06 July 2009


i'd like to offer the following extended quote from Elaine N. Aron's evocative book, The Highly Sensitive Person, specifically with reference to religion, spirituality, and the search for meaning in our lives. as an atheist-slash-animist [labels are so inadequate], i don't buy into any religion's dogma. i do, however, find nuggets of enlightenment (and much delusion) in every belief system. my views continue to evolve. i offer here not answers, but questions to stimulate discussion. please feel free to comment.

"ask yourself if the sun rises in the east. then see how you feel about your 'wrong' answer. because, of course, you are wrong. the sun does not rise. the earth turns. so much for personal experience. we cannot trust it, or so it seems. we can only trust science .... look at all the dogma that the priests or priest class once insisted upon. so much of it is "now proven wrong," or worse, found to have been only self-serving.

"not all of the blows to faith have come from science directly. there are also communication and travel. if i believe in heaven and a few billion people on the other side of the planet believe in reincarnation, how can we both be right? and if one part of my religion is wrong, is the rest of it? and doesn't the study of comparative religion show that it is all just an attempt to find answers for natural phenomena? plus a need for comfort in the face of death? so why not live without these superstitions and emotional crutches? besides, if there is a god, how do you explain all the troubles of the world? and while you are at it, explain why so many of those troubles have been caused by religion? and so the skeptics speak.

"there are many responses to the retreat of religion. some of us totally agree with the skeptics. some hang on to some kind of abstract force, or goodness. some hold firmer than ever to their traditions, becoming fundamentalists. others reject dogma as a source of great trouble in the world, yet enjoy the rituals and certain tenets of their religious tradition. finally, there is a new breed of religious beings seeking direct experience, not the lessons of authorities. at the same time, they know that for some reason others have different experiences, so they do not try to proclaim their experience as Truth. they may be the first humans to have to live with a direct spiritual knowledge that is recognized as fundamentally uncertain.

"as Marsha Sinetar wrote in Ordinary People As Monks and Mystics, 'the point of full personhood ..... is this: that whoever finds out what is for him good, and holds fast to it, becomes whole.' i would only add that what one holds fast to is not a fixed goal but a process. what needs to be heard may change from day to day, year to year. similarly, (Victor) Frankl always refused to comment on the single meaning of life -- 'for the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour ..... to put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion, "tell me, master, what is the best move in the world?" there simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game ..... one should not search for an abstract meaning of life.'

"the pursuit of wholeness is really a kind of circling closer and closer through different meanings, different voices. one never arrives, yet gets a better and better idea of that which is at the center. but if we really circle, there is little chance for arrogance because we are passing through every sort of experience of ourselves. this is the pursuit of wholeness, not perfection, and wholeness must by definition include the imperfect. in chapter 7 i described these imperfections as one's shadow, that which contains all the we have repressed, rejected, denied, and disliked about ourselves .....

"in getting to know our shadow, the idea is that it is better to acknowledge our unpleasant or unethical aspects and keep an eye on them rather than to throw them out the front door 'for good,' only to have them slip in the back when we're not looking. usually the people who are the most dangerous and in danger, morally speaking, are those who are certain they would never do anything wrong, who are totally self-righteous and have no idea that they have a shadow or what it is like."

end of quote. thoughts?

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