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December’s blog took a lighthearted look at our sometimes frenetic pursuit of the Christmas Spirit. It was lighthearted but it was also meant to be respectful, because it explored something very real and powerful – transcendence – a state of being above or beyond normal consciousness. (The Christmas Spirit is an experience of transcendence.) As wonderful as transcendence is however, it also happens to be one of the disconnects that lies at the heart of the perceived incompatibility of religiosity and secularism. Religious Christians hold up “drug-free” transcendence as support for their worldview and believe a supernatural soul is involved. Atheists think it’s a crock, or believe that only a natural brain is involved. We humans claim to have the ability to co-exist with complete strangers, secular and religious (irregardless of their views on transcendence) in a respectful, reciprocal, and mutually beneficial manner, but it’s easy to lose hope that this will ever come to pass if one does not see it manifested from time to time. So the question here is, where does one go to find peace on earth, good will towards others in a world divided?

Many who were raised Christian might point to the peace and good will they may have experienced within organized religion and individual church congregations. Indeed, people who attend the same church are often very supportive of one another, and this benevolence is sustained by transcendent experiences shared after concentrated study of ancient literature, participation in upbeat music, and prayer. But nothing in this world is free and there is a price one must pay to belong to such a group. Participants have to confine themselves to the religious/philosophical/cultural box inhabited by the congregation. Head to toe tattoos, and prurient couture, for example, would likely disqualify a person (at least unofficially) from real acceptance in a “God-fearing” Christian community. Prudish attire would be necessary just to block the chill rolling off everyone’s shoulders. A belief that the Bible is not the inspired (or literal) word of God because God does not exist would be a complete deal-breaker. Is this quid pro quo arrangement hypocritical? Is the peace and good will acquired at such a price the real thing?

It may seem obvious to some that conditional peace and good will (fully available only to those within the box) is hypocritical, since Jesus himself publicly flouted such distinctions, but keep in mind that boxes in general are the rule in life rather than the exception. If you are in a committed relationship, for example, and expect to stay there, you necessarily confine yourself to a box. At work, at the mall, at the theater, on the road, everywhere you go, every time you go, you confine yourself to boxes – shared beliefs and limits – and expect others to do the same. And why not? The world is a wild and crazy place, and slippery slopes surround us. The mind/emotion symbioses each of us embodies is arguably the most powerful force we will ever encounter. Controlled it can bring harsh reality to heel, uncontrolled it can destroy us, and anyone who has worked at a psychiatric hospital will tell you that nobody is immune from that potential destruction. Is it surprising that people feel the need for boxes?

The problem is not boxes. The problem is a desperate fear, conscious or unconscious, of everybody on the outside that compels zealots to first, drag into their box as many unwilling strangers as they can, and second, incapacitate those they cannot capture in order to neutralize the threat of that which they do not understand. This is where certain “religious” groups in America and elsewhere – not larger religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc., but sub-sets of these – have been very bad boys and girls. And their bullying has catalyzed a response some are calling “the new Atheism.”

The term refers to the fact that former live-and-let-live Atheists are on the offensive for the first time in recent history. They are calling religiosity out. And who can blame them? The American Religious Right and the radical Muslims so much in our faces lately are mirror-image poster children for violently imposed cultural and religious standards and practices. But while this cage fight between secularism and religiosity represented by the new Atheism movement has produced a cornucopia of fascinating and important philosophical discussion on the Web, it has also added to the strident cacophony of divisive rancor so prevalent in today’s cultural interface. Peace and good will seem further away than ever. Unless…Is it possible religion really is the problem? Is religion an obstacle to peace and good will that will eventually be sloughed off like an old skin? This is unlikely for a lot of reasons (read some of the debate on the internet), and, as it turns out, secularism is no more reliably virtuous than organized religion. Secularists can be as mean and reactionary as anyone else. Again, the problem is not necessarily the box one chooses to inhabit, but the fear of a world outside of one’s box that cannot be understood or controlled.

So, if universal peace and good will – peace and good will that can exist outside of quid pro quo boxes – can’t be found in either religion or secularism, where on earth should we look for it? Try looking for it among Progressives. No kidding. If you are a Progressive, you already know this. If you aren’t, understand that Progressives live in a box too, but it is big enough to include everybody, both religious and secular. Our limits are the universe and humankind (the jury is still out on space aliens). But if you’re going to party with Progressives, leave small mindedness and prejudice at the door. We are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Omnists, Atheists, Agnostics,and other viewpoints too numerous to list here and we come in all shades (there is no such thing as race) and all sexual orientations and identifications. If you can step up your curiosity and acceptance a notch, then a roomful of Progressives is where you can find real peace and good will. Now the only problem is finding a roomful of Progressives……

Rejoice lucky person!! WHYR is hosting its next bi-monthly Progressive Social January 28th from 6 pm to 8 pm at the station (1623 Main Street) and we want you to come. Show up, eat, drink, have fun. Ask questions and tell us about yourself. Speaking of transcendence (cause we were), a roomful of Progressives is where you could find out that secular Atheists have transcendent experiences also (as do Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Omnists, Agnostics, and other viewpoints too numerous to list here) because nobody will be offended if you ask. Look – everything in this universe is interconnected in a matrix of influence. Deep cosmic mystery and food-and-beverage-assisted chillaxation are no exception. If you are a Progressive, come meet your brothers and sisters. If you aren’t, come get your mind blown and your heart opened. Hope to see you there!

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