Master of Religious Philosophy
By Dennis Zerull
Of all the courses I have had the pleasure of taking while in the ULC Seminary, I have to say that this is one of my personal favorites. Robert Chamberlain has done an excellent job on this course. The discourses are well researched and written and are grounded in reason and logic. I believe that this course is the corner stone to the entire seminary program and should be taken by anyone who has the desire to pursue any type of ministry or simply to further their own personal desire for higher education.
Religious Philosophy has been a subject of great debate depending upon which tradition one practices or doesn't practice. Whether one is a "believer or a non-believer". Religious Philosophy simply put, asks questions about religion. This may include but not limited to the nature and existence of God, religious language, miracles, prayers, evil, how religion and other belief systems interrelate. Again it comes down to the adherents or believers and non-believers. Each individual must ultimately decide if there is sound reason and logic and whether the philosophy is based on relative or absolute truth. This can also set a dangerous precedent if beyond the realm of simple and verifiable facts the belief in "I am right and you are wrong" comes into play in personal or collective relationships.
Collective ego has been the cause of much suffering the world between nations. This history of Christianity is, of course a prime example of how the belief and philosophy can make collective ego think that they are in sole possession of the truth and how it can corrupt actions and behavior to the point of insanity. For centuries the torturing and burning of people alive if their opinion diverged even in the slightest from the Church doctrine or narrow interpretations of scripture was considered right because the victims were wrong. In fact they were so wrong that they needed to be killed. It seems that the very same behavior and insanity is very much alive and well in the world at this very moment and that mankind has not learned the lessons from the past. Lessons such as the mad dictator Pol Pot who's Marxist interpretation of history was the absolute truth and ordered one million people killed which included those who wore glasses because they belonged to an educated class. Of course there are endless more accounts that exist through out the history of mankind. The question then becomes what is the truth? Simply put it is a story you had to believe in; which means a bundle of thoughts. Human action can reflect the truth or it can reflect an illusion in its philosophy. Ultimately the truth is inseparable from who you are because, you are the truth. If you look elsewhere you will be deceived every time. The very Being that you are is truth. Jesus conveyed this when he said "I am the way and the truth and the life". This is one of the most powerful pointers to the truth if this statement is correctly understood but can also be a great obstacle if misunderstood. Buddhists call it Buddha nature, and for Hindus, it is Atman. It is the in dwelling God. Ekhart Tolle in his book A New Earth states that "When you are in touch with that dimension within yourself- and being in touch with it is your natural state, not some miraculous achievement-all your actions and relationships will reflect the oneness with all life that you sense deep within you". "Love and do what you will" said St. Augustine. I don't believe that words can get much closer to the truth than that.
Classically Religious Philosophy has been regarded as part of Metaphysics, which investigates principles of reality transcending into Cosmology, and Ontology coupled with Theology. I have explained what these disciplines are in detail in a prior paper in the Dr. of Metaphysics final essay April 30, 2008. Certainly one of the best examples that immediately come to mind was the Philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle's Metaphysics for example described "first causes" as on of his subjects for investigation. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic and his influence on philosophical and theological thinking has a profound influence on Islamic, Jewish and Christian theology. Aristotle's philosophy continues to be the subject of academic study to this very day. Aristotle defines Metaphysics as "the knowledge of immaterial things." He also refers to Metaphysics as the "theological science". We can therefore surmise then that Religious Philosophy according Aristotle is also a science by its very nature.
The course also points out the role of established religions. What is the role of the established religions in the arising new consciousness of today's world? Certainly many people are aware of the difference between spirituality and religion. One must realize that having a belief system or a set of thoughts that you regard as absolute truth does not make you a spiritual person no matter what the nature of your beliefs are. In fact the more you identify with those thoughts or beliefs, the more you cut yourself off from the actual spiritual dimension within yourself. Many religious people are stuck in this position because of the aforementioned collective ego. They equate truth with thought or their mind and claim to be the sole possession of truth in an attempt to protect their identity. However I believe that in today's world, science and technology have propelled us into a shift in consciousness. Many no longer cling to the old dogmas and mind dominated religions and no longer feel threatened by them or try to suppress the doctrine that science has proven to be false or in error. On the other hand there is a dichotomy whereby the dysfunction of the collective egoic human mind has created through science and technology a threat for the first time to the very survival of the planet.
Religion and science ultimately do come to a cross road of sorts as is pointed out by the author in this course. They work off of one another not just through faith but also by critical inquiry. In the Western world this is partly due to the influx of the ancient Eastern wisdom teachings. Today a growing number of followers of the more traditional religions are able to let go of identification with form, those dogmas and those rigid beliefs systems and are able to discover the original depth that is hidden within their own spiritual traditions. One starts to realize that how spiritual you are is not dependent with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This in a way determines how you act and interact n the world with others. Those not able to look beyond this will become even more entrenched in their beliefs or their mind. Some institutions have opened up to a new way of thinking and a new consciousness while others have hardened their positions on doctrine and continue to identify with collective ego and defend themselves and fight back. There is no greater example of this than the current world situation whereby the collective ego of many countries has caused the loss of countless amounts of lives and has created unbearable suffering. Some churches, sects, cults and religious movements are basically collective egoic entities and are indentified with a mental position as they follow a political ideology that is closed to any interpretation of reality or any alternative. However no matter how entrenched and how solid it appears it is destined to disintegrate from within. This was the case with Soviet Communism as one example. Of course there will be many more cases like this one where religious and political movements faced with radical crisis failed to interact with one another and thus faced insurmountable problems and will eventually become extinct because they are unable to rise above the limitations of their own self-created conditions.
So where does that lead us today, at this very moment? In the twenty first century humanity has reached a highly advanced stage of material development and knowledge in various fields and we continue to progress in those fields. Sometimes for the betterment of mankind and often times for its own destruction. However the demands on our attention are never-ending and as such in this environment it is vital that we gain genuine confidence in the arising consciousness that was taught to us by ancient wisdom teachers. A significant number of the worlds population are starting to realize that humanity is faced with a stark decision: Evolve or die. I believe that we will evolve by the arising of not a new religion or belief system or spiritual or religious philosophy and certainly not by political ideology, but by the awakening and liberation from the incessant stream of thinking. The old ideas of identification with self and the voice in our heads that tells us who we think we are. That voice is the ego and is not who I am or who you are or who the rest of humanity is. The ones who see that will have an understanding what Jesus said. "The Kingdom of heaven is within you". If I truly understand what was said, then logic and reason would prove that I further understand that heaven is not a place or location but refers to the inner realm of consciousness.
Of course this is my own personal philosophy by which I have adopted through meditation and the study of such courses such as this one and spiritual teachers from all walks of life both past and present. Obviously Buddhist philosophies as well as those taught by the ancient teachers in Tibet, China and what is presently known as the Middle East have had a profound effect on the way I view the world in the present moment and I openly share these with the readers of this essay. I have no vision of the world becoming a utopian one where the mental projection will be one of complete peace and harmony and the end of our problems. These religious utopian visions still exist to this very day. However upon close examination at the core of this particular philosophy and "revelation" into the future lies one of the main structural dysfunctions of old dogma and consciousness. Looking to the future for salvation. The only future that exists is the one in the mind so when we look into that future we become trapped in form and that form is ego. Again I refer to the teachings of Jesus as he tells those who would listen about where salvation and heaven lie.
I the final analysis of this course I would like to say that I respect all religious traditions and those who choose to live by those traditions. Ultimately, as I have mentioned on many occasions they all teach love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness. It is therefore essential that the analyzing mind strive to always be objective and not swayed by any kind of prejudices. Then as the Buddha has said 2,500 years ago and his Holiness The Dali Lama emphasizes," It is with an objective mind endowed with curious skepticism that we should engage in careful analysis and seek the reasons. Then, on the basis of seeing the reasons, we engender a faith that is accompanied by wisdom."
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