Image via WikipediaBy Mriana
When I was little, there was this cartoon series involving Casper the Friendly Ghost, and I had an invisible friend, as do many children, only his name was Casper. Romper Room hosted some of the Casper shows, which caught my attention and probably encouraged my desire to learn, but it also gave me my invisible friend.
Now, for those of you born long after Romper Room, this was an educational kids’ show in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. There was no Barney though. Rather, in this show, a very human teacher assisted a classroom of children in learning social skills and other important things they needed to learn as preschoolers. It was probably this early learning process, through the media, which lead to me to other profound discoveries, including religious ones.
The interesting thing about having Casper as an invisible friend was the teasing I got from the adults around me. This friend I had a little longer than most children have theirs, probably because I rarely had social contact with others my age, except in school. Therefore, the teasing I received from my grandfather, as I got a little older, was a bit of a scientific educational experience.
When a strong breeze blew the screen door open and shut again, my grandfather would say, “Well, there’s Casper. He just came in the house.” I would laugh and eventually I said, “You’re funny, Grandpa. That was the wind.”
I had pulled back the curtain and looked behind it, but at the same time, my young mind was using various neuro-processes concerning the new information it acquired. A “Matrix” city was virtually being created in my tiny skull as it grew intellectually, but I did not know this at the time, even when Casper became obsolete sometime when I was between six or eight years old in favour of reality and knowledge.
So where am I going with this Casper story, early childhood education, and neurology? Well, I am about to cut through the Holy Ghost noise and give you a glimpse of “B”, which I left out in my previous blog. It was a slow process, which lead to realization, but it was not as easy or as painless as letting go of my invisible friend Casper was and it took more years to do it.
I not only received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, but over the years, I also studied and researched mythology and religion. However, religion was not my minor until I went back again to acquire another degree in English. The thing is this research did not start in college. It started in high school when I took an English class called “Literature of the Bible”, which my mother was against because she feared it would “destroy my faith”, but I did it anyway, because I wanted to know. I chose to know. She was also against me taking religious courses at a state run university, but I again did my own thing and started to look behind the curtain again.
One of the classes I took was Victor H. Matthews’ class, which was titled the same as his book, “Old Testament Parallels” ( The Old Testament: Text And Context ). It was a fascinating study into the previous myths related to Hebrew mythology. This lead to other questions, such as “Where did the stories of the New Testament originate?”
Through this process of questioning, I continued my research. I read several books concerning the relationship of mythology and current religions, as well as took various religious courses. While reading Acharya’s books ( http://www.truthbeknown.com ) I had dreams concerning John 3:16-18. These dreams had the writers of the gospels, dressed like disciples, working hard on my subconscious while I worked through all that I knew in my sleeping mind. The conversation was much similar to Babylon 5’s Delenn discussion with Sebastian in the episode “Comes the Inquisitor”.
The story goes thus as quoted from Wikia ( http://babylon5.wikia.com/wiki/Delenn ) : “The Inquisitor has Delenn put Pain rings on, using them to bring her pain for incorrect answers. However, he only really asks one question: "who are you?" Delenn struggles to find the answer he seeks, but is unable to satisfy him.” [sic]
Sebastian: “And if the world says otherwise?”
Delenn: “Then the world is wrong!”
Sebastian: “And Delenn is right? Perhaps the world is right and Delenn is wrong. Have you ever considered that? Have you?”
Delenn: “Yes, yes, sometimes.”
In my dreams, I was thrown into a primitive culture that was foreign to me. Therefore, it would make sense that while people were dressed like disciples, I was rather alien and would experience dreams similar to the sci-fi I know and love. While the words were in my dreams related more to John 3:16-18, the questioning was much the same, until I got the courage in one of the dreams to stand up to the superstitious primitive people questioning my daytime activities. It was then the dreams finally ceased and I have not had one since, but it made sense that I would be a person of the future displaced in a time and place that was of the distant primitive past.
In a sense, I was not sleeping very well due to new information that conflicted with old information thereby triggering neuro-processes while I dreamed. This was not a bad thing, because new pathways formed in order to process all the information I acquired that proved old information obsolete. Such dreams were not actually an Inquisition, as much as they were sorting out information and ridding my brain of fears imposed on me as a child. The means to sort this new knowledge was in the form of an Inquisition, probably because my relatives give me the fifth degree when I say something contradictory to their beliefs, which brought me emotional pain, which was in a sense “Pain Rings”. The only difference was that I received pain when I said something that was true.
The thing is, I have found a quote from “The Minority Report” -- “Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark” -- to be very true, because I was making my way out of the dark, but it was not an easy process. This included some mental discomfort along the way, because it is a very lonely and difficult process, just as staying in the dark can cause pain and loneliness too. Even so, I risked the dark, because if my relatives knew how I reached disbelief in their beliefs, I would experience a lot of hateful anger from them. I know this in part because when I bring up the origins of Christianity, which is not in keeping with their religious beliefs, I get the “Inquisition”.
However, as much as I wrestled with old and new information in my dreams and muddled through the emotions thereof, this was not the kicker of the religious memes developed in early childhood. All it did was tell the analytical side of my mind, during my waking hours that such verses were fear tactics to force me to go along with the supposed norms of the social group I grew up in as a child, AKA “tribal thinking”. In the end, just as the Inquisitor did with Delenn, the only real question asked was, “Who are you?” or “What is truth that pertains to you?” The answers to these questions were what I actually sought, and the answers I gave my relatives were not mine nor were they educated answers. Rather, they were answers to appease them and not very satisfying for me.
Regardless, the processing of information day and night was not the “meme buster” during that period to time in my life. “The meme buster” came later during a Hindu class I took while working on an English degree.
The focus of this class was the Bhagavad-Gita. The Ninth and Tenth Teachings have a series of “I AM’s”. Suddenly, the Tenth Teaching, saying 32 says, “I am the beginning, middle, and end…” Where have we heard that before? Then, the professor states the eleventh teaching, saying 24 is the relationship of Krishna/Vishnu, the greatest god, was the ultimate truth and in saying 51, we find that Krishna is Vishnu incarnate on earth.
Something did not compute, so I approached the professor after class to ask him about this. Once again, he said, “Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu.” My brain “fainted” for a brief moment, while my body still stood. When my mind returned to consciousness, I heard the professor ask me, “You understand?” As my mind was still staggering from the shock of the “epiphany”, I just said, “Yes” and walked around in a daze for the rest of the day, because I realized that there never was a historical Moses or Jesus or if there was, what is written is no more real than Lincoln in John Jakes’ North and South books.
While this might sound as though it were all sudden, the truth is, it was a slow process of educating myself, which lead to the “epiphany”. Of course, I also questioned this realization and went to Robert Price, who I respect greatly, for a second opinion. I asked him if I was reading too much into all of this. Long story short, his reply was “No, you’re not” and went on to explain it as being midrash in nature.
That was not the only thing I noticed in this class about the Krishna/Christ relationship. The professor also referred us to Krishna’s childhood stories. In these stories, Krishna was born via a miraculous birth and smuggled off to Egypt to keep the head honcho from killing him as an infant. This was similar to both Moses and Jesus. Both babies were smuggled off to Egypt in some fashion, due to the head honcho’s desire to kill baby boys. Thus, I asked Bob about this too and like the previous, the people adopted and adapted these stories to their society. That is, the stories were rewritten to a specific audience, just as any other work of literature. In the case of the creation stories, the Hebrew writers geared the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian creation stories to their own tribe- the Israelites. The same holds true to the stories of Moses and Jesus, from what I understand my mentors to have said to me.
After that, I took a Buddhism class only to find, that while there was a real man named Siddhartha, in which a miraculous birth was attributed to him in the “Buddhacarita or Acts of the Buddha”. That particular story most Buddhists will admit was not true of the Buddha, but rather just a story. This information added to my new view that if there ever was a Jesus, people greatly fictionalized his life and buried it in mythology. The difficulty is finding a real person under all the rewritten stories covering his actual life. Such a task of finding a real man named Siddhartha Gautama with the documentation we have would be easier, even though a miraculous birth story was attributed to him. There appears to be less mythology surrounding his life.
While Fr. Tom Harpur had his “epiphany” via the Horus stories, I had mine via the Krishna stories, but unlike him, I cannot believe in any god of religion, even if I wanted to believe. After Hinduism, the myths seemed to fall into place and Jesus was just one more in a series of mythological stories. Various Evangelical phrases bring a blank to my mind or a complete dead end due to the knowledge I acquired over the years. The Evangelical god concept is just as unbelievable to me as Zeus is to them. I cannot force myself to believe in their god anymore than they can force themselves to believe a god named Zeus is real.
Now reverting to the psychology I learned, we will peek behind the curtain one last time by examining belief itself, via neuro-psychology and cut through the Holy Ghost noise again.
External stimuli trigger neuro-chemicals in brain, specifically those in the frontal lobe. Thus, when Bob Price says, “God is lobe” in his essay “Religious and Secular Humanism What's the difference?” ( http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?sectionlibrary&pageprice_22_3 ) he is not speaking factiously. The truth is, all the smells, sounds, sights, and any other sensory stimulation found in various churches are stimuli that triggers internal reactions that people attribute to a deity. These numinous feelings are actually neuro-chemistry that is part of the human condition.
These same triggers are found in nature too. One can achieve the same affects among animals, the woods, nature walks, and even the view of the Holy Lands (See Sam Harris’s “Selfless Consciousness Without Faith” http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sam_harris/2007/01/consciousness_without_faith_1.html ). These experiences the religious also attribute to something that is external to themselves and label it a deity or the Holy Spirit. The thing is, it is not a deity or a spirit, but rather it is within the human and part of them causing the feeling of being as one with their environment. It is perfectly natural, but it is not divine, except maybe in a metaphoric sense.
How does this relate to my experience? Well as a child, I adored those numinous experiences that nature, animals, and compassion from other humans gave me. I still do, for that matter, except I understand them better now. These experiences are real, but what many attribute them to is superstition, unless they have some scientific knowledge. I chose door number two in an effort to look behind the curtain, only to find that “the wind did it” or in this case, neurochemistry. I also chose to find the origins of the stories taught to me as a child. All this education, once my brain processed it, came to a neurological climax and thanks to the plasticity of our brains, changed the previous neuro-connections, and even formed new ones.
All the old memes “were busted” and I cannot go back to forcing myself to comprehend the superstitions taught to me as a child. Thus, where as before “the Path to Salvation” seemed like a weird fantasy, now makes absolutely no sense on a rational scientific level. Such theological statements give me feelings of puzzlement and I draw a total mental blank. When I hear my Evangelical relatives speak of such things, I cannot help thinking, “What the hell are they talking about?” Belief or disbelief is not a choice for me anymore. I cannot rationally believe such stories and concepts as reality, especially when the evidence says differently. To do so, would be similar to ignoring that the wind opened and shut the screen door, in favour of having my childhood invisible friend Casper again. It would be just plain silly and irrational.
However, those in religious authority would have one believe transcendent experiences are something external to the human and call it the Holy Spirit. They also realize when our senses are overly stimulated we have transcendent experiences. Thus, the mega churches pull out all the stops concerning stimulating people’s senses, and call it “the power of the Holy Spirit” or say that “the Holy Spirit is moving” through the large congregation. In which case, Karl Marx was very accurate with his statement, “Religion is the opiate of the people”. Humans thrive on it, especially because religious services have numerous sensory stimuli, which trigger brain chemistry that gives people a sense of the aesthetic. In the end, people crave such numinous experiences like a drug and attach various superstitions to it all.
The thing is, while there were many men in human history named Jesus, the Jesus written in the Bible never existed as told, God is a human concept, and there is no Casper the friendly ghost, except in a children’s cartoon. We just have to look behind the curtain to find the reality of it all and expose the human condition through science and knowledge. In the process, it could very well answer who we are, without superstitions and in this case, I am an educated human being who faces the world squarely on her own two feet, using science and reason, without religious superstition.