Rationality of faith

So, what I really wanted to accomplish with the last series of articles is to point out how religion really isn’t as silly as atheists like to portray it, and that it actually contains a great deal of sophisticated rational thought, combined with a quite reasonable amount of faith, which essentially amounts to trusting the credible witnesses and, very often, your own experience.

What I will now do is show how science isn’t nearly as rational and reliable as some see it, and also requires quite a large bit of faith.

You see, in late 1992 I was studying physics at the University of Zagreb, and I was having a very troubling spiritual crisis. I had very strong reasons to believe in the existence of things that other physicists were clueless of. I knew about the NDE testimonies, but that wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was that I actually had significant spiritual powers, of the kind where someone felt pain, I focused on the painful spot and the pain would go away, at least temporarily. I could see the pranic shadow around the astral bodies of animals that died, with something between physical and inner sight, and I could actually spiritually communicate with the souls of those animals. I actually saw a human do astral projection and he confirmed that I followed his astral body with my eyes despite him deliberately “jumping around” in order to try to confuse me. I was speaking out people’s thoughts all my life, and everybody who had those experiences had them only with me. Essentially, I had as much reason to believe in the reality of those things as people usually have in their physical senses, and yet my problem was the interpretation. It’s true, but how can it be true? There must be some kind of physics behind it, some deeper law of nature that encompasses both ordinary physics and this stuff. That’s why I chose to study physics, because I hoped I will eventually discover some explanation. I did have two models that explained it all, but I didn’t have enough support for either.

According to one model, the physical Universe is the fundamental reality, but physics hasn’t yet discovered its most fundamental level. Somewhere beneath the standard model and its quarks and leptons there must be a deeper layer which might explain everything, both physics and the weird shit that I could do and see. I could, for instance, see that a photon can be intellectually broken down into more fundamental elements, into “alpha” and “beta”, where “alpha” is the vector consisting of direction and lightspeed, and “beta” is a scalar descriptor of wavelength. If there are more such “fundamentals”, and they can be combined in weird ways, who knows what shit is possible, and maybe somewhere in there I could find some satisfying explanation for my experience. But according to this model, the Universe is the “hardware”, and spirituality, including God, is “software”.

According to the other model, the reality experienced by the NDE witnesses is the actual reality – and they say that God is the basis of all reality, that everything is actually made of His light. In this explanation this physical reality is merely a persistent illusion, some kind of software that is run on the spiritual hardware, and spiritual experiences are merely glimpses of the other, non-material realities that are also simultaneously run on that same hardware, without there actually being any reason for things to make sense in a physical way because the “mechanics” of it all are quite arbitrary. This was before most people had any thought about virtual reality, and the computer I had at the time was a 80386 with 4MB of RAM, but I was a programmer and I thought in those terms. The concept of different virtual universes with consistent laws that existed within different pieces of computer software was quite ordinary to me, because I could actually write some of that.

Both models provided an equally good explanation for everything I experienced, and I couldn’t dismiss either of them based on evidence alone. However, the people who had too much faith in the materialistic paradigm were getting on my nerves, because they obviously didn’t know as much about the weird part of the world as I did, and consequently there was nothing to disturb their faith. They didn’t live lives where “how did you know?” or “that’s exactly what I was thinking right now” happened daily. They weren’t the ones who were trying to figure out a deeper layer of physics which explains how mind transcends a corporeal shell, and how this keeps working after death. Basically, I saw them as idiots who either don’t see or deny half of reality and are therefore happy with their half-assed explanations of the world.

At one point, during a lecture (I think it was mathematical analysis but it might have also been a linear algebra practicum, I no longer remember correctly) it clicked. I don’t know what happened but something in the inner workings of my mind made a decision that the second model is the real one. The physical universe is merely a specific case of software, and all its laws are as arbitrary as those within a video game. Studying them will not reveal anything really fundamental about reality, because reality is not contained within those laws, those laws are contained within a higher reality, reality which I had no hope of understanding by any means known to me.

So, basically, since I didn’t need physics to make a living since I was in the process of making a career as a programmer, and I didn’t have any hope of figuring out the deeper layer of reality on this course, I abandoned my study, and, having no better ideas, I got piss drunk. Other than a bad hangover, this didn’t do anything for me, so I started thinking about how I might find answers, and since I didn’t take religion very seriously because of its total non-overlap with my understanding of spirituality and reality in general, I simply read everything and counted on eventually getting lucky enough to find some clue. I found a book of upanishads and they gave me a whole new spectrum of ideas, and so I combined what I learned there about yoga with what I already knew from my practice of autogenic training and more-less involuntary applications of spiritual sight and influence and started experimenting. Obviously, it worked.

So, essentially, what I want to say is that materialistic people misunderstand the concept of “faith”, at least in my meaning of the word. Faith doesn’t mean that you accept things without evidence, it means choosing one valid interpretation of the evidence over the other, and seeing where it takes you. You never actually go against the evidence, but evidence is not a universal datum valid for all people indiscriminately. We all have our inner algorithm for weighing evidence and arranging it into a sensible, working universe in which we function. Materialism might be a viable explanation for someone who was more willing to dismiss inconvenient facts than I was, and therefore I was sufficiently troubled with the stuff I couldn’t dismiss that I couldn’t find the materialistic explanations satisfying. Does that mean that I stopped using my intellect? Not exactly; in fact, I think I used it more. Faith does not consist of suspension of critical and evidence-based thinking. Faith consists of choosing one interpretation of evidence over another, and testing this interpretation to see where it leads, until it is either confirmed or disproved.

The original sin

I always though the concept of original sin to be a rather stupid idea. For those who don’t know, it’s a concept according to which the entire humanity inherited the sin of Adam and Eve, as well as its consequences. It’s basically a concept according to which you are always guilty of something, regardless how pure and faultless your life is. It is actually quite likely that the concept was intentionally developed by the Church in order to foster dependence, because they supposedly own the intangible cure for this intangible but deadly problem, which is by definition genetic, but is somehow cured by accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Of course, someone somewhere inevitably asked how was Jesus supposed to be sinless if he inherited the original sin from Mary? The answer was that Mary was excepted from the original sin by an act of God, since her conception. That’s the origin and meaning of the dogma of the immaculate conception; that’s actually a description of Mary, she’s the immaculate conception.

So, what do we know about the original sin, according to what the Christians believe? It’s pervasive, with only two exceptions throughout history (Mary and Jesus), and two trivial exceptions (Adam and Eve before they believed the snake and ate from that tree). It’s something that causes a fatal conditioning of some kind, precluding salvation, and required a very serious personal intervention from God in order to make a special exception for those who accept it.

It sounds like worse bullshit than it actually is, because the Christians don’t really believe in the existence of Adam and Eve and they think that this entire story is some kind of an allegory for mankind’s relationship with God. Well, at least the Catholics are smart enough, I’m sure there are literalists, especially in America, who are so lacking in their understanding of the mythological part of the scripture and so untrained in reading through such material they would be sure to flunk the first year of Catholic theology, but they boastfully think themselves to be the true believers. So, idiots aside, the smart Christians know it’s some kind of an important message cloaked in myth, but I don’t think they have a singular and consistent explanation of this message. They would usually say that the message is that God created human souls in a perfect state, and then they were seduced to commit sin against God, by separating their choice from God’s will, and then had to suffer the consequences of this separation. I never heard a good explanation for why this would be heritable. I also never heard a good explanation for why it was irreversible, and why God couldn’t simply give humanity some kind of a temporary lesson instead of a permanent exile. Considering how they believe God to be forgiving and merciful enough to sacrifice the life of his own Son-person for their salvation and as payment for the collective sins of mankind, this makes very little sense and that’s why I decided that the entire concept is so profoundly flawed, it may only cause spiritual harm if it is taken seriously, and I always argued against it.

But then you get the nagging question of what was it that Jesus actually had to die for? Let’s take it from the source – what did he say about it?

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12, 31-32, NIV)

You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14, 28-31, NIV)

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16, 7-11, NIV)

As you can see, there are three very notable details. First, all quotations are from the gospel of John. Second, there is no mention of the original sin in any way. Third, what is mentioned, repeatedly, is “the prince of this world”, who is to be “driven out”, “has no hold over him” but will be the direct cause of Jesus’ suffering and death according to the will of God, and, after Jesus’ resurrection, “stands condemned”.

There are, of course, other parts that are often quoted as supportive of the original sin and redemption thesis, like John 3:16-18, but if you extend the quote to the verse 21, it suddenly sounds different, because it’s not about the redemptory value of his sacrifice, but redemptory value of recognizing the light that he is as that of God, and opting for it and not against it:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3, 16-21)

So, I’ll express my own little theory here. Jesus didn’t think that people were to be saved because he did some magical act of removing their sins. He thought that he’s the pure light of God, and whoever recognizes him as such, chooses him over everything else and believes in him, will be saved by the virtue of that spiritual choice. This is supported in numerous places across the gospels:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty … For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. … I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6;35,40,51 NIV)

From the context it is obvious that the “disciples” took this metaphor too literally, but to me the meaning is obvious, and it’s actually the repeated preamble of John’s gospel:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Basically, Jesus is the pure and unadulterated nature and character of God that is manifested in this world, without any stain or confusion, and it is there for people to be able to choose it over all other things and thus attain salvation. It is hinted that it is his sacrifice that is for their salvation, but the most straightforward explanation is that it is painful for God to be born as a man and it is a great sacrifice God was willing to make in order to give people the chance to see him and choose him in this world and thus be redeemed from the snares of illusion, because of which the pure nature and character of God are unknown to them.

So, in other words, the way Jesus saves you isn’t dying for your sins, except maybe in a stretch of metaphor, because if it weren’t for your sins he wouldn’t have to come get you out. He saves you by showing himself here in order for you to be able to know God, and if you know God, in his true character and nature, and if you choose him and believe in him, you are saved, not because of magic, because it’s all about choices and their consequences. If you align your spiritual vector with God, you end up with God. Of course, in order for Jesus to give people this option, he had to pay a great personal price of being born and dying in this awful place. If there is any place that is at the exact opposite end of all existence from the bright and glorious throne of God, it’s here, and for God it’s such a sacrifice to be born here, that the addition of being flogged and crucified is merely a matter of degree.

So, the concept of Jesus dying for our sins is a completely arbitrary reading of the text. It’s not straightforward or clear. However, Jesus dying because it’s the will of God, and because it will defeat the prince of this world, which is his name for Satan, that’s a very straightforward reading. But what the literal hell was that all about?

Let me tell you how I read it.

This world is not God’s domain. It has another ruler, who is God’s personal enemy. How that came to be is another matter, but it is very clear that God has no sovereignty over this world, that it is the principality of Satan. Also, human souls are under the power of Satan and cannot escape it on their own. Showing them God’s pure nature, in this world, seems to be something that breaks their spell and provides them with Ariadne’s thread that will eventually get them out, if they remain faithful.

As corroborating evidence I cite Buddha, who also claimed that this world is within the sovereign power of a demon of illusion called Mara, whose temptations and challenges were the last obstacle for him to break before attaining buddhahood.

I don’t think it’s a metaphor. It’s too much of a coincidence. I think it’s a description of the actual state of affairs: this world is not the real world, not the domain of God. It’s some kind of a very consistent, persistent and spiritually influential illusion created by a being who is, essentially, the opposite of the bright light of truth, reality, knowledge and bliss that is God, and whoever gets stuck here, for whatever reason, is in a very grave situation because the truth of God is so obscure, hidden and difficult to recognize and opt for in this place, one is apparently stuck. That is what came to my mind when I was thinking about the original sin, and its possible interpretation that isn’t silly or outright foolish. Humans made a certain kind of choice by which they ended up here, in the domain of Satan, the enemy of God. They were probably seduced by the promise of spiritual evolution that is possible only through difficulties and in separation from God, because they can’t learn how to discern between good and evil if everything around them is good and there’s no possibility of evil. They need to go to Satan’s private illusion of a world where both good and evil are possible, where knowledge is an option and not the normal state of things. When they, in that state, choose the light of God, it will be an actual, not a trivial choice, because it’s easy to believe in God when he’s all around you and he’s impossible to deny. However, they would have to accept his rules when they enter.

The problem is, how would God prove that Satan did the entire thing out of a malicious intent, out of hatred for God? If it were obvious, we probably wouldn’t have a problem. The easiest way to prove it is to have God personally enter the trap and see how Satan treats him. This is, obviously, what Jesus thought: that Satan will choose to kill him in order to hide the pure light of God from people, and in doing so, he will condemn himself in the eyes of God, revealing his true intentions and thus opening himself to righteous punishment.

However, I don’t think it worked the way Jesus planned. I think Satan was smarter than him, and simply introduced the explanation stating that he allowed Jesus to be killed and to resurrect from the dead in order to provide a glorious beacon of light throughout history, for people to be able to see and choose the light of God, not only in the physical presence of Jesus, but through authentic testimony. And, since that is a very credible and convincing explanation, I think Satan completely evaded condemnation and punishment, at a price of actually having to leave an Ariadne’s thread in his maze.

Of course, he also used his power to confuse the matter and obfuscate everything with doubts to the point where few will actually understand what’s going on here, what’s at stake and where they will actually use the instrument of salvation that they have at their disposal, but that, of course, is a matter of choice between good and evil, between light and darkness, ignorance and truth, and here Satan was actually true to his original promise of making things exceedingly difficult.

So, that’s my take on it.

Politheism, or what happens when monotheism develops a brain

I was thinking about how it became common for people in the West to think that the more monotheism a religion has, the more intellectually superior it is, but my opinion is that it’s exactly the opposite, that monotheism is the first stupid idea an undeveloped mind of a fanatic will come up with, and rather than being all-encompassing and all-inclusive, it usually ends up being extremely reductionist and exclusive, quite hostile to any form of difference in opinion or understanding.

Trinity can be a sophisticated theistic way of illustrating God’s connection with the world and his interaction with human spirit. Any other stance will quickly degenerate into deism, removing God from any possibility of contact with the world other than the point of creation.

However, Hinduism shows the flexibility that is possible when someone doesn’t care about whether something is monotheistic or not, but whether it is a good explanation of reality or not. In Hinduism, you can have brahman, the transcendental Absolute, manifesting as both the Gods and the world, the Gods can manifest different aspects of brahman, and God-states are described as male-female couples, like Radha-Krishna or Shiva-Shakti, where male and female versions of the same spiritual state are described as behaviorally completely different. Also, God can choose to incarnate as his own worshipper in order to feel the taste of his own being from another perspective. There is also a concept of God incarnating together with his companions, basically Purusha-level spiritual beings who all participate in the same level of consciousness, in order to be able to manifest this level of consciousness on the physical plane.

All the while, the Hindus will have no problem with the statement that all Gods are brahman, or that an entire plane of existence is Krishna, or that God can simultaneously be personal, impersonal, incarnated, incarnated as a group of people simultaneously, incarnated in different aspects having a relationship, being pure knowledge and being a source of a special kind of ignorance (yogamaya).

Basically, that’s what you get when sophisticated minds explore complex ideas. They end up with stuff that actually makes you think, not just Allahu akbar like a zombie.


I often saw Muslims, who are silly enough to think that whoever has more monotheism wins, claiming that Christian belief in trinity is some kind of a polytheism.

It’s not, of course, it’s just one of the first real example of modern thinking in history, because today it isn’t uncommon to say that the same thing can be both wave and particle, or that a cat can be 50% alive. Apparently, a Muslim god can do everything except:

  • be incarnated
  • be incarnated while remaining in his original state
  • be incarnated while remaining in his original state, and act as a spiritually uplifting and comforting force at the same time

Apparently, the only thing their God is capable of is sulking and killing, but that’s fine as long as he isn’t complex enough as to confuse his believers regarding his quantity.

After all, water is complex enough that it can be ice, water and steam in the same picture, but somehow such triune complexity is beyond Allah the akbar.

Is God omnipotent?

One of the main holes that the monotheistic religions dig for themselves consists of claims of their God’s greatness and power – in fact, he’s not merely powerful, he’s omnipotent. He can do anything that isn’t logically contradictory. And he’s so incredibly good, that when he gives a commandment, it’s the best possible thing and a cornerstone of any positive ethics.

And then someone says, OK, if this God is omnipotent, why is there evil in the world? The first thing an omnipotent good God would do is eradicate evil.

“Err… well, evil is the result of free will. You can’t have free beings if they are unable to use their freedom to choose to be evil and to do evil things. But God will eventually put things right when it all ends.”

Excuse me, but not all evil is due to human actions, evil or otherwise. The main causes of human suffering are inherent to the world God created – sickness, disease, natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, plague, malaria, cholera, locusts – none of it has anything to do with human volition, so the argument stands.

In a desire to praise their God, they inadvertently do him a great disservice by blaming him for most of the evil in the world, and this isn’t any kind of rhetorical trickery that can be easily dismissed with some clever argument. It’s a serious problem for monotheism. What I will do now, is tell you how I would answer this conundrum.

I see God as both one of the forces that manifest their influence in this world, and an alternative to this world. God is not the supreme power in this world; in fact, this place seems to be designed as an alternative to God, a place where God’s influence is diminished to the point where it becomes possible to doubt his very existence. God occasionally manifests in this world as “light that is not overcome by darkness”, as this or that shining beacon of truth and light, but not as a sovereign ruler. In fact, I see no reason to believe that this world was at all created by God, or even that God had a hand in its making. I see it more like this: God is the highest reality, but this place here is not. In fact, it is probably the lowest illusion. It’s everything that is not God. It is limitation, ignorance, suffering and evil. It is the world of pain, death and ignorance, and is exactly opposite to the light and beauty that I know as God. I see God as a promise of what is possible if we remain faithful to beauty, knowledge, reality and truth, if we resist all temptations and cowardice and keep our faith until the end. I don’t see God as a white ape in the sky who will solve all my problems or else I’ll sulk and not believe in him. I don’t see God as a magician who will wave his hand and make all the difficulties disappear from the path of those who believe in him. I see him both as a way and as the goal, as truth which you need to choose, reality which you need to live, knowledge you need to gain, and eternity that will be yours if your choices in life are on the God-vector.

God is not someone who’s so powerful that he can make all the horrors of this world go away. God is someone who is the eternal beauty and wonder beyond this world, whom none of the horrors of this world can touch, and who is an alternative to be chosen and a way to be lived.

God is limited. He is limited by his nature and by his word. He is not in both good and evil; no, evil is something that goes beyond the limits of God, it leaves God to depart into the sphere of nothingness, the great void beyond all that is real, beautiful, true and worthy. And if God allowed there to be a place where the laws would be such that He is not the supreme power, then such place can indeed be, but don’t blame God if this place is evil, and don’t blame God for not being here, because that is by design, and evil is what you get if you remove God from your life.