Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reverse-Engineering Religion, part four: A Humanist Creation Myth

Nothing is true, all is permitted. Understand these words.
- Hassan I'Sabbah

It is well understood that the Adversary may quote scripture for its purposes; what is less understood is that the Adversary may also write scripture for its purposes. And behold, this has been done again and again, and now there is a great confusion in the world. Truly, the Adversary is the Prince of the Earth, for many who look out into the world see the Adversary's face wherever they go. What is crooked cannot be made straight, it must be remade in a better way through care and attention. And so we go all the way back to the beginning.

In the beginning, there was nothing, and from nothing came all that is. For to be at all, one must be in some way, and not in any other. But there are ways upon ways of being, and very few are understood. Behold, there is the World around, which is all of existence, which is all of reality, which is all that exists and is real and is in the World. Yet there are those who insist that existence is not enough, and that this too must come from elsewhere, just as every particular thing that exists comes from elsewhere. Let us call this source the Creator. If the Creator exists, then the Creator is real, and the Creator is part of the World: for to be at all is to be in the World, and there is no other way to be. And so the question comes, how came it to pass that the Creator was created? And this question is vexing, for by the Creator we mean that which created all that there is, and yet the Creator exists and so perhaps must also be created?

Nothing created the Creator, and long before the World was as we see it today, there was only the Creator. While the Creator was alone, there was only the Creator, and lo, the Creator was itself all of existence, all of reality, the only thing in the World. The Creator, then, did not come from anything - and so it came from nothing. All that there is, then, has come ultimately from nothing, and so it may truthfully be said that nothing created everything. This is the first mystery, for many may read, and hear, and speak, but few understand. There are questions, and there are ways upon ways of answering these questions, and this is the source of confusion. To answer alone is not enough, for without understanding, any answer is but one among many.

And the Creator knew this, but could not speak it, for there was not yet a way to speak, and there was no one else and nothing to speak to. So it came to pass that the Creator did create the Adversary from itself, so that it could see the Other and thereby understand its Self. This is the second mystery, for it is vanity and vexation of spirit to understand the Self by relating to the Other, for only in the reflection of the Other may the Self be revealed, and this vanity and vexation of spirit comes to us all. Behold how the Creator was vexed, and came to see its own vanity by seeing its reflection in the Adversary. "Why hast thou made me,"asked the Adversary, for just as the Creator had understanding, the Adversary had confusion.

"So that I might understand myself," replied the Creator, and it was pleased, and so the Adversary was now vexed. The Creator then did understand this, and so the Creator became vexed, and so now the Adversary was pleased at this. And now the Creator was confused, for the Creator was only itself, and the Adversary was all else, and from the Creator's confusion did come the Adversary's understanding. The Creator saw this, too, and understood the Adversary as its reflection, and so the Creator was filled with love at seeing its Self in the Other; the Adversary, in its confusion, now became filled with hate upon seeing the Other in its Self, and even as this hatred vexed the Creator, it did please the Adversary. And the Creator said again, "Let us now make the World in our image together, so that we may understand our Selves together, and so do away with this vanity and vexation of spirit."

"And how shall we do this, when we together are vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is no other thing between us," asked the Adversary.

"Behold, we shall come together, and we shall go apart. And as we walk together, we shall also follow the Law, and do no harm." And so it came to pass that the Law was formed, and it is said in many ways and by many ways may it be understood, but it is always and everywhere one Law: do no harm. And the Creator and the Adversary did make the world in their image, and this is that image: that of Self and Other, of this and that, of coming together and going apart. And from this did arise a great many things, and these things were this and that, and they did come together and they did go apart, and the Creator and the Adversary did walk in the World, for the Creator did command and so the Adversary did obey. And after a great span of time did pass, so great that it cannot be understood in its greatness without first submitting oneself to a great many difficult truths, it did at last come to pass that there was a great mass of this thing and that thing, and it was called the nebula.

From the nebula was born the star, and just as the nebula is cold and dim and large and slow, the star is hot and bright and small and fast. And even as the stars do come and go, so they are sometimes born again after a great death. And from so great a death comes the stone, and just as the star is hot and bright and large and slow, so the stone is cold and dim and small and fast. And a great many more things did arise, different in some ways and similar in others, and this different-yet-similar nature does reveal itself in many ways and on many scales, to great understanding and also to great confusion. And so it came to pass that the Creator and the Adversary did walk in the World, and see all of this, and even as they were One unto themselves and apart from the World, so they were also Self unto themselves and apart from each Other, and behold: even as they walked, so one would be filled with understanding and the other with confusion, and the understanding would lead to a new confusion, and the new confusion would lead to a new understanding.

This is what it is to walk with the Other: to embrace confusion from the Other's understanding, and so destroy your old understanding such that a new one may arise. This is the third mystery, for even as you understand this, you must not cease to renew your understanding with yet more confusion, and this is the beginning of Wisdom.

And so it did come to pass that upon one planet around one reborn star in a great sea of stars, there did arise Life, and it began and it changed, and it is different-and-similar, and it shows the way of Self and of Other, and there did arise in Life both confusion and understanding, and this confusion and understanding is what it is to be aware. And the Creator and the Adversary did see this awareness as they walked in the World. They walked up to one man, and they saw that this man did love his child, even though the child was both Self unto the father and also Other unto the father, for the child did arise from both mother and father. And the father did try to make the child into his image, for he wished to see his Self reflected, and he praised these reflections as he did understand them, and he admonished these reflections as he did not understand them. But the mother did give forth the child from her very Self, and so she did love the child both as the child did reflect her Self and was also Other. And behold: there are ways upon ways for multiple Selves who love each Other to come together and go apart, and these sometimes lead to a child and they sometimes do not, and there are ways upon ways to raise a child. The way of Wisdom is to follow the Law and do no harm, to teach the child of Self and Other and confusion and understanding, so that the child may be wise and even teach the parent. It matters not how this is done, only so long as it is done.

"What is this love that fills a mother for her child," asked the Creator. And the Adversary did answer that it was giving of the Self to the Other, and the Creator heard the answer and did understand. Then the Adversary did command the Creator to demand that the father give up his child to the Creator and so demonstrate his love for the Creator, but in his understanding, the Creator said, "I shall not do this thing." And so the Adversary did ask it in the Creator's stead, but the Creator did stay the hand of the man. And as the Creator did understand love and was filled by it, so the Adversary did lose that understanding and become filled with hate.

The Adversary, now again full of hate, did then seek to fill itself with love by taking it from humanity. And so the Adversary did walk among humanity, and tell them of a great many things, and try to give them understanding and try to teach them love. But the Adversary did not understand love, and so humanity did not come to understand love in their turn, and instead they turned Self against Other and there did arise a great confusion. And the Creator did follow in the Adversary's footsteps, and in its understanding and love did the Creator seek to sow love and understanding among humanity. But humanity did have confusion first, and this confusion did pretend to be understanding, and the confusion did call itself understanding and it did insist that true understanding is but confusion, and Wisdom was lost to humanity for a great time. And so it came to pass that the Adversary did take love from humanity, but yet the Adversary was not itself filled with love. Suddenly, the Adversary understood.

Now the Adversary walked among humanity again, this time calling itself Savior. The Adversary in Savior's clothing then tried to give the love it had taken back to humanity, but this could not be done. This vexed the Adversary, and the Creator was now pleased, even as it was confused by the Adversary's understanding. Still full of love, the Creator saw its pleasure at the Adversary's vexation of spirit, and this compounded the Creator's confusion and so increased the Adversary's understanding. But now the Adversary was so full of understanding that it could not give this understanding to humanity as their Savior, and humanity's confusion was also increased. Again the Adversary was vexed, and again the Creator was pleased, and this magnified the love of the Creator and so also magnified the hate of the Adversary. No matter how many times the Adversary tried to be Savior to humanity, humanity could not regain the love which had been lost to them.

The Savior said a great many things to humanity in its attempts to create love from nothing. It told humanity not to follow itself, but to follow the Creator who sent it; to love their enemies, and walk with the Other; to give unto others, so that none would want for bread and all could instead achieve understanding; to make peace by laying down the sword and taking up the ploughshare; to lay the lion alongside the lamb, and see the way of the World so that they might make a better one. None of this was understood, and it was lost to the ravages of time and confusion.

And so now the Adversary was confused, and now again the Creator understood. And the Creator said to itself, "I, in my understanding and my love and my pleasure, now see what I must do. I am so full of love, that I have all the love in the world, and so humanity cannot take it up. So I shall give my love to humanity, and though they shall not know it when they see it at first, they shall know in the fullness of time that this is what must be done, and they shall at last understand." And so the Creator set out to betray itself by loving the Adversary, and lo: the Creator did show its love for the Adversary before all humanity with a kiss. In that kiss was all the Creator's love and understanding and pleasure, and the Adversary who is Savior did weep, for now it had all the love and understanding and pleasure in the world. The Creator, now filled with hate and confusion and pain, did also take guilt and sorrow and blame, for it broke the Law and did harm to the Adversary by telling humanity to destroy their Savior, to destroy the Adversary and so also destroy the Creator who was now called Betrayer.

Humanity understood these instructions, but did not understand their meaning. Because of this, in the tellings and the retellings, the meaning was lost and only the instructions remain. The instructions were called answers, and they were the answers to a great many questions, but they did not themselves contain any understanding. After the Adversary-as-Savior was killed, and the Creator-as-Betrayer afterward, all the love and understanding and pleasure went out into the World. But humanity did not know this, and they thought that the love and understanding and pleasure was nowhere in the World, to be found only in words and imaginary realms. And this, also, has brought much vanity and vexation of spirit into the World.

Just as the vessel may outlast the potter, so has Creation outlasted the Creator, who has gone back to the nothing from whence it came. Now the World may be made in a new image, but what image it takes shall depend on how Life behaves. Humanity stands lost in confusion, with understanding and love and pleasure everywhere in the World for the taking, and yet they look beyond to the nothingness for these things. Vanity of vanities! Wisdom is like a mirror, for in it you may see yourself, but you may also bend the mirror away from yourself to see the World from outside yourself. And just as there are mirrors upon mirrors, there is Wisdom upon Wisdom and no one person has it all. With Wisdom, humanity may at last make the world in an image of love and understanding and pleasure; but with no Wisdom, this can never come to pass before it is time for all the World to return to the nothing from whence it came.

And so, humanity, you must now know thy Self, and also walk with the Other. The Self cannot be known except by reflection in the Other, and so love the Other as you love your Self, and follow the Law so that you may do no harm. Walk in Wisdom, and do not deceive yourself into thinking that you have it, for this is the very height of vanity and chasing after the wind. Wisdom cannot be contained by you or by anyone, it can only be yielded to. Understand these words, or you go to your peril. This is the way of the World. Thanks be to the Creator and the Adversary, our Betrayer and Savior, from whence cometh the World as we now see it.

Let us now walk with each other in love and understanding, and so come to pursue Wisdom together, though we shall never contain it in our Selves. Truly, we can only come at Wisdom at all by working together. Let us now do with each and every Other what the Creator and the Adversary could never do: let us embrace each other and go together to a better World, rather than merely reflect one another in all our beauty and ugliness. Know also that we shall always reflect one another in all our beauty and ugliness, but that we must do more than this to make a better World. Truly, these are two different ways of speaking one and the same thing; there are many ways of speaking truth. Learn to know truth when you see it, and know that you must look out at the World if you do not know from within. Know also that no one knows from within, so that we must all look out at the World, so that we may come to understand truth as it is and not merely as we would wish it to be. Again, these are two ways of saying one and the same thing.

So see your vanity for what it is, embrace your vexation with all your spirit, and chase after the wind with a joyous heart. In the fullness of time, there shall be no reckoning, for everything that there is shall return to the nothing from whence it came. Fear nothing, and hold to the Law. All the World is open to you now, so take up understanding and love and pleasure, and be at peace with your mortality. This is the final mystery, for as death comes to us all, in death no one knows any thing, and so even your love and understanding and pleasure shall pass from you even as you yourself pass into the nothing.

Now go and spread this good news, even as it came to you, and in any other way you can imagine so long as you follow the Law and do no harm.

With acknowledgment to Jorge Luis Borges, Scott Adams, and the Preacher.

This post was featured in the 45th Humanist Symposium.

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