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How can I deal with the harsh realities of this world?
How do I find meaning and achieve balance in my life?
Who is God? Can he be found? And how do I go about seeking Him?
Birth and Rebirth: The Awakening of a Dormant Spirit revolves around timeless and universal themes: the nature of the human experience and the reason for human struggle; the realization of humankind?s highest aspirations; the final goal ...
How can I deal with the harsh realities of this world?
How do I find meaning and achieve balance in my life?
Who is God? Can he be found? And how do I go about seeking Him?
Birth and Rebirth: The Awakening of a Dormant Spirit revolves around timeless and universal themes: the nature of the human experience and the reason for human struggle; the realization of humankind’s highest aspirations; the final goal towards which all religions aim. Taking a philosophical approach, the book critically analyzes the root of human suffering, examines the merits and demerits of both science and religion (as they are commonly practiced), and proposes a method through which each individual human being can overcome his or her obstacles and can move forward in life with confidence and enthusiasm.
The Concealed Aim of Desire
From the very beginning, humans cannot help but be captivated with the world before them. Caught up in wonder, amazement, and profound curiosity, a child plays, explores, tastes, touches, and conceives all kinds of means of gathering more information about his or her surroundings. Children's needs are very simple. They do not worry, for they are confident that their parents will provide. The thought of luxury and any kind of decadent enjoyment does not yet occur. If decadence is introduced from some adult source, children lack the capacity (or are too innocent) to fully understand or appreciate the suggestion. Children (insofar as they are typically oblivious to harsh realities) are, for the most part, content within themselves. Absorbed in self-derived bliss, their worldview is one of boundless fascination. With an unprejudiced ear, children feverishly listen to both true and fantastical stories. They imagine fiction to be real and even make a sort of fiction out of reality. In play, every child eagerly acts out scenarios and imposes reality onto things and into places where, to an adult, no life may exist. With robust enthusiasm, children happily seek to know more, incessantly ask questions, and always with an abundance of energy anxiously look to extend the reach of their experiences.
A deep, compelling need for exploring the world does not end with childhood, any more than learning ends with graduation from school. Ancient man looked to the horizon, and, emboldened by a determination to discover the territories that lay hidden just beyond what they could see, he set out to sail across treacherous seas. As they gazed into the heavens, early astronomers marveled and wondered what to make of the sky's mysteries. Puzzled with the world's labyrinthine nature and stunned by its many paradoxes, man has always determinedly ached after knowledge, needing to be sure of his own purpose and questioning if this short terrestrial existence was all there is to this life. Thus, man resolved to seek out explanations for the deepest of unknowns and supposed unknowables. Religions and their theogonic formations were developed out of such inner longings for higher understanding. Great spiritual teachers, by all initial appearances looking as if they were contesting the pantheons and assertions of the ancient polytheists, proclaimed that the world is a product of one God. They encouraged compassion and the love of fellow man and left an indelible impression on people's hearts and minds. However, these noble dealings with matters of spirit did not excuse involvement in more common material concerns, for the realities of practical life also clamored for their share of attention. This constant struggle with the world's day-today perplexities, coupled with the continued pressures for greater understanding, yielded places of higher learning. Together with the mounting challenges of maintaining social integrity, such struggles helped shape new legal and economic systems. Mankind, though, remains generally unsatisfied. People still search—as they always have—for more thorough explanations. By force of will, man has developed mathematics and science (and with them, more capable instruments) to look further and deeper into the cosmos. Man has used the same principles to extend his observations in the opposite direction, by penetrating into the very fabric of matter itself. In carrying out meticulous and carefully calculated processes, man has unveiled astounding truths, gained all kinds of power, and debunked hosts of long-standing myths. The quest continues to this day, and by all visible appearance, this quest will march hand in hand with time toward eternity.
Indeed, the vast and wide physical world provokes boundless fascination and offers endless possibilities for exploration, but no more limited is the equally vast inner world, the world of individual psychology: the objective infinity is mirrored by an equally infinite subjective reality. We like to casually suppose that some of man's first attempts at explaining consciousness were linked to the primitive religions, that the gods somehow inspired it all, and that each principle or potential type of behavior was linked to, influenced by, or controlled by a specific god or godly power. As material science has made its strides and gains, man now has the inclination to think consciousness is a product of or derived somehow from matter. Observing our very own mental fluctuations, however, we see that the realm of the mind is one that is much more plastic and unpredictable than the apparently much more stable observable physical world. How could something so relatively unstable and even, at times, chaotic come from something so orderly and machine-like as Nature? Furthermore, within this rambling tumult of thinking, we persist in recognizing an individual identity, like a thread holding together as it were beads of thought that we wear as a sort of ego-necklace. Such a peculiar occurrence of stability amidst complete instability naturally begs a sufficient explanation. Conclusions are formed and the argument is made: consciousness must be a product of the soul, an entity projected by God and thrust into the material vehicle we call a body, also, though separately, created by God. Recent discoveries in quantum mechanics, on the other hand, clearly suggest a sort of chaotic instability underlying the formation of atoms. Hence, there might be reason to suspect that there indeed is an observable, principled connection between order and disorder. If observable Nature appears stable, and if underneath this guise of constancy there persists an unrelenting brew of chaos, any doubt that a cohabitation of order and disorder is at all possible should be eradicated. Perhaps God is no longer needed to explain away the inconsistency between body and soul. Clearly, there is now good reason to support a possible linkage—rooted in randomness—between matter and consciousness. And since science has rid man of many irrational superstitions in the past, it is only a matter of time before science will triumph here, as well. The opposing argument readily points out that quantum mechanics still does not explain why the dualistic phenomenon of order and stability should surface as a possibility. There is nothing yet to contradict the prospect that individuality could be held stable by God against a backdrop of unstable thought, just as God holds matter in order within a sea of subatomic randomness. It can further be suggested that if God supports order, God could just as well create suitable conditions supporting an emergence of disorder.
Stock markets, which we like to think are run by intelligent and stable human beings, have been (by some theorists) determined to be, for all practical purposes, unpredictable. There are mathematical models in place that investors use to protect against risk and volatility in the markets, but none offer a perfect predictability based on current stock prices, fiscal health, and company performance forecasts. Many are, in effect, based on and devised according to much well-established evidence of the market's generally random nature and behavior. If we, given our intelligence, can collectively generate randomness within a certain ordered and closed structure like the stock market, there is no reason not to suppose that a higher intelligence (be it termed God or designated by some other moniker) cannot be capable of expressing through its intelligence an observable randomness that, for all we know, might be designed to fool us. Of course, stock market models have successfully dispensed with the human factor altogether, and that suggests that God may be inconsequential in the affairs of the world. Proponents of God, on the other hand, may point out that, just as it took humans to create a stock market, it takes God to create a world (even if He doesn't seem to have been involved with it since its formation). The prompt rebuttal goes on to suggest the God-believer continually uses God as a convenient placeholder for anything currently unknown and that there must be an as yet unveiled material or energetic explanation for such things. This idea is then countered by suggesting that the limited mind of man cannot know what is contained in the mind of God. Hence, material explanations will be always insufficient, and man must resign himself to believing in Him. The unbeliever suggests that such an assertion is an equally valid reason for not believing in God. If God and His ways cannot be known in accordance with the ways we know everything else, He cannot, and maybe even should not, be believed in; we should only rest our faith on things that can be tested and incontrovertibly proven. Without this much-needed finality of proof, such arguing is disposed to go on endlessly.
Some may be inclined to think we were created by God or by some phantom supermaterial force and energy. Others believe that all Creation is a propitious coincidence, an inscrutable spasm with no indicating origin, a miraculous formation of absolutely nothing. Whatever humans may believe, the compiled data of material science has given cosmologists enough to formulate an opinion. Spontaneously and inexplicably, the initial conditions were set through a primal mega explosion. From this riotous maelstrom is unleashed an alphabet soup: somehow within the inchoate plasma that was early matter and amidst all the post-detonation havoc, there was achieved not only an impregnation of potential powering an ideational matrix of evolutionary possibility, but also the emergence of an unwitting arbiter for guiding this primordial flux according to a set of laws that permitted material formations to become, mutate, and react (however dumb and uncoordinated those reactions might have been) to the various shocks and collisions of the early universe. Eventually, these mutations became ever more subtle, and life emerged from matter. From this life, out of necessity and after great difficulty, from the continued shocks and struggles, animal consciousness and, finally, human consciousness emerged. Many of us think that all this came on account of nothing. Certainly, we may conclude that we are some eccentric creation of nothing—an accident or a lucky roll of the dice. Maybe this all is some deviant or uncommon course proceeding from a kind of nothing. Now, however, if not just for the very reason that we can entertain these notions, we can all readily agree that we are indeed something, and that something, for some reason, craves and needs to be satisfied.
Lofty philosophical musings, as they are often thought to be removed and distant, are easily dismissed as being practically inconsequential; they in no way alter the palpable actuality and immediate urgency of our physical, mental, and emotional needs. Our needs demand fulfillment. But, if we indeed all come from nothing, then all our fickle desires, too, must be dismissed as being nothing: our highest moral imperative should be the strictest practice of self-denial. The typical person will instinctively shudder at such a proposition. Perhaps he might even call it preposterous. Still, it is probably more preposterous that a scientist (who of course advocates for severe adherence to the scientific method) bent on disproving God and supporting a theory of nothingness as the foundation of our present human condition will shrink from putting the nothing theory to the ultimate test. These are the circumstances we now know and the facts as we perceive them, the atheist goes on to say, so, all mystery aside, we best take advantage of them while we are here and still have the chance. Thus, we submissively allow the impressions of our material situation to oppress us, and we unwittingly develop a deep, material prejudice. If we conclude that man (and hence his awareness) must be a product of material forces, and as we accept our material surroundings to be our natural and proper domain, it can only follow that we should expect all of our perpetual longings to be resolved via material means. As we labor to satisfy our physical needs, we find that we do not always get what we wish or what we think we deserve; as we try to indulge our mental and emotional cravings, we discover that they are often irreconcilably conflicted; as we pursue a general sense of satisfaction, we find a tangled array of bumpy roads that lead us to several places, but never to that one place that we vaguely recognize is our rightful destination. The life of material desire and its consummation in pleasure has its antipode in the form of suffering and strife.
All our lacking, whether it is physical, emotional, or mental, carries with it a great many practical difficulties. For all things there is a struggle and a great need for exertion, and with this struggle there is no guarantee that we will find an acceptable result. The formation of planets was a very messy affair and full of cataclysmic collisions; the raw materials themselves needed to have been ejected—the heavier elements even needing to have been synthesized—by the force of supernova explosions. There is no reason to suppose our struggles should be any different; as we well know, they often are extremely messy and tediously complicated. Right out of the gate we suffer: the mother must endure an excruciatingly painful process so that a baby can welcome the world not with joy, but with tears. Just as every galactic dust cloud that eventually coalesces into a planet or system of planets may not yield an earth harboring life as we know it, not every child will have the opportunity to grow into a fully mature, fully functioning, and happy adult. All kinds of disturbances and diseases loom—everything from depression to schizophrenia, the common cold to bacterial meningitis, diabetes to cryptogenic cirrhosis of the liver—and seem to exist for the sole purpose of making life miserable. These diseases appear to be barbarically ruthless and indiscriminate. So often they take lives tragically and prematurely: a mother may be tenderly nurturing her offspring today, only to discover her child discolored by the mark of terminal illness tomorrow. Such instances, as they may occur in our own lives, prompt an inner voice to speak up and cry foul. The mother, at least from what we may have observed, did care for her baby during pregnancy. What could she possibly have done to deserve such a nightmarish punishment? The baby, for that matter, didn't even get an opportunity to commit any mistakes, so it seems impossible to question whether the baby's situation is just and deserving. Life begins to look like a puzzle where none of the pieces are cut properly and refuse in any meaningful way to fit together. Even if somehow those pieces did fit, the realized picture would still be grotesque and not exactly heartwarming. Injustice appears everywhere in our world. Some people toil without rest never to attain what others receive with either blind luck or seemingly little effort. A car may hit and cripple a good person, whereas a bad person, via some sly and unscrupulous political maneuvering, may find a way to earn a promotion at work. One baby happens to be born into a rich family and has all the benefits and privileges of loving parents and unlimited resources; another baby happens to be born into abject poverty, lives under the most abhorrent of unsanitary conditions, and has drug-addict parents to boot. There cannot be a just God, if there is one in the first place, because the world does not look to include fairness as a variable in its equation.
Virtue seems to be rewarded only at the whim of some capricious cosmic force, but even then, the lack of virtue appears to attract equal, if not sometimes greater, reward. Our experiences often show that those most without virtue and those most eager to step over others earn the largest profit in this world. But, what is the true value of that supposed payout? Even if we acquire what we materially seek and secure the means to satisfy recurrent cravings, satiety, boredom, and a deeper restlessness might soon set in. Although there are many people blessed with a bounty of material success, so many of them can't seem to ever pull the corners of their mouths up toward their ears. It is truly a peculiar aspect of the human condition that in life we should dwell on negative experiences and not fully appreciate the positive ones, and that having even more than we need or could ever require, we should remain unhappy and restless. Elsewhere, we all know that the specifics of those wants and needs that we individually amass according to our personalities and social situations can differ greatly. Few things are this obvious; we do not need an eminent psychologist to help us understand that what might make one person happy, might make another person miserable. Our efforts at quenching desires will often be thwarted. Some of us will harbor criminal intentions and seek to profit off of unassuming victims. Anger, greed, and lust—perversions that run contrary to the desired order of society—thus take a central role in the social dynamic. With each person blindly seeking his own individual satisfaction (those satisfactions sometimes requiring taking unfair advantage of others), conflicts are inevitable. Ideologies clash. Resources scatter and are unfairly distributed. Frustration builds. Hatred develops. Homicidal mayhem ensues.
Excerpted from BIRTH and REBIRTH by John Stanley Mackow. Copyright © 2013 John Stanley Mackow. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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