I'm no longer religious. But I still embrace the notion of Ultimate Reality. I love those words, "ultimate reality." They point toward... something. Or perhaps... someone.
(I think it's much more likely that something rather than someone resides at the root of reality, but since I wrote a book called Return to the One, and continue to believe in much of Plotinus' philosophy, I'm very much open to the possibility of some sort of universal impersonal consciousness that could be called One.)
Ultimate doesn't mean far off, even though religions, spiritual teachings, and mystical practices often assume that Really Real Reality is over the horizon in some sort of supernatural realm, not right here, right now.
Personally, I like to envision ultimate reality being close at hand. It may be hidden, disguised, imperfectly revealed. Yet the notion that reality is cleanly divided into "ultimate" and "non-ultimate" strikes me as absurd.
I respect reality. Period. Which doesn't mean that I always like reality.
I don't like wasps (we've got a bothersome nest in our eaves at the moment). I don't like disease, disability, and death. I don't like black beans and red peppers. However, I accept that these things exist. I accept the evident evidence of their presence.
Likewise, I accept that many people don't respect reality.
I wish they did. Yet wishes and beliefs unsupported by evidence aren't part of objective reality, by which I mean the aspect of reality which exists whether or not a particular human brain conceives of it.
Browsing through my Twitter feed this morning I came across a Tweet that said:
Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. Saint Augustine
This strikes me as an incredibly stupid notion, notwithstanding St. Augustine's well-deserved reputation as a smart guy. There are so many things I can believe in, yet can't see, including countless objects which exist only in my own imagination.
Sure, if I believe I can see a thousand-headed hippopotamus, really, really believe it, it's possible that the "reward of this faith" will be to actually see such a creature. However, "actually" will be a subjective, not objective, phenomenon.
I might dream of my dearly believed thousand-headed hippopotamus. I might have a vision of it while under the influence of some psycho-active substance. (Or even in my normal state of consciousness.) I might transform my oft-repeated belief that this creature exists into a sense of Yes, it truly does!
I don't find these "might's" worthy of being proud of, though.
Especially if I'm the sort of person -- which I am -- who wants to see reality as clearly as possible, while accepting that every perception, observation, and experience is necessarily a blend of an individual's subjective consciousness and a universal objective presence.
What strikes me as deeply disrespectful to objective reality is considering human belief to be more important than the nature of existence. Religious believers should feel this way also. And many did, back in the days when the Book of Nature was considered to reveal the Creator of nature.
If God created the world, then seemingly it is blasphemous to believe in something that isn't true about physical reality. Since the big bang, evolution, global warming, quantum mechanics, and other solid scientific theories are almost certainly true, to deny them is to deny God's creation.
Disrespectful! Assuming God exists.
But even if God doesn't exist, I still feel that we should respect reality as it actually is, rather than as how we'd like it to be, or believe it to be.
Religiosity, spirituality, mysticism -- I used to think these could be avenues to ultimate reality. Now, though, I'm struck by how abstract and conceptual they are. Believers in some hypothetical realm beyond the physical immerse themselves in ideas about reality, not reality itself.
Yes, there is more than meets the eye.
Science enables us to know about objects billions of light years away and events that happened billions of years ago. Science gives us knowledge about the subatomic world which otherwise would be hidden from usual human perceptions.
But there is demonstrable evidence for the amazing phenomena scientific research reveals to be present beyond the bounds of everyday experience, whereas religiosity, spirituality, and mysticism only deal with beliefs, opinions, hopes, desires, and other concepts of human minds.
At every moment, each of us is enjoying a great gift: reality.
Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches connect us with a world that exists independent of our subjective consciousness. The proof of this is that we can say to someone else, "Do you see that? Do you hear that? Doesn't this taste great?", and learn that what we consider to be real, actually is.
For me, mindfulness of the present moment has become my religion (speaking loosely; mindfulness is far removed from traditional religiosity). I try to separate my senses from my stories. Reality is different from our beliefs.
Believe that, religious believers.