2009-11-22

Things Good and Evil

 
What does it mean to say something or someone is good or evil? When we inspect things closely, even if we try hard to see what is good in all things, we may have a hard time realizing what about some things could possibly be good. What is evil?
The ancient Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo taught that evil is not a positive substance, but merely the absence of good. This way of thinking about good and evil can help us appreciate the world as it already exists while we also inspiring us to work toward a better world to come.
All things have some aspect of goodness, even if it is only the good of existing. What appears evil about a thing is how it lacks what is good, or what is better. Its evil is a defect rather than a present substance. So, however little there is about something that is good about it, we can, if we try hard enough, find this good in it and appreciate it.
At the same time, when we see evil as inadequacy, we can see the potential for good in all things, by their ability to be built up and repaired. In fact, seeing things in this way liberates us from a foolish, rigid dualism. All things are good in some ways, but also could be better, and thus contain elements of evil.
Since everything in the world is at the same time both good and evil, the way to greater good is by filling up what is lacking in good in all things. Evil, which does not exist as a positive substance, can spontaneously disappear, like an empty space being filled.
As it says in the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Truth, "As in the case of the ignorance of a person, when he comes to have knowledge, his ignorance vanishes of itself, as the darkness vanishes when light appears, so also the deficiency vanishes in the perfection. . . . In time . . . each one will attain himself; within knowledge he will purify himself from multiplicity into unity, consuming matter within himself like fire, and darkness by light, death by life."
All of nature, including ourselves, is potentially good, and also potentially able to become better, and to make itself better. We can become better to ourselves, and to others, and to all the rest of nature. The rest of nature, that which is not human, can also become better to themselves, and to us.
By uplifting ourselves and the rest of nature into a better harmony, one yielding greater happiness, we can aim to fulfill human nature and all of nature in its distinctiveness – the complete happiness of all sentient and sapient beings.
The evils of the natural world, including the evils in ourselves, are a temporary way-station, a time of transition from what is insufficiently good on the way to becoming something better. Nature is partly good, yet on the way to becoming something better, and human nature is partly good, yet on the way to becoming something better. Humanity will be fulfilled when it has fully realized its own nature by becoming fully human -- that is, by realizing its divine nature.
Right now, we are still vulnerable to sources of evil inside ourselves and outside ourselves in the natural world. But if we uplift ourselves and help the rest of the natural world uplift itself, we will be able to become what we will be, remedying every defect in our hearts and minds, healing every illness, strengthening every weakness, and supplying every inadequacy. In that way humanity will be able to become saviors of themselves and the rest of nature. It is not the gods we believe in that will save us; rather, it is the gods we will become.

 

2009-11-16

Nature and the Human

By nature we can mean all things, whether known or yet unknown. All things that really are, are real, as what they are. The non-natural and the supernatural  are incoherent categories and do not describe anything that exists.

 

Humanity is an expression, a manifestation, of nature. Humanity is thus natural, in all its nature (human nature). We can say that what humans make is

"artificial," but by this we mean still indirectly natural, since human beings are natural.

 

Human beings are a type of animal, not detached and separated from other animals, but kin to them and similar to them in many ways, and sharing their fate of living on this same planet Earth. The human species is not alienated from the rest of the natural world, and our way of being is not utterly alien to that of other life forms on this planet.

 

Human character, flawed as it is, is natural, of a piece with all the rest of nature, and understandable as a natural thing. Civilization, technology,

cities, and culture are products of nature and manifestations of nature, not something apart from nature.

 

Even though we are not the same as other animals, we can seek a harmony with the rest of nature, and that while still being true to ourselves - harmony, not in the sense of mere domination of humans over the nonhuman world, but harmony in the sense of a life worked out between humans and the nonhuman world which realizes our appreciation of that nonhuman world in its own nature, and our vastening to include it.

 

Human nature is dynamic not static, evolving not rigid, changing not unchanging. We human beings in our current form arose from previous animals with a different form, and in the future we will be beings with a different form. Humanity is not to be confused with some idea of a static form that we possess or possessed in the past, or with some adaptation that was relatively fit compared to other existing options in one time or place or circumstance; what we have evolved to be now is not our future destiny. In us, nature is striving toward the divine. And not necessarily only in us.

 

From insensate matter arose life with basic senses. From that life arose sentient beings -- those who can feel, those who can experience pleasure and pain, and those who are aware. From sentient beings arose sapient beings -- those who are aware of themselves as distinct from the rest of the world, and who can reflect on themselves and their lives. From sapience will arise the divine nature that will infuse the cosmos and become its final salvation.

 

We human beings know some things about the world. But the world still contains many mysteries; the things we will learn in the future will change what we think about what we know now. We are awed by nature when it challenges the limits of our ability to understand; there are things about this world which our human minds cannot properly grasp, because of the limitations of our minds in their current form.

 

So we human beings are not only limited in our knowledge about the world, we are also limited in our ability to directly imagine or adequately comprehend some of the aspects of what exists. For example, we can estimate the number of stars or galaxies, but we cannot really, actually, imagine this number, and we certainly cannot fully grasp the significance of so many stars and galaxies in our minds. We can represent vast numbers by sequences of symbols, but our minds cannot directly grasp the reality of such numbers.

 

We human beings exist in continual ignorance of things, to a certain degree. But as we learn more, our ignorance continually lessens. In the future, we will know far more than we know now, and we will also be able to comprehend more than we could comprehend now.

 

 

 

 

 


2009-11-08

Nature’s Double Nature

Nature is the source of all the good things we find in this world, such as the myriad sources of natural beauty. All that is good in ourselves and other persons is also part of the natural world.
 
We human beings evolved from insensate matter and non-sapient beings, so everything we care about and value in ourselves and our lives and the world arises from our natural origin. It is in us that nature possesses mindfulness and the ability to have concern for ourselves and others. The natural world includes the ability to feel compassion, empathy, sympathy, and appreciation because we human beings have evolved to possess those characteristics.

Much of nature does not yet possess mind or the ability to understand or know or be concerned about humanity. Much of the natural world does not yet have the ability to feel compassion, empathy, sympathy, or appreciation for any thing. So it is very important that we human beings, who possess these abilities as potentials, work hard to fully realize those potentials.

Yet nature is also the source of all suffering of human beings - for example, dangerous predators, deadly diseases, lack of food or water, heat or cold, or destructive weather. Because these elements of nature are generally mindless and without the ability to be concerned for human beings, they cannot be propitiated or negotiated with or appeased. It is only we human beings, by exercising our powers, who can come to understand these things and find way to protect ourselves from them.

We can enjoy the beauties of nature best from the vantage point of safety and comfort. If we are immersed in the dangers and threats of nature, we cannot afford the luxury of admiring what is harming and killing us. We bring ourselves and the rest of nature into harmony when we find a way to be happy in the midst of the rest of nature, without danger and harm, and yet while continuing to appreciate the rest of nature in its distinctiveness. A greater harmony, yielding greater happiness, will require bringing full happiness and an end to suffering to all sentient beings on Earth, and uplifting all sapient beings on Earth to their fulfillment.

The good things in us are natural, but so also are the evil things. Human beings suffer from things such as defects of the body that cause congenital diseases, aging, and death; defects of the brain that cause mental illness, mental weakness and vulnerability; and defects of character and personality; as well as instincts and innate patterns of thinking and behaving which are not best suited for our own happiness in all circumstances.

Human nature as it exists now is thus deeply flawed in some ways, while at the same time being exemplary in other ways, and divine in its potential realization. Individual human nature is thus neither purely nor originally good or evil or neutral. Each one of us contains a diversity of propensities and each one of us projects a diversity of effects on ourselves and the world around us. These propensities and effects can be good, or evil, or neutral.

 

2009-11-01

Reaching Higher

Many people look for meaning and purpose for their lives by looking to other people, or to a supposed god, or to a political cause, or to wealth or fame or high status. Yet no matter how we may chase such things, we can never be truly happy that way.
The true meaning and purpose of our lives is not "out there" to found or acquired; meaning and purposes are not to be randomly created, either, as the existentialists suggested.
The true meaning and purpose of our lives is already real, already inside us, waiting to be found and recognized in our already existing unique natures, which we already possess. If we examine ourselves deeply, carefully, critically, and honestly, we can discern it. It has to do with what we are -- that is, what we have come to be. And it also has to do with what we are becoming, and what we will become. It has to do with how we are living, and how we will someday live.
What we are now is the seed of what we will and must become. We must break in order for the potential inside us to sprout and grow into what is greater, what we were meant to be. We must die to what we have been in order to be born to what we could and should become. We must change in order to truly fulfill all that we already potentially are.
The human is the seed of the divine, and humanity is the seed of a  future society of gods. What we are now is not what we will become, but it contains the germ of it. The divine is what we will become, and the divine life is the life we will live. The divine life is not a life we can live now, but the life we live now can become the seed of that future, divine life, if we recognize and cultivate our lives to prepare ourselves and accelerate the time when that day will come. It is by deciding a better future and working towards it that that better future is created; it is by our belief and action today that a better future can come into being.
The divine nature will be crafted by technology and guided by science, but it will also be decided by our natures, so that what we are trying to be will be critical to determing what we will craft ourselves into by means of technology. It is only if we develop wisdom and self-understanding in ourselves, and if we continually try to live up to our "better natures', that we can stay on the path to becoming the best fulfillment of our present potential, that is, divine.