Read the preface
Read the preface to Beyond God
This is not a book about praising the lord or finding your inner self. It is the distillation of a more than decade-long journey to understanding existence and finding a deep inexpressible joy in it by three steps: acknowledging what we have, resolving to realize the purpose for which we exist, and pursuing enlightenment. Acknowledging what we have is realizing that reality is a much stranger mystery than we usually appreciate, science is just a window to this reality not an answer in itself, and that some appreciation of philosophy can help us understand what it is we are and what a rare and wonderful opportunity life presents us with. It also means acknowledging what created us. We can each decide for ourselves if ‘God’ exists, but either way it means acknowledging life has meaning for each of us if we should choose to realize it. Resolution just means having acknowledged life is worthwhile and has a purpose, we should resolve to pursue it wholeheartedly and without neglect or hesitation. We should resolve to fulfill this purpose, which is to achieve happiness for ourselves and those around us. This doesn’t mean happiness in the ordinary sense; it means happiness in the fundamental sense. A deep and valuable fulfillment of existence. Pursuance is how to do this: how to pursue our purpose in the way we live in the world. How should we live and pursue the happiness that is the purpose of every human life?
It actually doesn’t matter at all whether you believe in ‘God’ or not. What matters is whether you appreciate your existence, what you do with it, and how you choose to live.
What is the point of life? The answer seems straightforward: it must be happiness, since if we’re not happy what’s the point of being alive? But real happiness, a truth more than just temporary pleasure or excitement, is not easy to find. It’s also hard to be happy if you think life has no meaning; that it is without purpose. But that’s what science seems to suggest. The creation of the earth and evolution appear random, meaningless events in a material universe. Physics and biology have demolished all the strange irrational beliefs about nature and creation that used to exist, sweeping away ideas held for thousands of years. The result is a wide range of views on the point of life; what it’s all about. Many think there is no God and life has no ultimate purpose other than to enjoy themselves whilst they’re alive. Life is just about enjoying yourself now, before you die: “There is no meaning because god doesn’t exist, and when we die, we won’t exist anymore either.” There’s no God and there’s nothing more to know. Philosophy has been replaced by science, and anything beyond it is religion which is just a faith in something without proof: ideals we want to believe. Once you realize you’re a creature like any other, created like any other by a blind process of evolution, and the driving force of life is survival and reproduction, where is the ultimate meaning?
But this way of thinking is a limited view of both science and philosophy. It’s taken for granted because science has shown the nature of reality, there’s nothing more to know and believe in. But once you understand some science you can see it’s only a door to understanding a world of more profound and vast complexity than mankind ever conceived possible. And as soon as we consider what science really has to say about the nature of reality it’s clear there’s nothing ordinary about it at all. Likewise philosophy seems irrelevant and displaced by science; by real concrete knowledge of reality. But science is really just a branch of philosophy, not something replacing it. ‘Philosophy’ is just applying critical reasoned thought in the search for knowledge and understanding. ‘Science’ is the application of philosophy to the world: the study of what is perceivable to the human senses by observation, idea and experiment. Philosophy is not only able to also consider things beyond science, such as what has meaning and how we should live. It is also able to consider the nature and limitations of perception and knowledge, from which science itself derives. And as any brief study of philosophy will show, whatever ‘ultimate’ reality may be, the only thing we can be sure of is we know very little about it. Most scientists would add we know very little about the reality we see and touch either.
Because religion is so important in people’s lives we often think it must be absolutely true or not at all. But even a short study of the history of any religion shows that religion is not fixed. It has evolved throughout history in thousands of scriptures, teachings and sects as a way of expressing various spiritual and metaphysical beliefs that have evolved over time and depended on interpretation. The fact is that reason and faith need each other. Philosophy shows that we must have some faith in the usefulness of our reason; but we must also have reasonable faith, since irrational faith in any religion just leads to confused and contradictory beliefs. We can’t have faith in things that reason and experience contradict, and we should guide our faith by those things they indicate are likely to be true.
We might say the most important thing is love, so we should create it and look after it as much as we’re able and that’s the meaning of life, nothing more. But whilst this is good it’s not enough because there’s nothing transcendental about this view, whereas in reality there is something transcendental about existence and its nature; about the fact we exist. The purpose of life is happiness, and love is essential to it, but it’s not just love or happiness in an ordinary kind of way. In order to get there you have to think and act: to pursue some understanding of the truth and actually live according to it. This doesn’t need great wisdom, obscure practices, or years of living in a monastery; but it does require significant effort from anyone who wants to achieve it. Existence is a strange and phenomenal thing. The meaning of life requires us to both profoundly appreciate it and live our part in it according to the ‘right way’. Practicing virtue: living honestly, working hard and sharing with others, is the foundation of this pursuit.
Many people think there’s no use in seeking the ‘secret of the meaning of life’ because it doesn’t exist: there is no secret. However such a secret does exist. It’s a truth that has run through the heart of all the great religions and the writings of all the great philosophers. The reason it’s never been accessible is because its teachings have often been written in subtle and esoteric terms. Yet the simple essential truth of what it has taught is that people should learn to appreciate existence and to improve themselves morally if they want to seek true happiness. It has never appealed for faith based on doctrines alone; rather it has taught that actual experience and the practice of virtue should be the fundamental basis of all true faith. Accordingly, it has traditionally rejected the need for dogmatic and inflexible rules, but not the need for a structured framework to understanding the world and guiding how one chooses to live within it. This means being open-minded but not ill-disciplined; open to change but not to corruption.
Such ancient teachings do not contradict science. In fact, they embrace it, and provide the basis for living according to an ethics that is both humanistic and transcendental; that is concerned with how you live in the world, and at the same time demands each person should seek the ultimate truth for themselves. Life is a gift that should be lived for the sake of happiness, but this happiness requires hard work and struggle just as we must struggle for our own daily existence. This is how we can realize ‘the point’ for ourselves. Something we are all born with: a happiness and purpose in life undisturbed by life’s turbulence yet rooted in existence itself. The only things essential to achieve this are appreciation of what we have and pursuit of virtue. Knowledge helps to bring appreciation: acknowledgement of what we have. Working with discipline towards virtue brings fulfillment: the pursuance of enlightenment. The reason these are difficult to achieve is because self-improvement requires uncomfortable hard work. It’s easy to preach about self-awareness and self-control from the mountain top: it isn’t easy to get there yourself.
Plato told a famous story about awareness. In it, people are likened to ordinarily sitting in a darkened cave and mistaking the shadows of a puppet-show on the cave wall for what is real. The philosopher is the one who has freed his mind to step out of the cave into the sunlight to see things as they really are; to stop mistaking shadows for reality. This is what it feels like to wake from an existence in which life seems mundane, frustrating and difficult, to one in which it is still frustrating and difficult, but no longer mundane. Something changes that makes each moment of life inexpressibly joyful. Even when you aren’t enjoying yourself you feel free to appreciate the fortune to be alive and be a part of something greater than yourself: that which creates us, binds us, governs us, and gives us the freedom to choose what we become. It is this realization which can help us see that life is hard and short for so many that we should each struggle in our own lives to ensure we live as best we can and help all we come into contact with achieve as much happiness and quality in existence as possible. It’s also the pursuit of this realization that can resolve some of life’s fundamental paradoxes. How can we stay sane when we know we must die? How can we see pleasure and pain equally without being indifferent to living? How can we control desire when it’s desire that drives us to live? How can we be at peace in the midst of uncertainty? And how can we accept our fate whilst also resolving to change it?
The meaning of life: what we think is the meaning of our life, governs all human lives, consciously or unconsciously. There is no proof for God’s existence and there never has been; this is why the question of ‘faith’ arises. The question is then, what do you have faith in? This is a journey from believing the truth to be what we can see and touch, to realizing this is just the façade of something much deeper; a colossal edifice that extends far beyond the power of human sight.
Please refer to the glossary for a guide to some key terms, names and phrases.