METAPHYSICS TO LIVE BY [1]: A System For Preserving Belief in an Time of Doubt

 

INTRODUCTION

THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE OF FAITH

COMPARTMENTALIZATION, SHUTDOWN, AND THE FLIGHT FROM INSTITUTIONS

THE SEARCH FOR PROOF

RINGS OF BELIEF

A SCIENTIFIC THEORY OF SAME-LIFE REINCARNATION

THE CORE BELIEFS THAT CAN SUSTAIN US

SUMMARY 

SOURCES 

NOTES

 

INTRODUCTION

Is this life it? Do we go around just once, endure the travails and disappointments, the losses and the separations, and then just fade and die, decompose in the ground, exist no more? Do the children we bring into the world to outlast our own mortality perish in the same way, letting go of the last memories of us, and limiting the reach of our generosity; do the artistic works we create to stamp our fragile soulsí moment of inspiration into the grain of history and make friends beyond us likewise fade, as the civilizations we labor to build, in which we imbed our tragic brevity with the hope of preserving a few atoms and molecules of our effort? Is there any point to all of this, or are our lives and is our world just a meaningless swirl of longing, grasping, and dying, temporarily arisen from the void and destined to slide back into it?

At stake is the vibrancy of our souls, the motivation we are able to bring to bear on our environment, and sometimes even our sense of morality: for the chaos abounds with corrupt fruits for the short-sighted and the spiritually broken.

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THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE OF FAITH

Ages ago, there was pain and suffering, but there was also spiritual comfort and hope in the darkness. People believed. Traditional societies uniformly, though in their own diverse ways, developed systems of cosmology, religion, folklore, ritual, and collective identity which provided emotional shelter from the suffering, death, loss and uncertainty of life on its starkest, most obvious plane. In time, major religions and life philosophies emerged which brought together large parts of the world in shared bodies of belief or approaches to understanding: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism to name a few.

But, in time, the intellectual development of mankind - a steady though frequently interrupted and challenged historical process of acquiring, transmitting, and accumulating knowledge as well as methods of inquiry - led to a major shift in the inner life of man. This shift really originated in the West, where the Catholic Church, upholding certain interpretations of Nature based on Biblical passages or on its own pronouncements, began to encounter increasing challenges from rational philosophers and scientists. Frozen by a commitment to its own infallibility, it attempted to defend faith against reason by holding on to an untenable line of defense which it, at first, succeeded in holding through the intimidation and persecution of free thinkers. Later, however, as political developments throughout Europe lessened Church power and diminished its authority to persecute those who disagreed with it, driving its controlling hand away from the refuge of the newly-emerging secular realm in which the rational mind was free to operate, the Church was left with nothing more than flimsy arguments and demonstrably incorrect data to maintain its outdated positions. Though it insisted that the sun moved about the earth, Galileo and Copernicus had shown otherwise. Though it upheld the literal story of Genesis, maintaining that the earth, its animals and its human beings had been created by God in six days - and though it calculated, on the basis of biblical genealogy that the world must be only about 6,000 years old - Darwin, Kelvin, and Rutherford essentially disproved the Church, or one could say, suggested its worldview into oblivion. For the results of this conflict, the Church had no one but itself to blame. It had chosen to defend faith on untenable ground, disputing obvious facts rather than giving way gracefully before them and concentrating on keeping the spiritual vision intact beyond their reach. For example, although the theory of evolution contradicts the literal Biblical tale of Genesis, it does not disprove God or the world of the spirit, of which evolution may just be a part, a mechanism: a divine tool. However, once the two are set at odds with each other - once you must believe in either evolution OR religion - once you are forced to choose a winner and a loser - then it becomes harder to hold onto your faith in the face of obvious errors in the system which provides structure to your faith. [2] In the case of the geocentric universe (the ancient Church view that the earth was at the center of the Universe, and that the sun revolved around it), the damage was vastly greater. By chaining its reputation and credibility to this obsolete and very disprovable concept, the Church only set itself up for a big fall, growing as absurd in the eyes of many as its tenacious medieval cosmology was. Once again, the fatal flaw in the defense of faith was the presumed need for infallibility - the infallibility of the Church, and the infallibility (meaning the literal interpretation) of the Bible. If the Bible could only be accepted as a treasure house of wisdom and guidance, presented through a mixed medium of history and folklore, rather than as an unquestionable source of literal truth which must be regarded as absolutely accurate in every detail! By binding the presentation and the essential truth which it transmits as an inseparable unit - by combining them into a single target for skeptics - the truth is unfairly set up to take a hit every time the fable falters. It is the immobility and vulnerability of this needlessly exposed line of defense, locked into a literal defense of things no longer credible, that has done so much to damage the power of spirituality in the West. The will to be infallible has broken the capacity to believe.

As this shallow line of defense wrecked the Churchís credibility, beginning around the Renaissance and continuing into the 1900s, religion began to lose its grip over the soul of the West. Of course it remained, and remained extremely important in the lives of millions. But religionís attempt to overextend its power in the Middle Ages had finally provoked the social reaction which now pushed it to the side of the material forces and aspirations unleashed and fed by unfettered rational thought; while its legacy of attempting to control every nuance of thought and sensitivity in the past led to the overthrow of its control; its moral commandments, once shouts, faded into whispers. Industrial, commercial and financial might reshaped religion into its harmless, token conscience, and its spiritual justifier, warping it into new forms compatible with its interests. (Consider Calvinís doctrine of predestination, the glorification of sober wealth, the rise of the Protestant work ethic, and the exaltation of sublimation, by means of which the harsh Puritan sensibility channeled thwarted human drives into economic pursuits.) [3] The people were provided solace for their labors and sorrows, and yet, at the same time encouraged to hurl themselves into the program of the material world.

After a while, the social dynamics of the Industrial age reinvigorated feelings of poverty, frustration, and inequality in vast and politically significant masses of humanity, creating unbearable revolutionary pressures in the heart of Western civilization. At this time, Marxism arose, and the bourgeois/capitalist order which had replaced the medieval one cracked at the seams. The Marxists blamed religion for collaborating with the enemy, for promising the people a reward in Heaven while justifying a society which robbed them on the earth. Materially-based, rooted in science and economics, and outraged by religionís alleged role in promoting submission and passivity among victims of exploitation, Marxism insisted that the "opium" of religion, the "controlling mythology" of the elites, must be swept aside so that the peopleís will to fight for their rights would be restored. This impassioned perspective, which built on previous critiques of the Church as a bulwark of conservatism (during the Enlightenment), injected a strong stream of atheism into the Western world; in the same way that "infallibility" had weakened religion, when scientific facts which undermined it became indisputable, so religionís frequent collaboration with exploitative systems damaged its standing, by providing an unpopular political dimension to the spiritual.

In the end, Marxism failed to triumph in the West, thanks to the capitalist response which permitted trade unionism, and rises in wages and living standards, to relieve the social pressure and to avert revolutionary conditions. The Marxist challenge against religion, a challenge which had already caused substantial damage by demonstrating the manipulative power of organized belief-systems allied to the State, thereby creating an emotional gap between many people and the institutional vehicles of their belief, was repelled. And yet, the capitalist means of defeating the Marxist threat, which was to open the doors of material consumption in its political heartland in order to give workers a stake in the system, did just as much, if not more, to erode the influence of religion by creating new priorities and new rhythms of life that led people away from spirituality. Work, uses of time, the manipulation of mental space by advertising, the power of consumerism to satisfy and to torment, dragging human struggle to another plane, all weakened the human connection to spirit. Large numbers of atheists arose, a greater number of agnostics, and a greater number, still, of nominal believers who paid lip service to religion and retreated into its emotional refuge whenever life dipped down into one of its low points or reached a crisis, but failed to consistently and impactfully apply a genuine spiritual approach to the way they lived their lives and thus, the way their society behaved. Over time, the process became self-reinforcing. The extreme, socially-guided focus - you could say fixation - on what was material made it harder and harder for increasing numbers of people to truly comprehend or connect to the spiritual, which made the world of spirit seem more and more unbelievable. Little by little, the sensibilities which had once lived at the center of human life, receded; sacred things became fairy tales, sacred states became pathologies, visions that did not leave a footprint were dismissed, wisdom that did not lead to material profit or social success was discounted. Cynicism replaced innocence; ridicule and other hard tools were brought to bear against the truly spiritual, as opposed to the nominally religious, whose pragmatic imbedding in a convenient social network was tolerated and understood.

In some ways, Humanity was like a rape victim who retracts from human touch. The Church had raped Humanity in the past, raped Humanity with lies, raped Humanity with persecution and intolerance, raped Humanity by allying with Kings and assorted tyrants to preserve unjust social systems, raped Humanity with its pride that sent brilliant messengers of the truth to dungeons and to the stake, raped Humanity with its absurdity, with its inability to absorb new discoveries and prevent its followers from appearing ridiculous. The institutional vehicles of spirituality had, in many ages and in many places, been corrupt and cruel, and spirituality, itself, suffered from the sins of these vehicles. Belief was tarnished by the broken vessel it had been carried in. This tainted legacy barricaded many from true commitment to the spiritual: there was now too high a level of hostility and distrust to allow the full giving of oneís soul. The rose of faith was surrounded by the blood-soaked thorns of deeply flawed institutions.

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COMPARTMENTALIZATION, SHUTDOWN, AND THE FLIGHT FROM INSTITUTIONS

And yet, the need for a genuine spiritual experience remained. Something deep, intrinsic and unshakable in the human soul required it. For some, poisoned by the abuse and betrayal of religions institutions in the West, the answer was to "run away from home", to abandon local and discredited faiths in search of distant and seemingly untarnished ones, a process which was greatly abetted by modern advances in communication and transportation, which brought the products, thoughts, and faiths of the entire world into reach. Under these circumstances, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Mystical Judaism (Kabbalah), Nature Worship and Paganism made inroads in the West, and later, flowed into the phenomenon of the "New Age", which was a kind of spiritual repositioning drawing upon many different elements from the global environment, some rooted in ancient traditions and others invented by the modern mind or slapped together like spiritual chimeras. In particular, refugees from the Western religious heritage were attracted to paths that emphasized the personal rather than the institutional - paths not defined or controlled by dominant hierarchies or made unpalatable by top-heavy bodies of doctrine. Buddhist paths, centered on meditation and firmly committed to the personal experience of the individual, were especially popular. According to this approach to spiritual development, oneís own life was the forest in which the tree of enlightenment grew. Spiritual peace could not be dictated to one, or even handed to one, it must be discovered by each individual, on the terrain of his own unique life. For souls traumatized by the violence of imposed conformity, and the collective leveling of personal seeking by institutions sworn to a single meaning of God, the possibility of walking by oneself was practically irresistible. In cases, though, the loneliness of this liberty brought seekers back into contact with each other, sometimes in the form of constructive new forums and organizations, sometimes in the form of institutions and cults that mimicked the heavy-handedness of the ones they had left.

Meanwhile, as this exodus from classic Western forms of spirituality occurred, many others sought to personalize and to deepen their spiritual experience within the context of the religions they had grown up in. They did not leave their religions, but rather, altered them at their personal point of contact with them, by approaching them differently, with greater confidence and a heightened sensibility. They determined to make belief-systems, which had become numb in their hearts, come to life; determined to feel God and Spirit once more, to dig underneath gesture to find living truth. There were revivals and restorations: phoenixes rising from the ashes of skepticism to belief; phoenixes rising from the ashes of indifference to caring; souls driven by the inner emptiness bestowed by history to undergo the exertion of actively seeking once again.

And yet, when one steps back for a moment to survey the state of this recovery in contemporary times, one quickly discerns its limitations. There are many individuals rising within a collective spiritual condition that is still sitting on the ground. The ecological degradation of the world, the continuation of oppression and socially-sanctioned patterns of abuse, the prevalence of war, the power of lies, the dark trajectory of gullibility and the dominion of simplicity, the infiltration of the sacred, the reversion of transcendences, all remind us that the awakening is subjective and very much underdeveloped. Spirituality in the West remains debilitated, still stunned by the Material, weak in genuine impact. On the one hand, we have millions of religious "believers" persisting, and undermined by, the mental device of compartmentalization; and on the other hand, millions more who are protected and sabotaged by the mental mechanism of "shutdown." Though very different in style, "compartmentalization" and "shutdown" are similar in that both are ways of coping with the destructive nature of the "evidence" accumulated by science, which has pushed many of the basic tenets of spiritual thinking to the edge of credibility. Heaven, Hell, the immortal soul, life after death, divine love, support, and caring, the existence of God, an objective (non-invented) basis for morality in the Universe, all are called into question when viewed through the prism of modern-day physics, chemistry, biology, and cosmology; the innate spiritual needs of Man are therefore forced to take refuge in techniques devoted to neutralizing the unbearable effects of scientific evidence.

Compartmentalization refers to the ability of human consciousness to travel back and forth between a series of isolated mental boxes, that keep one form of belief from contaminating another (it is a practiced form of split personality). It is a way of intermittently varying our focus, and shifting between different perceptions, which allows us, among other things, to be religious in one moment and "secular and rational" the next. When clear thinking and action in the material world, in order to attain objectives governed by material principles, is required, we reach for the light switch of the rational compartment of our mind, and leave our mystical part in the dark. We will not let it impede us, or socially estrange us. When grief, loss, depression, drowning in the existential void, or insurmountable odds confront us, bringing us to the emotional limits of our rational selves, we turn on the light switch of the spiritual mind, and seek refuge from futility in the mental compartment that has, up till that time, kept religion from getting in the way of our practical directives. Compartmentalization allows us to isolate and preserve our spiritual capability within a mindset that has been predominantly trained and conditioned to function in the material world. The problem with compartmentalization is that, in spite of our mindís efforts, by means of it, to try to hold onto two conflicting perspectives at once, it is nearly impossible to prevent leakage between the separate mental boxes which allow us to exist in the modern world while maintaining the comfort of our ancient belief-systems. Due to the intimate interconnection of our different mental spaces, much as we may try to block their contact with each other on the conscious level, science is not sealed off from the religion box, but rather, unconsciously penetrates into the inner sanctums of our faith like radiation from a nuclear reactor that is not perfectly sealed; it corrodes our spiritual life, weakens its force, devitalizes our conviction, undermines our sense of purpose and our hope. We preserve the capacity for a spiritual response, but it is emaciated. In the same way that a holographic card may contain different images, variously revealed by the way we tilt the card, we try to look at the card of Life, when we are in need of spiritual nurturing, in such a way as to see beautiful angels, glorious winged beings of solidarity at war with our smallness, but unless we get the angle just right, we end up seeing the image of our rotting, decomposing faces instead. Every time we look for the angel and see, in its place, the skull, the angel fades in magnitude. This saturation of faith by science weakens our connection to the spiritual. This weakness, in turn, forces us to cling more tightly to the illusions of our material world for validation and meaning: to the power, prestige, wealth, and appearance of our socially constructed universe, our giant diseased game of life disguised as reality. Compartmentalization is slowly eroding what it seeks to save.

In the case of "shutdown", our need to believe screams at the knowledge we do not want to accept, the knowledge that threatens us, we try to drown out opposing views with our fear of being wrong, crafted into certainty. We assault the obvious and embrace the dubious in the name of our emotional salvation. Biblical literalism, with its utter disregard for modern geology, biology, and physics, would constitute one example of "shutdown." We simply shut down that part of our mind which gets in the way of our spiritual and emotional needs, perform a lobotomy of sorts, cutting out the rational part of our mind wherever it interfaces with the incompatible claims of our religion, wherever it introduces a doubt we cannot endure. We cut back our reason, like unwanted growth invading the garden of hope; we preserve the ability to use reason to fix machines, to figure out what is wrong with a refrigerator or an engine, but slam the door in its face whenever it gets too close to the great mysteries we cannot live in the midst of without an answer. (For many, a wrong answer is better than a prolonged question mark.) Of course, this approach is filled with terrible drawbacks. It is, first of all, built upon self-repression, and due to the fragility of oneís power to believe (which depends on hiding from known facts), it engenders the tendency to repress others whose different views may shake oneís confidence. From this approach comes an undeniable dynamic to gain control of otherís minds through mental bullying and the manipulation of information, a dynamic presently limited by the supremacy of secularism, which could, nonetheless, materialize into a very real danger should secularism ever fall (and its failure to fulfill Man on the spiritual plane could well lead to its demise). Besides this, learning how to shut down important parts of oneís mind in order to believe what is essentially unbelievable is not necessarily a positive trait. Applied to politics, for example, it could lead to the most hideous social distortions, from embracing dictators, to succumbing to malignantly absurd propaganda, to making war on non-existent phantoms projected onto real people, to charging blindly into an apocalypse. Irrationality, leading to the placement of fantasy and reality on an equal footing, cannot be taken lightly. In one moment a refuge for the confused and tormented soul not sure how to believe in God, irrational thought could, at a later moment - once ingrained into the collective mind as a means of avoiding doubt and pain - become a refuge for the killer and the puppet. Finally, just as in the case of compartmentalization, shutdown is not actually effective in preserving the spiritual view. The outside, with its doubt, still leaks in, undermining faith, which becomes aggressive rather than compassionate, defensive rather than loving. (When love is offered, it sometimes seems more of an attack.) The fervor to repel outside doubt-inducing stimuli damages the receptivity that allows true spirituality to filter into the open human soul, and destroys the maturation process that brings spirituality into its prime; premature and incomplete spirituality is seized upon instead, plucked too soon from complexity, and utilized to block deeper and more real forms of spirituality that can only arrive down paths of doubt. Anger and fear deceive themselves into believing they are divine, infiltrating the greatest resource we have to bring peace and harmony to the world. Whether it is fundamentalist militant Christianity we are talking about, or fundamentalist militant Islam, a great tool for understanding is corrupted into a weapon.

Compartmentalization and shutdown are not techniques exclusively associated with Christianity (or Islam or Judaism), however. The same dilemmas and same reactions have touched many practitioners of the New Age, whose spiritual beliefs are also diminished by "leakage" from the scientific/rational worldview, which seeps into their effort to maintain a "spiritual mind", challenging the viability of many of their most necessary assumptions.

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THE SEARCH FOR PROOF

In an effort to salvage the conviction and effectiveness (both individual and social) of spiritual beliefs, a great effort has been placed, for some time, on the accumulation of counter-evidence to combat the damning discoveries and principles maintained by mainstream science, which have caused the flowers of the human soul to fade.

Although spiritual realities may not speak "science" at all, but rather, communicate to us in a language of emotion, intuition, and revelation beyond translation, that hits one in a special place - a kind of sacred funnybone that creates unprovable forms of knowing when one has truly been touched by the divine - it is natural that we, conditioned by science as we have been, have chosen to defend our spiritual sensibilities on its terrain, and according to its terms. (It will not accept any other terms, and we are desperate for its validation.) Unnecessary as this may be, in an objective sense, since spiritual truth may not be any more responsive to the scientific method than our innermost feelings are to an EKG, it has nonetheless become important to us because of the leakage factor: no matter what the spiritual framework, most of us have internalized the right of science to judge us, and subconsciously accepted its conditions for proof. High performance in certain tangible realms has given it an aura of expertise over realms of which it may not be master. When we believe against the grain of science, we lose the power to fully live by and profit from those beliefs. We are spiritually half-hearted, because a part of us does not believe; the possibility that we are only deluded deflates us. Who will find the Holy Grail when deep inside he feels he may only be chasing the wild goony bird? [4] And so it is that a great effort has been launched to attempt to prove, by means suitable to science, the existence of spiritual realities that we need for our comfort, hope, and vitality.

For many years, spirit mediums have sought to prove the existence of life after death through psychic contact with the dead. Sometimes, they have come up with amazing details, recognized by the living as facts which could only be known by the spirits of the deceased, communicating to them from the beyond. And yet, the field of spiritism has long been plagued by fraud and manipulation, and by lenient standards of proof produced by grief which may seize any vague handle for believing, and unjustifiably personalize the generic to fill the void. Some recipients of spiritist contact are absolutely sure of what has occurred - their "spiritual funnybone" has been squarely hit, and they know itís true - but skeptics are able to neutralize the cultural impact of their testimony by building a wall around it with alternative explanations that do not challenge their paradigm. And we, who are outside of the experience, are easily seduced into non-belief, sometimes below the surface of appearing to be convinced.

The phenomenon of apparitions and ghosts has provided another strong support for the idea of life after death, and paranormal investigators have lately sought to obtain evidence for it, utilizing photography, electromagnetic readings, and other "objective, material" means to try to document its existence and rescue it from the "unscientific" realm of human subjectivity. These scientific investigations have not yet produced conclusive evidence, however, and alternative explanations focused on psychological factors have been used to explain away the bulk of the anecdotal evidence, which is vast. No matter how intriguing this lore which spans the entirety of human history and comes to us from practically every culture that has ever existed on the earth, we have not yet been given permission to believe it. Without the scientific stamp of approval, its hint of life beyond the obvious and the tangible, lies dormant in the soul of our culture.

Even more compelling, now, than the lore and work with spirits, are the NDEs (Near-Death Experiences), which have, perhaps, become our civilizationís most promising and passionately pursued effort to recover the spiritual worldview. At a time when science has choked nearly all the air out of our spiritual life, it has simultaneously provided us with the advanced technology needed to bring large numbers of medical patients "back from the dead", via CPR and other life-saving techniques. Returning from several minutes (and occasionally much longer stretches of time) of being clinically dead, without a heartbeat or other visible signs of life, they have awakened with amazing memories of their brief interface with the Beyond, filling the annals of our modern will to believe with reports of leaving their body, flying through a tunnel "towards the light", meeting deceased relatives, angels or guides, and sometimes God, glimpsing Heaven or experiencing comparable otherworldly realms. The experiences vary from person to person, sometimes significantly, and yet, there is a large and vivid body of shared, and often life-changing, perception. Is our scientific mind now, at the very historical moment it has given us the technology to destroy ourselves and our world, leading us back to the spiritual perspective that can save us, via the NDE, which its advanced medical capabilities (combined with far-reaching communications systems) have finally magnified into a mass social phenomenon? Once again, science, in spite of this enormous potential, has proved tenacious in defending its paradigm of consciousness based on matter, implying the impossibility of awareness without a brain or body, and therefore the impossibility of life after death via the existence of a non-material soul. While thousands of fascinating and compelling eyewitness accounts of life-after-death have been generated by the NDE phenomenon, and many convincing chronicles come to our attention, including the by-now famous works of Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, PMH Atwater, Melvin Morse, Betty Eadie and Damion Brinkley, strong counterattacks have been launched by scientists aiming to de-spiritualize the NDE and reduce it, in essence, to a biologically-induced hallucinatory experience via the "dying brain theory." According to them, NDErs are not seeing Heaven or God, they are merely experiencing visions shaken loose from an unraveling brain, which is deprived of oxygen and flooded with a trauma-induced release of endorphins These scientists claim to be able to artificially create an NDE through the electrical stimulation of the brain. Although their explanation has a very significant loophole in it - for the ability to simulate an allegedly real phenomenon does not disprove that there is a real phenomenon (mimicry alone is not enough to debunk) - their arguments resonate enough with our previous scientific conditioning to raise grave doubts about the validity of the NDE experience, and prevent us from accepting it as definitive proof of the spiritual realities which would compel us to change our lives and our world. We are intrigued and hopeful, yet not so convinced as to restore spiritual sensibility to the center of our lives. What has been placed into our hands, we cannot hold - it is still too hot with the danger of being wrong.

Finally, with regard to life after death (which is a gateway into the wider resurrection of the non-material), we have the evidence of past lives, connected to the theory of reincarnation. Reincarnation is a common spiritual precept of Hinduism and Buddhism, but is not incompatible with Christianity, Judaism or Islam. [5] Through meditation, vision, spontaneous memory, dreaming, and hypnotic trance, large numbers of people, through time, have caught glimpses of lives previous lived. In cases, the memories are intimately connected to effects and conditions observed in the present (for example, to phobias, illnesses, birthmarks, and otherwise incomprehensible attitudes and skills); in cases, the memories unearth obscure details of previous existences which are later able to be linked, by investigators, to concrete lives. The evidence which is, in cases, startling, has been successfully buried by science beneath many less convincing cases in which alleged past-life memories have been shown to be factually inaccurate and rife with fantasies: products of false-memory syndrome and the hypnotically-empowered imagination. There is evidence, through the collective sum of these memories, of life after death, but it is a breeze. We now live within walls of disbelief that are so thick, we need a hurricane.

Of course, proof of life after death is only one facet of the spiritual quest, although one of the most important, for death without succor is a demoralizing, depressing thought, the end of a journey that, however hard it has been, we have become attached to; the irreparable loss of the loved ones who make life worthwhile; the futility of many of our most precious dreams. Other spiritual and religious concepts are also at stake; and other battlegrounds between rationality and mysticism are being fought on. There is the question of OBEs (out-of-body experiences) including shamanic journeys and astral trips, which, if they truly occur, might indicate the ability of human consciousness to exist apart from the body, thereby enhancing the case for the soul and other foundations of the spiritual worldview. There is the question of ESP (extra-sensory perception), including clairvoyance and telepathy, which, if it is not central to our spiritual beliefs, could nonetheless bolster the credibility of those beliefs, if it were vindicated, by opening new space for their consideration within the modern worldview. Once the dependence of consciousness on its housing of mortal biology is overcome, a giant door of possibilities is flung open. Definitive proof regarding OBEs and ESP, however, is not yet here. Science, by defining what constitutes proof, has made the rules of the game, and it has denied legitimacy to a great mass of anecdotal evidence and suggestive experimental data. As Carl Sagan once defined the MO of science, when confronted with the paranormal: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But what makes a claim extraordinary, in the first place? That it does not fit into a conceptual framework for reality which has been constructed from some observations, but not from others? Is it fair to become so attached to what is supposed to be a tentative framework for understanding reality; to transform science from a process into a faith - a faith against faith; and to defend its current positions from future amendment by filtering out contrary evidence? Is rethinking reality so terrible a prospect that it is worth stunting the discoveries which could lead us back to spirit? In Forbidden Archaeology, Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson detail the tendency of science to be selective with concrete evidence, claiming that it has a long history of discrediting and weeding out facts that challenge its existing mindset; it is, therefore, a fact-based discipline which, once it has used some facts to build a model of reality, rejects other facts which call its model into question. This thought is useful to those of us who feel that our spiritual experiences have been invalidated and demeaned by the judgments of science. But it does not necessarily spare us from the damage of those judgments.

Regarding God, and the existence of a divine connection and emotional bond between Man and God - and regarding a divine order and purpose underlying the Universe, including moral laws that, once uncovered, could lead us away from savagery and egotism - science is, likewise, not overly supportive. Many scientists are, themselves, religious, thanks to the device of compartmentalization. (Many others are not.) But the idea of a gigantic, universal consciousness unattached to a recognizable biochemical base such as is believed necessary for generating "mind", leads to an overall orientation of skepticism regarding God. We want to believe in Him, and try to believe in Him, but with the worldview thatís been put into our heads, and with the fierce debunking, in other paranormal venues, of the principles which are necessary for His existence, itís hard not to feel like a child who wonít give up his belief in Santa Claus. Light a candle, leave a cookie, whatís the difference? Itís hard to believe with power, when the air we breathe says NO. Although this is a "delusion" they let us get away with, because it is too deeply rooted in our history, and socially useful and beloved to attack head-on, it is poisoned from within by a million whispers, spoken in other places against sacred things. The attacks on life after death, on ghosts, on NDEs, on OBEs, on ESP, on past-life memories have all drilled the message into our souls, that this way of thinking is flawed. The tree on which God blooms has been condemned. No one has to take Him on, he has already been destroyed by the assault on the sensibility that makes us capable of believing in Him.

To resurrect God, and the support He is said to offer, and the order He is said to represent in the Universe, a variety efforts have been made. Philosophers and theologians have sought to infer His existence from the beauty and complexity of Nature (which they say could only be the product of "intelligent design", the product of a master plan beyond the dynamics theorized by Darwin); the Big Bang cosmology, likewise, was not only an effort to explain observed data, but to use that data while it was still in a formative state and before its abruptness could be countered with evidence of symmetry, to necessitate the existence of a God. How else could you explain an arbitrary beginning of the Universe at a single point in time ("let there be light!") Robert Jastrow, a highly respected physicist once associated with NASA and Columbia University, was one who felt led to God by this cosmology (as was its founder, Father Lamaitre, a Belgian priest). "Intelligent Design", however, is currently a pariah in the scientific community, despised as mere theology fronting as science, while the Big Bang Theory is not generally considered to prove the existence of God, especially now that the eternal, oscillating, self-generating and self-sustaining model of the Universe, which does not require an act of Creation outside the known laws of Nature to jump-start it into being, has gained some physical evidence to restore its credibility in the eyes of physicists and astronomers.

Besides the attempt to infer the existence of God in this way, vast amounts of anecdotal evidence, some well documented by multiple sources, have been gathered regarding Miracles which, it is said, could only be the product of divine intervention. Miracles of falling roses, miracles in the Heavens - for example, the sun spinning and seeming to leave its position in the sky at Fatimah - miracles of revelations, miracles of healing, miracles of incredibly answered prayers. It seems until a miracle can be produced in a laboratory, science will reject this evidence as nothing more than coincidence and illusion. Scientific experiments to prove the positive effect of prayer on healing have produced interesting, but inconclusive results, since there are psychological and social-support dimensions to prayer which could benefit the ill, in addition to its alleged tie with the divine. (God is not necessarily proved by the effectiveness of prayer: only the health benefits of believing in God, and knowing that others care for you, although some experiments are now trying to set controls to weed these factors out.)

Into the fray, now, has jumped the new physics, with strange new concepts accommodating multiple dimensions in space (the possibility of Heaven and spirit planes?); the malleability of reality "untouched by human hands", on the anvil of our observations and consciousness (the power of non-material forces); the interconnectedness of all beings, and places (the accessibility of everything, and the possibility of a super-consciousness). [6] Some of this work is not only very intriguing, but the product of first-rate scientists. However, it is still in too early and uncertain a stage to be incorporated into the mainstream, and to reach our convictions with substantial force. While some of these efforts are respected by the mainstream, a great deal of it, which could lay new intellectual foundations for our shattered spiritual universe, has been dismissed as mere "pseudoscience": wishful thinking coated with a bit of scientific dust, to convince the unschooled that their fantasies have a scientific basis, and provide a cheap stamp of approval for their untenable ideas. The kiss of science used to bless the absurd! How mainstream science hates this! For us, the intelligent laymen of the world, it is often hard to tell the difference between real science and pseudoscience, so that much of our conviction is lost in the confusion.

And this, in a nutshell, is the current state of the evidence with which we seek to rescue our spiritual lives from the hostile atmosphere of a relentless, material world. There is evidence to support us, scientific evidence, gathered from the fields of science, by arms of science, as well as huge conglomerations of personal experience which deserve scholarly respect, as much respect as the astronomerís observations of a planet through his telescope. To the astronomer I say: "You, and hundreds of your colleagues, have seen Jupiter. I, and thousands of my colleagues, have seen the kingdom of spirit." And yet, somehow, the evidence is brushed aside, put on hold, rejected (like fruit deemed unworthy to eat), we are always pushed back into the material world without our ancient resource of spirit, as though the purpose of knowledge, now, were to keep us prisoners of the mentality that generates the processes that govern our civilization. Is there any way to prove what we feel, to liberate ourselves to live fully for it? Any way to believe it without proof, without thereby committing ourselves to believing anything?

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RINGS OF BELIEF

For me, the defense of spirit has become an overriding issue in life. How can it be done in a world like this, where one is surrounded on every side by skepticism, sometimes cruelly open in its contempt of the unproved, sometimes hidden maliciously within the shape of tolerance; sometimes embodied in the ridicule of the proud and unkind, sometimes lurking within oneís own mind, internalized and devastating, like a saboteur wrecking the machinery of belief, spitting miracles back into Godís face?

I have, in the face of this hostility and massive infiltration of my own sensibilities, developed a complex system of defense to protect my belief in the spiritual. Instructed by the absurd defeats of religion in the past, which clung tenaciously to untenable lines of defense, to scriptural literalism and frozen moments of science, that allowed new knowledge to smash through and break into the very core of faith, I have cultivated the art of elasticity in my belief. I call this system "the rings of belief."

Imagine, if you will, a series of concentric circles, each one representing a different level or layer of spiritual belief, a different line of defense against the emptiness, the brevity, and apparent meaninglessness of life once the distracting illusions of the material world have been stripped away. The outer ring of my belief is complex, esoteric, and vulnerable to the of assault of science. I am able to inhabit this level of belief due to my conviction that science is a work in progress, and that there are gigantic gaps in its knowledge in which the incompatibility of my spiritual beliefs with what it does know are able to take refuge. I do not yield to what I see as the present-day limits of science; instead, I go on believing in what it does not approve of, fully expecting the science of the future to catch up with my experience and my intuition. This outer layer of belief, based on my perception of science as incomplete, is reinforced by the discoveries of paranormal researchers and the bounty of possibilities which they have uncovered: their work on human survival, NDEs, OBEs, spirit contact, past life memory, ESP, etc. Although their work aids me in sustaining my belief, my belief is not pinned down to it being accurate. I have an "elastic front" which can give way before the counterattacks of science without being broken. I will not be defeated by chaining myself to the geocentric model of the universe, or to the Biblical account of Genesis, or to any other fact drawn hard and fast in the sand as a fundamental tenet of my ability to believe. I will give ground to science in the face of decisive rebuffs, defend myself with mobility rather than static positions, withdraw God from the Six Days, and put him in command of Evolution, and if need be withdraw him to the ultimate sanctuary of cosmology, turn his divine hands into the laws of physics. I will not give up my belief, because it is rooted in me, and I trust it. I will not fall for the brainwash that the power of this feeling is only the power of my wishes; it is a way of seeing the world, like a poet, and I cannot be torn from this sensibility without becoming less than I am.

For some, this outer layer of belief may be based on Christian teachings, on the life and message of Jesus, on the compassion of Mary. It may be populated with saints and angels, filled with miracles, and reached by prayer. For others, it may be based upon the mercy and passion of Islam, or the righteousness, complexity, and, in cases, mysticism of Judaism. For some, this outer layer may be used to house the profuse divinity of Hinduism, or the serene kindness and clarity of Buddhism; while for others, ancient spirits, gods, goddesses, and divine manifestations of Nature may be sheltered here. For some believers, bolstered by more powerful forms of spiritual experience and personal evidence, more sure of themselves, or less responsive to the intellectual invasiveness of science, this outer layer of belief may be all they need to hold onto a sense of lifeís worth and meaning. The simpler mind and heart may hold the line without budging an inch, the more complex and porous soul by means of elasticity.

In my own case, the outer layer of my belief is a complex creation of my personal journey, constructed from dreams, past-life memories, synchronicities, reflections, and spiritual explorations. It is a hybrid system bred from Christianity, Stoicism, Zen Buddhism, and Native American spirituality, personalized and pruned by my own strange soul, loyal to experience rather than to doctrine. [7] At times, when I open myself to it, I know and believe with power. At other times, as survival in the material world bludgeons me into material ways of thinking and my mind becomes acclimated to the totally different mental space of functioning in contemporary society, its power begins to dwindle. My belief is then shaken by the skepticism of others, and becomes stale from seeming irrelevance, from its lack of connection with the material tasks that make one or break one in a civilization thoughtlessly dedicated to the ephemeral. Social pressure makes it uncomfortable to share the intimate insides of my mind with others, except from the refuge of distance and anonymity. Without social reinforcement and support, precious beliefs come to seem more like a dark secret than a source of inspiration and life, and the power to be derived from those beliefs begins to diminish, like the fading echoes of a shout across an empty canyon. Spirituality persists, but it hobbles instead of runs. In theory, the outer layer of my belief has not been breached, but in reality, the objections of science and the aloofness of society, which does not offer someone like me a church, has penetrated deeply into it. This layer of belief is beset by civil war, pitting my natural spiritual self against my trained atheistic self. The vitality of this layer of belief, in my case, is therefore unstable and fluctuating, varying according to the fortunes of war. Sometimes I am able to come from it with energy and power, like Athena leaping fully-armored from the brow of Zeus; other times I cringe in a corner with the broken remnants of what is sacred, naked and afraid to be seen by the world. I am alternately confident and depressed, energetic and passive, imbued with a sense of purpose and drifting. What do I do when I need a source of strength, and the outer layer is "down"? I retreat into the next layer of belief.

For me, this is the theory of same-life reincarnation. Unlike the more traditional theory of reincarnation which predominates in the outer ring, this theory is consistent with the laws of science as they exist today, as I understand them. It takes away both the terror of death and the sense of being lost in time, and therefore, helps to restore a sense of vitality in what would otherwise seem to be a meaningless and heartbreaking void. It does not contradict the beliefs of the outer ring; it merely backs them up, like a metaphysical safety net.

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A SCIENTIFIC THEORY OF SAME-LIFE REINCARNATION

This theory swept into my consciousness years ago, as I first encountered the philosophical nightmare of the Big Bang Theory, a cosmology which speculated that the Universe began ten billion years ago, as a super-hot condensed globe of matter whose intense internal pressure caused it to explode outwards. As the rapid expansion, in all directions, of the shattered proto-Universe continued, the subatomic particles in the outward-hurled matter cooled enough to be able to combine into atoms. Eventually, vast masses of hydrogen atoms (the primary element in the Universe) began to gravitationally collect together forming galaxies, in which spinning clouds of hydrogen gas began to separate into stars and planets, forming solar systems. Inside the core of the stars, the pressure generated by large accumulations of mass, which were gravitationally condensed, produced heat and light which was radiated outwards, providing the energy for life on some planets. For a time, the outward flow of energy from the star counteracted the force of gravity, which was drawing its matter together towards an eventual cave-in. This balance between the dynamics of radiance and collapse, resulted in a fertile stasis, a multi-billion-year period of stability friendly to the development of life on suitable worlds such as our own. As the starís hydrogen fuel was used up, however, and the outward flow of energy needed to counteract the contracting force of gravity diminished, the star was predicted to collapse inwards. This collapse, leading to an increase in internal pressure, it was theorized, would raise the heat inside the star enabling helium atoms (the result of the previous atomic fusion of hydrogen atoms) to begin to combine. (Larger atoms require higher temperatures to drive them past each otherís energetic barriers to fuse in this way.) A new period of atomic fusion, this time based on helium rather than on hydrogen, would be initiated, postponing the demise of the star until the helium fuel, in its turn, ran out. However, the process of helium fusion, which gave off light and heat, would lead to the creation of carbon atoms, which would become the new fuel for the star once gravitational collapse raised its internal pressure to the point where they, too, could fuse. [8] In this way, as the star began to decline, it would create and use up a variety of fuels, ranging from the lighter to the heavier elements, until it would either burn itself into oblivion, shrinking into a dead, inert star known as a "dwarf star", or else crash inwards with such a spike of energy, that its unsustainable pressure triggered a gigantic outwards explosion, or supernova, scattering its element-rich debris into space. [9] This debris would, in turn, be subject to reincorporation into new stars and planets.

So far, so good. Why have I referred to the Big Bang theory as a philosophical nightmare? Because the human being, demoralized by transience, hopes for immortality, if not for himself, for his species, if not for his species for his world, if not for his world for the Universe. It is an inborn aesthetic craving, an overpowering expectation of beauty, and all of our souls perch on the edge of our mortality, straining to hear its sound. As an out-of-tune string is an affront to the ear of a master violinist, so a Universe that is not elegant and eternal is an affront to the sensibility of the developed heart and soul. So what? demands the hard-core cynic: the Universe was not made for you. You do not have the right to expect anything of it. But, I say, we come from it, and our longing is made of its substance. There should be a family resemblance between our desire and reality.

The problem with the Big Bang Theory is that it postulates a finite Universe, a Universe with a life span, that is also doomed to die. A Universe without solace or resurrection; a Universe that does not offer us the comfort of knowing that someone or something else, somewhere, will live, and laugh and love again. How bravely the river, once enlightened, flows into the sea, because it knows in some way it will become a part of the ocean. But what if there were no ocean, just extinction? The Big Bang Theory elevates the despair of our personal death, stripped of spiritual remedies, into a dark cosmology condemning the very context of our existence. It infects those of us who know it with a deep and terrible sense of gloom that is nearly impossible to bear.

How did we ever manage to concoct this cosmological nightmare? Utilizing the technology of spectroscopic analysis and the known properties of the Doppler Effect - the tendency of sound and light to change in pitch or color as their source moves towards us or away from us - scientists were able to determine that we are living in the midst of an expanding universe. There is an observed flying apart of the galaxies, suggestive of the outwards scattering of debris from an explosion. This led Father Lemaitre in the 1920s to postulate the creation of the Universe from a "Big Bang" (his work was later elaborated by George Gamow). Robert Dicke, a Princeton University physicist, insisted that if this theory were correct, radioactive residue from the original explosion which set the Universe into motion should be detectable. In the 1960s, two AT&T physicists, Arno Penzias and Richard Wilson, discovered the predicted traces of radiation with a large radio antenna which was a part of their companyís satellite communications program, thereby providing important support for the theory. Advocates of the immortal Universe could easily have absorbed the Big Bang into their own theories, as merely one point in an oscillating cosmological model of expansion and contraction, driven by recurring cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth: a philosophically elegant theory, resonant with the deepest spiritual intuitions of Man. However, the oscillating model of the Universe was missing one important piece: the quantity of matter (based on observation and prediction) needed to generate a sufficient gravitational field to brake the expansion of the Universe and gradually reel the receding galaxies back together, where their rapidly thinning material could once more interact and coalesce to form new stars and planets. Most scientists believed that the Universe lacked the mass needed to counteract the velocity of its expansion, and therefore foresaw an irrevocable dispersion of matter to the ends of space, leading to the permanence of emptiness, and the final triumph of an inert void over life.

Philosophically repelled, a group of scientists including Fred Hoyle, Tom Gold, and Herman Bondi fought back with what was known as the "steady state cosmology", a theory which postulated that a relatively small amount of hydrogen atoms were constantly being created from nothing. According to their calculations, just a single hydrogen atom created per year in a volume equal to that of the Empire State Building would be enough to provide the Universe with the missing matter which it needed to recover from its flight into nothingness, and bring it back together. They felt sure enough of the validity of their aesthetic sense to violate the time-honored law of the conservation of energy and matter - "energy and matter can neither be created or destroyed" - in order to defend it.

Later on, some scientists took hope as increasing amounts of "dark matter" began to be detected in the Universe, not yet reaching, but inching towards, the quantities needed to overcome destruction. [10]

For some deeply religious people, it should be pointed out, the Big Bang theory did not present much of a problem or source of despair. They turned it into a form of theology, placing God at the beginning of a more scientifically plausible version of Genesis, and claimed to see his hand in the arbitrary initiation of the Universe. For these theological cosmologists, it seemed natural enough that God could rewrite the depressing ending to time with another divine intervention, perhaps a Day of Judgment after the fatal dispersion of the Universe. However, for the non-theological scientist, seeking to explain Nature by means of the known laws of Nature, without recourse to a deus ex machina to suddenly descend into the midst of his scientific dead-end with a religious remedy, the Big Bang Theory was miserable and appalling. It seemed to take away all point in living, by denying our transience connection with something eternal.

When I first came upon the Big Bang Theory, it was long before my spiritual journey had begun. I faced it as an atheist, and lacking scientific fluency, attacked it with philosophy. For me, the Big Bang Theory could not stand without a God, and not believing in God at that time, I found it to have feet of clay. This is how I, a believer in the eternal, oscillating model of the Universe, dismantled it:

The Big Bang Theory starts at an arbitrary moment in time, with an already existing "primordial globule" of matter which is about to explode and give birth to the Universe.

Where did this globule come from? Did it just appear out of nowhere, right at the point of being ready to explode? Or sit eternally, through time, with the force of exploding frozen inside of it, yet not exploding until a single point in time was reached ten billion years ago?

Only God could make this possible (and I didnít believe in Him).

According to natural laws, that giant globule of matter must have existed before it was ready to explode, meaning that before it blew up it must have been in the process of progressing from a state of lower density, lower internal pressure, and lower temperature towards the state of higher density, higher pressure, and higher temperature which would make it explode.

That implies that it was in the process of condensing from a state of dispersion. Already, this is highly suggestive of a cyclical model of the Universe, in which the Big Bang would be the beginning, not of the Universe, but of a new cycle of creation in a recurring pattern of expansion and contraction.

Without the device of a miraculous God, from where would the matter that the Universe is made of and the energy that animates its laws, come from? What could suddenly make them leap into being, appear from nothing? (Not believing in a God apart from and above Nature, I concluded): Matter/energy must always have been here. They are eternal. (This is a mind-boggling concept, as is the infinite dimension of space and time; and yet, the alternatives are equally mind-boggling, and rarely as simple and aesthetically sound. As I deduced then, either God or matter/energy must be eternal: and for me at that time, the one was incomprehensible, while the other was concrete.)

If matter/energy is eternal, the laws that govern it, which come from it, and follow from it, must also be eternal. Meaning that the processes that draw matter to gather together, contract, pressurize, explode, and disperse must have been going on forever.

If this process were self-destructive - if it led to an irrevocable dispersion of matter which prevented its continuation, as the Big Bang Theory maintains - then it would have exhausted itself long ago, since this process had no set beginning, but has always been going on. We would not now be here.

Since we are here, it means that the process is self-maintaining and perpetual. If we cannot detect the amount of matter needed to bring the Universe back together, we can, nonetheless, be sure that it does exist, or that some other mechanism for bringing the Universe back together does exist. (My own belief is that we have underestimated the amount of dark matter in the Universe, and that enough does, indeed, exist to counter the expansion of the Universe and initiate a new cycle of contraction.)

For me, this clear, atheistic line of reasoning proved the immortality of the Universe, and rescued me from the despair that the Big Bang Theory generated.

However, by failing to step on the brakes of my thoughts right here, I continued to travel down speculations of causality and chance unknowingly towards an eccentric personal theory of same-life reincarnation: I was to soon decide that immortality was not just for the Universe, but also for us!

To reach this conclusion, I began with the rejection of the idea of chance. [11] Everything that happens, happens for a concrete reason. For every effect, there is a cause. For example, the stone flies through the air because you throw it, and it lands on the ground because gravity is pulling it down. How far it goes and where it lands depends, among other things, upon the force and direction of your throw, the weight and dimensions of the stone, the condition of the atmosphere through which it is flying, the strength of the gravitational field that is acting upon it (high altitude? Earth? Moon?). Its trajectory is precisely determined by a complex set of factors interacting to produce a specific result. And with that exact set of factors acting upon it, no other result could have been achieved. In cases, our scientific abilities enable us to precisely calculate outcomes based upon knowledge of the factors affecting a result - we are able to launch spacecraft into orbit, land them on the Moon or Mars, or send them traveling to the far reaches of the solar system, to Jupiter or Saturn. We are able to navigate airplanes, to hit distant targets with artillery shells, to manage precise levels of energy production via atomic fission. In other cases, we cannot accurately calculate a specific outcome - for example, when we flip a coin or roll the dice, we can say there is a 50/50 chance that the coin will land on heads, or a one-in-six chance that the die will turn up a "two", but we cannot say with certainty what the exact result will be. However, this does not mean that, given the precise circumstances of the coin flip or the dice roll, a precise result is not assured. It simply means that we are not knowledgeable enough about the complex set of factors affecting the outcome of a particular flip or roll to accurately predict the result. But if we were able to master this information and to thoroughly assess the inputs - the height of the flip, the starting position of the coin in our hand, the energy and direction imparted to the coin by our throw, the effect of the sweat from our fingers on the coin, the condition of the air, the characteristics of the coin itself, the characteristics of the surface it was landing on, etc., etc. - then we would see that whether it landed on heads or tails was determined by the composite of these factors, and could not have been other than what it was. When questioned about chance, I have always said "What is chance? Chance is simply a concept that we use to admit that we do not have sufficient specific knowledge about inputs to predict an outcome; it is a way of working with our ignorance to achieve the best predictions that we can." Chance does not replace the law of cause and effect which governs the world of physics, it reaches for it, like a blind man searching for something on a shelf. Looking at the Universe with scientific eyes, we can only conclude that specific results are absolutely necessitated by specific inputs - what happens is, to the smallest detail, determined by the forces at work to shape the outcome. If you fire a rocketshipís engines in a vacuum it does not have the choice to be propelled either forward or backward, it must act according to the laws of physics and travel in a direction opposite to the direction of the thrust of its engines. And so it goes, with every action that takes place in the Universe. Everything that happens has specific concrete causes, even if we are unable to identify them; and those causes obligate a specific result. "To believe anything else," I once said, "is to believe in magic!"

Once chance was driven out of my perspective of reality, a whole new way of looking at life was opened up. If chance did not exist in the world of physics, what about in the world of biology and psychology, what of our behavior and the course of our lives? What of our choices, our decisions, our ups and downs, our "good fortune" and "bad breaks", every chance happening that occurred to shape our lives - were they chance, or destiny, inevitable fates encoded in the stunningly complex interplay of factors beyond our ability to predict, or to even comprehend?

Consider a man who chooses to travel down one road instead of another. Why does he make the choice that he does? Why does one path, at one moment, appeal to him more than another? In cases the answer is obvious, but in other cases, it seems his decision is nothing more than whim. But what is within whim? Within the "impulse", there is a gigantic bundle of determining factors colliding and combining to produce a result, an enormity of causes mixing together to yield an effect. These factors come from both without and from within: from the biological nature of the individual, and from the way in which every detail and nuance of his environment, from childhood to the present, has affected this biology and shaped its psychological and physical parameters and tendencies. At this moment, as he is now and where he is now, he will act a certain way, and make the choice that he does make: it could not happen any other way. Whether he chooses the first road or the second road; whether he is decisive in doing so, or struggles to make up his mind, or starts on one path and then changes his mind, are all determined by his human nature (as it has been biologically bestowed and environmentally shaped, up to this point in time), and by the specific set of circumstances facing him at the moment of his decision (which will also have been determined).

Supposing this man now, on the road he chooses to travel, comes upon a woman he would not otherwise have met, who is traveling on the road for her own specifically determined set of reasons, and supposing that they fall in love, and come to have a child. The night and moment that they make love, on which she is capable of being impregnated, will also flow from a subtly, but firmly determined conjuncture of emotions and opportunities, and the particular sperm cell and the particular ovum that will unite resulting in a specific offspring, will follow just as inevitably.

And just as inevitable are the place they will decide to live after that, the woods out back where the child will learn to love nature and develop self-reliance, the school bully who will pound into him a sense of anger and a craving for justice, the rootless learned teacher who will appear for one year to instill in him a passion for reading, and give him the medium for connecting his individual universe to the hungering world outside. His life will then impact and shape others, subtly affecting their decisions at their crossroads; and will one day lead him to find, in the terrain of his and her mutual calling, the woman who will bear his (inevitable) children.

In this way, my grandfather was destined to meet my grandmother, and they were destined to have my father as their son, and he was destined to meet my mother, and they were destined to have me as their son, and I was destined to be buffeted by my environment to the state of despair and lucidity to give birth to this strange idea.

Looking at the history of our world, since its creation, we could apply the same deterministic principles to the formation of the atmosphere and the cooling of the seas, to the birth of the land, to the genesis of life, and the evolution of species, to the appearance of Man, the discovery of cultivation, the rise and fall of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Persia, Greece, and Rome, the development of penicillin, the aircraft, the atom bomb, and the Space Shuttle. And in this way, we are weaving the human future from the strands of who we are and where we are.

And just so it is clear, before our Earth came into being, these same principles were at work and could be applied. Our galaxy, and the swirling clouds of matter that became our solar system, our sun, and our world were equally implied by the principles of cause and effect, operating from the moment of the Big Bang (and from before). Our existence was implied from the very beginning of time - or since time has no beginning, implied by the nature of the Universe itself - and therefore inevitable.

For some, this concept is entirely too vast, and unmanageable. For the purposes of predicting what is still not known, it certainly is; we would only get lost in a labyrinth of causes we do not fully understand, and have no hope of tracking in such intimate connection with such a horde of unidentifiable inputs. Some thinkers also claim that order cannot sustain itself in this way, but must always degenerate into chaos as results begin to stray from the expected trajectory of original inputs. But, in my opinion, this view is, once again, only relevant to our wish to predict and master the science of determinism; determinism can exist without our ability to comprehend or define it. The "stray mutation" that sets a species on another course, that makes a fish crawl onto the land or a lizard develop wings and fly, is no less determined than the orderly transmission of genes from parent to offspring that keep a known quantity intact. Whenever chaos appears within a system, it is, in spite of all appearances, just as much a part of the order as "order" is; the unexpected says more about our minds that it does about reality.

Naturally, a part of me was disturbed by the emphasis on determinism in this take. Many of us have come to regard free will as an indispensable foundation for perceiving meaning in life: though we are mortal, tiny, and fragile, we have the ability to make our own choices, to in some way affect our future and our fate, to write at least some beautiful and personally significant lines in the pages of destiny. We do not wish to be, as Omar Khayyam once wrote, merely the chess pieces of fate, heartlessly moved across a board by a giant hand we cannot influence. [12] We want to have impact, and some degree of control. We do not want to fall helplessly through a void in which our will is only an illusion. Even if God exists, we do not want to be on his leash.

As far as I can tell, the philosophy of determinism does not conflict with free will, once we withdraw from our primal, rebellious response to a clearer and more considered perspective. To my mind, free will and determinism are the same thing, merely perceived from a different vantage point. Yes, we have free will: we have the ability to make choices, to choose one road or another, to make a third road when we are not satisfied with the proverbial two roads, or to take no road at all. We can be compassionate or hateful, love Penelope or Mata Hari, Napoleon or Gandhi, be a drunkard, gambler, and wife-beater or a good husband and a good father, vote for Cain or vote for Abel, break the chains of rage which trapped us or place them on the next generation, devour or conserve, contemplate or react, save the world or destroy it. We can do any of these things. Within the limits of the physical world, there is a vast and malleable space waiting for the artistry of the individual and society to give it shape - there are huge amounts of reality that will bend to our will, vast regions of the Universe that will respond to our touch. And yet, though we can do what we want in these areas of our existence, we will do that which we end up doing. With an exact knowledge of all the factors in play, the direction taken by our free will could be anticipated and predicted. This does not mean that we donít have free will, only that free will is not some rootless phenomenon that occurs in isolation from who we are, as we were born and as we have been altered by the osmosis of things outside of us into our soul. It comes from who we are, it is radiated by our nature, with all its multitudinous possibilities. At first glance, it is, of course, paradoxical that something said to stem from free will could also be inevitable, but once one considers that its inevitability comes just as much from within as from without - that we are a part of the mechanics of determinism, not merely inert pawns moved by it - the thought of being helpless existential tumbleweeds should be stricken from our consciousness. We are not. We are a part of the texture of the Universe, there is no separation. We are moved, and we are movers. What other kind of free will could there be, except the will to be what we are not - and thatís impossible, because that aspiration, itself, and its consequences, could only come from who we are, and must remain a part of who we are. Any other aspiration of free will, I came to believe, was nothing more than a romantic misunderstanding of the great reserve of personal power that remained within the inevitable.

Once I consolidated this philosophy, of course, it meant that not only could the Universe be considered to be immortal (which I proved by a different line of reasoning), but that we individual human beings might also be. For if the laws of cause and effect which governed the events of physics applied also to the most minute details of our lives, then it meant that from the very moment that the Big Bang occurred, our world and our lives were inevitable destinations along its unfolding. Likewise, if the Universe were, in its cyclical movements, to come to an end of its expansion, and to contract and eventually reform itself into another "cosmic egg" building up towards another Big Bang, the possibility existed that from that new Big Bang an identical cosmic history would unfold, once again containing our world and containing us. This possibility all boiled down to whether there was absolute symmetry in the reformation of the "primordial globule" or "cosmic egg", which would cause it to assume the same mass and dimensions of the particular Big Bang from which we came. If it did - and I considered this possibility to be reasonable, based on the constants of the laws of physics - then I believed an identical explosion, under identical circumstances, would lead to the recreation of an identical Universe. We would live again.

Under these circumstances, and according to this theory, we would live and die on the earth. From the moment we closed our eyes and "breathed our last breath", there would be nothing. We would see nothing, feel nothing, experience nothing. We would be dead. Billions of years would pass before the Universe came around again to the point of our existence. Then we would open our eyes, return to the same life we had lived before, at its beginning, without any consciousness of having been dead for billions of years. In fact, our lack of consciousness during death would have shut out our non-existence entirely, so that you could say that aside from our brief experience of dying, our personal eternity would be living. And this is what I mean by same-life reincarnation.

The emotional drawbacks to this concept are obvious: for the person abused, the person crippled, the person miserable, the person depressed, the person poor, the person unjustly killed, the same tragic fate and the same dark challenges would be eternally recurring. The world would also once more know the likes of Genghis Khan, Caligula, Torquemada and Hitler. Auschwitz and Hiroshima would ravage the face of our human potential. But the Buddha and Jesus would also return, as would Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. There would be no angels to take away the low points, but also no demons to erase the mountain peaks. Personal conditions which have now come to be unbearable or madly boring in this world would be faced with utter freshness. "I could never go through all this again" you say - but for you, it would seem like the first time, and you could go through it again, the proof is that you have gone through it this time, which is not your first time. You must remember, I made this theory as an atheist, with my back to the wall of total extinction. In that context, the concept of same-life reincarnation, which lacks the appealing dynamic of "righting what is wrong" which is common to so many religious belief systems, in which the "last shall be first" and the unjustly persecuted shall sit on the right-hand side of God, nonetheless offers humanity a place to stand on in the void. From that starting point, "salvation" stems from our mastery of a state of mind, and our cultivation of perception. As we are creating our eternity at this very moment, both our future and our past, let us make a special effort to build for ourselves a house of happiness, or at least a house of contentment: we will be living in it forever. Let us transform the poison of the perceptions and the oversights that make our lives bitter and excruciating, to learn to see things in such a way that the earth becomes habitable for us. This does not mean to put on rose-colored glasses, or to bury our heads in the sand, it means to seek, deeply, within sorrow and setback, the beauty that is in the things we wanted and could not get, and the beauty of other things that we did not widen our vision enough to see. By keeping our hearts open, and learning to harness focus as a tool of happiness, we can transform the somber marsh into a place that is fit to live in.

Most lives have moments of joy and hope, and moments of disappointment and despair. I had a beautiful love, and lost it. Iíll lose it again, but Iíll also have it again. Chronology is less important than the stuff of life. You donít win by ending up on top, you win by winning sometime in your life.

For a person in our own times, an atheist who comes upon this theory and is able to embrace it, there is a great deal of hope to be gained. Now, without abandoning science, there is the chance to live again, a coming reunion with oneís lost loved ones, and hope for life and history beyond the destruction of the earth, whether it is by the hand of our own stupidity, or the burning out of our sun. There is also the motivation to more actively participate in crafting our reality, beginning with our own mind, which can carve either a palace or a hovel into the side of eternity. We realize, more than ever, that beauty is not something like manna to wait for in the desert, but something to make with our eyes and will; and that compassion is not something to burden a divine being with and to postpone for the afterlife, but something to carry ourselves, and to work into the texture of the everylife. But what of those who lived and died without this knowledge to comfort and motivate them? Will they never have a chance to integrate it into the way they see the world? No, they will not. They came before it came. But they had other oases of perception in their times, other frameworks of comfort, some wise and deep, and some you might call illusory, which nonetheless provided shelter, and meaningful approximations. Since time began, naked Man has found a way to clothe himself with ideas; and many beautiful lives have been lived within the circle of dreams and fantasies.

What of the crippled man, the wheelchair-bound, the blind, the "ugly", the dwarf in pain? What does this philosophy offer to him more than the cruel perpetuation of his wound? It does not offer him anything less than the contemporary worldview of the atheist affords him. It offers him a chance to return to whatever moments of happiness he has had, as islands scattered across his dark sea, and the incentive to work as hard as he is able to carve out something worthwhile within his misfortune with the power of perception.

Beyond this, I can say that the theory of same-life reincarnation is a theory meant to build human eternity with the conservative blocks of science in its contemporary condition. When science rejects the idea of the immortal human soul, rejects God, rejects the afterlife, rejects reincarnation, and indoctrinates and disempowers the human mind with its skepticism, sabotaging our inborn, vulnerable spirituality from within, this theory provides us with a more resistant means of approaching eternity. It does not contradict the basic concepts of the spiritual universe, it merely makes it easier to survive while these concepts are still locked up in uncertainty, and held in intellectual escrow. For the badly wounded who dreads the idea of endlessly repeating his stunted life, it is still quite possible to imagine a plethora of other lives, lived without pain, without devastating tragedies or debilitating limitations - but he will have to up the ante against science in order to do so. Within the giant circle of repetition, for example, classical reincarnation (requiring a soul) could manifest countless times, giving him many other lives than the one he has now, to dilute the overall impact of this one. Maybe not only the "me" who exists now, but also the "me" who lived in ancient Egypt, in ancient Greece, in feudal Japan, and in Imperial China, and who will live in the future in Europe and America, and travel into space to colonize another planet, will also recur. By interlocking the standard theory of reincarnation with the theory of same-life reincarnation, a person living an unbearable life in this incarnation could develop a basis for hope. This theory provides hope for the atheist, but does not shatter it, or in any way derail it, for the spiritual.

Of course, there are some uncertainties regarding this theory. I feel quite certain about the eternal, cyclical model of the Universe which I have described, meaning that I do believe there will always be a Universe, and life of some kind, struggling, feeling, dreaming, pondering, rising and falling, facing its challenges - a thought that, for me and many others, is beautiful and deeply comforting. Extinction will never be permanent or absolute. But regarding the concept of personal and perpetual same-life reincarnation, I cannot be 100% sure, due to my lack of knowledge regarding the manner in which the returning/condensing matter of the Universe will recoagulate to form the starting point of a new cosmic cycle of creation. Depending on the precise physics of that process, I believe we will be endlessly born again, but possibly not. If not, I take solace from the following thought: if the cycles of the Universe do not occur identically, meaning that I am not to return to life, then the fact that things unfold differently (and thereby lose me in the process) will mean, at least, that new lives which otherwise would not have had a chance to emerge, will now be possible. New variations and new opportunities will occur as a corollary of my absence, giving rise to new beings, standing on new worlds, peering into other star-filled nights. In the same way that the hero can face death, knowing that by giving up his life he is giving life to others, so I can face extinction on these terms, knowing that my personal extinction is the gift of life to a whole Universe of sentient beings who would not have had the chance to live if the Universe were bound to being forever the same. By leaping onto the hand grenade of this altruistic cosmology, how many other worlds could we save? I believe I will live again, but I stand by the Universe in its truth, whatever it is. I long as deeply as anyone else to return, but I am a loyalist. As Epictetus, the ancient Stoic, once said, speaking directly to the Universe: "For that Thou didst beget me, I thank Thee for that Thou hast given: for the time during which I have used the things that were Thine, it suffices me. Take them back and place them wherever Thout wilt! They were all Thine, and Thou gavest them me." [13] In any event, I know I will be back in some way or another, since matter can neither be created or destroyed, perhaps as myself, perhaps as a single atom in the body of someone I never knew. If so, I hope to be an atom in the hand with which he writes of the joy and the despair he is feeling on the forge of his own unique life.

What is, is. I search, but cannot know what it is I find. This philosophy does not cancel out my other beliefs, but when I am feeling down and spiritually impaired, it provides a strong, second line of defense for my need to be something more than a transient, insignificant fruitfly, fashioned into human form. It is lower to the ground against science, less easily thrown off balance or relegated to absurdity. Mind-boggling as it may be, it is made up of elements which science permits, and on those days when I am most at the mercy of science, due to my estrangement from myself, it is able to sustain me. Nor is it a complete retreat from the path of spirit. For even in the Bible, hints of it suggest themselves below the water: "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." [14]

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THE CORE BELIEFS THAT CAN SUSTAIN US

This, then, is the middle ring of my belief, the one I fall back to when my outer ring is swamped by science, or, should I say, by the way I have allowed science to penetrate me and make me deny myself. But I am a poor soul prone to despondency, and insecure with the treasures of my seeking. What would I do were the credibility of this middle ring of meaning to be stripped away from me, by a momentary shift in the tides of evidence and a loss of philosophical nerve? What if, after my belief in past lives, spirits, and God were driven into a corner of my life by ridicule and doubt, this back-up layer of spirituality, with the red blood of science flowing through its veins, were also to be vanquished? Would I be left naked and alone in the gloom, pointless and ready to die, or else driven to the frantic shallowness which is the engine of our terrified civilization, become a fanatic of distractions, another helpless destroyer of the world?

Not yet. For me, there is one level of spirituality beyond the middle ring, one last line of defense, an inner, core level of belief that can endure in the midst of utter chaos, when the world has been reduced to nothing but smoke and mist, and the Universe to a vast and heartless void destined for oblivion.

In the middle of this fear that there is nothing, I stand with the hope that there is something. I do not resign myself to a doomed and empty Universe, for science, were it to tell me the worst, has been wrong before and can be wrong again. This hope that there is something more, no matter how baseless or unprovable it may be, is crucial to my survival. There comes a point, when despair is finally met by stillness, at which one has to either believe or die. At that moment, the heart will not continue to beat without a new commitment to distractions, or else an answer that satisfies the flailing soul. It is here, in this most desperate of existential landscapes, as one withers inwards from the unbearable weight of nothingness, that meaning in its most essential and durable form, begins to take shape. Here, falling in and away from the rational mind and its demands, a whole new sensibility begins to make sense, and one realizes that the world of spirit is not something that contemporary science is constructed or designed to explain or to even detect; it belongs to another dimension, another reality, and is only contradictory when one tries to force it to be a part of what it is not. As light behaves sometimes as a wave and sometimes as a particle, so the reality of the Universe behaves differently under different circumstances, on one plane understood by science, on another, by mysticism. The war is in our own minds; paradox is only waiting for a bridge. I know this, on a personal level, from moments of collapse when I felt myself free-falling through an absolute void, till suddenly, something appeared to catch me; visions, feelings and intuitions that made no effort to speak in the language of science, but were, nonetheless, utterly convincing, masters of their own dimension. Strange or not, the state I reached during these free-falls gave me something to live for, and something solid to stand on; far more than an intellectual position or a self-conscious spiritual conjecture which does not hold up to despair, the things I got while in this state were things you could face death with.

I will not discuss everything that happened there, because it is intensely personal, and each and every one of us will have a different experience, a different facet of the truth to catch us as we fall. But in one case, I will say, as I felt myself sliding down into a dark existential hole with slippery edges with nothing to grasp onto, I suddenly saw faces shining with light, looking down at me through the dark like a cluster of moons, the faces of people who I had helped in my life. I had counted that help as but a small thing, certainly nothing worthy of justifying a life, and especially not one like mine, which was infused with a grandiose ambition. But suddenly, near death, I felt how much it had mattered, after all; it was a beautiful and important thing and redeemed my disappointing and wasted life, restoring meaning to it. I also had a vision of life and death, seeing them as merely lines, like borders, with a giant radiant field of love glowing between them, and I realized, through this insight, that love and compassion are the center and the purpose of life, and that life and death, things we covet and fear, are secondary to our respect for, and manifestation of, this energy.

While the scientist might say that all this was nothing but the feverish disconnected thoughts of a mind altered by illness, I would say that the de-rationalizing of my brain due to my condition made me receptive to this experience on another plane, which, though it was conducted to me by inner visions, was primarily emotional. At the same time, the impact of the experience was as strong as anything which science is capable of describing or sanctioning as "real." Although no laboratory with test tubes, analytical balances, computers, or electron microscopes was involved, I, myself, was a laboratory, and I passed from a stage of dying because there was nothing to live for or keep me here, to a stage of recovering because I had found a purpose in life, because I had discovered the importance of loving, supporting, and being kind, of which there was still need in the world and in the environments I could reach in my remaining days, whether I rose as high as I wished, or continued to wander about in the landscapes of my underachievement. Everywhere, on my chosen path or off of it, there would be the need for love, respect, and care, and therefore, a reason to go on living.

In a letter I once wrote to a correspondent, troubled by questions of life and the meaning of life, I explained my last ring of belief in the following way: "My spiritual beliefs now are rather fluid, not fixed. I donít rigidly cling to a single conceptual line of defense against emptiness, extinction, and meaningless, but rather, start with an emotional sense of belonging and an emotional commitment to be true to what I see as right: states which I Ďfell intoí after many hardships pushed me off the edge of other states, which were sometimes more intricately constructed but less durable when put to the test. Reincarnation, the possibility of life after death, etc., etc., are exploratory forays from the core of the values that give me peace. I donít depend on any esoteric or religious theory being true to guard the meaning of life, I start with the minimum of just being satisfied to do what is in my power to be a good human being as I see it and feel it, and accepting what cannot be avoided. (Deeply felt, this satisfaction can be as powerful, redeeming, and justifying as a religion.) I cultivate and learn what I can within the Great Mystery, and (with no other choice) surrender myself to the secrets I cannot know. For me, the development of this core was greatly aided by my study of ancient Greek and Roman Stoicism, combined with the blows of life which motivated me to apply this philosophy, and turn it into something real for me.

"Ultimately, I canít be sure of the nature of the Universe; but I can, nonetheless, create an emotional space in the midst of that uncertainty in which life has value, nobility, and meaning (there is no uncertainty in my heart that I cherish these values, that they are beautiful to me, and that I wish to live for them). I will try to be the best human being I can be, and to be true until the end to what matters to me. I will make the Universe beautiful, whether it is or is not, by inventing or upholding values that, even though they may be crushed, still give it beauty. If this world of meaning seems to be only my creation, I am, it must be remembered, a creation of the Universe; so it is also a creation of the Universe.

"For me, beyond this core, all else is curiosity and guesswork. I believe in layers, emit many concentric and mutually-reinforcing circles of philosophical and spiritual defense against annihilation, but as all the outer layers of my theories and surmises may be stripped away, the core will hold. It always will. It is a matter of clarity, courage, and love (of something beautiful that I will be and make in the midst of the chaos, if that is all it is). And I donít need the world to vindicate me or tell me I am right. When death is close (and it has been), this will be more real than anything else."

Even if science says all this is nothing more than a part of its cold, stale world - attitude adjustments on the road to death - I say this sensibility is deeply spiritual, because it is intimate with our environment, detects warmth in the void, even if that warmth comes from ourselves, and connects us, like an umbilical cord, to powerful sources of hope beyond the obvious. If I live only for a moment and then die forever, so be it. Should I mourn? Perhaps the proper standard of measure in the Universe should not be eternity, but rather, the intensity of life, and the beauty that life is capable of creating in its own eyes. Perhaps one year of life weighs more in the balance than ten billion years of inanimate grandeur.

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SUMMARY

This, then, is the multi-layered system of spirituality with which I construct meaning in my life, and defend that meaning from the force of nihilism, which is sometimes spearheaded by science. As I reflect, my system is built outwards, from an unshakable core that can survive within the gloomiest depiction of reality able to be conjured up by outside forces. Within this inner core, I accept ambiguity regarding the nature of reality. I cannot define unknown reality with God or encapsulate it in a religion; and yet, with spiritual emotion and instinct intact, obeying the compass of an inborn sensibility that guides me whenever I return to it, I can still find values and meanings worth living for, construct a moral universe, and identify reasons to live; I can craft or discover a purpose, I can relish life in spite of its brevity, and I can face death. I can live in deep places, not needing the refuge of the trivial, I can be compassionate and brave, and love myself.

Beyond this core, I have built another ring of belief, which, without knowingly violating the laws of science, saves the Universe from the darkest prophecies of oblivion which haunt it, and lifts my spirits up in the form of life continuing, somewhere and in some way; there will be no end to the precious turbulence and the aspirations, the gracefully winging swans and the children with skinned knees. Beyond this, also without knowingly violating the laws of science, there is the possibility that I will live again, this same life I am living now. I am immortal, and the question is not how to avoid dying, but how to make this life worth being permanent.

Finally, beyond this ring, there is one more, the one in which I actively defy science by believing in things which it regards as impossible. Here, I believe in God, I believe in angels, I believe in all manner of spirits, I believe in reincarnation and souls, I believe in the possibility of receiving divine communication and divine support. Here, you could say, my spirituality needs balls. The modern paradigm is at war with it, and most peers are suspicious of any real commitment to it. It isnít easy to hold this ground in the face of that kind of resistance, even when your life depends on it. Or, to put it another way, you could say that it is hard to really believe when you are in this layer, and to derive power from spirituality here, unless you are really involved with it. Standing on the shore with everyone else, you will cease to believe in the truth of the water. Only by swimming in it and maintaining contact with its realness, will you be able to overcome the critiques of science, which depend upon you keeping to the land.

With these three rings of belief, which provide me with mobility and resilience in the face of fluctuations in the paranormal/scientific paradigm debate, and in my own moods which are characterized by waxing and waning vulnerabilities, I am able to preserve meaning in my life, to give up ground without breaking, until my spirit is able to catch its breath, and to continue believing in something life-sustaining, without either clinging or attacking.

I do not know if this system of rings is of use to anyone but me, but I am hopeful that it will be. I know I am not alone in these trying times of fading faith and doubt. The need to find ways to believe, in our times - to embrace the spiritual in a compassionate, open-hearted way, neither bellicose nor dogmatic, without the desperation of the unbeliever forcing conviction upon himself and others - the need to recover a huge and stolen resource of human life without burning back the advances of the mentality that has subdued it - all of these priorities are fundamental to the resurrection of our individual human potential and to the healing of our age. If the system which I have described is, in any way, able to contribute to this cause, or to bring comfort and vitality to any of my spiritually ailing human brothers and sisters, then it will have been well worth the effort of writing it.

May each and every one find spirit and purpose in his own way, and may the many ways flow into one world of peace and meaning.

So let it be!

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SOURCES:

This is only a partial list of sources. Other books, articles, and video documentaries have also been utilized.

Asimov, Isaac. Extraterrestrial Civilizations.

Asimov, Isaac. The Intelligent Manís Guide to the Physical Sciences.

Asimov, Isaac. The Universe: From Flat Earth to Quasars.

Atwater, PMH. The Complete Idiotís Guide to Near Death Experiences.

Jastrow, Robert. Red Giants and White Dwarfs.

Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace.

Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents.

Rainsnow, J. The Journey of Rainsnow.

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

Sullivan, Walter. Black Holes.

Sullivan, Walter. We Are Not Alone.

Talbot, Michael. The Holographic Universe.

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NOTES:

[1] Title suggested by a volume of Joseph Campbellís writings: Myths To Live By.

[2] I absolutely reject the current Creationist drive to imply that, since evolution is a theory, it is not strongly foundationed and deserves to be knocked down from its pedestal and placed on the same level as the literal interpretation of Genesis. I view Genesis as poetic and metaphorical, the product of an ancient worldview capable of great spiritual achievements, but still limited to comprehending the Universe in terms of its own pre-scientific experience, choosing tangible symbols within reach to define processes beyond its historical capability to explain. For me, evolution is so strongly suggested by a vast stockpile of compelling observations, linked by clear and cogent reasoning, that it can be considered as nothing less than fact. What may be in dispute is the meaning and broader context of that fact.

[3] The theory of predestination suggested that God had already chosen those souls that were to be saved before their manifestation as human beings on the earth. Salvation, therefore, did not depend upon "good works" (many compassionate endeavors on the earth were previously undertaken in order to get in Godís good graces and to earn a place in Heaven), but upon this divine stamp of approval for the soul, which had already been granted before birth. Souls which were chosen for salvation could be recognized by their conformity with Protestant expectations (sober, serious, non-lustful, non-extravagant behavior), and by the fact that God favored them in life on the earth with prosperity. (He rewarded the righteous not only with Heaven, but also with earthly success.) The effect of this belief was to encourage business and profit-making, for no longer were these things to be sources of guilt and indications of Christian imperfection, possible obstacles on the path to Heaven (Matthew 19: 21, 23-24), but rather, signs that one was, indeed, destined for Heaven. Although, according to this theory, nothing a man could do on earth could win his way to Heaven, he could still acquire proof that he was bound for Heaven by generating material prosperity. The effort to "buy oneís way into Heaven" through acts of Christian charity, sometimes sincere and sometimes merely "hypocritical displays of generosity" (which were still of use to the poor), was supplanted by the effort to succeed in business as a means of acquiring evidence of oneís salvation to come. Under this philosophy, peace of mind was now no longer attained as much by giving, as by gaining. The capitalist ethic had been liberated from the largely ignored but still influential Christian tug towards social equality, by a new interpretation of Christianity (Calvinism) which was favorable to its dynamics.

The Protestant utility to capitalism was also greatly aided by Martin Lutherís precept that Man can be saved by Faith alone ("justification by faith"), which meant that if you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior you would earn your way to Heaven (with no need for charity, or avoidance of class differentiation, to get there). In theory, the sincere acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior would imply a true transformation of the soul, making it worthy of salvation. But in reality, it enabled large numbers of people, through a superficial and self-deceptive profession of faith, to convince themselves of their Christian nature and to bypass more concrete acts of compassion as they threw themselves into self-serving ways of life. Coupled with a vast cultural process of mutual reinforcement aimed at de-sinning paths of egotism, it made it possible to build wealth by means of the exploitation of others, with a minimum of Christian remorse.

Lewis Mumford, who disagrees, in part, with this classic interpretation of the Protestant impact (he traces the origins of modern capitalism to Catholic Europe), nonetheless writes (Technics and Civilization, page 43): "But the peculiar office of Protestantism was to unite finance to the concept of a godly life and to turn the asceticism countenanced by religion into a device for concentration upon worldly goods and worldly advancementÖ Religion was to be found, not simply in the fellowship of religious spirits, connected historically through the Church and communicating with God through elaborate ritual: it was to be found in the word itself: the word without its communal background. In the last analysis, the individual must fend for himself in heaven, as he did on the exchange. The expression of collective beliefs through the arts was a snare: so the Protestant stripped the images from his Cathedral and left the bare stones of engineering: he distrusted all painting, except perhaps portrait painting, which mirrored his righteousness; and he looked upon the theater and dance as a lewdness of the devil. Life, in all its sensuous variety and warm delight, was drained out of the Protestantís world of thought: the organic disappeared. Time was real: keep it! Labor was real: exert it! Money was real: measure it! These were the realities and the imperatives of the middle class philosophy. Apart from the surviving scheme of divine salvation all its impulses were already put under the rule of weight and measure and quantity: day and life were completely regimented."

[4] "The wild goony bird": a non-existent bird children sometimes set a gullible playmate to go looking for, in order to get him out of the way and make him the butt of their humor.

[5] In Christianity, reincarnation was widely believed by may "Neo-Platonists" until the doctrine was officially suppressed by the Church hierarchy; in Judaism, reincarnation is a fundamental belief of the followers of Hasidism; while within Islam, the Lebanese Druse believe in a variation of reincarnation consistent with the teachings of their religion.

[6] See Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe, for an eye-opening account of some of this work.

[7] My spiritual path and beliefs are described in great detail in The Journey of Rainsnow.

[8] The difference between elements is a pure function of atomic number - the number of protons in their nucleus, which correspondingly affects the number of electrons affecting an atomís ability to interact with others. When two hydrogen atoms (each possessing one proton) combine in the process of atomic fusion, energy is given off, and a helium atom (two protons) results. When three helium atoms (each possessing two protons) combine, energy is given off, and a carbon atom (six protons) results. According to physicists, the lifetime of a star should be 99%-based on the consumption of hydrogen, with it burning through the rest of its various fuels at a far more rapid rate. For a concise and clear explanation of this, and many of the basic concepts of astrophysics and cosmology, see Robert Jastrowís classic, Red Giants and White Dwarfs.

[9] The imperfection of the fusion process, which could never reach levels of being 100% efficient, would leave residues of every fuel created within the star; large amounts of the various elements would remain behind without being transformed into something else. It should also be mentioned that in the case of the supernova, a dense abandoned star core might be left behind as a "neutron star" or "pulsar" - or an even denser and more contracted core known as a "black hole." One final note: many scientists believe that elements are not only formed in the cores of stars, but that many elements were also created during the Big Bang itself.

[10] "Dark matter" refers to matter not contained in luminous sources such as radiant stars.

[11] The idea of "chance" is now very much in vogue among some thinkers, but I rejected it then, and continue to reject it now. (Some of them may be basing their conviction on "Chaos Theory", pushed beyond its true claims.)

[12] Verse XLIX from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (translated by Edward Fitzgerald):

ĎTis a Chequer-board of Nights and Days

Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,

And one by one back in the Closet lays.

Verse LI continues in the same vein:

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

[13] From The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, translated by Hastings Crossley. CLXXXIX (p. 150-152).

[14] Ecclesiastes, 3:15.

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