Reading the posts in a chronological order is recommended.

domingo, 27 de julio de 2014


“Of all the communities available to us, there is not one I would want to devote myself to except for the society of the true seekers, which has very few living members at any one time.”

When I talk about religion or the Bible, believers often think that I’m a skeptic, and skeptics that I’m a believer, but I’m neither one nor the other. Although a lot of people assume that one either has to accept or to rejects beliefs, one can also investigate where those beliefs come from and what they mean in order to obtain a better comprehension of religion and of the Bible.
A seeker longs for a better understanding of himself and the world he lives in. He questions everything. That is important because by asking questions –formulating the right questions– we obtain wisdom.
Some of the questions a seeker asks regarding religion and the Bible are: What is a religion? Why do some people accept and others reject certain beliefs? What is the origin of those beliefs? What is God? Why did societies, who now believe in one God, previously believe in many gods? Do all people who believe in God have the same idea about God? Is the God that believers believe in the same as the God atheists do not believe in? Why do some people regard God as a creature that looks like a human but has supernatural powers? What are sacred books and who wrote them? How did people once come to believe that a sacred book holds the word of God and says the truth.
What is a religion? When we look up the origin of that word, we find some linguists claim it comes from the Latin word ‘religare’, which means to re-connect, while others suggest it comes from the Latin word ‘relegere’, which means to re-read. Since ancient religions had no ‘sacred books’, and pagans needed a word to refer to the study of sacred books when they adopted Christianity, the idea that it comes from ‘re-legere’ makes a lot of sense.
Before the Romans became Christians, ‘pietas’ was the word they used to refer to their collection of rituals and beliefs. Although ‘religion’ originally referred to the study of sacred books, some time later its meaning changed, and people started using it as a synonym for ‘pietas’. That is why today we do not even demand of a religion to have sacred books. 
What is a sacred book? When we look up the origin of ‘sacred’, we find it comes from the Latin word ‘segregare’ (to separate) and that it was originally used to refer to that part of the temple that only the high priest could enter. Also the word ‘secret’ comes from the Latin word ‘segregare’. Since what is segregated stays hidden, our ancestors associated the concepts ‘sacred’ and ‘secret’ with each other. Therefore, when they later created stories that held secrets, they called them ‘sacred’, just like the books in which these were later written down. We thus see that the word ‘religion’ originally referred to studying sacred books in order to discover their secrets –to reunite (religare) ideas that were seperated from them–, which in turn lead to a better understanding of the whole.
Being aware of what ‘religion’ originally meant, it is surprising that nowadays the word is often used interchangeably with faith. Searching for the truth is indeed very different than believing that you already know the truth.
Do all sacred books hold secrets? Not necessarily, because we can not trust the criteria that the religious authorities used to decide whether a book was sacred or not. Since the Bible is a collection of books some may hold secrets and others not. That Genesis holds secrets is obvious, because it recognizes the most important lesson that mankind has to learn: the fact that a society that doesn’t live in harmony is bound to destroy itself. To avoid our self-destruction we have to ask why we have conflicts with other people and with our environment, and that is the same as asking what the forbidden fruit refers to. Therefore, we have a good reason for studying –or re-reading– Genesis.
The fact that Genesis recognizes what awaits a society that doesn’t live in harmony is amazing, because it was written several thousand years ago, and it was the invention of nuclear weapons that allowed us to come to this conclusion. What made the author (authors) of Genesis realize that a society that doesn’t live in harmony is ‘doomed’? We can assume this person discovered that mankind had destroyed itself in the past and therefore realized it was bound to happen again in the future if mankind didn’t learn anything from that experience.
Why do sacred books hold secrets? Why does Genesis hold secrets? This is because to grasp new ideas, we have to be ready for them. Whereas someone enlightened is ready, because he has a broad view on mankind’s evolution, most other people aren’t, because they are ‘prisoners’ of the present, and are therefore unable to question old habits and beliefs.
People who live in an age of primitive weapons find it difficult to imagine arms that can destroy the earth’s atmosphere. Whereas the author of Genesis managed to do so, his contemporaries couldn’t. Therefore, this person realized that people would only be able to imagine the ultimate consequence of not living in harmony when mankind again disposed of such weapons. And to avoid their self-destruction, people would then have to be able to question their habits and beliefs, as that is necessary to discover why they have conflicts with each other and with their environment.
This enlightened person –the author of Genesis– wanted people to benefit from his wisdom. To prevent mankind from destroying itself in the future, he invented a story that one generation would pass on to the following till eventually it reached that generation that would again dispose of weapons of mass destruction. And since that generation would have to be able to comprehend what would happen in case people did not restore harmony, these stories had to help all generations with their spiritual evolution, so that bit by bit mankind learned to question habits and beliefs.
It is by asking many questions that seekers obtain a better comprehension of religion and of the Bible. That neither believers nor skeptics realize that the Bible –or at least Genesis– is the work of someone enlightened, and that asking what the forbidden fruit refers to is the same as asking why we have conflicts with each other and with our environment, is because they have prejudices and do not read that book in an objective way.
Believers and skeptics are considered opposites, but actually have a lot in common with each other. Let us, for instance, compare their points of view regarding the origin of the universe. Although there seems to be a big difference between assuming that the universe started with a Big Bang several billion years ago and assuming that God created the earth less than six thousand years ago, both visions assume there is a starting point. Asking what started the Big Bang is also very similar as asking who created God. The careful reader of Genesis –the seeker– realizes that it encourages us to reflect upon eternity. That it starts with, ‘In the beginning’, is not because it assumes there was a beginning, but because it is logical to tell the story of creation starting from a certain point and refer to this point with a special name: beginning.
Believers and skeptics also interpret Adam and Eve in a similar way. Both assume that Genesis says they are the first people on earth, but the careful reader –the seeker–  realizes that this book only regards them as that generation that put an end to harmony.
Believers and skeptics also have similar ideas regarding the forbidden fruit. Both assume it is a metaphor. They igore that by pointing out that Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the days of paradise, Genesis clearly associates the end of paradise with a change of people’s diet.
The main difference between believers and skeptics is that the former give more importance to what an old book says and the latter to what science says. But they have again in common with each other that they base their opinion not on their own study, but on that of certain authorities.
Skeptics assumes that science has demonstrated that what the Bible says is wrong, but they ignore that what the Bible is believed to say, is not necessarily what it really says, and that what we think has gotten demonstrated by science, has not necessarily been proved to be right. The fact that new scientific theories often contradict previous theories demonstrates that we must also question scientific ideas.
People’s view on religion can be compared with the stages we go through in life: that of the believer with a child, because a believer believes everything his religion says, just like a child believes everything its daddy says; that of a skeptic with an adolescent because a skeptic rebels against religion when he discovers that some of its beliefs are contradicted by science, just like an adolescent rebels against his dad when he discovers that not everything his dad said is right, and that of a seeker with an adult, because just like a seeker evaluates religion himself, instead of basing his points of view on the opinions of others, an adult evaluates all information himself, instead of basing instead of basing his points of view on the opinions of others.
Why do not all people grow up? That there are so few seekers is because it is easier to accept ideas, then having to evaluate them oneself. However, when we accept ideas that we do not completely understand we become the slave of the authorities that defend those ideas. By having faith in authorities we really underestimate our own comprehension.

Are skeptics more evolved than believers? Not necessarily. To become a seeker, one has to question authorities, but why question the authorities of religion and not those of science? Or vice versa, why question the authorities of science and not those of religion?

Believers and sceptics have in common that they defend one source of information while they ignore the other. Therefore, both are ignorants, since an ignorant is someone who ignores information. And is there anything more ridiculous than deliberately ignoring information? Einstein, a seeker, said that science without religion is lame and that religion without science is blind. I totally agree with him.

domingo, 6 de julio de 2014


The shop for pilgrims that I opened in Arzúa, 40 kilometers before Santiago, not only offers food, but also food for thought. The three main panels in my shopping window associate ‘walking the camino’ with philosophy. The first offers 10 proposals for Santiago (I have worked for many years as a guide), the second, called ‘Travel Broadens the Mind’, holds quotes from famous writers and philosophers (Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.’ Mark Twain), and the third holds what I believe to be the most important lesson mankind has to learn. And this is…
When today we reflect upon mankind’s evolution it’s easy to come to the conclusion that a society that doesn’t live in harmony –like ours– is eventually bound to destroy itself: weapons continually become more sophisticated and once there are weapons of mass destruction it is only a matter of time before they are used. Not living in harmony means struggling for the resources and because of that an always smaller percentage of people gets hold of an increasing percentage of all available resources, putting that way more and more pressure on the relations between the different groups of people and between people and their environment.
The third panel starts with the text: “In the Information Age, ignorance is a choice. An ignorant is not an idiot, but someone who, often deliberately, ignores certain information.” Whereas politicians, scientists, philosophers and theologians ignore this crucial lesson, Genesis, the first book of the Bible, recognizes this reality: people once lived in harmony, they put an end to it by eating a forbidden fruit, and ten generations later they almost completely destroyed themselves. We thus see that this work, which was written thousands of years ago, can today help us avoid our self-destruction. Asking why we have conflicts with the other people and with our environment is indeed the same as asking what the forbidden fruit refers to.
Since Genesis says people once lived in harmony, all people who long for a better society should be interested in reading this book, but they are not. Why? The idea that it holds the word of God made that religious authorities didn’t question that work and thus came to erroneous interpretations –Genesis, for instance, does not say that Adam and Eve were the first human beings on earth–, and these  have scared many people away from this book.
Understanding Genesis is a million times more difficult than understanding the Ulyses of James Joyce.
Genesis is full of myths, but these are not fables, but stories that invite the reader to ask certain questions whose answers lead to new questions, and this process eventually leads to a better understanding of the themes they deal with.

Inside the shop the following panels invite people to reflect upon religion:
-Do you question own ideas (beliefs) as much as you do other people’s ideas (beliefs)?
-Has religion had a positive or negative influence on our society?
-Is science bringing us salvation or self-destruction?
-Have perhaps all religions and philos­ophies safeguarded important values?
-Do you believe in God because your parents do, or do you not believe in God because your friends do not?
-Would you be an atheist if you lived in a communist country and a Buddhist if you lived in a Buddhist country?
-Are heaven and hell (purgatory, re­incarnation, etc.) only for people who believe in them?
-If the founders of our religions came back, would they recognize their work?
-Imagine Jesus came back. Would he be a Baptist, a Catholic, a Greek Orthodox...?
1) Calling the Bible a ‘sacred’ book originally meant to recognize that it holds secrets. The idea that it contains the word of God and tells the truth came later.
2) The word ‘religion’, which comes from the Latin word ‘relegere’ and means re- reading, refers to reading the Bible time and again to discover its secrets.
3) According to an old tradition, someone enlightened is able to cre­ate a mystery that reveals itself many generations later. This is the case of the Bible.

Are you ready for the secrets in the Bible? Are you willing to dis­cover its hidden wisdom?

When people have read these panels they are ready for a philosophical circuit that starts with: “There is fast food, but there is no fast wisdom.” and ends with: “A healthy body and mind require a healthy diet. Drugs are like medicine. Instead of taking them we should ask what makes us sick.”  I have put these panels on the highest shelves so that only spiritual pilgrims notice them.

These are the different panels:

When I notice  someone who is  interested in these texts, I offer additional information, because what they think they say is of course not necessarily what I try to express with them…

'Travel Broadens the Mind' 
Not all those who wander are lost’. J.R.R.Tolkien
‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’ Saint Augustine
‘The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.’ Lao Tse
‘A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.’ Lao Tse
‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.’ Mark Twain
‘Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.’ Flaubert
‘We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth.’ John Lubbock
‘It is good to have an end to jour-ney toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.’
Ernest Hemingway