Why bother? Why come together under one name?
We believe that secularism and religious institutions are failing us. They fail to bring peace, to help us relate to each other, to inspire hope, and to create meaning in our lives. We believe we have created an environment that will allow people to wisely make their own decisions about important ideas, and help them create profoundly meaningful experiences around them, so they can weave those ideas into the fabric of their being and apply it to their daily lives. Thuquendo is about using critical thinking skills to lead an examined life and creating a rich and profound experience.
Religious Failures include extremism, routine-ism and unhealthy desires.
Extremism: Religious beliefs are often used to degrade or oppress others. They can be used to justify acts of cruelty and violence. They can inspire anger and hatred. The true purpose of religion should be to offer hope and solace, to teach love and forgiveness, and take us down the path of wisdom. Religion should make us kinder, better people. Somehow religious figures around the world have forgotten this, and religious institutions are failing to make this their focus.
Routine-ism amongst religious people has often trapped them in a pattern of behaviour because things have been done the same way for a long time. Some are taught these patterns from childhood, others look beyond their lifetimes to cultural traditions that are hundreds, even thousands, of years old. Tradition is beautiful, it can tie us to our distant past in a meaningful way. However, tradition and ritual are not intended to trap us in a standard pattern of repetition, they should not be superficial actions carried out without thought. As the Rabbi Shanon Brous said, such practice is… “Devoid of life, devoid of vision, and devoid of soul.” The mindless repetition of words and actions done out of a sense of obligation or habit is more harmful than rewarding. Tradition should inspire a sense of emotion and meaning in the practitioner, encourage us to contemplation and reinforce the good within ourselves, and towards others. It is also meaningless to hold onto scriptures and doctrines that have no connection to the world we live in today, which is very different than the world was even two hundred years ago.
Unhealthy desire is built into religion through its reward and punishment structure. At times good deeds are not pursued because the religious practitioner believes in a better world, but because they wish to gain access to heaven in their afterlife. This makes the action insincere, and good ends cannot be reached when the starting point is hollow and self-serving. Hatred is also inspired due to fear of punishment, feeling that cultural movements or individual actions that go against scripture will cause a calamity or suffering in an afterlife. We believe that our actions should be inspired by a love ethic, not a desire for reward or a fear of punishment. If an all-knowing being capable of creating reality as we know it exists, it is not an angry, cruel, jealous entity, as these are human flaws that result from our frailty. We must cultivate in ourselves the desire to be good people and do good things without the expectation of direct reward. The desire to do good, simply because it is good. Critical thinking and living an examined life will help us to understand right from wrong.
Religion has uncovered some powerful knowledge in its thousands of years of exploration and experimentation that can be valuable to everyone, including atheists.
How Secularism Has Failed Us
Secularism is to be free of religious thought, teaching or rules. The problem with secular life is that we have lost the intentional and ongoing practice of moral contemplation and the communal traditions that continually reinforce meaningful truths.
Secularized life for many people is ruled by work, commercialization, distraction and vanity. There is no place or time in the modern secular life dedicated to stepping back from the web of our everyday needs and demands, where we can contemplate the ideas of morality, enlightenment and the complexities of the world. We do not devote energy to a continuous and intentional process of growth.
Often secular society turns to education as the vehicle by which people can become more virtuous, helping individuals to see and think more clearly, to act intentionally, and learn how they can be a force for good in the world. Education as it was seen during The Age of Enlightenment, could certainly have fulfilled this purpose. Scripture could be replaced with Cultureᔥ. One could look to the works of Plato and Descartes, Shakespear and Jane Austin; to the words of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. There is an endless list of cultural resources to help us understand our existence and explore moral truths, to ask the right questions, to dig deeper and find meaning, peace, and love.
We have forgotten what the university is for, why the libraries are built like cathedrals and surrounded by meadows and flowers. Marilynne Robinson
While higher education can provide those able to attend with the opportunity to participate in important contemplative dialogue, in many respects these institutions have failed to carry this torch. It also leaves behind all those who cannot attend. Universities aren’t here to teach us how to liveᔥ, their main purpose is to help us become productive, to mold workers who are equipped to find a place within the economyᔥ1. At all levels of education, we have stripped away the Liberal Arts, no longer valuing a broad access to knowledge. We don’t teach good manners, kindness or forgiveness. Some say these are things we should learn in our homes, from our parents – but our family units are made up of people as flawed as human nature itself. We have available to us thousands of years of human experience that can be accessed through art, literature, philosophy and social sciences, to help us rise above the limitations of our upbringing and daily influences. Thuquendo believes we must dedicate a place and time in our lives to do this.
These sacred works of art, poetry, music, architecture, and philosophyᔥ1 that explore the deepest reaches of the human experience, nature, the universe and existence itself are now seen as impractical. They do not make up the core of our studies. We have lost something precious in this – our freedom.
There is one project which is attempting to address the failure of secular society to teach us about life, that we think everyone should take the time to explore:
Do we really need guidance?
One might think to themselves, I’m a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. Isn’t that enough?
Consider that none of us are perfect, that even when we have good intentions, we don’t always reach good conclusions. There are also many people in the world who have valuable ideas and suggestions to share if we are willing to listen.
There is always room to improve ourselves and in doing so we leave the world a better place for future generations while finding a profound sense of peace and happiness that is otherwise unreachable. None of us are without prejudice, anger, fear and anxiety. We all make mistakes in our relationships with friends, lovers and family. We all have places in our lives that could be improved to make us more self-aware. Every one of us has much to learn about how our perceptions can mislead us, even when we have good intentions at heart.
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. Socrates
We are poor observers, rarely seeing more than we intended to see […] We bring our expectations with us, and we take them home with us again, reinforced. Marilynne Robinson
Leading an examined life is extraordinarily important, it will give us access to lasting peace and happiness that is built on a solid immovable foundation. We won’t need to look to shallow or vain sources that leave us chasing one pleasure hit after another. We will make better decisions, and by improving ourselves will improve the lives of all those who have contact with us. We can gain a better understanding of our subconscious, allowing us to be more “peaceful, coherent, and focused”ᔥ. By seeing under our tangle of emotions and past experiences we can stop being strangers to ourselves, and build a deeper connection to the world we live in.
About Leading An Examined Life:
Everything we need to accomplish this is already available in all the works of philosophy, art, science and world religions that humanity has created. Can we understand them on our own, without the help of someone who has a deeper knowledge of specific works? Those who have committed themselves to religion have religious figures in their communities to help make information accessible, to help people apply it in their daily lives, to bring together communities of people who care about peace, truth, love, forgiveness, and solace.
We suggest taking on the desire to study works of culture to pursue enlightenment is too daunting a task for an individual to take on alone – there are teachers and preachers, scientists and philosophers. There are many who can provide worthy guidance if we will listen with an open mind. Thuquendo suggests that there is no one person who has all the answers, but a journey of exploration will help us find those with messages that connect to us in a powerful way, that have found the words we have never been able to articulate properly ourselves and inject joy and peace into our hearts and minds. Be wary of anyone who claims to have all the answers, or that suggests there is only one interpretation, one path to virtue. This gives too much power and control to a single source, and human history has shown that concentrated power corrupts. Instead, broaden your horizons and listen to people from different disciplines.
We also need a community of people we feel safe with, to challenge us and to embrace us. A collection of people who can provide positive and constructive support through one another’s rough patches. While having a sense of independence and individuality is invigorating, a sense of belonging is deeply comforting.
Do we really need tradition and ritual?
Perhaps we have a passing curiosity or interest in the great works of humanity and leading an examined life, but where between working hours, caring for the daily needs of our loved ones and the few minutes of relaxation we can steal away, can we find time to dedicate to such important matters? The rigors and demands of everyday life also make it hard to hold onto the lessons we have learned in our attempts to understand the human experience better. If you read the works of Plato in your 20s, how likely are you to remember those core concepts in your 40s, how likely are you to apply his concepts of Justice to your everyday thinking? ᔥ
For the religious, it is during their weekly services and holiday calendars, that they are allowed, and more importantly, expected to set everything aside and look deep within themselves. Secular society quarantined no place or time for self-discovery and reflection. Nor is it ever expected from us by broader society. Access to this ocean of knowledge is fundamental to our freedom and well-being, and by not creating a sacred space for this in our lives we have done great harm to the development of human consciousness and our own personal well-being.
We believe when people turn their backs on religion, they throw the baby out with the bathwater. We believe that traditions and rituals are a precious concept, that religion has uncovered something transformative and powerful in their application. These practices should be incorporated into everyone’s life, regardless of whether they are agnostic, atheist or believers in a higher power. The act of participating in ritual and tradition can take the truths we learn about Love, Wisdom, Forgiveness and Solace and weave them into our very being in a transformative way.
The religious culture of repetition is a powerful way to reinforce ideas that we have learned, so they do not become vague over time, or entirely forgotten. The development of rituals makes it easier to apply the great truths we have learned by making them ever-present in our lives. The pursuit of new and exciting ideas is wonderful, but we must not allow the great truths that we discover to rust away or be lost in the mist of time. They must be continuously reinforced so they can become deeply ingrained in our psyche, allowing them to become a part of who we are, not just an idea we have learned.
It’s really important to look at the Moon. You know, when you look at the Moon, you think, “I’m really small. What are my problems?” It sets things into perspective, etc., etc. We should all look at the Moon a bit more often. We don’t. Why don’t we? Well there’s nothing to tell us, “Look at the Moon.” But if you’re a Zen Buddhist in the middle of September, you will be ordered out of your home, made to stand on a canonical platform and made to celebrate the festival of Tsukimi, where you will be given poems to read in honor of the Moon and the passage of time and the frailty of life that it should remind us of. You’ll be handed rice cakes. And the Moon and the reflection on the Moon will have a secure place in your heart. That’s very good.ᔥ Alain de Botton
The most important practice of all is to arrange time. Religions have calendars set up for the entire year, we know when Christmas is coming, we know that Ramadan is on its way. We plan life around these events, ensuring their time is available to us and that entire cultures are thinking about important concepts such as humility, gratefulness, generosity of heart, at the same timeᔥ:
A calendar is a way of making sure that across the year you will bump into certain very important ideas. In the Catholic chronology, Catholic calendar, at the end of March you will think about St. Jerome and his qualities of humility and goodness and his generosity to the poor. You won’t do that by accident; you will do that because you are guided to do that. Now we don’t think that way. In the secular world we think, “If an idea is important, I’ll bump into it. I’ll just come across it.” Alain de Botton
The great value of tradition is in its ability to demand we revisit, contemplate and share the experience of important ideas together, at the same time. These concepts are not just interesting or true, they can now be infused with passion and dedicataion.
After every convincing point, people will go, “Amen, amen, amen.”At the end of a really rousing paragraph, they’ll all stand up, and they’ll go, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Christ, thank you Savior.” If we were doing it like they do it — I would tell you something like, “Culture should replace scripture.” And you would go, “Amen, amen, amen.” And at the end of my talk, you would all stand up and you would go, “Thank you Plato, thank you Shakespeare, thank you Jane Austen.” Alain de Botton
We have also lost the connections we have with our bodies. Many people live primarily in their minds, and only really notice their body when it bothers them or displeases them in some way, or perhaps they will notice it during a moment of vanity. Our bodies can be brought back into our existence and can be used to deepen our connection to great truths, making it a fully immersive and profound experience.
When they [religions] teach us a lesson, they do it via the body. So for example, take the Jewish idea of forgiveness. Jews are very interested in forgiveness and how we should start anew and start afresh. They don’t just deliver us sermons on this. They don’t just give us books or words about this. They tell us to have a bath. So in Orthodox Jewish communities, every Friday you go to a Mikveh. You immerse yourself in the water, and a physical action backs up a philosophical idea. We don’t tend to do that. Our ideas are in one area and our behavior with our bodies is in another. Alain de Botton
What makes Thuquendo different?
We believe whether a person believes in God, is Agnostic or an Atheist doesn’t matter. These are personal choices. What matters is how we behave towards each other, that we train our minds to be good at critical thinking, that we have truly good intentions at heart, that we follow the love ethic, that we do what we can to make the word a better, kinder and safer place, that we absorb the beauty and wonder of the cosmos, and always work towards improving ourselves. Peace, Wisdom, Love, Hope, Solace, Forgiveness: our dedication to these concepts are more important than our personal decisions about whether or not God exists.
Thuquendo is here for those who wish to inject something profound, revelatory and sacred into their lives. We do not pretend to have all the answers, but joyfully join you on this journey so that we might create something meaningful together.
ᔥ Alain de Botton AlaindeBotton.com
ᔥ1 Marilynne Robinson