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Posts Tagged ‘Pantheism’

I believe in an ultimate divine unity that encompasses all things–humans, gods, the universe–and is also beyond all things. Because it is everything and more, it is at once like all things individually and like nothing else in the universe. It can be intimately known in the smallest, simplest facet of the world at the same time as it can never be known because it is utterly unknowable: to know a flower, a song, a human touch, a thunderstorm, or a Ford Mustang is both to know it completely and to not know it at all. To touch the smallest thing is to touch the face of God. We cannot work to grow closer to God because being close to God is meaningless: we are always close to God because we are God.

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So, I don’t really like just praying off into the air. I like to have a depiction or a statue or something. My shrine to Aphrodite features a framed photo of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s La Naissance de Vénus, which I think is beautiful, powerful, and erotic–in short, perfect for the goddess. But I just can’t find a picture or painting of Dionysus that really captures the power, passion, and majesty that have surrounded my experiences with him. I am not sure what to do about this, because I feel like my relationship with the god is suffering because I find it difficult to pray to him, compared to Aphrodite–her shrine makes her much more accessible to me.

Also, the Judeo-Christian sin of “idolatry” is basically a Hebrew polemic. Nobody really actually thinks that the image of the god is in fact the god (except for pantheists and panentheists who believe their god(s) permeate everything and thus the image is a part of their god like everything else is, but that is not actually the same thing). In my opinion, Biblical condemnations of idolatry were a willful misrepresentation of the religious practices of ancient pagans–basically amounting to nothing more than religious propaganda, deliberately obscuring the subtleties in order to condemn and other-ize.

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I was going to continue this series of posts, but it stopped seeming as important after awhile.  In the itnerests of continuity, I will publish the rest of my notes on the parts I didn’t finish.  Forthe record, I am writing this in April 2009, in the process of going back and filling in the blanks in this here blog o’ mine.

These notes are incomplete, and probably really vague in spots, but they were only meant to be an outline. Maybe they make sense in this context; I’m not sure. Anyway, here they are.

III. Religious Choices and their Values

So to recap, at this point in my life I am more interested in religion as a pathway to a source of objective morality than I have previously been. Objective morality is not the only factor I am considering—many of the elements in my thought process can’t properly be described as “factors” or things that I am “considering” at all. More than anything else, I am drawn to particular faiths or aspects of faiths because I find them compelling on some level. But once I feel that draw, I have to evaluate the faith somehow, and right now a faith’s access to a source of objective values is extremely important to me.

A. Christianity

In terms of objective morality, Christianity seems at first to be relatively unproblematic. This should not be entirely surprising since my rubric for evaluating values is largely informed by C. S. Lewis, a Christian apologist. This may indeed mean that I have made an a priori decision in favor of Christianity and thus this entire inquiry is a sham, unless of course I am willing to reject my ideas about morality, which I am unwilling to do. If that is so, then this is indeed only a phase in my development as a Christian, an important reassessment of what is important to me.

However, I do not think that this is necessarily the case. While Christianity generally comes down on the side of objective values, there are enough significant exceptions in areas of Christianity that are formative or important to me that the conclusion is not foregone. Furthermore, Christianity certainly is not the only faith or point of view that asserts an objective source for Ought. Additionally, there is enough of the pagan in C. S. Lewis to admit paganism as a distinct possibility, even under C. S. Lewis’s own ostensibly Christian rubric.

In any case, Christianity as I understand it and—as I would believe if I am already a Christian or am to become one—posits a God that is the source of all creation, a self-existent being that is the source of all light, truth, and meaning. In terms of sources for Ought statements, the Christian God is the ultimate Ought.

Unfortunately, I think too many Christians don’t actually have a very good handle on just what God’s moral principles are. The Bible and traditional Christianity are so full of prohibitions and admonitions ranging from the general to the hyper-specific that it is entirely possible to get lost in the details and miss the forest for the trees. If God is the ultimate source for Ought, then by Ought we have to actually be talking about the principles that lie behind the specific commandments, not the commandments themselves.

Christianity’s obvious source
The problem with most Xians
Emerging Xity
Liberal Xity
Latitudinarianism in Anglicanism
Mormonism’s radically different outlook
Atonement
Not fully explored elsewhere

Asatru and values
Nine Noble
Asatru: old but new
The source of values?
Implied in the Lore
If Jesus is a virtue ethicist, Xians should do this
But they get confused by the commandments.

Druidry
Recon vs. revival druidry (no values prob with recon, but not interested in it)
Revival druidry’s values
Pluralism and liberalism?
Enviromentalism
Utilitarianism as an explanation: same problem
Other approaches to Environmentalism?
Theological—stewardship
Pantheism? Paganism?
Still, why?
Assertions about what it good for humans
Might be wrong—see the social sciences
What to fill Revival Druidry with?
A theology as source of value?
If so, it has to be one that supports Druidry.
What theology then?
Paganism? What kind?
No hard poly!
Neopaganism? Liberal/plural problem.
Brahmanism? Maybe. That’s good stuff.
Christianity? Then why be a druid?

Go back to the Introduction and Index

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I’ve been moderately interested in Asatru for years, and as a Mormon I even often said and thought that if I wasn’t Mormon, I’d be an Asatruar.  But I don’t think it’s the direction I’m going to go, for a couple of reasons.

1. I don’t actually believe in the Norse Gods.  I don’t believe in any kind of literal polytheism (which means real Paganism in general is probably not going to happen–I’m more pantheistic or panentheistic in my ideas about what God is, if God is anything external to us at all). Furthermore, while I think the Norse Gods and Norse mythology are cool, and even compelling, that doesn’t translate in my head to the calling to follow and honor the Aesir as a religious practice.  Maybe if I had some kind of mystical experience with Odin, I’d feel differently enoh about it–perhaps even enough to overcome points 2 and 3 below, but since mystical experiences for me do not seem to be particularly forthcoming, there’s not much I can do to make myself believe something I don’ believe.

2. I like Vikings and Norse myth, but not at the expense of everything else.  I don’t really want to live a Viking-flavored life because I am a contemporary person, and I’m happy with that.  I don’t really feel constant yearnings for the past.  Formulated differently, this point is closely connected to my general dissatisfaction with the idea of Reconstructionist religion.  I’m not an ancient Norseman, so why is the religion of the ancient Norsemen the right religion for me?  Plus, I’d honestly feel like I was always LARPing.

3. I have serious problems with the “Folkish” strand of Asatru.  I realize that it can be phrased or looked at in a way that might not sound like overt white supremacy, but when you listen to the rhetoric of Folkish people like Steven McNallen, it winds up sounding an awful lot like just more racist tripe.  I also realize that there are plenty of universalist heathens out there (and there’s a kindred of them near where I live even), but I’m not necessarily comfortable self-identifying with a movement that has ties to white supremacy and neo-Nazism, even if it’s just be broad association.  The question is “am I willing, even in the broadest terms, to be in the same club as those people?” and the answer is no.  Especially given points 1 and 2 above.

There are a lot of things I like about Asatru, especially the heathen virtues, which I think are a more realistic and pragmatic ethical system than that which is offered by a lot of religions.  And like I said, Norse myth is extremely appealing to me.  But not so much that I think it’s the one way for me.

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I’m always thinking about religion, faith, and belief. At the moment I’m a provisional atheist, but I’m not excited about being a permanent member of the club. I may ultimately feel like I have no choice, but if I do, I’d just as soon be some kind of believer.

Anyway, here are some of the ideas I’m tossing around in my head.

I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell and thinking about the interaction between myth and the human psyche. I wonder if Myth is the process by which human beings process the unprocessable. There’s something out ther,e bigger than all of us, and to attempt to define it scientifically would probably utterly fail. It has to be tackled holistically, using all the disciplines and arts and sciences and philosophies that humanity has at its disposa, and even then we miss it completely. So maybe Myth is the way we deal with it. We conceptualize it in a way that we can wrap our minds around. We use Myth as metaphor for the deeper reality that we otherwise are completely incapable of communicating.

If that is the case, then theology is probably a lost cause- at least if we think that theology is somehow going to lead us to an ultimate truth. Narrative, on the other hand, becomes extremely important.

If that is the case, then to do something with this transcendant reality, humans need ot negage it in a way that is meaningful for them. Thus, different societies and cultures have different myths and religions based on those myths based on what resonates with their culture. For me, the most resonant Myth would be Christianity. Seen that way, I could envision myself believing in God and following Jesus Christ, but with the reservation that I knew full well that it was just the best way I know of how to get at the Ultimate Mystery of Existence.

I simply cannot believe in God, face value, as described by any one religion. And I feel like simply entertaining some vague notion of transcendant reality is not sufficient for anything approaching spiritual fulfillment. So if I am to believe in something, I need to find a vehicle for that belief, and keeping in mind the ultimate flaws in any human conception of the sacred/divine/spiritual is how I would avoid the pitfalls of dogmatism and fundamentalism and furthermore be able to feel intellectually honest with myself.

I realize that this sounds a lot like the liberal Christianity that I normally dismiss without another thought. I don’t know what to do about that except to say that it just might be the best I can do. I also wonder if this doesn’t sound awfully like Neopagan theology, except that I’ve decided to believe in Jesus instead of, I don’t know, Zeus or something.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind right now. I’m also trying to read Kierkegaard. From what I know about his approach, it sounds interesting and different, and maybe something I can get on board with. We’ll see.

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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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Om, the sacred syllable, the sound uttered by Brahman at the creation of the universe. Put another way, it’s the sound of the Big Bang, the eruption of everything we know into being. It gives me chills, just thinking about it. Om is the intersection of science and religion, of physics and metaphysics.

The silence before and after the syllable is as potent as the syllable itself. This is the kind of thing that is of eternal import. This is the kind of thing that I can believe.  The Bible’s simply got nothing on Om.

The rain is on the roof
Hurry high butterfly
As clouds roll past my head
I know why the skys all cry
OM, OM, Heaven, OM

The Earth turns slowly round
Far away the distant sound
Is with us everyday
Can you hear what it say
OM, OM, Heaven, OM

The rain is on the roof
Hurry high butterfly
As clouds roll past my head
I know why the skys all cry
OM, OM, Heaven, OM

-The Moody Blues

I like the Devanagari script best, but the Tibetan Aum is nice, too:

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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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These days I have been thinking about consciousness quite a bit. I don’t know that I am at the point where I have soemthing to report, but I did read an excellent article by Steven Pinker on the topic, from Time magazine.

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