Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Science’

It is only too easy to define the malignant meaning of industrialism. It is the contemporary form of pioneering; yet since it never consents to define its goal, it is a pioneering on in principle, and with an accelerating speed. Industrialism is a program under which men, using the latest scientific paraphernalia, sacrifice comfort, leisure, and the enjoyment of life to win Pyrrhic victories from nature at points of no strategic importance.

-John Crowe Ransom, “Reconstructed but Unregenerate,” from I’ll Take My Stand

Read Full Post »

Kate Douglas has written an article for the New Scientist on what the “ideal religion” would look like:

What form would the ideal religion take? Some might argue that instead of redesigning religion, we should get rid of it. But it is good for some things: religious people are happier and healthier, and religion offers community. Besides, secularism has passed its zenith, according to Jon Lanman, who studies atheism at the University of Oxford. In a globalised world, he says, migrations and economic instability breed fear, and when people’s values feel under threat, religion thrives.

Jacobs lists off four categories or basic functions of religion (sacred party, therapy, mystical quest, and school) and describes how most of the existing world religions do one of these very well and ignore or fail to excel at the others. Jacobs’s ideal religion would excel at all four:

While each appeals to a different sort of person, they all tap into basic human needs and desires, so a new world religion would have a harmonious blend of them all: the euphoria and sensual trappings of a sacred party, the sympathy and soothing balms of therapy, the mysteries and revelations of an eternal journey and the nurturing, didactic atmosphere of a school.

Numerous festivals, holidays and rituals would keep followers hooked. “Rites of terror” such as body mutilation are out – although they bind people together very intensely, they are not usually compatible with world religions (New Scientist, 19 December 2009, p 62). Still, highly rousing, traumatic rituals might still feature as initiation ceremonies, because people tend to be more committed to a religion and tolerant of its failings after paying a high price for entry.

The everyday rituals will focus on rhythmic dancing and chanting to stimulate the release of endorphins, which Robin Dunbar, also at Oxford, says are key to social cohesion. To keep people coming back, he also prescribes “some myths that break the laws of physics, but not too much”, and no extreme mysticism, as it tends to lead to schisms.

With many gods and great tolerance of idiosyncratic local practices, the new religion will be highly adaptable to the needs of different congregations without losing its unifying identity. The religion will also emphasise worldly affairs – it would promote the use of contraceptives and small families and be big on environmental issues, philanthropy, pacifism and cooperation.

I’m not sure about downplaying the value of mysticism or the necessity of pacifism, but the interesting thing (as pointed out by Sannion over at the House of Vines) is that Jacobs has basically described ancient Greco-Roman pagan religion.

As Apuleius Platonicus pointed out, Jacobs’s description is lacking in a few other areas as well. Such an ideal religion ought to honor human sexuality and celebrate reason and learning.

But these are honestly quibbles that could be worked out in the long run, or better yet, there would just be room within this kind of big-tent religion for different viewpoints. Most importantly, however, as pointed out by paosirdjhutmosu is that this kind of article and this kind of thinking undermines the notion of religions progress that people like Rodney Stark sell so hard, and that so many people seem to accept as a given, the idea that the course of human religious history has somehow been a linear progression from a darker mirror to a clearer one, and that therefore modern religions are necessarily better than older ones. Like all notions of progress, this is an extremely suspect assumption, with very little to back it up other than plain-old-fashioned massive bias in favor of the current status quo. Now must be better because it’s now. That’s nonsense. Social and cultural change happen for a host of reasons, and there’s nothing in the process that makes sure that the end-product is more functional or healthier for human beings.

I don’t think articles like this are going to turn people towards the old gods in massive numbers or anything, but I like that we see this kind of thinking more and more.

I also definitely want to point out that while this “ideal religion” describes ancient Greco-Roman polytheism fairly well, it wound not specifically have to be Greco-Roman polytheism. I for one would gladly welcome an open, mystical, transcendental, green Christianity with room to give proper honor to saints, angels, ancestors and local kindred spirits of the earth.

Read Full Post »

william-adolphe-bouguereau-the-birth-of-venus

To honor Aphrodite, Sannion has put up three goddess-related posts on his Livejournal, and as I am myself a devotee of the Cyprian, I wanted to share them with my readers. First, he shares a meditation he wrote on the cosmic significance of Aphrodite:

We think of her primarily in connection with our courtships and pleasant dalliances – and she is certainly there. But she is also a cosmic goddess (Aphrodite Ourania), driving on the heavenly bodies in their eternal dance through the bleakness of space, and she is the force that bonds communities together on both the familial and political level (Aphrodite Pandemos), and she governs form itself (Aphrodite Morpho), for all bodies are a collection of random molecules following an ordered pattern, and without her influence they would spin off into nothingness. And no less importantly, Aphrodite is the source for our yearning for the immaterial, for something greater than ourselves, something spiritual, eternal, beyond what we can see, and feel, quantify and categorize. The mystic fervently praying for union with god, the poet dreaming of another world, the philosopher seeking to plumb the mysteries of the universe – are not all of these, in their own way, under the spell of Aphrodite?

It is love that makes life worth living, love that allows us to conceive of “life” as something more than just biological existence, love that opens our eyes and hearts to the wonder of existence and fills us with a longing for more and more of it, until our souls are quenched and our being spills over with an abundance of experiences and emotions and everything else that makes us human and more than human.

I think there’s more to it than that, even, especially when you consider that some myths of the birth of Aphrodite have her emerge from the sea, spawned by the severed genitalia of Uranus himself. Aphrodite emerges from the most primal of cosmic sources (both from the ur-god of the universe and from the sea i.e. the murky and mysterious origin of life on earth), moreso than any of the other Olympian gods or goddesses, and that can be neither mere coincidence nor quirky, meaningless tale. As a goddess she is fundamentally connected to the primordial cosmos and the beating heart of what it means to be alive and a part of the universe.

Sannion’s next post of the day is an exploration of conceptions of Aphrodite in Greco-Roman Egypt, a natural place for him to go since he’s pretty much explicitly a Greco-Egyptian syncretist. Although I myself am not, I do think there is a lot of insight to be gained from ancient Egyptian religion, especially for a worshipper of the Hellenic gods. In any case, Sannion focuses on the funerary aspect of Aphrodite. As usual, I am interested in any conception of the goddess that goes beyond pigeonholing her as a living embodiment of Valentine’s Day (especially since I originally came to know Aphrodite in her aspect as a goddess of war). I think one of the trickiest things about the Hellenic gods in general is that most of them have an easy handle as “the god of [something],” and it is easy to forget that they are all complicated, multifaceted figures with diverse personalities, correspondences, and significances. Sannion explains, however, how these different conceptions and seemingly diverse or even unrelated aspects can be tied together:

Concerns with death are an organic outgrowth of being a goddess so intimately, so fundamentally connected with the processes of life. (You can’t have one without the other, and if you dig deep enough you’ll discover why.) The abundance of life that is her blessing was so great, so powerful that it could transcend the artificial boundaries of death – opening up onto an even greater fullness of life. This was done by aligning themselves with her, by becoming suffused with her divine identity until it was their own… [s]tuff like this really makes you wonder.

Finally, Sannion treats us with a description of his visit to a rose garden as intentional worship of the goddess:

As I walked down the rows and rows of flowers I was struck by the beauty and complexity of nature – and how much Aphrodite is involved in all of it. I mean, why are there so many different colors of flowers? It serves no definite purpose … except that it does, really. Seduction. The flowers are trying to attract the plump little bees to come and rub up against them so that their pollen will spread and their species survive. And further, they’ve learned to produce colors that appeal to us humans so that we will plant more of them and protect them and ensure that they thrive. I kept flashing back to things that Michael Pollan had said in Botany of Desire (which is a really great book that you should read if you haven’t already) and how charming Aphrodite was behind it all. I mean, those flowers first sprang up when her delicate feet touched the earth as she rose from the waters in primordial times…

So, I just sat there blissing out and overwhelmed with gratitude, and then all of a sudden I could feel Aphrodite, and she was so warm and beautiful and loving and soft, and I basked in her presence for a while, feeling so peaceful and content and happy.

The way he describes Aphrodite pierces me to the center of my heart because I know the feelings he is describing so intimately. Whatever the true nature of the gods is, I am certain that they are at least in some sense real in a way that transcends the individual’s purely subjective experience. While different people experience different facets of the same deity at different times, there seems ot be just too much that really is the same about people’s experiences. Sannion and I are tapping into the same force or presence, whatever we want to call it. She is real, and she is powerful, and she exists at the very quick of what it means to be a human being:

That is who Aphrodite is – one of the greatest and most important goddesses that man has ever known.

Read Full Post »

I referred to myself as a pagan in conversation with my beautiful and sexy wife a few days ago (we were talking about piddly, meaningless stuff like the meaning of life), and she recognized the significance: it was a casual but meaningful declaration of spiritual identity of the kind that I have not been able to make in years.

It wasn’t just a slip, either. I have been thinking about this and I came to an important realization. One of the issues I have been grappling with in the background of my mind is if at the end of the day I basically think that religion and spirituality are highly subjective and have more to do with assigning meaning to human existence than they do with making objective truth-claims about the universe, why shouldn’t I have just stayed Mormon? Wouldn’t it have been easier, after all, for me to just figure out how to reconcile the religion I was raised with than to try to blaze a completely new spiritual trail? My gut rebels against the idea of staying Mormon, but why? I think Mormonism’s truth-claims are bogus, but that’s not really the issue for me (except it kind of is, because Mormonism spends a lot of time and spiritual effort insisting that its truth claims are literal truth). I have problems with the Church as an institution, but a lot of liberal and New Order Mormons figure out ways to deal with that, and the insistence of the orthodox believer notwithstanding, my relationship with the organizational church should not really affect how I feel about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, right?

So why do I feel like remaining Mormon, or going back to Mormonism, would just be unacceptable? I think it is because I never really internalized Mormonism in the first place. Sure, I internalized some ways of thinking about religion because I didn’t know any better–some cultural transmission from my parent subculture is inevitable–but in a spiritual sense, I was always torn and doubtful about Mormonism and I was always drawn to mythology, the gods, and the spiritual power of the wild places of the earth. As a little kid I was obsessed with mythology. As a young adolescent I stayed awake all night with my best friend on Boy Scout camp-outs talking about Beltaine. As a teenager I flat-out just wanted to be a druid. As a young adult I was absolutely enthralled by Joseph Campbell, the Arthurian romances, Celtic myth, and the cosmic and spiritual significance of poetry and literature.

Yes, when I was nineteen, I “got a testimony” and went on a mission, and began to live a fairly orthodox Mormon life. But let’s not give my conversion too much credit. The coercive pressure from my family was immense-it was made clear to me that being an adult meant setting aside childish things like entertaining the possibility of paganism, and taking Mormonism seriously as the One True Religion. People I trusted and relied on made it absolutely clear that there was no viable moral alternative, that anything less than fully getting with the program meant personal weakness, laziness, and a lack of integrity. So I did what I was supposed to.

But the pagan inside me did not sleep too soundly. As a young adult I was captured by the power of Norse myth, by the dynamic majesty of romantic-era classical music (I discovered Sibelius, and it was love), and ultimately by the brutal, mythic energy of heavy metal.

On top of this, I have noticed a clear pattern in my life: when I have lived out of touch with nature, I have been depressed, unbalanced, and extremely mentally unhealthy. Proximity and involvement with the natural world are simply things I need for spiritual wholeness. And I have consistently had feelings about love, the feminine, and sex that have been reverent, passionate, and worshipful.

The point is, I have been a pagan all along. It doesn’t matter that I went to sacrament meeting every week. It doesn’t matter that I spent two years as a missionary trying to convert people to Mormonism. Mormonism never really fit. My mother and I had countless discussions and arguments about religion and point of view: in her mind the right thing to do was to completely internalize Mormonism, and subvert your entire mind to it, to relinquish all non-Mormon thought as something unwelcome and alien. I always wanted to take the point of view of an outsider, because I always was an outsider.

I was a pagan, and I always have been.

Read Full Post »

In response to the post wherein I declared my newly developed polytheism, some people understandably asked something along the lines of “Okay, you say you believe in gods.  But what do you mean by that?  How literally do you believe that?”  And it’s a fair question–one I intended to write about anyway.  To what extend to I believe in these gods, and to what extent to I believe that they are separate, distinct individual gods?

I don’t believe that Dionysus, Aphrodite, and other hypothetical gods actually live bodily on the top of Mount Olympus in Greece from whence they literally created the universe and currently control natural phenomena.  I am not an idiot.  I want to talk about other possibilities.

I am open to the possibility that these gods no not exist at all outside my head.  I’m not eager to believe that it is flat-out mental illness, but I am definitely open to the possibility that I am talking about psychological archetypes–either universal ones that transcend my individual experience or personal ones that are completely local to my own psyche.  Human beings think and reason in symbol and metaphor anyway, and I have no problem with the possibility that I am encountering symbolic representations of aspects of my own psyche or aspects of a universal human psyche if such a thing exists.

I am also open to the possibility–in fact, I actually believe–that these gods are actual spiritual beings that have independent existence beyond the borders of the individual human mind.  Nevertheless, I would still insist that the gods’ involvement in the natural world is largely metaphorical, but that such an arrangement is only natural since humans make sense of the world primarily in metaphor.  If I say “I believe that Odin made the world out of the broken parts of dead Ymir,” I think that is not necessarily inconsistent with the scientific explanation for the origin of the universe.  Again, I am talking about metaphor and the way we make meaning out of what we perceive.  And I also feel like there is more than one way to understand “the world”–it doesn’t have to be the natural world at all.  We inhabit a “world” that is composed by our own psychology, perception, and experience.  While I do not think that Odin carved out the natural world out of Ymir’s bones, I am interested in the possibility that Odin carved out a psychic, psychological, and/or mythic landscape in exactly that way.  It is still the creation of the world, just not meaning the planet.

If this seems vague and ill-defined, that’s because it probably is ill-defined.  Like I said, my understanding of the gods is still in the early stages of development.

In the end, I think that when dealing with religion it is important, on the one hand, to remember that your gods might all be completely fictional, but on the other hand, that they might in fact be real.  The former keeps you from being a fundamentalist (and a good self-check: are your religious convictions overriding your basic human compassion? because if they are, then you’ve gone too far over the edge, buddy), and the latter keeps you from being a secular humanist.  Not that being a secular humanist is the end of the world, but that there’s just no point in bothering with religion in the first place if you’re going to be certain that it’s all messed up.

The thing is, I believe in the existence of divinity.  I think that the divine is real, and I hunger for it.  I acknowledge the possibility that it’s all in my head, but because I am not a fundamentalist, whether there is in fact an ultimate reality to Divinity or it is all in my head is actually irrelevant, because I am going to act the same way with regard to it either way.  But for the record, I believe that there is a divine reality that transcends individual human experience.

In terms of hard polytheism (i.e., the gods, whatever they are, exist independently and in a fully distinct fashion from each other) versus soft polytheism (i.e., the gods are different facets or manifestations of a greater divine reality), my answer is that I genuinely think that the latter is more likely, as ultimately my cosmological picture is formed by the conception of Maya and Brahman in the Baghavad Gita.  However, that requires some more elaboration, because I am definitely not saying that the gods are simply masks of one true god (although since I have only personally experienced one male and one female god, I might actually be dealing with a Wiccan-style fertility dualism, but more about that later).  If this model of godhood holds, then I am only claiming that the gods are parts of the same divine whole to the same extent that human beings are all also part of that same divine whole.  And with gods as with humans, the compelling illusion of Maya–the deceptive illusion of separateness that enables us to function in the world of sense objects while also blinding us to our essential oneness–applies to the gods as well as to humans.  And that means that, like us, although they are facets of a greater whole, they act for the most part as if they are separate and distinct, if interrelated.

Read Full Post »

Mary Lefkowitz wrote an excellent article for the LA Times a little more than a year ago about the Greek gods that’s well worth reading.

Bring back the Greek gods

Mere mortals had a better life when more than one ruler presided from on high.

By Mary Lefkowitz
October 23, 2007 in print edition A-27

Prominent secular and atheist commentators have argued lately that religion “poisons” human life and causes endless violence and suffering. But the poison isn’t religion; it’s monotheism. The polytheistic Greeks didn’t advocate killing those who worshiped different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view.

There is much we still can learn from these ancient notions of divinity, even if we can agree that the practices of animal sacrifice, deification of leaders and divining the future through animal entrails and bird flights are well lost.

My Hindu students could always see something many scholars miss: The Greek gods weren’t mere representations of forces in nature but independent beings with transcendent powers who controlled the world and everything in it. Some of the gods were strictly local, such as the deities of rivers and forests. Others were universal, such as Zeus, his siblings and his children.

Zeus did not communicate directly with humankind. But his children — Athena, Apollo and Dionysus — played active roles in human life. Athena was the closest to Zeus of all the gods; without her aid, none of the great heroes could accomplish anything extraordinary. Apollo could tell mortals what the future had in store for them. Dionysus could alter human perception to make people see what’s not really there. He was worshiped in antiquity as the god of the theater and of wine. Today, he would be the god of psychology.

Zeus, the ruler of the gods, retained his power by using his intelligence along with superior force. Unlike his father (whom he deposed), he did not keep all the power for himself but granted rights and privileges to other gods. He was not an autocratic ruler but listened to, and was often persuaded by, the other gods.

Openness to discussion and inquiry is a distinguishing feature of Greek theology. It suggests that collective decisions often lead to a better outcome. Respect for a diversity of viewpoints informs the cooperative system of government the Athenians called democracy.

Unlike the monotheistic traditions, Greco-Roman polytheism was multicultural. The Greeks and Romans did not share the narrow view of the ancient Hebrews that a divinity could only be masculine. Like many other ancient peoples in the eastern Mediterranean, the Greeks recognized female divinities, and they attributed to goddesses almost all of the powers held by the male gods.

The world, as the Greek philosopher Thales wrote, is full of gods, and all deserve respect and honor. Such a generous understanding of the nature of divinity allowed the ancient Greeks and Romans to accept and respect other people’s gods and to admire (rather than despise) other nations for their own notions of piety. If the Greeks were in close contact with a particular nation, they gave the foreign gods names of their own gods: the Egyptian goddess Isis was Demeter, Horus was Apollo, and so on. Thus they incorporated other people’s gods into their pantheon.

What they did not approve of was atheism, by which they meant refusal to believe in the existence of any gods at all. One reason many Athenians resented Socrates was that he claimed a divinity spoke with him privately, but he could not name it. Similarly, when Christians denied the existence of any gods other than their own, the Romans suspected political or seditious motives and persecuted them as enemies of the state.

The existence of many different gods also offers a more plausible account than monotheism of the presence of evil and confusion in the world. A mortal may have had the support of one god but incur the enmity of another, who could attack when the patron god was away. The goddess Hera hated the hero Heracles and sent the goddess Madness to make him kill his wife and children. Heracles’ father, Zeus, did nothing to stop her, although he did in the end make Heracles immortal.

But in the monotheistic traditions, in which God is omnipresent and always good, mortals must take the blame for whatever goes wrong, even though God permits evil to exist in the world he created. In the Old Testament, God takes away Job’s family and his wealth but restores him to prosperity after Job acknowledges God’s power.

The god of the Hebrews created the Earth for the benefit of humankind. But as the Greeks saw it, the gods made life hard for humans, didn’t seek to improve the human condition and allowed people to suffer and die. As a palliative, the gods could offer only to see that great achievement was memorialized. There was no hope of redemption, no promise of a happy life or rewards after death. If things did go wrong, as they inevitably did, humans had to seek comfort not from the gods but from other humans.

The separation between humankind and the gods made it possible for humans to complain to the gods without the guilt or fear of reprisal the deity of the Old Testament inspired. Mortals were free to speculate about the character and intentions of the gods. By allowing mortals to ask hard questions, Greek theology encouraged them to learn, to seek all the possible causes of events. Philosophy — that characteristically Greek invention — had its roots in such theological inquiry. As did science.

Paradoxically, the main advantage of ancient Greek religion lies in this ability to recognize and accept human fallibility. Mortals cannot suppose that they have all the answers. The people most likely to know what to do are prophets directly inspired by a god. Yet prophets inevitably meet resistance, because people hear only what they wish to hear, whether or not it is true. Mortals are particularly prone to error at the moments when they think they know what they are doing. The gods are fully aware of this human weakness. If they choose to communicate with mortals, they tend to do so only indirectly, by signs and portents, which mortals often misinterpret.

Ancient Greek religion gives an account of the world that in many respects is more plausible than that offered by the monotheistic traditions. Greek theology openly discourages blind confidence based on unrealistic hopes that everything will work out in the end. Such healthy skepticism about human intelligence and achievements has never been needed more than it is today.

I’m not going to claim that the article is flawless: a quick Google search for “Hindu nationalist violence” will demonstrate pretty easily that polytheists are just as capable of violence in the name of their gods as monotheists are. However, I think you can make the case that Hindu religious violence is a primarily cultural rather than specifically religious affair–they’re not lashing out because people refuse to accept the truth of Vishnu, but because they perceive their culture as one that is under siege by a long history of encroachment by Muslims and Christians into India.

At the same time, I think editorials like Lefkowitz’s are important, if for nothing else than to make us think about the plausibility and, well, the utility of polytheism. In modern civilization, polytheism gets a bad rap, honestly. Most people would discard it as completely implausible, even ridiculous, but the only reason they think that is because monotheistic religions–religions that have had a privileged place in western culture and society for over a thousand years–ridicule them.

Even atheists who discard polytheism out of hand do so not because they have dealt with polytheism on its own terms. Instead they’re rejecting a monotheist caricature of polytheism. Polytheism is frankly not treated fairly.

Read Full Post »

The simple answer is that I just don’t.  While I don’t have a conceptual problem with God’s theoretical existence–I’m not actually convinced by the formal logical arguments of atheists because I’m not actually usually convinced by formal logic at all–I simply have a hard time believeing that a being matching the description of most theists exists.

I will grant that it doesn’t look to me like God is necessary.  We don’t need God to explain the phenomena of the natural world.  no, scientists haven’t figured everything out yet, but they have figured out a surprising amount and there’s no particular reason to assume that there’s any area where they won’t be able to make any headway at all.  At least, to our knowledge there’s not a big off-limits gap in scientific understanding that seems to be marked off by God as his and his alone.  So there’s no need for a “God of the gaps.”

I also don’t think that the existence of God is necessary to make sense of human existence.  Perhaps we need to believe in a God to make sense of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that such a deity in fact exists.  I’m not sos sure that the nonexistence of God necessarily implies a cold and unjust universe, but if it does, then so be it.  If the universe is cold and unjust then it is cold and unjust–the fact that it makes me uncomfortable does not imply the existence of an all-powerful supernatural being who can and will fix everything.

Certainly I do not believe in a personal God.  If something exists in the universe (or as the universe) that we could stretch the term “god” to fit around, and it certainly might, I’m skeptical that it would be a personal entity capable of (or likely to) interact with us on our level.  While I find the idea of a personal god appealing, I’m not going to believe it just because I want to, and it doesn;t resonate with me well enough for me to plunge into the idea without a better reason.  I think that at least some of the burden of proof is on God to reveal himself, especially if he is a personal God and especially if we make an effort to connect with him from our side.  I have never had an experience that would lead me to believe (or even really to infer) that God is personal.  God has never spoken to me, and “spoken to me through his Holy Book/Holy Prophet(s)/Only Begotten Son” absolutely doesn’t cut it.  That is a woefully insufficient copout.  If there’s a personal God, he should be able to talk to me personally.  He hasn’t and he doesn’t, so I have no reason to believe in him except for the testimony of others.

What of the testimony of others?  I realize that plenty of people claim to have had mystical experiences with a personal God.  I know some atheists would just label them crazy, but I’m not comfortable with that.  I’m inclined to think that there is something to these mystical experiences that people have been claiming to have since the dawn of time when the first shaman went on a vision quest, but I am also not inclined to believe that they are reliable evidence for a personal God.  There are too many alternate plausible explanations, even validating the mystical experiences.  Such experiences could be, for example, communication with or journey into the human psyche, clad in metaphor and symbol.  They could even be some kind of state of oneness with the external universe but one that has to me re-interpreted by human consciousness to make sense of it.  In other words, the mystics have touched something too big to be comprehended so their minds put a face and a personality on it so their heads don’t explode.  At the very least the diversity of recorded mystical experience would seem to undermine the likelihood of us being able to take them at face value (as contact with a personal God), especially since as I understand it, people tend to have mystical experiences that are more or less consistent with or at least complimentary to their native religious tradition.  If Jesus is talking to Christian mystics, Allah is talking to the Sufis, and Apollo is talking to the Neopagans, then we have a bit of a problem.  at least, none of their experiences tells us much about objective reality.

If I had a personal experience with a personal God, I might be willing to change my tune.  I realize that such a mystical experience would be intensely subjective and wouldn’t actually tell me any more about the objective universe than the mystical experiences of Joseph Smith or Joan of Arc, but at least I’d be willing to subjectively believe in a personal God.  Of course I would have to retain the reservation that it was extremely likely that the God I was experiencing was merely an aspect of my own psyche, or a face my own brain had imposed on an immense and unknowable transcendant reality.  But in any case, such a mystical experience of a personal God has never happened to me.  Even in twenty-eight years as an active, believing Mormon, the best I got as answers to my prayers were vague feelings and impressions, things that were far more likely to have come from inside my head than from outside it.

I’ve spent a good portion of this last year yearning for contact with God, but it hasn’t happened.  At least, not in a way that satisfies me.  It has come to the point where I don’t think God’s going to give me a call, so I’m not really waiting for it or expecting it anymore.  So while I’m not denying the existence of God, I can’t say that I actively believe in one.  You can only let the telephone ring for so long before you’ve got to eventually conclude that nobody’s going to pick it up.

Read Full Post »

Today my wife and I went to a service at the Church of Christ, Scientist. We’re not sure that Cedar Ridge Community Church is a good permanent church solution for us, and we were in the mood for something different. I actually found an Episcopalian parish I wanted to attend, but they’re on some kind of weird summer schedule (I guess most Episcopalians don’t go to church in the summer) where they only have an 8:00 am Rite I Eucharist service (old style, and with no music). I was kind of annoyed about that.

Alternately, we’ve been thinking about visiting an Orthodox church again, but we hadn;t hear back from the OCA parish in Bethesda about whether they have child care during the liturgy.

So instead, we decided to go on a wacky adventure to the Church of Christ, Scientist!

I should co ahead and say that I’m not actually interested in joining the Church or practicing Christian Science. But the church is odd and quirky (much like Mormonism) and I wanted to at least visit. Plus, I’ve been keen for some time on getting my hands on a copy of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science And Health With Key To The Scriptures, just out of pure theological curiosity.

Anyway, there was child care available, which was good (without it, we would have just had to go home, because there’s no way our one-year-old can quietly sit through, well, pretty much anything).  The service was kind of boring- Christian Scientists have no preachers, because the Bible and Science and Health are their preachers.  That means the sermon is just a set of collected readings from those two books.  It takes up most of the hour, and it’s hard to sit still and pay attention.

There were also some responsive readings, which I always really like in a religious setting, and some hymns.  It was nice to sing hymns after six months of nothing but contemporary Christian praise music.  Did I mention that I like hymns?

One of the readers sounded hilariously like a Mormon General Authority- actually like a cross between Thomas S. Monson and L. Tom Perry, I thought.  My wife mentioned that the man had sounded like a GA, and I laughed because I had been thinking that the whole time.

The meeting was not well-attended, although the church was in a really nice building.

The topic of the sermon/readings was Life, and it was all about how life, mind, and spirit are real and  how matter and death and illness are illusory, which I think is pretty much the gist of the religion.

At the end, when we went downstairs to fetch the little one, the nice lady there gave us a copy of Science And Health, and that pretty much made my day.  Also, it was really nice of her, because I think the book cost something like ten dollars.  The thing was, the cover was glossy and it hurt my eyes in the car on the way home when the sun reflected off it.  So she really did blind me with science.  As in, Mary Baker Eddy blinded me with Christian Science.

Incidentally, Christian Science is not the same thing as Scientology.

Read Full Post »

Still thinking of reasons to believe…

Something hit me about a week ago, when watching the Passion of the Christ: people do really, really horrible things to each other.  The sick twisted stuff that people do to each other, the brutality, the dehumanization, the sadism, the torture, it blows the mind.  Why do people do such horrific things?

At the same time, I wonder if that isn’t a kind of evidence for God for me.  This isn’t a logical argument with premises and conclusions- I don’t even really want to go there right now.  It’s an intuitive thing.  Here goes-

Human beings are capable of unique evil.  We do so much that is purely motivated by malice, and we are capable of an kind of evil that you don’t see elsewhere in the natural world.  Some of the nasty crap we do can be explained as evolutionarily functional: war overresources, for example, or male promiscuity.  I’m not talking about that stuff.  I’m talking about genocide and systematic horror that we inflict on each other, the kind of stuff that isn’t really functional, so it doesn’t make sense, or rather, it doesn’t seem to have a natural explanation.

Nature isn’t malicious; it’s indifferent.  It’s not evil; it’s amoral.  But we can do things that are horrible to each other that go far beyond the harsh indifferent cruelty of nature.

And it’s not limited to the Hitlers and Pol Pots of the world, either.  Just think for a second; I’ll bet you can imagine some pretty horrible things that you could do to another person, if you put your mind to it.  Even if we’d never consider doing it, why can we even think of those things?

By contrast, almost all the good we seem to be able to do is either  1) evolutionarily functional (like parents sacrificing for their children, or pretty much anything good you do that has an element of self-interest or group-interest) or 2) only a matter of correcting bad stuff.  If I feed millions of starving people, for example, I’m not creating a positive good so much as I am merely correcting an evil.

It’s easy to think of horrible and nasty things you could to to hurt other people for no reason and no real benefit to you (and therefore not easy to explain by evolution or nature), but it’s hard to even think of positive good (something above and beyond just correcting something bad) that you can do that isn’t naturally explicable and evolutionarily functional.

To me, this makes me think a couple of things.  One, maybe there’s something to the idea that we’re fallen, broken people in a fallen, broken world that needs fixing.  And maybe unnatural evil means that there might be unnatural good.  It’s hard to even imagine what that kind of unnatural, positive good would look like (because of the T in the Tulip, maybe?), but if there can be malicious non-functional evil, why can’t there be pure good, righteousness, sanctification, holiness.  And if it’s not here in our world, then where is it?

Where did evil come from?  It’s not easily explainable from a naturalistic point of view.  Does that mean it comes from outside the naturalist model somewhere?  And if there is evil from outside, why not good?

Read Full Post »

I wonder if God may exist after all, despite our best efforts to logically prove he doesn’t.

I’ve been tossing around this idea. Science can’t really prove or disprove God, right? Science rests on certain assumptions, and at the very least in order to come within the realm of science, something has to be falsifiable. An omnipotent God isn’t falsifiable, so science is simply ill-equipped to deal with the question of God. That’s not to say that science should therefore asssume God’s existence. Actually, it means that science should continue on, assuming God’s non-existence, because science competely breaks down if you start throwing in ascientific variables like “God.”

But who’s to say that you can prove or disprove God with logic, either? I mean, logic seems to be a great thing, but there’s no way to logically prove the rules of logic themselves- they are assumptions. Sure they seem to work on just about everything we have encountered, but if God is transcendent then could he not also transcend things like logic? Even science tells us that there can be places (even theoretical ones) where rules like cause and effect can totally break down (singularities, etc.). Perhaps God simply is not subject to logic. God may very well be a kind of divine paradox. In fact, theological precedent already supports that idea what with mystery (the trinity for example) and all.

Setting aside the ramifications of such a God, I can at least accept the possibility that such a God may exist. This also squares with what little I know about Kierkegaard and his view of religion as inherently absurd, but not in a perjorative way.

I’ve thought about the possibility of a paradoxical God before, but the thoguht sort of coalesced better after I read a very good article about why religion is valuable even if you are an atheist.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers