This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Can We Assess The Effectiveness of Religion in Containing the Impulse Toward "Sin"?

Copyright : Katarzyna Białasiewicz :

I’ve been thinking about religion as a form of discipline. For some people a central part of their religion is rules and regulations and a strong belief in reward or punishment to help them abide by those rules and regulations.

This aspect of religion can be a cause for conflict between some religious people and some atheists. A religious person for whom this aspect of religiously-reinforced discipline is very important may ask an atheist what is to stop them from committing terrible violent crimes if they don’t believe there is a God who would punish them if they do. The atheist may point out that they don’t want to commit terrible violent crimes anyway. The implication is that the religious person is either making up the whole issue or is a terrible person because they feel they need some form of faith and discipline to keep them from committing acts of rape or murder.

There is a very serious issue here which needs close examination. It is important that we don’t arrogantly jump to conclusions about other people’s psychological state, about the role that religion plays for particular individuals and whether we have something to offer which would work better for them.

The containment of the impulse towards sin is one of the central roles of religion. In order to assess how successfully this goal is met in any particular individual we have to first consider what we mean by “sin”. Sin is the religious word for selfishness. (Religions sometimes consider some things sinful which those of us who do not share their framework of belief would, quite reasonably, not consider to be selfish, but the principle still holds because these are things which seem selfish to them within that framework. If they believe that God forbids something then clearly anyone who does it is putting their own desires before God’s wishes and is thus being selfish.)

Selfishness can be inwardly directed or outwardly directed. Greed and gluttony are examples of inwardly directed selfishness, while outwardly directed selfishness covers hostility towards others. This runs all the way from deliberate rudeness and attempts to dominate all the way through to rape, torture and murder.

Let’s simplify things for the moment by ignoring the distinctions between different kinds of selfishness and the fact that each of us differs with regard to which forms we are most prone to feel or act upon. Let’s reduce this all to a single factor - the impulse toward sin.

The strength of the impulse toward sin is bound to vary enormously across the range of individuals. Selfishness originates in suffering and in the insecurity of the ego. Some of us have suffered tremendously and others have not. Some of us are secure in our ego and others are not. What are the key factors? Experience and the conceptual framework - to what degree we have been loved or abused and the way we think about our experience and life in general. In reality this is very complex. Some experiences wound us and others encourage our healing, and our conceptual framework changes through our life. The key point is that nobody is to blame for the strength of their impulse toward sin and we cannot know what lies in the psyche of another.

If someone suggests that belief in God is the only thing stopping them from committing rape or murder, there are a number of possibilities :

1. They may be deliberately exaggerating the seriousness of the battle in order to make a point. 

2. They may fear that they might commit rape or murder without their faith in God because they feel the impulse toward sin so strongly, even though they wouldn’t actually act this way if their faith was to disappear. (This is like my experiences with OCD where anxious thoughts that I might do great harm to myself or someone else were part of the mechanism of repression of my angry feelings.) 

3. They may genuinely sometimes experience a powerful impulse to rape or murder. We shouldn’t discount this possibly. If we look at the incidence of rape and murder across cultures and across history and consider that the number of times when someone experiences the impulse to commit that act is bound to be far greater than the number of times that impulse is actually carried out, we should not be too quick to dismiss a person’s assertion that they need their religious faith to keep them from committing such an act.

To give a very simple example of the importance of the conceptual framework, two individuals may both be subjected to mistreatment by the same person - one may have acquired a stoic philosophy in which his self-image is dependent on showing himself to be unmoved, while the other may feel that his self-image is dependent on getting revenge. The person who sets out to get revenge may find that the effect of the original offence magnifies over time as the revenge, even if successful, brings with it other problems and, perhaps, other emotional wounds. Again, this is ridiculously simplistic, but that is necessary to see the issues at the heart of infinitely complex experiences.

A person’s religion is a major part of their conceptual framework. There are different religions of which there may be different variations, and everyone has their own personal framework which may take some bits and ignore others, interpret things differently and place different emphases. 

If we are really going to assess the success of an individual’s religion in helping them to contain their impulse toward sin, or make progress in healing the wounds which lie at the root of that impulse, we first need to know how strong that impulse is in them. And we are unlikely to find this out because admitting to having a particularly strong impulse toward sin means opening oneself to criticism as a bad person, something which is completely unjustified.

Those who’ve followed me for some time will know that I have been influenced by the ideas expressed by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith but that I am also a trenchant critic of those ideas. One of Griffith’s strengths is that he acknowledges this key question. He uses the term “upset” for what I have described as “the impulse toward sin,” but he makes the point that none of us wants to think of ourselves as a “bad person” or be perceived that way by others, therefore the whole issue of how screwed up we are inside is off-limits. And, yet, this off-limits problem is our most important one.

To be fair to the atheist critic of religion, it is possible that many, even all, religions might be essentially destructive conceptual frameworks. Rather than helping us to contain our impulse toward sin, or heal it, they may amplify it.

I can think of a couple of examples of how this might happen. Take sexuality. Some religions tend to encourage sexual repression. To a degree there is good reason for this. Promiscuity and infidelity can bring problems for the individual and for the wider society. But repress sexuality in the wrong way and erotic urges can be transformed into sadistic ones.

One thing I’ve talked about a lot is how idealism tends to undermine self-acceptance and with it the capacity for feelings of love toward others. This can be a major part of religion. The religion says we shouldn’t be so sinful. This makes us feel guilty. Our feelings of guilt make us self-directed and sap our capacity for generous feelings toward others.

There are other aspects of religious belief though. Faith can be a comforting influence and many no doubt find a supportive community through religion.

It is hard to assess the effectiveness of religion because we don’t know what it is working with. If we see a religious person behaving badly, how do we know whether the religion has turned a person with a low impulse toward sin into a person with a high impulse toward sin or whether it has taken a person with an extremely high impulse toward sin and succeeded in turning them into a person with a moderate impulse toward sin?

Another problem is that religion is a massively complex and diverse social phenomena. When we look at it it is a bit like looking at a blot test. A person who thinks religion is evil will see all of the wars and intolerance and hypocrisy and won’t see the individuals who have been spiritually enriched, inspired to community service or redeemed from a destructive lifestyle. And the religious will likewise tend to see the positives associated with their own brand of belief and few of the negatives.

I would like to think that the philosophy I express in How to Be Free can help us to achieve a conceptual framework which, with or without religion, enables us to heal our wounds and reduce our impulse toward sin. It may be too hard for us to talk about our own personal battle for fear of judgement, but we can still benefit from anything that helps us with it.

Copyright: twinsterphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Thoughts About "God"

Reading the Bible has led me to think about some of the ways people think about God.

Some say that God is perfect. What does it mean for something of which there is only one to be perfect? Where there are two of something we can look for flaws and decide that one is closer to perfection than the other.

Why is this relevant? If our view of God is of the absolute grounding of reality as something perfect, then this becomes a mirror for our own very personal conceptions about what is or is not perfect in ourselves or others. We may become less accepting of our own apparent flaws or those of others if we believe there is a grounding of perfection from which we and they have deviated. The Bible contains many laws expressing what is or is not considered acceptable to God, yet why should the absolute grounding of reality give a shit?

Religion is a human institution with a human basis and a human purpose. The purpose of religious laws, as with any laws, is to try to resolve or prevent conflict in society. It doesn’t begin with something abstract, but contemplation of the abstract may give the lawmaker some of the required distance to make laws for the common good rather than his own. What we find in the early parts of the Bible are flawed attempts which we may look on critically from our own position, but we would probably find similar flaws in most indigenous systems of law - a mix of wisdom, superstition, intolerance and brutality.

My own definition of “God” is the creative principle of the universe which we see in operation in the increasing complexity of life’s development and which operates in human affairs as love. Something holds energy in the meaningful pattern that we call “matter”. And some principle allows some of that matter to organise itself in what we call “life”. The comparable meaningful arrangements of humans are what we call “families” and “tribes” and “corporations” and “societies”. What holds these together is love, i.e. open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication. Sure tribal selfishness may be a motivating force, and all groups are diluted by intra-group selfishness, but if there were no love the group would fall apart.

We put a human face on impersonal forces with which we are in a relationship. We think of nature as a “she” for example. This can be helpful, but also misleading. We may be Mother Nature’s children, but she won’t necessarily protect us the way our real mother would, in fact she may slaughter us without hesitation.

If “God” is the creative principle of the universe, then we have everything to be grateful to “him” for, but a principle doesn’t need us as individuals. This is not a “Father” who cares one way or the other what happens to us. It is we who care what happens to ourselves and, hopefully others, and only we who need to care.

One thing we see in the Bible is that God is used as a conceptual tool for widening one’s concept of self-interest. God is presented as a personification of what Hindus and Buddhists call Karma. If you behave selfishly, recklessly, dishonestly or against the legitimate interests of others, God will bring you down, but if you act generously, honestly and practice frugality, he will protect your long term interests even if you may be persecuted by others in the short term.

Of course, in reality, there are no guarantees. You could live a spotless life and get some terrible disease.

But the principle of enlightened self-interest is still the best basis for guiding one’s life. Don’t trade current pleasure for future pain, and recognise that, as long as we are social beings, our wellbeing is nested in the wellbeing of those around us. If we sow enmity in those around us, then we will also reap it. And those who profit by an unjust society will have to live within walls which prevent them from enjoying the warmth of its community. We don’t need to believe in a personal God to come to these conclusions, but historically many have found it useful.

They say that we are made in God’s image. Clearly we are not omnipresent, omniscient or invisible. So in what way might this be true? We are not just products of the creative principle of the universe, we are expressions of it. It operates through us as surely as it does through anything else which exists. Our capacity for reason gives it a whole new level on which it can operate, through culture and technology.

Our sense of alienation from God, that God is to be feared and that we are to be ashamed of ourselves, comes from our awareness that our creative potential - our expression of love - is held in check by our selfishness. But our shame is not appropriate. 

The creative principle doesn’t operate by forcing chaos into a preconceived orderly mould. The natural intrinsic potential unfolds through spontaneously occurring connections based on the mutuality of self-interest. (We can see this most clearly in ecosystems which are balanced, orderly networks built from the individual self-interest of the constituent organisms.) 

To decide what is good and try to force it into being is the root of evil. The ends don’t justify the means. It is by embracing healthy means and not thinking too much about what the ends will be that we become faithful expressions of the creative  principle. 

And this applies also to our relationship to ourselves. If we fight with ourselves because we don’t conform to an ideal we will only make ourselves more self-obsessed. But look for ways in which our own longterm self-interest aligns with that of others and we see the seeds of a more creative way of living. If we concentrate on fostering what works, we may find that what wasn’t working has disappeared while our attention was elsewhere.