One of the “Whys“ I have thought about a lot in my life is why do people believe in God? Why are people religious and why do they follow the doctrines of a church, a gospel?
In a lot of cases, it can be boiled down to fear. Fear of God is good, a god-fearing man is a good man. This is very interesting, as we also know that fear interrupts important processes in our brains and impacts our decision-making capabilities. But, it has to have come from somewhere and must also serve a purpose, otherwise, it would not have lasted for so long.
The first (known) editing of what a lot of people in the west view as the word of God, the Bible, took place in Nicea in 325 AD. At the so-called council of Nicea, a group of men came together to decide what should go into the canon of Christianity, the Bible, and maybe more importantly, what should not. We know this, from historical texts, but so many still believe in the divine origins of the Bible, often quoting the texts themselves as proof of this fact. Fascinating from an anthropological and philosophical standpoint.
In my search for God, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as “an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of everyday”*. Obviously, to me, the “divine” texts were written by men, sometimes with the best of intentions, when in the function of conveying a spiritual way of life, sometimes for control, when telling you how to live your life, and sometimes bordering on evil, when God takes it upon himself to punish his subjects for indiscretions, which later his son would have to forgive us for.
Jordan Peterson has talked in length about how the stories of the Bible have a much older origin and a very strong meaning in what it is to be human. He describes how the Bible helps us to understand the why of the world and that the stories are deeply rooted in our neuropsychological systems. This is probably one of the reasons why it has endured for so long.
Not believing in any of these things myself, I searched further. I have come to believe that the origins of Christianity and the stories, whether true or not, of Jesus are trying to teach us how to live in the world with an internally set spiritual compass. It is very akin to Buddhism, although so many times retold and molded, that it is sometimes hard to link the teachings to Buddha. It would not surprise me, that the original teachings that underpin Buddhism and the teaching of Jesus have an even older origin, that I am not yet aware of.
So, what is it that Buddhism and Jesus are trying to teach us? What is that magic that seems to have hit home with so many people and has endured for almost as long as we have documented history? Are there any modern-day “prophets” that are teaching us similar things, wrapped up in a modern story?
One of the people that has inspired me, and cemented these ideas further, is Eckhart Tolle. Maybe because it is easier to understand his examples, or maybe because he is alive today to teach through a modern viewpoint, Eckhart talks about many of the same things as Buddha and Jesus. Eckhart talks of the “suffering” of man as an important driver of behavior, and the idea of letting go of the “ego” as the important relieving of this suffering. Is Buddha’s awaken state, the god within that Jesus talks about, the letting go of suffering and the ego, as described by Tolle, and living in harmony with what is the answer to our problems?
One of the things most of us value in life, is to be good, to live a good life, and be good to others. But, what is good? What determines what good is, but more importantly who? For religious people, this is god. God will judge you at the gates of heaven, and if you have lived a good life, you will be allowed to enter. This has arguably held people in check for a couple of millennia, hindering them, although not stopping them, from doing harm to their fellow man. Of course, there are many examples of the opposite, where people’s belief in the man in the sky has brought great suffering to their fellow man, atrocities have been committed in the name of the lord.
In our modern world, we are letting go of the idea of god. From only 18% in Sweden to around 68% in the United States, the number of people who believe in god is dropping every year. This does however create a vacuum in our spiritual lives that, according to Jordan Peterson’s idea of a neurological need, will be filled by something else. At the moment, this looks to be becoming the State. More and more people are replacing their belief in the heavenly father, with a belief in father State. Our need for an external source of truth and way of life has not been discarded, only replaced by something that is a lot more malleable by human hands.
The answer to all this, and what in my opinion are the teachings of Buddha, Jesus, and Tolle, is to look within. To let go of the ego and “behold, the kingdom of God is within you”. This is no easy feat. Letting go of the ever-elusive ego can almost be a full-time job. However, at the end of that journey, a sense of peace and tranquility is to be found, that allows humanity to take the next step in its evolution, without the need for an externally guiding force.
“Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants” (William Pen).
Maybe if men look within and find their inner heavenly kingdom, just like all the philosophers of the past tried to tell us, we could truly relieve ourselves of the tyrants. If we find our guiding compass within ourselves, it is not possible for an outside force to come and corrupt it, to make us do things we do not want to do, not because a god will judge us, but because we will judge ourselves. We will no longer allow ourselves to become the instruments of tyrants because we will follow our inner light.
God is good, god is (literally) within.
* The full George Carlin quote is just too good not to include:
“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ‘til the end of time!
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”