Three Lenses – One Observer

This post is a realistic guide on how to marry science and religion in your head.

The Three Lens Model

John MacMurray in “The Structure of Religious Experience” suggested that we humans use three lenses when looking at the world: The Scientific Lens, The Religious Lens and the Artistic Lens.

The Scientific Lens views the universe through criteria – the Scientific method.

The Religious Lens views the universe through mythology as if the mythology is the very truth of the Universe.

The Artistic Lens views the Universe through boundless self-expression and creativity with no regard to authority.

I feel that much of the conflict in the world occurs when people get stuck in one lens and view that lens as the only lens that is “important.” I personally think that to be fully human, I need to appreciate, master and enjoy each lens for its unique purpose.

When I see my world through my Scientific lens, I see that everything comes from cause and effect and that understanding is constantly evolving into richer, dynamic systems. And when it comes to life after death, I remeber that even the great Harry Houdini could not reach his beloved Bess from beyond the grave.

My religions lens is what I call “Functional Mythology” where I use the power of a story itself to transcend reality through imagination.

Through this lens, I see Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva laboring at the never ending task of emptying the billions of hell worlds. I see beings that live for thousands of Kalpas in perfect enlightenment freed from these hells and working to free others from them.

I draw a lot of inspiration from this story, and do not submit it to the Scientific lens. It is my story to do what I like. For me, its usefulness does not depend upon its truthfulness. It’s the world I live in inside my head and project into the human collective.

I choose to embody this story through the practice of Tonglen Meditation as described in the Lojong Proverbs, even though I think some of the proverbs are purely fanciful.

My artistic lens enjoys great writing, movies, stories, sculptures, paintings, music and more by relishing art for arts sake.

Which one do I love the most? Well, whenever I need a boost, a totally ludicrous phrase from a mythological being I dearly love comes to mind. I say it aloud, and compassion for myself and others emerges like a geyser. This is one piece of nonsensical arrogance that just plain fires me up.

“I will not attain enlightenment until all the hells are empty.” – Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

The Power of Story

A key idea I enjoy is that practice and belief are completely separate powers that can be joined or left apart. You really don’t have to believe a story for it to change your life.

Let me provide a concrete example. In a former life, I had a cool job of developing trading card games and card games. Most of our products were based off of intellectual properties like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bleach or Dragonball Z. This means that I got my share of Anime and Comic Book conventions.

At these conventions, you see people dressed up and acting like the favorite characters from these shows. You will find many a Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Dearth Vader, Batman, Superman, Ichigo Kurosake, Goku, Tohru Honda, etc. The costumes are of such depth and breadth that one cannot help but appreciate the art and commitment these fans have for their stories.

And aside from a few severe whack jobs, most of them know the stories aren’t found anywhere on Earth. But still, they find them useful.

I find it interesting that stories of both “fiction” and “fact” create much of the same behavior and human connection that defines us. And fiction is especially more influential that many realize.

One time I saw the the late James Doohan tell a story about his experiences at Star Trek conventions. Doohan (Scottie) is often reputed as the most giving and kind-hearted of the cast of the original Star Trek series. He really put out for his fans and realized the power of the role he created.

Doohan reported that he heard the same phrase emit from thousands of fans over and over, “You are the reason I became an engineer.”

How did this happen?

Well for one thing, Doohan flat out hounded young men and women to be engineers. Some of his fans he knew well and he watched them progress toward engineering excellence. Why? Because it wasn’t James Doohan telling them to be engineers.

It was Scottie.

Doohan was no engineer, but he was a brave and valiant man. As a member of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, he stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Think that running the bulls in Spain is macho? Compared to D-Day, running the bulls is like a day in the park with naughty Nurse Chapel.

So yes, Doohan WAS Scottie. He was the brave soldier fighting against the Nazi atrocities. And that personal integrity really came out in Scottie. So in a way, none of us were fooled.

Scottie was REAL as far as these engineers were concerned. His name was James Doohan.

The power of the story of Star Trek to drive innovation is legendary. And Doohan’s character was a major part of that innovation. His was the story of Engineering: the face and timber of stubborn rigor and courage to find the right solution for the day, even if the captain is about to make your precious ship explode.

And here is the point: few people believe that Star Trek is true in this Universe, but someday I think there will be a Starship Enterprise. Our love of this story will build THAT ship. It will go forth and it will seek out new life. And believe me, an engineer will be on that ship. And she will be baddass. Why?

Cuz Scottie never quits.

So we humans reenact stories that are fiction, no? But what about stories that are true? We know that Anime and Comic buffs dress up and play. What about history buffs? Can they join with the same fanatical love as comic book and sci-fi geeks?

Well, yes.

There are scores of Civil War reenactment events across this great divided land of the U.S of A. Civil War reenactors go to great lengths and expense to obtain authentic costumes and manners to recreate some of the great battles.

So we dress up and reenact stories that are false AND true.

Okay, you may say, but that’s not me. THOSE people are the fringe of society. Me? I’m way too cool to fall prey to such delusions.

Not so fast.

Sports fans are the WORST. You see them dress up in their favorite athletes jersey. They know their athletes life stories, stats and personal lives. Even the most stoic CEO will go gaga over an autograph of their favorite sports star. Why? Because they love the story.

But aren’t sports games and not stories? Absolutely not. The story element that aligns with sports is woven throughout every sporting event. And past heroics are recounted by fanboys with glazed eyes just like they are sharing the sacred meaning of the universe: the battle for the Super bowl rings; the Pennant pilgrimage, the stories just get better and bigger.

Finally, lets discuss how involved people get with other TV shows, movies and books. Many people would never be caught dead in a dress-up scenario, but do you ever notice how often people quote movie lines? Or large segments from Seinfeld? Or get so involved about how a story line that isn’t going the way they want? Or rush home to see what happened  to Hank on Californication? 

And religion also has the same kind of “dress up and play” element to it. Many followers are taught by their scriptures to be like the heroes and messiahs of their faith and the world is filled with religious media from plays, music, novels, movies, and costumes. Every religion has story. And they all get told.

But the big idea I feel is important is about the power of story itself. Pure and simple. We are the stories in our heads, whether they are “true” or not.

I once saw a liberal Christian working side by side with a conservative evangelical in a homeless shelter. The two people loved the same story but had two different views of its usefulness. One believed the story’s usefulness came from its truthfulness, and the other believed that usefulness does not depend on truthfulness. Two views – one happily fed homeless guy.

And he loved the story too. But other stories in his head and circumstance kept him in poverty.

Yes, stories are that powerful. So much so that they can set us free from ourselves, and at the same time bind us in ignorance.

So stories are never just stories. We make them true, and they make us true.  We turn history into mythology and mythology into history.

It’s what we do.

Between Two Temples

Have you noticed that almost all of our largest religions and modern viewpoints all surfaced in a seventy year window between the the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and and the building of the Second Jewish Temple. (586 B.C. to 516 B.C.)

Yup. No kidding.

Who showed up at this 70 year juncture?

Buddha, Pythagorus, Lao Tsu, Confucius,  Sun Tsu and more.

After I discovered this in a World Almanac, I looked deeper into this range of time and found that Mahavira also lived during that time (he was the founder of Jainism, the faith that inspired Gandhi.

Thales (the first acknowledged scientist) also appeared. He was the first person to successfully calculate the return of a comet through calculation. He chose not to follow or appeal to the gods for wisdom, but rather direct observation.

After awhile I wondered if anyone else noticed this? Is this some sort of cosmic joke? Correlation does not lead to causation, so for me, this is a “connect the dot’s” exercise only.

Well, let’s see what you think. Here’s the timeline and feel free to check my facts and dates:

586 B.C.
Solomon’s Temple is destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant is lost forever along with the Ashes of the Red Heiffer and other temple artifacts required for Jewish sacrifices. The Jews are exiled to Babylon where life really sucks for a whole lifetime. Jeremiah cries – a lot.

Democracy is in full experimental mode thanks to a poet named Salon. Salon wrote his theory for democracy in a poem. Sadly, the poem is lost.

Sapphos of Lesbos, the famous poet of erotica, writes much about same sex love. Her works were of course purged by other religions later on. Only a few verses remain.

Aesop is 34 years old and telling the wonderful stories that free him from a slavish existence. These stories become “Aesop’s Fables.”

5?? B.C.
Lao Tsu is born. No set date is available for Lao Tsu because you can’t pin this guy down on anything. He’s “mister vague” as far as his Tao is concerned. He claims the “Tao” is undefinable. Supposedly Lao Tsu dies around 531 B.C. give or take a decade.

Only the Tao knows for sure, but don’t DARE try to explain or name it because HE says you WILL be wrong.

Epimenides is born: a Cretan Philosopher creates the Liar’s Paradox, a key paradox for understanding mathematics: “The next sentence is a lie. The prior sentence is true.”

573 B.C.
Nemea becomes the first site for the Olympics: a peaceful competitive event that we practice in the modern era to promote world peace.

563 B.C.
Siddhartha Gutama (the Buddha) is born and supposedly attains enlightenment in 528 B.C. But does this enlightened person hire a scribe to write his stuff down? No. He just tells us that our self is an illusion and that we can be free from the cycle of rebirth. Three centuries later monks write down the “Dhammapada” while his teachings are still fresh on their minds after three hundred years.

542 B.C.
Jainism becomes a real religion. Jainism is perhaps the most non-violent of all religions on earth. Some of its practitioners even cover their mouths to protect microbes. Unlike Buddhists, Jainists believe in a soul as well as enlightenment. So when THEY become enlightened they are still eternal. Not like those pansy Buddhists who can’t write things down on time.

According to Jainism, Mahavira (the founder) is the last of a chain of 24 enlightened beings to appear on Earth. His life lines up with the likely publishing date of of the Upanishads: one of the most important books of all time. It is quite possible that some of the Upanishads were written at this time or during the chain of lifetimes preceding his. IMPORTANT: In 542 the Fifth Ara is launched according to Jainism – 25,000 years of good will for humankind. So, according to the Jains, we have another 20,000 years of good will ahead.

And that’s a way cooler story than the coming 2012 flap.

544 B.C.
Sun Tsu is born. He does hire a scribe to write his stuff down so we can all kill each other really, really, really well. You can always count on those hawkish war types to have well filed paperwork.

551 B.C.
Confucius is Born and tells the world to have decent morals and common sense. He gets tenure for that and writes his stuff down by using those funny chinese characters you see in Chinese Restaurants. He puts a lot of these characters into a book called “The Analects of Confucius.”

569 B.C.
Pythagorus is born and creates both the method of mathematical proof, the discovery of irrational numbers, the Pythagorean theorem and a creepy, cult-like, vegan, bean-free religious cult that murders its members when they tell club secrets.

525 B.C.
The Greek Dramas start being written and performed adding a wealth of wonder and wisdom for the humanities.

516 B.C.
The Second Temple is Completed with an Empty Holy of Holies.

Now that that is done, let’s consult the world religion pie chart and see what comes up as being directly correlated with this seventy year window.

The Jews, whose temple got razed, rebuilt and razed again now only make up .22% of all religions of the world. But religions based off of their traditions and prophets of Judaism that tie directly to this temple story make up the largest part of the pie chart: Christianity makes up 33% and bases itself on the fact that the Jewish system of sacrifices was no longer any good from said temple destructions, Islam makes up 21% based on the idea of God’s judgment against the Jews along with sloppy secretarial skills. Buddhism makes up 6% in spite of the late scriptures and “Chinese Traditional” makes up 6% which includes Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Option #1: If we were lucky enough to have some of the Upanishads published at this time, then the pie adds up to 80.22% of all practitioners of religion having major contributions during this window of time. The majority of the rest are non-believers and animists.

Option #2: If the Upanishads did not appear in this window of time, then this area of time directly impacts 64% of those practicing religion today.

And if you count Thales as the creator of Science, that number gets a big boost.

Wow. Regardless, that was quite a temple razing wasn’t it? And look what got out of the barn!

How Different Viewpoint May Look at These Correlating Events:

A scientist (like Thales) will most likely state that correlation is not causation and she will be correct according to the Scientific Method. Connected dots don’t equal truth or even though truth and trends often correlate with dots thus wonderfully connected.

A conservative Christian may believe that during this time, Satan unleashed evil religions on the earth as part of his lie when the presence of God left the Holy of Holies. And that these stories are keeping people from finding the hope that exists in the blood of Christ and the salvation that comes from believing in Him and His resurrection.

A Conservative Jew (like Jeremiah) may have several perspectives on what these correlations mean. But one thing is for sure, the loss and preservation of the sacred artifacts lost in this story would certainly concern him or her.

A Muslim may see the loss of the artifacts in this story as God’s judgement and point to their belief that Allah and His Koran are the way for all mankind to avoid Judgement and find everlasting happiness.

A Free Mason will see this as the end of the world’s greatest edifice: the Temple of Solomon.

A warrior (perhaps a general like Sun Tsu) will see this as the time where formal military theory is formed while holding his thumb worn copy of “The Art of War.”

A Jainist (like Mahavira) sees this time as the beginning of the fifth Ara, a 25,000 year age for the creation of enlightened beings. She also will connect deeply to ending of animal suffrage through the sacrificial rites of Levitical priests. Solomon’s Temple hosed the sacrifice of millions of animals. And for a Jain, such deaths are inexcusable.

A Buddhist (like Buddha) will see that the power of the Buddha’s presence on earth and point to an amazing miracle of his enlightenment experience.

A Pagan Greek (like Saphos) may see the explosive power of the Goddess Feminine during these seventy years and see how equality for women gets strong religious support in more than just one domain.

A numerologist (Like Pythagorus) will fondly remember the Pythagoreans and their religion whose mantra was “God is Number” and then go kill a cult member who talked too much.

A Taoist (like Lao Tsu) will smile from a field and remind us all that the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

A believer in democracy (like Solon) can see this as the first dawning of democratic principles in actual use.

And everybody else can come to her or his own conclusions.