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Saturday, October 24, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Jan 4, 2010 7:22 AM PST

This chapter is devoted to my brother Mike. May God grant his soul peace, if God and the soul exist.

I have always thought like a scientist, so much so that Mike often called me “Mr. Spock” when he was alive. My Catholic father was a true compassionate conservative and saw no contradiction in this nor in his belief in the inerrancy of the teachings of the church, despite the living contradiction of his father, a devout and angry man who professed faith in the same God. My mother was also a Catholic at one time. She was a deeply unhappy and distrustful liberal, as compassionate as my father but never really believing in the essential goodness of Man. She seemed to reject faith in God after being excommunicated for divorcing the abusive father of my four oldest siblings. She did not recognize the conflict between her judgmental view of humans and her love for humanity. 

As Spock might have, I found my father’s lack of faith in America to better itself through addressing obvious social ills puzzling given his positive view of human nature, but my mother’s thinking seemed outright bizarre. She seemed to live by a slim thread of hope that she was wrong and Mankind could save itself, but was unwilling to admit to herself that her lack of faith in Man was the source of her unhappiness. It was as if she had chosen faith in nihilism. I love both of my parents deeply and wanted to be understood by them as I tried to understand them. I found it deeply troubling that the mother, whose social beliefs made more sense to me, was much more likely reject my ideas when we disagreed than my father, with whom I had many disagreements.

Despite our differences in political philosophy my father always accepted me for who I was, though at times my questioning attitude would frustrate him. I refused to accept that things were the way he saw them when the best answer he could give to my questions was “because that’s the way they are!” I will never forget the time he tried to convince me to cut my hair. When I asked why, he gave up trying to convince me after a few attempts, telling me in exasperation “Some things you just figure out and go on. You don’t think about how to tie your shoelaces every day, do you?”

I found it highly amusing that my father would compare a mundane, mechanical task to the act of questioning the nature of the world around me, or determining who I wanted to be and having my own style. Years later, I read Baba Ram Das’ Be Here Now and was struck by his suggestion that we learn to be present in the moment by choosing each day doing something ordinary in a new way. To my surprise and delight, he used the example of varying how we tie our shoes.

As a scientist, I had difficulty getting my mind around the concept of faith. Like many agnostics and most atheists, I made the mistake of equating faith with religion, or at least someone else's concept of "God." Until I was ten years old I attended Catholic Mass regularly, soaking up the moral precepts by which I live my life. The words and meaning of ideas reputed to Jesus were explained to me by thoughtful and deeply compassionate priests. Though I found the repetitious ceremony boring, I always sat up straight for the sermon, from which I invariably took valuable lessons.

I wanted to believe in God but could not convince myself that if it existed, Jesus was It in the flesh. I thought that taking Catholic confirmation training might help me resolve my doubts, so at my father’s urging I went. You may imagine my shock and disappointment when I learned that Catholics have a rigid dogma, a whole slew of notions of what they think the Bible means. The teacher was not interested in answering challenging questions. The whole point seemed to be indoctrination. After hearing one questionable conclusion about the meaning of the Bible after another that were not open for discussion, I quit listening. I would sit and read Bible story comic books, not wanting to disappoint my father by quitting the class. However, by the time I finished the last story I did just that, walking out on the Catholic church forever.

For the next twenty years, I struggled to define myself and suffered the torture of depression time and again, though I rarely showed it. I learned to wear a mask of lightheartedness and indulged in every hedonistic pursuit while afraid to pursue the one thing that would have made me truly happy: the love of a woman. I found myself paralyzed by fear of rejection should I take the leap of faith and let myself fall in love. Even when a woman was obviously attracted to me, I did not allow myself to fall into the trap of loving her in return. I experienced my parent’s deep compassion for people in general, but the thought of being disappointed by rejection of who I am was overwhelming to me. So for most of my young adulthood, I worshiped hundreds of women from a distance, while keeping my love for them locked inside.

My wariness led me to study people closely, and my pain led me to want to help those I saw suffering around me. Lacking faith in God, I saw no other inherent purpose in life. I continued to indulge in my guilty self-destructive pleasures until finally, out of desperation I married a woman who I later realized reminded me strikingly of my mother, despite important differences in some aspects of her beliefs. After a few years of happiness, I found myself in a different trap, married to a woman who would not discuss our differences and with whom I could not find the intimacy I so craved.

We split up after ten years, to the relief of both of us. I was consoled by the fact that she had brought a wonderful daughter into my life, and it was the healing of the three of us that enabled me to love and find intimacy for the first time. My daughter finally gave me faith that I could trust a woman’s love and her faith in God led me to question the lack of that faith in my own life. As our relationship deepened and she resolved the conflicts that she had with her mother, all of us grew closer than we had ever been during the marriage.

My brilliant daughter grew up questioning everything, but relatively early on realized that if the existence of God is unknowable, it makes little sense to choose to reject the possibility. Having accepted the possibility, she had observed evidence for its existence all her life, giving her a faith that sustained her through a very tumultuous childhood. At the age of fifty, I was introduced by her to a church that had no dogma. I am a little embarrassed to say that I had not known that such a thing existed. Thanks to her, I finally found a gathering place for people who still asked the questions that I had asked as a child.

As a psychiatrist, I always talked to my patients about their spiritual beliefs. Tapping into these core beliefs is a key way to examine the individual’s thinking and help them to overcome self-imposed obstacles. I had made a habit of exploring the implications of their belief systems as a means of helping them discover that when they adopt ideas that contradict those that form the core of their moral being, they inevitably suffer.

It took me years to recognize that holding on to contradictory ideas was the source of my own suffering. I have a core conviction that humans are essentially good. That is necessary for us to rule ourselves, as is our inalienable right. I assumed that this meant we would naturally make the choices necessary to save human civilization if it were threatened. I held on to this notion despite the evidence of the continued acceptance of war long after any rational argument could be made in its favor.

When the corporatocracy declared its intention of world domination during the Cheney regime, I was awakened from my pleasant dream that Mankind would be its own savior.
Like millions of others, I watched in horror as the vast majority of Americans accepted the lie that we must be willing to wage war to defend our "freedom." Expecting to see mass protests, I instead saw those who understood what was happening either give up in despair or choose to fight on, but without hope.

Not only was the prospect of democracy in the world at stake, but time was running out to deal with the twin threats of global climate devastation and overpopulation. I understood how the initial shock of 9/11 had led to a paralysis of will and even thought, but as Americans remained largely blind to their peril, I began to question my most basic beliefs. In the end, the contrast between what I thought true the lies the mass of those around me seemed to believe led me to reconsider my fundamental beliefs about reality itself. I could not see how anything short of a "miracle" could save us from ourselves.

 my implicit rejection of the possibility that there was an ordering force in the Universe more powerful than the destructive forces of selfishness that 

I do not want to bore the reader with how my exploration of the faith of others led me to my own. Suffice it to see that I became an avid seeker of possible revealed wisdom through these experiences. I believe that I have found it in all the great religions. The following is the story that I tell myself that now orders my view of life. As I learn more, I hope that my beliefs continue to evolve, for the absence of change is death. That is what we seek to avoid when we ponder the possibility of an immortal soul.

In the beginning, there was void.

The void was not still, for quantum fluctuation is woven into the fabric of the Universe. It is the source of the infinite possibilities of reality.

Gradually, consciousness arose and it was Good, by definition.

As Good (or God) became aware of itself, it realized that due to quantum fluctuations its experience varied between two alternating states, calm and unease. In human terms, we might call this "passive acceptance" and "boredom."

As there existed no force outside of itself to govern it, God was all-powerful. It created the reality in which it existed merely by imagining it. In accordance to its eternal nature, it chose calm.

In time, God experienced the unease that humans would call boredom. It saw that this was an inseparable property of its static existence. This led to the insight that choices required duality. It saw that unease was good and began to explore the infinite possibilities of reality. 

When God dreamed the Universe, duality was the ordering force that lent stability to the reality it created in Its mind. A stable reality must be logically coherent if it is to exist at all, of course. Since deductive logic requires that all choices be reduced to binary options and inductive logic does not exist in a Universe that is the product of pure will, the necessity for all things to exist along a spectrum of opposing possibilities was necessary to create a stable Universe.

Pondering how it might create a more interesting Universe, where the existence of change would inevitably lead to a pleasing state of continuous evolution, God created the Angels. He imbued in them a variety of attributes that mirrored the infinite possibilities of human nature and of God itself. The first duality was the division of male and female, subtle variations in the same divine attributes in different proportions, leading to a pleasing contrast in the two types of Avatars.

Though they had free will to choose among all the possible realities, having been pure creations of the mind of God they were imbued with awareness of its presence. The Angels naturally chose to act in accordance with the will of Good, which was to live in harmony. It did not occur to them to imagine another reality. Being free to create their own world, it was obvious to them that the only path to a state of peace and contentment was to act for the good of all.

Realizing this, God again felt unease. The absence of change in the Universe It had created produced a feeling akin to what humans would come to know as the knowledge of their mortality. God realized that the absence of change would mean the end of the ever-evolving Universe that It had created.

In the eons since God had become self-aware, it had observed that quantum fluctuations occasionally led to bubbles that winked into existence, creating a disturbance in the fabric of reality. It noticed that in some instances, the bubbles burst almost instantaneously, as the duality of existence split into opposing forces that mutually annihilated one another. In other instances, the bubbles of potential reality happened to have the property of inhomogeneity, allowing matter and antimatter to separate into a metastable “Universe.” These “Universes” in some instances expanded until they became stable and unchanging, while in other instances were such that they expanded, then contracted until the constituent elements came together with such force that they produced what we refer to as fusion, and the resultant release of energy started the process anew with a Big Bang.

It occurred to God that if it imagined a Universe that neither died a heat death nor collapsed upon itself, it could imagine that a type of being could exist that would evolve forever, thus producing a state of ever-changing reality that it found pleasing to contemplate. So God created Mankind, and saw that it was Good. 

God offered the Angels the chance to give up their immortality in exchange for the promise of an eternal life in which they would be able to choose ever-changing experiences instead of an existence essentially devoid of free will. As the Angels were imbued with perfect logic and awareness of the beneficence of Good, they readily agreed.

God then populated the Earth and other planets where the existence of life was possible given the constraints of the reality it had created. It manipulated probability so that on these worlds, anti-entropic evolution occurred and the development of self-awareness was inevitable. To assure the existence of free will, God kept from his creations the direct knowledge of its existence.

Instead, it gave them the power to perceive the reality of its existence by direct communication in dream states which can be accessed consciously by acts of choice. As a fail-safe, God could also communicate with unconscious humans by altering the probabilities of specific connections formed between dendrites that form the physical manifestation of memory as we sleep. This is how humans form connections between remote memory and recent experiences of the day into one seemingly seamless representation of experience. By carefully constructing these connections through an undetectable manipulation of probability at the subatomic level, God could leave clues that would penetrate the subconscious of the dreamer. This enabled the receptive mind to recognize highly improbable events as miracles and as clues to the existence and nature of Good.

At the dawn of humanity, all men and women were receptive to these portents of another world. In their ignorance, they tried to explain their dreams in mythological terms, drawing analogies to the natural world and what they saw as human nature. In the process, Mankind created God in its own image. As males had been imbued with the properties of physical strength and were more prone to the aggression provoked by testosterone poisoning and lust, it was almost certain that they were the first to sin. It was not the seeking of knowledge but violence and murder that was the original sin. Nonetheless, since the dawn of humans with the evolution of oversized brains, women have borne the lion’s share of suffering because these large skulls magnified the pain of childbirth. This is a pain mothers willingly bear for the gift of love.

From the pain of childbirth to the pain of watching the men they love hurt each other and the ones they purport to love, women bear the heavier burden of the pain from the evil that men do. Having given life or even knowing that they have the potential to do so, they are much more prone to value it. Knowing that they are regarded as objects of sexual pleasure by unreflective and often more powerful men who would choose to subjugate them, the powerlessness most of us feel as individuals caught in a world gone mad is multiplied.

It is small wonder that in my experience, women who are empowered tend to be much more thoughtful than men and therefore more intelligent in their behavior. Women also tend to have a stronger sense of the interdependence of all of humanity and its environment, making them more receptive to the strengths, weaknesses and needs of others. It is in our collective efforts that true strength resides. That is why ultimately, women will save the world if it is to be saved. In the final analysis, it is only the love of women and the children they bring us that makes life meaningful for the conscious male of the human species.

The ordering force in what we call the Universe is Love. It is in constant conflict with the self-destructive force of selfishness. Freud called the opposing forces of the self Eros and Thanatos, or the life force versus the urge to self-destruction. He wrote about these in his treatise Civilization and its Discontents at another time when the threat of world fascism threatened. In his book his pessimism showed. Only if we reject the self-fulfilling prophecy that love must always be countered by an equal measure of selfishness can we create a Universe where the power of Love overwhelms the antimatter of hate, banishing it from the worlds we choose to inhabit.

Thanatos is the product of pure Id, which is the sum of our animal desires. Eros is a more subtle product of Id and Ego. It is our instinctual drives moderated by rational thought that leads to the recognition that what is good and right for the Self is always what is best for all. Religions have arisen each time that this truth was re-discovered in various parts of the world that had become isolated from the others as humans migrated from what once was the Garden of Africa, where Mankind arose.

The migration of Man was driven by competition for resources that led to conflicts among tribal societies, leading in turn to violence, hatred and undying enmity. This tendency toward tribalism has fractured humanity and made it forget its common origins. Racism arose as a justification for the inhumanity of slavery, further driving a wedge between Man and knowledge of its common origin. Every great religion has become adulterated by selfishness and tribalism, as it grew in power and numbers. Hindus, Jews, Christians and Muslims have subdivided themselves and made war in the name of their self-created Gods, each professing that their image of God is the true one. In their finite wisdom and arrogance, too many adherents of these religions have forgotten what all true religious scholars profess to believe, that the nature of God is unknowable.

There is arising in the world a drive to unify Man as awareness that our self-destructiveness is rapidly reaching its logical conclusion. The threat of human civilization collapsing at this time was so predictable that we were warned over 2,000 years ago that if we could not find a way to create a just human society, the legacy of slavery and domination we allowed to persist would destroy us. As a human society we have chosen perpetual war over sharing, fear over hope and selfishness over compassion. 

Buddhists speak of the eternal One, Hindus of the reality of Vishnu and the illusion of a panoply of what Westerners call “Gods.” All monotheistic religions believe that God is one and reflected in our entire existence. If we are all imbued by a Holy Spirit that binds us to a creator, how then can we regard ourselves as separate from one another? As a scientist, this offends my Vulcan sensibilities.

The answer seems to me to lie not in rejecting the possibility of revealed wisdom, but to look to all the great religions for the clues to the nature of a greater reality that all Deists believe is to be found somehow. If we are open to this spirit, we may find an approximation to the truth of a reality that cannot be revealed by science alone. If we are not open to seeking such knowledge, it is impossible to find the evidence that God in some form may actually exist. This is the reason that the belief that God’s existence cannot be proven becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If God on the other hand does exist, then perhaps It will help us find the clues to the nature of Its existence if we seek knowledge of that which is true from all perspectives, including those to be found in the great works of religious literature.

I have looked at the experiences of my life as a scientist does. I cannot prove that I have seen God working in my life, but I have examined the evidence of my experience and applied rigorous logic in trying to explain it coherently. If the use of Ockham’s razor has any validity, then it is clear to me that I cannot explain the miracle of my life without recourse to tentatively accepting the assumption that God exists.

The approach to “disproving” the existence of God by setting up straw man arguments based on simplistic assumptions of Its nature are easily dismissed when one considers this: If it is impossible to prove that God exists, it is illogical to assume that it does not. It is impossible to prove a negative. This is why any experimental scientist seeks not to prove the null hypothesis but to find evidence that it is so unlikely that it is most reasonable to reject it.

Thus, if the null hypothesis is that God does not exist is valid, then one should not be able to find evidence for phenomenon which would be inexplicable in any other way. If a series of events can be shown to be so vanishingly improbable as to approach impossibility in the absence of postulating what amounts to a series of miracles, then one has produced indirect evidence of the possibility that God exists. At the very least, such evidence strikes directly at the assumption that science is in the verge of explaining everything about the Universe that is worth knowing.

If one wants to have faith in the idea that we are alone in the Universe, one has to start with the knowledge that this belief is no more than an assumption and seek to disprove it. The only way to do so is to do what any good scientist does: Approach both possibilities with an open mind and conduct thought experiments in your own life. Decide for yourself whether your experience, thoughtfully considered with rigorous logic, can be explained better by postulating that God exists or that he does not. As for myself, my experience has forced me to reject the null hypothesis.

Skeptics like to ask the question "where did God come from?" The answer might surprise the conventional theist. The answer to this ancient riddle of the chicken and the egg is in my model of creation a false dichotomy. If the Universe proves to be stable and unending, then time and space will be fixed in at least the four dimensions we can more or less directly perceive. In such a Universe there is no beginning and no end. The logical conclusion is that through the evolution of this Universe, we have re-created God even as God has created us from Itself. Only when we are One will God be whole in the world of Its creation and only then will Our will be done on Earth as it is in "Heaven."

Of course, other worlds will then be possible, for what we consider the Universe appears to be just one among an infinite number of possible Universes existing side-by-side in parallel dimensions that science is only beginning to perceive. What purpose would there be in Creation if in the end there was stasis and boredom? All the world is a stage, and all men and women merely players. Each of us writes the script that determines what part we play. We can work together toward an outcome that is pleasing to us all, or we can ruin the production by indulging our egos at the expense of the whole. We can only hope that if we are in the final act of this play that we call human history, a better part awaits us on another stage.

In the words of George Harrison:

We were talking…about the space between us all
and the people…who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion.
Never glimpse the truth, then it's far too late….when they pass away.

We were talking…about the love we all could share, when we find it.
To try our best to hold it there..with our love.
With our love, we could save the world…if they only knew.

Try to realize it's all within yourself.
No one else can make you change.
And to see you're really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you.

We were talking…about the love that's gone so cold and the people, who gain the world and lose their soul.
They don't know, they can't see…are you one of them?

When you've seen beyond yourself then you may find… peace of mind is waiting there and the time will come when you see.
We're all one and life flows on within you and without you.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

Coos Bay, OR

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