God without Religion , by Sankara Saranam -- Book Review

Book Classification : Philosophy - Religion - Spirituality


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God without Religion : Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths , by Sankara Saranam
Hardcover - 320 pages
First Edition, July 2005
Published by Pranayama Institute
ISBN 0-9724450-1-3 / ISBN 0972445013

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Book Review

The aim which Sankara Saranam calls "seeking God without religion" [83] is what I would have described as spirituality without dogma. The author believes in a God who is a great creative power and life source, while he rejects the literality of myths and supposedly revealed texts, the significance of rituals, and any other specific forms.

The author particular disposes of any sort of truth-is-on-our-side exclusivity, which arises from the "temptation to remain in a comfort zone" [4] but is harmful to ourselves and to others. To "worship God by believing other people's conclusions," which "erects barriers to intellectual and spiritual growth" is contrasted with "worshipping by wondering," the path of "personal exploration." [3-4]

Buy the book God without Religion : Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths by Sankara Saranam

Religious dogmatism was the primary reason for the general absence of scientific inquiry during the Dark Ages, "the lapse of over a thousand years between the death of Hypatia and the work of Copernicus." [84] One of the worst features of the Dark Ages was that this time period "ushered in an incapacity to critically assess authoritarian declarations," [116] and the fallacy of blind faith was thought to be a virtue.

Frequently there is something conservative or reactionary, and even imperialistic, about organized religion. "Organized religion endures primarily by affecting social conditions and codifying cultural biases." [101] Sometimes organized religion will "use evocative words such as heresy, devil, and Maya to undermine the human propensity for wonder." [5] We would do well to "reject biases and refuse to accept anything on authority." [119] This, in fact, is "the first step in investigating the avenue to self-knowledge." [119] We are advised that "only intuition, not printed books, can reveal the expansive nature of the infinite substance of self." [190]

The author feels that the concept of God which he wishes to promote is not compatible with certain customary views. Rather than offer a relativistic we're-all-okay form of tolerance for all viewpoints, it is necessary to shake the foundations of the conventional views, and perhaps pull a few rugs out from underneath their structures. For example, he draws attention to logical problems with accepting the Bible as literally true, particularly those passages which are "neither eyewitness accounts not solely fact-based chronicles." In one such scene, Jesus is said to have prayed alone: "We are told that no one hears his words, yet they are revealed to the reader." [13] Far from being historically accurate, some passages in the Bible "more closely resemble Greek dramas and legends from The Egyptian Book of the Dead." [13]

The historical reasons for what the Bible asserts are also hauled into court. The concept of a male god may be traced to the type of reverence for a father that is found in a patriarchical societies. [12] The author also suggests that the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth was produced because Matthew, while writing in Greek, mistranslated the reference to a "young woman" in the prophesy found in Isaiah, this event followed much later by the mistranslation of Isaiah by the editors of the King James Version, so that it would be compatible with Matthew. [15]

The early Hebrews and Christians authors, Saranam explains, "saw little point in unbiasedly recording events." [21] The writers of the religious and quasi-historical texts weren't striving to be inaccurate; it's just that that it's a relatively new idea that written history is supposed to be an accurate record rather than a profound storytelling. It has generally seemed like a nobler task for chroniclers to "sanctify their past and divinize their society." [195]

Saranam occasionally uses the terminology of psychologists, as when he notes that organized religion uses "supportive group identity" in order to "reinforce already shared belief systems and to inhibit innovative questioning." [8-9] The "mechanics of group identification" [257] are at work. "The entire story of the Exodus,", he has concluded, "appears, from historical and archaeological studies, to be a myth designed to give a group of people a sense of importance, a feeling of solidarity." [21]


Excerpt from God without Religion by Sankara Saranam, pages 194-195

"This process of conversion, or mythologizing, occurs not only while reading the Bible or analyzing an ancient relic, but with each memory we recall. And it is these mythic images of ourselves that form our worldview and our beliefs. These, in turn, shape our recollection of events that transpired in the past, short-circuiting any awareness of our expansive identity and the ever-shifting nature of the narrow sense of self. The seemingly stable sense of self presiding over memories actually emerges from the narrow sense of self that is by nature capable of remembering only itself. It follows that images of God thought to benefit one group of people over another are simply projected images of the self, and nothing more authoritative. When some individuals claim to have conversations with God, meaning everyone's God as opposed to merely their personal image of divinity, they are referring to a mythic God built from the artifacts informing an experience of self. In effect, they have been talking to themselves -- an occupation that may be harmless, or even instructional if their intent is to focus the mind. But if their minds tell them they are the next prophet or war leader, they will invariably prophesy or wage war against a reflection of their identity and desire to defend it, inundating the minds of their followers with the same mythic ideas."

Words of texts operate as inkblot tests, Saranam explains, in that "interpretations of them say more about the interpreter than about the books." [6] Saranam has also developed a theory that suggests that human ideas of the self affect the making of myths, the writing of history (though it is purported to be a chronicle of actual events), and the tendencies of some societies to impose themselves on other societies. [193-197]


Excerpt from God without Religion by Sankara Saranam, pages 191-192

"Religious scholars use the term 'supertrue' to denote the universal merit of certain myths. Calling a myth supertrue, however, can divert attention away from the super falsehoods and violent attitudes it embodies. For instance, the Jesus myth's portrayal of Christ is upheld as a supertruth because it serves as a model of humanity's universal quest for eternal life. Yet concealed beneath this branding is the myth's divisive insistence that failure to employ the image of Jesus as a focal point of devotion will consign nonbelievers to an eternal hell. When this exclusive aspect of the myth remains hidden, so too does the accompanying narrowness of the societal sense of self that invests in the myth in order to acquire a secure identity in a largely precarious world. Rival myths, when allowed to coexist, easily retain the metaphoric power of their divine images. That is, if two people adopt contradictory histories of Jesus both images can still serve as focal points of concentration. Competing historical details fail to dilute the power of a mythic image because they are immaterial to it. Saint Francis and others had no need even to know the details of Jesus's life in order to worship God in the form of Jesus. Neither historical details nor lack of them necessarily diminishes the mythic stature of figures like Christ. Myths function not only as metaphors for humanity's innermost aspirations but as mirrors reflecting the idea of self."

He speculates about what kind of newly developed myths it might take in order to "hasten social reform", and, of course, this corresponds to asking what sort of newly developed sense of the self it would require. [195] "This new myth for our times thus responds to the historical necessity for shared rights and resources in an age of unprecedented globalization." [195]

God without Religion
by Sankara Saranam
Table of Contents
Foreword by Arun Gandhixix
Prefacexxv
Introductionxxix
  
Chapter One1
Worshipping by Wondering 
  
"What Is God?" • Gods Made in the Image of Men • Miracles and the Mind • Revelation and Reason • Religion and Spirituality • Terrorism in the Name of God 
  
Chapter Two81
A Bigger Picture of Human Progress 
  
The Cycle Theory • Moving Past the Dark Ages • Avenues to Knowledge 
  
Chapter Three129
An Alternative to Organized Religion 
  
A Theory of Self • Going Straight to God through Energy Control • The Self in Society • A New Myth to Spark Social Reform 
  
Chapter Four205
Testing Today's Choices 
  
Can We Know God? • Modern Spiritual Movements • Vulnerability of the Self • Celebrating Apostasy 
  
Conclusion267
Notes273
Index276

Saranam's own belief system is connected to the yogis of India, who, according to recent scientific measurements, have learned methods which can alter the electrical characteristics of the brain and spine, and electrical currents through the nervous system. [136-137, 155-156] Their intuitive name for their own practice, pranayama -- literally, energy control -- appears to have been correctly chosen. The yogis' practice is one of few occasions when human blood becomes oxygenated to the maximum possible degree. While, like many other practitioners of Yoga and Vedanta, Saranam visualizes the brain and spine somewhat like antennas connecting us to God [134-137], he doesn't put major emphasis in the book on advocating his own belief system; indeed, it's buried in the middle of the book [Section 1 of Chapter 3: "A Theory of Self"', pages 131-147] . Rather, he emphasizes throughout the book that spirituality is exploration of the self, without accepting the pronouncements of others. We must never surrender our freedom to doubt to any ideology.

The author describes in detail seventeen techniques which the reader can practice to make spiritual progress. For example, technique 4 [52-55] is a way to engage in reading and writing that will help one to become aware of any factor that "has co-opted your ability to lead an intellectually and spiritually honest life." [55] Technique 17 [259-263] is an exercise that promotes open communication with one's friends and family.

The result of the author's work is unique. While the book is bound to annoy to the more rigid theists, who consider myths and legends to be true verbatim, both spiritual seekers and secular skeptics, two demographic groups that are usually at odds, will share an appreciation for it. The author's product has even received praise from the famous skeptic, Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, who described the book as "beautifully articulated" and "a work appropriate for anyone in search of spiritual meaning, regardless of their official 'faith.' A truly inspiring work."

It is also a well-researched work, e.g., you will find comparisons of ideas which refer to Toynbee's theory of history, Campbell's theory of myths, etc. [196, 198, et al.] In order to shed light on "myths of historicity" [107], Saranam provides a brief overview of some of the leading theories of history: the progressive interpretation, the cyclical interpretation, etc. [106-108]

The five-page foreword is written by Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi and co-founder of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. He shares with Saranam the displeasure at "the perceived superiority of book-based religions," which is "is a common misconception in the West." [xxi]

The author was born into an Iraqi Jewish family but grew up in the United States. He has degrees from U.S. colleges, having specialized in subjects as diverse as religion, music, and aerospace engineering. His family now lives in Georgia. [285]

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com ..... philosophy

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God without Religion : Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths
by Sankara Saranam
ISBN 0-9724450-1-3 / ISBN 0972445013

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