but the path taken, namely, via self-suppression, is, I think, a significant error in popular religion.
In reality, love is not so simple as merely making conscious choices, even when accompanied by strenuous attempts at self-sacrifice (virtuously seen as "self-denial" in Christianity). Instead, real love only comes to exist as a by-product of personal wholeness, as an overflow of fulfilled selfing, not by conscious choices alone--no matter "how hard one tries." As noted before, at the image level of personal experience (Stage 2 of the Creative Process), one may choose to act in many different ways, including loving of others; but "deciding to love" and then acting accordingly, and truly being loving, are distinctly different experiences.
Certainly "thinking" and making choices are involved in the ground work of moving toward wholeness. Indeed, being loving is the highest expression of consciousness; but one can no more become whole by consciously "deciding to" than he can grow physically by simply thinking positively about food, or be healthy by thinking about exercising. Both bodily and spiritual growth require "digesting" their appropriate elements into oneself. There is, in comparison, food required for bodily growth, and "food" for spiritual growth as well; in the latter case the metaphor translates into hard work of unrepression on the longer path toward re-becoming a whole person.
Paradoxically, the highest human virtue is through the door of consciousness and yet can never be reached via conscious thinking alone. To the work of becoming reasonable via de-coding images, one must find the courage to dare the harder challenges of re-becoming his natural self, only now, more completely.
One grand error in popular religion is the belief that love of others is a result of denial and sacrifice of self. The unreasonable assumption is that "putting down" on oneself--that is, suppressing or trying to negate one's natural self will lead to "putting up" or loving others. Repressing "the flesh," for example, is, in this belief, assumed to be the basis of promoting spirit--and hence love.
In reality, however, the more one represses his natural self, the less, not more, capable he becomes of loving others; conversely, the more fully one becomes his natural self, the more able he is to care well both for himself and others. Fullest love of others only follows more complete becoming of oneself, not self-sacrifice as made virtuous in popular religion.
ACTING LOVING VERSUS BEING LOVING
At the image stage of personal experience, as glamorized in popular religions, only acting loving is possible. While repressing natural capacities in quest of cosmic favors and religious acceptance, one is in no condition to actually be caring, either for self or others. Since love of others is held as a highest virtue, one may seek approval by mimicking the ways of love, by pretending to care, by doing deeds associated with love (e.g., helping others)--but, and this is the critical issue here: one can only be loving as a quality of personal wholeness, of moving on to Stage 4 of the Creative Process.
Consequently, this noted distinction: Popular religion is often characterized by deeds of service to others, even self-sacrificial efforts to help others at expense of self; but at this level of personal maturity only acting is possible. Only in mature religion, where one has de-coded images into concepts and absorbed concepts into self does truly being loving become possible.
Then, to the extent of personal wholeness, love of others appears naturally as an overflow of fulfilled self love. Being loving--caring deeply for self and others, is the apex of personal maturity; but while one is yet caught up in illusions of popular religion, only acting in the ways of love is possible.
To be sure, society benefits greatly from self-sacrificial deeds of service to others promoted as virtuous in popular religion. When one is on the receiving end of needed help, motives of a server are irrelevant; help is help, no matter the reasons behind it. If, for example, one is in poverty and needs food, aid supplied by those in popular religion is, as it were, a "God-send." And so with many other acts of love performed by dedicated believers in popular religion.
Still, however, insofar as being loving is concerned, such "good" deeds, though of value to their recipients and/or society at large, are more like acts of self-sacrifice than an overflowing of real love to those who perform them.
This is not to imply that many who are active in popular religion do not truly care for those they serve; but when so, their love is a result of expanded personal wholeness, not a product of the virtue promoted in popular religion. For the truest of believers in popular religion, those most devoted to underlying illusions, being loving as an overflow of personal wholeness is literally impossible. Until such time as one risks de-coding images into sensible concepts and taking such knowledge into themselves, that is, becoming whole, deeds of service and love cannot but be performed acts rather than expressions of loving concern for self and others.
Only in mature religion does being loving become possible.
REWARD VERSUS RESULT
In popular religion salvation is a heavenly reward for some type of earthly event, such as, "believing in (giving your heart to) Jesus," and/or an externally approved mode of living, such as, "overcoming the flesh" and/or "sacrificing self in service of one's religion" (as in Islam). Humans are assumed to be "lost" until they "get saved" by an accepted "plan of salvation" which varies from religion to religion. In Christianity, this plan involves "accepting Christ" who is believed to have paid the price for all human sin by sacrificing himself for mankind, and then trying to live up to his teachings.
Other plans of salvation are based on believing in the divinity or prophet-hood of the founder of each particular religion (e.g., Muhammad in Islam) and then living according to his teachings as interpreted by present day church authorities. These earthly requirements are assumed to result in a heavenly reward in later life, either in an external heaven or in repeated returns to increasingly more advanced forms of life on earth.
Though differing in content of plans essential for personal salvation, popular religions share the common theme of salvation as an external gift (as in Christianity) or reward (as in Judaism) for dedicated living in a prescribed manner.
In contrast, salvation in mature religion is the result of becoming whole as a human being, that is, unrepressing and activating inherited and acquired personal capacities in this present world. Heavenly happiness is the natural by-product of fulfilled earthly living. Salvation is inherent in being fully and honestly present as a mature person in everyday circumstances--whatever they may be. Mature persons experience salvation whenever they "show up" completely--anywhere, anytime, as themselves.
As such, salvation in mature religion is unrelated to any particular historical figure, such as, Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad, or to measuring up to an externally prescribed mode of behavior in the world. Although outstanding historical persons may be studied for guidance in seeking personal fulfilment, none are viewed as inherently divine in ways not open to every human being.
In quest of happiness, maturing persons look "in here" for capacities to exercise in daily living, rather than "out there" for directions in what to do or how to live. They are self-oriented rather than other-oriented--that is, primarily attentive to self-actualization as contrasted with seeking approval, compliments, and affirmation from outside oneself (e.g., other persons and/or God).
Whereas how one is seen from without (by church authorities and/or other people) is all important in popular religion, outside affirmation is relatively irrelevant to one who practices mature religion. Anonymity, for instance, when one is more fully "being himself," is more desirable than public fame achieved by acting in externally approved ways.
EXTERNAL VERSUS SELF CREATED
In popular religion meaning is assumed to be external, that is, "out there" or existing in plans, causes, or purposes apart from oneself. Typically these include ideas of "God's plan" for the world and/or individual persons in the world. For the world, such plans often focus on world peace, universal love, everyone "saved," an idealized form of government (e.g., democracy) and/or earthly justice, either now or later. When so, meaning is assumed to exist in degrees of fulfillment of either of these plans, such as, achieving democracy in Iraq.
For individuals, "God's plan" is typically assumed to include personal salvation, "right" living (as religiously defined), a certain job or vocation ("calling"), a marriage partner, and/or good versus bad events in daily life, including justice ("fairness") in circumstances.
In popular religion, everything which happens is assumed to "have a purpose" or be "caused for a reason," such as, "to teach me a lesson," as punishment for failures or short comings, or as a reward for goodness. When no such reason is evident, or some apparently random, seemingly unjustified act occurs, those who presume external meaning are understandably threatened. Apparently purposeless events are felt to be intolerable. Even if one doesn't understand why such and such happened, it is often assumed that "God has a reason" which is somehow not yet clear. "We will understand it better bye and bye," was a song line in my religious youth.
The idea of a nothing planned, random universe where events may occur without a purpose or pre-ordained cause, commonly seems devastating to persons in popular religion. In contrast, the latter case is a prevailing perspective of those in mature religion. No such Grand Plan is assumed to exist. Events in the world may indeed be purposeless or without a justifiable reason, either revealed or hidden at the time.
In mature religion, randomness--as though God is flying by the seat of his pants as some humans seem to be, with no overall plan, is allowed as a likely possibility. Even completely meaningless events, outside any known human analysis of cause and effect, are faced without personal threat--as though they too are an integral part of natural evolution.
Instead of worrying about or even looking for an external cause or significant purpose in unforseen events, mature persons give attention to analyzing happenings in search of data potentially useful in changing the course of events in the future in more personally desirable ways--yet without being bothered that such analysis may be unsuccessful or that ultimate mystery is in fact always near at hand.
Insofar as meaning is concerned, mature persons recognize that all human values, including "meaning in things," are humanly assigned, even when any value (e.g., money) seems to be near universally agreed on. Assigning meaning, in mature religion, is always an act of individual choice and by personal faith, rather than existing externally in a Grand Plan, or in any object, person, circumstance, or event.
Finally, for mature persons all meaning is self-created--that is, non-existent "out there," either in the universe, earthly evolution, or course of human affairs. Instead, a meaningful life only occurs when an individual dares to consciously create and place meaning in anything. Otherwise, all things and events are inherently meaningless.
For clarity, such a perspective of a perhaps meaningless world does not mean that mature persons necessarily draw god-like conclusions in opposition to common ideas of true believers--that is, that they know popular religion's beliefs are wrong, and that in reality no such open or hidden purpose truly exists. Perhaps, in this more mature perspective, there are indeed mysterious purposes in life happenings; but--and this is the critical difference: in mature religion there is no dependence on such beliefs for well being, even in the presence of what more reasonably appears to be an ultimately random universe.
When no such meaning is self evident "out there," mature persons simply--and profoundly--create and assign values to things and events which matter to them for whatever reason.
ULTIMATE FACT VERSUS HUMAN CREATION
Popular religions believe in ultimate justice, in the next world as orchestrated by God at some future Judgment Day, if not in the present world where fairness may be thought to be a virtue innate in reality. One way or the other, later if not sooner, "good persons" as defined by each religion are supposed to receive their just reward, while bad guys--even if they win temporarily, are expected to eventually be punished in hell, if not here.
Fairness is believed to finally prevail.
Mature religion sees justice as a functional human goal, but one which is not inherent in natural reality and in no way predictable for humans, either now or later. So-called good deeds are no more likely to be fairly rewarded than are bad deeds to be punished. In fact, as social structures presently exist, those who play fair are less likely to win and be justly rewarded than are those who ignore laws and justice and focus on winning by any means.
Mature persons accept the relative unfairness of natural life where the so-called "law of the jungle (survival of the fittest)" is more likely to prevail than any type of justice, as well as the obvious fact that existing social structures are equally unjust within themselves. Realizing that fairness, if at all, is a human creation, those in mature religion may strive for social justice, not because it is inherently virtuous, but because it may be functional in structuring human relationships in the world.
EXTERNAL VERSUS INTERNAL
Justice and rewards are, of course, closely related in common thought, with the first anticipated as an eventual reward for good behavior and/or right beliefs in present time. With or without worldly fairness, proper rewards in popular religion are believed to be guaranteed in the future, with those who are just, being the most rewarded, while those who ignore fairness to be most punished (e.g., in burning hell forever).
Though differing in understandings of the nature of an eventual heaven and hell (Christians believing in perpetual bliss with God, and a possible fiery hell; Muslims, in 74 plus or minus virgin females available to faithful males, etc.) all popular religions hold for some form of goodness to be rewarded and badness to be punished.
Mature religion, in contrast, shares no such belief in eventual rewards and/or punishments. Instead, heavenly experience (personal well-being, happiness) is perceived to be inherent in present events--in this real world as distinguished from an imagined other world. In mature religion the value of goodness is recognized as inherent in goodly being, rather than as a reward for acting virtuous. Consequently, mature persons need not look for, certainly not depend on, any type of external rewards for self-chosen and therefore fulfilling personal behavior.
And so with evil. Hell is not viewed in mature religion as a "bad place to go" or where bad people will eventually be punished, but rather as inherent in non-being ("not being ourselves") in the here and not. In this perspective of mature persons, heavenly living is potentially here, and living hell is now for those who fail to become and be themselves.
INHERENTLY VIRTUOUS VERSUS MORALLY NEUTRAL
Helping others--that is, serving humanity and/or specific persons by putting their well being before one's own is believed to be a major virtue in popular religion. In Christianity, for instance, the formula: J.O.Y.--Jesus first; Others second; and Yourself last, is supposed to result in personal joy. Conversely, reversing the order by putting Yourself first is identified as sinful.
In mature religion helping others or serving mankind is not an inherent virtue, but rather a pragmatic part of emerging selfing and a consequence of fulfilled being (oneself).
The first motivation comes as primal selfing--often seen as total "selfishness" as evidenced in babies and small children, phases into recognition of others, beginning with parents and peers as a part of one's larger self. When so, helping friends is simply a pragmatic part of expanding "selfishness" to include self-in-world as well as self-in-skin (alone).
At this level of personal maturing, helping others is simply a new part of helping one's emerging larger self. It is, in effect, a second phase of natural selfing--but not, as in popular religion, an "unselfish" virtue.
Finally, culmination of fullest selfing comes with the capacity for true caring and concern for the larger world beyond oneself. As amplified elsewhere, this later stage of personal maturity may be described as "overflowing love" or self love culminated.
In practice, the activities of mature religion in regard to others may appear to be much the same as in popular religion--that is, involvement in helping others or serving mankind. But below the level of appearances there is an extremely important personal difference. Whereas helping others in popular religion is based in self-sacrifice or acting unselfish, similar behaviors in mature religion are rooted, not in "being unselfish" but rather in natural selfing expanded.
RELIGIOUS VERSUS RELIGIONLESS
Popular religion is about being religious, as reflected in the secular idea of "taking medicine religiously"--that is, being relatively compulsive about approved activities, such as, praying, attending rituals, helping others, etc. Mature religion, again in sharp contrast, is about being spirited ("spiritual") in every aspect of life. One element in spirited living is being creative or flexible rather than compulsive.
Understandably, due to the nature of repression, one's own compulsions are seldom recognized as such. More often they are seen as virtues ("good habits") or even necessities, as though one either acquires credit for performing them religiously, and/or a sense of security and temporary well being from having performed them successfully.
Only in hindsight or when being similarly performed by others, do one's actual compulsions seem as such. Consequently, as religion is popularly understood, mature religion is essentially irreligious in that mature persons are not compulsive about anything, especially rituals which serve as an escape from creativity. Hence the paradoxical description: Mature religion is religionless.
Perhaps the closest relative of mature religion today is Naturalism. But even though many of the outward stances are comparable (at least more so than with those of popular religion), one major difference remains, namely, the religionless nature of mature religion. Many who consciously reject ideas of an objective God "out there" and see themselves as atheists, agnostics, or non-believers, may simply shift their worship from a Father God to Mother Nature and still remain relatively immature as persons--only outside the domains of popular religion and devoted instead to worshiping nature or the material world instead of the "spiritual world" of popular religion.
As religion is popularly understood in organized world religions--for example, as practiced in churches and synagogues, mature religion is more like a religionless religion.
Many of the aims of popular religion are personified in mature persons, such as, a sense of wholeness and well-being, yet without the trappings and practices of organized religions, such as, belonging to an organization, going to religious services, or saying memorized prayers.
Instead, in mature religion, one experiences religion (spiritual existence) within himself and his personal encounters with the world beyond his skin--that is, in the physical and social worlds where he finds himself. He may or may not be a member of an organized religion, but in either case his religious experiences are not dependent on external forms, such as, church attendance or commonly held beliefs.
(In the past I have imagined a potential organization for mature religion--which I called the Emerging Church in contrast with popular religion (Popular Religion and the Emerging Church, 1970), but in reality I am yet to see or find such an organization in actual existence, devoid of established beliefs and approved behaviors. )
ABIDING GUILT VERSUS SOPHISTICATED INNOCENCE
Popular religion revolves around the creation, manipulation, and illusions of relief from unnatural guilt. In mature religion there is no such religiously created guilt. Mature existence is like the innocency of childhood before repression and instilling of religious guilt in support of churchly authority, with one major difference: added sophistication--that is, vastly expanded knowledge of worldly circumstances, including the presence of evil, yet without judgments associated with self-righteous knowledge of good and evil.
With maturity one moves beyond any sense of personal guilt and shame which is so inherent in many aspects of popular religion, for instance, bodily shame (guilt about "being caught" naked; desire shame (about natural genetic urges); pleasure shame (about bodily delights); imperfection shame (about human errors and limitations--that is, "not being good enough".) The only guilt associated with mature religion is true shame related to denied humanity and the assumption of false godhood, as is common in popular religion.
Popular religions typically teach and seek to infuse shame and then use or "play on" guilt as a means of controlling members in approved ways. Beginning with parental stances, children ingest values of popular religion in what is called "conscience"--which is, in fact, only ingrained parental and social values.
Maturity typically involves working through all such externally acquired guilt, moving on to a stance of freedom which feels no shame about being oneself, even in purest forms, such as, "naked and not ashamed (as Adam and Eve are described in the Bible, before sin)," loving selfing, and being naturally sexual.
The closest parallel in mature religion to shames emerging from popular religion are natural "feelings of uneasiness" when one begins to repress himself and retreat into unnatural types of socially approved behaviors.
INHERENT VERSUS LEARNED
From the perspective of popular religion, mature persons may be seen as a-moral--that is, either ambivalent about morals, not moral at all, or even immoral. This is because popular religion defines morality in terms of prescribed rules about what is good or evil, regardless of circumstances. By definition, anyone breaking pre-determined codes is automatically immoral, just as those who rigidly obey them are automatically seen as moral.
Although the content of codes for morality varies from religion to religion, and even from sect to sect within each, those who subscribe to this definition typically see their own versions as "right," even universally correct. Even those who grant themselves private exceptions, such as, Americans who endorse capital punishment (killing murderers, e.g.) while viewing killing as immoral, seldom see their inconsistency in supposedly universal morals.
In contrast, mature religion, being beyond codified morals and into the challenges of situational ethics, is understandably seen as a-moral, especially by those most dedicated to popular religion. In fact, however, mature persons live by recognized principles of reality which may or may not conform to any existing codes of behavior commonly defined as morality.
Although mature morality may be voiced in the same language as that of popular religion, the words have distinctly differing meanings. For example, good and evil, right and wrong, can be equally useful terms, but with other implications. Whereas the good and evil of traditional morality refer to specific deeds or conditions, regardless of circumstances or who does them, e.g., adultery is immoral regardless, and helping others is inherently good, in contrast, good and bad in mature religion are synonyms for practical and impractical, feasible and unfeasible, "what works" and "doesn't work"; but all these are about individual responses to specific situations, without absolute virtues or evils in either, apart from their functionality for those involved.
In summary, good and evil in popular religion are about objective behaviors or states (e.g., deeds, thoughts, attitudes or feelings); but in mature religion they refer to subjective feasibility for individuals involved. For the first, what is good for one is good for all. What is bad for one anywhere is bad for all everywhere; but in mature morality, what is good for one may be bad for another, and what is bad at one time and place may be good in other circumstances. "What works" for one, may "not work" for another, or even for the same person at another time and place.
With these distinctions in meaning, certain moral "principles" of mature religion can be delineated--such as: Conformity with perceivable reality. Moral acts fit in with the way reality appears to work, e.g., the so-called laws of nature.
In metaphorical language, "conformity with reality" or "in keeping with laws of nature," is "in harmony with Mother Nature." It is bad or wrong in mature religion to offend or fight Mother Nature who always wins in the long run. It is good to cooperate with the "facts of life," and bad to conflict with "how reality works."
On the individual level, Mother Nature personifies one's genetic heritage, who-I-am as a natural human being. It is good, e.g., in mature religion to "be who I am," and bad "not to be yourself."
But even within the latitude of perceived reality, the parameters of Mother Nature, the ebbs and flows of evolution, there is room for limited changes, for shaping the elements of reality in new and creative ways more satisfying to human nature. Consequently, mature morality begins and ends with a basic acceptance of nature and "what works"; but within its limits between these opposing parameters creative persons may profitably seek to improve human conditions, to expand what is good for them and curtail what is bad--or, in the words of a prayer, to "change the thinks which can be changed." Finally though, mature morality involves a confident acceptance of "what can't be changed."
Aside from these principles there are no specific deeds, thoughts, feelings, or attitudes which are objectively (ultimately) good or evil in mature morality. There are no rules for good which apply everywhere, for all persons, and/or all time. Nothing is inherently good or evil in and off itself. There is no human potential, nothing a person can do, which, apart from circumstances is innately right or wrong, moral or immoral.
From a global perspective, this means that there can never be any human omniscience (all-knowledge)--that is, absolute certainty that even what seems best at a given time, most feasible given limited human knowledge in any circumstances, is in fact ultimately good. More information or different conditions may prove even the wisest, most moral-at-the-time, choices to be less than best, even wrong, as evolution progresses and human knowledge expands.
Although self-righteousness, even when unrecognized by those most so, is a common earmark of popular religion, of those who truly believe they know for sure what is right and wrong, such is not possible in mature religion where morality is always situational. Mature persons--aware of the ever-changing faces of reality, the evolutions of mature religion, the ultimate unpredictability of all that is perceivable, never have the common illusions of luxury in certainty, as often found in popular religion, nor do they suffer from its often cloaked devastations.
A spin-off of these contrasting moral stances is an equally opposite option of being or not being judgmental. Whereas popular religion is characterized by judgments, both universal and personal, mature religion thrives on ever-expanding degrees of discrimination, more and more knowledge of how reality actually works, increasing intimacy with Mother Nature; but mature religion never crosses the huge chasm between discerning and judging what is perceived.
While popular religion is at its best with universal judgments--that is, presumably certain knowledge of right and wrong, and with it, the right, even necessity, of putting up and down on any and everything, mature persons are beyond such judgments. which are at the heart of sin, as recognized in mature religion.
Without omniscience and its inherent judgments, mature persons are constantly open to new, missed, or yet unrecognized bits of knowledge which may be useful in sharpening discrimination and leading to increasingly more moral decisions.
Another spin-off of these contrasting views of morality is the equally opposite perspective on doubt--that is, openness to other than one right choice in each time of decision. In popular religion, doubting an accepted belief or judgment of right and wrong is seen as lack of faith, and thus a sin. Sacred premises are to be blindly accepted without question, without entertaining differing possibilities.
Certainty of belief, or absence of doubt, is one of the surest of all earmarks of popular religion. The truest of believers, absolutely certain of having right answers, have no doubts at all. Indeed their faith is defined as an opposite of doubt. "Taking it on faith," for example, means to accept even the most irrational of premises as absolutely true without any personal examination--that is, with no doubt at all.
Nothing could be further from the perspectives of mature religion, where doubt is an essential and continual part of expanding morality. Rather than being an enemy of faith, mental doubt is an inherent element in mature faithing. In quest of ever-sharper discrimination as essential for experiencing good life now, mature persons naturally doubt not only what they read or are told by others, especially when not immediately confirmed by their own perceptions, but they also look carefully at their own conclusions lest they settle for second best satisfactions.
Sin, in mature religion, occurs whenever a faithing person fails to hold an open door on even his currently best concepts, lest he miss larger delights yet hidden in un-faced possibilities--that is, wonders which cannot fly in except on the wings of doubt.
DUTY VERSUS ABILITY
In popular religion one hopes to be saved by God. One may try to be good to please a god, but is finally not responsible, especially for his own salvation (happiness). Instead he looks to be saved or made happy by gods (sacred and secular) and/or society. Also, he blames others, e.g., devils, bad parents and circumstances for negative events.
In mature religion responsibility is embraced ability-to-respond (respond-ability) as the word literally means. This is not a duty beyond wise activation of embraced respond-ability. In this perspective of mature religion, there is no blaming for errors, no circumstances made responsible for problems, and no looking for gods to save or lovers to complete and make one happy. Lovers, e.g., are ones-to-be-loved, rather than blindly adored secular gods, goddesses, or supporters whom one "loves" in quest of being made happy from outside oneself.
IMAGES VERSUS REALITY
Communion is a common experience in both popular and mature religion, yet distinctly different in its basis and practice. In popular religion, communion is with images, such as, dead and/or distant personages, like Jesus and God, e.g., in services where wine is not taken as real wine but seen as the blood of Jesus and bread is not real bread but taken to be his body.
In mature religion, communion instead is with reality--that is, with real nature and/or persons alive and present. Such communion is based on respect for the external world, including nature and people, and views each on an equal plane of value and worth with oneself--no better or worse, higher or lower, but "eyeball to eyeball."
As with nature--whether a sunset, natural place, plant, animal, or insect, so with any other person who is seen, accepted, and affirmed in whatever state he or she presently exists. For example, in case of nature--"bad weather," rotting trees, snakes, or vicious animals; or with persons--rich or poor, pretty or ugly, smart of dumb, emotionally healthy or mentally ill, one in mature religion communes with reality encountered in his presence via personal perceptions.
In a word, love. In popular religion one loves images, religious icons as well as those projected onto living persons. For example, one may love mental images of Jesus, or images of present persons, such as, an image of a potential convert, a lost person, or a fellow believer. In either case one loves a projection from his own mind ("How he sees" the other, either now or as he or she might become), but not the reality of the person as he or she is in actuality at the time.
This type of image love is in no way restricted to those in popular religion. In like manner, non-religious secularists may love images they blindly project on real persons. Typically, for example, "lovers," male and female "fall in love" with projected images from their own minds, not with the opposite gendered person in reality--as he or she actually is.
Males may fall in love with an image of a Princess or sexual object, who in turn may fall for her own image of a Prince Charming or a security object. But whether images are religious or secular in nature, in each case communion is with a picture in one's mind rather than another human being as they presently are.
In mature religion, in contrast, one dares love--both inanimate nature (the tangible world) and living persons as they are actually perceived by oneself--that is, not an image projected on the person, but the actuality of their present existence--not, for example, "for who they might become," or, "who I with they were," or, "who I imagine they may be behind a front," but "just as they are--warts and all," as they reveal themselves in present events.
DECIDING VERSUS BECOMING
There can be no evangelism in mature religion because maturity essential for its practice can only be attained by personal initiative. Then, once an individual succeeds in freeing himself from the bondage of repression, mature religion follows naturally.
Mature religion is synonymous with personal wholeness (maturity)--that is, through the process of re-becoming a natural person, one naturally becomes religious also, but this time, without illusions.
Evangelism, proselytizing, seeking to promote or spread mature religion directly is non-productive because of the nature of becoming dis-illusioned (without illusions). This can only occur as one by his own courage moves from beliefs to believing, from faith to faithing.
As Jesus noted long ago, "Except ye repent and become as a little child you can in no way enter the kingdom of heaven." The relevant word here is become. One must be-come, come-to-be in this condition--and such being can neither be given by another person nor acquired by an individual except through the personal process of re-becoming "as a little child."
The second relevant part of Jesus' observation is "...as a little child." What does this mean? Obviously we cannot read Jesus' mind and know what he meant; but my interpretation, my projection of meaning into his statement is this: Before one can participate in mature religion (heaven here) he must re-achieve the naturalness of a child who is yet innocent of socially acquired shame--that is, one must free himself from entrapment in illusions (as operative in popular religion), and once more come to respond to reality with all human capacities embraced and activated--as is evident in small children.
In other words, he must re-become his natural self.
The relevant point here is to note the impossibility of conveying required maturity in any of the evangelistic ways common in popular religion. For example, one cannot be "talked into" personal maturity by another person, no matter how sincere and/or loving that individual may be. Even if one is consciously convinced about the validity of mature religion, still the process of personal un-repression is required before he can participate in its wonders.
Nor can one simply decide in his conscious mind to become mature and then do so without successfully engaging in the process of un-repression, that is, becoming again "as a little child." Obviously a conscious decision, such as those made by converts to popular religion, may initiate the process; but deciding to make a trip, for example, is obviously not the same as being there. And so with a conscious decision to be mature and consequently to participate in mature religion.
Summary: One can be convinced about popular religion and then consciously choose to participate in its assorted illusions. Evangelism as practiced in popular religion may work well in increasing the numbers of converts to any particular group. But the same is not true with mature religion which can only be practiced to the extent that one becomes personally mature himself. When so, this latter type of religion follows naturally.
OTHER APPROVAL VERSUS SELF AFFIRMATION
The near omnipotent meme, What They Think, reigns supreme in the lives of those in popular religion. More than all else they are moved by other-affirmation--that is, external approval. Theoretically, their greatest devotion is only aimed at affirmation by an external god as interpreted by their particular religion. For the truest of believers, God-approval takes precedence over What They Think; but for average believers the same mode of devotion is also applied to society-approval and/or affirmation by other people.
For them, favorable regard of others--as evidenced in compliments, trophies, and recognition, plus living up to prevailing social or peer group standards, becomes all important. Public affirmation, even by strangers or those whose opinions have no effect on oneself, become supremely significant.
For example, "company is coming"--that is, when one's personal space may become subject to other-approval, becomes an immensely powerful motivation for "cleaning up the house," etc. Possible disapproval by others, especially as voiced in any form of criticism, is very threatening to self esteem. Losing any competition where public affirmation goes to another can be inwardly devastating.
In contrast, in mature religion the power of other-affirmation is reduced to its realistic level--that is, the motivational forces of What They Think (the meme) is viewed realistically. The opinions or approval of others are only valued to the extent that one is truly effected by them.
Instead, real powers inherent in self-affirmation replace imagined, unrealistic powers in approval by others. What-I-Think, for example, matters far more to a mature person than What-They-Think. Attention to and motivation by public approval is limited to the extent that one's personal life is effected by same.
Because we all live in society--that is, as members of social groups, certainly a minimal amount of public acceptance is essential for group acceptance. For those in politics and acting professions, public approval is obviously critical in a realistic sense. But for average persons, self-affirmation is far more relevant most of the time. Attention to and living by personal standards is much more important in mature religion.
That, for example, "company is coming" and others may glimpse one's private spaces, is far less important than that one is personally pleased with "how things are" at home. And, in regard to other personal deeds, creations, and projects, in mature religion self-satisfaction matters much more than what others may or may not think about what one does or has.
Insofar as personal values are concerned, in mature religion, "I like it," "It pleases me," and, "It makes sense to me," are far more relevant than, "Do you like it?," "Does it please you?," or, "Is this how you see things?"
In summary, other-affirmation is to popular religion as self-affirmation is to mature religion.
IDOLATRY VERSUS REALITY
In popular religion ultimate worth is unconsciously (following repression) assigned to an imaged entity, namely, God, Allah, etc. In mature religion every element of reality--all persons, places, things, events, and time are consciously (without repression) assigned worth. What in popular religion is, in effect, taken from elements of human experience in the real world of sensory perceptions, and then projected onto an other-worldly figure, is in mature religion "kept at home"--that is, spread out or projected into all aspects of reality.
For example, in popular religion where all worship is directed toward a God, persons are primarily valued only as related to or perceived as being in a right relationship with God--and that as defined by each particular religion. Others are seen as "lost" and hence without value unless or until they are converted into a believer's form of God-worship.
In contrast, in mature religion, where there is no icon worship, value is universally assigned to all human beings, regardless of their religious preferences, circumstances, or usefulness to a mature person.
And so with all places, things, events, and times. Whereas popular religion limits worth to a few special places, objects, events, and times, e.g., churches or worship sites, religious icons, religious events, and special days (like Sunday), no such limitations exist in mature religion. For a mature person, all times (7 days a week), all events (each encounter with another person or with nature) are highly valued; all "things"--that is, perceived objects, are seen as valuable; and every place, every bit of earthly environment, every aspect of the material world is viewed as worthy and treated with utmost respect.
In summary, whereas those in popular religion pick and choose--that is, assign ultimate worth only to their chosen icon and to selected elements of reality (persons, places, objects, etc.) as "rightly" related to their icon, mature persons are literally indiscriminate insofar as values are concerned, that is, do not discriminate and thereby limit assigning worth in the world. Instead, in mature religion worth-ship is experienced in regard to every bit of perceived reality--every person, all places, each object, all events, and every moment of potentially delightful life.
To understand this grand difference between worshiping an icon, as in popular religion, and experiencing worth-ship with all reality, as in mature religion, seeing another difference may be useful here, namely, recognition of psychic facts about projection and value as related to any form of worship.
A major belief of popular religion, rooted in repression/projection, is that worth exists "out there"--that is, inherent in blindly accepted icons, beginning with an external god and expanded to certain persons, places, things, events, and times related to this god (e.g., "saved" persons, religious altars, worship services, etc.).
True believers in popular religion consciously view themselves and their natural experience as worthless and only god and god-related perceptions as valuable. They do not see their own repressions and inevitable projections which underlie assigning worth externally.
In contrast, unrepressed mature persons recognize that no aspect of reality, including imaged icons, is inherently valuable apart from its relationship with human experience--that is, that worth is a human creation, not inherent in reality, which only becomes valued as individuals assign worth to "it." Literally speaking, "nothing (no-thing) matters" except as a human being dares to make it so, to see it as such--that is, personally assigns worth, e.g., to a "thing," an event, a time, or another person.
Following repression, the major basis for popular religion, and the inevitable projections of human capacities which follow, awareness of these assignments is lost to those who blindly make them and thereafter assume their limited external existence (as in, their gods, icons, etc.).
In contrast, mature individuals consciously choose to assign worth "out there"; they dare to personally create worth where none otherwise exists, in acts of faith in daily life.
Their "faith" does not lie in blindly accepted beliefs in external values peculiar to one's own religion, but rather "faithing" is, for them, the lively experience of being present in each place and time and courageously assigning worth to all as though it is literally "out there." Consequently, those in mature religion experience worth-ship daily, in the presence of all.
WHAT THEY THINK VERSUS WHAT I THINK
Those in popular religion are almost totally subservient to the powerful meme, What They Think. "They," in this case, begins with an idolized god, expands to idolized mothers and lovers, and often includes the opinions of relative strangers, such as, neighbors, sales clerks, and an unidentified "public."
Mature religion is, in contrast, mainly concerned with What I Think--that is, one's own "thinking (images, opinions, ideas, reasoning, etc.). For a mature person What They Think is relevant to the extent that one's own living is realistically effected by the approval or disapproval of another, such as, a boss or lover, but is relatively unconcerned with the opinions and beliefs of miscellaneous others.
In popular religion "their thinking" matters supremely while one's own thinking is of small consequence. "Their thinking" has two components: First, "their" knowledge--that is, beliefs, information and opinions from outside oneself. Secondly, what "they" think of you--that is, the approval or disapproval of "others," ranging all the way from strangers to parents to friends to spouse to God.
In this belief, another earmark of popular religion, the human capacity for perceiving, forming images, and de-coding them into concepts, colloquially known as "thinking for yourself," is short-circuited at Stage 2, imaging. Here one does take the first step in the Creative Process; he does perceive. But the major components of perceptions are not those of one's own bodily senses, but rather his taking in the perceptions of others--in this case, "their" ideas and images.
Even the beliefs and images of religious predecessors are taken in or adapted as though they were his own, that is, without utilizing one's own capacities for weighing or reasoning about whatever is perceived and imaged. Finally, the natural Creative Process is frozen completely in the realm of the beliefs of one's accepted religion. Not only does an adherent blindly accept knowledge of others without applying his own faculty for critical evaluation, but he also ceases to proceed with gathering his own information about the beliefs of his religion. He, in effect, "quits (or never starts) thinking" about the essential doctrines of popular religion. In these regards his mind is closed, even to the exclusion of natural doubts about whatever one does not perceive for himself.
But in the process of maturing, one gradually makes a major shift in focus of attention. Instead of only considering knowledge from outside oneself, either directly from persons in his acquaintance or indirectly through reading the ideas of others, he begins to accept his own capacity for thinking ("for himself") and to respect--even if in small degrees at first, what he personally concludes about whatever he has perceived.
As his own storehouse of personal knowledge expands, both from direct encounter with the world around him and from personal evaluations of what he hears and reads, he also comes to lower his dependence on what others think of him and to have greater respect for his own self-evaluations. The power of "what they think of me" gradually diminishes as one comes both to think for himself and to honor the results his personal "think-ability."
Finally, with fuller maturity, as is essential for practicing mature religion, the beliefs, thoughts, and opinions of others ("Do 'they' approve of me?") are dis-empowered of their seemingly magical force, as remains true in popular religion, and returned to the level ground of all other perceptions from outside oneself.
Carefully, such a maturing person avoids the temptation to simply reverse the habit of worshiping "their thinking" and instead switch to the same type of adoration for his own ideas--that is, shift from idolatry of external knowledge to self-righteousness about one's own thinking. A simple movement from "putting up" on "their thinking" and "down on" one's own, to reversing the direction of posited omniscience, is obviously not the same as maturing as a thinking person. Maturing is much more than the flip side of the coin, that is, switching from "they are right (and I am dumb)" to "I am right (and they are wrong)."
Instead, with maturity one carefully examines thoughts of others--that is, outside knowledge from history and accumulated research in all disciplines (religion included), plus current thinking from society and especially that of respected authorities and loved ones. But, and this is the critical difference from the stance of popular religion: in mature religion "their thinking" is not elevated over one's own thinking. Instead, all mental ideas (called beliefs in popular religion), both "theirs" and one's own, are recognized as "just thinking"--that is, mental abstractions ("opinions," "theories," "notions") rather than the heart of reality itself.
Then, on level ground--where all "thinking" is seen as secondary to perceptual experience itself, ideas from outside and inside ("theirs" and "mine") are weighed in light of one's inherited capacity for reasoning or "making sense" of whatever is perceived, both via bodily senses and conscious evaluations. Sensible conclusions are drawn in light of one's own experience, personal opinions, and goals at the time, and used--along with feelings, desires, and intentions, for shaping responses, both verbal and physical, to other persons and to the world at large.
All this, without returning to old idolatries of mental capacities--either "theirs" or "mine," in the larger context of living well with both mind and heart harmonized.
In regard to the second arena of "their thinking," namely, what others think (or feel) about you, in mature religion one views the opinions of others only in a pragmatic way--that is, not magically, as in popular religion. Certainly "what they think" about you matters much in many practical arenas, such as, on the job, in politics, and in all group memberships (family, community, clubs, churches) as well as in all personal relationships.
But unlike the immense, indiscriminate power vested in "public opinion" by repressed persons, for a mature person that power is reduced to a realistic level--that is, concern with "what they think of me" is limited to their actual ability to effect my life and interests. Outside this circle of real influence on one's good living, the opinion of others is simply valued as more information from the outside world--no more or less powerful and relevant than what is read in a book or learned from the newspaper or television. For example, what strangers (garbage men, clerks, etc.) "think of you"--that is, do they like or dislike, approve or disapprove of you (your emotions, dress, speech, or behavior), becomes relatively incidental to a mature person.
Summary: whereas in popular religion other-approval is critically important and self-evaluation is relatively incidental, in mature religion the situation is reversed. How one values himself--his opinions, feelings, desires, and activities, is supremely important, and the power of the approval of others is reduced to its realistic proportions. Mature persons have no unrealistic expectations of the powers of others to benefit or make them happy beyond those inherent in being a cooperating member of the human race.
PERFECTIONISM VERSUS COMPLETION
Popular religion assumes an impersonal state of perfection to potentially exist in things in the outside world, and in personal behavior, thinking, feelings, attitudes, and desires. Although these ideals are variously defined from one religion to another, in common they share the attribute of being externally determined, quite apart from any individual's actual capacities or even realistic worldly states.
Once any such ideals are accepted, either from the outside world (e.g., cleanliness, order, justice, peace, etc.) or as personal possibilities (e.g., to be unselfish, always loving, never angry or lustful), then one blindly--and often unrealistically, devotes himself to trying to achieve what is realistically impossible in either regards.
Instead of accepting externally idealized standards, either from others or as personally imagined, mature persons seek completion (full embracing and activation) or fulfillment of individually inherited and acquired capacities. In a colloquial expression, they try to "be who they are" versus to "act like" or to achieve some form of externally defined perfection.
In each instant they are carefully attentive to honest self-actualization, rather than achieving some degree of perfectionism either "out there" or "in here," including an objective ideal of "who I should be" or making a subtle goal of perfected self-becoming.
FRUSTRATION VERSUS CALM
One of popular religion's greatest appeals and apparent present benefits (in addition to eternal rewards) is a feeling (illusion) of relief, comfort, peace, and security in the midst of actual contrary life circumstances. "No, never alone," we sang in my childhood religion, because "Jesus is always with you." Have no fear, God will take care of you; every dark cloud has a silver lining, etc.
There are many cloaks for underlying real frustrations which are constantly threatening to break through if continual religious support for illusions goes lacking. Underneath veneers of peace and happiness in popular religion always there are existing frustrations due to inward splitting, the inevitable result of continued repression.
Conversely, in mature religion inner wholeness resulting from unrepression reflected in such knowledge as: "It won't harelip the world," or "Nothing matters that much," or "No place to go or hurry to get there"--that is, knowing that all values are humanly assigned, results in an unhurried, relaxed, "Why take life so seriously, you'll never get out of it alive anyway," relatively unflappable existence. Even death loses its sting beyond personal repression.
Summary: Appearances and temporary illusions of immediate well-being found in popular religion inevitably cloak deeper underlying anxieties rooted in inner division created by repression, itself the keystone to assorted idolatries in popular religion.
Conversely, wholeness of mature persons reflects in relaxed calmness, even in diverse threatening circumstances. Tension is one of the first signs of repression and is hence one of the common characteristics of adherents to popular religion which is largely rooted in personal repression.
In contrast, mature persons are relatively relaxed in comparison. In today's world, civilization is so advanced in reducing threats of nature that natural tension, as from hunger and physical danger, is relatively minor for a large portion of the civilized world today. But even in trying circumstances, mature persons muster their best capacities without getting uptight in the process.
Since they do not worship the gods of Winning and/or Being Right, and accept human limitations which often include errors and even failure, mature persons are less vulnerable to threats common to those in popular religion. Also, realizing that heaven is always potentially here, hurrying to get somewhere else (another source of tension for immature persons) is naturally uncalled for. Consequently, mature persons have no reason to be impatient and unwittingly frustrate themselves.
POSING VERSUS APPEARING
In popular religion adherents are constantly posing--as for a photograph, that is, "putting their best foot forward," "showing their best side," "on their best behavior," etc., as though God is everywhere present snapping potentially recriminating pictures, like Santa Claus before Christmas.
Mature persons, in contrast, are more focused on appearing than on posing--that is, showing up honestly as themselves rather than presenting a fake image of who they are not. "Looking good to others," for example, is far less relevant in mature religion than "goodly looking at others"--that is, being visually present in literal seeing, rather than caught up in "trying to look good." Recognizing the risks and dangers of ceasing to be oneself while caught up in posing, mature persons are naturally more concerned with simply appearing, both for photographers and other persons, where ever they may be.
ANATHEMA VERSUS UN-ENDING
In popular religion, self analysis--that is, examining the nature of oneself, is as much anathema as is the idolatry of any other religion than one's own. The more repressed a person is, the less interested he or she is likely to be in self analysis, indeed, the more threatened one is likely to be at looking openly and honestly at who he or she is. Unfortunately, this does not mean that those in popular religion actually accept who they honestly are without reservation, but rather that they tend to avoid the whole subject of looking inwardly at themselves.
Mature religion, in contrast, is characterized by an intense interest in self analysis, because the "stuff of self" is the only access we have to encounter the world and to experience salvation here and now. Following common repressions in quest of social acceptance, the process of maturity is likely to begin with an effort to look beneath assumed roles and stances in search of greater honesty and more authentic existence as oneself.
Such self examination may involve Freudian type analysis with an experienced analyst who in effect guides or accompanies one in the oft times threatening process of bringing repressions into the light of consciousness. More often, however, the quest for inner honesty or regaining personal integrity after splitting initiated by repression, must be dared alone, given the rarity of opportunities for assisted analysis in today's psychiatric world.
However it occurs, the process of self analysis, of continually looking openly at one's self in the course of daily living, with the prospect of ever increasing degrees of personal integrity (wholeness), is another earmark of those in mature religion. Since maturity is understood as a process rather than a static goal of perfection, self analysis is seen as an un-ending aspect of increasingly fuller degrees of "being oneself."
BAD VERSUS ESSENTIAL
In spite of conscious affirmations about "being yourself" by liberal members, basic theology of popular religion views human nature as bad, even evil in and off itself. In Christianity, for example, belief in "original sin" may be less talked about now, but is still an operative primary doctrine. This belief holds that since Adam and Eve originally sinned in the Garden of Eden, all their descendants (all humans) are likewise guilty by nature and in need of external salvation--that is, forgiveness for a primal sin which boils down to "being human."
Although "original sin" is explained in various ways, such as, disobeying God by eating a forbidden fruit, trying to be God, being sexual but not ashamed, or even as becoming conscious instead of blindly obedient, the implied premise as understood by most lay members is that who we naturally are, namely, selfish and lustful, is basically bad. If one is forgiven and saved by believing in Jesus who paid the price for our original sin, he or she is thereafter supposed to "live right" (as defined by each local religious authority), mainly by "serving God"--that is, "being unselfish," "loving everybody and helping others," and, certainly non-sexual except in monogamous marriage.
Although there are many variations in popular religion on these basic themes, such as, believing in Muhammad rather than Jesus, they all boil down to an assumption that if one is to please God (or Allah, etc.) he should in effect "overcome human nature," seen in Christianity as "the flesh," and thereafter strive to "be good" by "not giving in to fleshly desires"--that is, selfishness and "lusts of the flesh (sexuality)."
Mature religion, once more in sharp contrast, has no beliefs in "original sin," as though we are born guilty and must somehow learn to "be better" than we naturally are. Instead, human nature--that is, everyone's genetic inheritance, is seen as the essential basis for truly being ourselves in reality. The real challenge in mature religion is not overcoming bad human nature by acting unselfish and limitedly sexual, but rather freeing oneself from self repressions established in quest of religious and social acceptance.
In summary, as amplified elsewhere, earthly salvation is not found by suppressing one's bodily self and trying to be unnatural, but rather in fully embracing, indeed, becoming all that inherited genes allow, both as individuals and as citizens of the world.
Mature religion requires movement from Stage 3 to Stage 4 of the Creative Process--that is, from concepts to becoming, from holding reasonable concepts to becoming in body what one knows in mind's eye. In other words, from having sensible ideas to "having eaten" them into oneself.
In this physical analogy, eating food whose nutrients are then absorbed into body, is a metaphor for the psychic process of absorbing concepts into self--that is, "digesting" ideas into being, what one "knows in his head" to what he "knows in his bones (or heart)."
At Stage 3 of creative experience, images (Stage 2) are de-coded into concepts. Reasonable ideas which translate multiple perceptions into coordinated, whole ideas are then able to be held in mind's eye--that is, in memory or conscious thinking. They do not all exist in awareness at one time, but each bit of intellectual thought is subject to recall.
However, this body of notions, of concepts which accurately reflect personal perceptions, are yet to be absorbed into oneself (like food into body). They exist as mental entities, possessed, as it were, in one's head. Like the illusions of popular religion, one has them as sensible notions, not unlike unreasonable beliefs. In colloquialisms, Stage 3 concepts are like "book learning," "intellectual knowledge," or "educated smarts."
They may be logically sound or "right" to one who holds them, and even correlate perfectly with images emerging from actual perceptions, but, and this is the relevant issue here: As such, they are relatively impotent and can be held with little effect on personal life. Like the proverbial absent-minded professor who may be brilliant in his field, such an intellectually "smart thinker" may not be able to find his umbrella at the office--or his manhood at home. He may have shed many of the illusions of popular religion, but is yet to experience powers associated with mature religion.
Before the delights of mature religion become his, he must eat his ideas into himself. He must become what he knows.
HOW TO PRACTICE MATURE RELIGION
Mature religion is a by-product of being a mature person. To the degree that one becomes whole--that is, accepts, embraces, and activates his or her natural, inherited, and acquired capacities, to that same extent a person practices mature religion. Being mature as a person and practicing mature religion are synonymous. The only "how-to" for mature religion is "become whole" and you will inevitably practice mature religion.
Unlike popular religion which offers various magical cures or how-to procedures for achieving the good life--later if not now, there are, in reality, no short cuts to real human happiness, no procedures or how-to-do-its, aside from facing the challenges of unrepression and re-becoming who you naturally are.
Although various paths to heaven are presented somewhat differently in each popular religion, some offering salvation by simply believing in Jesus, while others require assorted devotions and various degrees of self denial and living up to differing types of "good" behavior--in common, all boil down to believing and/or doing something rather then becoming someone. In largest perspective, the major theme of how-to-be-saved in popular religion is through some form of attempted self suppression, if not negation--that is, undermining, controlling, or even destroying the substance of the material basis of mature religion, namely, one's natural self.
Although the specifics of maturation are as diverse as the uniqueness of all persons and evolving circumstances, there are some generalizations which seem to be universal for those who risk growing up in societies more concerned with good citizenship than going to heaven now, namely:
1. Unrepression: opening oneself for consciousness about inherited capacities and prior experiences.
2. Facing denials: looking in outside "mirrors" for glimpses of denied attributes and experiences.
3. Embracing one's self--that is, inherited and acquired capacities and limitations.
4. Becoming responsible: assuming responsibility for oneself and his place in society.
5. Adding artistry in responsible activation in direct expressions and cloaked sublimations.
Repression works, as historically proven, yet with possibly severe side effects for individuals, such as: 1. Leaving personal capacities unembraced; 2. Abusing the human capacity of consciousness; 3. Setting up individuals for rebellion--as in criminality, war, relational abuses, and/or various forms of mental illness.
A premise of mature religion is: with full recognition of the necessity for law, social structures, rules, etc., civilization has now advanced enough to begin another approach with possibly fewer side effects to essential social structures. If civilization as a whole is not yet ready, at least there may be individuals within each society who are ready for unrepression and the practice of mature religion.
Broad arenas of typical human repressions include: inherited capacities for being selfing and being sexual, for "being ourselves" and reproducing ourselves. Specifically: a) pleasing ourselves versus others in response to natural wants and desires; b) feeling natural emotions versus "should feels"; c) thinking for ourselves, embracing given choose-abilities; d) creating our worlds as best we can.
In terms of the Creative Process, this means continually participating in moment by moment processes of: a) perceiving as much as possible via 5 senses and any given degree of inherited 6th sense capacities (ESP); b) imaging each perception as clearly as possible; c) de-coding images into concepts as rapidly and reasonably as possible, based on accrued perceptions, past and present; d) absorbing concepts into self as soon as each can be comfortably "swallowed and digested"--that is, becoming what you know, as distinguished from having knowledge.
When natural capacities are repressed within oneself they are typically projected in two ways: 1) In popular religion they are projected onto an imaged god if seen as favorable, and onto demons if judged to be bad. When so, selfing and procreation capacities are seen as possessed and to be dispensed by gods--as interpreted variously by one's particular religion or denomination. Instead of pleasing oneself, one in popular religion aims at pleasing his god, again, as interpreted by each religious group.
Instead of experiencing natural emotions ("feeling one's own feelings" as they arise within), one tries to allow and exaggerate those seen as good, while strongly denying those judged as bad, e.g., trying to feel love and not feel anger, aggression, selfishness, or sexual desires outside strictly defined limits.
Rather than thinking for oneself--that is, being reasonable, making sense of personal perceptions and images, and choosing one's way based on sensible concepts, human decide-ability is projected onto a god (as interpreted by religious authorities, e.g., popes, priests, preachers, etc.). Then one seeks to "do his will" rather than willing for oneself.
Overall, human desires and willing--what I want and what I will do, is, once projected, only seen as what I should want and what I ought to do. In summary: want and will are repressed within and projected "out there," seen in sharply limited categories of should and ought.
Finally, the deepest and most comprehensive and pervasive of all human capacities, namely, for limited creativity, for creating our own worlds as satisfactorily as possible in any given circumstance, are repressed within and projected onto a god as Master Creator. Thereafter, we sharply curtail, even kill, natural creativity in favor of what we then see only as His supernatural creative capacities.
I theorize that this grandest of all godly attributes, even past omnipotence, omniscience, and immortality, summarized as "Creator of All" is enlarged in inverse proportion to repressed personal creativity--that is, the more natural creativity we deny, consequently the less creative we perceive ourselves to be (reflected in currently prevailing self views as a victim of circumstances), the more we also project onto our god. Those with most repressed creativity imagine the greater gods.
Or, in terms of power (inherent in embraced human capacities), the more we repress natural, personal forces, leaving ourselves relatively impotent, the more omnipotent our gods appear to be. The less we perceive ourselves as able to do, the more we imagine our gods able to do for us--if only we can please them enough.
Similar projections are easily seen in the secular world outside popular religions, where the gods of religion are replaced by those of society, e.g., mothers, country, authority figures, wealth, winning, success, etc. After self repression, non-religious persons typically project powers of personal capacities "out there" onto one or more of these familiar secular gods. For example, one may give life over to trying to please other people, beginning with mother and later extending to friends, authorities, spouse, and even "other people" in general.
"Good" is shifted from the virtues of popular religion to those of one's peer group, community, ethnic group, and country. Efforts of devotion are then moved from trying to gain favor with gods to being approved and rewarded with social favors (status, trophies, honor, wealth, etc.).
LEVELS OF TYPICAL REPRESSIONS
Understanding the sources of repressions in typical persons may be useful in the more challenging process of unrepression. Suppression commonly begins in the nursery in an essential quest of obtaining adult favor during times of relative impotency. When continued over time, suppression typically phases into repression which is then lost to conscious memory.
Typical levels begin and advance in this order:
1) Instincts, such as, natural aggression, as expressed in biting, e.g., mother's nipple.
2) Emotions, which are a step above instincts in biological development--for example, anger or fear, which may be expressed in hitting or unwanted crying.
3) Thinking, which follows emotions in order of developing capacities. Early in life a child's natural thinking, as in, deciding what to do, soon comes into conflict with mother's desires. At such time "minding your mother (in essence, giving over your mind to mother for making decisions)" may be the beginning suppression of personal thinking.
4) Conscience formation. Although forces encouraging personal suppression begin externally, as from parents, in time they tend to be internalized in the form of what will later be called "conscience," so that a child can anticipate negative responses from adults and by "following orders" ahead of time, often avoid punishments. By forming an internal "voice" in line with outer voices, a child may learn to, in effect, "beat them to the punch" by acting in an acceptable manner "without being told," and in so doing perhaps achieve greater favor and rewards for "being good."
After these typical types of suppression phase into non-scious repression, the latter steps, coming later, tend to be the first to be faced if one begins the process of unrepression. That is, first one may become aware of internalized directives in his "conscience." Then, awareness of mind repressions tends to follow, as one begins to unrepress natural thinking; this in time is followed by facing emotional repressions, and then lastly, instinctual denials.
AS A LITTLE CHILD
As noted before, the process of unrepression may be discerned in Jesus' statement in the bible: "Unless you become as a little child you can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven." I interpret this to mean: natural, spontaneous, uninhibited, and innocent (without shame or judgment). Also I noted that he said "as a little child..."--that is, like, but not same as. I understand this to mean what has been described as with "sophisticated innocence"--like a child's naive innocence, only now with sophistication or wider knowledge of the outside world.
I take this process of becoming again "as a little child" to be what I see as "unrepression" or working back through repressions acquired in the process of social adaptation and re-embracing the self we all once were--only now with much wider knowledge of how the world and society actually are beyond our own skins.
I see this process as divisible in two major parts: First, Internal, and then, External.
In reverse order of how typical repressions tend to occur, the latter being less denied and therefore more easily subject to consciousness, I find the first likely arena for beginning the much longer process to be:
1. Facing conscience.
As noted, in contrast with popular understanding of conscience as the innate voice of God or a natural "moral compass," I see it as the internalized voice of local mores--that is, values acquired first from parents and then from local religion and community of which they are a part.
In this perspective I observe that a first order of business in beginning to unrepress one's larger self may well be facing conscience--that is, becoming more fully conscious of ingrained (acquired by teaching or "osmosis" from parents and community) directives which have previously been internalized without self-examination as though they were indeed sacred and universal.
In practice, once a set of judgments about right and wrong has been uncritically "taken in," they continue to silently influence, if not direct, all behavior to which they have been applied, through the forces of shame and guilt ("Step on a crack, break your mother's back"). Until these sub-conscious directives have been brought into fuller light of consciousness and re-examined in light of actual experience one cannot but remain "unthinkingly" under their domination.
Certainly bringing dark directives into fuller awareness and examining them in mind's eye will not make them go away, but clearer seeing may open to door to further unrepression of even darker habits standing in the path of "becoming again as a little child."
2. Unrepressing mind.
Slightly below conscience lies the wider domain of personal thinking--that is, using one's own mind to examine perceptions and reach personal conclusions, rather than blindly absorbing thoughts of others and then living by them as though they were one's own. In colloquial language this means daring to begin "thinking for yourself," to "be reasonable" in light of personal experience, to "make sense of things" as they appear to you as an individual.
I postulate that mental repression typically begins when a child starts to "mind his mother" rather than "making up his own mind" about behavior in the world. I speculate that a literal translation of this familiar directive would be more accurate, that is, "give your mind to your mother (or parent)" in those arenas where her will differs from your own. Probably such "behaving yourself" in accord with her desires is first done with awareness of self-denial; but all too soon the habit may become ingrained--that is, self thinking suppressed for long easily turns into mental repression in which one actually loses conscious contact with his own natural mental processes.
However thought-repression comes about, I see unrepression of mind to typically begin with: 1) Acknowledging more of one's actual perceptions--that is, "seeing" more clearly what one actually perceives with his five senses in the world. For example, after repression one knows what others "see (or say they do)" and what he "should see" if he wants to remain accepted by them; but this beginning of unrepressing mind starts with "this is what I see..."
2) Next comes making clean personal images from the substance of one's own perceptions--that is, daring to form mental pictures which more clearly give shape to what is privately perceived.
3) Then, following the course of natural thinking, one begins to de-code pictures into concepts--that is, to translate images into concepts which can be more easily held in mind space. This is in contrast with simply accepting what "they" see/think, taking "their" ideas as one's own, rather than "thinking for yourself," making one's own sense of things, drawing one's own conclusions, "adding up" actual experiences, "being reasonable" in accord with one's own knowledge.
Next, after expanding personal thinking about present-tense experience, a second major phase of unrepressing mind involves resurrecting "forgotten" or "repressed" memories about past experiences. Typically, difficult experiences in early life are simply "pushed out of mind" when we "try not to think about" problematic events. In time these conscious denials (refusals to think about it) tend to become truly unconscious ("forgotten"), yet to remain active in one's deeper mind, wielding significant powers over present life.
Consequently, "opening one's mind" to past experiences which have been repressed from awareness to ease coping with immediate situations now becomes a second major part of mental unrepression.
Finally, relearning to "think for yourself"--based on openness to present and past personal experiences, all this an internal process, culminates in actually deciding what to do with one's life in the outside world with other people--that is, moving past "shoulds and oughts," plus the desires of others, and on to "wills and won'ts" of oneself. This latter part of unrepressing thinking may accurately be phrased with the deceptively simple notion of "making up one's own mind" about how to live in the world.
3) Unrepressing emotions.
Emotions are the product of lower brain activity, below the level of cortex or "reasonable thinking." Consequently, emotional repressions tend to be deeper than mind denials and may therefore be more challenging in the process of unrepressing one's larger self. Nevertheless, re-establishing conscious contact with "feelings" is a third phase of personal unrepression. Because males are typically more emotionally repressed than females, this step three often proves to be especially challenging for them.
But for both genders many natural emotions (such as, anger and aggression, especially for females) become repressed from awareness in the activities of daily life. To whatever degree this has occurred--that is, to the extent that one lives "on top of feelings" rather than "with (as) them," re-learning to feel natural emotions in awareness becomes an essential phase of personal unrepression.
4) Acknowledging instincts.
Below levels of logic and feelings, mind and emotions, lies the even darker realm of genetic instincts--that is, primal, en-gened, directives which evolved long before consciousness was even possible. But in the process of unrepression and re-becoming our larger selves ("as little children") these too must be allowed into awareness.
As is well known, major instincts exist in two overlapping arenas: 1) blind urges for self survival ("staying alive"), and 2) equally dark directives for self replication ("making babies"). I summarize these pre-conscious urges with the terms: selfing and sexuality. We are, I conclude, most powerfully moved, even when all conscious thinking is to the contrary, to survive and enhance life as ourselves ("be selfing"), and then to make more of ourselves ("be sexual"). Awareness of these powerful instincts is primarily transmitted to consciousness via the door of desire--that is, "wants," passions, and personal interests.
Consequently, phase four of unrepression involves re-awakening ourselves to what we all once knew, namely, to "want what we want when we want it"--as adults sometimes describe this natural state of childhood before repressions sets in.
In practice I find unrepressing these two major instincts to be in reverse order of how they have evolved over time--that is, with survival instincts ("selfing") coming before and being stronger than reproductive drives ("sexuality"). It seems that our deeper and most powerful repressions come with the first of these instincts. I have coined the term selfing because we as yet have no commonly accepted reference to this drive besides selfishness--which, as everyone knows, is almost universally seen as "bad." Before these early-acquired judgments, I think pre-sexual instincts for "taking care of" and "being ourselves" are at the heart of what is most naturally human.
Later, especially with emerging puberty, instincts for replication ("being sexual") come to the fore and begin to move us with equally dark powers. Perhaps it is because these drives come later and are therefore closer to consciousness that we tend to face them first. But for whatever reason, I find that unrepressing natural sexual desires often precedes facing even darker and more powerful instincts for "being ourselves"--or what I call selfing.
Effective internal unrepression--that is, facing and embracing previously denied private aspects of oneself ("inside"), naturally leads to equally important external unrepression. I see this part of maturing in three major arenas:
1. Acknowledging worldly connections.
First, one begins to recognize previously unseen connections between oneself and the outside world. While deeply repressed inwardly, one commonly imagines self to end at the borders of skin, that is, to view oneself as essentially alone, isolated, even cut off from other people and the world at large. Feelings of loneliness, for example, often cloaked with compulsive sociability, are familiar results of this erroneous self conception.
But as inward unrepression allows a clearer and more sensitive response to the outside world, one comes to see the error of living as though he were isolated or "not a part of this world." Just as inward unrepression involves becoming embodied--that is, exiting the illusion of being a separable soul, self, or ego only residing in "his" or "her" body, and coming to exist as an embodied one, so external unrepression begins with re-becoming "en-worlded"--that is, no longer "a stranger here, just traveling through," but a connected part of the larger world as revealed to one's senses.
With skin as both real and metaphorical, it is recognized as but a permeable conduit which allows a functional inter/outer flow of products from "out there" and "in here"--e.g., air, food, and sun rays coming in, and sweat, urine, and excrement going out.
And as with physical movements between skin, orifices, and the elements of the outside world, so with intangible movements between inside nerve endings (sense receptors) and perceptions of the outside world. "Messages," as it were, from outside perceptions (e.g., sights, sounds, smells), impinge on inside receptors eliciting emotional and mental responses. At the same time, internal desires and intents shaped into words and actions give form and structure to outside creations.
Ever expanding inside unrepression results in enlarged capacities for sensing internal emotions, memories, and knowledge, as well as elements and aspects of the outside world. That is, internal unrepression allows for more sensitive reception and response to outside stimuli, both physical (more sights, sounds, etc.), emotional, and mental. One comes to perceive, feel, and think more clearly, honestly, and in greater detail about the world beyond his own skin.
Both literally and metaphorically, one comes to be more "in touch" with the physical world. Such "in touch-ness" allows and leads to greater presence as a responding and participating part of the larger world. A maturing one in effect "shows up" more fully in each situation of contact with whatever is perceived.
Overall, with external unrepression one moves from an illusion of aloneness as a dis-embodied, ethereal, cut-off entity, into the reality of "showing up" physically, emotionally, and mentally as a part of the universe--that is, "at home" here, wherever he happens to be.
No longer does he flee or try to escape from the world, as though it were a bad or evil place; nor does he simply shift from worshiping a heavenly god to making an earthly goddess of nature itself--that is, becoming a worshiper of nature. Instead, recognizing one's essential connection with the natural world beyond his skin, he comes to exist everywhere in a worshipful manner, so long as breathing allows him to be both in and of this lovely earth.
2. Recognizing social connections.
External unrepression leads not only to seeing and accepting a-part-of-ness with the material world, but also with social and cultural worlds--that is, with other persons and the socio/religio/cultural worlds which give civilization its wonderfully diverse shapes and forms.
Before, while internal repression kept alive illusions of being an isolated and alone entity, with other people and the structures of society as entirely separate, either as threatening enemies or potential saviors, the peopled world may indeed have seemed like a dangerous place. But as external unrepression begins, enlarging vision allows one to also see his a-part-of-ness with whatever social world he happens to exist in the midst of.
For example, as outside blindness phases into open looking, one comes to see that he is truly a-part-of his ethnic group, his family, his community, his state, his national region, his nation, and indeed, civilization at large. As it were, he "joins the human race," becoming a citizen, not only of his country of birth, but also of the world.
With human citizenship, that is, existing as a-part-of the physical and social worlds around him, he also comes to recognize the immense intricacies of all human connections, and the innate challenges in being both a-lone-one and a-part-of at the same time. The mystery of the logical paradox of being both separated by skin and selfhood while also connected by blood and social situations is embraced with awe.
As one moves beyond illusions of "the world is a bad place" and "people are out to get you (or possibly save you)," and into recognition of the good earth and all others as fellow human beings existing in varying degrees of personal repression, he also comes to recognize the necessity of social rules, laws, and structures for protecting individual rights among those yet dictated by unacknowledged instincts and the consequences of personal repression.
Then, as a-part-of the social as well as physical world, such an externally unrepressed person becomes socially responsible--that is, assumes a realistic stance in representing his own perspectives in civil and religious structures where he finds himself.
At the same time, while acknowledging actual connections with other persons, a maturing one gives up the easy illusion of blaming them for his own difficulties. He becomes responsible, not only for his place and rights as a world citizen, but also--and often with greater challenge, for himself and his own happiness.
3. Coming to love.
Finally, as degrees of internal and external repression are phased into fuller acceptance of who one is, both as an individual in the physical world and as a responsible member of the human race, the door to love is opened.
This ultimate state of human existence which is but an impossible dream so long as one is caught up in degrees of repression and denial of himself and his true place in the world, finally becomes a daily option. As degrees of unrepression increase, so, for the first time, does the possibility of truly loving oneself. Then with a gradual escalation of self love, increasing fulfillment allows for overflow to others as well as self--that is, living by the Golden Rule finally becomes possible.
Internal and external unrepression--that is, truly becoming oneself, opens the door to loving oneself. Then, and only then, does loving others as one loves himself initiate entrance to the kingdom of heaven on earth.
GENDER AND MATURITY
Predictable gender homework on the path toward maturity may be seen in three categories: 1) first, that which is for everyone with remnants of god-like figures remaining in their deeper psyches; 2) secondly, for those gendered as male; 3) and thirdly for humans with vaginas.
1) HUMAN HOMEWORK
-- De-coding all images as personified in popular religion, whether overtly practiced in daily life or existing as primary, pre-conscious images in an otherwise secular mind.
-- Moving toward primary identification of self with personhood rather than with gender-orientation or with a self-created ego--that is, trying to literally be a man or woman without embracing genetically larger human elements encoded in 24 other chromosomes besides two X's or an X and Y in each cell.
2) MALE HOMEWORK
-- Embracing natural maleness, including gender-based powers typically suppressed in society and commonly repressed in civilized males and projected onto females, e.g., powers to "turn males on" (or "off").
-- Expanding self-identification from maleness alone to larger existence as a person who happens to have a Y chromosome (and its influences) in each cell.
-- Recognizing, accepting, embracing, and wisely living with lessor genetic powers of masculinity in comparison with those of femininity.
3) FEMALE HOMEWORK
-- As with males, recognizing, accepting, and wisely activating greater genetic powers than males--that is, what has been called the "natural superiority of women," and learning to moderate these genetic and social advantages in cross-gender relationships, rather than avoiding, denying, and/or abusing them in relating to males.
-- Recognizing and embracing genetically rooted "gene eyes" for male hunks--that is, sexual passions associated with obviously powerful males who are likely to have "better sperm" for impregnating a female ovum.
-- The same with enormous capacities for personal, sexually-related pleasures existing before and after child-bearing years and outside all socially approved relationships, such as, monogamous marriage--that is, capacities for personal pleasure in sex apart from its obvious utility as a force in male management.
RELATING TO POPULAR RELIGION
How do those in mature religion relate to popular religion and true believers? As noted before, mature religion involves relating to reality in mature ways. And "reality" obviously includes not only the natural world and secular society, but also the many influential popular religions presently in existence. In today's world, how does one in mature religion relate to popular religion in general and its adherents in particular--for example, to Catholicism and practicing Catholics, or to Islam and practicing Muslims?
First, seeing and recognizing popular religion as a major player in the real world of today is a beginning step. Just as Mother Nature is a primary force in the real physical world, so beliefs in a Father God of assorted names and images in popular religion are truly operative in the real social worlds of today. It would be difficult to overestimate, for example, the real powers of natural genetics (Mother Nature) or the real forces of popular religion, both in its in-house practices and in the secular world as well.
Point: A mature person acknowledges all aspects of reality as perceived by his senses, popular religion included. As with all other parts of perceived reality, so with popular religion and its followers.
In summary, mature persons relate to all reality with respect, with discrimination but not judgment, with acceptance as perceived, and with active responses when appropriate. These principles apply, for example, when relating to forces of nature, such as, weather and animals; to forces of society, such as, laws (memes) and other citizens; and to forces in popular religion, such as, prevailing beliefs of Christians, Muslims, etc.
More specifically, mature religionists recognize and respect the reality of popular religion and the beliefs of its adherents. They carefully discriminate its various beliefs before taking any into their own minds, just as they do any food or drugs before taking either into their bodies. Then they carefully discern between what makes sense to them and what is unreasonable based on available data; but they do not cross the chasm between sharp discrimination and personal judgment.
For example, if a particular belief or religious practice is discerned to be unreasonable, even ridiculous when compared with other information, still a mature person respects the right of everyone to believe whatever he does, even if it doesn't make sense to him.
This respect of individual rights reflects in careful discrimination, but without judgment or put down on even the truest of religious believers (e.g., the most fundamental of Christians or Muslims), or judgment of oneself for seeing things differently. The practice of such respect involves discernment of degrees of open or closed-minded-ness of other persons. If openness is discerned, then careful conversation about an area of belief may be feasible; if not, carefully avoiding the subject may be appropriate.
In either case, a mature person tries to relate realistically to a follower of popular religion, accepting their differences of opinion, but never engaging in forceful attempts to "try to change them"--that is, to "prove them wrong," to "make them see the light," or to convert them to mature religion. Recognizing that sincere believers identify themselves with their accepted images, a mature person dares not abuse one he cares for.
Instead, one responds in love--that is, he sees and accepts another wherever the other perceives himself to be, including his repressions and illusions. Then, even with contrary private opinions about the beliefs of another, a loving one affirms him or her as a person who just happens to see things differently at the present time.
Obviously this does not include affirming a belief perceived as erroneous in reality; but it does require open acceptance of the right of all to hold their own beliefs, and avoiding judgment of each as a person with equal rights, including seeing things differently. Sometimes, depending on the aggressive nature of a true believer who may see all others outside his religion as "infidels" or "lost and in need of salvation," a mature person may have to practice the arts of responsible deception--as caring parents may sometimes find necessary with inquiring children, in all encounters; still, however, he does so lovingly and without judgment of the other.
But what about the practices of popular religion, such as prayer, church attendance, and other religious rituals? How does mature religion relate to the various activities of popular religion? Again, as with individual believers, so with their practices. The same principles of love (see, accept, respect, and affirm persons) apply to each.
Although a mature religionist does not affirm the illusions of popular religion nor its image-related practices, e.g., Holy Communion, for himself, he may openly participate in various rituals for social and/or relational reasons.
Just as he recognized the reality of "bad" weather, unjust social systems, and unhealthy relationships, and openly participated in the reality of each as responsibly as possible, so with the structures and practices of popular religion--which are also significant parts of the real world. He may, for instance, attend church services, bow his head for public prayers, and sing religious songs with lyrics rooted in illusions. And, for private reasons, remain silent and/or deceptive about personal opinions, including disbelief in such images and ideas.
But, because he cares for himself as well as the followers of popular religion, he carefully avoids repressing his own consciousness and personally slipping back into religious illusions which require negating inherited capacities for being reasonable--that is, moving on to Stage 3 and 4 of the Creative Process.
But even in trying circumstances, mature persons muster their best capacities without getting uptight in the process. Since they do not worship the gods of Winning and/or Being Right, and accept human limitations which often include errors and even failure, mature persons are less vulnerable to threats common to those in popular religion. Also, realizing that heaven is always potentially here, hurrying to get somewhere else (another source of tension for immature persons) is naturally uncalled for. Consequently, mature persons have no reason to be impatient and unwittingly frustrate themselves.
ANALYSIS OF POPULAR RELIGION
I theorize that what happens in the process of "becoming religious" as practiced in popular religion goes something like this:
In early childhood one exists in a state of functional unity with the immediate world. In the beginning, I and it are one--that is, there is at first no sense of "me" as separate from "it" or "out there." An infant and its mother exist as though they were the same being, at least from the baby's perspective (as best we can tell from available data). Mother, representative of the world at large, is simply a part of an infant's universe, existing, as it were, like air--that is, an element available and useful in rapidly expanding personal experience.
She exists, we might say from an adult perspective, only as a servant or extension of a child's world--nor as a separate person with rights of her own. From an infant's perspective, we may imagine (since we have no way of actually knowing), that it-is-as-though she and I are the same, or that she is only a useful extension of me--there to serve my needs, as my own hands and arms will later become.
Furthermore, existence in a unified world, before an enlarging brain allows for drawing distinctions between "me" and "mother," or I and it, and all the threatening and dangerous consequences inherent in existing as a truly separate person, a well-tended infant must exist in a state of relative comfort, even euphoria or what we adults may call "happiness."
Seeing their smiles, hearing their coos, and observing the relaxed and contented states of well-nurtured babies, we can easily imagine that the worldly "womb" of early post-birth existence must still be like a form of "heaven on earth." Imagining further about pre-birth womb existence in which all needs are externally supplied and an embryo is "totally irresponsible" for him or herself, we may reasonably suspect that we all come toward childhood with a reservoir of primal memories of oceanic, "heaven-like" memories of an ideal state of human existence.
It is precisely such primal memory which later becomes, I theorize, the basis of popular religion.
But with the advent of a swiftly enlarging brain and its inherent capacity for expanded consciousness, there also comes recognition of divisions and distinctions in the world. First, perhaps, hot versus cold; and then here versus there, plus pain versus pleasure. Soon these differences phase into awareness that I and mother are not actually the same--that is, she is not simply an extension of myself, as it must have seemed in earlier days outside the womb.
And with these primal recognitions, seeds are sown for the birth of self--that is, I versus it, or me as separate from a larger world "out there."
So far, so good; such recognitions--gifts, we might say, of Mother Nature via evolved and enlarged human brains, open the door for "learning from experience," that is, improved shaping of circumstances more in accord with pleasure than with pain--or more like "heaven on earth" than "a bad place to be." The firmer and clearer one's sense-of-self as a separate one becomes, the better equipped we are for creative world-shaping, that is, maximizing satisfactions while minimizing dis-comforts.
On analysis, what is happening goes something like this: perceptions, the primal stuff of world-recognition, naturally phase into images of what-is-perceived. These bits of discrete mental pictures may then be held in "mind space," subject to being laid aside and picked up later as tools for making comparisons, weighing data, and moving on to the next natural phase of human experience, namely, forming concepts from what has been perceived and shaped into images.
When so, when perceptions are phased into images which are then used in construction of concepts, and these are absorbed into one's ever-enlarging sense of self, the door is continually being opened to creative existence in the world as revealed to us. And with such creative living comes the natural consequence of relatively delightful existence in this proverbial Garden of Eden (meaning pleasure) on earth.
But in the midst of this Garden of Pleasure the tempting serpent must come to every child inviting an escape from natural humanity with promises of personal godhood--as metaphored in the first book of the Christian bible (Genesis).
My interpretation of this allegory--which does indeed seem to be the story of every person I have known or read about, goes like this:
Stage two of natural experience involves translating perceptions (Stage One, sense-recognitions) into images, fluid, pre-verbal, "pictures." Ideally these mental images (e.g., a human face) are used in shaping accurate conceptions (conscious ideas) from what is first imaged. For example, perceiving (Stage One) a person's face, an infant might pull the assorted sensations (sights of nose, mouth, hair, etc.) into an image (a mental picture) which can then be temporarily held and compared with other previously acquired images. Then, following the path of natural mental activity, these diverse images may be transformed into a conception. Were language available then, an infant might think: "Aha, she is my mother." Or, "Uh oh, I don't recognize you."
But Stage Two, imaging, which is naturally a fluid, functional part of bringing perceptions into consciousness, can also be, as it were, frozen-in-time. Lively, ever-evolving mental "pictures" can be stopped in their natural flow into becoming personal conceptions. Then, rather than shaping concepts in accord with actual (real) perceptions, we may pervert the process by creating imaginary images--figures or pictures of what is not actually there, but exists only as "figments of imagination."
So far, so good--at least temporarily. Ideally, capacity for expanded imagination, for using prior, real images to create new, not-yet-existing forms, is perhaps one of the finest elements in human evolution. With it and the added capacity for expanded consciousness we may more effectively and wisely shape our worlds than any other creatures yet to evolve. By daring to imagine what-is-not-yet but might be, we humans have greater capacity for enhancing survival and planning ahead for even greater self-satisfactions than presently exist.
But with this wondrous gift of fertile imagining also comes the possibility of perverting it into an escape from honest conceptions (the natural third stage of consciousness) and the further challenges of conscious self-responsibility in the world. We can, that is, wisely use our "good imaginations (inherited capacity for imagining)," or, we can dumbly abuse the gift as a means of escaping reality into an unreal mental world of our own creation.
It is this later option which, again I theorize, becomes the basis of popular religion as it exists today. My speculation is that primal memories of delightful, oceanic, unified existence, both in mother's womb and in the earliest times of post-birth existence when parents may indeed exist and function primarily as an extension of infantile needs and desires--that is, are there "to take care of us and make us happy," naturally come to be shaped into unrealistic images of seemingly ideal personal existence.
This, I think, would be normal and natural, temporarily, as a child learns to swim in the flow of waters springing from expanding recognition of I and it--that is, existence as a separate self, an a-lone-one, in the larger world of distinguishable experiences and objects beyond its own skin.
But what commonly happens, as best I can tell, especially in childhood circumstances when the first major its (parents) are less than ideal care-takers, and the challenges of becoming an effective I (self) are therefore greater, is this: Instead of daring the risks of "learning to swim" on one's own (become a responsible, separate self), we more easily pervert imagination into a tool of escape rather than a useful stage in natural thinking.
More literally, we "quit thinking for ourselves (allowing normal mental development)" in favor of moving into imaginary worlds of our own creation. We "dam up," as it were, the process of natural thinking; we "stop using our minds"; we cease "being reasonable" based on actual data (our own perceptions). Instead, we suppress natural thinking and take real images of the infantile world where god-like earthly parents exist to take care of us, removing discomforts and supplying our needs and wants, and project them into an unreal world of our imaginations where, for example, an other-worldly god may be assumed to exist to take care of us as our this-world parents either did or we imagined they might have.
Blindly we may make idols of our images. Instead of phasing them into sensible concepts, we may freeze them into icons which we, in effect, bow before in quest of gaining their imagined superhuman powers for our personal benefits. Just as we learned to "mind our mother (let her have control of our thinking)" and "behave ourselves (follow her desires for us)," all in quest of securing and keeping her real earthly powers favorable to us, so we come to imagine a similar "religious world" which replicates the primal infantile world, even in more idolized forms when our actual parents were less than perfect.
What began as real "lusions"--that is, mental images formed from actual sense perceptions, comes to be frozen into unreal "il-lusions"--idealized figments of a healthy imagination. Then, instead of being used as the stuff of sensible concepts, as we in effect "dis-illusion" ourselves by transforming "lusions" into notions, we remain trapped at this elemental stage of conscious thinking. Our frozen and usually exaggerated images become mental idols to which we thereafter try to submit ourselves (our thinking and behavior) in quest of their special favors--as we had earlier learned to do with earthly parents.
Such frozen "lusions" become what is known in psychology as "de-lusions"--that is, "lusions" or images "gone astray" as fluid from the processes of natural thinking and mentally formed into shapes then taken as actual reality. Popular religion, I conclude, is, in broadest perspective, a social organization in which such shared delusions are commonly accepted as actual reality and become the stack pole or central theme around which adherents gather and shape their lives in consort.
Popular religion, as I understand it, is rooted in non-sciousness and requires continued reinforcement of non-scious "thinking" to remain effective. I place thinking in quotes to imply a special use of the word. Literally, the phrase would be "non-thinking"--that is, those most successful in the benefits of popular religion (of which there, obviously, are many) are best characterized by a type of frozen mental state in which established beliefs (primarily, thoughts of others) are substituted for present-tense thinking.
Obviously "thinking" in its broadest sense of "mental activity" goes on in popular religion; but the point here is to distinguish this familiar type of mind use (literally, dis-use) from the creative, on-going, ever-evolving nature of natural thinking in which no image is frozen and permanitized into a mental idol.
In this state of non-sciousness (non-present-thinking), the specific nature of the religious mind is halted (kept at a standstill) at the second stage of normal mental activity. Whereas images naturally evolve from perceptions and would normally move quickly on into conceptions, in popular religion they are expanded into imaginary shapes and forms which are thereafter frozen at phase two, idolized, and then used in substitute for continued natural thinking.
Thoughts (nouns or mental entities), we might say, are frozen into beliefs or the tenants of any given religion, which are then idolized as The Truth and consequently worshiped as such. Thereafter these mental icons (il-lusions or de-lusions of gods, demons, right behavior, etc.) are consistently substituted for proceeding on to the more normal stage of reasonable sense-making--that is, forming concepts in which assorted images are fitted into whole notions congruent with personal perceptions.
Obvious advantages of popular religion are both private and public. In private, idolizing imaginary icons frees one from the challenges and expanded excitement of healthy thinking. No faith is required to simply accept and worship images-made-sacred as in religious beliefs. When one is privately successful in halting the processes of natural thinking and willing to accept any set of beliefs as sacred, then there are manifold public advantages of being affirmed and participating in any of the wide variety of popular religions and assorted denominations and sects of each.
The down-side, unfortunately, includes the prices inevitably to be paid, both privately and in public, for squelching natural mental capacities via continued suppression and repression of one's inherited mind in service to devotions and idolatry required in popular religion.
FOLLY OF PREACHING
The grand error I made as a minister was not, I now think, in the accuracy of my theology or the quality of my messages, but rather in my over-estimation of the power of words, ideas, and conscious thinking. Or, on my blind side, I under-valued the forces of non-sciousness as a consequence of individual and group repression.
I mistakenly believed without proof that proper thinking could somehow correct or alleviate damages and limitations caused and established by a lifetime of denial and repression--both in myself and those I tried to serve.
Consequently, caught up in this error, I devoted undue amounts of time and energy to honing my theology, fine-tuning discordant beliefs, and preparing ever-more refined presentations fully in accord with established rules of reason and logic, rather than asking, let alone demanding, that what I preached should simply be taken "on faith," as did other of my more successful brothers of the cloth.
As with my parishioners, so with myself. Although I included a stronger element of self-analysis along with my diligence for clarified thinking for myself, still I erroneously functioned as though right thinking could heal me, even as right beliefs and behavior were supposed to save others in popular religion.
Certainly I recognized the reality of a Freudian type unconscious mind, operating below the surface of common awareness, but still I remained relatively blind to the quantities of personal power commonly projected "out there" onto gods, society, and other people in the process of individual repressions--beginning in earliest childhood and largely established by the age of 3 or 4.
Nor did I fully appreciate the rigorous discipline and personal courage required for confronting such established modes of prejudice, especially as existing in myself. More easily I observed--and tried to help fix--the resulting problems in others. This allowed me the continued illusion of being a "good person"--even as I had learned to cope by being a "good boy" in childhood, and to self-righteously evade the more difficult phases of my own unrepression.
Retirement, fortunately for me--and perhaps to the longer range benefit of some of my former parishioners, helped put an end to this continued "virtuous" escape. Without them to "help," I could more openly devote energies to the challenges of "working our my own salvation," which, as Paul also observed in the bible, is likely to involve "fear and trembling."
As I have found to be so.
A related error I dimly recognized but failed to take in proper account lay in the potential counter-productivity of intellectual insight--that is, conscious recognition of older theological errors (which I now see as illusions) and their reasonable correction being used as a clever form of neo-self-righteousness--that is, a more mentally sophisticated escape from the challenges of courageous unrepression. Just as it is easier to preach than to practice what is preached, so it is to intellectually see what is called for than to do what is required for present-tense salvation.
Unwittingly, if not intellectually, I may have provided mental escapes for my listeners which delayed their own confrontation with personal repression--even as I did for myself.
I do not mean to belittle potential benefits of insight, of intellectual understanding; indeed most all steps in progressive unrepression are likely to begin with "seeing the problem" before involvement in resolution. But I also note the risks of stopping true growth at the level of insight and simply becoming a more sophisticated Pharisee yet avoiding the challenges of pilgrim-hood.
ORIGIN OF RELIGION
I see two major roots in the origin of historical religion: 1) Male revolt against domination by females in goddess eras of pre-history times (abuses by superior female powers). Groups of excluded males probably gathered in revolt and overpowered maternal-oriented social groups. This was also the beginning of Chauvinism and machoism (illusions of male superiority) as compensation for natural male disadvantages. Earlier reasonable goddess worship was, I suspect, perverted into illusionary god worship.
Father God is probably a male-created illusion unconsciously designed to help men cope with the superior powers of Mother Nature in general and superior females in particular.
2) Threat of certain elements of natural maleness, e.g., adoration of females, childhood homosexuality, and misplaced aggression, led to the beginning of repression/projection onto a god as an agent of control.
Left brain, thought-oriented males are far more likely to become true believers in illusions than are right brain-oriented, practical-minded females who tend to remain more attentive to realistic, immediate concerns.
Females, for instance, are far less concerned with intellectual theology and impersonal principles than with practical matters. Most theologians of each popular religion are male. Even when females concern themselves with the illusions of theology they are far more eclectic, freely choosing beliefs from many religions which they find to be more pragmatic than illusionary.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MATURE RELIGION
In the following comparisons, perspectives of mature religion are contrasted with the beliefs of popular religion:
-- Accepting reality versus judging the world (playing god) or any aspects of it as perceived by senses, as given and as extended in constantly improved technological advances into "seeing" deeper and deeper into how nature works.
-- Being present with all inherited capacities open and activated in each circumstance and encounter, versus being relatively absent in immediate events due to repression and/or chosen self denial.
-- Living creatively, as best seen in creative efforts of recognized artists, rather than repressing human creativity and projecting all such powers onto an illusioned god, as in popular religion.
RESULTS OF MATURE RELIGION
-- Love as the apex of fulfilled natural life, rather than the result of overcoming or negating what is natural.
-- Being in the world as it is now revealed, rather than idolizing, trying to change the world, and/or escape from it.
-- Promoting humanity because we are human, e.g., over rats and roaches, rather than because we are better or more favored by a God.
-- Recognizing the reality of evolution as contrasted with illusions of Creationism--not because the first is better or right, but because it makes more sense, is more compatible with the wealth of acquired human knowledge so far. Even so, given the reality of human "niscience" versus omniscience, any bit of human knowledge may turn out to be wrong in the long pages of history.
LIMITATIONS OF MATURE RELIGION
Mature religion cannot be institutionalized, structured, captured in teachable concepts, promoted by evangelism and/or coerced by force. Its language can only be used as pointers, not teachable and conveyable entities (like beliefs, catechisms, and creeds in popular religion).
Mature religion can only come as a result or by-product of individual maturity (personal wholeness)--which, obviously, cannot be given from without.
RISK OF MATURE RELIGION
-- Making a new religion of science versus old religion of god; worshiping data versus beliefs or images.
EARMARKS OF POPULAR RELIGIONS
1. Super-powerful Image (icon) to be worshiped; capable of controlling the world and dispensing salvation (happiness or a good life) to individuals.
"Having a god" is practicing idolatry. Analysis: personal capacity powers are repressed within and projected (in mind's eye) onto a god. Although never recognized as such, even with a first commandment against same (In Christianity), such projections occur by the nature of repression itself. Initial suppression may be in awareness, but when it phases into repression it slips into non-sciousness.
2. Opposite type bad image to be avoided, variously named Satan, Devil, Evil One, etc.
3. A private language.
4. Rules for how to be right (gain favor of icon) commonly include: a. Right thinking, and, b. Right behavior.
5. How we "go wrong," called "sin."
6. Plan for reaching heaven after death.
CONSEQUENCES OF POPULAR RELIGION
On positive side: Popular religion has been a major factor in structuring civilization so far. Most all values we currently enjoy in society are products of popular religions. Even when phased into and underlying secular structures (e.g., "In God we trust") they are due to the premises and practices of popular religions.
Most degrees of personal well-being by a majority of citizens today are the direct result of religious based values and structures in society, plus individual practices of organized religion, and/or dedication to its beliefs.
On minus side: Greatest cost is abuse and attempted negation of the human capacity for consciousness--in particular, the possibility of reasoning (sense-making, literally), plus living by advances in sensible practices and maximizing reasoning in technological advances rooted in best of scientific methodology--this primarily done by promotion and affirmation of psychic repression.
Consciousness or "being conscious" is "thinking for yourself." One of the greatest dangers of popular religion is abuse of this apex of human evolution so far, and the only door to real love. Popular religion deprives one of embracing this highest capacity in the most significant arenas of human experience by providing ready-made answers (religious beliefs) and repressing use of consciousness ("thinking for yourself") in regard to each sacred belief.
-- Making a virtue of repression; glorifying irrationality, "not using your head," and "being unreasonable"; identifying faith with blindly accepting the most unbelievable of ideas (called "taking it on faith").
-- Institutionalizing of idolatry made virtuous versus recognized as such (e.g., of a heavenly god).
-- Making virtues of acting versus being; e.g., acting good versus goodly being or being whole.
-- Glorifying an escape from the fuller elements of reality, as in, disembodiment and heaven later versus more wholeness and fuller presence now.
-- Limiting natural human creativity by stopping development at Stage 2 (Imaging) of the creative process, and thereby curtailing movement on to Stages 3 and 4 (Conceiving and Becoming what one knows), with consequent losses both to individuals and society.
POPULAR SECULAR RELIGIONS
Secular religions, never recognized as such by those who practice them, use no religious terminology but have all the earmarks of popular religion. For example, gods of religion are replaced by secular versions of super-powerful icons, such as: Romantic love; Winning (especially for males); Wealth; Political position; Security (for females); Nationalism; Racism; Communism; Democracy; Science; Professions; Small group clubs (A.A., Dance, Poker, Tennis, etc.).
In practice: God in popular religion = Winning in secular society, symbolized in trophies and public acclaim. Or, a religious Devil = secular Losing, as in, "Agony of defeat." Or, worshiping a God in religion may be paralleled by adoration of a woman in secular society, as in, Romantic Love.
SHARED GOALS AND IDEAS
-- Feeling of well-being; sense of awe, contact with mystery, virtue of loving and helping others; care of political structures; worship (worth-ship).
--Language (believing, faithing--nouns as participles); God as language symbol for ultimate in reality, but more like Mother Nature than Father God.
-- Sense of good and bad; but with sin as violation or attempted negation of natural, as in, being against ultimate reality. Good as essence of natural versus social line-crossing (more like "a good shit" than "good deeds."
ROOTS OF WAR, TERRORISM, RAPE, AND JEALOUS HUSBANDS
1. Much world terrorism today is rooted in male repression fostered by popular religion. Deeply ingrained beliefs in grand heavenly rewards (and relief from earthly demands), e.g., 74 virgins for a Muslim who dies in service of Allah, plus deprived life circumstances, may combine to make suicidal missions sorely tempting.
2. Genetically speaking, instincts for male aggression are intimately tied to primal urges for self-replication--that is, sex and violence are biologically connected. I theorize that following the evolution of reproduction by sex rather than cloning, the need for male aggression in its service must have become ingrained soon thereafter.
First, aggressive force in intercourse itself, in contrast with passive participation, must have been favored in genetic selection of successful males. Then, aggression in service of protecting pregnant females from natural dangers would be needed.
As social structures of one male to protect and service several females (as later seen in lion prides, herds of horses, and human harems) evolved, certainly the need for male aggression in providing increasing amounts of supplies as well as fighting off other challenging males would have favored additional "fighting genes."
At the same time, urges for self-replication in displaced males forced out of family groups would favor their own aggressive drives aimed at displacing Alpha males or otherwise securing sexual access to pregnable females.
Finally, as family territories--that is, protected space for keeping a number of females and growing offspring safe and supplied with food, as well as free from other ambitious and jealous males, expanded, aggression in Alpha males would certainly have been required.
In summary, I theorize that for a variety of practical reasons genes-for-aggression have predictably evolved in all males, especially those with more Alpha male type characteristics.
In service of similar drives for self replication in females, other genes-for-security-making have likewise evolved in the baby-making gender.
INSTINCTS, REPRESSION, AND PROJECTION
All genetic drives exist with operative powers. Probably these forces are the heart of what we call instincts--that is, an observable power is, for language purposes, given a name, much like powerful winds are given Hurricane names when they reach a speed of 74 or more miles per hour.
As is well known, the most primal human instincts are for survival and reproduction--or drives for selfing and sexuality, with many supporting sub-powers, such as, aggression in males and beautification in females.
Normally and ideally, these moving powers are directed in arenas they have evolved to support. Selfing urges, e.g., are directed, made operative, in effecting self-survival and self-enhancement ("being ourselves"). Sexual drives are expressed in reproductive-related activities, such as, finding, getting, and keeping mates.
But when these individual forces are brought into society--that is, when persons gather into groups, all the way from friendships between two, to marriage, to world civilizations, certain adjustments or refinements are required to meet innate needs of each, which in many ways are essentially the same. Just as persons are moved to survive and reproduce, so with societies.
Although both share the same drives and are ultimately inter-dependent--that is, each requires the other for its own existence and replication, understandably there are many times when shared forces are in conflict. Often, as everyone knows, "what I want" and "what they want from me" are in direct opposition.
Ideally, functional compromises are made without damage to the integrity of each (e.g., as in a marriage of two persons, so in a society of thousands). But in practice--as is equally well known, this is not always the case. Sometimes individuals rebel and do damage to social structures, and vice versa.
Historically, the major mode of accomplishing compromises has been overt suppression of threatening internal forces by society, and covert repression by persons in a required adaptation to fitting in with existing social structures.
It is this latter phenomenon, namely, personal repression in service of group adaptation, which is relevant here, specifically the psychic fact that repression of natural instinct-powers does not dissolve or "make them go away," but rather sets the stage for their blind displacement into other arenas of human expression.
Forces evolved for one purpose are, following repression from conscious awareness, commonly resurrected ("sublimated") in other "places (arenas and activities)"--only now, blindly and without the guidance of conscious reasoning.
Often these blind projections (second side of repression) are invaluable for society as a whole, as well as for individuals who make them insofar as they exist as members of such groups. But--and this is the point of this extended analysis, when instinctive powers are divorced from personal awareness via repression, and consequently from the guidance of conscious reasoning, they are often unreasonably expressed in negative as well as positive ways, both for the values of society as well as natural human values also.
That is, potentially positive powers rooted in primal human instincts for selfing and sexuality are all too often used destructively in society as well as in the lives of those who opt for self repression in service of fitting in with others.
Major arenas in which I observe this phenomenon at work in history and in current living include these:
1. Historically, I see all popular religions evolving in this way. Most basically, natural human creativity--that is, adaptability in service of instincts, is repressed inwardly and projected outwardly onto imagined god figures who are then deemed to hold these forces in superhuman forms.
Thereafter, self-created gods are seen as possessing all powers both of creativity (e.g., making the world) and of other projected instincts for expressing selfing and sexuality in daily life. Powers which would otherwise be available for individuals in wisely activating personal creativity in service of inherited instincts, guided by conscious reasoning, are then blindly projected onto imagined heavenly gods (in theory), and given over to their earthly representatives (religious authority figures) in daily life--that is, local "priests (religio/secular leaders, such as, Moses long ago and the Pope today)" who may have idealistic visions, but all too often turn out to be equally human (and as self repressed) as those they exercise authority over.
This, I analyze, is the nature of evolution of popular religions in history, as well as their continuing existence in the world today.
Other examples of the same phenomenon at work in the lives of individuals (often manipulated by religious and political authorities for their own purposes) include:
a. Male aggression evolved for success in replication (for sexual reasons), when repressed and cut off from its natural purposes, is "free floating", as it were, and commonly resurrected in such external arenas as: war against group enemies (as in, international conflicts), and slightly cloaked war against others in one's own group (as in, organized sports, competition for wealth, and winning in relational endeavors).
On the individual level, the same repressed male powers are often blindly expressed in unreasonable competition with all males (as though every other male is an enemy); attempted suppression and control of females (as in, Chauvinism, domination in business and marriage, rape, and the "jealous husband syndrome").
b. Female natural superiority, evolved primally for successful replication (baby-making and child rearing), when repressed and cut off from awareness, is often resurrected in self-negation in forms of outwardly accepted male dominance and resentful submission; blind dominance of males in emotional and spiritual ways; and many other forms of self-sacrifice cloaked in "for the children," "for family" and "for peace."
Secondary female sublimations predictably occurring when genetic forces are severed from their natural purposes include:
1) Beautification, genetically evolved for attracting powerful males (sperm and security providers), when repressed is often resurrected in blindly pursued beauty for its own sake ("just liking to be pretty")--or what might be called "free floating genes for male attraction."
2) "House Beautiful" phenomenon, that is, blindly pursued attempts to make a perfect home, regardless of expense, practicality, and cost to family relationships, is, I think, one consequence of natural "nest-making" genes repressed in their evolved arenas and resurrected in current spaces.
3) "Peace at any price" is a projection of natural, motherly values for circumstances conducive to successful child rearing, repressed and cut off from reasonable expression in family life, and then resurrected blindly in all social relationships.
In personal, pre-gender arenas, that is, with selfing instincts even more primal than reproductive urges, following repression major resurrections are often made in popular religions and their secular spin-offs, specifically in these arenas:
1) Making a virtue of self-sacrifice in service of others ("putting others before self"). In this religious and socially approved "highest virtue," forces which might otherwise be wisely expressed in self creativity--that is, being and loving oneself, both individually and as a participating member of society (with overflow love), are instead blindly resurrected in self-righteous services to others, all too often with destructive consequences both for those one attempts to "help" as well as oneself.
BREATHING AND THINKING
As breathing is to body, so thinking is to mind--that is, critical to physical and mental health.
A popular conception--mis-conception, in my opinion, is that thinking is difficult, tiring, and "will wear you out" quickly--as reflected in such statements as, "Don't make me think (as though it is hard to do)," "I'm all worn out having to think so much," "Thinking is for intellectuals," etc.
I think these familiar negative opinions are all based on degrees of human repression. Otherwise, sans repression, thinking is as natural as breathing, and equally essential to living well as an individual. In reality, thinking, like breathing, is rejuvenating, not tiring, and equally as natural when this higher and younger genetic capacity is compared with deeper and more primal air intake and exhalation.
But once one opts for repression as the major means of merging social expectations with genetic urges, then curtailed thinking becomes a predictable tool in structuring this unnatural means of social adaptation. Instinctual control is initiated by nipping it in the bud of consciousness--that is, thinking naturally about natural desires. "If you don't think about it, you won't do it," or so goes conventional wisdom.
When members of extreme religious cults, such as that of David Karesh, are seen as "brainwashed" the description is, I think, an accurate metaphor. Their natural think-ability, their "brains" have been "cleansed" of personal reasoning and in effect turned over to a leader who then "thinks for them."
But as is obviously so in extreme religious cults, so it is also true in lessor degrees in all forms of popular religion. Even when "brains" are not completely surrendered, they are typically closed to sensible thought in all arenas of the sacred beliefs of each group. Members who may otherwise think clearly and honestly in other realms outside their religious devotions, may be completely repressed when it comes to honest personal thinking about blindly accepted beliefs. If not "brainwashed" completely, they are typically "clean" when it comes to the religious sin of "doubting" sacred beliefs.
Although such mental closures are obviously useful in protecting ancient ideas which structure each popular religion, they are, I conclude, personally damaging to those who opt for the required suppressions of this element of human capacity, namely, honestly examining every notion in light of personal perceptions.
Devoted followers, to the degree of their "true believing"--that is, blind acceptance of official doctrines and practices with elimination of doubt about them, pay the price of sacrificing a portion of Mother Nature's latest gift to humans, namely, consciousness and reason-ability.
Although these sacrifices are deemed necessary and virtuous, even redemptive (essential for salvation) in popular religions, they are anathema in mature religion where open mindedness is as natural and necessary as breathing itself insofar as heaven here is concerned.
Without or apart from (either before and/or after) repression of natural think abilities, as made virtuous in all popular religions, honest thinking is no more difficult and tiring than natural breathing. Instead of a task to be avoided whenever possible, "being reasonable" about all perceptions, including religious ideas, is a regularly rejuvenating aspect of being a whole person and consequently participating in mature religion.
If truth be known, the hard thing about thinking is not exercising natural thought processes, but rather "trying not to think" about something. "Not-thinking" honestly, that is, engaging in mental repression--even in service of valuable religious and social acceptance, is indeed an exhausting endeavor, especially when practiced over time. Initial suppressions of conscious thought may seem easy, even temporarily relieving; but over the long haul, when "trying not to think" about anything is phased into mental repression, vast amounts of psychic energy must be diverted into this unnatural process. This, I conclude, is what makes natural thinking seem difficult and to be avoided. Otherwise, I find, honest mental activity is both a present delight and an ultimately freeing human possibility.
Popular religion is teachable; mature religion is not
Popular religion requires teaching to exist, while mature religion cannot be taught. Popular religion is essentially a social phenomenon in that it is passed from generation to generation and person to person, or else it dies out. But mature religion is inherently personal--that is, based in personhood. There may be pairs or groups, even organizations of mature persons, but each member belongs because of his or her achieved degrees of personal wholeness, not because they were taught or learned maturity from others.
Because popular religion is teachable and to be learned, it can be expanded by various forms of teaching or intellectual persuasion, such as, evangelism, direct attempts at converting others, even by physical force, overt or subtle invitations to join (such as, direct psychological pressure or active salesmanship, or indirect appeals to an interest of outsiders, e.g., church recreational programs, summer camps, rock music, etc.).
Conversely, all such efforts are ineffective, even counter-productive, insofar as membership in mature religion is concerned. Because personal maturity is the essential basis, not intellectual and/or emotional acceptance, outsiders (repressed persons) cannot simply be converted to wholeness, either by direct teaching, mental or emotional persuasion, evangelism, inviting programs, or even strong personal desire.
Certainly one can intellectually reject the gods of popular religion, as in, atheism, and learn or memorize the perspectives of mature religion (as outlined and explained in this essay). But no amount of "head knowledge," "right thinking," "heart believing," and/or acting in mature-like ways can take the place of becoming whole as an individual. In fact, because intellectually rejecting popular religion and learning the stances of mature religion is relatively easy in comparison with facing the challenges of unrepression and embracing denied aspects of oneself, such mental/emotional endeavors may easily tempt one into a pseudo-maturity (intellectualism) which becomes a roadblock in the path of true wholeness.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with intellectually exploring the errors and limitations of popular religion, including its overt rejection, or with studying the earmarks of maturity (as outlined here). Ideally such mental endeavors can be a first step on the path to regaining personal integrity if one evades the temptation to fall into one or more of the secular versions of popular religion.
Always, however, the path toward personal maturity and the enjoyment of mature religion is beyond such intellectual endeavors. Most commonly, facing personal repression, daring unrepression, and becoming responsibly artistic in social living, are the "work of salvation" in mature religion.
Although none of the various forms of teaching and evangelism which serve popular religion so well are applicable in mature religion, two potentially positive activities by mature persons aimed at encouraging maturity in others are: 1) Pointing toward the path and goal, and 2) Creating circumstances more conducive for escalated honesty. In a word, loving others in a mature manner, that is, by accepting, affirming, and freeing them to more completely become themselves.
Summary: Insofar as "helping others" is concerned, none of the effective, even required, means of converting and keeping members in popular religion, namely teaching beliefs, reinforcing them, and curtailing honest thought as much as possible, are functional for mature religion. Instead, "pointing" toward various aspects of maturity, either by example or conversational means, may invite attention to the perspectives of maturity.
Then, creating a context or circumstances more conducive to the requirements of wholeness may encourage and support the moves of others toward becoming mature themselves. These circumstances are best described with the three major attributes of mature love, namely, accepting others as they presently are, affirming them as persons of worth, and freeing them to try their own wings of emerging wholeness.
MATURE RELIGIOUS PREACHING
In principle, mature preaching is but a more verbal form of activating mature love than counseling, which is more silent in its practice. The same elements of accepting, affirming, and freeing, as the modes of mature love are here shaped into verbal forms, called "preaching," "lecturing" and/or "teaching."
First, negatives--that is, contrasts with more familiar forms of preaching in popular religion: Mature religious preaching is not: authoritarian, dictatorial, self-righteously god-like, forceful, manipulative, or trafficking in guilt and shame.
Instead it gives verbal shape to the aims of: 1) Pointing toward maturity, and 2) Inviting self movement in that direction--without presuming to know just what that might be for any listener.
For example, in Christianity (which I know best), such preaching might involve presenting and amplifying biblical texts which point toward predictable qualities of mature religion, such as, Jesus statement: "The kingdom of heaven is within you" rather than "out there." Or, "Behold now is the time of salvation" (versus in the future). Or, "Let everyone work out their own salvation...with fear and trembling" (noting the challenges of unrepression).
RELIGION VERSUS SCIENCE
The historical conflict between religion and science, as currently reflected in religious Creationists who believe the world is only 6000 years old, and scientific Evolutionists who see evidence for millions, even billions of years of earthly existence and life forms, may roughly parallel these comparisons of degrees of maturity (with Creationists being less mature, and scientists more so). But closer observation reveals a common break down in relating accepted ideas (beliefs) to personal maturity.
For example, scientific thinking as contrasted with religious beliefs does not necessarily mean more maturity. One may simply rebel against religion and embrace science without any increase in personal maturity. Seen more clearly, many non-religious "scientific" thinkers have simply switched from a religious religion to a secular religion. They "believe in evolution" in the same way religionists "believe in God." They, in effect, worship at the throne of science (reason) just as religionists worship at the throne of God--with small, if any, increase in degrees of personal maturity.
Point: To understand the difference between popular and mature religion, one must look beyond distinctions in content of thinking, as in, religion versus science, or Creationism (Intelligent Design) versus evolution. True believers in science (rational thinking) may be just as immature as persons as true believers in, say, Catholicism.
Both popular and mature religion are about happiness, human well-being, ultimate experience, the best possible life. Each shares the same goal of highest level of human experience. Both also share a common language; but each defines shared terms in radically different ways. For example, both affirm faith, hope, and love, and such experiences as freedom, awe, ecstasy, and transcendence.
WHY USE RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE?
Why use older religious language for describing the perspectives of mature religion, instead of less confusing secular terms, such as, reality, life, naturalism, or psychological maturity? Although each of these latter terms can be accurately identified with mature religion and may initially be clearer and easier to understand, they also lack the emotional depth of older religious words, such as, sin and salvation, heaven and hell, etc. While secular words may be intellectually correct as defined by Webster, none carry the weight in common understanding as do the ancient terms of religion.
For example, while "well-being" or "emotional maturity" may be literally correct names for profound personal experiences, each such modern term is, in my opinion, sadly lacking in comparison to "going to heaven" and "knowing God."
Still, the reasonable question: Why bother with religious language when trying to clarify human maturity, especially given its near universal identification with dogma and practices of popular religions? Why not simply use psychological and/or colloquial language for describing the nature of human maturity?
I note two significant reasons: 1) Widespread understanding of basic terms in popular religion, such as, God, Satan, heaven, hell, etc.; and 2) No comparably well known replacements. Psychological language may initially be better (easier to understand), but it too has severe limitations in these regards: too much diversity and conflicting branches or schools; terms too easily associated with negative social judgments (e.g., "mental illness"); no clear concept of sin (how we "go wrong") or salvation (how we "get right"); too much identification with the medical profession and physical health only, with underlying premises of outside causes for disease and ill health (germs, viruses, injury, conditions, etc.), leading to excessive emphasis on drug therapy which ignores personal responsibility; too small a view of human capacity for personal responsibility; overbalanced in mechanics and under-attentive to faithing; focused on body and mind with little or no attention to spirit (soul); no concept of love; too much unrecognized identification with social values which are often at odds with natural human values (as in popular religion).
Why use the term religion (Mature Religion) to describe a mature state of encountering reality without illusions? Why not leave it as a psychological perspective only? Certainly the name religion is more commonly applied to what I see as being illusion-based, and the word mature is more often related to psychology than to religion--where lost and saved are common descriptions.
Still, even with these familiar associations, I prefer to keep the name religion with mature as a distinguishing feature, because I understand this latter state to be far more profound than any psychological term alone can imply.
Mature religion, as I see it, is awesome--that is, finds its daily reality surrounded by a sense of awe, not unlike that of popular religion except for its basis in reality versus illusions. Whereas early stages of real-world knowledge left at the level of acquired concepts only, before one dares go on to absorbing what he knows, may end with self-righteous boredom, completion of the creative process leads to a profound state of human existence best seen as religious awe.
Unfortunately current psychology has no favorable understanding of awe, except the type resulting from ignorance or the illusions of popular religion.
Lily Tomlin's term awe-infinitum, might be a good description of this delightful state of wonder rooted in fuller contact with the real world. Awe, in mature religion, is, in effect, extended infinitely.
As noted before, popular religion commonly involves suppressing the natural world as encountered by human senses, even attempting to get out of the revealed world rather than more fully in it. This negative view of the physical world "out there" is paralleled by an even more negative view of the inherited bodily world "in here"--that is, natural desires, inclinations, and eventual return to "the dust from whence we come."
The type of awe experienced in popular religion comes with illusions of escape from body (into "soul") and submissive identification with an imagined god who is assumed to give back this good feeling when one worships him. Consequently, awe in popular religion is predictably short-lived and requires continued suppression of one's natural self plus re-newed devotion to accepted illusions.
In sharp contrast, fuller participation in revealed reality, as one regularly approaches the obvious edges of human knowledge and dares face the wonders of not-knowing (true mystery), also leads to a similar sense of wonder; only now--and this is the crucial difference: awe is experienced realistically, that is, through actual encounters with the tangible world via our five bodily senses.
Scientific explorations into reality expand human knowledge, but, paradoxically, instead of ending the quest for knowledge by providing Final Answers, as in popular religion, each new discovery opens the door to even wider ranges of mystery. Every new answer for one probing dark avenues in knowledge typically comes with even more questions.
Unlike the obvious (if unrecognized) self-righteousness of those in popular religion who believe they have certain and final answers, explorers of reality become increasingly humble as they confront the ever-expanding nature of the real world. Their awe of natural wonders, being rooted in reality rather than illusions, is consistent, on-going, and unafraid of honest curiosity and open doubt.
Why call my subject "mature religion" rather than simply naturalism? Why not see this perspective as non-religious, as it will predictably be viewed by staunch religionists today? Why not simply idolize secularization--as distinguished from religion? Or, why not see it as intellectualism versus ignorance, or science versus religion, or psychology versus theology?
In fact, each of these perspectives is more descriptive of the nature and practice of what I call "mature religion," but each also falls short of properly respecting human values now institutionalized in popular religion, such as, language for ultimate human experiences, including concepts of sin and salvation, glorifying ideal human conditions of hope, joy, happiness, etc.
1. Language (words-as-symbols) is essential for extending the parameters of consciousness and communication. Certainly images (pictures) which words and sounds come to represent can be held in consciousness; indeed, they are the true substance of consciousness. But as with computer "memory," pictures require vastly more "memory (mind space)" than do words.
Result: By symbolizing pictures, e.g., letting "tree" represent a complex number of perceptions (color, shape, height, etc.), we can temporarily free-up large amounts of brain "memory space" for holding more in consciousness.
2. Language makes "grids" or theories possible for examining and categorizing a large number of images (mental pictures) of real experiences related to any given subject. For example, Freudian language with its words: id, ego, and super-ego, forms a basic grid for categorizing many perceptions about human behavior. The same is true for any arena of human perception and examination. Various language "grids" are, in effect, "held over" reality and used for representing complex perceptions of reality in symbolized forms (words).
Just as languages evolve for differing ethnic groups (e.g., French and English), so for any sub-group within each language (such as, religious and secular, as well as physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, etc.) and various schools within each.
Within each set of terms, right and wrong can properly be applied. But the distinction between language--the basis of theories and beliefs, and reality which it represents remains and is critical in regard to the subject of mature religion.
3. Once a "grid" is established, that is, a set of commonly accepted names for various perceptions in that arena, then--given agreed-on definitions, one can properly have right and wrong answers for what fits and does not fit perceived phenomena with such accepted definitions. For example, in mathematics with a base of ten, one plus one always and only equals two. This is right; to add them and get four is wrong.
4. But, and this is the relevant point here: human knowledge of right and wrong (good and evil) is always limited to the set of categories (the language "grid") through which one views and categorizes various perceptions of reality. Right and wrong answers are, that is, only about language categories and not about reality which they represent via words.
This is the point where popular and mature religion part ways. In popular religion, one "forgets" or never realizes this difference and erroneously concludes that its language ("grids" and concepts) is reality, while maturing persons (on the way toward mature religion) proceed with continually revising and expanding concepts, and at the same time relating realistically to perceived reality.
5. Conclusion: In popular religion, one identifies symbols with reality, closes his mind to revised and/or expanding concepts, and becomes self-righteous about accepted beliefs--as though they are literally the final word on any of its subjects.
In contrast, mature religion may use the same symbols, but remains open to continual revisions as new or expanded perceptions occur.
Point: The absoluteness--the final answers and certain truths of popular religion, are, in reality, only about its definitions, not reality itself.
1. Language is useful for expanding consciousness and "knowing more," but not essential for primary experience which remains inherent in personal perceptions and activated human capacities.
2. Within each language and the subjects it covers, right and wrong may properly be defined, but these conclusions are only about language and not the realities it relates to. Language, we might say, is "just language," and reality it refers to remains distinctly apart. A name, for example, is not "it" but only represents the vast number of perceptions represented by "it."
"Final words (ultimate truths)" are only possible within the context of a given language, and even then they are only about language categories, not the "pictures (imaged perceptions)" they represent. Popular religion worships its accepted images, unmindful that they are only icons and that adherents are blindly practicing idolatry. The same is true in secular religions, such as, Wealth, Winning, and Woman Worship.
3. Mature religion recognizes this difference between language and experience (perceiving) and consequently sees that "words are just words" and "language is only language." Result: since reality evolves, as do human capacities for perception, no "final word" on any thing is ever possible in reality.
The seeming luxury of self-righteousness is limited to those in popular religion; hence the necessity of faithing in mature religion, where one remains open to evolving perceptions and ever-expanding concepts.
Idolatry is limited to popular religion where images are frozen into icons and closed minds prevent expanding perceptions and evolving concepts--which are the bread and butter of mature religion.
The problem with religious language is not in the language itself, nor in the primary images it naturally evokes (e.g., God as Sky Father), but rather in the idolatry of those who use it by freezing its apt images into iceberg beliefs (solidified illusions) which are then used to close otherwise open minds.
Consciousness is the human capacity for holding multiple images in mind space at the same time, allowing comparison, weighing, culling, and synthesizing values--or what we may call "making sense," or, "being reasonable based on what we know."
Obviously consciousness is not dependent on the nature of what we hold in mind-space. We can hold, for example, various pictures (visual images), sounds, smells, tastes, or combination of them, all without names for them, as evidenced when we say, "I recognize so and so but I don't know what it is called," or, "I know but I can't put it into words."
However, it is the nature of language, with small words representing large perceptions (called "symbolization"), that vastly more perceptions can be held for comparison at the same time. Language based on words begins with names for groups of perceptions, e.g., "water" summarizes perceptions of fluidity, color (colorless), drinkable, etc. "Frank" includes a facial perception (picture), voice type (sound), a certain size, shape of body, etc.
Point: A single name for a group of perceptions allows holding a large amount of "knowledge" in a small segment of mind space (fewer brain cells?). One can, e.g., hold many facial images in consciousness without any names to represent them; but the more names for persons one has, the more perceptions (people) he is capable of holding in mind at any one time.
Summary: Words representing multiple perceptions vastly increase the amount of data one can hold in consciousness. Just as a name, such as, "John" only requires 4 bytes of computer memory, but his picture may require 4 megabytes, especially if in color and detail, so with names in the brain.
Without names to represent multiple perceptions, one is limited in the number of persons he can hold in mind space. A pre-language child, e.g., though fully conscious but not yet knowing words, is severely limited in the number of faces (visual pictures) he can hold for recognition. But the more names (words to represent multiple perceptions) one has, the more "knowledge" he can hold available for sense-making--the major advantage of consciousness to begin with.
Summary: Consciousness allows for symbolism--that is, one symbol representing multiple perceptions. Language (verbal sounds) allows us to hold more perceptions than are possible with visual symbols (like sign posts). Two primary benefits accrue from this use of consciousness for symbolization; First, one can think more clearly, that is, sharper or in greater detail, when he has more names held in personal mind space (called "knowing more"). He can, that is, make increasingly more accurate predictions about how reality seems to work, thereby increasing odds of longer and better survival. The more one knows, the wiser his decisions may become.
Secondly, with verbal names and shared understanding, one can communicate quickly with other persons, thereby increasing the possibility of gaining further knowledge from others as well as cooperation in shared endeavors.
Now back to religious language, a set of words primarily representing the most universal human experiences related to successful and happy living.
CASE FOR RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE
In mature religion, words are just words, that is, names, and hence incidental whether we title my subject "mature religion" or simply summarize as life, reality, or in colloquial terms, such as, "getting real," "growing up," "maturing," or "becoming whole."
But in popular religion, the religious vocabulary commonly becomes sacred within itself--that is, representative of literal realities rather than just a useful type of language. When this happens, it may become a detriment in reaching the goal it aims at.
Still, there is much to be said for religious language itself. Even with the risks involved, I posit here that in the long run religious language is better--that is, potentially more useful than either medical, psychological, colloquial, or various combinations of all three as have generally evolved to supplant religious language for those more comfortable in seeking "health (a medical term)," "emotional maturity (from psychology)," or simply "happiness" or "well-being" from secular society, for these and other reasons:
-- First, we need some language for thinking and speaking about universally significant human experiences, such as: How we go wrong and lose happiness; how we get right and re-gain what is lost; how to face inevitable mysteries, such as, life and death, etc.
-- Religious language has the advantage of being ancient, widespread, learned in youth, and hence carrying much emotional weight for those who have learned it before becoming fully conscious and therefore rational. Even if newer languages, such as, medical terminology and psychological categories, may be immediately more definable and devoid of older unreasonable associations, still they lack the potential emotional impact of religious words.
"Mental health," for example, though technically the same, can hardly seem as significant as "being saved." "Salvation" sounds much more important than "growing up." "Well-being," or even "happiness" can hardly grasp attention as well as can "going to heaven." And certainly "hell"--as children commonly come to visualize it, is more immediately weighty than "immaturity" or even "mental illness." Although "having problems" can also point toward difficulties in life, "sin" certainly sounds more significant--as, I hold, indeed it is.
-- Religious language is graphic rather than theoretical and merely conceptual, and hence easier to grasp and teach as pictures, persons, and places which are more communicable to immature persons, such as, children and repressed adults. Since we seem to universally grasp a primary mode of approaching reality via the three dimensions or measuring devices of things (objects) in space and time, religious language which easily fits into these three categories without requiring abstract thinking, becomes highly understandable even on first hearing.
-- Once de-coded, as required for mature religion, it can still carry a proper emotional weight as the experiences it represents become personal.
Obviously there are also limitations to religious language as well as all others when we come to thinking and speaking clearly about the profound import of human experiences each tries to symbolize in language.
Religious language, for example, may invite remaining literal, as in, keeping on believing in God as a real Super Magician or Cosmic Father who made the world and remains in charge of all that happens (even with a bad Devil to account for obvious miseries in life); but at the same time, being easier to grasp literally, "God (or Jesus)" is also easier to de-code into a concept when and if reason is brought to bear on the image. Also, "God" is certainly easier both to understand and to de-code than is "Ultimate Reality," "Divine Principle," and other substitute terms.
Also, once de-coded, moving on toward reasonable living is more clear cut for oneself and yet remains viable for communication with those who still take religious language literally. If, for example, secular therapists understood religious language in its vast dimensions and could comfortably speak it with clients, they would, I hold, be able to help "patients" work through the actual experiences of those in popular religion much sooner, e.g., by approaching a client's sense of personal "sin" rather than, say, "relational problems."
Critical, universal human experiences related to happiness and well being--which obviously need language for thought and communication:
1. Birth and death.
2. Life passages--puberty, birth of children, birthdays, middle age, old age.
3. Social passages--driving, drinking, voting, marriage, retirement.
4. How we go wrong and lose happiness.
5. How we get right and regain happiness.
6. Results of "salvation."
7. Degrees of each.
1. Need people names because these are the most primal, parental perceptions, e.g., God, Jesus, Devil or Satan.
2. Need objects in space and time because these are most common human measuring devices.
3. Need degrees of good and bad living, since that is how we experience each (in degrees).
4. Need written instructions because we think and read in symbols (hence Bible, Koran, etc.).
In addition to colloquial words and expressions, such as, "unhappiness," "down in the dumps," etc., there are at least four levels of differing languages for giving voice to human experience: dream, religious, medical, and psychological.
Dream language is deeper because dream symbols may come from anywhere, with familiar waking dimensions of time and space eliminated and even word definitions dropped. Thus a dream image can mean anything, depending only on the experience of individual dreamers. In dream language, for example, a monster or devil may be an accurate symbol for representing fear or threat, even when such images are completely unreasonable to one's conscious mind.
Of the four major languages now used for dealing with unhappiness, dream language is oldest, religious is next oldest, then comes medical, and finally psychological language is youngest. I hold that the oldest is best for deeper analysis, religious language is second best, and psychological language, as youngest, though initially easier once learned, is least useful for clients in long term healing.
My premise is that oldest terms are more connected with deeper personal problems. Learning new terms, e.g., depression, chemical dependency, personality disorder, bipolar, etc., are easier and quicker, but all too easily lend themselves to denial or medical "cures," leaving a person still irresponsible for him or herself.
Religious language, I think, is like day time dream language--that is, symbols for deeply held, but yet un-de-coded aspects of personal experience.
A major limitation of all non-religious theories of human experience, e.g., naturalism and psychology, is lack of language for thinking about and consciously exploring weightier matters in human life, such as, critical experiences, how we go wrong and how we get right, as are readily available in popular religion.
For example, "psychological maturity" is a poor synonym for the power-packed religious word "salvation." Furthermore, psychology has no concept for personal sin, leaving mental doors wide open for prevailing views of personal irresponsibility and every personal problem subject to explanation by ideas of victimization by other people or circumstances (e.g., childhood sexuality as molestation, etc.).
Point: We can't think clearly, that is, be fully conscious without words to represent actual perceptual experiences. The danger in popular religion is that it takes evolved language and reduces it to the image level of creative experience.
The good news is that popular religion does have a language for ultimate human experiences; but the bad news is that each religion or sub-group corners the market on explanations of each term, passes out its own answers as sacred and hence off-limits to conscious thinking, thereby leaving followers limited in think-ability in the most significant aspects of their lives.
Psychology helps with vague terms, such as, "mental health," "maturity," "well-being," etc. but newer medical-model words lack the power of older religious-captured terms, such as: spiritual life, soul, sin, salvation, heaven, hell, god, devil, angels, faith, hope, and love. All these ancient words theoretically provide language for conscious thinking about universal human experience. So far; so good. But unfortunately each popular religion self-righteously claims to hold ultimate answers in each arena and strives diligently to prevent its adherents from thinking for themselves in these most critical arenas of human life.
Available secular and psychological language may help a bit, but lack both the impact and potential clarity of older, commonly known, religious names.
The potential virtues of religious language have in effect all been turned into mental vices in popular religion.
Unfortunately new words for basic human experience, well-intended to avoid the curses of pre-defined religious language, fall woefully short as tools for emerging consciousness, because new words are only learned after religiously sanctioned repressions begun in childhood have already been established (e.g., death as "passing on.")
Problem: In arenas of life most crucial to the best of human living, available language has been perverted in popular religion, made off-limits to human consciousness.
The best of natural thinking (being consciously honest) is a sin in popular religion and generally obscene and/or criminal in secular society.
LANGUAGES IN THERAPY
Premises: 1) Religious language is one step above dream language insofar as depth maturity is concerned. Dream language is deeper because all symbols are individually assigned. But religious language is higher because symbols are more universally assigned.
Beliefs of popular religion so permeate society that primary religious beliefs are almost
indistinguishable from secular values--that is, are, in effect, socio-religious. For
instance, these beliefs of popular religion are generally the same in secular society: God
is a Heavenly Father, Supreme Being, Creator; conscience is the ingrained voice of God and
we naturally feel guilt if bad (or should); helping is good, selfish is bad; sex is
obscene; killing and theft are bad; death is only a passage; justice will come eventually
(heaven and/or hell after death).
Conclusion: In depth therapy aimed at true maturity, de-coding socio-religious beliefs, such as, God, justice, sin (guilt and conscience), death, self, and sex is essential. Dealing with "relational problems" and "chemical imbalances" may bring measures of relief in daily living, but no therapy is complete without de-coding the major premises of popular religion which have been deeply accepted even in secular society. Freudian based psychology, for example, clearly focuses on and deals with sexual repression, but fails to address deeper human problems expressed in popular religion beliefs.
Basic beliefs of popular religion are so ingrained in most parts of the civilized world today that whether or not one is a conscious believer and/or a participant in an organized religion, personal therapy (salvation--as viewed by mature religion) will remain uncompleted until one has worked through these illusions.
Although secular therapies which focus on facing oneself rather than seeking well-ness via behavior modification and/or chemical means may be successful in upper levels of self-analysis, even the best of such counseling remains incomplete until primal religious beliefs are brought into consciousness, de-coded into reasonable concepts, and then absorbed into oneself.
Ever since suppression of goddess devotion in earliest days of recorded history, as symbolized in Apollo's columned temple built over the caves of Gaia and her oracles, God talk has so permeated the human psyche, less by overt teaching than by unrecognized forms of social osmosis, that both religious salvation and secular happiness must remain at best temporary and shallow relief from human suffering until such times, if ever, as individuals in both popular religion and secular therapy succeed in de-coding inherited God talk and the multitudes of beliefs associated with various cultural religions.
This is true both for those yet active in popular religion as well as those who have outwardly and consciously rejected its forms--as in, dropping out or becoming atheists or agnostics (non-believers).
Even for the most dedicated of atheists and secular agnostics, the pre-conscious psyche of us all is likely to remain populated by the figures and beliefs that I summarize here as "God talk" or projected thinking.
Point: "God talk" is so deeply ingrained in civilized human's psyches that almost everyone, whether in or out of popular religion, whether a true believer or a conscious atheist or even a skeptical agnostic, is apt to have a pre-conscious sense of primary elements of popular religion confused with reality itself.
Two sources of these nonscious beliefs are: 1) Osmosis of popular religion ingrained in worldwide civilization, and 2) Remnants of the universal childhood situation in which parental powers are literally god-like insofar as every small child's personal experience is concerned.
In this latter regard, it must be but a short psychic step toward a universal temptation to short-circuit de-coding exaggerated views of parental powers by suppressing personal awareness and projecting these same realistic images onto cosmic figures, such as, God.
What begins with a realistic view of, for example, one's earthly father's enormous power in relation to an essentially helpless child, can be easily projected onto a Heavenly Father with imagined omnipotent powers.
However it occurs, I think god-like images, clearly personified in popular religions, must be almost universally present in the deeper imagination of every grown child's mind, either as a result of good fatherly images continued via projection onto a Heavenly Father, or else from wishful thinking of a child who actually had a bad, weak, or absent real father.
On this premise, I conclude that a near universal element in the process of maturing involves de-coding and consciously working through such primal imagery. To the degree that such ancient images remain existent in a grown child's mind, even if unconsciously, translating them into realistic concepts (moving from Stage 2 to 3 of the Creative Process) is a part of everyone's "growing up" really--that is, maturing as a human being.
Specifically, de-coding involves letting go of an imaged omnipotent Sky Father who created the world, enforces justice (later if not now), is available to help in personal difficulties, and functions like a watching Big Brother to assist in emergency situations and/or save one in the end.
Furthermore, even though primal images of an external, all-powerful God capable of miraculous deeds "down here"--whether dimly vague in one's mind or clearly personified as in popular religions, can be confronted in secular type therapies with no language for such primary human beliefs, I hold that such images can be more easily and clearly faced with a minister, counselor, or therapist who can speak and hear "God talk," especially with those clients who have a background in popular religious beliefs--which is almost everyone.
But critical in this situation is that such a minister or counselor must have done his own homework in growing up by de-coding "God talk" himself, rather than simply being a cloaked or closet believer--that is, one who is capable of guidance and support for another person who is in the process of de-coding God, because he has already done so himself.
Other remnants of primal religious-type beliefs, even in those with no background in popular religions who consciously consider themselves to be non-religious, may include:
-- Belief in external "meaning in life"--that is, that meaning exists "out there" beyond each individual's creation of same.
-- Belief in external justice--that is, that unfairness is bad and will eventually be rectified, that "good will (or should) be rewarded," and, "bad people will be punished (later if not sooner)."
-- Belief in human immortality--that is, death as "passage" rather than a real event.
-- Belief in "higher powers" beyond Mother Nature and individual human efforts.
-- Belief that external powers can somehow be influenced in one's personal favor, as by verbal prayers or good behavior and/or right beliefs.
-- Belief that a cosmic type Santa Claus is watching to see if "you've been bad or good"-- so, "be good for goodness sake"--as we sometimes sing near Christmas.
These and other remnants of popular religious beliefs are, I conclude, to be worked through (de-coded) before mature religion becomes possible--that is, before any person becomes a mature human being.
RELIGION AND MENTAL ILLNESS
In my opinion a majority of what is seen today as mental illness or emotional disturbance, as diagnosed in psychiatric manuals and used for identification on insurance forms for those in secular therapies, might more clearly be seen as a predictable result of sin (as understood in mature religion), even though currently accepted causal explanations ignore religion, except as some therapists privately blame religion itself for their clients' problems.
Mostly, however, currently accepted causes of mental illness (or personal unhappiness) range from genetics (inheritance) to chemical imbalances to social circumstances (poverty, bad parenting, and various forms of abuse, such as, physical, mental, or sexual).
Even so, except in a relatively small percentage of cases of persons currently seeing mental health counselors--from psychiatrists to psychologists to social workers and various forms of specialized counselors (e.g., chemical dependency, eating disorders, etc.), I suspect that a relatively small percentage or presented problems are finally due, for instance, to harsh circumstances, chemical imbalances, addictions, etc. These commonly accepted reasons for unhappiness might, I think, more clearly be seen as symptoms than causes--that is, predictable results of deeper disfunctions which I see as lying in categories of sin (as understood in mature religion).
Most secular therapies might, in this perspective, more clearly be seen as aimed at symptom-relief rather than actual healing, e.g., psychiatrists trying to help by seeking relief via some effective combination of drugs, or psychologists practicing behavior modification, or C.D. counselors treating addictions as causes rather than symptoms (also, the same with non-professional organizations, such as, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc.).
Also, I think the same is true with most so-called religious counselors, who are themselves more like an extension or outreach of churches, more like closet evangelists than true healers (in intent, similar to church recreation or music programs--that is, secretly more aimed at getting and keeping members than limited to stated intents.).
Summary: I conclude that most "mental disturbances" as seen from psychological perspectives today are more deeply related to personal sin than to genetics, bad parents, social inequities, addictions, and/or chemical imbalance. Chemical treatments of, e.g., depression, may bring temporary relief, but are finally more like giving a pain reliever for a symptom than long term healing. Certainly analysis may reveal a correlation between specific forms of mental illness and certain chemical imbalances; but the assumption that a chemical imbalance causes mental illness ignores the possibility that it is vice versa, that is, that personal disturbances cause chemical imbalances.
How do I explain these rather preposterous opinions? First, I think that religion and psychology (all secular mental health practitioners) share the same basic goal, namely, the happiness and eventual well-being of those who participate in the practices of popular religion or engage in secular therapies.
Obviously each views its aims in different categories. Religion thinks in terms of salvation ("being saved") and going to heaven rather than hell, while secular therapies tend to avoid religious language all together and think in terms of "mental health," "emotional maturity," etc. Also, there are time differences in that most popular religions posit best well-being later, even after death, while secular therapies seek well-ness in this life time.
But below differences in terminology and time focus, I see both as dealing with primal human desires for personal happiness--as in, maximum satisfaction, minimum pain, even though each follows differing "formulas" of how to achieve this common goal.
My overall observation is that both finally miss the mark of human wholeness because each is symptom-oriented and evades confronting deeper causes. Just as secular therapies aim, e.g., at chemical balances or behavior modification, so religions have their own forms of modifying behavior and beliefs in prescribed ways.
To use a crude but not inaccurate analogy, both dispense aspirins to dull pains associated with cancer, while either ignoring or not recognizing the underlying "disease"--which I see as sin.
Another basic opinion: The deeper problem is not with the aims or languages of popular religion and secular therapies, since all languages are "just words"--that is, symbolic representations of real experiences, but rather with the ways practitioners (preachers and counselors) understand, use, and interpret the languages.
Also, psychology is yet to come up with clear perspectives on personal responsibility--as does religion, and all too easily allows continued illusions of victimhood or blaming others for personal problems more rooted in bad choices than in faults of society, parents, or others.
For example, once devil is de-coded, a move to self-as-tempted and therefore responsible for sin, is an easier and more clear cut path toward wholeness than analyzing projected blame.
CASE FOR RELIGIOUS COUNSELING
First, I observe that many religious counselors are simply evangelists in disguise, that is, closet true believers who still think that salvation is via the principles of their own versions of popular religion, e.g., by Jesus, rather than through un-repression and becoming responsible for oneself.
Unwittingly, of course, many religious counselors today are yet caught up in degrees of popular religion themselves and hence more likely to support old images than to help de-code them, e.g., more likely to promote belief in an external God than to de-code projections on the way back to self.
Valid religious counseling can only come with one who facilitates de-coding versus re-enforcing old beliefs. In my experience in regard to depth counseling or unrepression at deepest levels, language values are like this: 1) Dream language is the best clue and possible entrance to true source of problems. 2) Religious language, being depth related, even if consciously rejected, is second. 3) Next comes psychological language. This is of less value because it tends to cater to have versus is, e.g., even if "I am bipolar," attention is shifted from personal responsibility to a mental "disease" one "has." 4) Finally, secular or lay language, that is, everyday speech is fourth best language for getting at deeper roots of problems.
Paradox: Religious language ("God talk" as in popular religion) is often at the heart of human pathology and yet is also the doorway to fullest happiness. De-coding religious language is potentially more therapeutic (healing) than learning psychological language. "God talk," even with its negative form by atheists, is, I hold, potentially the best language path (following dreams) toward wholeness (happiness).
Psychological (and medical model) language is a functional substitute for "God talk" in the aftermath of religious liberalism, but is finally a poor second which will remain limited until: a) Psychologists learn to speak and listen through religious language, or, b) Christian counselors grow up themselves, that is, into mature religion.
LIMITATIONS OF SECULAR THERAPY
1. Based in a relatively new language, which a client must learn if he or she is to speak in a therapist's "native tongue"; in either case, since most people are rooted in religious language and secular therapists in general cannot speak it, a client is forced to leave or avoid his most natural form of self-expression.
2. Much secular therapy is fuzzy or lacking in concepts of self-responsibility comparable to sin in religious language. Since most secular language is an off-shoot of medical terminology with its underlying precepts of disease as externally caused, secular therapy easily falls into a model of "having it" (like a disease) which is caused by an outside "germ" and can thus be treated by some psychic "medicine"--as is so with most physical diseases.
Also this mode of thinking easily confirms drug therapy, itself an evasion of personal responsibility beyond "taking your medicine" as instructed, or else victim-hood--that is, "my problems are caused by something or someone else"--bad conditions, bad parents, bad luck, etc., but in either case, is not my responsibility.
-- Best to speak in the language of a client, beginning, obviously with national languages, but also with subjective vocabularies of those within each national language. All language is, by definition, symbolic versus literal; literalness is always an assumption of a user of any language.
-- One problem with psychological language is a relative absence of terms or concepts related to personal responsibility, in sharp contrast with religious language where sin is seen as personal.
-- Premise: both psychological and religious language aim at the same goal, even if conscious understanding of each is different.
-- Point: Religious language generally reflects deeper powers, as in: "God or Jesus said...." versus "Freud or I say...."
-- Before insurance began paying for counseling and therapy, diagnostic language which can be useful for therapists (psychological language) could properly be kept private to practitioners; but now it easily becomes a language of communication with clients, e.g., "I am bipolar," or, "I have a personality disorder."
-- Problem with secular counseling: use of medical model language easily leads to medical assumptions in therapy, such as: Disease is something which happens to us, rather than being a personal responsibility, as is so with sin. "I have so and so" versus "I am a sinner."
-- Many major treatments are now chemical based. Most psychiatric skills are devoted to finding a proper drug balance rather than focusing on personal responsibilities. Deep analysis has become too expensive for insurance, is not covered, and its practice is dying out.
-- By avoiding religious language when it is natural for a client, secular counselors may miss many advantages inherent in learning to speak and hear it.
-- Language is incidental to problems. Dream language is only one step deeper than religious language, and only so because its symbols are always unique to each person. Levels of likely depth in language are: 1) Dream; 2) Religion; 3) Conscious ideas.
-- For a counselor to exclude or avoid religious language is almost as limiting as to avoid dream language, as both are better clues to deeper repressions.
AS WE LOVE OURSELVES...
The same principles of agape (Greek word which I take as a synonym for mature love) which I have posited as the basis for mature religious counseling, etc., are equally applicable to the first half of the Golden Rule--that is, mature self-love is no different in principle than other-love. It too has three major elements: accepting, affirming, and freeing.
Just as mature counseling (preaching, teaching, etc.) involves extending these conditions to others, so it begins with granting them to oneself--in this case, to one's natural (genetic, inherited) self, as distinguished from a pseudo-self ("ego") one may have tried to become through the process of repression, plus the installation of an internal conscience to replace and/or supplant the voice of external authorities.
In practice this involves: 1) Responding to natural instincts and inclinations in an accepting manner (Just as a mature counselor does with a client). Instead of judging such urges as popular religion and society find objectionable as "bad," "evil" and to be repressed, in coming to love oneself in a mature manner one responds to natural desires as they emerge into awareness with this attitude: "I accept you as you come to me; I do not judge you as bad or good, but rather acknowledge you openly, as clearly as I can know you as a part of myself."
Then, in the second element of mature love, one also in effect "says" to each revealed aspect of his natural self, "I also affirm you as a "person (quality)" of worth, with full rights to be here just as you now are, without judgment, shame, or guilt for any aspect of your inherited, natural self."
"Furthermore, even without knowing the fuller nature of who you may be, I grant you freedom to openly become your fuller self--that is, to become whole as you are (which in mature religion is the meaning of holiness)."
I word the application of these three elements of mature love when applied to oneself as though they are from another source (such as, a counselor to a client). Continuing this use of metaphorical language I may further personify this "voice" as coming from one's fuller self--as has been split off or suppressed through the process of repression.
In such "talking to oneself"--saying, in effect, "I accept you as you are, affirm your right to be so, and free you to even larger unknowns of who you may become" one is daring to begin bridging the split between mind and body, ego and self, on the longer path back to personal wholeness.
MATURE RELIGIOUS COUNSELING
Negative Earmarks: Not manipulative, authoritarian, didactic, judgmental; does not "have the answers" or "know what is right" for a client, nor is a counselor "here to help you."
Overall Principles: Same for mature friendship, spouse, parent, preaching, etc.--only differs in form it takes, e.g. speaking, listening, directing, conversing, etc.
In all arenas, the primary principle underlying mature religion in its relationships with others is that of the Golden Rule, that is, "loving others as you love yourself," or other-love as an overflow of self-love.
I use the term mature love to distinguish this rarer type of loving self/others from more familiar stances using the same name love, such as, selfishness seen as self-love, romantic love, controlling love (e.g. practiced by parents), self-righteous love (as in, "out to save others").
I interpret Greek agape as a synonym for mature love. In either case, the three major characteristics of mature love are: accepting, affirming, and freeing. These three interwoven stances give form and expression to agape or mature love in all human relationships, beginning with self and expanding to others--in conformity with the Golden Rule.
Principles in Practice: In mature religious counseling, specific shapes of love include:
--Mediating forgiveness (like a priest in a confessional booth in Catholicism)--that is, relating non-judgmentally to all aspects of self revelation, including those commonly condemned in popular religion and/or society, especially those which evoke guilt and shame in a client.
--Pointing toward maturity without defining it or presuming to know its specific shape for any given client, similar to the Socratic mode of "teaching"--that is, asking leading questions, implying possibly different and better modes of action. All this without slipping into an authoritarian role, as a director who holds right answers to "what to do" or "who to be."
--Listening more than speaking.
--Inviting client toward freedoms of maturity without defining its shape or parameters for any person.
--"Saying" non-verbally the three major elements of mature love, namely, "I accept you as you are," I affirm you as a person of worth," and "I free you to become who you may be beyond your presently known self."
--Creating circumstances--emotional atmosphere, place, and relationship, which invite openness, honesty, and self-revelation.
CREATIVE PROCESS: SUMMARY
Throughout this essay on Mature Religion I refer to the Creative Process. A basic understanding of the terms I use in this theory on creativity will be useful, perhaps necessary, in following my explorations in this present essay.
By the Creative Process I mean the primary path of basic human experience, that is, the way we naturally experience the world. I analyze primal human experience as occurring in four basic, interwoven "stages," namely, Perceiving, Imaging, Conceiving, and Minding or Becoming. I conclude that all individual encounters with reality can be broken down for thought purposes into these four "stages" or "phases."
By perceiving I refer to "grasping" the world via our 5 primary senses, namely, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Before all else, we must receive stimuli through our senses. Perception therefore becomes Stage 1 of the overall creative process. Perceptions may come from within or without, and may be by any one or more of the basic 5 senses, plus assorted sense combinations.
Next, we naturally image--that is, create "mental pictures" which give form and shape to individual perceptions. For example, if we "feel fear," an internal perception, we might image (picture) it as a ghost or monster. If we see a face, we will likely form a quick mental image of the person who bears it.
As the natural creative process continues, we soon begin to translate initial perceptions into conceptions. To per-ceive is "grasp": to con-ceive is to "thoroughly grasp." In this third Stage we, in effect, de-code visual pictures (Stage 2) into mental forms (thoughts, ideas). Through the process of reasoning, we change visual images into mental constructs. A ghost which imaged fear, for example, may be "de-coded" into a reaction to an unusual sound in the night. A pictured face might become "mother" or "daddy." Or, later on, Santa Claus, an image for who brings perceived gifts at Christmas, might eventually be de-coded into concepts about the spirit of giving.
But all such concepts remain as mental thoughts or "head knowledge" only until they are further absorbed into oneself--that is, made a part of who-we-are as a culmination of "what we know" in mind's eye only. I call this fourth Stage of the creative process becoming or minding. It may also be seen as the transformation of knowledge into wisdom. Whatever it may be called, the creative process is not completed until the concepts of Stage 3 are, as it were, "eaten" into oneself through becoming what we "know" via perceptions translated into conceptions.
Although these analyzed "Stages" may sound complicated when broken down into words, the entire process may, in reality, be completed in a relatively short time--that is, when not interrupted by another psychic process called repression (the essence of sin as understood in mature religion).
For further study of these terms, see my essay on the creative process listed on my web page as: BEING CREATIVE.
Other related essays:
POPULAR RELIGION AND THE EMERGING CHURCH
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