Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Meaning of Life

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s finally all about.”

When I first considered this quote, I liked it because it seemed correct, but I still wanted to be able to answer the meaning-of-life question. I imagined someone asking me, “What is the meaning of life?” and ran through different answers, but even the best one I could think of, “We are the meaning of life,” still didn’t seem satisfactory. I think that’s because I was hung up on the word “meaning.” I was personally more intrigued by the question, “What is the purpose of living?”

Well, my impulse is to say that life has no purpose. It exists for its own sake. I think most people consider this at some point, regardless of what they think of it. Even if they believe in an intelligent, purposeful God, most religious people would agree that it is virtuous to be humble, and they certainly don’t claim to have a complete understanding of what God’s purpose might be. I continue to believe we should celebrate the apparent purposelessness of life because it emphasizes that our lives are filled with personal choices and that we have free will. We decide our own purpose. To get to the heart of the issue, or so I thought, there is no logical reason to live, but there doesn’t have to be. It is purely a feeling, an individual sense of responsibility for ourselves and for others.

But now I realize my answer is incomplete. It doesn’t really respond to the motivation behind the question. The real questions are, “How should I live my life?” and, “What should I do?” You see, this vague but powerful sense of responsibility is inherent to being human. I like to say that empathy is the most broadly useful feeling, that it has the widest range of utility. This begins to answer the question, but it doesn’t answer why this utility is good or why it is important for life itself to continue, so it relies on the assumption that there are some objectives worth achieving. I used to point out that this assumption doesn’t need a logical explanation, that it’s a postulate, an emotion, and a choice. But what do I say to someone who doesn’t accept this postulate, who doesn’t share this emotion, and who isn’t inclined to make this choice? If life has no purpose, or at least no clearly logical purpose, what should we make of that? Why should we care about anything?

The answer, in my humble opinion, is humility. There isn’t any pressure to answer these questions ourselves as soon as we ask them. For a better answer, for a better anything, we need the future well-being of others and ourselves. So if someone asks, “Why should we care about anything?” part of the answer is precisely because they are asking the question. I would continue by saying that this should remind us on a broader level that we don’t have all the answers and that we haven’t necessarily achieved everything we should. There is some kind of desire in everyone, so on some level, we already do care, whether we recognize it or not.

On a practical level, we should just channel our instinctive drives to tackle these types of questions on a more specific basis. There’s no shame in being humbled by general questions. It’s fine to pursue answers to them, and to an extent, I think there can be a lot of fulfillment in that, but if we really care about any of the innumerable tasks beyond our individual horizons, then we must protect the welfare of our species, including ourselves as individuals, in order to preserve the capacity of others to help us out. That itself is a reason to care about life.

Every one of us is intrigued, confused, or just motivated by something, and it is the mysteriousness itself that motivates us to ask questions at all. It makes us humble, and it forces us as individuals to accept the value of other people’s input. Many people understandably describe this same humility using spiritual language. We are all capable of humility, and I think this justifies reaching out to each other for help. So let’s take life seriously. Let’s take responsibility for our individual happiness, for our collective welfare as a species, and for the safety of our environment. Deciding not to care is arrogant to the extreme. It’s a hasty reaction based on the impulsive, closed-off assumption that one’s own inability to conquer confusion makes their issue unresolvable. Humility is why we should care about life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Live, Love, Learn

So you’ve recognized the importance of love. Maybe you’ve had a few memorable moments at which time an overpowering experience compelled you to forever forego your own typically pervasive, inescapable fear of discomfort so that you can experience a universal empathy. But so what? How can you use the knowledge that love (empathy) is important in order to improve the way you live?

This is the important question. Perhaps you understand on scientific and intuitive levels that the distinction between the internal and external worlds is imaginary. Obviously the outside world affects you, but then you realize that you affect the outside world just as palpably. So then the important question becomes one of personal responsibility. The influential writer and speaker Jiddu Krishnamurti noticed this as well.
Sometimes we do act altruistically and go out of our way to help others. But let’s be realistic. There are bills to pay, wages to earn, and pleasure to enjoy. What, then, is our personal responsibility to others while we are busy assuaging our own fears? It involves a shift in consciousness: a willingness to perform a method within our own minds that enables us to simultaneously serve ourselves and serve others. What is this method? How can we enable ourselves to improve the world during our everyday lives?

We must abandon all discomfort with learning. We must become so willing to constantly learn that it becomes a force of habit. Each of us has a personal responsibility to do so. Stop giving and seeking answers. Instead, challenge your mind by ceaselessly identifying important questions and picking up answers along the way. If you get far enough, you may ultimately arrive at a unifying answer such as love, and you will remember that your goal in the first place was to improve the world beyond yourself. It is at this point that you will again see the value of altruism. You will continue to learn, and you will accept more personal responsibility for your actions and the actions of your government.

How do we apply the learning process to improve government? In most cases, by the time we get to the voting booth, we only have two choices that are given to us. All we can do at that point is to compare the two candidates to each other. What we need to do is improve the quality of candidates who become popular. To do this, we must take it upon ourselves to teach our elected officials how we want them to run our country. We cannot do this effectively until we have learned enough to become proficient with the topics we wish to emphasize. If you want to improve the world, then train yourself to learn.

Moments to Remember

There are moments in our lives that we cherish, and the memories of those moments tend to illuminate our willingness to show compassion. In order to use this selfless motivation as often as possible, we don’t need to remember the exact details of our bestest mostest goodest moments, and we don’t even need to remember images, names, sounds, or any other symbols of those occasions. These symbols are not useless, but they aren’t necessary either. The simple acknowledgement that these moments are still with us is enough of a memory to influence our present experience. All of our memories together define reality, and the memories of our bestest mostest goodest moments miraculously motivate us to conquer the fluctuating shortages of dopamine that we experience as suffering and tolerate within thresholds. Because these memories do not depend on the cycle of discomfort and relaxation, they enable us to replace our restless irks--our universally typical, trivial impulses--with an incomparable selfless joy that is love.

For the purpose of remembering your willingness to love, this insight is a profoundly useful learning experience. The feeling behind it is one of liberation from assumptions. In this state, new assumptions like those of love, fearlessness, and natural beauty replace the past assumptions, so they form the basis of far more sensible contemplation. This is the process of learning. New patterns (assumptions in this case) usually take about 3 months to become habitual, but the initial problem is in identifying and choosing these new patterns. This identification is the process of insight, and along with analysis, it enables and reinforces the process of learning. This reinforcement follows a rhythm between insight and analysis much like the scientific process.

Identify your insightful moments--the ones that inspire and are enabled by love--as your bestest mostest goodest moments. The key to maintaining your compassion revolves around consciously remembering these moments habitually.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The New Science of Morality

Edge is a website inspired by C.P. Snow’s idea of two distinct intellectual cultures: one consisting of scientific innovators and the other consisting of literary thinkers. He suggested stronger communication between the two groups, hoping that a new breed of pragmatic, holistic thought would be the result. Edge allows a uniquely constructive collaboration between university professors, esteemed authors, and notable scientists.

This June, a conference regarding issues of morality included Sam Harris, Joshua Greene, and Paul Bloom among other invaluable contributors. It was called The New Science of Morality. On a side note, Sam Harris recently discussed his book The Moral Landscape on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (October 4, 2010).

The group composed a consensus. It approaches the topic from neurological, sociological, epistemological, psychological, and genetic perspectives. There is an equally wide range of implications that can be drawn from the consensus. Endless food for thought...

Consensus Statement:

Event page, including individual transcripts and audio downloads:

Saturday, April 17, 2010


There seems to be a regress that is polarizing the beliefs of the religious and non-religious. It is a symptom of the dangerous assumption that the different ideas that comprise a religion can be upheld or rejected together. When a religion is criticized, the critic frequently addresses problems that do not speak to the values held by a believer who has been touched by the faith.

Many moderate Christians, for instance, hold their faith dear to them because of personal reasons. Perhaps they have had a profound experience that they feel compelled to identify as divine. Because of the uncertainty involved with philosophy, they do not find their emotions unreasonable at all--certainly not to the extent that the nonreligious find Christianity as a whole.

Sometimes it's just as simple as an appreciation of the subculture. Whatever the reason a person has for treasuring a faith, it is seldom the same as what is being criticized. What causes one person to reject a faith seldom has anything to do with the "presence of God" that someone else genuinely believes to have felt. Why is there such a difference? It is because of labels. The name of the religion that a critic condemns is the same name of the religion that shelters the emotions of a believer. A critic can easily become satisfied with the rationale for their distaste without understanding or even considering this spiritually engaging effect.

I, for instance, am disgusted by idea of hell. Why should I respect an idea that condemns me to an eternity of unimaginable torture? And for what--my refusal to profess allegiance to a religion? The two are caused by each other! The point is that neither points of view do a whole lot to convince the other side. But why should they? Why should a Christian care if I don't find one of their minor claims rational or even ethical? When someone has an emotional connection to an idea suggested by a specific religion, that connection can often withstand a remarkable amount of logic because it seems to transcend verbal explanations. It doesn't hurt if that religion is supported by a strength in numbers or a family tradition. What we see again are sentiments that reject one another without addressing each other.

The result of such a disparity is division. The believer comes across to the critic as unreasonable, illogical, and stubborn. At this point, he or she has two options. The first one is to attempt to combat the logic that the believer sees as a threat. The believer may invent fallacious arguments to do so and become exactly what their opponents scorn, thereby fueling the endless cycle of frustration. The second option is to passively reject nonbelievers as well as the debate itself as spiritually lacking. Besides the resultant misunderstanding and condescension, the danger in this lies in the possibility of associating their emotions with the intolerance and absurdities that the rest of the religion entails. This person may end up taking on these intolerant and absurd opinions and mindsets, which again polarizes the two sides. If not, then he or she may become disillusioned and leave the religion and be haplessly left without a creed. As it so happens, this is yet another scenario that can be caused by the unfortunate nominal association between that religion's different and potentially incompatible aspects.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Existence of God

Spiritual agnosticism by no means dictates whether or not God exists.

Rather, this philosophy claims that God's existence is irrelevent to life on earth, for even if there is a Supreme Being, it would not demand belief in its existence. Spiritual agnosticism condemns the "believe-or-burn" attitudes of religious ideologies that demand belief in God in order to reach peace.

Morality, by definition, is innate in all human beings. It can be repressed or accepted by the individual, but it is innate. Not surprisingly, the tenets of every single major religion are built on similar moral values, i.e. not killing, stealing, lying, etc. Rather than following the tenets of religion out of a fear of God, spiritual agnostics follow the same moral values for the purpose of reaping, giving, and sharing the rewards in this life time.

It should be noted that even if there is a God, there would be no way to tell which religious belief in divinity God would favor. Spiritual agnosticism shows that if there is a God, then it would favor those who truly follow the basic moral values that the religions of the world (as well as the conscience of the mind) agree on, no matter what religion, if any, those individuals choose to follow. This concept by and large allows for the sheer inclusivity of spiritual agnosticism as well as its acceptance by those who already have a loose allegience to a religion.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some quotes from Gandhi

Some quotes by Mahatma Gandhi that can be considered spiritually agnostic include:

**In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals.(Hind Swaraj 1908)

**I simply want to please my own conscience, which is God. Young India (21 January 1927)

** "Yes I am a Hindu. I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew."

** "It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world’s progress toward peace … Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man?" (Harijan 30 January 1937)

** "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." (quoted by William Rees-Mogg in The Times [London] (4 April 2005))

** "I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian." (Young India (19 January 1928))

** "...Satan's successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips."

** "I consider western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ's Christianity."

** "Nonviolence is the first article of my faith."

Heaven on Earth: The Conscience

Doesn't the conscience bear a striking resemblance to the judgement in the afterlife that religions suggest?

Of course it does; a clear conscience is blissful, and a weighted conscience is agonizing. A spiritual agnostic who do not believe in heaven or hell might instead believe that there is only a heaven on earth: a clear conscience.

You can achieve a clear conscience by actively trying everyday to lead a benevolent life and to motivate yourself with love. A sin is an act that conflicts with love. It is your responsibility to evaluate your own motivations. Keep in mind that motivations which are based on impulses have an inherent separation from altruism. Some impulses might be altruistic depending on the circumstance, but since impulses gratify the ego, it might be difficult for you to determine the objective selflessness of your impulses alone. If you are conflicted, the essential challenge is to be honest with yourself about the nature of your love.

In some religions, a heaven is promised as an afterlife to those who have led "good" lives, and minor sins may be forgiven by God. Some spiritual agnostics believe that this kind of reward is only experienced on Earth in the form of a clear conscience. Of course, other spiritual agnostics do believe in an afterlife. However, the bottom line is that either way, a clear conscience is a satisfying reward to those who are satisfied with their lives. It really doesn't matter whether the individual believes in an afterlife or not.

Belief is Nothing

Spiritual agnostics tend to think that beliefs about the divine are unimportant and irrelevant to real life. Rather, the actions are what count.

This train of thought originates from the rejection of paying "lip service" to the name of a religion. Spiritual agnostics prefer to place importance on the actual actions of an individual. For example, if one is kind to others, gives, is loving, pays respect when it is due, tries to refrain from murder, theft, lies, etc., (in other words, follows the basic benevolent human instincts that almost all religions emphasize), then that person does not need to be rewarded for following a particular faith. Rather, that person will be rewarded on Earth, where he/she will reap the benefits of stable relationships, a clear conscience, and an overall satisfaction with life.

Inclusivity and Tolerance

Even though all religions have fundamental similarities, some spiritual agnostics align themselves with the religion that they were raised to follow. Those who do might call themselves followers of that religion yet simultaneously question how unique their religion really is.

For instance, the dogmas of Christianity and Islam claim that people outside the faith will suffer punishment. Spiritual agnostics tend to reject this point of view. Even if they do agree with this claim, they still recognize that the idea of hell is trivial compared to the love that can be shared in the present.

Learn What You Can

Some spiritual agnostics also reject organized religion because they say that although leaders like Christ were benevolent (or divine, depending on that person's individual beliefs), their words have been corrupted by followers wishing to justify their own questionable actions. Mahatma Gandhi observed that some mainstream tenets of Christianity directly contradict the original motivations of Christ. Even though spiritual agnostics might recognize major problems with religions, their priority is to learn the lessons that are useful to understand.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Immaterial Differences

All religions have the same fundamental moral values, such as not killing, lying, stealing, cheating, etc. For this reason, spiritual agnostics would say that the differences between religions are so petty that they do not matter. They would say that a good Christian is a good Jew is a good Hindu is a good Buddhist, etc.


Spiritual agnosticism is: A spiritual agnostic would say: A Type of Agnosticism

The word "agnostic" means uncertain. It is the antonym of words like "gnostic" and "certain." The 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russel and the contemporary writer Richard Dawkins have criticized the use the term "agnostic" to describe people who don't believe in God but think that atheism implies a kind of certainty. Since neither atheism nor religion necessarily demands an unyielding conviction, this kind of agnosticism is a property of labels and not a label on its own. In other words, just because someone is agnostic doesn't mean that they can't be religious or an atheist at the same time. For example, the use of terms like "agnostic atheist" and "agnostic Christian" have become increasingly common. As a result, the label "agnostic" on its own now tends to be reserved for those who are temporarily undecided. There is, however, still some disagreement over whether "agnostic" can be used as a permanent label on its own.

Spiritual agnosticism is a type of agnosticism, i.e. "spiritual agnostic," "spiritually agnostic atheist," or "spiritually agnostic Christian." Spiritual agnostics consider themselves agnostic because they consider the question of God's existence to be relatively incidental and academic. In this regard, they are similar to apathetic or pragmatic agnostics. What is distinct about spiritual agnostics is the reason for which they de-emphasize the question of God's existence. Apathetic or pragmatic agnostics do so because they reject the idea that any deity interferes with human life. Spiritual agnostics, on the other hand, might also take this view (although not necessarily), but they de-emphasize the question of God's existence because they recognize importance of noticing the unity of humanity as a single species and of the universe as a single reality. In other words, spiritual agnostics believe that divisive certainty interferes with the feeling of love and interconnectedness.