A Beginner's guide to KUUism
As far as I am aware, most novels that incorporate some kind of alternative religion into their narrative don't map out every detail of that religion's theology. So I thought it would be interesting if KUUism dealt with all the questions we humans expect our religions to deal with. Essentially, KUUism entertains the possibility ( not 'believes' - this is essential) that unlikely coincidences are in fact the subtlest form of supernatural event. When an individual experiences an unlikely coincidence they have been 'cosmic nudged' by The Knowing Unknowable Universe.
Some extracts from the KUU Hypothesis for Born Again Questioners everywhere
10 Ground Rules for Creating a Non-Religion
1. KUUism couldn't be yet another inflexible set of instructions from on high.
2. KUUism shouldn't propose moral absolutes. Most of us already know in our hearts what's good and bad, even if we don't behave as if we do.
3. The Bible has commandments so the KUU Hypothesis has non-commandments - written in sand and not stone.
4. While the world's religions cower under the weight of their own solemnity and piety, KUUism suggests we laugh.
5. KUUism should be valid yet vague; issuing stray sparks to light the flames of the imagination, rather than pedantic rhetoric to dull the mind into obedience.
6. The existing religions have brought about so much pain, suffering, guilt and death that their mirror image has got to be an improvement.
7. Let there be humour! Sometimes the muse likes to amuse, but if the reader guffawed at the serious bits while remaining stony faced at the jokes, that was fine. If I'm not sure of my intent, why should the reader be?
9. Rejoice in inconsistencies. For just as the inconsistencies in other holy books prove they were written by men and not God, so the flaws in KUUism would guarantee it was never taken too seriously.
10. KUUism can't be sexist because the other religions have covered sexism so comprehensively. The only hope this planet has is to let women have a go at the controls for a few centuries. Etc, etc, Amen!
11. Letting the mind wander; let the mind wonder.
A Disorganised Non-Religion
There is no entrance exam or ritualised rite of passage to becoming a KUUist unless you'd like to invent one. Needless to say, if you did, it would be for your own personal use only. Every faith refugee, agonised agnostic and entertainer of the possibility is welcome to join this disorganised non-religion. As are their pets.
The KUU HYPOTHESIS
Coincidences are often entertaining and intriguing. Sometimes they even generate feelings of indefinable and unquenchable expectation: what did that confluence of events mean? Was I meant to meet that old friend today of all days? But these feelings soon pass; we move on. But perhaps coincidences are more than just coincidences. Perhaps they are the subtlest form of supernatural phenomena visited upon us by a benign force wanting to challenge our narrow perceptions of the world around us.
The Naming of the KUU
In the beginning was the acronym, and the acronym was -
The Knowing Unknowable Universe
This precise yet imprecise definition of my proposed deity needs to be meditated upon a word at a time.
The first word proposes we are speaking of something that demonstrates intelligence. Knowing also implies knowledge beyond intelligence; beyond our comprehension. The implicit implication is; all knowing.
Unknowable because this is all guess work: that's all religion ever is. But unfortunately mankind can never be happy with just unresolved guesses. People think they need answers, so they turn their wild guesses into answers, and then get defensive if anyone dares suggest they are just guesses.
This third element symbolises that which we find impossible to grasp or understand. The universe is an undeniable reminder of the incomprehensibility of life and our fragility and contingence. We have more knowledge than we've ever had before, but with each step forward, the universe recedes two steps. By ending this definition-within-a-name of my bespoke non-faith with the word Universe I acknowledge and embrace the limits of my understanding and accept our comical insignificance in the face of the vast unknown.
But first of all, the KUU's 11 Non-Commandments (because there had to be 11 to challenge the decimal, binary order.)
THE 11 NON-COMMANDMENTS (OR GENTLE SUGGESTIONS)
You can laugh with us, at us, or at yourself. All laughter is welcome except for the evil cackle of the mad scientist. Other religions ignore laughter because it's the Great Deflator. Laughter is a weapon; satire can be a sabre; the arrogant and the vain can be defeated with razor-sharp wit. So try employing the deflating laugh rather than the impotent curse.
Laughter is a leveller. If you hear someone laughing, without seeing them, it's impossible to tell where they're from. A laugh sounds the same in all languages, yet it's also an idiosyncratic expression of an individual rather than his clan. The laugh says - I am the same as you.
As a KUUist you should expect mocking chuckles and self-satisfied smiles from those who doubt your doubting. But let them laugh! By doing so, they inadvertently join you in spirit with their giggles.
The survival of the wittiest. Since the 1960's we have known chimps and other animals use tools and even language, but they don't make jokes. So what is humour's evolutionary advantage? Wit also means cunning; and both qualities can help you find a mate.
A cosmic nudge promotes laughter and happy astonishment, so perhaps that's what the KUU wants to promote in us. Vanity and Ego are human weaknesses yet they're desirable qualities in most deities, along with vengefulness, lack of mercy, jealously, and all those other Old Testament neuroses. In keeping with these personality traits, your average trad-god also has no sense of humour, which means that His more ardent followers also have no sense of humour. How ironic that a quality we so welcomed in our fellow humans is so completely absent in the one whose image we are allegedly made in.
The rational explanation for the photo below of flamingos flocking together, is that they do so in order to better protect themselves against predators. But isn't it more fun to entertain the possibility that the Omnicient Practical Joker just decided to exert a bit of influence on the natural world on that particure day? And I don't imagine the photographer was concerned with the rational explanation when he took the picture.
A joke explained loses its power to amuse.
A deity explained loses its power to amaze.
Scepticism is the root of all good. Make of the KUU what you will, but please, please don't believe blindly in it. The religions of the past made one fundamental error. They said, or had God say:
"This is the way it is. Take it or leave it, but if you leave it, you're in big trouble"
What kind of way is that to start a relationship with your Maker? Were I to put words into the mouth of the KUU, I would have it say:
"Here are some suggestions on how to live a more fulfilling life while also getting the occasional glimpse that there could be more to that life than meets the eye. Let those glimpses enrich your daily existence but don't let them go to your head. Be aware and creative, pursue wisdom knowing it can't be attained, and find someone to love and have a good time with."
Answers are only ever provisional. There are no moral absolutes, only specific solutions to specific dilemmas. Even then, more than one proposed solution could be the 'right' one. The value of an answer is often wholly contingent on the future outcome. Therefore how can its 'rightness' be quantified in advance of that outcome? The most truthful response to a friend's moral dilemma is the one least likely to be given; 'I don't know what you should do - how could I?'
Prayer reinforces in the powerless the notion that they are powerless. The proof is in the prayer pudding - how many times is a prayer answered? The KUU doesn't need your prayers, why should it? Yet most religions insist on some kind of demeaning bowing-down. The old gods didn't want you worshipping other gods - gods which, according to them, didn't exist anyway.
At one with the One. The kneeling, the bowing of the head, the denial of dignity and the self, buries individuality. If you must do something for your god, why not dance? Euphoric rhythmic movement promotes transcendental feelings, and is far more likely to make you at one with the One. It is also the second most enjoyable way of uniting the physical self with the mental self: body and soul as a celebration rather than a sublimation of what it is to be human.
So, get up off a your knees! Don't pray, Dance!
When you lose yourself in dance, you lose your ego and your self-consciousness. In the moment when mind and body are one, you are not only a better dancer (however eccentric your efforts might be) you are also ecstatically free. A KUU paradox: when soul and body are one, the soul and body feel most liberated from each other.
Music is moral - music is maths: music is emotion; music is paradoxical. Why does a series of notes and chord progressions move you? Why does a child who knows nothing about music become sad when they hear a piece in a minor key, and happy when it's a major key? True music is pure truth. Music is a transcendental moral art form.
Five centuries before the birth of Christ, Pythagoras discovered that the musical scale corresponded to numerical proportions. But why is this law important for grasping the spiritual significance of music?
Music or sound is a by-product of vibration. A plucked string produces a note. If we halve the length of that string while keeping it just as taut, the result is a note exactly an octave higher. A string two-thirds of the length will produce a note a perfect fifth higher. It's like magic. It is magic. Music, that irrational, emotions-laden, passion-arousing noise, has a direct relationship with the rational abstract world of numbers.
It's another KUU paradox that musical harmony - which is thought to be an invention of man - has a direct relationship to a pre-existing - for that matter, always existent - system of mathematical laws which are as true here as they are on the other side of the universe. The cheering ring of a C-major chord bridges the gap between a scientific and an aesthetic truth!
AND THE POSSIBILITY
WILL ENTERTAIN YOU
In an infinite universe there are, logically, infinite possibilities. This allows KUUists to look charitably on the beliefs of others. In a universe of infinite dimensions (with possible parallel universes on the sidelines) no hypothesis regarding invisible unknowns is any less valid than another. Thus KUUism is infinitely open-minded and therefore has to entertain the possibility that one of the other faiths may have got it right. This is as a safety-valve/get-out clause for preventing confrontation with other belief systems.
Why we think the way we think, and why we should think about distrusting the way we think! Thanks to Descartes we are taught to think that the best way to grasp reality is to be objective and empirical. The event can then be filed away satisfactorily and we can move on. That which is not easily assimilated or explained, confuses and irritates, and so it's either dismissed or forgotten: a coincidence is just a coincidence - otherwise you are in deeply uncharted depths.
Descartes divided our every thought and experience into two categories: the objective, scientific 'truth' and the subjective, unscientific emotions and imagination. Mankind has been crippled by this reductive tribal-binary division ever since. Descartes thought therefore he was. This proposition turned out to be his only certainty. He convinced himself, through logic, that the rest of the world - which we accept as a given - had to be doubted: the table he drank at; the walls that surrounded him - all this sumptuous, tactile reality - might just be a lucid dream as far as this king of the doubters was concerned. You can take doubting too far.
A little doubting does you good but doubt should be a consideration not a prerequisite. A little doubting does you good, but too much can result in intellectual constipation. Descartes became a victim of his own subjectivity and in the process invented Scientific Method, KUU help us. The mind had won, and the heart was redundant. Man began to focus on the areas where he knew 'progress' could be made. To be focused you need to be blinkered, and what better way to be blinkered than by looking down a microscope?
So resist just assimilating the next strange thing that happens to you and ruminate on it for a while instead. Along with dancing, this is another thing a KUUist can do to replace the self-flagellating ritual of praying. Paradoxically you are using your imagination to more fully experience your reality and you are therefore ready to entertain the possibility!
Even the seemingly insignificant KUU-incidence is a subtle reminder of the enigma of chance. And the sheer improbability of our existence - and the very universe's existence - is the greatest KUU-incidence of all. Etc, etc, Amen!
There is no point in denying the religious experience and the expansive and transcendental feelings it can generate. The problem lies in the need to label it.
If I could write in flames across the sky, one short statement to the billions of god-fearing people on this planet, it would be: "LET GO OF YOUR BELIEF. IT'S MORE TROUBLE THAN IT'S WORTH!"
FACT: Many have died, and will die, and are still dying as you read this - fighting over the small print from the undeniably ambiguous texts of the great holy books.
FACT: An individual's nature along with his or her contingent circumstances predetermines whether or not his life's journey will have a spiritual or a non-spiritual bent, or whether they are a Christian, Muslim, of Jew. However, being a KUUist only takes an open mind and a sense of humour.
6. EMBRACE AND DELIGHT IN
THE COSMIC NUDGE
The Cosmic Nudge is the KUU saying hello. It is the KUU acknowledging your existence while hinting at its own existence. The more you delight in the notion of the cosmic nudge, the more you will be nudged.
Most of us either believe in an interventionist god or a non-interventionalist god. The KUUist of course should consider the third option: that the KUU is semi-interventiionalist. If we accept - as experience tells us - that prayers go unanswered, we can regain our dignity by acknowledging and embracing our independence as individuals freed from a belief-cursed race.
We are not persecuted or favoured, we are free. If we accept we are neither favoured nor persecuted by a higher being, we become responsible, ennobled.
Most Cosmic Nudges neither 'reward' or 'punish' the nudged individual. It is divine intervention in a gentle, joshing form. The cosmic nudge is the light of infinity glimpsed through the tiniest rent in the opaque curtain of everydayness.
Most Cosmic Nudges are awe inspiring but not fear inspiring; playful rather than frightening in their effect. The KUU doesn't have an Old Testament bone in its omniscient body!
The quiet solace of the mini-miracle. The mini-miracle is more humane than the epic so-called miracles of other religions, because it isn't a kick in the teeth to those it didn't encompass. The man who walks away from the burning building will speak of his escape as a miracle. But what of those who died? This is why the KUU only deals in mini-miracles: they have no victims and are there just to generate a frisson of wonder.
For example, Jonathan found this delightful object (below) left by the philosophy section of his bookshop presumably by a child.
EMPATHY AND RESPECT ARE THE REAL DEAL
There's no vaguer word than love: "I love the Rolling Stones, I love pizza, I love you, I love my mother, I love your jacket, I love God." We have one word meaning so many different things. But putting aside pizzas and God for a moment, even 'people love' has its ambiguities. There's the unconditional love of the exasperated parent for the wayward teenager, the blind crazy love of 'love at first sight,' the sweaty-palmed fumblings of 'first love,' the black eye of 'jealous love,' the heartbreak of 'unrequited love,' the house-watching of 'obsessive love.' And sometimes we don't even like the person we're in love with!
But respect is rarely blind, stupid, jealous or crazy because it requires some prior thought, and - by definition - has to be earned. Respect is all you need! Without it there is no real love, only the kind we have for chips, football, or a favourite pop group. Respect is less demanding and draining than love. Realistically, who's really going to be handing out love, flower-power style, to complete strangers? Most of us barely have enough of the stuff to keep a family together.
Paradoxes are common in religious writings. You will certainly find plenty of them here - some intentional, some unintentional, some between the lines and others staring you in the face. Even the dictionary definition of paradox teems with its own paradoxes:
"A seemingly absurd or self contradictory statement that may or may not be true"
- it seems to be absurd, it may or may not be true, it contradicts itself. What a slippery creature the paradox is. But what is the paradox's relevance to KUUism?
1. The paradox suggests that nothing is black and white and we are never on firm ground.
2. The paradox may indicate humour where none before was apparent. It is the grinning sidekick of irony
3. The paradox suggests new tangents to explore, helping us escape a rigid mind-set.
4. The paradox may expose a nugget of wisdom, a thousand more questions, or a challenging dead-end.
5. The truth or falsehood of the Big Idea is irrelevant. An idea can be beneficial regardless of its grounding in reality: most truths have a limited shelf life anyway - as the constantly changing mind of science demonstrates. The KUU is a new version of an old idea. The new idea has the potential to free us from old ideas. As soon as just one reader has this idea alive in their head, it's alive in the world.
The KUU needed a visual symbol. The cross and the star were already taken, the square seemed too square, and the circle was too inclusive. The tripod was perfect in its iconic simplicity - anyone could draw it with just three strokes of a pen. The tripod gave my anti-binary, middle-ground radicalism the visual representation it needed.
Once erected, its arbitrariness seemed far from arbitrary and it's absolute KUUness glaringly obvious! A tripod is simply the strongest self-supporting structure. Take one leg away and it's a binary, two legged disaster. Binary language is a reflection of our own blinkered tribal-binary perspective.
We are programmed to make decisions between 'this or that', between 'good and evil', between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, between something and nothing. We are led to believe we live in an age of certainty and indisputable progress, marching blissfully blinkered into a perfect future. Even our greatest thinkers have posited either/or questions: is there a God or isn't there? Is the table real or isn't it? To be or not to be? I think, therefore I am tribal-binary. Everything is reduced to the taking of sides, while the truth remains ambivalent and ambigous and out of reach. The third leg of the tripod represents this truth. Etc, etc, Amen!
Because of our YES/NO mindset we dismiss the idea that sitting on the fence might even give us the best view. Like other phrases that cover this middle-ground of perceived lack of commitment, it has negative, wishy-washy connotations. But that view from the fence can give you an unbeatable 360 degree panorama, and if you take sandwiches, you're laughing.
If you do need something to grab hold of in this slippery world of KUUism here are two things the KUUist is encouraged to accept as gospel:
1. The sun will come up tomorrow (regardless of what our fear-filled sun-worshipping ancestors may have thought).
2. One day your precious dream of a life will end.
We'd all like to know what happens after 2, but the desire to know won't manifest the answer. It's either not useful for us to know, or there is nothing to know because Nothing is all that awaits us. That's why organised religions are so successful; death keeps their fires burning. But death is Nothing. And because it's Nothing (or Nothingness) it's nothing to worry about.
So let's get more level-headed about death. If you watch an old black and white film of a cityscape teeming with people, it doesn't fill you with dread; you don't gasp in horror at the notion that you didn't then, and they don't exist now. So try to imagine future film footage of a busy world happily continuing - a world in which, once again, you're not a part of. It's not that painful is it? Death as Nothing is surely better than death as eternal torment - the alternative offered up to sinners (therefore, all of us) by other religions.
Perhaps our deep rooted fear of death is partly a result of a fear of the afterlife punishments our judgmental religions have lined up for us? Yet death is the end of debt, responsibility and toothache.
But if nothingness still fills you with dread, as a KUUist you can entertain the possibility that whatever you personally want for your post-corporeal existence could be yours! For -as previously stated - in an infinite universe there are, logically, infinite possibilities. So KUUism proposes the possibility that we might all just get our own bespoke afterlives for being such unswerving entertainers of possibilities.
A cosmic nudge is like a surprise gift so don't ask for help, money, a change in fortune or any other material thing that requires the KUU to step-up its semi-interventionalist relationship with you.
'Pushing,' is essentially praying, which we've already established is unlikely to be acted upon. If the KUU takes pleasure from surprising us, a prayer - or even just intensely wishing for something - would take away that pleasure. When the KUU nudges you, don't expect fireworks or life guidance: when ambiguity is sustained, your freedom is respected. Mystery is essential to doubt, and doubt is essential to being a KUUist.
Be grateful for just a nudge. The KUU may astonish or amuse but you shouldn't try to control the show, or want proof of the supernatural nature of your experience. One more mini-miracle could tip you over into belief, and that's the last thing the KUU wants. Don't bore your friends with tales of KUU-incidences. KUUists should know when to shut up; this would make them unique in the realm of the religious.
For every Virgin Mary crying blood in a Mexican church there's an Elvis on a taco shell: in the warped world of KUUism either could be holy hoax or kitsch miracle. The idea that Jesus was God in human form wasn't finalised until four hundred years after his death. Man can't live with unresolved questions for very long, so Jesus' status as a deity was eventually settled upon, regardless of the fact that no further evidence was forthcoming one way or the other.
In keeping with the idea of KUUism's contrariness in regard to the established religions, evil as a supernatural force had to go, to be replaced by the Gratuitous. Evil is an emotive and provocatively meaningless word. The Gratuitous is all that is without order or purpose; the neutrally destructive forces outside the KUU's field of influence: Earthquakes, disease, decay, car crashes, cancer, are all elements of this neutral, non-judgemental - but ultimately negative - influences on our lives. There is no battle between 'Good' and The Gratuitous. The KUU is either disinterested or accepting of the atrophying influence of the Gratuitous.
The line versus the circle. The KUU is the outwardly spiralling circle of fecundity. The Gratuitous is the razor-sharp straight line with no presence or personality despite its unarguable directness. It's the unexpected drought that destroys the expected bountiful harvest. Every act of destruction is a linear assault on the ordered, expanding cycles of a progressive, organic world. The Gratuitous is linear shit hitting the cyclical fan.
The concept of the Gratuitous does away with the notion of the saved or the unsaved. It addresses the absurd, blinkered egotism of the religious fanatic who walks away from the front-page-news disaster in which many others died, shouting, 'God saved me!' It needs to be accepted that the semi-interventionalist KUU has no power (or inclination to power?) over our earthly life spans and just lets the gratuitous rain down fire and rubble on innocent babies and convicted rapists alike.
Because if there is any kind of eternal life after death it will be of a kind we can't possibly conceive of. So what difference does it make when we depart this short fleshed span on Earth? Use the notion of the Gratuitous to keep you grounded and appreciative of every precious moment of your fragile physical existence. The Gratuitous delivers us from evil (and ego), etc etc, Amen!
The Big Question
What about all the suffering in the world?
It would have been unKUUishly evasive not to tackle the one question that's thrown at every religion by believers and unbelievers alike. If the KUU tickles us with cosmic nudges why doesn't it do anything more constructive? But why assume that a deity is all powerful? Because it makes us feel better, safer, more fearful or more humbled?
But to make such an assumption is just more subtle anthropomorphising - which KUUists should always resist. For example, I've given you the Gratuitous but it doesn't exist as an entity. The Gratuitous is just a concept - it's not the Devil in sheep's clothing. The only devil is the one that lurks in us all as a by-product of the human curse of choice. Animals just do what they do; humans can choose what to do. The bad decisions are usually the easiest ones to act upon - that's why they're called temptations. So, each of us is the devil, as we imagine the worst of acts, and then - to make gods of ourselves - carry them out.