Religion, Dogma and the Codification of Theology

If Science has failed to provide the explicit knowledge because it leans too heavily on belief and mythology, Theology has failed equally to provide implicit wisdom for the opposite reasons. Theology, in its most perfect form, is completely implicit, subjective and personal, “gnosis”. When attempts are made to codify the experience, theology becomes a religion, a set of commonly agreed upon beliefs that will guide and inform the individual in their path towards gnosis. When these beliefs become codified within the religion, it is called dogma. Like the imperfect schools of Science relying on common beliefs and mythologies to guide empirical investigations, religions attempt to create an explicit “proof” for itself, setting out the “proper” thoughts, behaviors and moral attitudes. As a result, an individual consciousness becomes mired in all kinds of ideas and perceptions that lead away from the idea of gnosis, or any meaningful personal experience of reality.

The Buddhists have a saying: “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him.” Any distraction from a personal experience of the Universe is a hindrance to attaining fulfillment. Thou art God. It can be said that most religions actually have this concept as a teaching, though it is ignored. In Christianity, this is the true meaning of the Christ, the anointed one. But as with the “rules” of empirical science, the notion is quietly ignored in favor of the use of common dogma as a path of enlightenment. Any search outside the parameters of accepted beliefs is reviled, prosecuted and its practice is punished, often severely. To the practitioner who discovers their own gnosis lies outside the accepted dogma goes the title “heretic”. It only stands to reason that if you have a group all practicing the development of a personal understanding of reality, you will invariably have differences, and while these differences could be seen as part of the tapestry of the Universe, in practice, most do not share them, and endure the shame and guilt of having the “wrong” experiences, feelings and beliefs, as well as the fear of the public humiliation that comes from expressing them as authentic.

I try very hard to limit the dogma in my theology. Obviously, it is as impossible to rid oneself of dogma as it is to practice “pure science”. I believe it can be minimized, though, and I believe that a method known as Vipassana Meditation provides that path. While there are varying levels of dogma present within the various schools, in its purest form, this technique is has one simple offering. “If one’s attention is placed upon one’s breath, remarkable things happen.” The closest it comes to any dogma is an idea called “the 5 Hindrances”; Desire, Aversion, Sloth, Restlessness and Doubt. It is easy to learn and practice. Focus attention of the breath, as the attention is distracted, simply note the distraction and return to the breath. Vipassana is taught almost everywhere in the world, the teachings are free, and beginning in a group can be very helpful. There are many wonderful writings on the subject, I like the book “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The stated goal of this practice is to experience something called “Mindfulness”, which is defined simply as “living in the present moment.” My experiences using this technique are actually hard to talk about. One thing I know very well from it is that my thoughts are not all of me. Something inside me is able to observe each though. The sublime self, the beginning of being and knowing the true me and the first step towards a path of self fulfillment and a true understanding of my Universe.

The Mythology of Science

Theology and Science share much in common, and this makes sense, they are “two sides of the same coin”. They both attempt to describe the nature of existence, to make sense of our experience. They both start with a few commonly accepted “truths”, which are hardly self-evident, in both cases, and then use “rules of production” to produce a set of facts about the world.

I once attended a math lecture (perhaps it was Fuller, I really don’t remember) and the speaker pointed out that even the most basic “facts” of mathematics are explicitly taken from a certain point of view, and not necessarily one that is better than any other. The example 1+1=2 was used. The value of 2 is open for argument, and by changing our focus only slightly, a number of other answers can be derived.

Nothing shows the more arbitrary decisions of Science more than its own history. It seems that in the time roughly around -500, there were two civilizations making an important decision, how the search for knowledge would proceed. One chose “objectivity” that is, a study of the objects of reality, while the other chose to follow “process”, how all things come into being. It is worth noting that neither was right, nor wrong, and both have mutually failed humanity.

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” -Robert Jastrow (Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute)

Knowledge is power, and to be in control of how people think is more important than what people think, power corrupts. The need for mythology, crafted stories to teach the masses. There is no better example for Western Science than “Evolution”. Certainly, the process of evolution is a powerful force in nature, and it is based on valid observations and experiments, but what began as an observation of a fact of nature has become the entire story of the history of life, and is accepted as a fact. Well, not really. Any honest biologist will tell you (informally, of course) that there are glaring holes in the theory of evolution as it is currently told. An entire book was written of some of the “anomalous evidence” that can be presented. Called “Forbidden Archeology” it is an encyclopedic look at valid archaeological finds that contradict the current model, and require huge adjustments to accommodate. Rather than do this, Science clung to the myth and behaved badly. They took the route of creating a confrontation of “Evolution” and “Creationism”, two equally false stories. If one didn’t adhere to “evolution” you were a “creationist”. Of course, as so many researchers have proven again and again, this isn’t true, the current model of human evolution does not describe all the facets of human existence.

In 1931 a mathematician named Kurt Gödel published a paper entitled “Über formal unentscheidbare Sätze der “Principia Mathematica” und verwandter Systeme”, “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of “Principia Mathematica” and Related Systems”). In that article, he proved for any computable axiomatic system that is powerful enough to describe the arithmetic of the natural numbers that if the system is consistent, it cannot be complete and the consistency of the axioms cannot be proven within the system. In simple English, in any sufficiently powerful logical system there are errors which can not be anticipated.

With this stunning realization comes the need for mythology to fill in the blanks. Just like in theology, what can not be explained is turned into myth. Any detractors from the myth are heretics, and they meet much the same fate, they are politically and professionally ostracized, their work is banished and lives ruined.

But we believe Science, we believe the results, and this is through a filter of Mythology. In fact, believing Science is not a bit more reasonable than believing the Prophet Hermit who lives in a bread truck by the creek. But we have been taught the myths for so long that we can no longer see the forest for the trees. GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) are the cutting edge of Science right now, humanity is exploring DNA, the very blueprint for bilogical life. Humanity, or members of it, are also actually changing it. From the point of view of research, I give my support to this. But, because of the way in which Science is run in the modern world, there is also a constant pressure to “make a profit” from something that, at least in its present state, is pure research. Turning rogue DNA loose in our biosphere is a terrible idea. For one thing what IF something goes wrong? We have no idea how to undo it. Every form of life on Earth shares DNA, and most of it is much the same as everything else (most life varies in its DNA construction by less than 30%) so if some mutation is placed into the DNA, it may quickly infiltrate all life, and possibly not in a good way, we don’t know. In fact, the genie is out of the bottle in this case, humanity has released many genetic modifications into the environment, with some foreseeable results. Rogue DNA has infiltrated the DNA of lifeforms it was not intended for. The outcome is unknown, but it is also inevitable.

And so bring out the myth. On the one side are “researchers” who claim to have experimental evidence that none of this is true, GMO’s are harmless, even beneficial, even as food. On the other side are “researchers” who claim to have experimental evidence that GMO’s are indeed harmful to nature, and probably shouldn’t be eaten. Both are groups of equal “researchers” and much of the work on both sides is valid, but can you see only ONE can be right? Both views cannot exist logically, yet both do. So we are back to Gödel, and his theory that any science powerful enough to describe DNA has errors that cannot be anticipated.

Of course, both schools of thought deride the other, saying they are liars and cheats, that they are deliberately ignoring evidence, and in some cases making it up. Well, yes, its part of the myth. I have no doubt that both sides are equally engaged in their respective mythology. Perhaps it is simply a point of view, if one expects a result, it is more likely to occur. Our oriental thinkers would nod knowingly here.

The downside here is we, especially in the US are needing to make a few decisions on this science. GMO’s have infiltrated our food supply to an alarming degree, considering how little is actually known about it. And if we attempt to educate ourselves, we find ourselves in the middle of a fairy tale battle of knights in armor. Perhaps the best course of action is to take the whole thing back to the lab, lock it away, disregard the need for “profit” in research and let Science try and do it job.

At the very least, label it. Hey, Monsanto’s cafeteria serves ORGANIC food. The President eats ORGANIC food, in fact, it seem, a great number of the proponents of GMO in the wild avoid it in their diet. Telling, if you ask me.