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TO ABANDON REASON, TO FEAR FREEDOM, & THE HUMAN CONDITION

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Quotation from this essay:

bullet"I believe that love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, and peace can be implanted in the psyche of man only when fear, paranormal illusion and ignorance are removed.  We can then shift our attention more to matters of peace, rather than to matters of war."

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An essay by Peter Retzinger

Advances in man's understanding and knowledge of the universe in which we live and, in fact, our understanding of the workings of human mind and psyche itself, have been the result of the scientific reasoning and intellectual efforts of a comparatively small number of individuals. These individuals have broken the tethers and status quo which hold man in bondage to ancient -- and not so ancient -- superstitious, mythological and paranormal beliefs, propagated from generation to generation by a form of herd psychology; sheep following sheep, followers following followers, victims following victims.  Without the free creative work of philosophers and physical, social, and medical scientists, man would still be living in the fear-filled, superstitious primitive world when supernatural spirit beings, both good and evil, were first created in the human imagination to explain that which was unexplainable in the natural world.

Around 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of "civilization" on the fertile alluvial plains of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia, when humans began to abandon the hunting and gathering lifestyle of subsistence and survival for the beginnings of the sedimentary farming and community lifestyles, small human communities began to organize god/spirit world beliefs somewhat unique to each community.  These spirit world constructions often had common themes to explain the non-explainable in nature; the beginning of all, spirit forces behind storms, birth and death, crop success or failure and other natural events, and life beyond death.  The "Play of Mystery and Myth" for each primitive community remained much the same but only the cast of characters changed. 1

Five thousand years ago, at the dawn of recorded history, the early Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, and other ancient empires/nations of the Near East and Middle East also adopted god/spirit mythologies unique to each nation, with each attempting to answer the Mysteries of their natural world.  These early organized "religions" provided comfort in a world of mystery and fear, and, at the same time helped to bind the peoples of each nation together against all "enemy" nations, thereby re-enforcing and expanding the human "us" and "them" psyche from the tribe and community level to the national level. Spirit Myth based nations exist to this day.

Most, but not all, spirit "beings" have been traditionally created "in the image of man" with varying degrees of human characteristics and emotions; characteristics such as male, female, warlike, cunning, wise, threatening, ignorant, tolerant, stupid, tricky, judgmental, understanding, intolerant and arbitrary; and with emotions of anger, contentment, pleasure, displeasure, love, hate, joy, sorrow, jealousy, indifference, wrath, forgiveness, obsession, fear, and compulsion.  An almost universal trait of "good" spirits is their bias in favor of "us", the chosen people, over "them."  Even today, the end of the twentieth century, the world of spirit beings remains large in number in the human imagination, considering the vast array of angels and demons in addition to the principal supernatural anthropomorphic deities.

Bewildering as it may seem, authoritative fundamentalist religious sects are still promoting belief in evil spirit "beings" who inhabit the earth and interact with humans and the physical world.  To quote a religious pamphlet recently handed to me by a very nice woman: "Demons have also caused noises and other physical phenomena in houses that they make their territory....In addition wicked spirits capitalize on the sinful bent of humans by promoting literature, movies, and television programs that feature immoral and
unnatural behavior.  The demons know that wrong thoughts, if not expelled from the mind, will cause indelible impressions and lead humans to behave immorally, like the demons themselves.
"  To quote Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), an anti-slavery and woman's rights advocate who pioneered endlessly to free men's minds enslaved by authoritarian religions: "Let them cover their eyeless sockets with their fleshless hands and fade forever from the imagination of men.2

Philosophic thought and the elementary use of scientific reason began during the Golden Age of ancient Greece and Rome (450 BCE - 200 BCE) by pioneers of reason including Socrates, Theodoras, Aristotle and Epicurus.  One of the tragedies of human history was the temporary overthrow of the rational naturalistic ethical philosophies of the Golden Age by supernatural spirit based beliefs dictated by Christian-Islamic power centers during the Dark Ages (450 CE - 1000 CE).

By the end of the Dark Ages most of the ancient polytheistic mythologies of Greece, Rome, the Near East and the Middle East were disposed of and were increasingly replaced through the missionary zeal of authoritarian nation/state hierarchy enforced Christian and Islamic Yahweh/Al-Lah based pseudo-monotheistic belief systems, limiting the freedom of thought of millions of people. 3

After the dark ages and during the Age of Reason, free and independent thought and scientific reason could no longer be completely suppressed by authoritarian church and state regimes and philosophers Spinoza, Voltaire, Hume, Gibbon and others inspired subsequent generations to begin to think freely and rationally and to separate truth from illusion.  Man became more aware that "to develop a religion or world view that is realistic-that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality-we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must enlarge our frame of reference." 4

A major milestone of scientific reason was achieved in the seventeenth century by Copernicus and Galileo when the widely held belief was dispelled that the earth was the center of the universe, with the egotistical implication that humans living on the earth were somehow central to the unfolding cosmic drama of existence; humans are but one life form on the third planet from a minor star in the Milky Way galaxy, which is one galaxy in a galaxy cluster, with perhaps millions of galaxy clusters yet to be discovered. Without humans there will still be rain on the plain in Spain, the earth will spin without any help, and the universe will continue its evolutionary course to whatever eventualities, with or without the human
race.

During the past two hundred years, man's knowledge of the truth concerning himself and the universe has expanded exponentially because of the work of free thinking philosophers and physical, social and medical scientists including Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas James, Sigmond Freud, Thomas Edison, Bertrand Russell, Marie Curie, the Lewis Leakey family, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Jonas Salk, James Watson and Francis Crick.  I believe this exponential expansion of knowledge of the truth of existence will continue during the next century and beyond provided man gains the wisdom to live in love and peace with one another and avoids illusionary paranormal beliefs which foster alienation, hatred and self-destruction.

Although mans search for truth and reality has greatly advanced since the time of the Cro-Magnon (35,000 BCE - 15,000 BCE) humans are but infants recently exposed to the world outside the womb.  The universe has been around some 15 billion years and humans are relatively recent participants in the cosmic drama.

Fear of the unknown, The Mystery, remains in the psyche of man.  Like a long caged animal, man fears venturing into new mysterious and untested territory and relinquishes his freedom by holding onto ancient comforting, but illusionary, beliefs.  The attainment of knowledge and truth will continue to be suppressed in the majority of people clinging to ancient pre-science mythological beliefs when faced with the unknown, the unexplainable, and "short circuit" their thinking (usually motivated by fear) with the human cop-out, "god caused it", be it:

bulletZeus, the weather god and king of the gods of Greek mythology whose home was believed to be on Olympus, (heaven);
bulletMarduk, the creation god and national god of the Babylonian Empire;
bulletVenus, the Roman goddess of fertility, beauty, and erotic love. Also identified with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess, and Asherah, the Canaanite goddess and consort to El.
bulletRe, the sun god and giver of life of the ancient Egyptian dynasties;
bulletElohim - El - YHWH/Yahweh (JHVH/Jehovah) - Al-Lah - God, the jealous warrior god and creator of all things, chosen by the Jews from a pantheon of Canaanite gods to become the national god of the Israelite Monarchy, 1010 BCE - 586 BCE. Elohim, the plural for the Hebrew word  "eloah", means "the gods" and is used by some religious sects); El, Al-Lah and God, mean "god" and when used by a Christian or Muslim, refer to the proper name of the god of the ancient Israelites---the unpronounceable Hebrew Tetragrammaton, transliterated to YHWH or JHVH and when translated becomes    pronounceable as "Yahweh" or "Jehovah"; In ancient times El's home was believed to be on Mount Sinai, (Heaven);
bulletSatan - Baalzebub - Lucifer, also known as the Prince of Darkness, was inherited by the Israelites, Christians and Muslims from ancient Persian (Zoroastrian) and Canaanite pantheons.  Followers  of Satan are typically "those" who do not subscribe to "our" beliefs.  "They" are "our" scapegoats. Many followers of Satan called "pagans", "apostates", "witches" and "infidels" have been shunned, tortured, or killed by the believers in the spirit world who are in a position of authoritative power.  In ancient days (and even now), Satan's home was said to be in an underworld, Hell.

It is noteworthy that most of these mythological spirit beings, and hundreds of others, both male and female, were created and constructed in the human imagination in the pre-science period from 4000 BCE to approximately 500 BCE.  At the time of the Israelite Monarchy, many of the "Chosen People" believed that many gods really existed but that only their god, Yahweh, was the one true god to be worshiped ("I Am The Lord, Thy God") --- the others were "strange gods before Me". Even today millions of members of Judaism, Christianity and Islam retain the belief that Yahweh/Al-Lah is a "real" god and spirit being, however they do recognize the other gods as ancient myth. The story of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible is believed to be true and historical while the stories of the Greek and other gods provide interesting, and sometimes beautiful, tales and lessons of myth.

Millions upon millions of people living in the world today "Escape from Freedom" 5 renounce their reason and fear free and independent thought as much as they fear disaster and death. That feared disaster is that "you can live forever in paradise" and other cherished paranormal beliefs should prove to be delusions. Disillusionment in long held beliefs must sometimes come before wisdom, and the meaning of life - to live life with love and compassion, here and now, day by day - may sometimes only be realized on the far side of despair.

As for immortality: this conception has been in the imagination of man since the time of the Cro-Magnon and other primitive hunting and gathering societies, as well as in the mind of early civilizations of Mesopotamia (8000 BCE), Egypt and elsewhere.  The idea of resurrection to immortality from death began in earnest about the time of the Essenes (140 BCE - 70 CE) and was picked up by the early generations of Christians in the first century.  Two thousand years ago, as now, the resurrection of the dead was, and is, an imagined event to take place soon, within a generation.  These concepts of human imagination are but "myths of certainty" supporting mans denial of death.  We know and fear that we will die, but we wish to believe we will consciously live again, each one having his/her present individual awareness!

How many people have turned their back on this mortal life, the only life which is certain, however brief, to seek a future immortal life, which is speculative at best, and in the process lost mortal life and immortality? Consider the hundreds of martyrs of the early Church who fanatically clung to their Yahweh/El beliefs to the death.  Even today, some Christians and Muslims engage in suicidal activities, from the killing of people believed to be enemies of Yahweh/Al-Lah in suicide terrorist attacks and "holy wars", to the refusal of members of various Christian sects to accept medical treatment in life threatening situations, or becoming members of fanatic Jonestown or Waco type doomsday cults.  These Muslims and Christians cling fanatically to the belief that by "faith to the end" they will be awarded a never ending life of joy and pleasure in a "paradise".  They have side-stepped reason and forfeited this life because of belief in the mythical jealous warrior God of the ancient polytheistic Canaanites.  Oh! The Power of Myth. 6

Life is for living, in the fullest, helping to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those to follow.  Much of the Natural World, the Universe and of Existence itself remains a Mystery, to be embraced and cherished, not feared.  Dimensions exist, no doubt, which transcend the reasoning, speculative abilities and imagination of man today. This is obvious if you but look at past history.  When a star is born, and dies, its light continues on in space indefinitely, however diminished in intensity.  When a man is born, and dies, his genes (and/or the genes of his ancestors) continue in future generations, however diminished in time, until life no longer exists. That both the star and man were born and existed is not speculation---it is an immortal reality, subject/disputed by only
abstract reasoning.

I believe the level of certainty of immortality is best summed up in the words of a wise and loving man, William Schutzen (1888 - 1977) written to his family only weeks before his death: "No man dies as long as there is one person left in the living world who remembers him with fond recall and shares a thought with him though he has gone ahead.  All who have loved and have been loved have earned a piece of immortality----and I have loved and been loved more than most.  I'll see you all again, soon".  I myself, and many who knew Bill Schutzen, remember him fondly and lovingly as a man who loved life and lived it to the fullest.  It is my thought that some level of immorality can be achieved by those who live a compassionate and loving life, contributing to a better, more peaceful world, or community, during their life, thus leaving fond memories and positive lessons behind for those yet living.

Would it not be far wiser for one to have faith in, and love for oneself, and have faith in those we love and those who love us, followed by faith that the human race is on a course of betterment, little by little, as is clearly seen from history?  Only through the positive aspirations of individuals, followed by positive action can we hope to make this a brighter, better world.  If we sit back and wait for a god-spirit myth to act we can expect no progress.

One of many questions remain, "Can the human species survive and be free of fear in a happy, peaceful world without mythological imagination to answer the Mystery of life"?  Some thinkers, psychologists and philosophers think not!  Some embrace the Mystery and have the conviction that improved chances of survival, at this stage of human evolution, will require much rational imagination along with a large portion of wisdom, and undoubtedly continued "trial and error". It is all part of adaptation for survival of the species.
The human race is in need of socio-psychological adaptations to achieve true world peace.

Truth and reality exist independent of man's mythological, religious, metaphysical and paranormal beliefs---"belief" does not necessarily equate to "truth".  I believe that love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, and peace can be implanted in the psyche of man only when fear, paranormal illusion and ignorance are removed.  We can then shift our attention more to matters of peace, rather than to matters of war.  Man may then face the truth and reality of himself and his position in the universe and he can hope to realize that the meaning of life is dependent upon the unfolding of human powers to give life meaning.  I believe it is in our power to achieve Peace on Earth, and I have hope that we will, with time, evolve the knowledge and wisdom to do so!

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References:

  1. The televised scholar of mythology, Joseph Campbell, spent many years before his death at age 84 in 1987, studying the parallel mythological themes of the many diverse cultures from around the world.
  2. "The Ghosts", an essay by Robert Ingersoll.
  3. After the fall of the Israelite Monarchy in 586 BCE, and the resulting Diaspora, Judaism never again took center stage as a major religious sect and has not pursued the goal of "saving the masses" through missionary zeal and authoritarian enforcement.  In 1994, with a world population of just under 6 billion, there were about 1.9 billion Christians, and 1 billion Muslims, while there were only about 13.5 million members of Judaism. (Britannica Year Book, 1994).
  4. M. Scott Peck, MD, "The Road Less Traveled, 25th Anniversary Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth," Touchstone Books (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Erich Fromm, "Escape from Freedom", Henry Holt, (1995). Read reviews or order this book
  6. Joseph Campbell, "The Power of Myth," Anchor, (1991). Read reviews or order this book

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Originally written: 1996-NOV
Latest update: 2003-APR-15
Author: Peter Retzinger

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