psychological biological eternity reality in a religious context

Alternative title: Are We All Gonna Die, or What?

How did the Mayans predict this time in history?  That question raises dozens of others.  Did they?  According to whom?  How many interpretations does the Mayan calendar bear?  What can we say is a real prediction?  What about self-fulfilling prophecy?  Does that make a difference, or does a prophecy simply need, well, fulfilling?

First of all, the Mayan calendar doesn’t predict the end of the world.  The Mayans didn’t really have that concept of the world ending.  The calendar talks about the end of an age, really.  Western astrology, the zodiac, also talks about the end of an age – the end of Pisces, and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.  Revelations in the Bible talks about the time when non-believers outweigh the believers, and this is when the Tribulations occur.  Nostradamus predicted dozens of events which some believe have happened, and others aren’t so sure.  One thing is for certain – a lot of conjecture points to this time in history.

You can pick apart anything.  And people like lawyers and philosophers tend to do just that.  Not to pick on lawyers and philosophers, though, but think about it.  If you were to say to a Joe on the street, “I am here,” he would likely look at you and say, “Yeah?  So?”  He would get it.  You’re announcing yourself.  Plain and simple.  He can see you, and verify your claim.  If you said the same thing to a philosopher, though, they might be inclined to the following barrage of questions:  “But who are you?  Where is here?  How do you define ‘am’?  By breathing?  Standing?  Being of matter?  What if you were dead?  Where would you be?  Still here?”  Etcetera.  A lawyer might not be so different.  “I was there, at the club,” you say.  “When, exactly?”  “Uhm, around 8.”  “Around 8 or exactly 8?”  “I dunno, man.  Yeah.  I got there at 8:15.”  “How did you get there?”  And so on.  You could have the misfortune of getting into an argument with a litigator and find that they might take any trivial thing you say and drive it into the ground.  You will lose the argument.

Skeptics and intellectuals and persons of academia are full of “facts,” and are after the “facts.”  Facts are provable hypotheses, provable qualities.  If it’s not provable, it’s not on the table for discussion.  A plethora of books record many facts.  But the Bible does not contain facts.  The Bible was written many years before Christ until a hundred or more years after – definitely not during the age of science.  So a skeptic or an academic doesn’t want to hear what’s written in the Bible.  It might as well be graffiti on the wall.

So you can’t really argue your case for predictions with a lawyer, a philosopher, a skeptic, or an intellectual.  Generally speaking.  You could say that you feel something, that there is an intuitive sense you have which tells you these many different worlds converging on their predictions on this time in history really feels like something, but, then, you’ve got a score of chemicals going on inside you, making you “feel” all sorts of things.  You’ll get Ernest Becker thrown at you – you only want to believe in something which relates to an afterlife because of your repressed fear of death.  Or you’ll have Freud handed to you – your illusion of your father has given way to a need for God, your need for your cradling mother has caused you to seek solace in comforting stories of divine love.  You have neurotransmitters zapping and pinging around in your brain like dopamine and serotonin, conspiring to get you high, to make you feel good by whatever means necessary.  Your hypothalamus gland converts everything on a cellular level to the peptides which it releases to the cell receptors, feeding them the lies they crave.  So, psychologically speaking, neurologically speaking, physiologically speaking, you’re barking up the wrong tree.  Your interpretation of meaning, of end times, or changing times in history has everything to do with your chemical dependencies, your endocrine system, your limbic motivators, and nothing to do with that stubborn thing called reality.

Reality.  Still, you feel like there’s got to be something to all of this end-times, “change of ages” stuff.  Surely all the smart people in the world can agree that we come from stars, that stars are made up of the same stuff we are.  You don’t have to be a scientologist or believe god lives on a neighboring planet to have a sense of our cosmic connection.  We’re not separated from one another, walking around in our isolated bags of skin.  Our skin is porous.  We’re connected to one another, as Alan Watts would tell us.  And we’re connected through space and time to the history of our past, our origins.  When we look into Outer Space, we’re looking back in time, since light travel is not instantaneous.  And as we’re looking into space, billions of neutrinos are passing through us.  Trillions, even.  Cosmic radiation is bombarding the earth.  Birds are affected by solar flares.  The oceans follow the tractive force of the moon, rising and falling.  Surely in such an interconnected universe, you think, it’s possible that there’s something to this Mayan thing.

But, what?  What would it mean, this “age between ages?”  What the heck even is that, anyway?  Some sort of narrative gap in the story of human beings?  A crack in the floorboards?  Are we going to fall through?  More importantly – what is the next Age?

Well, you think, it might have something to do with this religion thing.  You’ve heard that atheism is on the rise, and that we’re an increasingly “secular society.”  People are abandoning organized religions, having grown immune to the Kool Aid.  Not too long ago, you weren’t allowed to question your faith, but in our liberal society, the questions have indeed grown, the taboos have dissipated, and we’re left with a naked examination of religion that’s been going hard for the past couple of decades.  God is dead.  Why Religion is Bad.   Oh, the lies they’ve told us!

But, it’s true.  The “way” in which man has functioned on this planet since the libraries of Alexandria – even before, since he told stories in the shadows on cave walls – this is time gone by.  The age between ages is the final death knell for the spell of the sensuous.  Religion came out of the sensuous.  The first infection of the sensuous, or living in the Unconscious mind, began about the same time we domesticated the first crops and animals about 11,000 years ago.  About the time we first departed from the hunter-gatherer way of life.  The sensuous stopped when we stopped, when we built our granaries and began living side by side with the animals, and inheriting their sicknesses.  It was as if the animals, creatures of the sensuous, had a defense mechanism – they gave us their viruses, but the effect was more than even the millions who died of germs during the European conquests – the effect was the dying of the sensuous.  Here at the end of that age, the sensuous gasps its last breath.  The rational era has finally leeched the life from the unconscious.  Man is “waking up.”  He is awakening to his true origins, his true history.  No more baby games, you think, no more story time.  We now have the tools to examine What Actually Happened and What’s Actually Going On.

Only, science has yet to plateau.  Religion tried to keep climbing, with freshets like Mormonism and Scientology springing up in the past couple centuries to keep things going, with reinvigorated Evangelicalism and fundamentalists hard at work.  Ecumenicalism has nearly disappeared in the eclipsing shadows of our ever-increasing black and white, this or that society.  But religion, basically, has plateaued for about the past 2000 years.  Science, on the other hand, has continued to grow.  It has also continued to outdo itself in every discipline for the past couple hundred years, while religion struggled to reinvent itself.  From Galileo to Newton to Einstein, few scientific “facts” have remained facts at all.  We all know that the earth is not flat, that it is not the center of the solar system, that biochemistry makes of mess of classical Darwinism, and that formula is NOT actually better for babies than breast milk, nor is smoking “healthy” for you.  Hey, we’re only human.  From physics to medicine, we’re learning all the time, and assimilating new data, and coming up with new theories.  That’s what science is.

People use science in the same way they use religion.  They hold up the sign that says “scientific” or the card that says “believe this or burn in hell.”   The truth is, science will continue to explore and find new theories and establish new facts.  And, as it does, the feeling that exists within people, the desire for meaning, the questions about origins and after life, they will persist.  There is no suppressing the “god-feeling” which exists in certain people.  Not everything is just a lack of information.  You can understand everything that’s going on in a birthing room, be there for the sheer biology of it, the viscera of it, and still find it utterly miraculous and beyond words.  Yes, your nerves are firing, your neurotransmitters are in high voltage.   Yes, there is a very basic reason for loving your baby: survival.  Love is chemical; the oxytocin present during childbirth for mother and baby, and even attending fathers, is there to create the bonding necessary for protection.

But why?  Why survive?  Why love the way your baby’s head smells on top?  (Like milk.)  Why have endorphin rushes after a good workout, sex, or a run?  Why survive?  Why question?  Why think about the Mayan predictions, or the Book of Revelations?  Why notice that there are things going on around you every day which are the unfolding of the foretold?  Why – when you understand about the philosophy, the psychology, the neurobiology, the chemicals – why continue to feel this sense of wonder and awe?  Why these wonderful imaginings?

Who cares, that’s why.  It’s exciting.  It’s an exciting time.  Man is shedding old skin.  The snake of wisdom is molting.  We stand on an incredible precipice, looking over a world where science and religion are becoming fused together, whether either party likes it or not – and they don’t.  This is my own contribution to the prophetic tradition.  Science will prove many religious claims.  But it won’t matter, or be acknowledged.  It comes back to that lawyer thing again – it would have to be exact.  It would have to be irrefutable.  Beyond a reasonable doubt.

More bright, religiously-inclined people will embrace science.  They are dovetailing together, religion and science.  The new world will see us in the hive mind, in the cloud, where the hegemony will be strongest.  The Tribulations are the spoiling wounds of the earth.  Technology will approach and reach the Singularity; but by then our psychology and biology will be wrapped up even deeper in the technology than it is now, and so the Singularity will involve all aspects of human life.  Between now and the Singularity is the Age between Ages.  After the event, which will be like a big bang, only without the inflationary cosmos after it, but a psycho-spiritual-techno fusion unlike anything the world has known – something only our dreams have understood for many centuries.  Because we were more dreaming then than we are now.  We were dreaming awake during the spell of the sensuous, during the times when these calendars and tomes were written, when these prophecies were laid down.  We were different people, we used different parts of our minds, our souls.  We have contained all of the information and essence of eternity within us from the very beginning.  Science will show us this.  The language used when the scriptures were written employed the tools people had at the time.  We have different tools now.  They were more in touch with the Unconscious, with the part of ourselves which is in league with the stars, with the building blocks of life still in Space, the proteins, the amino acids, the seeds, the diaspora.  Time and space and matter are all wrapped up in consciousness.  You can’t say this to the skeptic, to the non-believer.  Skepticism and non-belief are conditions, mainly resulting from psychological traumas, particularly in early development.  You can’t say that the same things religions are saying, no matter how different from one another, are essentially the same.  The creator.  The gods, angels, saints, disciples.  The incarnation.  The people.  The end times.

You can’t say these things, but you don’t need to.  They are happening.  There is not a doubt in your mind that they are happening.  Something is going down, man, some shit is happening.  It’s a changing world.  It’s a global society.  It’s moving at a breakneck pace and the icebergs are melting and a food shortage is imminent and people are bad-mouthing Jesus and the Muslims are pissed off and the war keeps going on and on and on and on.  And people keep having babies.  And this guy over here, he stands and shouts about his religion.  And that gal over there, she’s talking all about her science.  And they’re in love, they’re in love.  There’s a new sensuous coming.  It looks a bit like Blade Runner, and then a bit like Legend, but it’s coming.  It’s going to make the past 12,000 years look like a couple sandwiches under an elm tree.  It’s going to be fun.  There is nothing in this world that can take your soul from you unless you let it.  And there is every reason under heaven to believe in God, and to feel a thousand feet tall every chance you get, and to act as humble in every other instance.  Is there something going on right now? Is there really?  Hells yes there is.

screaming babies on planes

While a screaming baby on an airplane is never going to be much fun, you’ve got to imagine there’s a huge difference taking a flight with a squalling newborn nearby in today’s world than, say, in the 1970s or even 90s.  In the 70s, you could smoke on a plane.  So not only is there a fussy baby drooling and screeching in the seat next to you, there’s someone on the seat just in front chain-smoking camel straights.  In the 90s, maybe there’s no smoking – but there’s no fun little devices to distract you, either.  Maybe a Walkman with one of those new-fangled “CDs” would be able to womb you in indifference, but that was nothing compared to the number of insulating devices which exist today.  Once you reach 12,000 feet, you’re able to tune that baby out by diving into your iPad, your kindle, your smartphone, or start up a movie on your laptop.  You’ve got a half a dozen options to create a diversion for yourself.  Not bad.  And nobody’s blowing smoke in your face, either.  

There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there today.  Not much has changed in the sky-is-falling department, though.  People have been saying that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, that the end is nigh, that man has removed himself from God’s sight, or any number of euphemisms decrying how we turned a corner somewhere have been around for centuries.  Even millennia.  It’s true that it’s taken us the past couple of decades to really absorb and sort out all of the changes which have occurred in the last fifty, or hundred years, and it’s likely that certain changes are exponential, and things will be happening even faster as we continue forward.  During this sort of evaluation, or this humanitarian introspection which has been occurring since, say, around those smoky-flight 70s, we’ve made lots of modifications to our habits and come up with some key ideas about how we even got here.  We’ve strived to become healthier.  While we’ve seen the birth of fast food and its geometric expansion in the last fifty years, and the side effects of obesity and heart disease, we’ve come up with every sort of diet to combat the effects of ennui and low nutrition.  As big agribusiness has grown, we’ve been trying hard to become healthier and more local, and so the slow food movement has grown, too, and people have educated themselves about pesticides, chemicals, red meats, fat, antibiotics, and other carcinogenic agents.  Eliminating smoking from nearly every public place is only one thing we’ve done – we’ve seen a green movement in the world of diet, and vegetarianism was arguably born this century.  We’ve come to understand the importance of whole foods and a planet-based diet.  We’ve learned that our sedentary lives aren’t good for us, and that we need to get out and exercise.  It’s true that we still pack ourselves into boxes – the box of the car, the house, the cubicle job – but it’s also true that we unpack ourselves on the therapist’s couch, at the gym, and travel to exotic locations.  There are pros and cons to everything we do, but we’re learning, and we’re trying. 

What’s fascinating about all of this is that as we enter what may or may not be this “enlightenment era,” a time-between-ages sort of predicted in the Mayan calendar, or even the Zodiac, and certainly among our environmentalists and economists who believe we’ve reached a turning point – a peak in oil production and a hard look at the reality of finite resources on a planet who’s denser, developed civilizations tend to believe in infinite growth – is that we’ve come to see food, in effect, as what got us here in the first place.  Or, more precisely, agriculture.  As we shifted from a nomadic lifestyle of hunting-gathering, following wildlife, and moving on to greener fields once we’d depleted resources in one spot, we changed everything about how we live and relate to planet earth.  The first granary marked a momentous occurrence – food storage told us we could stay in one place for a while, that we could cultivate the land and keep our food for a while during the off-seasons.  We didn’t need to keep moving.  Thus began our domestication of crops – we started selecting and shaping crops as we chose which ones were the best yield, and which ones were inferior.

Agriculture also sparked a relationship which had never been before – man and animals.  As we domesticated the tamer, herbivorous animals and used them for milk, meat, and hide, we lived in close proximity to them, opening up a Pandora’s box of new viruses and germs which we still feel the effects of today (smallpox, for example, comes from cows, and the H1N1 flu virus was thought to be a hybrid starting with birds and pigs.)   This relationship with animals and germs later became a huge part of territorial distribution and the development of civilizations – guns, germs & steel are thought to be the three prime factors in how a civilization like the United States came to be, for instance, as opposed to somewhere like Papua New Guinea.

We cannot go back.  The likelihood of returning to a hunter-gatherer way of life, as in a movement which spreads throughout entire nations, is not very high.  We will see the fringe groups practicing this lifestyle, and maybe someday an overwhelming catastrophe will force all of us into this practice – like massive food shortages or coastal erosion, or the lack of a sufficient alternative fuel as oil runs out forcing to completely reshape our paradigm and our relationship to material goods, but it will never be a major self-starting event.  What will probably happen, instead, is more of what has been happening throughout human history.  We will continue to grow and learn and tweak how we live and what our habits are.  Learning new habits is the key to everything.  Teaching our basal ganglia new automatic behaviors is what we do – everything we are is an accretion of our habits, and we are always refining those.

So the next time you’re on a flight to Vegas or Cabo San Lucas and you hear a screaming child and it makes you feel a little frustrated, don’t give the parents that nasty look.  Instead, tuck into your shiny little gadget with your headphones on, click on the noise-reduction button, and settle back into your blissful bubble of entertainment.  You’re flying in a machine thousands of feet above the biosphere at hundreds of miles an hour, probably able to travel somewhere because you’re a blessed, privileged person.  Keep your weight down, keep your smoke in the alleyways, and smile at the babies when you see them cry.