Some things that experience has taught me

I accept that I am ultimately alone.

People can still hurt me, but with the exception of Peggy, I never let them close enough that I can’t let them go.

I used to think that women’s bodies were holy ground; now I regard them as more akin to fruit that will rot tomorrow, and I’m not much interested in fruit—except for watermelon, of course (“The true Southern watermelon is…chief of this world’s luxuries… When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took: we know it because she repented.” —Mark Twain).

I can say what I think most of the time, and when I can’t, it’s because I don’t know what I think or how to best say it, it being foolish to blurt things out.

I keep most of myself to myself, there being no reward in sharing it.

I accept that no one can be there for me in exactly the way I want, and that this is probably for the best.

I mediate upon what I will look like and smell like when I’m dead, and it helps me come to terms with being dead—probably in around nineteen years.

I’m not cowed by anyone who isn’t holding a gun in my face, and I don’t know how I would feel about them.

I am impressed by some people—the Lancaster bomber crews of World War II for instance. Still, I wonder if it wouldn't have taken even more courage for some those guys to say, “No, I'm not going,” at the cost of being officially designated as “Lacking in Moral Fibre”?*

I accept my limitations, and if I err, it is in that I accept them too easily.

I’m having rum and coffee for breakfast today, and it strikes me as a pretty good breakfast, although I know I will feel differently when the high goes away. I’m also listening over and over and over to East—West. It’s the only thing I love by Paul Butterfield, but how I love it! It’s possible to justify one’s entire life with a 13-minute piece of music.

I adore computers, and I adore the Internet. How did I ever exist without them, and how long before the goddamn Republicans figure out how to charge for them and censor them?

The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that there are Democrats who care about things other than rich people and religion. If Satan exists, he’s a Republican.

I’ve strayed from the original intent of this post, but so be it.

I just got a call from someone whom I was seriously considering suing. We worked things out and even had a delightful conversation. Maybe I should have rum for breakfast everyday. I understand that it was quite the thing in 18th century America and England. 

*Of every 100 who flew, 55 were killed, 3 were injured, 12 were shot down and taken prisoner (many of them were injured), 2 were shot down and escaped, and 27 finished their tour of duty. Those who refused to fly or became emotionally incapable of flying were put to work at menial tasks and treated with eternal contempt by their former comrades and, perhaps, their friends and families.

On seeking to define ultimate reality

I haven’t been to high mass since November, although I ask myself every Saturday whether this will be the day that I return. It’s a wonder to me that I have lost all enthusiasm for that which I once found so meaningful. In thinking about this, it occurred to me that the beliefs of a given church are like the ingredients in a recipe in that some are considered essential and others optional. The fundamentalist church of my childhood held all of its beliefs as essential, while liberal Episcopalians hold very few as essential, and is fuzzy on them. For instance, everyone is expected to believe in God and Jesus, but it is up to the individual what the words mean. This is done in the interest of inclusivity, but it has the unfortunate effect of making the words meaningless, and the expectation that everyone believe in them absurd.

I’m reading Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) a Dominican monk who was posthumously excommunicated for thinking outside the box. For example:

God is greater than God. 
The ultimate and highest leave taking is taking leave of God…
…a man should be so poor that he neither is nor has in himself any place where God can act…
…my essential being is above God...
…if I did not exist, God would not be ‘God.’

What Eckhart objected to was envisioning ultimate reality as a definable object and then worshiping the object. Truly, the Church of Christ idolized many things—the Bible, baptism, weekly communion, a cappella music, the name of their church, etc.—while liberal Episcopalians idolize but few—primarily God and Jesus—and separate even those from a required meaning. Yet, it remains that a primary goal of even liberal Christianity is to reduce God to an entity that can be defined and controlled. 

There’s a place in the soul where you’ve never been wounded.

This is the place that has riches beyond what any church, philosophy, holy book, or interpretation of God can offer, and Eckhart appears to have lived from such a place.

In my birth, all things were born...and if I had willed it, I would not exist nor would anything exist; and if I didn't exist, ‘God’ too would not exist.

In remembering childhood, we can all recall having knowledge that we have since relegated to the world of fantasy because it painted us as possessing a reality far grander than the one that we have been beaten into accepting. But does this mean that we have discovered reality or lost contact with it? I really don’t know.

I remember the very place on the road where I realized that I was creating everything that I saw even as the family car passed it, and that apart from me, nothing whatsoever could exist. I later abandoned this belief because I thought that, if it were true, I should be able to control my creation. Even so, from that time to this, I have never been able to completely walk away from what I knew to be true that day, so I am forced to occupy a position of not knowing.

Something that strikes me as central to Eckhart’s writing—and my experience—is that it portrays the universe as monistic, meaning that it is composed of a single substance (energy in the parlance of modern physics) from which all things flow and with which all things are one. The strength of monism is that those who accept it usually view reality as good. By contrast, Christianity is dualistic. As the story goes, a bad guy named Lucifer rules an accursed earth and will eventually be defeated by a good guy named Jesus who is from a perfect realm known as heaven. Christianity is thus a religion of conflict based upon a belief in opposites. This has made it an age-old instigator of persecution as its defenders have sought to align themselves with Jesus by vanquishing the soldiers of Satan (i.e. everyone who disagrees with them, including other Christians).

By viewing himself as being of one substance with ultimate reality, Eckhart denies our own separation from it and from one another. I can’t see how this is congruent with the Bible, but the Bible is what he had to work with, and he often came up with interpretations that were as novel as they were delightful. Even so, he was rare for his era in that he didn’t regard Christians as having a special access to truth:

Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.

I think this is true, two universal elements of mysticism being that All is One and All is Good. I can agree with the first part, but as to second, many things appear very bad indeed. But, if I could, would I will myself to believe the second part? Yes. By wishing this, am I not acting in bad faith? The answer is contained in two questions: (1) Assuming that a false belief has the power to bring good into the world, is it then preferable to a true belief that does not bring good into the world? (2) To what extent do our beliefs create external reality? I would say yes to the first question, and a great deal to the second.

I suspect that we’re all are quixotic in that part of ourselves where we have “never been wounded,” and I strongly believe that if we surrendered to it, the world would be a far better place. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to surrender. I am too often filled with rage against the unfairness that appears to surround me.

My religious upbringing

I awakened this morning recalling that I knew a man such as the one in the painting. His name was Ira Redd, and he was my girlfriend’s great-grandfather when I was in my teens. Ira was in his 90s at the time, which was a very advanced age in 1967. Grandpa, as I called him, spent his days sitting in the same spot on the sofa reading his Bible. He was a kindly man who liked to talk of the old days (which would have been the 1800s for him), and one to whom I enjoyed listening. He never spoke to me of God, but I can still hear the prayer that he offered over his food: “Thank the Good Lord.” He was in the Church of Christ and always had been, although he had stopped going because of his frailty. My father’s father and his father before him had been preachers in that church, and most of my relations on my father’s side were still in it.

I had by then started attending the Episcopal Church occasionally, but I hadn’t completely stopped going to the Church of Christ. I even remember driving thirty miles one night to the little community of Four Corners to preach. You might say that I was being “groomed” for the ministry, so it wasn’t unusual for me to preach short sermons before the real preacher conducted the main event, but my Four Corners’ sermon marked the only time that I was the main event.

No C of C sermon was complete without the promise of eternal hellfire for sinners, and the description often included excruciating details about what it would feel like for a person’s entire body to be immersed in a “lake of fire.”  It was sometimes said that it would like touching a hot stove, only the pain would extend over your entire body and never end, which meant that you would be writhing, screaming, and colliding with other damned souls for a million years times a million years, and even that would be a drop in the bucket compared to what awaited you. I was exposed to such sermons from infancy, and would sometimes hide under the bed in terror when I got home.

I was baptized at age twelve. This was about what most people considered “the age of accountability,” which meant that I would have gone to hell had I died unbaptized. My best friend and I had “come forward” after a revival sermon in a country church one night and, the only baptistry being in town, we were taken there immediately because it was believed that, even after you asked to be baptized, you could still go to hell if you died before it happened.

I felt very good about myself afterwards, because I was free of sin, and because I had made a major step toward manhood. The feeling lasted until noon the next day when I had a sinful thought, and was back in danger of going to hell. The main benefit of being baptized was that I could now serve communion in church. The Church of Christ has communion every Sunday, and in my congregation, it took five men (it had to be men) to serve it. One man stood in the middle of the other four behind the communion table, said a few words, and offered a prayer. He would then hand the other men the large, silver-plated servers containing the Matzo crackers, and they would pass them up and down the rows.

Once they reached the back of the church, they would walk back to the front and start off again with trays of Mogen David. The four trays were stackable when not in use, and contained a lot of tiny glasses each of which nestled in its own little slot. After the bread and wine came the collection. There were no pledge envelopes because the Church of Christ doesn’t believe in pledges. Aside from girls, I thought that everything about communion was just the coolest thing in the world, so I helped with it every time I could which was fairly often. I also led the singing at times, despite the fact that I can’t consistently carry a tune (I didn’t know about this problem until I married Peggy, wives being quick to point out that kind of thing).

Everything about the Church of Christ flows from its belief that it’s the only true church, that it has been in continuous existence (mostly underground) since Biblical times, and that it believes and operates exactly as Jesus intended. The truth is that it originated in the late 1800s, and has since split into three groups. The liberal group (ha) uses communion trays for the wine and has women Sunday School teachers. The conservative group uses only one glass for the wine (because that’s all Jesus used), and women aren’t allowed to teach Sunday School. My group was middle-of-the road in that it allowed communion trays but wouldn’t let women teach Sunday School. Because the C of C contains more than one division, and because every congregation is a law unto itself, it’s impossible to make belief statements that apply to every congregation, but, except for the part about women, the following should come close:

The Bible is perfect in every detail and should be taken literally except in cases of obvious metaphor.

If the Bible were shown to contain a single minor contradiction or to be in error about the least thing, the entire Bible would be discredited.

If a person seeks God with his whole heart, God will lead that person to the C of C even if he lives all alone on a desert island or in deepest Siberia.

Every adult who isn’t a member of the C of C will go to hell. Babies and little children will probably go to heaven, but we can’t know for sure.

It is essential to “Speak Where the Bible Speaks, and Be Silent Where the Bible is Silent.” For example, since the Bible doesn’t mention instrumental music, our singing is entirely a cappella. For the same reason, women aren’t allowed to so much as make announcements in church or ask questions during Wednesday night Bible study.

Only C of C baptisms are valid, and they must be done by immersion.

No church was more rigid because we simply couldn’t be wrong or acknowledge that any other church had the least valid point. As with all hardcore groups, the only reason we cared about other people’s beliefs was so that we could point out the error of their ways, yet we weren’t encouraged to look for converts due to our belief that if a person truly sought God, God would lead that person to us.

Around age twelve, I started to develop an intense and open-minded interest in other churches. Until my preacher stopped me, I went door-to-door with Jehovah’s Witnesses (at the time, the group consisted of three young men who had come to town to start a Kingdom Hall), and I eventually visited every other denomination in town. On the one hand, I would defend C of C doctrine tooth-and-nail, but on the other, I was losing my belief in it. From age eleven, I was angry with God because I had started to discover that much of the Bible portrays him as uncaring and unjust, although it claims the opposite. In my mind, this made his appear both vicious and hypocritical. A year or so later, I cursed him aloud, only to immediately worry that I had committed “the unpardonable sin.” 

Fire-and-brimstone sermons had left me in terrible fear of God since my earliest remembrance, and this new fear put me almost into a blind panic that returned again and again for years, but I was so ashamed of what I had done that I couldn’t tell anyone. One night, I went to the home of the preacher who had baptized me with the intention of telling him what I had done, but when I got there, I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. In college, I met someone who said he had once discussed religion with an atheist, and I developed an interest in that, but I couldn't make sense of it, and I had no avenue by which to explore it.

There’s no way I can know the extent to which the C of C made me who I am, but I suspect that the church’s influence is far-reaching in my life even today and even into my relationship with Peggy. For example, I have wondered if her customary certainty that she is correct about all manner of things comes from her Baptist childhood, and my need for endless validation from my C of C upbringing. I say this because when a person is determined to not be the way he or she was raised, it’s easy to unknowingly carry out the same mindset but in different channels. In both our cases, religious certainty was emphasized, but her church lacked the requirement that she never admit that another person’s viewpoint was even a little bit rational. Therefore, could it not be that her need for certainty came from what she was taught, and my need for validation from what I was denied when I started to lose my faith?

Likewise, I have two former Jehovah’s Witness friends who complain of their inability to feel close to others. This makes sense when you consider that non-JW friendships were forbidden to them. While it was relatively easy for my friends to escape JW doctrine, they might never escape being the kind of people that the church made them. I know that, in my case, I was regularly told that, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Corinthians 15:19) and the like, and while it was easy for me see the idiocy in the church’s teachings about pianos and how much water to use during baptism, I have never succeeded in escaping that, and I’m 66-years-old. Can I know that I wouldn’t feel a similar despair had I been raised a secular humanist? No, because it’s the old nature versus nurture conundrum.

It is my thought that all religion is to some degree like the JW and the C of C, so I strongly believe that religious indoctrination constitutes child abuse or something close to it. Readers who say that religion is a private matter, and I shouldn’t attack it, completely miss the point. Religion isn’t a matter of chocolate versus vanilla; religion is Satan, or at least it would be if Satan existed. The harm of the Hitlers and Stalins is minuscule compared to that of the christs.

Ye Olde Red-Letter

If God should exist, what do you figure he thinks about? Does he say to himself, “My back aches,” or “My arthritis kept me awake last night”? No, that fucker has it easy, living in a state of bliss while gazing adoringly down upon us, the most exalted beings in the universe. How odd then, that 3,000 years ago, he should have repeatedly thrown hissy-fits over the evil-doings of his “Chosen People” in the backwater nation of Iron Age Israel. Amazing, isn’t it, that of all the peoples upon the face of planet earth, Jehovah would have concluded that those old Jews were the crème de la crème? I should think that that right there would have cast doubts upon his stupendousness, but he’s still worshiped by millions, so maybe I’m wrong.

Peggy is off visiting her Southern relations (it only took three days for her accent to return even after 29-years in Yankee Land), so I have a lot of time to myself, and the cat and I are batching-it in isolation (right now, I’m tanked, but Brewsky only had three snorts of catnip, in case we need to get the car out). Last night, we (me more than he) dug out my old King James faux-leather, red-lettered Bible that I paid $3.50 for on April 2, 1963 (the price is on the box, and the date on the first page), so I could look something up. I used that Bible for years, and, being a neat-nick, I underlined passages with black ink and a ruler instead of doing it freehand (there were no highlighters back then), and there are a lot of underlinings. Last night, I right away came to I Thessalonians 7-8: “And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus should be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God…”

I guess that would be the end of moi, but if you’re a Christian why wouldn’t you “rest” in such a passage!? “Tough shit, Grandma, I told you that you should stop worshiping them old Roman gods, and now you’re going to catch hell (ha). See you later (NOT!), I’m off to heaven.”

I can’t for the life of me understand how, 50 years ago, I breezed by so many Biblical teachings that would be huge red flags for me today if I were to come across them for the first time. While I had my first serious doubt eleven years out of the womb, I more or less hung in there for a lot more years while doing my best to ignore my instincts in favor of what everyone around me knew to be true. The result is that I eventually lost ALL faith in the wisdom of ANY group or leader because what are leaders but, for the most part, stupid individuals who take group stupidity and multiply it many times over. For instance, some of the cruelest Christians are teenagers who suddenly find that one of their number is (God forbid!) an atheist, but I just know that if you were to set one of these Godly assholes down in Denmark where religion is considered a bad joke, he or she would turn atheist in no time, and how different is it for adults? We’re herd animals, and those who don’t go along, or at least pretend they do, have to pay the price.

I really must thank the Church of Christ, because had I been raised a liberal, who knows but what I would still believe in God, but because the C of C stressed the Bible and only the Bible (I never had a single Sunday School primer), I became disgusted early on. It’s really amazing, this image I grew up with of the most holy sort of Christian as being a wise and kindly old man sitting alone and reading the Word of God. The wonder is that I knew some compassionate people in the Church of Christ, but I have no idea how they retained their compassion. If you want to see a miracle, that would be it. Unfortunately, the miracle doesn’t extend to the Islamic State which is out bull-dozing ruins that survived 3,000 years before their sorry 20-year-old asses came along. Obama says that such evil has nothing to do with religion, yet if the Islamic State were doing good things, I bet he would give religion the credit...I wonder what he would say about the night that he had bin Laden murdered. Was that a Godly decision? I just bet he thinks Jesus told him to do it.

What is it that I DO believe?.

 Eckhart 1260-1328

“Strip yourselves of the images and unite with the formless…” —Meister Eckhart

I never feel that I am—or even could—deny the existence of ultimate reality (that one thing which would explain all other things) but rather the use of the word God as a synonym for ultimate reality. This is because the terms that are used to describe God are problematic. Take the word supernatural, for example. Nearly everyone who believes in God envisions God as either having energy or being energy, yet energy is a natural force, so how can God be supernatural? Yet, what would it mean to say that God is natural? Would it mean that God occupies a certain spot within the universe or simply that—as the pantheists believe—God is synonymous with the universe?

Another way to describe God is to say that God is a spirit. The dictionary defines spirit as a supernatural being, but it defines a supernatural being as a spirit. So it is that, in defining God, one indescribable word is used to define another indescribable word, yet we can only meaningfully affirm the existence of that which we can describe. To view it from the atheist perspective, we can only deny the existence of that which we can describe, as would be the case with a purple schnauzer or a winged kangaroo. So it’s not God that many atheists deny, but rather the claim that the concept of God is meaningful.

Maimonides 1135-1204
Moses Maimonides and others have tried to get around the problem by claiming that one can only speak of God in terms of what God is not. For example, God is not temporal; God is not encased within a body; God is not capable of evil; and so forth. The idea is that any attempt to say what God is represents an attempt to corral the infinite within the intelligence of the finite. For instance, if you say that God knows everything, you can then start checking off a list of what God knows until you reach the end of your knowledge, and are left with “etc.” (God knows how to fry an egg; God knows how pencils are made; God knows how many stars are in the Milky Way…etc.).

It is therefore claimed that the only realistic and respectful way to speak of God is in negatives, yet even this suggests that at least some things can be known about God, but the truth is that any statement we make about God limits God because if God is (or isn’t) one way, then God must necessarily be (or not be) the opposite way. For example, if God can’t do evil, there is at least one thing we can do that God can’t. Then, there is the old speculation about whether God can make a stone too heavy for God to lift. If God can, then God’s strength is limited; but if God can’t, God’s creative ability is limited. So it is that when we try to talk about God, we run into one vagueness or contradiction after another, and this is what I meant when I wrote that it’s not God that atheists deny but the belief that the concept of God is intelligible. Yet, all of Christendom goes on its merry way imaging itself to know all kinds of things about God. But does it do more honor to God to say, as the pope does, that he knows a lot about God or, as atheists do, that all human concepts of God are unintelligible?

As I use it, the term ultimate reality isn’t a substitute for the word God because it lacks consciousness except inasmuch as it is conscious through you, me, my cat, Brewsky, and the squirrel outside the window. All of these things constitute ultimate reality, so if you use the word God as a metaphor for ultimate reality, then you might say that I'm God writing this, you're God reading it, and Brewksy and the squirrel are God watching each other... 

Just as our knowledge of gravity enables us to understand and tie together many seemingly disparate facts, an understanding of ultimate reality would enable us to understand and tie together all facts. It would tell us where the universe—and therefore ourselves—came from and where it is going. My faith consists of believing that such answers exist, and that if my species survives long enough to find them, they will come through rational research. Mine is the same optimism that is implicit in science and metaphoric in liberal religion. As the hymn goes, “Farther along, we’ll know all about it. Farther along, we’ll understand why. Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by.” I think this might be true.

If you worship God, what is it that attracts you to God? If it is your belief that God loves you, how would you feel if you learned that the nearest thing to God is a formula that doesn’t even know you exist? That is how I feel. We humans create God in our own image  so we can look to God for love, meaning, and safety, but also so we can have someone to admire so completely that our admiration becomes worship. If ultimate reality is without consciousness, it can’t give our lives love, meaning, or safety, and we can’t worship it, at least not in the same way we would worship a conscious entity. As for our eventual knowledge of it, my species might never get there, but I’ll most certainly be dead before it does. 

Some people are tied to talk of God because it comforts them; I’m tied to it despite the fact that it brings me no comfort. Perhaps, this means that my religion is more pure; I really don’t know. It must sound strange for me to say this, but I don’t care. This is simply who I am. I ask for no help; I pass no judgment upon myself; and I wouldn’t choose to be in any way different. I consider my life inevitable, and I am content with it. My thoughts and my writing are my reward, and they are a considerable reward. Peggy used to love mountain climbing despite the fact that it made her cold and dizzy and caused her to vomit. She also saw other climbers have terrible accidents, yet she would come home burned and exhausted and talking about rewarding it all was. I am the same way.

I believe that a worthwhile use of religion is to keep us filled with wonder as we reflect upon that which we do not know. Religion too often does the opposite. The Islamic State doesn’t kill people because it humbly admits its ignorance of ultimate reality but because it imagines itself to be on intimate terms with an ultimate reality that is male, violent, and gives harems to martyrs. But not all versions of God are harmful. For example, some religious people are non-dogmatic and practice good works. Others are more selfish, but still innocuous. For example, they thank God for their food (at least occasionally), ask for his help when they’re sick, and imagine that his angels are guarding them while they sleep.

I can’t believe such things, so the best I’ve been able to do since my early teens was to go through the motions of religious ritual. I need this ritual, so I reduce it to metaphor and that enables me to be somewhat at peace with it. When something won’t let go, there’s nothing to do but to surrender to it, but I am clear that what I’m surrendering to isn’t God but to my need that there be a God despite the fact that I consider the existence of such a being impossible. Alongside the objections I’ve already raised, I have an even bigger problem with believing in God, and it is this: even if there could exist an all-good, all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful divine being (aka God), such a being could not exist in conjunction with evil and suffering. Anytime evil is done or a suffering occurs, the concept of a perfect deity is negated. The actions of a perfect God would necessarily result in the existence of a perfect universe.

Bonnie Blue 1997-2013
Those whom, despite it all, can believe in a perfect God remind me of something my heeler, Bonnie Blue, did late one night while she and I sitting in a parked car waiting for Peggy to get off work. When I finally saw Peggy, I said, “Bonnie! Where’s Peggy?” and Bonnie’s intelligent eyes became a study in concentration as she gazed into my own eyes, tilting her head this way and that while considering where to look. To my complete astonishment, she finally jumped down and looked under the seat. I too would like to have faith that the world is so delightfully magical that Peggy might pop out from under car seats, but I can’t and, because I can’t, I wouldn’t wish to because I don’t want to waste time looking for Peggy in shoe boxes. 

Many intelligent people believe things that I consider just as impossible. Why they believe is obvious, but how they believe is incomprehensible. I feel drawn to such people by a shared need, not by a shared belief. By contrast, most atheists don’t appear to experience such needs, so although I am as non-believing as they, I don’t feel that I belong among them. Unfortunately, theists have made it clear that I don’t belong among them either.

Part II
“Jew and Atheist”

The following is from the 1656 expulsion of 23-year-old Baruch Spinoza from his synagogue because of his radical theology and criticisms of the Bible:

“Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in this book, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the covenant, which are written in the Book of the Law…And we hereby warn you that none may communicate with him by word of mouth or writing, nor show him any charity whatsoever, nor stay with him under one roof, nor come into his company, nor read any composition made or written by him.”

Spinoza must have been an exemplar of non-attachment because he was unfazed by his expulsion from family, friends, and community: “…this does not force me to do anything that I would not have done of my own accord had I not been afraid of a scandal.” He refused to teach because he knew it would limit his freedom, and instead made his living as a lens’ grinder, happily passing his life writing philosophy in a small apartment, and dying of silicosis at age 44. Religious people called him an atheist, and scholars ridiculed his geometry-inspired approach to truth. Only romantics praised him because they were inspired by his courage, passion, and devotion to ultimate reality, and I’m a romantic. It’s one thing to love a deity that promises you heaven, but quite another to love an ultimate reality that lacks consciousness except inasmuch as you and I are conscious. Such was Spinoza’s God, and such is my ultimate reality. I just wish I could love it as he did.