Going beyond religion
Religion has been featured in the media for all the wrong reasons recently. It has become associated with actions that cause pain, suffering and death for innocent bystanders as well as those parties who belong to different religious groups and are therefore treated as if that makes them a legitimate target. Words like ‘Jihad’ and ‘Crusade’ not only have dubious histories but are still used to blame whole communities and justify acts of violence against them in the present. Religious beliefs are used to defend deliberately disruptive economic or political actions and on those occasions when the internal management of religious organisations makes the news it is quite likely to feature a report of abuse, either physical or verbal, against fellow members. But yet, in the midst of the worst that people can do to one another we see individuals and groups, claiming to be driven by their faith, who show great courage and persistence in order to bring help and healing to strangers. All of this presents a paradox for both those who ascribe to a faith and those suspicious of faith groups.
Cutting across religions and labels, there are two distinct worldviews that are advanced to explain the purpose of their human life and what happens after it ends. There are those who imagine thought and action being externally judged and acceptable or unacceptable behaviour leading to sensory reward or punishment in an afterlife where they will exist as an individual. Such people are likely to use the scriptures that they adhere to as a means of justifying their opinions and lifestyle. Perhaps the most extreme example of this mind set appears in suicide videos made by those planning to end their life at the same time as causing death and destruction to others, who talk of thus earning admittance to a paradise where all their wishes are granted. The pleasures they expect to enjoy sound very like the luxury credited to the wealthy in this life and their heaven may seem to others as a place of extreme selfishness. The alternative vision sees the purpose of life as being to obtain release from worldly desires and emotions so that a state beyond human senses is achieved. They use scriptures to help induce such a state of being or to provide the key to achieving their ambition. The extreme version of this view is demonstrated by those who deliberately set themselves apart from society and appear to torture their bodies into submission. Given the fact that ‘martyrs’ and ‘hermits’ (sometimes called ‘renunciates’) are held up as role models by some religious leaders of opinion, it is hardly surprising that others are put off spiritual enquiry of any sort.
However, across time, place and cultural context people have dared to enquire into the unknown and been overwhelmed by the presence of something greater than their human selves and this drives us to search for philosophies that honour the positive in human existence and consider the possibilities of what might occur when breathing ceases. The question is: what do we know that can help achieve this aim but avoid damaging and divisive extremes of idea and behaviour? Scientific investigation has indicated that everything we sense during our human life is made up of energy. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed but does change form. Energy takes an infinite variety of forms and that includes many that our bodily senses cannot detect (such as radio waves, X-ray, infrared and ultraviolet) but, with the help of our technology, they have already widened our current vision and we know there is more that awaits investigation, such as ‘dark energy’. All forms of energy exert an influence on our universe and everything appears interconnected.
Therefore, we are not wrong to believe that there is something greater than ourselves of which we are a part and does exert an influence on our lives. Nor is it unreasonable to assume that the energy contained in a human being does change form and continue. We also know from our human experience that ‘consciousness’ exists because we are conscious of our surroundings and so must be related to energy. The big idea that springs from this thread of reasoning is that consciousness permeates the visible and invisible universe and is, in fact, the source of creation. If this is true then surely we are known by the greater consciousness and we can put to the test the theory that communication is possible. The result is bound to be transformative and lead to a new state of understanding that can be described as ‘spiritual enlightenment’.