Friday, December 15, 2006

The Origins of Religious Impulses

I believe those who say that religion is ineradicable in humans, especially so long as humans fear the dark, death and the unknown, may very well be correct. I remain convinced that Freud was right, certainly regarding a substantial amount of the religious, in The Future of an Illusion wherein he explained that religion, as it was and is predominately being manifested, is the product of wish fulfillments, these being the cheapest forms of emotions and ambitions. That it is the product, the resolving manifestation, of the fear of an impersonal and random nature. As Freud says: “Man’s self-regard, seriously menaced, calls for consolation; life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors.” These terrors which are inculcated by nature, specifically the anxiety of helplessness, are resolved by humanizing them, by ascribing the random, impersonal, many times unjust and frightful machinery of nature human characteristics; such as will, intelligence, emotion and justice.
It is Freud’s theory that so long as humanity experiences such an anxiety of helplessness, such a burdensome fear of death, the dark and the unknown so shall there be religion. I am certainly in agreement, however, I am of the opinion that there are a number of reasons that may incite religious belief and behavior beyond wish fulfilling.
Another theory, of which I am skeptical of and of which Freud later dealt with in the beginning of Civilization and Its Discontents, is that the religious impulse emanates from a particular feeling. A feeling which a friend of Freud’s called “a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded – as it were, ‘oceanic’.” Freud’s friend went on to claim that this feeling was a subjective truth, it did not require faith to accept. However, it did not assure one of immortality, or any of the other illusions of religion, it merely brought forth the energy with which organized religion then buttressed such articles of faith to.
Freud first responds, as do I, that no such feeling is recognizable to him. He then provides a long and thorough explanation outlining an individuals’ development of a sense of ego, or “ego-feeling” as he phrased it, and the fact that such an ego is only a minute portion of the entire mental apparatus of the unconscious. He goes on explaining that an infant is not yet aware of its ego as distinguished from the external world and only through experience of sensations is such a distinction realized and made conscious. Meaning that, regarding sensations and feelings, the ego originally included everything, only later separating the external world from itself. Freud says “Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive – indeed, an all embracing – feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it.” The implication of this being that in some people such a primary ego-feeling may persist to a greater or lesser degree and, if so, it would exist along side the more distinct “demarcated ego-feeling of maturity,” the “ideational contents” of which would be identical to the feelings of limitlessness and of the ‘oceanic’ feeling thus accounting for the natural origins of such a religious impulse; an impulse Paul Kurtz has appropriately labeled “the transcendental temptation.”

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The meaning of life.

“Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.” – Erich Fromm

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” – Carl Jung

“Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.” – Carl Rogers

As our species throughout history attests, humans have pondered the fundamental philosophical question regarding the meaning of life since the ability to write and most likely the development of conscious self-awareness and a higher cognitive ability even before.
For a great number of people this question poses as a serious obstacle, one seemingly insurmountable, and one which is usually resolved through the most vacuous, superfluous and inept means possible, religion.
The principle aim of life, as far as I am aware and in the most rudimentary form, is to survive to the fullest efficacy possible and to replicate ones own genetic lineage. However, beyond these simple tasks – or difficult if you rather - the meaning of life is open to interpretation, it is to be discovered and affirmed by the individual for the individual. In an objective sense the meaning of life is as I described first, in a more subjective sense the meaning of life is infinitely open to interpretation. I would hardly expect two individuals’ specific interpretations of what the meaning of life is to be identical.
As a secular humanist I find the meaning of life to be, in a general sense, the pursuit of life in abundance, happiness, pleasure and love. In a more distilled sense I find the meaning of life to comprise a number of categories such as psychological, biological, social, political, scientific and philosophical. It begins, as I see it, with oneself, through discovering who one really is, and affirming this one develops a healthy and strong psychological awareness of ones own self and is then ready to pursue the other categories. One must realize and then develop the best of their abilities, which consists of cultivating in ones own personality, strength, lucidity, intelligence, a yearning for knowledge, skepticism, empathy and, as Carl Rogers phrased it, “unconditional positive regard.”
Built upon this, the meaning of life is now concerned with social aspects. I take it as the meaning of life to work towards the remediation and reconciling of social ills and conflicts, to help create a peaceful, cohesive and tranquil social environment and world-state. To help others realize and attain their highest potential possible. The meaning of life, socio-politically speaking, is to affirm universal human rights and decency and to work towards creating a citadel of peace and beauty, in this life, globally. It is to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideals of democracy, freedom and the open society. It is to work towards increasing educational standards, literacy and cultural enrichment.
Scientifically and philosophically, the meaning of life is to better understand it. It is to work towards a comprehensive description of the universe which we find ourselves in and the functioning thereof. With the growth of our scientific knowledge comes, inextricably bound, advances in virtually every aspect of our lives. Advances in scientific medicine such as antibiotics, vaccines, modern techniques of surgery, anesthesia, pharmacology and biogenetic engineering has tremendously improved our prospects for a happier, healthier, longer and more fulfilling life. Scientific research has and will continue to elucidate our knowledge of the universe and our place within it through such facets as astronomy, physics, biology, genetics, psychology, sociology, etc.
It is, to me, the meaning of life to pursue these ends. The meaning of life is to not only survive and replicate, but to derive pleasure and happiness while doing so. It is to love life in its abundance, to seek and work towards creating and instilling more abundance and to share this love and experience with others.