I'm writing a book about the search for meaning in the post-religious age. I found it in some unexpected places. Read more
This project's funding goal was not reached on June 18, 2012.
About this project
My name is Charles Nolan, and I’m asking for help to “kickstart” finishing a book, more or less a book advance from my potential readers. The book has the ambitious working title of:
The Holy Bluff
The Search for Meaning in the Post-Religious Age
Right now, it exists in pieces – mainly notebooks and a lot of papers stuffed into notebooks over the past two years. I want to “buy” the time to get it written out and organized into a form that can be shared with other people, whom I have reason to believe are interested. This will be very modest proposal, small dollars for a big idea. Before I explain how I came to be doing this and my “qualifications” for tackling such a project, here are a few key points:
For some time now, the “official” religions have been on the decline. They are still very visible, and still exert a lot of influence over people’s lives and public policy, for better or for worse. But for more and more people all the time, the four key principles that are the cornerstones of all religions are simply no longer convincing.
Those principles are:
1. A Supreme Being made the universe and everything in it.
2. This Being has an ongoing interest in the order of things and in us, and has laid down rules for our behavior.
3. Following the rules will lead to eternal life; failure to follow them will lead to eternal damnation or, at the very least, oblivion.
4. Information about what the rules are has been revealed by the Supreme Being to our particular organization.
There are a lot of variations on the above, but if you boil it down, which I’ve spent a lot of time doing, this is pretty much all there is to it. Many who were raised in households espousing these ideas simply “grow out of them” though it is now increasingly possible for a child in America, and certainly in Europe, to grow up without being exposed to them in any serious way. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that once you get past the authoritarian control and the questionable basis in fact, religion has historically been the major if not the only means of addressing many deep-seated human needs. To name a few:
1. The need to feel that human life makes sense, that it all amounts to something.
2. The need to feel protected from the arbitrary whims of the planet we live on, which gave birth to us but can just as easily kill us off, and frequently does.
3. The need to understand why so many of us are really bad to each other and to feel that the bad guys will answer for it to somebody.
4. The need to get around the fact that we and everybody we love will be dead and gone in the fairly near future, no matter how hard we try not to be.
I could go on (and will once I get the book going), but I think that’s enough to convey the big picture. The first four points are meant to deal with the second four. The problem is that when you walk away from or simply ignore the first four, you’re still stuck with the second four. These unresolved issues have led to many serious and bloody problems in human history, brought on by believers and unbelievers alike, not to mention a whole lot of sleepless nights.
A little personal history to explain how I’ve come to this: I was raised Roman Catholic. It really worked for me – I was one of those kids who enjoyed going to Mass. The religious world was real to me, almost more so than the sidewalks and streets I grew up on. I entered the seminary at the age of thirteen to begin studying for the Catholic priesthood. The environment was completely comfortable and I went through eight years of relative peace and harmony. Religion, theology, philosophy – I was trained in it, I was seeped in it. Then, at age twenty one, in the chapel wearing full priestly garb, the whole thing crashed. One minute God was there, the next minute “he” wasn’t. The details could fill a few pages, and I think will make for interesting reading, but suffice it to say that mine was only a slightly more dramatic version of the typical “awakening” moment many young adults go through, whether suddenly or gradually. I walked away from the whole thing, with a heavy dose of youthful rebellion and self righteousness. But now I was stuck with all those sidewalks and streets I used to ignore. So I dove into the “real world” and got on with it – higher education, job, marriage, family, taxes, the whole nine yards, with the usual mixture of successes and failures. But something was definitely missing, a big empty space.
To bring it up to date, in the four decades or so since leaving the fold, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to find a way to address those deep seated human needs without the benefit of an official story, all the while carrying on with all the complexities of regular life. I’m aware that a lot of other people have been taking a crack at this too. Any number of “non-religious religions” have sprung up, frequently based on imitating the rituals of any culture other than your own, and usually invoking some kind of cult of personality around the “founder”. Organized Atheism is even making strides, though it needs to be careful to avoid the risk of becoming just one more “ism”.
What brings me to this project is that about two years ago, I made a major jump, the pieces started to fit and a workable approach to the “big questions” started to emerge. I’m drawing from a very wide range – philosophy, psychology, biology, art, cosmology and basic human experience (a piece that is frequently overlooked) - but none of it is at a level that would require an “expert” to understand. The information is available to any reasonably well educated person in contemporary culture. I’m simply connecting a few dots in a way that I think will spark some interesting discussion on the topic and provide some tools for those who are going it alone. Just a note: I have purposely avoided using the word spiritual. This word has a lot of baggage attached to it and, like it or not, invokes the influence of the “spirits”, whose existence is under dispute here. I don’t have the same problem with “Holy”. We get to say what’s Holy (capitalization mine).
So where am I going with this? I’m asking for your help, so you have a right to know. The book will largely concern itself with the following key points (four, to be consistent):
1. The impression that human life is pointless is directly linked to the conscious or unconscious preconception that a Supreme Being did this to us – we want to blame somebody.
2. The existence or non-existence of a Supreme Being can be demonstrated – it’s not really a mystery, as much as we’d like it to be.
3. In order to survive as human beings, we require three indispensible things: accurate reality testing, intelligence, and illusion. The capacity for illusion is the least understood and the most important.
4. Bad illusion has caused more harm to human beings than all the ravages of nature while good illusion is responsible for humanity’s better nature and all human progress.
I call the ability to balance reality, intelligence and illusion the Holy Bluff, which is what the book’s about.
Obviously, that’s a lot to say in a very few words. If you want to get a more fleshed out picture of what the “Holy Bluff” idea is all about, please visit my website at www.charlesnolanmusic.com . Aside from discovering that I’m also a songwriter, you’ll notice a series of blogs under the titles of “Current Ravings” and “Past Ravings”. The “Current Raving” on the main page is (not surprisingly) called “The Holy Bluff” and is timed to coincide with the start of this campaign. Several of the “Past Ravings” deal with a rethinking of attitudes toward mythology and will shed a lot of light on where I’m going with this thing.
I’m asking for the time to get it all fleshed out and into a form that that will be intelligible (and, I believe, useful) to other people. I need help from those other people to make getting this done my full time job for three and a half months. I believe the time frame is realistic – I know where I’m going with it - but there’s a lot of tying up of loose ends, research and just plain writing that won’t get done without a full time effort and I don’t have another forty years. I recently hit full Social Security age and intend to retire about the same time this campaign hits startup. Between the Social Security and a small pension, I can almost pull it off. What I’m asking for is $3,000 by June 18th, my designated starting point for full time commitment to the project, to meet expenses and put off having to get back into the part time job market until October. I’m especially concerned about keeping up with expenses directly linked to the project, like internet access, books, materials and other research–related costs. If I’m fortunate enough to get anything over and above the goal, it will right into the publishing fund.
That’s pretty much it until I hear from all of you. I’m going to keep working on the book, but things will go a lot faster if we do it together.
Nope, sorry. A static final answer implies a specific closed-ended question, like “What is 2+2”? or “What is your Aunt Mary’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread”? These questions can be answered specifically (though nobody will ever be able to duplicate the taste of Aunt Mary’s soda bread by simply following a recipe). “What’s it all about?” is usually secondary to “What’s for supper?”, though they are related questions.
In the “Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy”, if I recall, the ANSWER was “42”. The question was a little vague. Life, like the universe it lives in, is a work in progress. On the evidence of history, persons claiming to have THE ANSWER, usually based on personal divine revelation, are not to be trusted.
What I think I’m onto is a fresh approach to why we (homo sapiens) keep asking unanswerable questions, even though it annoys us, scares us and makes us do potentially self-destructive things. The question “If I’m going to die anyway, why was I born in the first place?”, for instance, is not one that would occur to any other species on or resident of earth or, as far as we can tell, anywhere else in the universe or multiple universes as the case may be. It’s all ours. We created it. We made it up. It’s our problem and we can fix it within the limits of its needing to be fixed, once we get past a couple of major stumbling blocks, which we also made up. That probably sounds a lot more complicated than really is and I’ll likely spend a lot of “page time” uncomplicating it. If you want to flesh it out a bit, check out “The Problem With Icarus” in the “Past Ravings” section of my website http://www.charlesnolanmusic.com/
The first page of Henry Miller’s gloriously notorious “Tropic of Cancer” may also be helpful – it is to me.
Not at all. Belief in God has been the driving force behind much of the best in human nature. The risk, as the official religions wane, is that we will throw out the baby with the bathwater, dismissing what is positive about religion as we move beyond its negative elements. A lot of what "The Holy Bluff" is all about finding a basis for "righteousness" without needing to attribute it to the influence of an invisible external entity. We're better than we think we are.
- (37 days)