Posts Tagged ‘Deism’

We went to church today, as usual.  Pastor Matthew talked about living in community, authentic community to be precise.  The subtext was definitely that the most important community for us was community with God, i.e., a relationship with the divine.

I’m still not sure what that means.  How do you have a relationship with someone you can’t see?  With someone you can talk at, but they never seem to respond?  I mean, I can read about Jesus, but that doesn’t put me in a relationship with him any more than reading about Alexander Hamilton puts me in a relationship.  Even if I’m this obsessive Hamiltonian scholar, I may feel like I know Hamilton, and I may know his life backwards and forwards, but it’s still a fairly one-sided affair.  Alexander Hamilton doesn’t really reciprocate.

A lot of people who I respect talk about having a relationship with the divine,  so I don’t dismiss it out of hand.  But when I pray, I don’t get answers, and I don’t believe I ever really have.  I don’t get that, either.  I mean, God is God, right?  If he wants to have a relationship, why doesn’t he engage a little bit.  Actually say something, you know?  And I don’t mean this subtle stuff, like a vague feeling of divine presence or “he spoke to me… through the Bible!”  I mean spoke.  If I can talk to god the same way that I can talk on the phone to my brother Racticas, why doesn’t God talk back the way my brother does?  Does he not have the ability?

I just don’t understand what people mean by having a relationship with God.  Don’t get me wrong- I think it sounds really nice.  I just am at a loss to what it actually means.

If God isn’t able to relate to me, or I am not able to relate to God, then we’re really talking about Deism.  And I don’t see the point to Deism.  Why believe, based on no affirmative evidence whatsoever, in a God that isn’t really interested in interacting with you?  You may as well be an open-minded humanist atheist, willing to accept that “there are more things in heaven and earth…” but assuming in general that there’s not such a thing as God, at least not in a way that’s particularly relevant to your day-to-day life.

To untangle that sentence, what difference would it make in my life, between Deism and atheism?  If there’s no functional difference, I may as well go with the preponderance of the evidence and assume atheism.

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There are things that I do affirmatively believe and am sure of, and things that I outright deny. In between the two is a broad spectrum of belief. Somewhere in that spectrum is the fact that I strongly doubt the existence of God, at least in the traditional personal sense), enough to where I’m comfortable saying that I do not believe in him.

Also somewhere in between the two are things that I might believe. Things that I could believe, but that I’m not really willing to commit to.

I started this post a long time ago, and never finished it.  I might believe that there is something out there that I could call God- some sort of sentience or superconsciousness to the universe, sort of Spinoza-esque, or Pantheistic like Brahman.  I could imagine that there’s something like that, and if I believed it I could be a Quaker or something, but I don’t affirmatively believe it because I don’t feel like I have a reason to, other than wishful thinking, and I don’t see what difference it makes.  The universe is awesome and majestic, whether it has a consciousness or not.

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What then is consciousness? What is the “I,” the thing that is doing the observing when I think about my thoughts? Some people posit a soul. Ebon Muse proposes a construct along the lines of distributed intelligence. Scientists call it the “hard problem” of the study of consciousness.

If the consciousness, the watcher that is observing the mental processes and the metaphorical movie screen in your head, is a matter of distributed intelligence, then we can think as a unified consciousness the same way that swarms of bugs can act as a whole unit even though the decision-making isn’t happening at any one point in the swarm. Your brain is thus the hyper-complex neurological analogy to a swarm. Every mind is a hive mind.

If such a thing is possible on the small scale, then I find it entirely possible to imagine that it happens on the large scale, or even on the largest possible scale. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to think that the universe, the cosmos, has a kind of consciousness that is composed of distributed intelligence. It wouldn’t be a consciousness like ours- it would be so big and in such a different context that not only would it be so alien we could never interface with it, but the sheer difference in scale and the nature of consciousness means that it would be categorically impossible to wrap our minds around what it is.

Yes, we are part of it. Everything is part of it. If it exists, that is.

But if it isn’t conscious or intelligent in any way at all, it still exists. The cosmos unquestionably is. And to me it is equally unquestionable that separateness is not, in fact. Thus, the cosmos not only is, but it is us. We’re part of it when we rest in dreamless sleep, when your brain is not tricking you into believing that you’re separate from other things. We’re also part of it when we’re dead. Actually, we’re always part of it, but there are times when nothing is trying to trick us into believing that we aren’t, and that there’s a difference between me and you. But at those odd times, like when we meditate and lose track of our individual identities, our Self merges into the Whole.

What could be more fantastic?

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Ebon Musings has a wealth of absolutely fantastic essays on atheism.  I think they are definitely worth reading.  The author is reasonable (admitting the possibility of being wrong) and sensible, and I think his writing, taken as an aggregate, makes one of the strongest cases for atheism that I have encountered.

In particular, I have found the following to be illuminating and/or valuable:

One More Burning Bush, on the argument from divine hiddenness.  Also the Cosmic Shall Game.  These deal with the basic problem of “if God wants me to know him and worship him and be a specific religion, why does he macke it so freaking hard to figure out?”  That’s been a major issue for me that has ultimately led me to consider atheism.

The Argument From Locality, on the problem with the apparent non-universality of pretty much every religion, which is a concern I have expressed in the past on this blog.

The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists, which poses a host of possible events that would make an atheist change his mind.  They would certainly make things easier on me as a seeker.  The One True Religion is closely related.

The Ineffible Carrot and the Infnite Stick, about morality and atheism.

A Much Greater God, which is a powerful statement on what kind of God seems to really be consistent with the universe as we know it.  Pretty string Deist leanings.

Finally,  the good essay, Life of Wonder, and the absolutely fantastic piece on love called Spiritual Fire, Both are about life and love and how losing God doesn’t really mean losing the things that are really important.

The ideas in these essays dovetail almost completely with not only many of the thoughts and conclusions I have been having and coming to lately, but also to many of the core issues I have grappled with during my entire post-Mormon search for truth and for God.  Like I said, they are worth reading.

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If the only thing I feel even remotely sure of is that the Sacred exists, should I be limiting myself to Christianity?  What about other major (and minor) world religions?

My first instinct is to be basically opposed to that kind of “looking outside the box.”  One big problem I have  with religion in general is how bound up t is with culture.  The result is that when someone converts to an exotic religion, they are put into a position of cultural dissonance.  However, when someone embraces the religion of their own nation, their connection to their own culture is enhanced and made deeper.  This is a sticky wicket for me, especially for religions that claim to be universal (like Christianity and Islam).  Christianity is bound up with European culture (well, most Christianity is).  Regardless of the religion’s Middle Eastern origins, we receive modern Christianity through the hands of the Roman Empire, Medieval Europe, the Reformation, and on down through the saga of Western Civilization down to the present.  For 2,000 years, Europeans have been affecting Christianity at the same time as they have been affected by it, until Christainity is now part and parcel of being European (and I use the term European in a broadly ancestral sense to include people of European descenn, so the Americas and Australia/New Zealand).  So becoming Christian really also means becoming at least a little bit European.

For a European, that means enhancing one’s own culture.  For a non-European, it means becoming a kind of a crazy two-headed cultural aberration who really belongs nowhere, victim to cultural dissonance of the worst kind.  That doesn’t seem universal to me.  Does God prefer Europe and Europeans?   According to Christianity’s teachings, the answer should be no.  But the reality is that it seems like He does.

And the same goes for Islam.  Becoming a Muslim means partly becoming Arabic.  If you’re already an Arab, great.  If not, then you’re going to be culturally adrift.  Why?  Goes Allah prefer Arabs?  That doesn’t sound right if we’re talking about a religion and a god that are supposedly universal.

And if we’re talking about a religion that isn’t supposed to be universal (Judaism, for example, which pertains primarily to one nation; or Hinduism,  which adopts a sort of many-paths approach), an outsider has absolutely no reason to adopt it, other than a passing infatuation with the exotic.  Or maybe as a purely practical matter (you marry a Jew, for instance).  But barring that, there’s really no reason to change teams.

Conversion to a culturaly exotic religion has little to commend itself anyway, but if the religion in question holds that you don’t need to convert to it, there’s even less.  Unless it offers something unique and absolutely fantastic (I don’t know what would qualify; super-powers, maybe?), there’s simply no motivation to pursue it.

What about new religions, faiths that are equally foreign to all cultures, like Scientology or Baha’i?  Or even Mormonism?

First, new religions aren’t equally foreign to all cultures.  All of them have  a time and place and cultural ethos out of which they were born, and thus they all carry cultural biases that make them less foreign to some people than to others.  On top of that, I think that many of these new religions depend on claims that are fairly dubious.  Major world religions generally have the advantage of origins obscured by history.  You don;t want to see how sausages are made, and you probably don’t want to see how religions are made, either.

Are there other options?  Philosophical systems that replace religion, like Deism and Pantheism?  The problem with those is that usually they depend jsut as heavily on their time and place of inception, and the way people thought then and there.  If they somehow rose to prominence and stoof the test of time it’d be one thing, but most of them are manifestations of a constantly evolving field of philosophy, and thus have a level of obsolescence built in.

What about atheism?  I believe enough in the divine to not be comfortable with dogmatic atheism (and i also think that dogmatic atheists can be big arrogant jerks, though in all fairness so can religious people of every stripe), and I’m not content to remain an agnostic in the long-term.

The occult?  Too creepy.  Also, I’d need to see some evidence that Magick actually accomplished something.  If I can’t actually summon Things from Beyond or cast fireballs, it doesn’t seem to be worth the time, effort, and possible risk to my immortal soul.

Reconstructed religions?  I don’t believe that Wicca is actually reconstructed at all, and so it has both the problems of New Religions and the problems of the Occult, so that’sdouble trouble.  Various forms of Neo-paganism?  Dubious reliability is one proble.  Also, centuries of nobody believing in them seems to take away from their validity.  Plus, most of them carry the same cultural problems as exotic world religions do.  Asfar as Neo-paganism that draws on my own ancestry, well, I already taked about Asatru a couple weeks ago.

Do I just construct my own belief system?  That seems unreliable, and possibly fraught with peril.  So what do I do?

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