Sunday, September 09, 2007

Beyond belief

The subject of theism versus atheism has almost always been a difficult one to discuss calmly, because the social tension surrounding religious beliefs and institutions are inherently high. I must preface my remarks by saying that I am a member of more than one twelve-step fellowship. These fellowships practice a program of recovery from addiction that is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model. Friends and other people I know in the fellowships who hold what I would call conventional theistic views are often surprised by my opinions about God and spirituality. On a basic intellectual level, my point of view is far closer to that of an atheist than to the church-goer or other religious person. I don’t know many atheists—I’ve become acquainted with more on the internet than in my personal life—but I have found that they are often surprised by my opinions as well, perhaps even more so, because I argue for the value and necessity of spirituality despite my disbelief in God.

When I ask theists to define God, by no means do they all give me the same answers. There’s usually something quite vague about their answers, which in itself indicates something about the problem. But if I had to summarize most of the answers into one definition, it would be that God is a supernatural and all-powerful being who created the universe. This being has many different attributes depending on the speaker’s background, religious upbringing, or any number of other factors. In our culture, which is predominately what they call Judeo-Christian, the being is usually referred to as “He,” a male person. Other characteristics include the aspect of a judging watcher or listener, someone who listens to prayers, a being characterized by perfect love for humankind, a being that can perform miracles, and so on and so forth. One may have problems or differences with one or more of these attributes, but that doesn’t really affect the basic “supernatural creator-being” concept.

On a purely logical basis, I have long been convinced that such a being is literally impossible. When we come to those attributes conveyed by the major religious traditions that are of cosmological (and thus social and political) significance, I end up having grave moral objections as well. There is no point, however, in attempting to explain my conviction within the confines of this essay. Most skeptics won’t need explanations, and most believers would be impervious to them. But rather than merely reject this concept, and thereby put an end to my thinking on this subject, I seek its origins and its significance for human life, and this search leads me to a wider understanding of what spirituality really is and why it is important.

It seems to me that human beings—those animals on this planet that developed self-consciousness, which in turn engendered thought, language, and culture—experience a basic intuition which concerns something beyond the immediacy of their existence. I call this an intuition of eternity. A rational formula that aimed to convey the thought-content involved in this intuition would be something like: “In order for all things to be conditioned, reality itself must be unconditioned.” Historically, such formulas appear much later than the original intuition; usually they never appear at all. Human beings simply experience awe and wonder—at existence itself, but even more importantly, at the existence of a living, experiencing subject: the wonderer himself. That is to say that the questions posed are not merely, How did all this come to be? or What is all this? but Who am I? Self-consciousness is the spark igniting the spiritual impulse.

Experience is personal, in the sense that I alone, or you alone, experience everything as a single existing individual. Therefore everything we experience seems personal as well, until finally reality itself, the unconditioned that we intuit, is conceived as a person. And every social aspect of our existence, from the parents and children to the tribe, as well as other animals, feeds into this central idea, so that the gods (and later God) constitute a sort of cultural palimpsest in which one can read the thoughts of the human wonderers.

It is all metaphor, a mythopoetic realm in human consciousness. Metaphor is the way humans express the meaning of their lives. It is absolutely subjective. Even insofar as the metaphors accurately reflect the phenomena we perceive, the significance can only be subjective. I believe that “God” is the absolute conceived in the human mind as personal. A Hindu philosopher might say that if God is absolute and ultimately impersonal, God must be inclusive of all manifestation, and therefore of the personal as well. This is an ingenious way of explaining theism, but it won’t hold up unless one accepts the validity of metaphor as the only way that humans can express the meaning of their own lives.

The false attitude towards religion, in my view, is of the literal truth of a religious belief or doctrine. When a religionist proclaims literal truth, he is denying the validity of metaphor and placing truth outside of the mythopoetic realm, and into the realm of mere phenomena or things. The source of meaning is shut off, and a crucial sense of importance is placed on belief, a mental operation. The conflict here is primarily political, the issue being the desire to unite people around a particular religion and codify their social behavior through beliefs. The intuition of eternity is ignored and suppressed, and along with it the subjective nature of meaning—in its place we are offered an external (objective) belief system to which we are ordered to submit in order to be happy, be saved, have a moral society, or what have you.

Until the rise of science, there was very little perceived contradiction between metaphor and literalism. Science arose from the human need to understand the actual nature of phenomena. A scientific treatise is metaphorical only in the way all language is metaphorical—as an abstraction of real things into thoughts and symbols representing them. But in the spiritual sense--in the way that myth, metaphor, and poetry have been conceived from time immemorial—science is something completely different. It is, in fact, a way to understand and express the literal truth.

Scientists struggled to discover the truth about the planets, for instance, for no other reason than to understand the actual truth about the phenomenon of the planets. Truth in this sense is an objective value. On the other hand, if we take two religious mystics, one of them believing in an earth-centered cosmology and the other believing in a sun-centered cosmology, both of them will derive some symbolic meaning from their respective cosmologies, and they will most probably be very different meanings. The meaning has to do with themselves, with the reality of being a self, of being alive and conscious, and all that this involves. The scientific fact that the earth revolves around the sun has no meaning in and of itself. Its only significance, if we can use that word in the context, is that it is objectively true, but it has no mythopoetic significance without the human subject.

I think most scientists understand this. Their business has nothing to do with religion. But for the religionists who cling to the literal truth, science is an obvious threat. Science places a firm boundary between the metaphor and objective fact, but the religious literalists don’t want to see that their beliefs don’t qualify as objective fact. Perhaps they have an unconscious sense that the validity of the mythopoetic realm is being threatened. The trouble is, they are not conscious of the realm in which they live. They think that meaning comes from outside the human breast, that the subjective cannot be trusted. They’ve bought into the idea that “myth” means “false” and that “metaphor” means “not really.”

When I was in summer camp as a boy I got into a conversation with another boy in which the subject of Adam and Eve came up. At one point I blurted out that of course Adam and Eve was a myth. The other boy, who was Catholic, was so shocked that he refused to speak to me from then on. I wasn’t trying to shock him. I just knew instinctively, probably because of my liberal upbringing, that there was a difference between mythology and history, and what each of them looked like. I loved mythology and derived a lot of benefit from it, including myths from the Bible. Today I don’t accept many aspects of Biblical mythology as meaningful for me. In other words, there are metaphors expressing meanings that I don’t accept. But I don’t question that whatever power a story such as Adam and Eve has for us is born from the power of metaphor. The other boy had no conception of that. Being shut off from the actual power of his own myth, he could only surround the story with anxious taboos, and flee in fear whenever the poetic nature of his own belief was revealed.

I see the controversies around religion today, the apparent conflict between religion and science, as actually a conflict within religion itself. The intuition of eternity will never go away, because it is true. But because it can only be expressed through metaphor, those who seek spiritual meaning are being challenged to recognize and embrace the poetry of the religious impulse, and to realize a life beyond the mental adherence to a set of beliefs—in short, an expansive, visionary life.

What troubles me about the current debate from the atheist side is that I hear (not always, but quite often) an expressed desire for humanity to realize its error and abandon theism. This is really the same mistake the fanatic makes who thinks everyone should convert to one true religion. It’s not going to happen. The human race is never going to all have the same beliefs. Nor is it desirable that it should. Such a goal could only be attempted through brutal violence. The attempt has been repeatedly made, and it has always failed. Atheists are of course not threatening to convert anyone to atheism through violence, but the idea of mankind renouncing religion through reason is hopelessly na├»ve as well. I also think that there is a failure on the part of atheists to seriously explore the sources of spiritual practice and culture, and a general discounting of myth and metaphor as mere superstition that people should do without. We cannot do without it, because we need to have meaning, and meaning is an expression of our subjectivity.

The real problem, it seems to me, is political. It’s no threat to others if people develop and practice a spiritual culture, in whatever way they choose. It only becomes a threat when people attempt to impose their culture and practices on other people through government, war, or other forceful means. The religious institutions as political entities, with their own social agendas based on self-interest, are all about controlling other people, and very little about asking, “Who am I?” There is no alternative but to place a legal wall between these entities and the state, and that’s exactly what the founders of the U.S. tried to do. My neighbor has a right to be a fundamentalist. But if my neighbor wants the public school—the school my kids go to—to be fundamentalist, that’s not his right.

The fundamentalist would argue that the teaching of evolution in the public school violates his rights because it contradicts his religious beliefs. An atheist might remark that the fundamentalist thereby demonstrates that he does not understand what science is, and I agree. But what I’m also saying is that in addition to not understanding what science is, the fundamentalist, more crucially, more tragically, does not understand what religion is.

14 comments:

Mauigirl said...

Wow - an excellent, insightful essay. You've really summed up what the whole problem of religion vs. atheism stems from.

As an agnostic, I don't deny the power of myth and faith in the world. You've really hit the nail on the head.

whig said...

I don't know if I share your view of theism as being absent a real aspect, it is not all metaphor to me, though that's a large part of it as necessarily to describe anything to someone who does not see the same thing. So if I talk about a rainbow to a blind person, it might frustrate both of us, but the rainbow is nonetheless a perceivable thing to some people (yet not substantial, just a refraction of light in scientific terms).

whig said...

I would call my view panentheism, we are all part of God and yet God is something greater than that.

If you would have me describe the attributes of God I would be constrained to use human terms, but God is to us as we are to the cells of our body, a greater being, and far greater than this.

I would not constrain God to male or female, or to any binary system. Our understanding may be limited, but the reality is beyond our understanding.

Anonymous said...

THE HIGHEST OF THE HIGH

Meher Baba

Dhera Dun, India, September 7, 1953 -- Zoroaster's birthday

Consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, each and every creature, each and every human being -- in one form or the other -- strives to assert individuality. But when eventually man consciously experiences that he is Infinite, Eternal and Indivisible, then he is fully conscious of his individuality as God, and as such experiences Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Power and Infinite Bliss. Thus Man becomes God, and is recognized as a Perfect Master, *Sadguru*, or *Qutub*. To worship this Man is to worship God.

When God manifests on earth in the form of man and reveals His Divinity to mankind, He is recognized as the *Avatar* -- the Messiah -- the Prophet. Thus God becomes Man.

And so Infinite God, age after age, throughout all cycles, wills through His Infinite Mercy to effect His presence amidst mankind by stooping down to human level in the human form, but His physical presence amidst mankind not being apprehended, He is looked upon as an ordinary man of the world. When He asserts, however, His Divinity on earth by proclaiming Himself the *Avatar* of the Age, He is worshipped by some who accept Him as God; and glorified by a few who know him as God on Earth. But it invariably falls to the lot of the rest of humanity to condemn Him, while He is physically in their midst.

Thus it is that God as man, proclaiming Himself as the *Avatar*, suffers Himself to be persecuted and tortured, to be humiliated and condemned by humanity for whose sake His Infinite Love has made him stoop so low, in order that humanity, by its very act of condemning God's manifestation in the form of *Avatar* should, however, indirectly, assert the existence of God in His Infinite Eternal state.

The *Avatar* is always one and the same, because God is always One and the Same, the Eternal, Indivisible, Infinite One, who manifests Himself in the form of man as the *Avatar*, as the Messiah, as the Prophet, as the Ancient One -- the Highest of the High. This Eternally One and the Same *Avatar* repeats His manifestation from time to time, in different cycles, adopting different human forms and different names, in different places, to reveal Truth in different garbs and different languages, in order to raise humanity from the pit of ignorance and help free it from the bondage of delusions.

Of the most recognized and much worshipped manifestations of God as *Avatar*, that of Zoroaster is the earliest -- having been before Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. Thousands of years ago, he gave the world the essence of Truth in the form of three fundamental precepts -- Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. These precepts were and are constantly unfolded to humanity in one form or another, directly or indirectly in every cycle, by the *Avatar* of the Age, as he leads humanity imperceptibly towards the Truth. To put these precepts of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds into practice is not as easily done as it would appear, though it is not impossible. But to live up to these precepts honestly and literally is as apparently impossible as it is to practice a living death in the midst of life.

In the world there are countless *sadhus*, *mahatmas*, *mahapurush*, saints, yogis and *walis*, though the number of genuine ones is very, very limited. The few genuine ones are, according to their spiritual status, in a category of their own, which is neither on a level with the ordinary human being nor on a level with the state of the Highest of the High.

I am neither a *mahatma* nor a *mahapurush*, neither a *sadhu* nor a saint, neither a yogi nor a *wali*. Those who approach me with the desire to gain wealth or to retain their possessions, those who seek through me relief from distress and suffering, those who ask my help to fulfill and satisfy mundane desires, to them I once again declare that, as I am not a *sadhu*, a saint or a *mahatma*, *mahapurush* or yogi, to seek these things through me is but to court utter disappointment, though only apparently; for eventually this disappointment is itself invariably instrumental in bringing about the complete transformation of mundane wants and desires.

The *sadhus*, saints, yogis, *walis* and such others who are on the *via media*, can and do perform miracles and satisfy the transient material needs of individuals who approach them for help and relief.

The question therefore arises that if I am not a *sadhu*, not a saint, not a yogi, not a *mahapurush*, nor a *wali*, then what am I? The natural assumption would be that I am either just an ordinary human being, or I am the Highest of the High. But one thing I say definitely, and that is that I can never be included amongst those having the intermediary status of the real *sadhus*, saints, yogis and such others.

Now, if I am just an ordinary man, my capabilities and powers are limited -- I am no better or different from an ordinary human being. If people take me as such then they should not expect any supernatural help from me in the form of miracles or spiritual guidance; and to approach me to fulfill their desires would also be absolutely futile.

On the other hand, if I am beyond the level of an ordinary human being, and much beyond the level of saints and yogis, then I must be the Highest of the High. In which case, to judge me with your human intellect and limited mind and to approach me with mundane desires would not only be the height of folly but sheer ignorance as well; because no amount of intellectual gymnastics could ever understand my ways or judge my Infinite State.

If I am the Highest of the High, my Will is Law, my Wish governs the Law, and my Love sustains the Universe. Whatever your apparent calamities and transient sufferings, they are but the outcome of my Love for the ultimate good. Therefore, to approach me for deliverance from your predicaments, to expect me to satisfy your worldly desires, would be asking me to do the impossible -- to undo what I have already ordained.

If you truly and in all faith accept your Baba as the Highest of the High, it behooves you to lay down your life at His feet, rather than to crave the fulfillment of your desires. Not your one life but your millions of lives would be but a small sacrifice to place at the feet of One such as Baba, who is the Highest of the High; for Baba's unbounded love is the only sure and unfailing guide to lead you safely through the innumerable blind alleys of your transient life.

They cannot obligate me, who, surrendering their all -- body, mind, possessions -- which perforce they must discard one day, surrender with a motive; surrender because they understand that to gain the everlasting treasure of Bliss they must relinquish ephemeral possessions. This desire for greater gain is still clinging behind their surrender -- and as such the surrender cannot be complete.

Know you all that if I am the Highest of the High, my role demands that I strip you of your possessions and wants, consume all your desires and make you desireless rather than satisfy your desires. *Sadhus*, saints, yogis and *walis* can give you what you want; but I take away your wants and free you from attachments and liberate you from the bondage of ignorance. I am the One to take, not the One to give, what you want as you want.

Mere intellectuals can never understand me through their intellect. If I am the Highest of the High, it becomes impossible for the intellect to gauge me, nor is it possible for my ways to be fathomed by the limited human mind.

I am not to be attained by those who, loving me, stand reverently by in rapt admiration. I am not for those who ridicule me and point at me with contempt. To have a crowd of tens of millions flocking around me is not what I am for. I am for the selected few, who scattered amongst the crowd, silently and unostentatiously surrender their all -- body, mind and possessions – to me.

I am still more for those who, after surrendering their all, never give another thought to their surrender. They are all mine who are prepared to renounce even the very thought of their renunciation and who, keeping constant vigil in the midst of intense activity, await their turn to lay down their lives for the cause of Truth at a glance or sign from me. Those who have indomitable courage to face willingly and cheerfully the worst calamities, who have unshakable faith in me, eager to fulfill my slightest wish at the cost of their happiness and comfort, they indeed, truly love me.

From my point of view, far more blessed is the atheist who confidently discharges his worldly responsibilities, accepting them as his honorable duty, than the man who presumes he is a devout believer in God, yet shirks the responsibilities apportioned to him through Divine Law and runs after *sadhus*, saints and yogis, seeking relief from the suffering which ultimately would have pronounced his eternal liberation.

To have one eye glued on the enchanting pleasures of the flesh and with the other expect to see a spark of Eternal Bliss is not only impossible but the height of hypocrisy.

I cannot expect you to understand all at once what I want you to know. It is for me to awaken you from time to time throughout the ages, sowing the seed in your limited minds, which must in due course, and with proper heed and care on your part, germinate, flourish and bear the fruit of that True Knowledge which is inherently yours to gain.

If on the other hand, led by your ignorance, you persist in going your own way, none can stop you in your choice of progress; for that too is progress which, however slow and painful, eventually and after innumerable incarnations, is bound to make you realize that which I want you to know *now*. To save yourself from further entanglement in the maze of delusion and self created suffering which owes its magnitude to the extent of your ignorance of the true Goal, *awake now*. Pay heed and strive for Freedom by experiencing ignorance in its true perspective. Be honest with yourself and God. One may fool the world and one's neighbors, but one can never escape from the knowledge of the Omniscient -- such is the Divine Law.

I declare to all of you who approach me, and to those of you who desire to approach me, accepting me as the Highest of the High, that you must never come with the desire in your heart which craves for wealth and worldly gain, but only with the fervent longing to give your all -- body, mind and possessions -- with all their attachments. Seek me not in order to extricate yourself from your predicaments, but find me in order to surrender yourself wholeheartedly to my Will. Cling to me not for worldly happiness and short-lived comforts but adhere to me, through thick and thin, sacrificing your own happiness and comforts at my feet.

Let my happiness be your cheer and my comforts be your rest. Do not ask me to bless you with a good job, but desire to serve me more diligently and honestly without expectation of reward. Never beg of me to save your life or the lives of your dear one, but beg of me to accept you and permit you to lay down your life for me. Never expect me to cure you of your afflictions, but beseech me to cure you of your ignorance. Never stretch out your hands to receive anything from me, but hold them high in praise of me whom you have approached as the Highest of the High.

If I am the Highest of the High, nothing is then impossible to me; and though I do not perform miracles to satisfy individual needs -- the satisfaction of which would result in entangling the individual more and more in the net of ephemeral existence -- yet time and again at certain periods I manifest Infinite Power in the form of miracles, but only for the spiritual upliftment and benefit of humanity and all creatures.

However, miraculous experiences have often been experienced by individuals who love me and have unswerving faith in me, and these have been attributed to my *nazar* or Grace. But I want all to know that it does not befit my lovers to attribute such individual miraculous experience to my state of the Highest of the High. If I am the Highest of the High, I am above this illusory play of *maya* in the course of the Divine Law.

Therefore, whatever miraculous experiences are experienced by my lovers who recognize me as such, or by those who love me unknowingly through other channels, they are but the outcome of their own firm faith in me. Their unshakable faith often superseding the course of the play of *maya*, gives them those experiences which they call miracles. Such experiences derived through firm Faith eventually do good and do not entangle the individuals who experience them into further and greater bindings of illusion.

If I am the Highest of the High, then a wish of my Universal Will is sufficient to give, in an instant, God-realization to one and all and thus free every creature in creation from the shackles of Ignorance. But blessed is Knowledge that is gained through the experience of Ignorance in accordance with the Divine Law. This Knowledge is made possible for you to attain in the midst of ignorance by the guidance of Perfect Masters and surrenderance to the Highest of the High.

..........

Reposted by Karl, obviously. Sorry about the length, but hey, it's the Avatar's own words, and it pertains directly to the topic.. I probably should've emailed it but lost your address.

whig said...

So this "Baba" who pretends to be Highest of the High demands surrender, obedience and perfect ignorance.

Yay Baba.

Love ya,

Michael

whig said...

I suppose it might seem an artifice to fashion a lens to see with, but so it is that we see better than otherwise.

Do not listen to words, but see for yourself. If I say there is a rainbow and you see no rainbow, I may be wrong, see for yourself.

Cannabis is the tree of life. Do not follow me, choose your own guide or none.

fairlane said...

Excellent post Dashiell.

All of it stems from the Illusion of control.

Humans don't believe in God, as much as they desire to be God.

I'm not "surrendering" to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Every spiritual path, without exception, requires surrender of our limited ego, sense of self, in order to grow.

Atheists often are in a reactive state to the moronic strictures of organized politico-religions, because those are the most visible artifacts of the spiritual urge, yet dreadfully distorted, almost evil. I wonder what an atheist would conclude in the face of actual, heartfelt spirituality.

Maybe nothing.

The atheist is unable to see that any other human being may have grown beyond the atheist's own horizons, and thus is unable to believe in God in Man, or Man in God.

best, karl

fairlane said...

Karl,

"I wonder what an atheist would conclude in the face of actual, heartfelt spirituality."

I'll tell you what, if I ever witness "heartfelt spirituality" in a comment thread on a blog, I'll let you know.

I'll also say, isn't it funny when people don't agree with the "Religious," whether they follow Jesus or "Baba," it's assumed the person must be an "atheist?"

How arrogant is that?

It's surely not a behavior you'd expect from person whose "horizons have grown beyond."

I guess I should feel privileged and all, but this is the same conversation I've had with Christian Fundamentalists.

"They know," and the rest of us "just can't understand."

The irony of it.

If the "religious" spent as much time in their own mirror as they do in other people's, this world would be much quieter.

whig said...

Karl,

Your Baba is no more the incarnation of God than am I. Surrender to me or do not. I care not, and ask you to think perhaps that if you look for a human Avatar outside yourself, you are missing the point.

Michael

Chris Dashiell said...

Hmm. The thread's getting a little frayed, I guess. Anyway...

To mauigirl: I'm really glad you liked the post, and I appreciate your comments.

To whig: Thanks for your comments. What I think I heard you saying is that I claim that the term "God" corresponds to nothing. But I'm not really saying that. I'm saying that all such spiritual metaphors ultimately refer to the absolute and unconditioned reality itself. Trouble is, when we speak or write of this, all language is necessarily provisional. It should be obvious why that is: language is limited and conditioned by nature, just like thought, just like individual things or beings. The confusion of literalism when it comes to God is a prime example of the error of misplaced absolutism. That which is absolute is talked about as if it were limited, and consequently (and here's where the real problems start) that which is limited is presented as absolute. Experientially, to someone engaged directly in a spiritual life or practice, this doesn't matter very much. But in terms of the social order (what I call "the God of the tribe") it eventually starts to matter very much, and more often than not in a negative way.

To fairlane: Thanks for your comments. If by "being God," you mean being this idea of a powerful being controlling everything, then I have to agree. The god outside of us becomes a symbol of social authority, and thereby a proxy for people exercising social authority.
There are those, however, who truly seek a direct knowledge of God, and/or love of God. This is almost identical (as we see in Buddhism) with the need for direct knowledge of self-nature or consciousness, or of love as such.
Such people are few, however. One of the characteristics of spirituality, I think, is that the practitioner (for lack of a better word) has no interest in persuading or converting anyone else, but only in pure service, however that may manifest.

To Karl: Thanks for the excerpt. From what I have read of the words of Meher Baba, I would dare to say that he speaks from non-duality, and that every word, or indeed action, expressed what I called in my essay, "an expansive, visionary life." One of the things he said (or signed) was to the effect that he seeks not to teach, but to awaken. And to me, that corresponds to the difference between belief in any particular statement or statements, and the actual lived experience or vision of realization, awakening, enlightenment, or what have you. In terms of my critique, all the bets are off in this realm. There's nothing to hold onto. My critique would only apply if someone came along and put an "ism" after Meher Baba and then told me why I should follow it. I would guess, in all humility, that Meher Baba didn't care about "isms" (and in fact even took action symbolically placing himself above traditional religions), nor would he concern himself with science. It just wasn't his purpose.
Of course you know that on empirical grounds I reject the avatar cosmology, just as I have rejected all cosmologies or religious doctrines based on historical progression or historical meaning. For me, the eternal is only the "here and now," and history is inherently an abstraction.
But once again, when the situation is one of a direct encounter with the eternal (and here once again language reveals its limits, but this is the best I can do), then all cosmologies are subsumed within that as a symbol of a movement within the spirit (subjectivity itself).
When I say that everything is metaphor and poetry, my intent is to indicate the central importance of metaphor and poetry, and at the same time reveal the meaningless of the "literal" truth. Similarly, when I talk about God as "absolutely subjective" I am saying that subjectivity is inherent in reality and the source of all meaning, not an irrelevant accident or excrescence. And that's really the core insight that I am developing here. Everything follows from it, and much of what follows might seem rather uncomfortable or unusual, whether or not one is a theist. I only follow where it leads.

whig said...

Chris,

Experientially, to someone engaged directly in a spiritual life or practice, this doesn't matter very much. But in terms of the social order (what I call "the God of the tribe") it eventually starts to matter very much, and more often than not in a negative way.

What I've tried to do is accept the vernacular metaphor and use that to express the larger concepts as I am able to perceive them, recognizing the limitation of my own perspective.

I believe the "God of the tribe" is potentially a force for education and improvement of the tribe. If we shun this metaphor in our purist desire to remain untainted by contact with deceivers, we fail to find the people who are looking for truth.

Everything we say is provisional, so why not accept these provisions for the sake of an argument or discussion? If our need exceeds their descriptive power, borrow from another metaphor and bring together these traditions.

So I say who I am because it is my name and it has power when invoked, and I ask for nothing except that people think for themselves and make well informed choices. This is harm reduction.

I have no more authority than you or anyone else. I have only my experience to relate, that cannabis can help to open the consciousness to experience of greater things than the materialist world. That it can do this without toxicity, at any dose, that it can help to relieve or control physical, mental and emotional pain, that it can bring people closer to whatever you want to call the divine, ineffable, universal connection which we all share with one another, these are the proof of what it is.

Chris Dashiell said...

I behave almost exactly as you say in my day-to-day interactions with people. But what I'm writing here on this blog is philosophy. For me, that means that I examine concepts, make distinctions between different ways we can take them, and I explore why and how we think and act the way we do. To muddle along in philosophy without examining concepts and assumptions we use, or their implications, is not good philosophy. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin both used the word "God" a lot, and they didn't mean the same thing.
Most people don't know that they're swimming a sea of metaphor. Part of the philosophical enterprise for me is to talk about that, rather than just swim along with them.
I'm not about prescribing behavior. I'm not telling anyone to shun a metaphor, out of fear of deceivers or any other reasons. I'm actually defending the use of the metaphor even while I point out that it is one, and even while I don't use it myself in my own spirituality.

whig said...

I just wanted to express my genuine appreciation for your writing and your philosophical approach.

I think it is also important to focus on the real things that we can identify in the world which facilitate deeper consciousness.

There is no conflict, anywhere, if we choose to adapt a cooperative style of living. Failure to adapt will eventually result in our extinction. We are too powerful to fight, we have become Olympians with technology like those of myth, and what is the difference between that and magic to one who does not understand?