The key to a mythology working in the minds of believers is of course the ‘belief factor’. Without it, you’re not a believer. This sounds obvious, you have to believe for a myth to have effect. How do we make that happen if we created the myth? Can we believe in it? Especially if we’re the skeptical kind who doesn’t believe in anything, not even myths we didn’t create. 

We often use phrases like ‘he’s a believer’, ‘he’s acting in good faith’, ‘she’s committed to the cause’, ‘he’s willing to die for it,’ etc. There’s an inextricable connection between belief and behavior. On the flip side, we berate people for not having integrity if they go against their beliefs. ‘We have been betrayed’, ‘he sold out’, ‘he has no moral bearing’, ‘she’s been compromised’, ‘she drank the cool aide’, etc. If you act according to your beliefs, you are praiseworthy; do the opposite, or act according enemy’s beliefs, then you’re reprehensible, even guilty in some measure.

Everything we do pretty much revolves around these two poles: we reward those who commit extraordinary acts for their faith; we punish those who betray it. We’re rewarding or punishing, ourselves and others. Of course we’re more inclined to reward those of our own faith. We don’t generally reward the extraordinary acts of people in foreign faiths. That thought doesn’t even compute in our minds. It’s not our faith. Why would we reward anyone for dying for another’s faith?

So we get to the crux of the problem. We should be rewarding those who act in the name of a praiseworthy faith. This is the conundrum – how do you recognize a praiseworthy faith that on the surface doesn’t look anything like ours? Also, how do we know our faith is praiseworthy?

We actually have to learn to look deeper at the underlying value systems in both others’ and our own faith, and come to some conclusions. First, we have to recognize what is not good in our own and filter. Second, we have to be able to de-construct the stories and beliefs in an foreign faith to understand the underlying values – the good ones (they might also have negative elements that need to be filtered out). In this way we find shared values.

Affirming shared values in different faiths. If we can achieve this, then we have a common basis in humanity to tolerate and support each other in our shared purpose, i.e. a peaceful and sustainable co-habitation of the same planet. Does this resonate with you (even if it sounds idealistic)?

We know deep down that people need to have something to believe in. Without a cause, we’re floating aimlessly through life. With a purpose, we’re motivated. I dare say most believers have had a purpose, a faith handed down. Even though many reject the faith of their parents and find another – they are still acting in faith. Some find faith in what is not generally recognized to be a faith. It could be a system of thought, a movement, etc. By contrast, those who have ‘lost all faith’ are the downtrodden, the apathetic losers, the bland couch potatoes who watch television without really perceiving anything.

In other words, the believing act is what makes this world go around. Change what a person or community believes, and you can change the world. Sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. Question is how?

What do we do if we have succumbed to an unhealthy belief system? Whatever our religious beliefs may be, layered over and around them is also a faith in consumerism which is driving us to pollute our planet to our collective detriment. How do you convert away from a bad faith? We need a new faith, or faiths, that are sustainable. How do you convert people away from consumerism if it’s such a pervasive self-sustaining eco-system?

We brag about how we get deals and spend money. We demand to drive late model cars. We judge people who don’t wear the current fashions and colors. We throw away perfectly good gadgets just so we have the latest smart phone. We complain about how slow the internet is, of how heavy a laptop is when our grandparents did fine without both. We shop to feel good, and glitzy malls make us willing to pay more. We delight in tearing open the boxes at Christmas. When we get bored with our toys, we buy new, and look down on used goods. We perpetuate consumerism because we’ve been programmed to do so. We’ve been programmed through the media and peer pressure. We’ve also built our economy on consumerism. There has to be constant growth, year over year, for us to prosper.

How on earth do you sustain continual growth on a planet with finite resources? We don’t think much about that. The fact is, both our programming and the system destroying us, and we continue to support it! To wake up from this collective blunder we’re going to have to think differently. And to paraphrase the famous quote, the thinking that got us into this mess is not the thinking that will get us out.

That’s both true and false. It is true that we have to change the thoughts that drive behavior. However, the dynamics of programming ourselves can prove useful. We have to step outside of ourselves and determine how both to program ourselves, and what the new programming content should be. This is really hard, and most of use can’t do the mental gymnastics to make it happen. After all, who created their own faith? Don’t we by definition have to believe in something greater than ourselves? The short answer is, no, we shouldn’t. We very much should believe in something as great as ourselves, together.

The big leap is creating our own faith, and the dynamics of this are crucial to success. We have to do something that hasn’t been done before so systematically and explicitly. Sure, we’ve had more than our fair share of prophets coming down from the mountain with holy words received from God or angels. But they represented a received faith, not a created faith. It’s easier to accept authorship from an authority (real or perceived), than to accept a faith that was hatched in our local community house.

We have to define a faith and then believe in it. No one really knows how to do that explicitly, even though it’s been done for millennia implicitly with all the cults and world religions. The first step is recognizing it’s a human-driven process, and then taking control of it. But how? A couple of thoughts come to mind:

– First, the fact that it is a human driven process does not mean it is individual faith. We have developed a shared conscience based on our shared experiences. While it’s personal, it’s also a collective process and value set.

– Second, it’s a collaborative effort. We have to articulate our top priorities together and go about identifying the positive scalable behaviors that will perpetuate the goodness.

– Third, the new programming won’t create itself – we have to lean in and be proactive to make it happen.

– Fourth, making it happen will require a variety of talents, from the organization project management, to the facilitation, to the story making, to the embellishing, publishing, disseminating and teaching.

– Fifth, the process is local, not centralized. This may seem contradictory, but it’s not. We share a common humanity with common ideals that will manifest themselves very distinctly in each locale. This cannot and should not be centrally controlled.

– Sixth, the delivery of the programming is not what we’re used to. Decentralized production means that all kinds of delivery mechanisms will be created. Some will be with new technology, some with very old. We should, in any case, strive for high quality in the artifacts created.

– Seventh, we have to resist the temptation to codify new beliefs into ideology and doctrine. If we do that, organizational interests will take over. You don’t need to spell everything out as a rule for people to get the message. Allusive art can be more powerful than dry doctrine.

– Eighth, as we create and live our new faiths, we should maintain open hearts and homes towards those of other faiths, or we’ll fall back into sectarian tribalism. The only way to both have local faith and global tolerance is by recognizing that our faith is human-driven, that we have created it ourselves.

– Ninth, recognize that the stories will evolve, the priorities will change, lessons will be learned and the process improved. Don’t be offended if the next generation is more interested in creating their own stories than in perpetuating yours.

– Tenth is defensive: we have to stand together against exclusivist thinking. All religious wars have this in common: one side or both is intolerant or has exclusive claims that offends, alienates and even tries to coerce the other. We have to defend the right for communities to create their own stories, and band together if a toxic ‘cancer cell’ manifests itself that seeks to nullify these principles. Let’s face it, there will be hateful bigoted people out there who will try to ridicule, oppose and otherwise annihilate this work. In the face of a questionable faith, ask yourself these questions:

– What are their underlying values?
– How do these values manifest themselves in behavior?
– Is the behavior consistent with their values?
– What is their posture towards other faiths?
– Is it a scalable faith, i.e. can be applied everywhere with good outcome?
– What kind of energy do they have? What does my gut check say? Are they loving or spiteful, hateful?
– What is purpose do we share?
– What can we do to reach out to them and create a dialog and share lessons learned and align on pressing issues?

While we have to be open, we also have to defend our faith against those who would destroy it (and the faith of others). America was founded on the principle of freedom of religion, and we’ve defended that notion our entire history. However, it’s become a one-sided interpretation of what is worth defending. We have to defend not only our core beliefs, but along with it the right of others to ‘make believe’, so to speak.

We have to realize we can step in and out of a believing moment, like we did as kids when we role played heroes in a different world, or as adults when we tune into a movie. Make-believe has to be a grown-up process so we can re-program ourselves and shift our worldviews and collectively stop the mad rush to exhaust our lovely planet. We all know in our hearts we have the power to extinguish quality of life on this planet, and even drive ourselves and many species to miserable near-extinction. We have to do a collective mental reset and get on that plane of higher-consciousness that act here and now in the name of our good belief.

— Roy Zuniga

March 2013

Kirkland, WA