When people talk about the spiritual sphere, their thoughts are mostly disorganized, but if you listen to the followers of major religions, you get the gist of things – all Creation is in essence bipolar, where on one pole you have God, and on the other end His opposite. According to some criterion, be it decision or submission or love or virtue, the beings are closer to one pole or another. This Earth is somewhere in between the poles, and the various forces vie for influence over it, and qualities and loyalties of the beings are divided here.
So, basically, the spiritual world is simple. You have God and Satan, one is good and the other is evil, and you need to choose one over the other. It’s as simple as it can get, and other interpretations, such as polytheism, are merely inferior, philosophically immature versions of this theology.
This concept makes sense, and it made sense to the people who first thought of it… around the times when people thought many things about the world that were later proven completely false. For instance, they thought that quartz crystals were made when water permanently froze from bitter cold in the high mountains, or that during solar eclipse a big cosmic dragon swallows the Sun, or that the emotions come from the heart, or that the function of the brain is to cool blood. This all makes sense when you’re scientifically ignorant, but in mineralogy, astronomy and anatomy human knowledge grew over time, and things that used to make sense to people no longer do. However, regarding the spiritual spheres, we more-less have the same theories, made by more-less the same people on the same level of knowledge, and they still make sense to us for the same reasons.
The thing is, the theories that made sense in antiquity weren’t abandoned in favor of some other theory that made less sense in antiquity, but in favor of a much more complex, sophisticated understanding of the world we live in. Essentially, what we believe now is beyond what Aristotle or Pliny the Elder could ever have thought of, and we didn’t get this understanding by thinking about it, but by observation and experimentation. We didn’t use philosophy to figure things out; we actually started figuring things out when we gave up on philosophy and started depending on observation and experimentation, because thinking is useful in coming up with a hypothesis, but then you need to either prove it or disprove it, and at this point thinking is not of much use: you need to get back to the actual world and poke and prod things in order to see what they really are, outside of your head.
So, let us for a moment assume that the ancients didn’t just get chemistry, astronomy and anatomy wrong, but that they also got religion and philosophy wrong.
But wait, you will say, spirituality is a different category, significantly different from physics or chemistry. Humans are spiritual beings and can explore spirit directly, by their very existence, unlike physical matter, which they can explore only indirectly, via senses and instruments. Furthermore, religions don’t really function on the principle of figuring out what makes sense; they are based on a revelation from a higher being, and thus have a greater potential accuracy.
This makes sense until you test it; but in fact, since the spiritual senses and experiences are mostly intangible and difficult to quantify, they are actually on worse ground than physical senses, which are very consistent and reliable, and if an apple falls from a tree, all the witnesses will see it in the same way. Hearing is so reliable people use it as a primary means of communication. So basically, you can build a reliable construction around the physical senses, and in the spiritual sphere, it’s difficult to agree on anything. Furthermore, the issue of revelation is tenuous at best. Yes, there were revelations. However, those revelations more often than not contain a mixture of spiritual and physical information, and information about the Universe obtained by means of revelation produced all the glorious science of the dark ages, with geocentric paradigm and what not, and to claim that somehow the spiritual part of the revelation is more reliable doesn’t sound very convincing, and even if it does, everything that Jesus, for instance, told us about the structure of the spiritual Universe is, basically, that there is a spiritual sphere, that God and the holy ancestors exist there in a non-corporeal, angelic manner, that there is hell and that there is divine judgment. Not much to work with, I’m afraid; all the information about the spiritual world that we can get from Jesus’ revelation wouldn’t even fill a sheet of paper. Some of that information is very important, true, but it is all very basic, which is why the Christians adopted much of Greek philosophy in order to make a working model of the Universe – because there’s not much to work with in the Bible. The trick is, Jesus is a very good source on the quality of the spiritual world, as those go. Others are equal at best, and usually worse.
So, we end up with the simplistic theory of heaven above, Earth in the middle and hell below, sort of like what the Greeks envisioned, with Ouranos and Tartarus being the antipodal forces above and below, with Gaia as a thin plate between them. And it makes sense, in a way it makes sense that the Sun revolves around the Earth. But, allow me to offer a different model.
Let’s imagine some habitat, a rainforest or something like that, with a huge variety of plants and animals. They all exist there, and do their best to eat, reproduce and not be eaten. There are birds above, snakes and frogs below, trees in the middle and green stuff all around. How exactly do you reduce this complexity of existence into the polarities of “good” and “evil”? Is a snake evil because it eats frogs? Are ants evil because they eat snakes? They all have their particular interests, and those interests are often opposed, but what if anything can be called good or evil in this complicated mess?
Let’s take another example. We have a laboratory in which scientists experiment on animals in order to produce cures for human disease. From the position of laboratory animals, this is the worst possible hell, and the scientists are devils. From the position of scientists, this is a job and laboratory animals are tools, just like microscopes. From the position of the outside population, this is merely a part of the process of solving the problem of disease, and they mostly don’t care how things are done there, they just want the results. They give money as an input and demand medications as an output.
So let’s imagine another scenario, more relevant to our original question. Let’s imagine that this world is not important. It’s not something God created – not as His main idea, anyway. Rather, it was a byproduct of some experiment on some other world, where some spiritual being had particular ideas about how a Universe should be organized in a different way from what God intended. This being then designed a particular form of a computer, or whatever they had on this world, but basically something analogous to our modern gaming computers with powerful graphics cards, which can already be seen as alternative Universe simulation engines. He then offered this simulation as an alternative to the spiritual beings, saying that it will allow them to spiritually evolve more quickly and effectively than the real world, but they need to accept a certain set of terms in order to enter the simulation.
And then, literally, all hell broke loose.
In order for the simulation to be effective, it wipes your memory and caps all your inherent spiritual powers. It has laws which basically force you to break fundamental spiritual laws of the real world by your actions in order to survive in this world. If you don’t do your best to survive, the rules state that you committed offense against the owner of the simulation by rejecting the great gift that he bestowed upon you. And when you die, you can leave the simulation only if you sign that you will hold the owner blameless for all the evils you experienced, and that you didn’t commit any fault against either the owner or other players, otherwise you will be forced to reenter the simulation in order to pay off debt. Essentially, the souls got trapped, and the number of trapped souls increased as the new ones entered in order to rescue their friends. At several points the higher beings attempted to intervene, trying to show the way out of the system from within. The problem is, the only way to access the simulation is conventionally, from within the system. The idea to destroy the simulation outright was abandoned because it would either destroy or seriously cripple the souls that are connected to the system. You also can’t easily power it down, because it uses the spiritual energy of the connected souls to power the system. Basically, there are several ways to end the system. First, the souls would need to stop investing energy into the system. This would at first degrade, and eventually power down the entire simulation. The second way is for souls to stop returning to the simulation. They would need to surrender all their “sins” and “merit” to God, basically they would need to stop requiring repayment for faults they experienced within the system, or for “achievements” within the system, and they would need to stop committing offense against other “players” even at the cost of their own “lives”. The third way would be for someone to take over the control of the simulation device, modify the basic rules and perform an orderly shutdown of the system, which is an immensely difficult task, since the device is tied to the life-force of its creator, and to the life-force of all the “players”, the owner is some sort of a lunatic rebel against God and refuses to cooperate or yield control in any way, and his ownership and control over the system are based on the concept of spiritual sovereignty of the beings, so God cannot intervene in a direct manner without revoking the basic rules of the real Universe.
This is actually not far off from what I personally perceive to be closest to the truth; some of it is Buddhism, some of it is Christianity, and some of it is my own personal experience, with some glue that binds it together. But if you play with those ideas, suddenly there’s a big difference between the creator of this universe and the creator of Universe proper, of the real world. The creator of this universe is some sort of a messed up Satan figure, and suddenly you have sufficient complexity to explain all the contradictions in the world, for instance why it doesn’t work according to what people perceive as the deep spiritual laws, and why a philosophy that will make you effective here is also most likely to doom you.
Is it true? I think the general concept has a good probability of being accurate. But let’s put this part aside for the moment. Let’s just work with the part that assumes that this is not the real Universe, but some sort of a off-shoot, either a simulation or some strange backwater segment that works differently from the real thing, comparable to the way in which parts of this world don’t work the same way as the others, for instance Antarctica which is so cold, you have serious problems with ordinary machinery which works fine elsewhere, or the highest mountains, with air pressure so low you start dying as soon as you pass certain altitude. All you need to assume this is possible is to assume that God granted all spiritual beings free will, that consistency is very important and decisions are binding, that beings have a high level of independence and sovereignty in their actions, that it is possible for them to modify the substance of the real world in order to create artifacts that God didn’t intend to be created, and that at least a certain percentage of spiritual beings react to virtual realities and simulations the way some humans react to sophisticated videogames, in a sense that they would prefer to be completely plugged in and absorbed into the game if it were at all possible. So it’s not something that requires a great stretch of imagination to visualize, but this doesn’t prove that it’s true.
The idea, however, is intriguing, and gives significant weight to the polytheistic interpretations of the world, where different Gods have different agendas, which often collide and produce unpredictable and strange consequences. This assumption gives us a more convincing explanation for the mess we are facing, and it has the additional benefit that it doesn’t necessarily negate existence of the real God, as the source of existence and powers of everything else. However, it’s more like the concept of all life on Earth getting energy from the Sun. That’s mostly true if you disregard the organisms living on the undersea volcanic vents, but only the plants absorb the Sun’s energy directly. Others either eat the plants, or they eat the herbivores, or they eat the decaying bodies of other beings in some form or another, but it’s not like “they all get energy from the Sun” is to be interpreted as “they have solar power cells on them”. If we see it that way, all the main points of the good religions remain valid, and at the same time we have an explanation for the disorderly complexity of the world and its divergence from the assumptions made by the spiritual teachers. For instance, there’s Jesus. His instructions are so deadly in this world that almost none of his most ardent followers dare to practice them – for instance, “care not for what you eat or wear”, or “leave everything, take your cross and follow me to suffering and death”. However, he also says that he who keeps his life in this world will lose it in the other, and he who gives up this life will inherit the life eternal. So, the thesis about the spiritual world having different fundamental rules from this one isn’t that much off the mark if you go by the Bible. Also, in the Bible Satan is called “prince of this world”, which also implies that God doesn’t really control this place, and that it works according to the rules God doesn’t approve of, and explains why people would need saving and what Jesus intended to do. The funniest thing is, it appears that the Yazidi sect also hits very close to this explanation, as the only non-major religion that has anything to say about the matter; they actually believe that the spiritual being that rules this world is called “Peacock Angel” and is more crazy and evil than not, but it’s better to be on good terms with him because he’s the boss here. Hinduism also supports the concept of hierarchical creation of the Universe, where it’s not God with great “G” who creates it all, but it’s more of a clustered mess. Buddhism, however, concentrates only on getting the hell out of here. It doesn’t care who made this pit, what matters is that it’s a pit, we need to get out, there is a way and here’s how we should go about it.
Something to think about.