There is a fine line between vision and illusion. Without a vision, the people perish but I fear that in our need to have a vision we create fanciful illusions. Our search for meaning turns up an answer we can believe in and then, satisfied, we are comfortable with our place in the universe. Our existence then has value, we have a destiny, and we are cradled in a foundational myth. I have come to the personal conclusion that our old Gods are illusions. We are currently searching for new Gods. I do not claim that spirit world does not exist only that our human measures of meaning and value are flawed.
I am a “cultural” Christian and dependent upon its faith and stories for my heritage. If you ask me, are you a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim? I can only reply, Christian. And if we go further and say, are you Christian or atheist—I say, Christian—a secular Christian for sure but definitely not antagonistic to the faith. How can I reject what has formed me? But some ask the question a different way, Are you saved? No, I am not. Do you believe the Bible is the one and only authoritative Word of God? No, I do not. I find meaning in other written words and sometimes in direct experience of beauty and tranquility. I feel like a seeker. God has not “spoken” to me in unmistakable terms. He has not forgiven me for all I may or may not do. Do I believe in God? Yes-he undergirds the universe. Who is Jesus then? No more God than Buddha, St. Augustine, or Mohammed. No transcendental divinity there.
Christianity has, in modern times, been gradually superseded by the Faith in Secular Progress. Since Darwin, more and more educated people have jettisoned Faith in a deity for Faith in a hoped for vision of human progress. But faith in technological progress is an illusion too. For the 2000 years after Jesus the Church has been the central organizing principle of Reality(for Westerners not Muslims, Hindus, or Chinese). And for that I am grateful. However, I don’t think Moses got it right in Genesis about the details of creation: the Garden, the Flood, the Pillar of Salt, the burning bush, or the parting of the Red Sea. They are Ur-myths painted on the unknowable. Good myth but poor journalism. Billions of people agree (and contest) that Jesus is the one and only son of God. To me he is, like us, the progeny of God. Our fundamental stories of who we are and where we come from are somewhere between vision and illusion.
Having been critical of what our Society has made sacred, I will digress for a moment to tell you my creation story. God in his/her infinite perfection for an infinity of time deigned to become “Real”. He/she can return to perfection and close down the Reality we currently experience at any time. Thus the essence of God drives the universe. There are then two eternities: a former one, in the past, when God was everlastingly perfect. And now the current one in which we “progress” toward transcendence. WE don’t go to heaven (or hell). God is in the particulars of living. Some find this materialism dispiriting. I don’t. You have your God illusions and I have my Truth illusions, now can we all get along?
The God illusion has us humans quarreling, but the money illusion is another affront to Truth. Money is a human idea that has perverted Man’s relation to Nature. We have too much money. We DO too much. We have allowed too many people on Earth. I say this not because I think you (or I) should leave but because of the effect on other species. We have fairly small populations of tigers, elephants, rhinos, polar bears and the like and an overabundance of fellow human. Our servitude to the Money Illusion has perverted our economics. We wanted to become rich and we wanted others to also become rich and so we created a plethora of redemption chits called money that has put too great a strain on the natural world. Money commoditizes Nature and we sell our birthright thinking we are becoming better off. For a time it appeared with industrial civilization that we had found a marvelous way to all become richer but we were blinded I think by our real dependence on the stored energy in fossil fuels. Currently, Nature is at peak everything. What I mean is that our growth model has reached a necessary plateau—because we cannot increase the fish catch, the timber harvest, or the oil production any more. We are tapped out. Technology is not a solution for inputs. We could become more efficient and we should but it will not save our Progress myth. Progress henceforth should be known as “right sizing”. Progress is generally thought of as onward and upward, but– to what?
Sustainability could be considered a re-building of the connections to the natural world and that would be aided by jettisoning the idea of money having value. Can we walk this money illusion back to some more helpful arbiter of exchange between people or are we content to push the boundary conditions—make up enough money to make everyone rich? Right now I feel we are in “Let her rip” mode. And I do not think it ends well.
So how can we power down industrial civilization? Many will say it can’t be done because our financial system depends on growth. Credit is spending money you don’t have with someone’s expectation that you will repay. A lot of us are doing that. First we expanded money and now we are growing credit. Both processes strip value from the natural world and convert it to human commodities, things that can be priced. We don’t price a tree in the forest but we do at Home Depot. Everything has a price that destroys its soul.
But I don’t really believe in a soul either. Perhaps what remains is the ineffability of excellence. A scent from the past of the Truth lingering in the present. We should just try to do more with LESS. It’s practical and does not require war on Nature or on our fellow creatures and neighbors. I have been a long time member of the Church of Reason and Religion of Progress and I will admit that it is threadbare these days. It looked like a sturdier Faith when I was younger. Can the Christianity of the future become again more Vision than illusion? What must it jettison, what must it affirm? Without a Vision the people perish—