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Religion as Escape from the Self

By Carl S ~

The self is hell. Aldous Huxley made that observation over fifty years ago. Often, I've had reasons to ponder what he meant by it. Here are some possibilities as to what he might have meant.

What worse punishment is more ongoing than that of solitary confinement in prison? The individual is all alone with the Self. This is a type of hell. Some of those incarcerated have been driven mad or committed suicide. This is an extreme example. Now...

Consider the hermit, and self-isolated holy men. Lost in their selves, they sometimes return to society with personal bizarre visions, revelations and new religions based on them. Have they "faced" their innermost demons and misinterpreted their own feelings thus coming to the conclusion that everyone has the same demons needing to be destroyed? Have they only deluded themselves and those who are more than willing to ascribe their "revelations" to supernatural experiences? Didn't they convince themselves their delusions are much more real than the reality they abandoned? If not for their convictions being labeled "supernatural," they would be gently taken in for psychiatric evaluation.

Perhaps you know individuals who live alone, without another to reality-check them. Such people are regarded as oddballs, and one has to laugh at the judgmental conclusions they arrive at. Their selves are their primary frame of reference, therefore they sometimes have irrational fears of the unknown in their daily lives, and arrive at some really odd "takes" between what's real or imagined.

Frankly, I find that those who have a "personal relationship" with Jesus, or God, or Mary, are emotionally introverted in their fantasy land. Maybe they don't like to think of themselves as alone, even when they are. Consider that there is no proof these gods/persons exist, for they are no more reality-based than Apollo or those other gods their worshipers also knew in their hearts to be actually living within them.

Enter those who escape by habitually hanging on to their "personal relationship” delusion. They're not only into their own heads, but join up with others, who share theirs. Now they feel free not to confront or doubt their beliefs. To the contrary, their delusions are reinforced. This isn't an environment where misery loves company so much as one in which escapism loves company. All evidence to the contrary of what is mutually believed is understood to be unreal.

Now, there are those of us who don't want to escape from our selves, simply because we don't experience our selves as hell. We don't believe that we are by nature rotten to the core from birth. Religion teaches us as individuals to continually cross-examine our consciences, lest we offend a deity, even in our thoughts. This way of life forces one into a pressure cooker of self-inflation and self-contempt. That's mentally unhealthy and self-defeating. Too often, those who are raised to believe in the necessity for this also come to feel insignificant. Feeling insignificant, they are drawn to belong to something bigger, and join up with mass movements, like fascism, cults, crusades, neo- Nazism, the Christian Right, Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc. In so doing, they all sacrifice conscience and Self for the bigger than oneself end-justifies-the-means goals, where ideology replaces empathy entirely.

All theologies tell us about your small god who's petty, judgmental, and a woman hater, among other "attributes," while being at the same time adapted to each person's interpretation of him. But...the universal realities are much bigger. Such a god does not contain the universe. The Universe doesn't need to contain that god.We don't need to escape our selves with make-believe personalities, either. We get used to being isolated when making major and minor decisions based on what is true - not on what others believe true. Our understanding of universal realities is based on evidence, not theologies or somebody's hazy "spiritual enlightenment." We stare suffering and death in the eyes and accept them as just as much a part of life as birth and pleasures. This world does not exist for our needs and our "salvation. "That’s what "humble" really means.

Because I'm an atheist, people ask me, "Don't you believe in something bigger than yourself?" It's meant to squelch me as egocentric and elevate the questioner to a superior position of being humble. I have answered that, yes, I do. The universe is much bigger than me. Any linebacker is bigger than me. Germs and bacteria are bigger than me. All of them can put me into intensive care or kill me. This I can and must accept. The same questioners want me to believe that my crummy all-too-human "sins" are big enough for a god to actually die for. Get real. No, they aren't, I'm not that important.

These aren't the responses believers are looking for. Their interpretation of "bigger" refers to their god. My answers leave me unavailable to be exploited by them. They want me to accept and buy what I don't need.

What I feel like telling them is: What I can't accept is a belief in Your God. All theologies tell us about your small god who's petty, judgmental, and a woman hater, among other "attributes," while being at the same time adapted to each person's interpretation of him. But...the universal realities are much bigger. Such a god does not contain the universe. The Universe doesn't need to contain that god.

Where does all this knowledge lead me, us, to? We need not feel the need to escape from "the self which is hell." We don't accept that we're sin-rotten from birth, and in need of being saved from our selves. We don't accept that what is said in any "holy" book cannot possibly be wrong! We don't need to accept New Age spirituality’s "alter-interpretations" of reality. Nor do we need to join the ranks of the gullible who accept the nonsense that, "you have a hole in yourself " that has to be filled with whatever religious know-it-all tells us is "God and his will in your life." We won't join those who are so desperate to belong, will do anything, even if it involves castration! (Yes, you know what I mean.)

Joining Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, we stand on the shoulders of giant freethinkers on this our pale blue dot Earth, being part and essence of this outstanding Nature, seeking not to believe, but to know. We do not want to escape from the Self, for the self is really only a small part of everything in our Universe. Ours is a perspective not of self-centered delusion, but of good human emotional health. We surpass ourselves by being involved in the lives of others, without superstition inhibiting our Selves. It may not be the heaven believers want, but it'll do. You never have to escape from freedom.