In 1966 Time Magazine wondered aloud, on one of the most famous covers of that era, Is God Dead? The cover article said, “Making God relevant to an increasingly secular society is a difficult task because modern science has eliminated the need for religion to explain the natural world.”
“Eliminated the need.”
I was not fully cognizant in 1966–mostly because I was 13. But I can remember the gentle arrogance–America rising to meet every challenge, even God. It could all be explained.
No wonder so many dropped acid and experimented with drugs to alter their consciousness. When someone is telling you they know everything, though your conscious mind may agree, your subconscious is being held hostage. Then the people who “knew everything” bombed Hanoi, broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, and endorsed Hostess Twinkies as a healthy snack.
I didn’t really have a religious tradition to reject. My father had already done that. I had Mad Magazine instead. It was a wonderful Bible. It was predicated on the assumption that you could make fun of everything and that there was no subject that couldn’t be made to look stupid if you drew caustic pictures of it and made snarky comments–the Cold War, politics, movies, music and musicians, Madison Avenue and TV, the government, corporate American, religion.
Satire is a form based on arrogance–we could do that better. But it usually doesn’t present the better thing we could do, it just tears down the thing we shouldn’t be doing. So ultimately, no matter how much fun it is–and it is a lot of fun, for adolescents particularly–satire exists in the world as a negative. It doesn’t construct a whole lot of value. Mad taught me that you could cover anything in graffiti and it might even, on a good day, be considered Art. I used that knowledge to tear down or simply distrust parts of the world around me that I didn’t like, but I didn’t build anything in their place. So when the time came to make my way in the world, I didn’t believe in anything, except Art.
Art became my religion. It was perfect–individual creativity, expression, the font of Man’s greatness, the pluralistic notion that anyone can do a positive act and call it Art. And then there was the consciousness of people doing Art together–the theater. While everything else was going down the toilet for me, Art and theater flourished. It explained so much. It held such force of cultural dialogue. It was everything. I still believe in its importance. Making Art and the expression of Art from one human to another is a sacred trust.
Art speaks to grand conceptual arcs. It makes us contemplate, see the world in a new perspective. But it’s not faith. And after awhile I realized that my faith in myself, was faith in myself in Art only. It didn’t work so well on sprained ankles, week-long depressions or bitchy girlfriends.
In the meantime, all the other secularists of my generation who read Mad, hungrily consumed the latest movies and television, rocked out to the incredible rock and roll of the time and other faux faith activities that fed the moment, went out to claim their due. They harnessed what they’d been taught and poured their brain power into financial, scientific, medical, legal, governmental and perhaps most revolutionary of all, technological revolutions. Revolutionary successes of the conscious mind.
Given what faith our parents had in us, and the college bills they paid, we changed the world. And we did it on the power of our rational minds. We had faith and pride in what we were doing, so we didn’t need the other kind of Faith. And, as Americans, we had carte blanche and absolute power to create the world we wanted. In fact, America was a kind of Faith. We created a conscious, rational world based on dollars and cents and I do not have a whole lot of time to read those nagging headlines thank you very much.
Environmental degradation, global warming, suicide rates, the war on, of and for drugs. Just outside our Coca Cola consciousness was a gestating monster. Yet still, at least for left-leaning coastal types, Faith has not been an option. Faith can be bought and sold, and is, on a daily basis. Don’t you remember what it said in Mad Magazine? And don’t forget that Jim Jones thing. So we’ve done without it. Or we substitute politics and a good piece of toast.
This won’t do.
Let’s get back to the basics. Faith is anything you believe in that supersedes the conscious mind. This is an important definition. The smarter we get, the more we know, the more we know the more we think we know, the more we think we know the more our conscious, rational mind rules the roost and the less we need Faith and its unconscious, irrational belief systems. Then a hurricane comes along or a lightning bolt hits our Prius and we scratch our heads and say why oh why has God forsaken us. Hmmm. Our notion of God has become extremely limited.
Transcendence is something which extends beyond the limits of ordinary experience. Travel, good music, Art, good food–things which reach beyond our conscious minds are elementarily transcendent. But Faith is transcendent by its very nature. It gets you beyond your borders. And to do that, it has to be irrationally committed to. There is a saying that your mind is like a drunken monkey. It latches onto anything and everything and tries to make conscious sense out of it. You’ve got to get beyond that drunken primate…and into your heart. Time for Faith.
Like Dumbo’s magic feather. You remember. Dumbo thinks he can only fly when he is holding his magic feather in his trunk. His belief is transcendent; out of all boundaries. He’s an elephant and he’s flying for chrissake. How more irrational can you be? When he drops his magic feather he has to face himself and he does so with his friend Timothy the mouse’s help, and successfully transcends his belief in the feather and attaches that faith to himself. He believes he can fly and so he does.
It turns out this is not a fairy tale.
Faith is a chicken and egg proposition. In this day and age, when very few spiritual tools are given us when we come into the world (except iPads) we must reinvent faith one person at a time.
But how do you make that leap? Here’s the real problem for us secular agnostics. We have no tools to jimmy ourselves out of our conscious/rational mind except drugs, alcohol and fishing. More than anything we need to believe and yet, hard as we squeeze it our feather’s just a feather. No lift-off.
What does it take to believe? What? Given that “modern science has eliminated the need.”
How about this? Fifteen years ago a senior level engineer from Hughes Aircraft with an IQ through the roof, who had one of the first computers he’d built in the Smithsonian and had helped to put a man on the moon told me, “there was a time when we thought all knowledge was knowable. Now we realize it’s experiential. Every piece of it we learn expands the universe of things that must be learned exponentially.”
That’s it. We’ll never know everything. Tell that to technology writer George Dyson who is quoted in this month’s Atlantic Magazine as saying, “I am a technological evolutionist. I view the universe as a phase-space of things that are possible, and we’re doing a random walk among them. Eventually we are going to fill the space of everything that is possible.” Or here’s Robert Safian, the editor of Fast Company magazine in this month’s issue. “We have advanced so far as a culture that the sophistication of today’s data and machines is dwarfing capabilities that we marveled at just a few decades ago. Yet there remains so much knowledge to unlock, so many answers still ahead.” Despite the facts, our arrogance still thinks it can know it all.
Here’s the truth. We can’t. We’ll never know everything.
There! I said it. Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Sergey Brin together will never know everything. Ten million Bills and Alberts and Sergies will never know everything.
I myself am not ten million Bills and Sergeys and Alberts and neither are you (and for that matter neither are Albert, Bill or Sergey) so in the most conscious and rational way I can explain it, it’s time to believe. Why is an electron both a particle and a wave? Because. Why does dark matter fill the universe? Because.
Buddhism has an expression, “At the end of wisdom is faith.”
You can learn as much as you want and you can put that knowledge to work but you can never know everything. You need the wisdom of Faith. Once you’ve made that leap you’re half way there.
In fact, as long as you truly believe (and that’s the hard part) you can believe in anything. It turns out that it is faith that will save the world. Not their faith, but YOUR faith. And the more centered you are, the less likely you are to put your faith in guns or peanut butter, and the more likely you are to put your faith in unconscious things that will help build your world of enlightenment.
Here’s the problem with all of this–it takes work. Like we don’t already have enough to do. And another thing. You have to overcome Mad Magazine. I have watched friends of mine go towards the light of religion, and thought, oh dear, what can they be thinking. (Of course now that I understand faith I know they weren’t thinking). And then, I watched them slowly build mental health in a way that defied my expectations. Faith.
Then I was introduced to the world of Buddhism by my future wife. In a Buddhist world, despite what Time Magazine wondered in 1966, God can’t die unless the whole world is wiped out because you are God and so is that annoying fly. In addition, in Buddhism, when you think it’s about them, it isn’t. It’s about you.
Now even on the days I wake up faithless, I have tools. I now know enough to drag myself to the Gohonzon (an altar scroll that represents me in the universe) and chant. That seems to do it. Suddenly my ninth consciousness is cooking and the authentic me shines out, not that Mad fake that walks around looking down on people when I don’t chant.
Buddhism posits nine consciousnesses. Five senses and one brain to make sense of the input: that’s six. The seventh is your subconscious that tells us “Mom liked you best”, “Dad shouldn’t have always had that one last drink”, and “you let people piss on you seven days a week because you were brought up in a shack.” It’s the circumstances of your self ego. I call the seventh consciousness the American Consciousness because if you’re stuck in that consciousness you feel alone against the world and should probably become an entrepreneur, start a business and date some babes.
The eighth consciousness is like being a Yankees fan. You are part of something larger…a country, an ethnic group, your extended family of ancestors and living relatives…it was there before you, and it will go on after your death. Parents at key moments have an understanding of this.
But the ninth consciousness is above all those. It is the understanding that we are all connected…all part of the same universe…like a fish swimming in water. It’s not a place you go in some ashram. It’s right with you all the time.
Today I am sick and yet I feel like I can explode the death ray star of all obstacles with my faith. This is scary. This kind of power. I’m still human. I’m still in my body. I’m still sick. But somehow my chanting trumps doubt. It says you can’t know it all, even though some part of you thinks you can. It says trust it. Trust this. This moment. It says look at me, I’ve been waiting a very long time in the shadows while your ego danced with pot and pills and booze and free love and rapture of all immediate kinds. But the world of now is more than high, it is also wisdom. And wisdom time is now if you will listen to it. To yourself. Just be and chant and listen to yourself. You know. You just don’t know you know. All enlightenment is inside you.
I now have faith tools. I can overcome anything. These are the tools my way too literal, conscious, rational, secular, autocrat of a mind can put to use. Enlightenment is the ninth consciousness, it is inside me, and faith is not a dirty word.