I have recently been reminded of an excellent song by the band Kansas entitled, “Dust in the Wind.” It is a song I remember hearing and enjoying as a child, as it came out in January of 1978 when I was just five years old. While I didn’t comprehend the meaning of the song then, as an adult I hear it now with a new appreciation. It is an excellent and poignant song which within its beautiful melodic singing passages and acoustic guitar accompaniment, speak honestly about the impermanence of everything – a sentiment related throughout the Old Testament in the Bible, especially in Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah.
Genesis 3:19, “…for dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
Ecclesiastes 3:20 “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”
Isaiah 40:6, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…”
As I have mentioned before on this site, the message of everything’s impermanence was drastically altered with Jesus’ message in the New Testament of “eternal life” – a blatant contradiction to his father’s Old Testament message of impermanence, and even more puzzling with what Jesus states in Matthew 5:17-18.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
This passage makes it clear Jesus is not saying the Old Testament “no longer applies” with his message of the New Testament, as many believers, apologists and theologians have incorrectly stated, but rather, is still in effect. He is therefore saying he was to fulfill the same Law that included God’s advocacy or allowance of slavery, genocide, and polygamy. It is also the same Law in which there is no afterlife, yet Jesus claimed there is an afterlife – in direct contradiction to the Old Testament Jesus himself said is still in effect. So which is it Jesus? It cannot be both. It was for Paul, who never met Jesus to claim the Old Testament Law is no longer applicable to those “of faith,” which is in direct contradiction to James, the brother of Jesus’ teachings that adhered strictly to Old Testament messianic beliefs about a warrior messiah who would militarily crush his enemies, not one such as Jesus of the New Testament who advocated paying taxes to Caesar and to “turn the other cheek.” Paul’s message is also in direct contradiction to Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5:17-18, which Paul must not have read, or more likely, as we have learned previously, was not yet written when Paul was writing his epistles.
Regardless of what the Bible says or does not say, whether it is a fiction, fraud, or just poetic metaphors for living, it is certain that all things are impermanent, and that death, decay, flux, and change, are forever a part of this dance of existence in the only world we can empirically verify and therefore know for certain is actually real – this one. While I have spent a great deal of time describing why religious belief is incorrect and not a reliable basis for knowing what is actually true, I wanted to reflect a bit on the positives of a non-theistic viewpoint. All too often non-believers readily describe what is wrong with religious belief without providing any positive alternative viewpoint, or the benefits of non-belief. This is something I myself have often been guilty of. There are many emotional, psychological, and cultural implications when embracing rationality and sound reasoning which need to be addressed if we are to find a measure of joy, acceptance, and peace in this life. Nevertheless, while the lyrics of the song “Dust in the Wind” and the Old Testament scripture passages quoted above may seem “depressing” to many of us, they don’t necessarily have to be depressing. It can instead be quite liberating to know we need not necessarily remain enslaved to the illusory ego.
I have often been puzzled how one could call an existence without an afterlife “meaningless,” as so many religious apologists and believers tend to do. For it is precisely because all things are impermanent – including our lives that give them so much meaning and compel us towards finding a sense of purpose. Ironically enough, the price for a life of meaning and purpose we so cherish is death. For it is death that gives meaning and gravity to the stories of our lives, the value of our limited time, the tragedies of Shakespeare, indeed the very concepts of value and purpose themselves which permeate all we hold dear and cherish are only possible with death. Yet many of us live as if we are going to live forever. Little else explains why so many of us live lives with little urgency, wasting our time on things that if we thought about it from the perspective of the fact we are not permanent, that our days are numbered, we would waste precious little time because you cannot ever get it back. At least when you waste money, you can earn it back, but when you waste time that time is gone, never to return again. There are a finite number of days in each of our lives. Why would we waste any time at all if we truly knew and understood this? That is why Jiddu Krishnamurti said we must truly embrace and live with the reality of death every day – that we must truly learn how to die each day, instead of avoiding and denying this reality by rationalizing how death is an “illusion,” and how if we believe in or do the “right things,” we will one day get an “eternal reward” of Heaven after we die. Where is the meaning and purpose in an “eternal existence?” And if that was the “purpose” of God’s Heaven, why then did God not just create Heaven from word go and avoid all of this unnecessary nonsense, death, and unimaginable suffering? The “free will” argument many apologists try to use here doesn’t work – ultimately because there truly is no “free-will,” as we have discovered before. Yet even if there was “free-will” on Earth, there is obviously no “free-will” in Heaven since we cannot “sin” while in Heaven, so why not give us no “free-will” on Earth from word go and avoid this entire debacle?
If death were taken away, then “meaning” and “purpose” would cease to exist. For it is rarity which enables meaning. If things are “forever,” they can then be taken for granted because they will always be there since there will always “be tomorrow.” How could anything have any value if it is guaranteed? For without a literal “deadline,” we would languish in truly meaningless lives that stretch on for a purposeless infinity, instead of ones that are filled with immense meaning and purpose precisely because there are limits to our lives that compel us to therefore find value in what we want to spend our limited time on. That is why the idea of Heaven would in reality be Hell – for even pleasure that goes on and on and on and on would eventually become unpleasant because it is precisely the contrasts and limits of existence which gives our lives shape, meaning, and purpose. While we tend to think the “limitless” is the only which has meaning or purpose, it is actually quite the opposite. The problem is, if we live “forever,” then meaning and purpose cease to exist, and if we don’t live forever, then we have meaning and purpose, but as we have discovered before, and discover once again – we cannot have it both ways.
So what are some of the positives of religious non-belief and genuine acceptance of reality, despite our difficulties in accepting it?
- Ownership and accountability for oneself and the world in which we live without the reliance on “divine intervention” – discourages the “blame-game“
- Realizing the immense value of things in awareness of the impermanence of all things
- Openness to the truth above one’s personal opinions or beliefs
- The realization our egos are just a part of ONE WHOLE, which has always been and will forever be, and in this realization, understanding there is no beginning or end to ALL
- Increased compassion for all in the realization we are all doing what we have no “free choice” to do, and the fact we are all “in the same boat” together
- Decreased fear when one realizes the illusion of ego, and the fact there is nothing – including no “self” to hold on to or to justify
- Peace and true freedom for all when we no longer have agendas or self-interests to defend, and instead strive to honestly, truthfully, and courageously know the truth at all costs – even at cost to our egos and their cherished beliefs and ideologies
From the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind,” it states “all we are is dust in the wind… nothing lasts forever but the Earth and sky,” yet even these will one day pass, just like everything else. The only which is unchanging and timeless – without beginning and without end, is All and the two principles of Oneness, as stated previously. While we tend to worship self to the point of projecting our self-concept onto the concept of an “external” God and other external, invisible “selves” or “beings,” it is amazing how few seem to contemplate the benefits of letting go of the illusory self in the first place, instead of endlessly trying to defend and validate it with our ego-based conceptual projections of “souls,” the afterlife, and “God.” The self is taken for granted as being “reality” by virtually everyone. It is this very belief which drives our concepts of God, spirits, angels, and every other “spiritual being” we can imagine. Even Rene Descartes believed the self is reality by virtue of his famous saying, “I think, therefore I am.” However, he had it backwards because in truth, “Think I, therefore I am not.” In other words, it is thought itself which is the “me,” the “self,” the “I,” because thought itself “produces” if you will, the “me,” the “self,” the “I,” for convenience of speaking – not some “real I” who is “doing” the thinking. This backwards thinking such as that illustrated by Descartes is the fundamental problem with all theistic thought, including that of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In fact and in truth, the thinker and the thought are one and the same, since without thought there is no thinker, and without the thinker there is no thought – they must therefore always coexist together at all times. Since the self is nothing more than thought itself, it is therefore an illusion – still real as a dream is real, but still not reality, as a dream is not reality.
Why would we want to let go of our religious beliefs and afterlife theories, especially if they provide us much comfort? Because comforting or not, they are based not on reality, but on the illusion of ego – the illusion of self in the first place; and ironically enough, there is everything to gain by losing our attachment to ego, and everything to lose by holding on to ego’s illusion. By believing in “eternal life” and “immortal souls,” “God,” or whatever other illusory beings or conceptions we wish to create to comfort and hold on to our egos, the fear never ends because these lies merely attempt to shield this illusion from being seen for what it is, rather than expose the truth of the illusion of self, and with it, all concepts of “beings,” “persons,” or any other ego-based notions. Even believers understand deep down the illusion of God, the self, and the afterlife, which is why many of those who claim to be “religious” are still very much disturbed by and afraid of the reality of death. I have always found it puzzling why believers would be disturbed and afraid, especially since death is supposed to provide the believer with everything and more they could possibly ever want after death. You would think believers would be jumping off bridges, taking lethal overdosages of drugs, and encouraging their friends to not get treatment for their deadly illnesses to expedite their entrance into Heaven if they really believed what they claim to believe, especially in light of how terrible life on Earth can be. The behavior of believers, who almost always do the exact opposite of trying to expedite their passing as well as the passing of others clearly illustrates the internal contradiction between what they know is true, and what they want to believe is true. The belief in God and the afterlife is merely an attempt at resolving believers’ cognitive dissonance between the two. That is why believers tend to get defensive and even angry when these beliefs are threatened, since these beliefs are their “answer” to “resolving” this cognitive dissonance – an “answer” they therefore do not wish to have taken away. But like drugs, these so-called “answers” merely covers over the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, but never resolves it. The defensiveness of believers who are confronted with the contradictions and therefore falsehood of their beliefs illustrate this fact clearly. If what they believed was true, then evidence would support it. Since there is no evidence to support their beliefs, and they know it, they therefore get defensive when the truth contradicts the conclusions they wish to defend.
While it may be difficult to let go of our egotistical attachments, and the many implications they have on several areas of our lives – emotional, cultural, psychological, or otherwise, perhaps we need to consider the price we pay for not letting go. Despite the so-called “comfort” of religious belief, we pay the price of a continuous cycle of fear, until the self is finally seen and accepted for the illusion it is, because since the self is an illusion, and most people are never internally comfortable with contradictions and falsehood as evidenced by the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, then holding on to this illusory idea will only produce further conflict, fear, anxiety, and war. That is why the only answer to bringing true peace and joy in our lives is to detach from the illusory ego and embrace the fact of impermanence, instead of endlessly trying to defend, justify, and preserve its illusion, as all ego-based theologies attempt to do, such as those of Christianity and Islam. This to me is the best reason of all to detach from religious belief. Once we can get to the point of true acceptance of our impermanence rather than explaining it away with afterlife and religious theories, and realize the fact there is a much larger picture than ourselves, then we will finally be in a position to genuinely decrease our fear, enslavement, and selfishness, while therefore genuinely increasing our compassion, freedom, selflessness, and joy. If we can instead be grateful for what we do have, instead of selfishly focusing on what we may not have or do not have, perhaps then we can find that true peace we so often elusively seek that passes all understanding.