The Tribal Dynamic
The nature of living within a collective reality, which evolved as ours has, creates what I call a "tribal dynamic." Within this dynamic is found the most central issue and point of conflict within the collective as a whole. The nature of the human experience is that we seek companionship and validation. We naturally seek others who we feel a kinship with on some level, whether it is a shared interest in model trains or similar beliefs on a philosophical level.
Within a small group of individuals who share common ground on one or more levels, a shaping of thoughts, ideas and beliefs occurs. They refine the nature of what unites them, becoming essentially the "elders" or "founding fathers" of the tribe. They set the rules, write the doctrine and apply definitions and standards. As the tribe expands and grows, the dynamic changes. As more individuals are drawn to the tribe, they are expected to embrace and accept the core beliefs and standards. While they may be invited to build upon the tribal core, the fundamental building blocks on which the tribe is constructed are not to be challenged, at least not by those who would consider themselves members of the tribe.
Essentially, the tribal dynamic requires a foundation to define the uniting principles of the tribe. Otherwise there is no order, and without order there is no tribe.
Within a tribe founded on ideological or faith-based principles, the dynamic takes a different form than what one would find in a group of model railroad enthusiasts or people with a shared love for baseball or repairing automobiles. When the foundation is grounded in concrete, tangible definitions and standards, they are more difficult to challenge. If the foundation is grounded in ideas and beliefs shared by the collective, challenges take on a different meaning. Claiming an automobile can run without an engine is one thing. Challenging shared doctrine and practices is an entirely different animal.
Apples and Oranges
The old adage that says we should avoid talking about politics and religion if we seek to avoid conflict and argument is founded in this dynamic. It is fairly easy to prove a car cannot be operated with the engine removed. You can go breathless attempting to prove the truth of ideas to those who have a different opinion on those ideas.
The issues I had with religion for many years stemmed from grounding myself in rationalism and the need to find "real proof" of anything before I was willing to accept it. My arguments stemmed from an assertion that it was absurd to believe in anything that could not be proven to be true. What I came to realize over time, spurred by my own experience with being opened to the possibility of something beyond absolutes, was that there are two levels of perception. I divide these two levels into categories I label as the "finite" and the "infinite." The finite consists of concrete, tangible and provable "truths." The infinite consists of everything that stretches beyond that. The finite is what holds together our collective reality. The infinite encompasses the individual experience. What organized religion and belief systems do is offer fellowship and unity to those who are willing to accept a shared experience of the infinite.
Where I still feel organized religions and belief systems often fail is within the realm of dogma, of unquestionable doctrine and the need to defend vigorously against challenges of their attachment to absolutism. Watch as the leaders of various established religions rise to defend their deeply entrenched doctrine against those who would raise questions or present alternative viewpoints.
Organized religion bears some responsibility for blurring the lines between the finite and the infinite. At the core are efforts to establish faith-based doctrine as an all-encompassing absolute truth applicable to all people. The conflict between the finite and the infinite is caused by elements speaking to the infinite attempting to establish themselves as elements of the finite, with the reverse also being true. When faith-based doctrine attempts to apply itself to the overall collective experience within the finite, it loses itself. When the tangible, rational and logical nature of the overall collective reality attempts to apply itself to the infinite, it loses itself.
Absolute Truth and the Infinite
Established religions with deeply entrenched traditions, doctrines and beliefs, perpetuated both by history and widespread acceptance by impressive numbers of adherents, find themselves holding fast to their beliefs as absolute truth. Can anything faith-based become absolute truth? This is the question I asked myself as I sought to come to terms with my own personal mythology, personal theology and experiences with the infinite. In the end, the answer I found was more than a simple "yes" or "no."
I understand and accept that I have a "calling." This is not an uncommon experience, especially amongst those who go through a difficult transition marked by anguish, pain and tragedy. Deciding to end my own life and then having a desire to reclaim it had a profound impact on me in a spiritual sense. As I progressed through an understanding of my experience and the changes it brought, I saw my calling as being relative to my own experience. My experience was personal. My calling was to offer hope, guidance and direction to those who find themselves in circumstances similar to those I faced leading up to the night of my suicide.
Once I accepted that, I realized I could never dictate beliefs and doctrine as absolute truth. This would be counterproductive. The nature of depression, hopelessness and suicidal intentions is to reject efforts by outsiders to invalidate these thoughts and feelings. These things are very internal and personal, generally causing the individual to retreat within the self, closing themselves off from others. They are in a place where they feel a lack of validation of the self and trying to impose ideas and judgments that conflict with what the self feels and thinks is extremely counterproductive. There is no point in telling a depressed person they have no reason to be depressed or telling a suicidal person they have "every reason to live."
My own experience reminds me of this on a regular basis, especially when I find myself dealing with a depressed or suicidal person. My realization of this brought me to the point where I knew the same understanding could have a deeper meaning. People, by their nature, seek validation, companionship and acceptance. We form tribes and organize belief systems because of this. We seek the fellowship of like-minded individuals to escape from loneliness and isolation. The tribal dynamic of organized belief systems, which originated to provide fellowship and validation amongst those who had similar beliefs, often reaches the point where it stops offering validation to the individual and demands acceptance of shared doctrine and tradition. At some point in the development of the tribal dynamic, the tribe becomes more important than the individuals within the tribe, and yet the tribe is a construct and the people are not.
While certainly not universal throughout faith-based tribal constructs, the idea of doctrine and tradition being more important than the beliefs of individuals within the tribe is pervasive enough that it has become an acceptable norm, especially within established organized religions with long histories steeped in tradition. The answer to my old question regarding whether anything faith-based could become absolute truth was answered with a new question. Is it possible for a faith-based tribe to become inclusive, embracing those with different beliefs, backgrounds and traditions rather than being exclusive by demanding acceptance of the beliefs, doctrine and traditions of that tribe?
The Heretical Convergent Church
The first step in answering this question about a truly inclusive faith-based tribe is acknowledging your beliefs are not absolute truth applicable to all people. The Second Law of Convergence is "everyone is right," which at the most basic level means all beliefs are equally valid provided they do not invalidate the beliefs of others. This includes allowing all individuals to not only believe what they believe, but to live as they wish. Where the Second Law of Convergence is often misinterpreted is in not understanding the spider-web effect it carries. If you cause harm to another or steal from them, claiming your beliefs support these actions, you are infringing on their belief that they have the right to not be harmed and not be stolen from. Your beliefs are invalidated if they infringe upon the rights of others, because you cannot be correct until you accept and allow others the same privilege.
Within the context of all of the world's established religious and spiritual traditions are two components. There are core principles serving as guiding standards for how one lives their life. Then there is theology, which springs from tradition and shared beliefs, and this can evolve into a form of dogma. I see theology as a guiding set of components rather than a form of truth. It is helpful and useful in many ways, giving structure and order and aiding in the spiritual development of those within the tribe. However, when it is embraced as absolute truth, it loses its real value. When it can no longer be questioned, when it can no longer be debated, and when alternative views are dismissed or attacked, problems arise. When beliefs becomes reason for conflict, hatred and war, then they cease to be have value.
With this in mind, my own faith, grounded in the principles of Convergence, is constructed from the methods and symbols of my own personal experience. The elements of that experience are important to me. Others could utilize them to further their own personal experience, but they are merely constructs of my personal mythology. Only the three core principles of Convergence are important. (1) Give everything you can to everyone you know, (2) Everyone is right, (3) Convergence is reached only when all individuals accept and embrace the first two laws, "Together none higher and none lower than thee. The left is the right and below is above."
Convergence is essentially the path to paradise, heaven, nirvana, or whatever labels the same concept is given in any religious tradition, and it is present within all such traditions. It is often seen as the reward for living a good life, but is it really some mystical far-off place separate from our existence here or is it the ultimate goal within a frame of existence such as the one we find ourselves in now? In times of trouble, conflict, suffering, hatred and chaos it seems an unreachable goal and this makes it easier to see it as only existing elsewhere.
Heresy comes from the willingness to challenge widely accepted and strongly defended traditions and doctrine of existing organized faith-based tribal systems. Since I began an intensive study of the doctrine, history and teachings of Christianity two years ago, I came to a number of conclusions. These conclusions are my own, and I reject the notion of imposing personal beliefs on others. The Three Laws of Convergence are the core and they are the only principles I actively promote. Everything else is essentially window dressing.
My interpretations are highly heretical in certain Christian traditions. For example, I believe Jesus of Nazareth was a messenger who had a deeply moving spiritual experience before spending a brief part of his life teaching a revolutionary interpretation of existing traditions within the Jewish faith intended to change the focus from "the word of the law" to the "heart of the law." I believe he sought to bring to light the importance of core principles over what was becoming a very extreme adherence to ritual, ceremony and traditional practices. What was happening at the time of his teachings was that these traditions and sacraments that were deeply entrenched amongst his people had become more important than the core values of their belief system. He was a heretic railing against conventions and was executed for heresy. There is a certain irony in the history of Christianity in that countless others have been executed for not accepting a dogmatic interpretation of the teachings of a heretic.
My own interpretations hold that Jesus of Nazareth was a man who was blessed with a deeply moving spiritual experience and the wisdom to effectively teach and to have a great impact on those who encountered him. My personal interpretations hold that it was only after his death that those seeking to give their faith in his life and teachings elevated him to being more than a man, more than a teacher and more than a messenger. By doing this, they were able to build a powerful new tribe. At the same time they were able to assert their tribe as having greater validity than other faith-based tribes and traditions. "Sure, your religion has great traditions and was founded by some very impressive spiritually connected people, but what we have over here is the Son of God. Top that." If you look closely, you’ll notice a strange similarity between this dynamic and the old "My dad can beat up your dad" game from childhood.
The point is not to argue theological interpretations, as I consider all interpretations and traditions to hold equal value. The point is that my interpretations are my own, and regardless of how many people share similar interpretations and how many have very different interpretations, it does not matter. People reach their own conclusions about what they believe. They reach these conclusions through many different means. Can we really dictate faith-based doctrine as absolute truth? This is what I reject. Faith-based doctrine that welcomes and embraces heresy? Now you have something.
Of course, it is important to remember that I'm wrong and I'm a grostesquely ugly freak.
If you're looking for an interesting point to consider, try this: If heresy is the prevailing doctrine, then rejecting heresy is heresy.