[Note this post was edited since first published]

Choices come in many forms:

Passive Choices:

Consumer reactions – we chose one product over another; we hit one of several local restaurants for Friday happy hour; we order a new toaster online

Conformist choices, which come in several flavors:

– Cultural habits – I celebrate national holidays and participate in certain rituals because it’s part of being a citizen in this country; I have a predilection for certain foods and I avoid certain colors; I do or do not do certain things while in public, etc.

– Peer-driven choices – my buddies are all going hunting, so I’ll follow along; I support the local sports clubs

– Implicit choices – I don’t do anything, but because my company is into technology, I am an implicit accomplice to its actions in the market. I didn’t create the policy, but because my church supports a certain stance, so do I; my family has been of a certain denomination, and that’s what I am

– Choices driven by ideology – the pastor presented a dilemma and possible solutions, and described the best choice and I agree; militants from the enemy are evil, and I agree; shedding their blood to defend the homeland is necessary

Conscious choices:

Life events – we want to have a baby; we decide I need a new job; or a divorce is inevitable

World-view shifts – the current paradigms and thinking are not working; I need to think ad live differently

These choices are typically undergirded by one or both of these motivators:

1. Fear – I perceive (rightly or wrongly) that my existence or prosperity is at risk, and therefore I support certain policies or actions

2. Happiness – I am entitled to a certain life style and defend my choices to support it

Think about the hold the passive choices have on our lives. Governments the world over will use nation or origin and other profiling to asses security risks. They have learned that to some extent human behavior is deterministic when it comes to loyalty, especially when people are confronted with decisions that threaten their deeply ingrained religious and ideological assumptions.

Regardless of its driving motivation, each of these more or less active choices we make result in behaviors that in the aggregate determine the course of civilization. ‘We’re all in this together’ is the often heard cliché. If we agree that this planet is well on its way to being exhausted, and the human race along with it, we only have one positive choice to make as a collective. We have to behave in ways that result in a sustainable civilization. This ultimately comes down to individual choices.

Sustainability and scalability have to be new constraints on our choices. Sustainable practices are those that can be repeatedly applied over years and decades without detrimental effect on the environment. Scalable practices are those that can be applied everywhere without detriment to one party. Of course, we need both. For simplicity, when we talk about the Sustainability Constraint, we’re referring to both these concepts. There are of course regenerative practices that go beyond this and heal our environment, and to some extent for a sustainable behavior to be applied everywhere on this injured planet, regeneration will have to be applied first.

The Sustainability Constraint has to be a filter on all our choices, which means that passive choices have to become active for until we form new habits. ‘Is this sustainable behavior?’ has to be the question we ask ourselves in all our decisions, especially consumer choices. This is hard, very hard. Instead of dealing with hard choices, some take refuge in the promise of a resurrection and a new heaven and new earth, as we are reminded this Easter Sunday.

If a pattern of behaviors is not sustainable, how can a good God be behind it? For the faithful, there is no denying the experience of God. Does that mean that religious patterns of behaviors that are not sustainable and scalable are not subject to the constraint because they came from God and His holy intermediaries (the angels, prophets and priests)? On the contrary, we have to apply this litmus test to everything you’re spoon fed by a religious or ideological leader of any level before you passively swallow it:

What behaviors is this affirmation driving, and if done in the by all, are they sustainable in the aggregate?

If the answer is ever ‘no!’, then you have to differentiate between the religion and the connection with God that you so cherish and aspire to. Just because a religious organization helped you get in touch with a spiritual dimension, doesn’t mean that God supports it as it stands today. Reformation or wholesale replacement of beliefs and practices may be in order. For the faithful, this is a bitter pill to swallow. To get your mind ready for change, you must acknowledge and internalize three personal truths that cannot be denied:

  • First, a personal connection with the good God is possible. Whether we’ve experienced it personally, or heard about it, the phenomenon is universal. Those who have it, know it on a very personal subjective level.
  • Second, nothing humanity does happens without personal choice. Humans are the agents of action. It is our decision. We are the drivers.
  • Third, we have a collective conscience. Strip all doctrine and dogma aside, apply the sustainability constraint, and what you have is a set of values and principles that a community can agree on.

The joy of Easter is of course resurrection, a symbol promise that we also will transcend the earthly divisions and come together as one heavenly people. Each culture has its own Easter, so to speak, based on that fundamental human belief in a connection with God. I never really understood those who categorically deny the possibility of that connection. God cannot be proven or disproven (because of the n-level problem described below). An agnostic stance is the best stance for all who have lost hope of achieving a connection with God.

You can and must stand on these pillars (God-connection, effective human agency and community conscience) if you are going to revamp your current thinking. They will provide good footing as we face the realization that what we’ve become accustomed to, what our leaders have spoon fed us, is not sustainable and is in fact harmful.

For example, say we come to the realization that we need to change some of the narratives that drive our life choices, but these narratives are ‘from above’, i.e. from our religion. Whether it’s exclusive and divisive thinking, justification for war, racism, intolerance of gays, a belief in manifest destiny and continual economic growth, subordination of women, or whatever. If the beliefs do not pass the sustainability test, they have to be on the chopping block. How can we cut them if we believe with all our heart in what the prophets said, the miracles that were experienced, and Scripture written by inspired men of God?

We must realize there is no guarantee that God inspired the prophets or scriptures at issue. This is because of what I call the ‘n-level problem’ (described in my book, Dynamics of Myth on Amazon Kindle). Stated simply, the n-level problem is that even if a prophet was visited by angels, and a people experienced miracles, and demonic forces were exorcised, and nobody distorted the facts when they wrote about it, there is no guarantee that the level of beings above them, i.e. the ‘angels’ or ‘demons’ who played out the action, were not in fact themselves manipulated. If there can be one level of spiritual beings above us, there can be one to n-levels above them. If humans can be deceitful scammers, what makes us think other beings cannot be? Corruption in the ‘heavenly realms’ cannot be proven or disproven.

Two or three levels up, all kinds of things might be happening:

  • There may be devious aliens playing tricks with us
  • There may be an indifferent stand-offish God who only works through intermediaries, and these are so selfish that they convince humans in their territory that their self-interest is good, and the other beings’ are evil
  • The Devil may have taken over after creation and is orchestrating an elaborate good vs. evil theater to watch us annihilate each other for spite

We have no way of knowing for certain if there are spiritual beings or aliens for that matter who can manipulate us.

By contrast there is the possibility that there are no shenanigans going on in the heavens (which none of the world religions actually asserts), and that the humans just interpreted it sideways and developed corrupted religious institutions because, well, they were selfish manipulative humans. In this view, the Major Prophets didn’t really get the revelations, but having understood the psychology of the religious masses, decided to create a cult following for themselves. We know for a fact this has happened in some instances – why not in all?

The n-level problem tells us that whatever the personal connections with God may be, in aggregate, as a whole, we cannot be certain someone up the angel chain is deceiving and being deceived. You may ask, if this is the case, wouldn’t your first pillar above (the personal connection with God) be subject to the n-level problem? The short answer is ‘yes, but’. Let me explain.

The connection an individual is having with God cannot be denied by that person. Those who have it say it is deep and spiritual; they know it in their being. These individuals feel extremely passionate about it, and their willingness to not deny it under torture indicates how real it is to them. This is the first pillar, a personal connection and cannot be taken away. Any system of thought that seeks to reform human behavior has to not only account for it, but also make it a foundational pillar because fundamentally that is the aspiration of humanity across eons of time. The personal connection passes the sustainability constraint.

The n-level problem manifests itself in religious schemes and organizations that seek to bend the will of the faithful to some organizational interest, or to the detriment of humanity. Unsustainable behaviors are their fruit. What the n-level problem reveals to us is that we have to be willing to re-write religious and spiritual stories.

We’re talking about fundamental changes here not possible by reformation alone. Reformation will cling to certain core doctrines, and can only go so far. Standing on our core pillars, let go of all doctrines and do that sanity check: what is the minimum I have to have to have a connection with God, make sustainable decisions in line with my community’s conscience? Based on this we can create new narratives to help us in our day to day rapid and slow decision making.

A process for shifting our world view to something sustainable is called Community Mythology (about which I’ve written about elsewhere). This involves communities understanding the core values that are sustainable, and embedding them in richly embellished stories that are assimilated into our psyche and effectively reprogram us, thereby displacing the old unsustainable practices.

The choice of Easter is ours: it is about the death of the old paradigms and the resurrection of a connection with God through a new spirituality that results in sustainable behaviors.

— Roy Zuniga

Easter 2013
Kirkland, WA