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Publisher's Note

Author: 
Dr. Shiv Talwar, President, Spiritual Heritage Education Network Inc.

Post-Truth Era in Religion and Its Ramifications

Introduction

It is widely reported (Wang 2016), (Flood 2016) that the editors of the Oxford Dictionary selected “post-truth” as the international word of the year 2016 in recognition of the nearly 2,000 percent increase in its usage in news articles and social media in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2016 over the previous year.

The Publisher’s note for the January 2017 issue of Cloverleaf is a reflection on the modernity of its recognition and the antiquity of its mindset. While the notion of “post-truth” came to light in 2016, its  mindset has been playing havoc with the state of our universe for a very long time.

Purpose

The state of the universe is intimately related with what we collectively think the universe ultimately is and what is the nature of this reality. The notion of “post-truth” is related to minimising the relevance of the truth by promoting the attitude of indifference to it with arguments that may sound palatable relative to the perceived abstraction or inherent bitterness, difficulties and hardships in the pursuit of the truth.

Modern science has caught up with ancient wisdom on the nature of this ultimate reality. Our academy however underplays it importance perhaps because of the attitude to indifference promoted by the powerful post-truth influence in our faiths. This indifference is costing humanity untold misery through the loss of the vision of common good. As a result, we are dogged by our misguided “us” vs “them” conflicts rather than “us together” love and compassion. The resultant fragmentation of humanity, its mistrust, greed, identity violence, and mindless exploitation of nature have many discerning people wondering whether there is any humanity left on the planet.

Scope

The scope of this reflection includes:

  1. The notion of “post-truth”, its recent recognition in the political arena, and the causes leading to the creation of a mindset which aims to hide from the truth.
  2. Ancient field of inquiry into what the universe ultimately is, nature of this ultimate reality —- traditional wisdom and modern science on the resulting metaphysical (Wikipedia n.d., Metaphysics) truth.
  3. Truth-based and post-truth understanding of religion with price paid for the latter.
  4. Remediation of problems caused by post-truth religiosity.

Post-Truth

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “post-truth” as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It offers two examples of the use of the expression namely ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it is easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever truth you desire’ and ‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’.

Two political events primarily cited for the skyrocketing usage of this expression were the “Brexit” referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. According to Wikipedia (Wikipedia n.d., Post-truth politics), “Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of "secondary" importance.”

Wikipedia continues, “While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet.”

Why do human beings set truth aside? What makes us forget about facts? How does truth lose its importance? How do facts become irrelevant? There can be two possible answers.

Firstly, we may have a set of beliefs or preconceived ideas to which we are deeply attached emotionally. We may regard them too dearly to let go. We tend to disregard the truth or facts when faced with a threat of losing our system of beliefs and preconceived truths held dearly with emotion.

Secondly our emotions may come in the way of the pursuit of the truth. What is an emotion? An emotion is an urge to act impulsively in an autonomic manner without prior consideration. Action is in response to a perception. An emotion thus is an autonomous unconsidered response to a perception in the external world or the internal world (a memory recall). The response to a stimulus is determined by the feelings of prior experiences or by natural instincts resulting from biologic inheritance.

Emotions can be classified into base emotions which are either survival based or perceived as such on one hand and noble and selfless on the other. Base emotions are related to selfhood while noble emotions are related to others. Feelings of love and compassion underlie noble emotions while those of fear, likes, dislikes and finitude (self-image of helplessness and weakness) underlie base emotions.

Finitude

Our self-image begins with the perception of our body.  Our body is finite and limited. Its limitedness leads to a feeling of helplessness. Our mentality is defined by the feelings about the body. We develop feelings of finitude and helplessness in shaping our lives. We feel incapable of freeing ourselves from the feelings of the limited body-mind and its experiences in the external world. We get trapped in the box of our physical experience, referred to as the individual ego in psychology.

Likes

We feel attracted to things that lead to pleasant experiences. We then want to repeat those experiences. Our tendency to repeat pleasant experiences leads to attachment to those things that generate them.

Our inability to repeat pleasant experiences results in feelings such as sadness, anger and depression. On the other hand, our ability to repeat them strengthens mere likes to become wants, needs, requirements, appetites, compulsions, habits, dependencies, cravings, obsessions and addictions.

It is not only that we want things and experiences we like; we do not want others to have them. The underlying feeling is called jealousy. If we don't have them, we absolutely do not want others to have them either.

The stronger the feelings of our finitude, the stronger are the feelings of our likes and its offspring such as appetites, habits, addictions, jealousy, anger and depression.

Dislikes

We feel repulsed by the things that lead to unpleasant or painful experiences. We do not want to relive those experiences.

Our tendency to avoid unpleasant experiences leads to aversion of those things that generate them. Mere dislikes thus become distastes, aversions, detestations, disgusts, repulsions and hatreds. The stronger the feeling of finitude, the stronger the sense of aversion and hatred born of dislikes.

Our inability to avoid our dislikes results in unhappiness, anger and depression.

Fears

The biggest fear is that of death.

Our likes and dislikes refer to our perception of the quality of life. We do not want things that we do not like. We develop a fear of things that we dislike and on the other hand we do not want to lose things that we like which creates  a fear of loss.

We feel dismayed at getting things that we dislike or not getting things that we like. Simple fear leads to phobia, worry, anxiety, depression, or dread so much as to make us contemplate suicide as an escape.

It is important to notice how the sense of our finitude is related to our fears. Our sense of finitude leads to our feeling of weakness. It also underlies our level of self confidence. The weaker we feel, the lesser our confidence in ourselves and the higher  our feeling of fear. The feelings derived from it are negative feelings such as mistrust, worry, anxiety, depression etc.

Our self-image, likes, dislikes and fears conspire to distort our perception of the value of truth. How do our emotions and preconceived ideas make us  devalue and disregard truth or facts? The answer seems to lie in the way our neural system is structured, see Figure 1.

Figure 1 shows the neural structure of a human being with (a) pointing to the network of nervous system spread all over the body, (b) pointing to the limbic brain on top of the spine and (c) pointing to the neocortex located just inside the skull around the limbic brain.

Our neural system comprises of the systems of control which run our bodily functions and our behaviour in the inner and outer world. The brain located in the head, Figure 1 (b) and (c), is the controller. The network of neurons which spreads out in every part of the body and called the nervous system, transmits the state signals from the body to the brain and control signals from the brain to various parts of the body.

The brain work of controlling life and living is divided primarily between two functional parts: the limbic brain comprising of various neural anatomical structures located at the top of the spine and the surrounding neocortex just underneath the skull and around it.

All creatures have a limbic brain. One of its roles is to sustain life. It runs time sensitive body functions that sustain life in an autonomic manner. We are not at all conscious of this function. In addition, it also runs all time sensitive survival related base emotions. If the nervous system relays to it that it senses danger, it sends control signals to various parts of body for flight or fight. If the nervous system relays to it the sighting of something we really like, we do not wait to grab it unless we lose the opportunity. If the nervous system relays to it the sighting of something we really dislike, we do not wait to run away to escape from it lest we get it. If we have a strong sense of weakness, time sensitivity of these matters is even more critical. There is no time to think, when we are facing time sensitive survival related impulses. Therefore consideration involving thought is not included in its function; in fact it is removed from it.

The neural structure physically helps the limbic brain by connecting it directly with the nervous highways running through the spine while the neocortex  is only indirectly connected to them, placing the limbic system in a priority position for receiving state signals and sending control commands.

In allocating a survival related role to the limbic part, nature is indeed very wise; there is no time to be lost in saving life in case of danger to survival.

The role of the neocortex includes thought, awareness, mindfulness, volition, insight, learning ability, strategy, problem solving, love, compassion etc. Seeking and pursuing truth is its role. Its role is not time sensitive and can be slow. Consideration is time consuming.

While the limbic activity is 24/7, that of the neocortex is occasional. The limbic brain may be over-active and the neocortex so slow that at times we are not even aware of having acted until it is too late.

Neocortex is named as such because it developed later in the evolution of life. Primitive creatures do not have a neocortex and only mammals have been blessed with it. It was a later development as an individual brain. Survival is the only issue and the limbic brain suffices. Humans have the most developed neocortex. But, alas it is unused; our limbic brain running our base emotions fixed on mere survival or its perceived style hijacks (Goleman 2006) the neocortex and uses it only to serve its purpose. As a result, we humans are likely to sacrifice on the altar of our base emotions, all noble pursuits including not just truth in itself, but love, compassion, insight, learning, spiritual growth et al and also those values that are implied by it.

Ultimate Reality of Wisdom Traditions and Science

Contesting and falsification of truth or relegating it to secondary importance is certainly neither a contemporary issue nor is limited to political life. On the contrary, it has been surreptitiously practiced for defiling spirituality: the most noble of the sciences informing us of what we ultimately are and how we relate to existence.

Matter lends itself to some degree of sense perception; it is said to possess a degree of concreteness or grossness. Spirit on the other hand is not sense perceptible at all; it is said to be infinitely subtle and totally lacking grossness or concreteness. Metaphysical truth links spirit with existence as its ground of being and physical truth links energy as the ground of being of matter.

Both energy and spirit are infinitely subtle. Whereas grossness or concreteness lends an object to sense perception, subtlety deprives it of it. Sense perception comprises information leading to knowledge. We can easily know what is gross. On the contrary, we do not know with full certainty what is subtle. We may have to make a special effort using instruments to extend the reach of our senses for gaining certainty about subtle objects. But instrumentation has its limits; no instrument is limitlessly powerful for gaining absolute knowledge of what is infinitely subtle.

How do we then know that an infinitely subtle principle exists? Besides indirect sense perception of it through its effects, the only direct means we  have is human wisdom gained with sharp and sustained focus of our minds which cannot see with the certainty of our senses but can definitely reflect and infer to realise it. This realisation can be validated with testimony of reliable sources.

Both energy and spirit being infinitely subtle are unknowable with direct sense perception. What is infinitely subtle is also formless; it does not lend itself to any attribution; it does not lend itself to any action; we cannot compare it with anything else and we cannot directly know anything about it. On account of our language being related to the objects of our senses, we cannot talk about it with definiteness either.

All we can definitely say about an infinitely subtle principle is that it concretises itself to assume gross forms in the universe of sense perception. The infinitely subtle energy of physics concretises itself as inanimate material objects. But the universe does not comprise only of inanimate objects; it consists of inanimate and animate beings. The infinitely subtle spirit of metaphysics concretises itself as animate as well as inanimate beings. The difference between physics and metaphysics is in their scope; while the scope of physics is the inanimate matter; the scope of metaphysics is more comprehensive, it includes the inanimate as well as animate.

What is the difference between the inanimate and the animate? They both have a material dimension; therefore the energy of physics underlies them both. The animate is more comprehensive; it in addition displays consciousness. The spirit of metaphysics thus includes consciousness in addition to the energy of physics.

What is consciousness? It too is infinitely subtle. Although we cannot perceive it by our senses, we can surely perceive its effects. Our individual consciousness is the effect of this infinitely subtle principle of consciousness. It is what lends us our knowledge and understanding, our individual consciousness.

Both energy and consciousness are infinitely subtle. Energy lends all beings their external macro existence and consciousness animates it through their inner micro existence.

Can two infinitely subtle principles that underlie everything that exists, themselves sustain separate existence?  The answer evidently is no; their separate existence is impossible to imagine. Energy and consciousness thus are an indivisible whole (spirit) although we may talk about the two individually for the sake of linguistic expression.

Modern science has now caught up with ancient wisdom traditions in identifying the final truth of all existence:

  1. All that exists is ultimately spirit; it is the Self of all beings.
  2. Spirit is limitless in space: formless; limitless in time: eternal, immovable and changeless; beyond perception and unknowable: ineffable, incomprehensible, incomparable and without attribution: beyond activity or action of any kind whatsoever; limitless in inclusion and pervasiveness or permeation.
  3. It expresses itself in the being of all forms limited in space and time and in all becoming subject to action, movement, change and attribution.

Real, Essence and Absolute are other terms used to refer to the unseen and limitless spirit of wisdom traditions. Self is another term to denote the real as it relates with an individual. Since an individual is also a part of the universe, ultimate reality of an individual cannot be different from that of the universe. Since our Self is the same, ultimately we are all one.

That beyond which there is nothing the inmost Self of all, free from differentiation the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute.

Shankara (Madhavananda 1957, 263)

 “Know that whenever something permeates another, the first is necessarily contained in the second. The permeater becomes veiled by the permeated, so that the passive one (i.e. the permeated) is the ‘outward’ and the active one (i.e. the permeater) is the inward which is invisible.

(Izutsu 1983, 233)

The Real permeates the universe. The Real thus is the all permeating while the universe is the permeated. The Real is the inner while the universe is the outer. The outer universe is visible while the inner Real is invisible. Similarly, the Real permeates an individual also. The Real Self then is the invisible inner in relation to the individual as the outer visible.

According to physics, energy is the ultimate reality of matter. Thus, it is the invisible inner permeater concealing our material body which is the visible outer permeated. Similarly we can say, consciousness is the invisible inner reality of the self-perceptible mind which is like the outer concealing it’s inner. Thus, our body is ultimately one and so is our mind.

A question arises here. How does energy permeate matter? Let us examine. Elementary chemistry teaches us that all matter is comprised of elements and compounds. Elements are few in number while diversity of compounds is infinite.

Elements are comprised of the same type of atoms at the micro level (Wikipedia n.d., Atom). Compounds on the other hand are comprised of different types of atoms. Elements on the periodic table (Wikipedia n.d., Periodic table) combine in infinite number of ways to produce an infinite number of compounds. Thus, infinite diversity in material underlies a small and finite number of elements on the periodic table.

Let us now examine atoms underlying elements. An atom is the smallest particle of an element with the properties of the element. Can an atom be subdivided? The answer is yes, but sub-atomic particles have their own identities apart from any of the elements they comprise.

Where do the sub-atomic particles come from? Since all matter is ultimately energy, all sub-atomic particles are ultimately the concretised form of energy.

There are three types of the sub-atomic particles: electrons with very little mass and carrying a unit of negative charge; protons equal in number to that of the electrons and having a significant mass and carrying a unit of positive charge; and neutrons equal in number to that of the electrons and protons with a mass equal to that of protons with no charge at all. Protons and neutrons combine in close proximity to each other to form the nucleus of the atom. The nucleus is positively charged because of the positive charge of its protons, it is also heavy with almost the whole of the mass of the atom.

We know that positive charges repel each other. Then how can protons be held in close proximity in the nucleus? The answer is energy. There is requisite amount of energy in the nucleus to hold the positively charged protons that repel each other. Without this energy permeating the nucleus, it cannot maintain its integrity.

Electrons comprise a cloud of negatively charged extremely light particles orbiting the nucleus at a fast pace. We also know that opposite charges attract each other. Then why don’t the electrons with very little mass and negative charge collapse on the heavy positively charged nucleus which attracts them with a tremendous force? The answer again is energy in the space between the nucleus and the electrons that keeps them apart. Thus atoms cannot maintain their integrity without energy permeating the space between the electrons and the nucleus. Thus sub-atomic particles are energy particularised in their form held to together in atomic integrity by energy in itself in some form or the other. Energy thus not only creates the material universe but permeates it through and through. Energy is thus said be all pervasive. Energy is said to be the Self of all matter.

Let us now pay attention to the domain of the mind. If we inquire about the location of the mind: “Where is the mind in relation to our body?” The answer is that the mind is the invisible inner permeater in relation to the visible outer mind. It exists in every cell of the body. Every cell of our body composed of about many trillion cells has its own mind. What we call our mind is the sum total of the minds of all these cells acting through the brain which becomes the tool through which it works.

If our mind is the sum total of the minds of trillions of living cells in our body, can we talk of mind as separate from body? Wisdom traditions do not regard the mind and body as separate. Unlike the mind body dualism of Descartes (Wikipedia n.d., René Descartes), we have one mind-body complex.

Just as we are living beings with a body comprised of the bodies of trillions of cells, our minds too are comprised of trillions of minds of the individual cells that make up our body. Wisdom traditions regard the universe as alive with a body consisting of trillions of bodies of beings in the universe and a mind consisting of trillions of minds of individuals in the universe. Energy is the ultimate reality of its body and consciousness that of its mind. Just like our body and mind are inseparable, energy and mind also are indivisibly one spirit.

In its core spirituality, religion refers to the Ultimate Reality using divine terminology such as Godhead and God. In popular religion, religion uses divinity or Gods to refer to anthropomorphic beings with human traits. 

Let us examine how wisdom traditions express the limitlessness and mystery of spirit:

“Whatever we say God is, He is not; what we do not say of Him, He is more truly than what we say He is”

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. I, 237)

“It is His nature to be without nature. To think of goodness or wisdom or power disassembles the essence and dims it in thought. The mere thought obscures essence.”

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. II, 32)

“For goodness and wisdom and whatever may be attributed to God are all admixtures to God’s naked essence: for all admixtures cause alienation from essence.”

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. II, 39)

 “God is something that necessarily transcends being. God is in all creatures insofar as they have being, and yet He is above them. By being in all creatures, He is above them: what is one in many things must need be above those things.

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. II, 149)

God is nothing: not in the sense of having no being. He is neither this nor that that one can speak of: He is being above all being. He is beingless being.

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. II, 115)

He who supposes that he has knowledge of the positive attributes of the Self has supposed wrongly. For such an attribute would define Him, but His essence has no definition.

Ibn Arabi (Chittick 1989,58)

He is not declared incomparable in any manner that will remove Him from similarity, nor is He declared similar in any manner that will remove Him from incomparability. So do not declare Him non delimited and thus delimited by being distinguished from delimitation. For if He is distinguished then He is delimited by His non delimitation. And if He is delimited by His non delimitation, then He is not He.

Ibn Arabi (Chittick 1989,112)

It is not correct for the Real and the creation to come together in any mode whatsoever in respect of the Essence, only in respect of the fact that the Essence is described by the Divinity.

Ibn Arabi (Chittick 1989, 59)

[T]he Cosmos is but a fantasy without any real existence. [K]now that you are an imagination as is all that you regard as other than yourself an imagination. All existence is an imagination within an imagination, the only Reality being God, as Self and Essence, not in respect of His names.

Ibn Arabi (Austin 1980, 124-125)

In respect of His Self, God possesses the Unity of the One, but in respect of His Names, He possesses the Unity of the many.

Ibn Arabi (Chittick 1989, 337)

The phenomenal, when it is joined to the Eternal, vanishes and leaves no trace behind. When He is there, thou art not, and if thou art there, He is not.

Junayd (Nicholson 1978, 90)

 “… hence the Absolute cannot be designated by any name or form.

Shankara (A. J. Alston 1987, 87)

The Absolute is … ‘That from which words fall back, and That which ignorance only will attempt to define’.”

Shankara (Shah-Kazemi 2006, 2)

When the word Atman is used to denote the Self its function is to deny that the body or any other empirically knowable factor is the Self and to designate what is left as real, even though it cannot be expressed in words.

Shankara (A. J. Alston 1987, 144)

“The Absolute is artificially referred to with the help of superimposed name, form and action, and spoken of in exactly the way we refer to objects of perception …. But if the desire is to know the true nature of the Absolute, void of all external adjuncts and particularities, then it cannot be described by any positive means whatsoever. The possible procedure then is to refer to it through a comprehensive denial of whatever positive characteristics have been attributed to it in previous teachings and to say ‘not thus, not thus’.”

Shankara (A. J. Alston 1987, 141)

Truth-Based and Post-Truth Understanding of Religion

The oneness of all existence through its infinitely subtle, invisible and mystical metaphysical truth of the Absolute was personally realised by our enlightened sages, prophets, scientists and seers. Thus, this truth forms the foundation of all world religions. The metaphysical reality is infinite. It is the single source for all diverse beings. It is indescribable being itself beyond attribution and yet the source of all attributes. It is formless, but it lends form to the infinite diversity of the universe. It does not act, but it is the mover of all actions. It is infinite and unlimited itself, but leads to all limited and finite beings. It is incomparable itself and yet leads to all comparable existents.

True religion is truth based. It unites all existence. It is the source of universal values. It is inclusive of all that exists in the universe without any differentiation and bounds. Truth is based upon wisdom, critical reasoning and inquiry, not on emotion or personal beliefs. Our enlightened sages, prophets, scientists and seers realised the truth and started teaching it out of compassion for their fellow beings so that we could all be like them.

This truth-based religion of all humanity is the core spirituality of all religions of the world. Spirit, unlike material, is all inclusive. This understanding of religion is nectar of love, life and justice. It unequivocally declares the essential oneness of all existence.

With oneness realised, we see all existence as one system. The universe comes to life just as an individual person. Just like our mind-body complex is comprised of trillions of cells, the living universe is comprised of trillions and trillions of existents of which it is comprised. Just as all of our cells coexist in peace with each other and work harmoniously as a team for our survival, all existents of the universe must also must do the same failing which the universe is in danger just like we individually are when all our cells cease to sustain our life.

With oneness realised, there is no mistrust or fear. There is no hate and no love either in the sense that  I love you today and tomorrow I fall out of it and start hating you which is worldly love. Worldly hate and worldly love are forms of conditional love. Unconditional love dawns when we transcend worldly hate and worldly love.

When there is no worldly hate and no worldly love, there are no worldly appetites or greed. We consume of nature to sustain our lives as we contribute to nature to sustain it. That is coherent living when we all win: humans win, nature wins and none loses.

There is yet another understanding of religion; its other post truth face based upon personal beliefs and human emotion rather than the spiritual truth. In this understanding, truth is irrelevant; faith and emotion rule. This face of religion is downright divisive. It unites people in particular communities while simultaneously dividing humanity into conflicting tribes of “us” vs “them”. It builds tight boundaries around communities leading to tribalism. This is the post-truth religiosity in which the unlimited metaphysical truth of spirit as the underlying reality of the universe is essentially replaced by anthropomorphic Gods with human traits.

We may ask, “Why? What is the need to represent the formless infinite truth with a finite form whether carved in wood, stone or words?” The reason is the ineffability of the Real and human need of getting an initial grasp on it to begin the process of contemplation and examination. Inquiry requires a provisional concept to begin and sustain the process. The concept of yesterday has to be cast away and unlearnt and that of today to be provisionally accepted as the truth. Ultimate truth is achieved when the intellect is fully satisfied and further denial is impossible.

The process is somewhat like this. Suppose x is the truth. Let us examine x whether indeed it is the truth. After some contemplation on the various facets of x, we decide y may be the truth. We then drop x and start examining y. After contemplating  y, we decide that y is not it, z may be it. Then the process goes on. If the truth is finite and definable, the intellect is satisfied.When the truth is achieved in the process of inquiry and it pauses from looking further. And if the truth is undefinable, one keeps contemplating until all possibilities have been examined and negated. What is then left must be it. Having arrived at the possible truth, you validate it with applicable means of validation including empirical methods, reason or opinions of experts in the discipline of inquiry to be sure whether indeed you did arrive at the truth. If the truth arrived at is not validated, inquiry begins again.

In the case of the truth of what all existents ultimately are, you arrive at something that does not exist in the worldly sense of material existence and neither is it non existent. It exists transcendentally: it is neither  an existent neither a non- existent in the material sense.

Scripture uses attributes, names and forms as symbols to provisionally point to the “symbolized” with the implicit purpose that once people get contemplating on them, they will successively get beyond the symbols to the “symbolized” (Shah-Kazemi 2006, 5):

“First let me put them on the right path, and then I will gradually be able to bring them round to the final truth afterwards.”

Shankara (A. J. Alston 1989, 22)

Names, forms, attributes and concepts used as adjuncts to limit the infinite provisionally into finite intelligibility must be clearly distinguishable from the Absolute Reality. Dependence upon the limiting adjuncts must be reduced by  subtilising them through successive unlearning and negating, along with a movement towards enlightenment of the truth as the final the goal. It is possible to do only if the seeker or the lover of the truth does not get emotionally entangled or attached to a provisional truth on her/his path to enlightenment.

It must also be understood that the limiting adjunct is not the Absolute you are seeking, it is not only different from the Absolute but it also at the same time colors the Absolute according to its own nature. Shankara warns that a limiting adjunct used as an expedient for a conceptual starting point for the reality of the Absolute may reveal but always simultaneously veil its true nature (Shah-Kazemi 2006, 6).

According to Ibn Arabi, “definition of Reality is impossible” (Austin 1980, 58, 74), therefore doctrine must inescapably be incommensurate with Reality as it is in itself. Doctrines and beliefs also become obstacles on the way to Reality because they bind it to particular concept promoted by religion which must be unlearnt for spiritual growth.

 “It is well known that when the Scriptures speak of the Reality, they speak in a way that yields to the generality of men the immediately apparent meaning. The elite on the other hand, understand all the meanings inherent in that utterance, in whatever terms it is expressed”

Ibn Arabi (Austin 1980, 73)

The purpose of the scripture is an immediately apparent concept for the generality people to begin seeking deeper. Left to themselves, people largely stay at this starting concept for life since they have no tools and societies make no provisions to help them go beyond it. Religions make little effort to help people along the long road from the immediately apparent to the infinite mystery of Reality. Humanity has paid highly for this negligence by way of human fragmentation and environmental issues afflicting us today.

The more limiting the adjunct and the more binding the concepts of faith, the more they veil Reality than reveal. Anthropomorphic Gods of religion with human traits meant as provisional starting points to kick start the process of contemplation themselves begin masquerading as the Absolute which in itself is largely banished from human awareness.  It is so very easy for us to get emotionally attached to belief in God with human traits that we forget that they are meant to be temporary tools to help us get on the road to personal discovery of the truth. There is no effective system to clearly inform of the true nature of Reality or that of the limiting adjuncts in divine forms meant to help us along the way of spiritual growth.

We have looked at the thought of Shankara and Ibn Arabi, let us now look at what Meister Eckhart says.

“God and Godhead are as different as heaven and earth. … God becomes and unbecomes. … God works, the Godhead does no work: there is nothing for it to do, there is no activity in it. It never peeped at any work.”

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. II, 80)

God and the Absolute are as different as heaven and earth. The reference to heaven and earth is from the book of Genesis where heaven is used to signify the inner and earth as the outer such as mind and body. God is the outer and the Absolute Godhead is His inner essence. The essence transcends being and becoming while God becomes and unbecomes. God comes into being at the beginning of existence and goes out of existence at the end of it. As compared with God, Godhead is eternal: it transcends time. God acts: it is finite and endowed with human traits. It needs to act. Godhead on the other hand transcends activity: it has no need because it unlimited in itself.

“God in as much as He is “God,” is not the supreme goal of creatures. … [I]f a fly had reason and could intellectually plumb the eternal abysm of God’s being out of which it came, we would have to say that God, with all that makes Him “God” would be unable to fulfil and satisfy that fly.”

Meister Eckhart (Walshe 1959, Vol. II, 271)

If there is any intellectual awareness or capacity needed to understand the transcendental Absolute as the source of God just as it is the source of all existence, then God will not be able to fulfil and satisfy even the puny mind of a fly, let alone a human being and yet post-truth religion presumes to be fulfilled and satisfied by Him!

Why do we need to rediscover truth uncovered by ancient wisdom as well as by science? It is not merely rediscovering the wheel. We need the kind of deep conviction that results from incisive contemplation of Reality (on our way to spiritual development and enlightenment) in order to transcend our base emotions and appetites and transform our vision from “me” to “we”, from “us” vs “them” into “us together”. We need the pursuit of truth to transform our heads, hearts and hands to act in harmony to acquire the vision of oneness for a real life of service and love with wisdom.

To ensure that we stay focussed and bound to the form of God in our religion, the post-truth form of it seems to conspire that we do not become aware of the Absolute truth at all. We are told to remain true to the articles of faith. Post-truth religion of faith keeps us away from the truth based religion of humanity lest they lose control over our minds. The institution of post-truth religion wants us to remain under its particular influence lest we grow and transcend into the common religion of inclusive humanity.

Inspite of having been given one infinite reality, post-truth religion goes on to confine it in finite forms built in words or otherwise. Describing the indescribable in particular ways, post-truth religion identifies the underlying reality with its respective form. The form becomes the God. Suddenly, somebody's God becomes false or less Godlike, somebody's prophet less prophetic or un-prophetic, and somebody's community less righteous and deserving.

In its drive to distinguish communities and demarcate territories, this post-truth face of religion encourages divisiveness. This face not only sets communities apart but against each other and is toxic, insidious and downright poisonous.

Until modern times, humanity existed in geographically isolated and homogenous communities but thanks to modern transportation, geographical distances are fast shrinking. Travel between communities are speedily decreasing homogeneity. Thanks to the internet and modern telecommunications, geographical isolation is fast decreasing and communication increasing. As a result, the world is fast becoming small and diverse. Homogenous communities of the recent past are rapidly becoming extinct. Divisive post-truth religiosity must now give way to a unifying core spirituality or our scientific and technological developments is likely to become the cause of our extinction and that of the universe.

Remediation of Problems Plaguing Humanity Today

An inability to perceive equality threatens pluralistic societies. The best we can then hope for is an uneasy peace; and history is proof that uneasy peace is easily broken.

We need to enrich and expand our identity. Let us not be so fearful about losing our religious identity that we isolate ourselves and shy away from building bridges to survive in pluralistic societies or a pluralistic global village that the world is fast becoming.

We must wholeheartedly adopt the truth-based unitive face of religion. We must discard the divisive one in our lives and  in the education of our children. Otherwise, the sustainability of everything inter-religious or pluralistic, including dialogues, marriages or democracies, would be threatened.

Yes, the pursuit of truth requires us to transcend belief and emotionality that promotes post-truth religiosity. The world needs to tread the path of the truth and be careful about using expediency of narrow adjuncts that are self limiting and which clip the wings of the infinity that truth actually is. Truth may be abstract and harder to reach for the generality of people because it requires us to think in an educated and informed manner. Education must therefore pursue it because the pursuit of the truth with critical reasoning should be a goal of education.

Let us then educate about the truth-based core spirituality of religion in our schools, colleges and universities to help humanity deal with the problems caused by a lack of the vision of oneness and commonality and the ensuing  human fragmentation and environmental exploitation that is plaguing us today. Post-truth era in religion must now end.

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