As I have developed a more mystical philosophy of life, I have had several conversations about my (heretical) beliefs. Invariably, the first questions with which I am presented are regarding authority. “Who is your authority? Do you submit to God’s authority? Aren’t you trying to become your own authority?” I want to explore the nature of authority and its relationship to meaning and myth. When I use the word myth, I do not mean a story that is factually untrue. I mean a story that conveys meaning.
Whence comes authority and meaning? Both share a relationship with myth. There is no meaning without a story. Little meanings we call definitions and definitions are miniature stories that are part of the overarching story of reality. The greater meaning of life is dependent upon the overarching story of reality. All stories have an author and the one who authors a story has “author-ity” over the direction and meaning of the story.
When we have free-will, we have the ability to author our own story. When we do not have free-will, we are characters reading a script written for us by the one who exerts authority over us. There are essentially three ways to seize authority from individuals with free-will: tell a story for which others willingly cede their own authority in order to play a role, tell a story in which others are forced to read a script under threat of violence, or swiftly end another’s story through violence.
How does this play out in human systems of authority? In a monarchical system of governance, the monarch writes the story and everyone else obeys or plays their role as he authors it. If someone does not play along, their story will be swiftly ended. He delegates his authority to others so that the authority flows downward in a pyramidal structure. In our democratic society, politicians go out every election season to tell stories. In theory, the politician who authors the most widely appealing and believable script receives the authority of the office. When the POTUS is sworn into office, his first act is to tell a story that affirms his authority and creates the meaning by which he would like the public to interpret events. When governments want to go to war, they tell a story called propaganda that targets the enemy, unifies individuals to a meaningful purpose, and justifies their actions. When a police officer attempts to exert his authority over an arrestee, he begins by telling a story, “You are under arrest for selling leaves and milk. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…” In superhero tales, the villain is not satisfied to merely capture and execute the hero, the villain craves authority over the hero which prompts the villain to author a monologue – a story about his own greatness and the hero’s weakness – prior to execution. And of course, the villain’s foolish monologue always gives the hero the chance to escape. The greatest leaders exert authority over others by skillfully telling stories that are both truthful and full of compelling meaning such that men willingly accept the roles and read the scripts assigned to them.
As humans who experience great hardships, we need meaning to live. Without meaning we are left pondering, “to be or not to be.” We hunger for meaning as food. The more we suffer, the more we hunger. The more we hunger, the more readily we accept stories and the more easily tyrants usurp our authority from us. In moments of crisis, beware the stories that are told.
So all of us who are not depressed nihilists have accepted some kind of story about our lives and our place in the universe that gives meaning to our lives. From birth we are told a story and we accept it as true until we encounter something or someone who causes us to question our story. This can be terrifying because questioning one’s story means the meaning of one’s life might be altered or disappear entirely. So most people refuse to question and instead allow their defense mechanisms to protect their myth. But those who have an insatiable curiosity and a penchant for truth will always be led question their story. When we ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” We are really asking, “What is the real true story? In what story am I playing a role? What is my role? Who is authoring this story?” Thus anyone who desires to know the true meaning of life necessarily questions authority.
There are a number of stories available by which you can make sense of the world. There are various religious stories and there is the scientific materialist story. But which story is the true story? Which story is authoritative? Well obviously, the story that was written by THE Author has authority. And fundamentalists from every religion assume that THE Author of this present reality also authored the story found in their particular Holy Book. But their stories (when taken literally) often contradict one another, so either The Author is being capricious and deceptive or The Author didn’t actually write some or all of those stories. So who is to determine which story was written by The Author? You are! Like it or not, you must decide. You can decide to put your trust in councils of men, in the violent course of history, in the traditions of antiquity, and in the hope that The Author was intentionally guiding all of this in order to place in your lap a complete perfect story containing dictation straight from the mind of the Author, or you can take it upon yourself to investigate the stories and weigh the evidence and attempt to make an informed unbiased decision. But ultimately the decision is one that only you can make. I personally do not believe any of the stories available off the shelf were authored by THE Author, but some may have been inspired by The Author the way an artist sees a beautiful scene and is inspired to paint his own representation of it.
So if I do not believe any traditional story in its entirety is authoritative, then does that mean I do not accept God’s authority? This question implies the Western image of God which is God as supreme monarch. This model of God as king is passed down from Judeo-Christian and ultimately Egyptian roots. But if God is The One, The Source, the indivisible Author of all reality, then any attempt to model God with separate concepts based within this reality will fail. This means that the model of God as Supreme Monarch is flawed. It may not be altogether useless, but in some ways it necessarily fails. The only way to approach some semblance of a true concept of God is by dialectically combining all opposing concepts of God such that nothing results.
It is due to this flawed model of God as Monarch that mainstream Christianity has been wrestling for centuries with the problem of free-will co-existing with a sovereign omniscient omnipotent God. If God is the supreme omniscient omnipotent monarch, then there can be no free-will. If there is no free will, then this story sucks and God is sometimes incredibly mean to us. Life loses its meaning. Every story ever written is based on the premise that the characters involved are acting on their own free-will. A story about robots is not a meaningful story. But if there is free-will, then God is willingly giving up some of his authority to allow us to author our own scripts. If two authors attempt to co-author a story together, and these two authors are in agreement and of one mind, the story will flow beautifully. If these two authors are not writing in harmony with one another, the story will probably not be pleasant to read. Obedience to God can be viewed instead as harmonious co-authorship or synchronicity.
In Christianity, there is the concept of the Trinity: One god expressed in three persons. Now why God is limited to only three persons makes no sense to me. In Revelation, the “seven spirits of God” are mentioned. What is a person? The word “person” literally means a mask. The Dramatis Personae of Greek dramas was the list of masks to be worn by the characters. So God wears three (or more) masks. You and I are also persons. That is to say that we are masks. We are dramatic expressions of character in a story. The universe is a great drama. Now if there is only One thing, then we are part of or contiguous with God. Could it be that we are each God pretending not to be God for the purpose of play and drama? If God is The Author, then his purpose is to tell a story and a story is all about meaning and drama. The fundamental dramatic story is the Hero’s journey. A Hero begins in the realm of the known. He hears a call to adventure. He leaves the realm of the known and enters the unknown. He experiences all sorts of trials and tribulations that help define him. He goes through the dark night of the soul when all hope seems lost. But he overcomes adversity. He learns something new about himself and about reality. He returns to the realm of the known forever changed by his experiences. This is literally the universal story. It is the story of Odysseus, Superman, Alice in Wonderland, Jesus, Siddhartha, and Neo. Since the universe (or God in play) is a great drama, we discover the nature of the universe and God in part through the exploration of the meanings of our own dramas and myths.
Let me tell you a little story that illustrates the aforementioned assertion that the Universe is a great drama: Suppose that Apple has just released a new product – the Dreamweaver. Inside this small sleek white cube lies a highly refined piece of lucid dreaming technology! Apple promises the new product will reduce the boredom of day-to-day life even more than the iPhone.
So you stand in line at the Apple store to ride the leading edge of the new wave of technology. You rush home to try it out. You gingerly place the Dreamweaver next to your bed, lie down, relax, and doze off. In dreaming lucidly you essentially can be God within the world of your mind’s creation. You can go to sleep and have authority over any story you want and you always know that you will eventually wake up and come back to this present reality. What would you dream? Perhaps at first you would explore every interest and desire you’ve ever had: the perfect home, the perfect love, the perfect car, and the perfect thrills.
Suppose this goes on for a number of nights until eventually, your version of perfection begins to get boring and hollow. You find your dreams are becoming repetitive and you always know what is going to happen next. Fortunately Apple thought of this in advance, so they included some salient features on your Apple Dreamweaver machine. Simply touch the Dreamweaver and a screen appears. The first feature available to modify your experience is called Surprise. There is a slider with “control” at one end and “surprise” at the other end. Thus far you have been dreaming with the slider pegged all the way to the control end of the spectrum, so you dial it back a little towards “surprise” and go to sleep. WOW! What a dream! You parachute into a Caribbean island, but your chute doesn’t open! As you are freaking out about your chute, you try to calm yourself by remembering that this is only a dream. You plummet into the water just off shore. But no worries, it doesn’t hurt a bit! You burst up to the water’s surface and have a good laugh. A turtle swims by and you grab hold of his back to ride into shore, but as you grab hold, he morphs into a shark and bites your arm off! Again you get a bit panicked, but you remember that this is just a dream, so you laugh it off and grow your arm back and punch the shark in the face. This sort of dreaming goes on for quite some time before it also becomes boring. Fortunately there are three remaining features on your Dreamweaver to explore: Social Networking, Internal Consistency, and Recall. By connecting your Dreamweaver to the internet, you can share your dreams with anyone in the Dreamweaver universe; however, in order to do so, your control/surprise setting must be set to 5% control or less for the simple reason that too much competition for control destabilizes the Dreamweaver universe. Dialing up the Internal Consistency feature reduces the probability of things “morphing” or otherwise disobeying the “laws” created within your mind’s universe. And lastly, dialing down the Recall feature enables you to reduce your ability to remember the fact that you are dreaming. By reducing recall, the emotional poignancy and meaningfulness of your dreams increase dramatically because you can quite literally become lost in your own powerful story; however, forgetting who you are also makes you easily victimized both by the circumstances that may arise in your dream and by other dreamers. Dreams without recall can be incredibly powerful, wonderful, and at times incredibly terrifying.
Now suppose everyone on the planet rushed out to buy a Dreamweaver, and suppose humans continued dreaming dreams thus for an infinite number of years. …Eventually someone would dream the very life you are presently living. …And this is the story of God. The creative impulse to get lost in an infinite variety of adventures and experiences and stories is what has produced you and created the present reality you are experiencing. So you are in some sense one with God only you’ve deliberately set aside your omnipotent and omniscient qualities so as to forget who you are so that you can play this role and get lost in this very emotional and meaningful story. There is a very deep part of you – call it the Divine Spark, or the Ruach ha Kodesh, or the Neshema, or the Breath of Life or the Higher Self – this part of you remembers where you came from and yearns to wake up. It is this part of you that has an inkling of recall that presses you to keep asking questions and wonder about the meaning of it all. When you finally wake up, or become “lucid” you are “made whole” or “saved” or “enlightened”. Thus you are a co-author of your story with God because the deeper part of you is and has always been one with God. When you remember who you are while still within the dream, you become “lucid” and have what is often called a “mystical experience” of the greater reality. You begin to see things the way Jesus and the other mystics did and you may even find that you can play with the “Internal Consistency” feature to perform miracles.
In a culture shaped by the Monarchical view of God, it is a dangerous thing to claim to be one with God or to be God’s son. That’s like saying, you’re the boss. You’re the authority. This was the Pharisees’ complaint about Jesus. He claimed to be God’s Son, and he preached that the kingdom of heaven was near – within you – not high above at the top of the pyramid. He claimed to have authority and he gave it away freely allowing anyone to forgive sins and even alter this reality.
But some will say: “we can’t have every individual claiming his or her own authority or things will run amuck! Isn’t it the respect for higher authority that keeps society ticking? Isn’t it the fear of God that causes us to act ethically?” If we are all children, then yes, we all need authority. A child needs to be under authority to learn discipline. Once a child becomes a mature adult, the adult (hopefully) has self-discipline. And what is discipline? It is the ability to control one’s self with skill. It takes discipline to learn to play the piano skillfully. For a child, it might take discipline AND authority. But for an adult, it simply takes discipline. Yes, you’re free to walk up to a piano and bang on it, but it takes discipline to evoke beautiful and meaningful sounds from the piano. Similarly, you are free to bang out your life as a disharmonious noise, but skillful living requires wisdom and discipline. As Paul said, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”
Each of us was born with the potential to live freely, but we invariably have to fight to maintain our freedom to have authority over our own lives. Authority is like money, a currency through which power is exchanged, and as such it is coveted, stolen, and hoarded. Each of us can learn to have authority over our own lives. Each of us co-authors moment by moment our life story with God and we can write harmoniously or dissonantly with God. Each of us wears a mask called a personality which allows us to pretend to be an individual for the sake of this dramatic play.
One essential element of this drama is the enemy. The enemy is under the delusion that he can become completely separate, so he refuses to live harmoniously with his brothers and his environment. Instead he attempts to have greater control. He steals authority from others and hoards it. And in response, the others band together so as to be able to resist the usurper. They fight against the enemy and in the process define their own character. So they need the enemy to become fully developed just as white means nothing without black. But in this process of banding together to resist the enemy, they give some of their authority to a leader and form a government for protection. In time this government becomes the new enemy, the people rebel, and band together and raise up a new leader, and the cycle is repeated in a perpetual arms race to increase authority until we reach a point where we have our finger on the button that has the authority to end all stories everywhere on the planet in nuclear mutually assured destruction.
It is the worship of authority or power that has led us to the point where we might at any moment destroy our planet. But we are all co-authors and we get to decide whether this story ends tragically or goes on beautifully to persevere through this valley of the shadow of death. Humanity has reached an adolescent phase where its physical might has exceeded its wisdom and stupid actions have the potential to destroy our planet. Fortunately, it is also during adolescence that the drive to be free is strongest. A balance of freedom and wise discipline is required if humanity is to survive.