This is a book written for the 1.1 billion human beings who are searching for something secular, agnostic or nonreligious
"In the woman's dream, the spirit had come to her and had given her a message that she could not ignore. The black-chicken spirit had told her to found a religion, one based upon in individual and communal worship, one that included the building or your own church where only you could go."
This is a book of true first-hand stories and insights that address religious beliefs - where they come from and where they might be going. It confronts the difficulties between age-old human beliefs and modern scientific discoveries, discussing the impacts and discontinuities that result. Violence, permission, sex, the afterlife are all here, but not in the usual way.
Who will actually be on the Starship Enterprise? How many sentient beings are there in the universe? What is a soul, really? What does "holy" actually mean? These are a few of the issues that are dealt with through the stories. Of course the biggy, and indicated by the title of the book, is exactly where do we and our religions fit in a universe of billion trillion stars, and an unimaginable number life-sustaining planets?
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201 BILLION GALAXIESAnd Other Religious Discoveries
By Nicholas Campbell Corff
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Nicholas Campbell Corff
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTale of the Black Chicken
A number of years ago, quite a number now, I was on a tiny ship in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean on my way to Tobi Island, where they desperately wanted a building that would act as a typhoon shelter as well as a dispensary, school, church, meeting hall, etc. As a Peace Corps Architect, I had volunteered to design this building, which was to be the only structure on the island not constructed with tree trunks and palm fronds. However, before I was to finally arrive at Tobi, the ship had to make several stops along the way (Sonsorol, Merir, and Pulu Anna Islands), not an unattractive prospect when you know that these are some of the most remote islands in the world.
The little field trip ship, about a hundred feet long, might make it out here once every six to nine months and, the islands being nothing more than the very tip ends of high underwater mountains, there are neither places for ships to dock nor to anchor. The shoreline of these dots of land, a mile or so across, wear a halo or, to be more precise for a ship's navigator, a crown of coral thorns that can rip and tear any ship to shreds in unfavorable seas.
So, as we approached our second stop, the frond-topped speck named Merir Island, the captain turned the nose of the ship into the heavy current that flows through this part of the Pacific and tried to hover as close as possible to the shore without putting us in danger. A small whaleboat was being put over the side when the Medical Officer asked if I'd like to go with him to the island. I noticed that no one else seemed to be volunteering, but what the heck, this was adventure at its rawest. I was in heaven.
Merir Island had been visited some nine months earlier, the Medical Officer told me as the crewman at the Evinrude outboard motor turned us directly toward the white surge line where the big Pacific rollers encounter the reef. I assumed the crewman knew what he was doing and tried not to think about what would happen to us if we swamped; instead I turned my attention to the Medical Officer who was saying that there had been only five people, three women and two men, on the island when it was last visited. Sure enough, as if on signal, five shapes emerged from the dark backdrop of the palm forest.
The boatman applied power to the engine and took us straight into the grip of a large swell as it impacted the reef, but there was no crunch of splintering wood: we slipped as neat as a pin into a narrow opening, the man at the tiller showing his skill by avoiding the numerous coral heads scattered about like pinball obstacles. I was wholly distracted by the passage through the coral barrier, but now, as the engine was cut back to chug the hundred yards or so to the sand beach where the islanders waited, I noticed something behind them. It was a movement from the dark tree line, a kind of blackness that crept up from the trees into the white blueness of the sky.
At first I dismissed it as an optical illusion having something to do with the intensity of light contrasting with the almost black shadows within the dense growth on the island. But I was wrong. The darkness rose up out of the trees and moved toward us like a malevolent cloud that had waited for our coming. The reef lost its terror as I watched this thing, for thing it seemed, coming on quickly and inexorably.
There was no time to understand or react. The blackness engulfed us. The drone of the billions upon billions of mosquitoes drowned out any words we might have said, besides, they now filled all space around us, ears, eyes, mouth, neck, shirtsleeves, legs. It was one of the most horrible moments I have ever experienced in my life.
The man at the tiller seemed unperturbed and winked to the Medical Officer as I frantically tried to swat the hoard away from my face. The bow of the boat crunched into the gritty sand and the Medical Officer and I jumped out to help pull it up onto the beach. The five residents hung back as if shy of our coming, but the Medical Officer quickly walked up the beach to them, having told me not to go far as we wouldn't be here but a short time. I can assure you, I was ready to leave right then, immediately.
It didn't take long for the Medical Officer to learn that all five residents had decided to leave the island. In the meantime I was frantically running up and down the beach trying to shake off the dark cloud that hovered round me like some fiendish full-body wrap. I suppose it was good exercise after having been aboard the small ship for days, and it did take me by several curious structures built at the line where the beach ended and the trees began. Actually I couldn't help but see these. They shown pure white against the dark shade of the trees, standing at a distance of several hundred feet from each other and were so incongruous in this setting as to seem fantastic and even wondrous. They had steep pitched roofs painted green with little white steeples tacked onto the facing end—just like miniature New England churches, but of a size one might construct for a child's playhouse.
I didn't wait around to examine them in greater detail when I heard the whistle of the Medical Officer. I must have dashed back to the whaleboat in five seconds, forgetting about these curious structures until we were back out to sea cruising toward the next island, and, thank heavens, well clear of that awful dark cloud.
I was sitting on the afterdeck of the ship while the great red globe of a sun sank into the molten rollers of the sea to our starboard as we steamed south, our complement of islanders, a Peace Corps volunteer, and the Medical Officer quiet, in awe of the moment. We watched the sky as it calmed into the green line of dusk, and then listened to the story of the Merir Islanders we had rescued.
I thought of it as a rescue: I'm not sure they did. To them the story did not concern mosquitoes at all, but something far more profound. They had had a vision. More precisely, one of the women, an impressive presence among us there on the afterdeck, had had a vision, and it was this vision that had prompted them to leave their island, they insisted, not the loneliness or the mosquitoes or anything else.
The vision, as best as I could make out with my limited repertoire of Peace Corps taught Palauan, and with the further complication that the Merir people spoke partly in Palauan mixed in with their own separate language, was that the woman had been visited by the black chicken. "The black chicken?" I whispered to the Medical Officer, not sure I had heard right. He raised his eyebrows in the Palauan gesture of assent and motioned that I should remain quiet and listen. There was a solemn and respectful silence in this usually boisterous and musical gathering. I have since learned that in many places around the globe the black chicken is considered a very potent spirit, and one to take most seriously if one is wise.
In the woman's dream, the spirit had come to her and had given her a message that she could not ignore. The black-chicken spirit had told her to found a religion, one based upon individual and communal worship, one that included the building of your own church where only you could go. The buildings I had seen on the beach were the result of her vision, it seemed, and although I had only seen three of them, the other two must have been elsewhere on the island since all five Merir islanders seemed to accept her vision.
The Merir people would not give us any further details of their new religion, only that the black-chicken spirit had returned recently and had said for them to get on the field trip ship and to go to other islands and convert the people there. So this little band of five was on their way, in our small ship, floating on our own great salt lake, to convert the world to a new if somewhat bizarre religion. Without question they were filled with what can only be described as a fervent faith. I would not be wholly surprised if someday there were millions of tiny New England type churches scattered about the globe.
Not everyone has the chance to see the beginning of a new faith—like so much in life it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time, I suppose. As to understanding how the black-chicken religion fits into the pantheon of religions, I admit to being a rank amateur in the professional field of vision interpretation and placement. I am certainly a lightweight when it comes to the enormously complex organizational structures and ritual that have grown up around our established religions. Still, the drive to understand and to derive some meaning out of my short human life exists—and this is the coin of the realm for most religions.
I deeply respect what that stalwart band of Merir Islanders experienced, believed, and were attempting, and I cannot help but be impressed to this day by the sheer audacity of it: A handful of people on a tortured island in a remote corner of the vast Pacific Ocean, having little knowledge of the outside world but setting out to convert it to a faith based on a dream of a talking chicken. Even if it sounds like something Groucho Marx might have thought up the whole thing seemed oddly familiar.
Then it occurred to me: Isn't Merir Island in its isolation a little like some desert oasis? Is isolation a common trait in founding beliefs that sometimes turn into accepted norms? As I thought about this, another related thought popped of its own will into my mind—the earth, itself, is an isolated island floating about in a space so vast that we'll probably never encounter another sentient species, even if there are billions upon billions of them scattered across the tens of billions of galaxies in the universe. As a species we exist in an isolation that is far more absolute than that of the Merir five, and perhaps this very isolation makes us think in bizarre ways.
The simple fact is, even if we think and act as if our planet is at the apex of existence, it isn't. The Merir Islanders ventured forth to test their vision against the world just as had the Apostles, Mohammad and his bands, Prince Siddhartha and his followers, and countless others. This is an often told tale that has probably recurred so many times over the existence of humankind that we'd be staggered if we knew the number. But now, something different has happened to us—something that should shatter our complacence and alter our continuing search for the meaning of life and death. Through the use of our "God-given?" minds we have developed the ability to look out and see the vastness and complexity of the universe that surrounds us. We have asked the question, Are we alone? Now we know enough to answer: "It is time to assume that we are not."
Chapter TwoThe Cosmos
If we take a survey of our own world, or rather of this of which the Creator has given us the use as our portion in the immense system of creation, we find every part of it—the earth, the waters, and the air that surrounds it—filled and, as it were, crowded with life, down from the largest animals that we know of to the smallest insects the naked eye can behold, and from thence to others still smaller and totally invisible without the assistance of the microscope. Every tree, every plant, every leaf, serves not only as a habitation but as a world to some numerous race, till animal existence becomes so exceedingly refined that the effluvia of a blade of grass would be food for thousands.
Since, then, no part of our earth is left unoccupied, why is it to be supposed that the immensity of space is a naked void lying in eternal waste? There is room for millions of worlds as large or larger than ours, and each of them millions of miles apart from each other.
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794
Suppose, then, paine is right, and the cosmos is as full of life as is the earth. This possibility was discussed way back at the end of the 1700s, and science, rather than disproving this idea, continues to gather up data that would seem to support it. If God, or some other process, made the cosmos, and the cosmos made a million or a hundred million or even a hundred billion aware species, including humankind: What would this mean? What would it do to our sense of self?
To start with, we humans want to be special. We want someone to tell us that we are unique in the scheme of things, whether it's the city we live in or the ethnic group we come from or the religion we accept. Even if we claim no religious belief, that, itself, becomes a point of pride. So, we being on the self-centered side, would naturally want the God of the universe to have chosen us first and foremost.
Our scientists now know that the possibility that there are other planets in other solar systems that can and probably do support life is as close to a mathematical certainty as we humans can get in this universe of around two hundred billion galaxies. So, does this make a difference in our thinking and how we feel?
Well, even assuming there is only one sentient species (us) in our own Milky Way Galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars, and about the same (say one) in each of the other galaxies, that would be more than a hundred billion sentient species. If we think we have problems with differences of religion now just wait until we bump up against some of these other beings.
Someone suggested to me years ago that all religions contain a portion of the truth. This is a very comforting thought because it says that you can't go wrong. No matter what religion you choose, you know that you have some of the truth—whatever it might be. You also could possibly surmise that those who choose none of the above (the nonreligious) have none of the truth.
Is truth scattered around, then, and we have to try to choose who has the most of it? It is truth that is at the heart of the matter, and it is truth that is the Holy Grail of spiritual searching. Does it exist and can we find it here on earth? Why couldn't religious truth be confined to us human beings in our own little solar system; after all, God can do anything, can't he/she/it? Let those guys on Alpha Centauri worship a slime mold for all we care.
We all know that there have been false religions, such as the Cargo Cult of New Guinea, where the truth is quite different from what is believed. This cult, or more properly a kind of minor religion, developed over the course of the Second World War as isolated Papuan people observed shiny silver Allied planes fly overhead. A belief system that explained these planes as something like angels bearing gifts from God led a group of these people to labor at elaborate constructions, including the clearing of tops of hills for runways and building welcoming structures modeled after control towers to try and lure these messengers from God to land and deliver the gifts to them. In other words, they projected their existing base of knowledge to encapsulate this new phenomena (the planes) into an explanation that fit their culture.
Some would say that for all we know, all religions practiced by humans could be cargo cults because we have no sure way of knowing what truth is when it comes to God or our spiritual selves. How do we determine if a dream visit from a black chicken is generated by a true spirit or by a troubled subconscious?
Perhaps the closest thing we have to religion that is not necessarily religious is drama, or, better still, the movies. The Starship Enterprise goes where no man (or woman) has gone before. It does this by exceeding the speed of light through some yet-to-be-invented drive that gives it the ability to search out distant planets and new life forms that provide ever more challenging work for animators and costumers.
After finishing graduate school in the 1970s, I had moved to Seattle, but still maintained friends in California. One of these was a girlfriend who had gone south from the Bay area (instead of north like me) to settle in Tinsel Town. So, as with most long distance relationships, we talked on the phone and exchanged occasional visits as we each became more and more absorbed into our separate and distant lives.
One evening she called to say that she would be coming up the following weekend, but would like to include a little business with the pleasure. She was now employed as a lawyer for one of the Hollywood law firms, and told me her firm had been working on a case that involved a new movie that was just being released, and Seattle would have one of the first screenings. It was important that she see the film, she said, but didn't go into more detail.
She arrived, and that evening, after a very pleasant afternoon reunion, we set off for the movie. In the car on the way she explained that this film had been a source of considerable controversy within her law firm, and that she had been an interested observer since she was a new junior attorney at the firm and didn't know that much about the movie industry.
The law firm, it seemed, had been approached by a man who wanted to purchase the rights to produce and market the knickknacks that might result from the film, such as dolls and T-shirts and plastic things. The general consensus among the juniors over morning coffee and donuts, she told me, was that this was an amazingly silly idea that would prove to be a very bad investment. The involved senior lawyers had strongly advised the client against "wasting his money," and had tried their best to dissuade him from completing the deal, even when he remained insistent. The firm did in the end draw up the contracts. She felt sympathetic toward the stubborn client and hoped he would be able to at least get his money back out of the deal.
Excerpted from 201 BILLION GALAXIES by Nicholas Campbell Corff Copyright © 2012 by Nicholas Campbell Corff. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsSECTION ONE - IN THE BEGINNING....................1
1. Tale of the Black Chicken....................3
2. The Cosmos....................9
SECTION TWO - EXPLORATIONS....................21
1. Ancient Fires Burn Beneath Midnight Skies....................23
2. Where Do We Go?....................35
3. Do We See Them?....................45
4. Aunts, Cousins & Christmas....................57
5. When I Was A Child There Was Music....................63
6. The Awesome Power of Permission....................81
7. Lost In Space, Lost In Time?....................93
8. What About Sex and Abortion?....................99
9. The Devil Made Me Do It?....................115
10. Reincarnation—Time After Time....................125
11. The Soul of Rover?....................131
12. Some Thoughts on the Eye of the Needle....................135
13. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly....................157
14. Humanity—What If We Do Go Extinct?....................175
15. So We All Die, What Of It?....................185
SECTION THREE - POSSIBILITIES....................199
1. Conservation of Consciousness....................201
2. The Light of Time....................217
SECTION FOUR - THE ESTABLISHED RELIGIONS....................225
1. Cookbooks & Recipes....................233
2. A Tiny Look at the Formative Years....................255
3. Heretics? We Know What's Good For You!....................269
4. A Kung Fu Moment....................277
5. I Am Salman Rushdie....................303
6. Religion Or ...?....................311
SECTION FIVE - AFTERTHOUGHTS....................317
2. Implications & Answers....................325
3. Holy Versus Holi....................339
4. A Wedding in Norway....................347
Endnotes & References....................353
About the Author....................375
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent Book. Great for anyone studying IB Theory of Knowledge or Ethics. Nice analysis of human behavior whether connected with a religious belief or an assumption of basic human good.