- I wrote this in 2007-2008 primarily for my own benefit but then decided to put it on my website in case anyone else might find it useful. Nearly fifteen years later (2022) I find that I still agree with most of it so I’m moving it across to my new site rather than simply deleting it as I close down my old site.
I seem to have set out on a journey, and to have surprised my family and friends more than myself by doing so.
It is actually more accurate to say I have found time to recommence a journey that began when I was teenager but has mostly been on hold for the last twenty years. (That alone is probably enough to explain why my family and friends were more surprised than I was.) My journey re-started when it did (2006-07), rather than years earlier or later, for a mixture of personal reasons: events just combined to urge me to redefine my relationship with the world.
The journey is a quest for answers to the big questions that most of us ask from time to time and usually set aside. ‘What is the purpose of life?’ and ‘How should I live?’ are the biggest, but they lead to questions about society’s relationship with our increasingly fragile environment.
Why bother asking them, or attempting to answer them? Because anyone travelling without a destination in mind is likely to arrive somewhere they didn’t mean to get to – and don’t particularly like. Also, perhaps, because it has recently become apparent that the major religions present problems to which the world needs solutions.
But why bother writing about it? Initially to explain my ‘new’ preoccupation to my family and friends and to learn more myself. (We all know that teaching a subject is a great way to learn it.) As that progressed, I decided to put it on the web in the hope that it will help others on their own path.
Finding a starting point
Because of the kind of person I am, I have spent some time looking for a starting point. The journey has to begin by clearing away errors and other obstacles. Changing metaphors midstream, I know that if I start from insecure foundations I will not be able to build a bridge over the swamps of unreason and superstition.
To be clear: I cannot and will not accept any answers or explanations which conflict with reason or with scientific knowledge. The standards against which we test religious or philosophical knowledge should be the highest we can find and should certainly be no lower than those applied to scientific knowledge. I am prepared to believe there are things I don’t know or that science doesn’t know, but not to believe things which cannot (by virtue of internal inconsistency or conflict with rationally established truths) be true. I know it’s not possible but I would like metaphysics to be as rigorous as physics. (Wouldn’t that change the world!)
Starting any journey with a completely blank map is not only impossible (since we must have some knowledge to frame questions) but also time-wasting, so examining existing maps of the territory – the answers that others have found – was part of establishing my starting point.
I looked first at the foundations of logical reasoning, science and philosophy – see ‘Metaphysics‘ – and then at the major ‘Established Religions‘ to see what might be useful. That exercise led me to look more closely at Buddhism and therefore to ‘An introduction to the main schools of Buddhism’ and ‘Core Buddhist Beliefs’. The associated Reading List, fiction and non-fiction, includes a variety of related books – philosophy, religion (pro and anti) and the environment.