Letting Go of God

Dreyfus said that a lot of students in his class on Heidegger (which is standing room only and students waiting outside the door to get in) would fail because Heidegger is incredibly difficult to understand.  Dreyfus warned students that if they don’t have the appropriate philosophical background, they need to consider dropping the class. My philosophical background is limited so chances are, I’d fail his class.  But if I was in school at Berkeley and if there were no Berkeley Webcasts and I had the opportunity to take his class, I’d willingly take the risk.

My interest in philosophy is far more spiritual than it is academic. In specific, I am interested in philosophical ideas that merge with mysticism. Since the Enlightenment, academia has lumped mysticism in with magic, sorcery, the supernatural and all things irrational. This is tragic because authentic mysticism is intensely rational. Yes, it is also considered to be transrational, but the stepping stone to transrational thought is rational thought, not irrational thought.  (For the sake of clarification, let’s use A.R. Lacey’s definition of rationalism – any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification.)

Mysticism flirts with atheism because transrational thought makes the question of the existence of God irrelevant.  Mysticism is NOT an atheism, however, because it does not make the claim that God does not exist.  However you answer the question, “Does God eixst?” (“yes, there is a God” or “there is no God”) – merely points back to the question itself. Both atheists and theists have made the question important by insisting they hold the “right” answer, but mystics consider the question irrelevant because mysticism is rational. “God” (by any other name) cannot be known rationally, therefore any rational question about God does not apply. It makes no sense, whatsoever, to insist upon the existence or non-existence of God. If you insist upon God’s existence, then you are likely more into supernaturalism and magic than authentic mysticism. If you insist upon the non-existence of God, then chances are you worship rationalism in the same way theists worship a supernatural God. True, a lot of mystics use the term “God” to point to what is transrational.  But this does not mean they “believe” in the term.

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche presents the parable of the madman. This madman runs out into the crowds exclaiming “God is dead”, and realizes he is at least 300 years too early for people to understand what he is saying.  Nietzsche isn’t telling theists that God is dead.  He’s telling secularists that God is dead.  Atheists may claim there is no God, but they don’t yet understand that God is dead.  Human beings created an ideology based on a concept that served humanity relatively well for centuries. The concept is no longer viable because we killed it. As Dreyfus said in his Existentialism in Film and Literature class, we abstracted it out of existence.  And as long as we believe in objective truth, we are forced to maintain a belief in a God’s eye view that has the ability to see this truth. Secularists haven’t eliminated God.  On the contrary. The role of God has been reassigned to science and reason. God is dead, but we don’t yet know it.

Many years ago, I was having great difficulty maintaining a belief in God and went through a frantic journey trying to find out everything I could about the history of the Bible, the history of the Jews, the history of Rome, Greece, and whatever else I thought might help. Through a series of connections with various bloggers (mostly on the now defunct Vox), I ended up at Hubert Dreyfus’ “Existentialism in Literature and Film” class I just mentioned. This sent me on an entirely new trajectory.

These days, I can say with confidence that I do not believe in God.  That is not to say I don’t think God exists. I simply think the question is irrelevant. I can’t even begin to tell you how long or how scary it has been for me to admit this to myself. There have been years of darkness associated with this admission because I simply have not wanted to acknowledge God’s death.

I think what was most difficult was letting go of the belief that there is an objective truth waiting to be discovered. I really thought I’d figure it out one day – that it all would make sense…

I still have so much to unlearn!

Faith, Interrupted by Eric Lax

I sincerely appreciated Eric Lax’s Faith Interrupted although I don’t entirely relate to Lax.  He was the son of an Episcopalian minister and grew up with an unquestioning faith.  My family was far less religious and I was constantly questioning what I was being taught in church, when we went.  But in a sense, I was also unquestioning.   All my questions were within a certain boundary that I didn’t dare go outside.  For the past five years, I’ve been venturing beyond those bounds and it makes my relationship with institutionalized religion extremely uncomfortable.

Lax wrote:

I still felt connected to the Episcopal Church and closely followed its internal doings through clergy friends and my parents, but it was more an institutional attachment I felt than one that connected me with God.  I derived a sense of inclusion and security from my relationships with the bishops and clergy I knew well and liked, and who liked me.  I felt part of the Church, an insider in a genteel and socially prominent faith.  Unfortunately, this meant I found comfort more in feeling connected to the establishment than to the Holy Spirit.

That’s how I feel about Methodism.  I feel a profound loyalty to the institution and have several friends who are Methodist ministers. But feeling a loyalty to an institution is far more materialistic than it is spiritual.

I was in a Spiritual Directions group in our Methodist Church which was incredibly uncomfortable for me, even though the members of the group were amazing, lovely women.  Spiritual Direction is supposed to be about exploring your own spirituality without judgment or condemnation, but I felt judged because the members were so intent on trying to get me to adopt various versions of a personal God.  I simply can no longer believe in a personal God. That’s not to say I don’t think God can be personally experienced.  I have had a very personal experience of what I call God. But a personal experience of God is not a personal God.  The two are very different.  The overwhelming advice was to realize that God considers me His precious child.  It was a sort of mantra – “I am a precious child of God”.   I know the women are trying to shift the idea that we are sinful to something more positive, which is undoubtedly beneficial.  But I simply cannot understand God in this way, anymore.  God doesn’t create sinfulness and preciousness. We do. God transcends human egoic judgment.  But how can you explain this to “believers” without judgment or condemnation?  You really can’t, because they tend to view it as a negation of God even though it’s merely the realization that our ideas of God are not God.

Maybe I’m more like Eric Lax’s friend Skip, the Episcopal Minister, than I am like Lax.  I’m extremely comfortable with mysticism, contemplative prayer, and Father Keating.  I don’t struggle with that like Lax does.  It makes sense to me. But I repeatedly try to find a place within institutional religion and I just can’t seem to find one beyond a social connection.

Mystical Tradition: Lecture 18 – 22 – Western Christian Mysticism – Roman Catholicism

Dr. Johnson provides the most lectures for Western Christian Mysticism in his series, Mystical Tradition: Judaism, Christianity & Islam, because he says it is by far the most diverse.  The more central a religion makes its symbol, the more divisions the religion is going to have. The symbol of Jesus Christ is absolutely central to Christianity, therefore the religion is diverse and often divisive.

Greek had always been the language of the Bible and worship for Christians, but in the west, it was eventually replaced by Latin. Greek in the west, was largely forgotten, which means the traditions associated with the language were also lost. Also, with the fall of the Roman order in the 5th & 6th centuries, the Bishops in Rome became much more centralized and powerful while the power of the Bishops in the east remained regionally based.  Not surprisingly, these changes in the west led to theological and cultural misunderstandings with the east and the result was a schism in 1054. The church was divided into Roman Catholicism in the west and Eastern Orthodoxy in the east.

Monastic Tradition

Thanks to the inspiration of the Desert Fathers, a monastic tradition began in the west.  One of the first was Benedictine Monasticism which was founded by Benedict of Nursia (480-550).  He focused on providing a stable structure for cenobites (those living in monastic communities).  He wanted to strike a balance between “ora et labora” – prayer and work.  He avoided harsh asceticism and said that contemplation was not of value in itself, but rather, common life is of value in itself.

Gregory the Great (540-604) was Pope Gregory I from 590-604.  He was both committed to the monastic life and had mystical experiences.  He wrote, “Scripture is like a river again broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.”

What typically happens in monasticism is that people live together and grow.  They gain and prosper which makes them lose their radical edge.  That is why monasticism in the west is constantly splitting off into monastic units.  Cistercian monasticism was one of the great reforming traditions.

Bernard of Clairvaoux (1090-1153) is one of the key figures in the spread of Cistercian reform, he was an active sponsor of the Second Crusade, and he helped found the Order of the Knights Templar.  He was also viciously opposed to the development of scholastic theology in the universities (especially Peter Abelard who introduced dialectic into scripture and wanted to make thinking more critical) .  He wrote 86 sermons on The Song of Psalms, and these writings exemplify the emerging mysticism of Western Monasticism which resembled the the interpretation of Jewish Scholars.  Monastic spirituality was primarily about reading scripture historically, allegorically and morally.

William of St. Thierry (1085-1148) sided with Bernard against Abelard.  He provides some of the best examples of an interpretation of scripture known as Lectio Devina.  This was not a scholarly exposition, it was contemplative prayer.

Richard of St. Victor (died in 1173), on the other hand, was more open to Abelard’s approach.  As is true of much of Jewish mysticism and Sufism (Islamic mysticism), Victor represents the movement of the Western tradition toward an emphasis on the ontological union with God and the constraints of the human mind in regards to this union.

Medieval Female Mystics

I found the lecture on female mysticism in the medieval times a little disturbing.

Female mysticism is essentially lacking in almost every single institutionalized religion that exists – this includes Eastern religions.  You have the occasional female sage, but they are few and far between.  They show up in a big way in Roman Catholicism in the middle ages, possibly because women had learned to play the system.  According to Dr. Johnson, they didn’t voice their thoughts on their own.  Their thoughts had to be approved by male confessors, and these male confessors offered heavy instruction on how their thoughts should be voiced.

Dr. Johnson says the reason women were given a voice in the medieval period is because Christianity is one of the few institutionalized religions that maintains a belief in spirit possession.  This belief allowed the marginal and lowly to assert an authoritative place through the claims of spiritual possession.  Women would have had no say otherwise. Claim spiritual possession and you gain power.

Obviously, these women had to be really careful about what they said and how they said it.  Only women who were virgins or widows were allowed to have any say at all.  According to Dr. Johnson, the celibate life was highly attractive to females in the Medieval Ages because women married around the age of 13 and had lots and lots of kids and eventually died in childbirth.  Married life was short and hard.  This made virginity a desirable option.

Religious life was a female’s only hope of a “profession”.  No other options were available to her.  If you were female and wanted an education, you had to enter into the religious life.  And if you wanted any authority whatsoever, you had to have prophetic visions.  If you were female, the only way you could be heard in a patriarchal society was through prophetic visions.

The most well-known female visionaries came from extremely wealthy households.  Which makes you wonder – maybe these females were politically savvy?  Not to say they didn’t have authentic mystical experiences, but maybe the reason these particular females were heard was because they were either virgins or widows and were savvy to the political game?

In Judaism and Islam, marriage and physical erotic love is viewed as a symbol of mysticism.  The same is true in Buddhism.  So at least women are valued in this sense.  In Western Christianity, physical love is taboo.  Why the shift from the Jewish perspective to the Christian perspective? Why are women so severely marginalized?

In Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert (The Eat, Love, Pray lady),  says marriage itself was viewed as unholy until around 1215, when the Roman Catholic Church realized it wasn’t going to be able to keep people from marrying.  Instead, it claimed authority over marriage and imposed all kinds of rules and regulations to try and control it.  Marriage had been a secular institution monitored by families and civil courts until the Roman Catholic Church claimed it for its own.  Erotic love, however, remains taboo – especially in Roman Catholicism.

What has always bothered me about Catholicism (both eastern and western forms) is not just the refusal to allow for female leaders in the Church, but the apparent hatred toward females in general (especially in Roman Catholicism).  Male spiritual leaders aren’t allowed to get married and the women that are presented as important to the church are forced, in a sense, to speak through men. I suppose Islam suffers from some of the same phobias as Catholicism (although female Imams do exist) but women are extremely influential in Judaism, Buddhism, Protestant Christianity and other World Religions these days. Why not Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy? 

Mendicants

A Mendicant is a beggar and this tradition arose within Christianity at the same time Sufi wandering beggars appeared.  The two largest Mendican orders are the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Both contained a second order of females and a third order of lay people and were committed to the radical ideal of evangelical poverty.  Instead of withdrawing from life, members of these orders had a working life among the poor.  These orders thrived because highly energetic, frugal people tend to get rich.  So there was a constant struggle to maintain poverty.  The more institutionalized the orders became, the more they thrived.  This was especially problematic for the Franciscan order which split early on.

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) is the founder of the Franciscans.  He had a vision of Christ crucified and received the stigmata which he bore for the rest of his life.  He wrote very little.  Much of what we understand about St. Francis comes from Bonaventure (1221-1274) who taught at the University of Paris.  He was a Bishop, Cardinal and great mystic.  Bonaventure creates a theological and mystical compression that links St. Francis’ mysticism to that of the mysticism in the East and Islamic spirituality.  It is an emphasis of the heart (Love of God).  At some point, the mind must give up. There is a leap – a passing over.

Dominican spirituality, on the other hand, is very intellectual.  It was founded by Dominic of Calaruega (1170-1221) and is represented by Thomas Aquinas (1200-1280) and his student Albert the Great (1225-1274), and the Rhineland Mystics: Eckhart von Hocheim (Meister Eckhardt 1260-1328), Johannes Tauler (1300-1361), and Henry Suso (1300-1366).  The Rhineland Mystics were all connected with the University of Paris, they were all from the Rhineland, and they were all very intellectual.

Meister Eckhardt used negative theology like Dionysius.  He was extraordinarily bold which got him into trouble as a heretic.  From 1327-1338, he spent much of his time defending his theology in front of inquisitors that wanted to excommunicate him.   What we find in Eckhardt is a truth that the highest form of mysticism and atheism are very closely related.  God is All is very close to God is Nothing.  God is no “thing” – otherness of God is stretched to the point that God’s isness appears as much as God’s abscence.

Johannes Tauler (1300-1361) was a student of Meister Eckhardt and was Martin Luther’s favorite German theologian.  He managed to soften Meister Eckhardt’s emphasis without rejecting Eckhardt.

Henry Suso (1300-1366) claimed the highest point of the mystical life was not about the individual, it was about God.  In order to become aware of God’s presence in other people, we must allow for the passing away of self.

English Mystics of the 14th Century

The most famous of the mystics at this time was the anonymous writer of The Cloud of Unknowing.  This is a 14th century masterpiece.  It borrows from Dionysius the Aeropagite, but we know it is a 14th century work because of its prose.  This presents the Apophatic tradition of the East in Western garb.  It claims that it is not knowledge, but desire and love that penetrates into the divine

Julian of Norwich (1342-1423) is thought to be one of the outstanding mystics of the medieval period.  She was a natural metaphysician who moved easily from what “Is” to what has been brought into being.  She is known for her female language for God and for Jesus and has an outstanding way of presenting this female language which allowed her to break the paternal barriers of language.  For instance, she emphasizes the motherhood in God; the motherhood of grace; and the motherhood of work.

Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) who wrote The Imitation of Christ is actually from the Netherlands rather than England, but Johnson threw him into this lecture.  Kempis says the meaning of life is to be found in the journey to God.  Suffering is a way to follow in the way of Jesus and involves a personal relationship with Jesus.

Johnson concludes this lecture emphasizing that these writers show us the characteristics of medieval spirituality which is concentrated on the figure/humanity of Jesus.  Jesus IS the way to God.  We don’t get to God by doing what he did, but by accepting, embracing, and living out Jesus’ suffering.

15th & 16th Spanish Mystics

Dr. Johnson claims these are a special group of Christian mystics that came about as part of the counter to the Protestant Reformation. It includes Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and three great mystics…

Francisco de Osuna (1492-1540) is this first of these.  He emphasized the prayer of quiet recollection.  He said the way in is through Christ’s divinity and we come out through his humanity.  His was an experiential mysticism rather than a cognitive mysticism and he had a huge affect on Teresa of Avila who is considered a Doctor of the Church and was part of the Order of Mount Carmel.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) suffered from chronic illness and had a vision of hell which inspired her to create a more vigorous Carmelite order than the order she belonged to.  Most of her life was spent founding communities within this order and teaching.  Teresa made a distinction between “busy prayer” and “quiet prayer” and said that the real proof of maturity in mystical life is the actual behavior of the person who is the mystic.  She said there is a mystical betrothal which is the experience of unity, but this doesn’t last.  What lasts is mystical marriage.

Teresa of Avila was friends with John of the Cross (1542-1591).  With Teresa, he helped found the Discalced Carmelites which was the reform of the Order of Mount Carmel (mentioned above).  He is also considered a Doctor of the Church.  His writing is Apophatic (Nothing, Nothing, Nothing) which is reminiscent of The Cloud of Unknowing.  There is a point in spiritual development when approaching God feels exactly the same as approaching nothing.  He calls this the dark night of the soul.  Union with God is not through knowledge.  Knowledge is “nada, nada, nada” (nothing, nothing, nothing).  It is through the embrace of the heart – the giving of self completely to God in love.

I Want to Be Left Behind by Brenda Peterson

Did you know that 41% of Americans believe Jesus is going to return to Earth by 2050?  This kind of scares me.  Not because I’m afraid of being left behind.  I really doubt Jesus is going to return in any literal sense and if he does, I agree with Brenda Peterson –  I want to be left behind, thank you.  What scares me is that we are not particularly good stewards of the earth and a large number of us don’t really seem to care what horrible stewards we are.

If you seriously believe Jesus is going to return and whisk you away from Earth by 2050, what reason do you have to take care of the earth for your children and grandchildren?  Why not just leave the Earth in horrible shape for the sinners who get left behind?  It’s their fault for not believing, right?

This view concerns Brenda Peterson who wrote a memoir entitled I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth.  She quotes Bishop Wright who asks in “Farewell to the Rapture”:  “Is not the ‘Left Behind’ mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?”

But she also recognizes that there are those who believe in Rapture who continue to care for the earth.  Her memoir begins in Seattle.  She and her neighbor are sharing seal pup sitting duty.  He catches her off guard by informing her, “With 9/11, the blessed countdown for the Rapture has begun.”

Despite having grown up in a family that is absolutely giddy about the “end of times”, Peterson explains that she is far more drawn to the wonders and rapture of the earth than the otherworldly place her family is so excited about going.  Her family has long since quit trying to get her to share in their excitement about the rapture which is why her neighbor catches her off guard.  And while it may be true that 41% of Americans agree with Peterson’s neighbor that the countdown to the rapture is on, not all who believe this are necessarily poor stewards of the earth.  Take the seal pup sitting neighbor for instance.  Or the fact that despite their gleeful anticipation of the rapture, Peterson’s large Southern Baptist family are all involved in caring for the world in some way.

Peterson claims that Fundamentalists and Environmentalists share far more similar philosophies than either side realizes.  She offers this quick comparison between the two:

  • both are enraptured by doom
  • Fundamentalists – Apocalypse Now/Environmentalists – Apocalypse Near
  • both share a fear of future consequences
  • both express righteous anger
  • both are into “Thou shalt not”
  • both think themselves “Holier than Thou”
  • both are humorless
  • both are into blame, shame and judgment
  • both are Evangelical

Peterson points to something Biologist Olivia Judson wrote about a study by D.R. Oxley.  (Oxley, D. R. et al. 2008. “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits.” Science 321: 1667-1670.)

People who support warrantless searches, wiretapping, military spending and so on were also likely to startle at sudden noises and threatening images.  Those who support foreign aid, immigration, gun control, and the like tended to have much milder responses to the stimuli.

Peterson wonders if maybe the reason she is not as concerned about leaving this earth is because she was simply hardwired to respond more mildly than the rest of her family?  Maybe the stronger startle response in her family is what makes them believe in such things as Satan and the Rapture.  It follows that religion, for those with a strong startle response, becomes a safety net to assuage fears.  Peterson feels this is very important for liberals to understand – many people seriously believe that danger and persecution are ever-present, even when they are in power. We aren’t going to create any bridges by making those with a strong startle response even more fearful than they already are.  

Peterson has also noticed that more recent generations of Southern Baptists are not as enraptured by End Time Theology as their parents or grandparents.  Like Peterson, my parents survived two world wars and I grew up under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. Perhaps Peterson is correct in thinking this may be why so many people in both our generation and our parent’s generation have spent so much time plotting an escape from this world. The current generation, on the other hand, has been through 9-11 but they don’t seem as intent on escaping, and that gives Peterson hope.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God

Please bare with me as I work through my thoughts on Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God.  I’m a suburban housewife, not a philosopher.  The only philosophical discussions I ever have are with people on-line, so I realize Goldstein’s arguments are completely out of my league.  But I have a ton of jumbled thoughts after reading the book and I just want to try and sort through them.

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed the book and had a good time reading it. One of the major points is that religious experience has very little to do with religious arguments. I think this is an important point. However, I suppose the implication, given that Cass’s book is called The Varieties of Religious Illusion and that all of the theists are somewhat delusional (or at least extremely manipulative), is that all religious experience is based on delusional emotional experience.  Much religious experience is delusional.  There’s no getting around that.  But is all religious experience delusional?

St. John of the Cross and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing immediately come to mind.  St. John of the Cross had a very specific method for achieving mystical transcendence and it doesn’t look anything like what Goldstein presents in her book.  In fact, he functions very much like an early psychologist, cautioning against the standard magical experiences of his time and counseling those who are ready on how to get through the “dark night of the soul”.  Transcendence is a transcendence of the ego. It is a sort of unknowing which demands we let go of all definitions and labels of  God, the Universe, existence, etc. in order to experience it.  It is not a rational experience because reason demands definitions, symbols and labels in order to make sense.  The experience is not magical.  In fact, St. John of the Cross cautions that people be very careful about proceeding if they experience magical events.  He warns that the existence of magical events is more likely a decent into madness than a movement toward transcendence. A fine line divides the two.

Goldstein shows Cass having a euphoric experience toward the end of the book, and equates this to religious euphoric experience.  But simple euphoria is nothing like the transcendent experience that many mystics report.  What Cass experiences is more akin to the experience of gratefulness – a feeling of overwhelming well-being and love.  According to Meister Eckhart and modern day mystics like David Steindl-Rast, gratefulness is a form of prayer.  It is a practice that can give us an inkling of the ground of our being.  But an inkling of transcendence is not transcendence.  It’s just a glimpse of it.

That remains my problem with the so-called “New Atheists” who lump all religious experience together and claim it is delusional.  If they have not experienced what St. John of the Cross or the author of The Cloud of Unknowing have experienced, how can they know it is delusional?  Just because the experience is nonrational/nonpersonal (an experience from nowhere, nowhen, no center, and no “I”) does not mean it is irrational.  It is transrational/transpersonal.  Although it looks similar, the transpersonal state is very different from that which is experienced in prepersonal state.  The prepersonal state is that which comes before the emergence of a stable, coherent, individuated self . The transpersonal state can only occur after the self is fully individuated.  What Goldstein is arguing against is religious experience based on prerational thought, not transrational thought.

As far as I can tell, the closest she comes to touching upon transrational thought is Spinoza’s argument (No. 35).  I’ve never read Spinoza so I don’t know if she adequately dismisses his argument or not.  All I know about Spinoza is that he is credited with saying that we live, move, and have our being in God/Reality.  Whether or not this implies Spinoza’s God is the universe, I cannot say.  If this is Spinoza’s God, then I don’t see how it can be considered transcendent since the universe is tangible.

You can’t reasonably argue that transcendence exists because reason relies upon either/or thinking.  Either it is true OR it is false.  A transcendent God “is” AND “is not”.  Either/or thinking cannot comprehend that which “is” and “is not”.  All religious people who claim God IS and refuse to acknowledge that God IS NOT are likely stuck in either/or thinking, just as the atheists who claim that God IS NOT.  Most people who claim to have had a transpersonal experience, however, have no trouble understanding what is meant by God “is” AND “is not”.  Outside of either/or thinking, the question, “Does God exist?”, makes no sense whatsoever.  Whichever way you answer it, the answer does not point back to a truth.  It merely points back to a demand that things be one way or the other.

I agreed with every single one of the arguments, obviously.  There is no way to prove that God exists.  I have no problem with that.  And I don’t really care if people think God exists or not.  I just don’t like people telling me I should believe what it is they believe.  I took some notes on a few of the arguments…

Argument #1: The Cosmological Argument.  Everything that exists must have a cause.  The universe must have a cause.  Nothing can be the cause of itself…   Goldstein says this argument begs the question, “Who caused God?”  She calls this the Fallacy of Using One Mystery to Explain Another.  So why not just let the buck stop with the first mystery, which she says is the universe?  I don’t necessarily disagree, I just wonder if the universe is truly the first mystery.  We perceive the universe as extant. Maybe the buck should stop at the perception of the universe rather than the universe itself.   Or maybe that’s just splitting hairs.

Argument #11: The Argument from Miracles.  I have no argument with this, but different religious folk define miracles differently.  According to A Course in Miracles, for instance, miracles are strictly distinguished from magic and what this argument refers to (according to ACIM) is magic, not miracles.  A miracle, according to ACIM, is a shift in perception.  There is nothing magical about a shift in perception.  Yet a shift in perception is truly miraculous because it allows us to see things completely differently than we saw them previously.  Miracles happen “in time”.  They do not defy our sense of time, nor do they require transcendence.   A revelation, on the other hand, is beyond a miracle because it collapses our sense of time.  It is transcendent.  But it isn’t magical or irrational.

Argument #22:  The Argument from the Consensus of Mystics.  Goldstein says that it is not unreasonable to think that mystics are all deluded in the same way because non mystics can be made to have mystical experiences in scientific lab experiments.  Euphoria, Nature Oneness, Benign experiences of Oneness like Cass experienced, or experiences of Oneness like those experienced at political rallies are not transcendent experiences even though they are often termed “mystical”.  I’m sure such experiences can be mimicked in a lab.  But I highly doubt that transcendent mystical experiences have been mimicked in labs simply because an immense expansion of awareness is usually accompanied by such experiences.  People don’t just feel euphoric, they are completely changed by the experience.  Have lives been completely changed through lab experiences?

Argument #27: The Argument from the Upward Curve of History.  This argument relies on the idea that there is an upward moral curve to history.  I don’t really have a problem with the argument, just the assumption.  Are we more moral?  Starvation exists on a scale never before experienced.  The wars over the past century have killed more people than could ever before been imagined.  We have the potential to kill ourselves several times over thanks to nuclear technology.  Ethical treatment of animals is at an all-time low thanks to the massive food industry.  We are potentially destroying the environment beyond repair.  Slavery still exists in various forms around the world.  Maybe its just plain arrogance that makes us believe we are more moral than our ancestors.  Things were handled completely differently when the world was divided into tribes.  The emergence of civilizations required a new way to deal with moral issues so ethics came into being.  But that doesn’t mean civilized folks were more moral than tribal folks – just that the tribal ways did not work within civilized societies.

Anyway, my jumbled thoughts for what they are worth.

The Big Debate: Does God Exist?

I’m reading 36 Arguments For the Existence of God and have greatly enjoyed it up until the big debate about whether or not God exists.  The book is a work of fiction so all characters have been creating for the sake of the argument. The so-called “defenders of the faith” have been disappointing throughout the book, not that I think "the faith" needs defending.  I don’t think atheism needs defending either.  It’s time we move on – how about post-theism???  That may be something akin to what Goldstein is arguing for, but I’m not completely sure, especially since her theists are so wacko!

In the big debate, the person speaking “for” the existence of God, Professor Fidley, is supposed to be a highly regarded, Nobel Prize winning Christian economist from the University of Chicago.  But his arguments for the existence of God are extremely weak and I think it is unfair that Goldstein used this guy to debate Cass for “The Big Debate”.  Of course Cass won! There really was no debate because Professor Fidley defined God as “Him/He” and refers to “faith in a God who loves each and every one of us”.

God is not considered to be a beneficent being for every “believer”, because not every “believer” assigns attributes to God.  I was taught in my Methodist Disciple Bible Study class that the the divine name of God is too sacred to be uttered.  Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, says the name of God can only be breathed.  God IS breath.  To assign terms to the name of God is merely an attempt to make rational sense out of what transcends rational understanding.

Fidley’s first question to Cass totally pissed me off.  He wants to know if Cass means to suggest that Mother Teresa was a callous person?  It’s a snarky question.  Cass had used “the suffering” argument to refute a God who cares (the God introduced by Fidley).  So the whole argument is based on a God who cares.  My problem with this is that a God who cares is a God we can name – call it the “Caring God”.  By labeling God, God is denied.  God IS and God IS NOT. But to say that God is (fill in the blank), is to limit God to one solitary aspect of being or characterization which denies all other potentialities of “Is-ness”/”Am-ness”.

Despite the fact that Cass was merely arguing a “fill in the blank” form of God presented by Findley, I  didn’t understand how Fidley’s first question really had anything to do what Cass was talking about anyway.  In Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa talks about how she experienced a profound absence of God during the last half of her life.  She found Christ “neither in her heart or in the Eucharist”.  She wrote, “I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”  She served others not because she had some sort of childish blind faith in God.  She didn’t have faith in a (fill in the blank) God.  She simply had faith.  And so she served her fellow man.  In a way, maybe she was similar to Azarya.  It wasn’t a “belief” in God that drove her.  It was some deeper personal experience and a loyalty to humanity that compelled her.  Martin Luther King Jr. made use of the church and “belief in God” for his civil rights activism, but so did southerners who wanted to enforce slavery.  Like Mother Teresa, I think Martin Luther King Jr. was far more motivated by deep, personal experience and a loyalty to humanity than he was to a “belief” in God.  But Cass makes no such argument even though he claims the main point of his book is that the psychology of religious conviction has little to do with religious arguments.

I don’t know if I agree with Cass that the demand for a “transcendent purpose” is redundant (although I totally agree that it is unnecessary).  “Transcendent purpose” is an oxymoron.  What demands purpose and meaning?  Reason, of course!!  Transcendence is that which goes beyond reason.  Transcendence is nonrational, but that doesn’t mean it is irrational.  I think Ken Wilber calls it the pre/trans fallacy.  Prerational states of awareness and transrational states of awareness are both nonrational, but they are not the same.  They can look very much alike, however, which creates confusion.  Many rationalists tend to lump all nonrational states of awareness together and assign them to the prerational category.  On the other hand, many spiritualists will mistake a prerational state for a transrational state.  Professor Klapper is a perfect example of this this confusion. Transrationalism is a form of nonrationalism that includes rationalism.  Klapper renounced rationalism which meant his nonrationalism was prerational, not transrational.  He did not transcend his ego.  He just made it bigger.

It is said that the greatest faith comes from those who have faith despite the realization that there is no absolute reason or purpose for it. Cass points to this sort of faith when he quotes Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  That’s faith!  That’s the faith of  Mother Teresa.  Even though all is dark, all is well.  That’s the faith of Martin Luther King Jr.  Even though you might be killed for what it is you are doing, all is well.  Knowing that even though things may not be how our egoic minds want them to be, all is as it should be and all is well.  That’s the sort of faith that moves mountains.

A transcendent God doesn’t make things matter (not physically or emotionally).  We give everything all the meaning it has.  But we are not God.  Just because something isn’t how we might want it to be doesn’t mean that is the way it should be.  Nor does it mean that it should be the way someone else wants it to be, either.  Transcendence includes the recognition that who we truly are is not our ego, nor is it the sum of our egos.

What was extremely annoying was Fidley’s stupid argument, “Without a God, who is to say that the Nazi’s weren’t wrong?”  This especially bothered me because a thoughtful theist would not make that argument.  Even some of the most fundamentalist Christians among us claim that we are born with an innate sense of right and wrong.  It is said that the laws are not just written on stone, but also on the hearts of every human being.

Cass is absolutely right that there is no rational argument for the existence of God. There is no rational argument for the non-existence of God, either.  The problem is that whichever way you answer the question, the answer merely points back to the question itself because it’s an absolutely useless question!!

Which may be Goldstein’s point.  But based on her book, and that she seems to accept the label, “New Atheist”,  I imagine she probably dumps prerationalism and transrationalism into one big nonrational lump and simply discards both.

Of course, most of this is way over my head.  I’m not familiar with the vast majority of the arguments in the book and am not sure I followed all of them. I’ll make an attempt to understand the arguments in the appendix and may have more cohesive thoughts later.

Brother Born Again

I stay up too late watching documentaries and movies on Netflix through their “Watch Instantly” program. The worst thing that probably ever happened to me was getting the Wii disk in the mail which allows me to watch the films on our television rather than on my crappy computer. Unlimited films!! Good-bye sleep!

Tonight, I watched an interesting documentary called Brother Born Again.  It’s about a Jewish bi-sexual woman whose brother converted to Christianity and moved to something like a Kibbutz (a Christian version called “The Farm") in Alaska. What is especially difficult for the sister, Julie, is that she feels looked down upon by her brother because unless she agrees to believe what it is he believes, then he is going to heaven and she isn’t.  While she can accept him and his desire to live on “The Farm”, separated from family, he is unable to accept her chosen lifestyle because he views it as wrong.

At one point Julie meets with her uncle who tells her something that made a whole lot of sense to me! The difference between the sister and her brother is that her brother requires an answer. Some people need an answer and they will turn to those who have one to give. But some of us simply accept the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and don’t require an answer.

It’s an impasse. The uncle doesn’t go into it, but it got me thinking. I don’t have a right to impose my belief that there is no answer on those who demand that there must be one. Likewise, I don’t appreciate people who demand I accept their answer (be they atheists or theists).

For me, faith is trust. Not trust in anything. Not trust in a belief. Just plain and simple trust. For someone who demands an answer, faith is based on whatever that answer is. The same is true of scientism.  If an atheist turns to rationalism for “the answer”, then they have put their faith in rationalism in the same way a fundamentalist Christian puts his faith in the Bible. They demand there is an answer and that they know what it is.

When people believe their answer is the only answer, how do you best communicate with them?  This film offers hope.