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.

28 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

I recently watched "The Theory of Everything," and I'm curious what you think of Stephen Hawking and his recent proclamation that at last he's an atheist. Perhaps you can discuss this in a future post?

Snowbrush said...

"At last" he's an atheist? I thought he had been an atheist for years. His predecessor, Einstein was an agnostic who at times sounded more like an atheist. One one occasion, at least, he equated the word God with the universe (saying,"God doesn't play dice with the universe"), and many theists still use that statement as evidence that he was one of them, although he repeatedly denied it. For example,"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses."

I believe that physics is the branch of science that has the most atheists, and this makes it ironic that so many theists attempt to use quantum physics to prove God.

Elephant's Child said...

I don't believe that any cat (particularly a black cat) ever asked anyone whether they were God. The cat knows that he/she is.
Another thought provoking post Snow. Thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have long been filled with rage. Lately I haven't the strength to maintain it.

PhilipH said...

We have *theists* *atheists* and *don't knows* (agnostics) but perhaps there is another group, the *spiritualist* and I wonder how you'd classify this group?

I'm 99.999% sure you will say this lot are as batty as hell, but is there a difference between a spiritualist and a Christian?

I think Arthur Conan Doyle was a confirmed spiritualist and was buried as one, not as a Christian. He was later re-buried with his wife. By then I doubt if he cared much.

There are many thousands, possibly millions, of people who believe in a *spirit world*, led up the garden path by fraudulent *mediums* or *psychics* (as was Doyle) and I see little difference between these people and devout Christians.

Discuss. (lol)

Linda said...

You still don't know if all those things you saw through the car window were real or your imagination. Were you even awake? Maybe you thought them into existence.

Fram Actual said...

Questions which, in effect, compare organized religions are something I left behind decades ago. I have not been inside a church except for weddings and funerals since I was fourteen. It was part of a bargain I had made with my mother a year earlier when I announced faith was not an element in my life. I am calmer when I think of organized religions as a tiny, man-made segment in the concept of "god," but I see your point and enjoyed thinking about it.

I do appreciate learning of this monk, and probably will read some his work. Discovery and enlightenment might come to me unexpectedly, although at the moment I do not agree with the notion: "There's a place in the soul where you've never been wounded."

As for fairness, I think in context of the words of Will Durant: "For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies." I think this is very evident in the U.S. right now.

Snowbrush said...

“I don't believe that any cat (particularly a black cat) ever asked anyone whether they were God.”

But is the cat the asker or the askee, and if the cat is the asker, he or she could be a Zen Buddhist monk, who spends ten hours a day for three months at a time twice a year, staring at a blank wall and asking the same question. Maybe the question the cat’s working on is, “Are you God?” (I’m reading a book by an atheist-monk who did just as I described in South Korea.)

“I have long been filled with rage. Lately I haven't the strength to maintain it.”

I guess you’ll get your second wind eventually. I always do.

“We have *theists* *atheists* and *don't knows* (agnostics) but perhaps there is another group, the *spiritualist* and I wonder how you'd classify this group?”

It’s not a religion, but since spiritualists believe in a spirit world, surely most of them believe in God. Doyle became a spiritualist, if I remember correctly, after his wife died. I would guess that a lot of spiritualists are like that. You remember Houdini’s debunking efforts, and his promise that, if ghosts were real, he would come back at a certain time and give his wife a certain secret word. He never came back.

“You still don't know if all those things you saw through the car window were real or your imagination.”

Reality didn’t look altered, but I became convinced that I was the cause of it because I couldn’t conceive of anything existing apart from myself. The word f or this is solipsism.

Snowbrush said...

“…when I think of organized religions as a tiny, man-made segment in the concept of “god…”

I should think that religion is all humanmade, but then there’s world of difference between the religious beliefs of Albert Schweitzer and a militant Moslem. I just want to be sure you understand that Eckhart was excommunicated precisely because he didn’t go along with what organized religion was telling him, and that my difficulty with the church comes from the same cause. In Eckhart’s case, he had a single mystical experience, and it inspired his writing for the rest of his life. Thomas Aquinas also had a mystical experience, but his response was to immediately stop writing, because he felt that it would be impossible to communicate the truth he had experienced. I should think that nearly all atheists are rationalists who think poorly of mystical experiences, but I’ve come close enough to such things to take them quite seriously. While I can’t say that they’re true, I can’t say that they’ve delusional either. I read a book by a neuroscientist who had a stroke that all but obliterated her left-brain, and this made her an immediate mystic. So it is that rationality comes from one part of our brain and mysticism from another, and I think it would be a mistake to discount the importance of either.

“I do not agree with the notion: "There's a place in the soul where you've never been wounded.”

It certainly follows from what he believed, and I can but hope it is true. I remember sitting up one night (I slept in a recliner at the time) with a large ice pack on each shoulder and a bellyful of pain pills and sleeping pills. Even with all that, I hurt so much that I thought to myself that there isn’t a place within me that this pain hasn’t taken control of. Whether I was correct, I don’t know because I don’t know that I’ve been to every place that is within me.

“"For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies." I think this is very evident in the U.S. right now.”

I think our nation will carry on the myth that we’re a free country no matter how many of our freedoms we lose. As for Durant’s statement, I agree to a point, but as with Franklin’s statement about those who give up freedom not being worthy of it, it implies that freedom is totally good and an all-or-nothing proposition, whereas if it came down to either complete freedom or totalitarianism, I don’t which would be worse. I think that many of our problems are due to our love of individualism because it leads us to think it’s okay for people to have the “freedom” to do whatever the hell they want without any concern for the welfare of other people, society as a whole, or the environment. I think that an overemphasis on freedom necessarily leads to selfishness, a la Ayn Rand.

kj said...

snow, i agree with your answer to those two questions. perception creates reality, yes? that's the control i have in how i live my life. i know my 'take' on my experience is just my own view.

"Yet, the goal of all religions is to reduce God to an entity that can be defined and controlled."

this sentence i don't understand, or maybe i just don't agree. defined yes, but controlled? it seems like believers might be controlled but who believes that an almighty god could be controlled?

every time i come here i'm reminded in some way of how spiritual i am and how little regard i give to the organized religions of the world. i stress the word organized, because the parts of religion that support tolerance and kindness, those i value.

love
kj

Linda said...

People can co-opt the power of God, the power people obviously do not have, when they try to get god to throw in with them and use his power. Plain and simple--make friends with the big guy on the playground.

Fram Actual said...

A couple more thoughts, Snowbrush:

I have not looked at organized religion from the inside, as your monk did and as you do, since I was a college student, but, rather, have looked at it from an external viewpoint of history and anthropology and philosophy and psychology while searching for a means/system to replace it in my life. My nature is such that when, even as a boy, I disagreed with my church, I did not fight it; I left it to look for something else. In my mind, even then, I knew the answers for me were not to be found in stained glass windows and brick walls, or in miracles.

In a sense, I do not think any organized religion can be "fixed," and I resent it in a sense when those within religions attempt to "modernize" or try superficial "tricks" to regain lost relevance.

As for mystical experiences .... I think I am more like Thomas Aquinas than Meister Eckhart in regard to an event or two in my own life.

As for ultimate reality .... the primary factor is that the mind/brain is at least as great a mystery as is the notion of god which, perhaps, supports the presence of god. I do know from experience that often someone's reality has nothing to do with facts or truth. People lie to themselves as easily as they lie to others -- and, often, have a very receptive audience when lying to themselves.

Snowbrush said...

KJ, I responded to you hurriedly yesterday, and today I can’t even make sense of what I wrote, so I’m going to try again.

“defined yes, but controlled? it seems like believers might be controlled but who believes that an almighty god could be controlled?”

I’m astounded by your comment because everywhere I turn, I see people trying to control God through prayer and other kinds of behavior. Most obviously, people think that they can behave in ways that will persuade God to reward them with an eternity in heaven. After every disaster, prominent preachers claim that God allowed it to happen in order to punish people for disobeying him, and they accompany this by the claim that he will bless those same people if they change their “evil ways.” And Isn’t the whole purpose of intercessory prayer to persuade God to do things? I wrote of prayer chains recently, the assumption behind which is that God is more likely to be persuaded to do something if many people ask than if only one person asks. I’ve also known people who tithed because they believed some Old Testament verse to the effect that God would make them rich as a reward for tithing. I could go on and on and on, but the fact that God is “almighty” means that people have more, rather than less, incentive to control God.

“A couple more thoughts, Snowbrush:”

Oh, joy, my beautiful canine friend returns. I fall in love all over again every time I look at you, and I wonder if I might not have done better than to be shrub, but then I remember that I smell like cinnamon (of course, you have a lovely musky smell), that my leaves glow in the sun like blue chrome, and that I am alive with beautiful flowers in my mountain home where the air is always clear (except for when clouds wash over it) and objects have a crispness that they lack in the flatlands.

“I have not looked at organized religion from the inside, as your monk did and as you do, since I was a college student, but, rather, have looked at it from an external viewpoint of history and anthropology and philosophy and psychology while searching for a means/system to replace it in my life.”

You lost me there because I don’t understand how studying organized religion in such a way would enable you to find something to replace it, especially given that it never held any attraction for you in the first place. That said, I would be especially interested to hear anything you might want to share about how you view it philosophically and psychologically and who influenced your thoughts. As for anthropology, is there any consensus about whether monotheism or polytheism came first?

Snowbrush said...

“I knew the answers for me were not to be found in stained glass windows and brick walls, or in miracles.”

I always wonder why I should defend church people since none of them has ever said a word to defend me, but I will mention that there are many people in liberal churches who don’t believe in miracles, are uncertain about whether there is an afterlife, interpret the god of the Bible metaphorically, and are as turned-off by conservative religion as you and I. About the only way they and I differ is that the persist in saying that they are theists, and that they think very poorly of atheists.

“I do know from experience that often someone's reality has nothing to do with facts or truth.”

If objective truth exists—as you and I think it does—then this is true, and it is just as true of mundane events as of woo-woo experiences. But putting mundane experiences aside, I would never take anyone’s word for any event that (a) sounds fantastic and that (b) I can’t verify through other means. For example, my own wife, Peggy, said she saw a ghost once, and I didn’t believe her, not because I had the least idea that she was lying, but rather because an hallucination seemed a much more probable explanation.

“People lie to themselves as easily as they lie to others -- and, often, have a very receptive audience when lying to themselves.”

Absolutely. I was in co-counseling for a time, and you wouldn’t believe how many co-counselors claimed that they were victims of “ritual abuse” having been raped before altars by whole herds of devil-worshippers, etc.

But I think your point might be that mystical experiences don’t prove anything. This raises the question of whether truth can come from an experience that didn’t literally happen, and if it can come from such an experience, what kind of truth is it? Is it literal truth, psychological truth, poetic or artistic truth, etc.? I, for one, don’t break the world into two parts, truth and falsity, and I have no trouble in believing that truth can come through drugs, dreams, and mystical experiences, all of which are things that lack the factual clarity of a car wreck, but which might enable us to tap into things that would normally be outside of our awareness. I have an atheist friend who says that he has no interest in religion because it’s all a lie, and what good can come from a lie. I regard his attitude as the atheist equivalent of religious fundamentalism.

Sparkling Red said...

I propose that this statement is too sweeping:
"... the goal of all religions is to reduce God to an entity that can be defined and controlled."

Some forms of religion want to simply acknowledge the awe-ful-ness of G/god and achieve a sense of perspective and connection by being humbled by it. That would be the mystical traditions, such as Kabbalistic Judaism, in which the name of G/god may not be fully written and may never be pronounced. To my mind, that's the opposite of trying to define/control/limit G/god. Same goes for Sufism, and there are plenty of other examples.

I guess the atheist version of this experience would be the Total Perspective Vortex as imagined by Douglas Adams. http://hhgproject.org/entries/totalperspectivevortex.html

Snowbrush said...

"I propose that this statement is too sweeping: '... the goal of all religions is to reduce God to an entity that can be defined and controlled.'"

I agree, so I changed it to something that I think you will agree is true: "Yet, it remains that a primary goal of even liberal Christianity is to reduce God to an entity that can be defined and controlled."

More about your comment later.

Snowbrush said...

“Some forms of religion want to simply acknowledge the awe-ful-ness of G/god and achieve a sense of perspective and connection by being humbled by it. That would be the mystical traditions, such as Kabbalistic Judaism, in which the name of G/god may not be fully written and may never be pronounced.”

I know next to nothing about Kabbalistic Judaism, but pantheism and deism would fit. As for the word God not being written or pronounced, I had thought that was Jewish thing rather than something that only applied to Kabbalists. My understanding is that they write the word without the vowels, as in Yhwh.

“Same goes for Sufism, and there are plenty of other examples.:”

I question that there are so many as you think, and I would guess that even those are very small in terms of membership, but you’re right, I overstated my position.

One of the disadvantages of aging is that I accumulate more things to be mad about without knowing how to let them go. Years ago, I enjoyed Sufi dancing. The group was open to everyone and was hosted by a woman who called herself Wahaba Heartsun. I didn’t have a good feeling about Wahaba (the fact that she wasn’t physically clean didn’t help) but no reason to strongly dislike her either. One day another member of the Sufi community invited me to the regular monthly meeting of the community. The presentation that day was entirely about a non-Sufi-related Bach festival. I was seated by Wahaba, and, at the end of the meeting, she told me in a normal voice that I wasn’t welcome there because I wasn’t a Sufi, and that the presence of non-Sufis made her feel unsafe! I responded that Linda (I don’t remember her actual name) had invited me. “Linda” and others were listening to all this, but no one said anything as Wahaba told me that Linda had made a mistake in inviting me, and repeated that I wasn’t welcome. I reflected that this was a problem for the Sufi community to take up rather than something for Wahaba to discomfit a guest about, and the fact that those who overheard Wabaha said nothing either then or later caused me to lose interest in, and respect for, the community. I heard that their large regional gatherings were occasions of love and delight, but it’s usually easy to be loving and delightful around people you don’t know and don’t have to actually have a relationship with, and the fact that Wahaba couldn’t even pull this off with me lowered my opinion of her all the way to the basement. That was 20-years ago, but on the rare occasions that I’m reminded of her, I realize that my opinion is no better today than it was then, not that I ever see her.

Fram Actual said...

Canis lupus, if you please. I think I am answering your questions, Snowbrush. If I am too windy, just nudge me and tell me to sit down and be quiet.

To understand my viewpoint, the first thing to remember is that my experience in and my departure from church/religion occurred through a child's eyes and mind. I was raised Lutheran, and went to church and "Sunday School" with near perfect attendance. I left all of this because I increasingly encountered professed Christians, including clergy, caught up in lies. To me, religion was reduced to a simple assumption that nothing said by these people could be believed.

I have uncles, cousins and schoolmates who were/are ordained ministers. (You wish to toss that into the psychological stew?) I never studied Christianity in a formal manner, but the rather abrupt departure of church in my life when barely a teenager created a void. To fill the void -- to replace religion -- I began reading writers like Bertrand Russell, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friederick Nietzsche. Later, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud became part of the portrait. Who else? Dozens. For a while, I idolized Jean-Paul Sarte. I loved Ivan Turgenev and Fydor Dostoyevsky. I fell into Will and Ariel Durant, and their concept of where philosophy and religion fail, history might offer answers and solutions. Then came Joseph Campbell, sort of history and anthropology in a logical package.

Anyway, this is what I meant by something to replace the church/religion I left as a boy. Make sense? Beyond reading, personal experiences, such as the Marine Corps, seemed to me to be the places to find answers to my unanswered questions. I made two Roman Catholic priests run for the door when debating them (separately) while in college. So long ago.

Understand that much, if not most, of these writers and my experiences literally came decades ago. The computer which is my brain became overloaded long ago. I know what I feel and what I think as a result of what I have read and have done and have been, but I do not always recall what is behind the bends in the river I have been drifting upon (Freud, the river of time travel).

I no longer wish to debate priests or anyone else. I enjoy discussion, speaking and listening, not attempting to convince anyone about anything. We each need to find our own way through the maze we are caught up within, I think.

P.S. I admired your open remarks about your Sufi-Bach experience.

Snowbrush said...

“Canis lupus, if you please.”

Better that than homo sappy or even canis loopy. I’m Ceanothus velutinus (try making fun of that!), and am every bit as lovely in my way as you are in yours, but the photo on my blog doesn’t do me justice.

“I left all of this because I increasingly encountered professed Christians, including clergy, caught up in lies.”

I’m a little surprised that you had such awareness at a young age, and this makes me think that you were either unusually perceptive or the lies were unusually blatant and even public. My own experiences with people were mostly good as a boy and an adolescent, and two preachers even took me with them to distant states on revivals. Even when, at age eleven, I started having problems with the Bible, I spent years assuming that, surely, someone could address my concerns satisfactorily. It is funny that almost everyone who isn’t a Christian looks upon Christians, as a whole, as utter hypocrites, while Christians fondly congratulate themselves as being the most moral and caring people in the world, and even present their imagined goodness as a recommendation for belief in God.

In all your reading, you don’t appear to have read a single mystic or theologian, or to investigate religions other than Christianity, although Schopenhauer sounds much like the Buddha. Of course, Jung and Campbell did write approvingly of at least some religion (I don’t know enough of Turgenev and Dostoyevsky to know how they felt). I don’t mean to be critical here, because I very much respect your reading. I’m just taking your selections to indicate your comparative lack of interest in the subject of religion. Brent, the priest at the Episcopal Church I referred to, was a Marine Corps officer, which I found fascinating. He said there’s a lot of weird religious beliefs in the Corps, by which I think he meant a combination of blood-thirst and Christianity. I’ve read several books by Navy SEALS, and they tend to be that way. If you’re interested in Marine Corps combat in WWII in the Pacific, I would recommend “With the Old Breed” by E.B. Sledge.

“ I made two Roman Catholic priests run for the door”

I don’t know how to take this, but I have observed that preachers are like insurance salesman in that they lose all interest in you once they’re convinced that you’re not going to buy their product. Some, though, make it their business to go about the country debating atheists in front of audiences, so they’re not all so timid as the two you met might have been.

I would very much like for you to join the Freedom from Religion Foundation, because for $40 a year, you will get an excellent monthly newspaper that will give you a thorough understanding of the evil deeds of Christianity in this country. It also describes the battles of some very brave people who stand up against the oppression. I moved from Mississippi to Oregon to get away from the kinds of injustices that I now read about. It never occurs to those who put anti-theists down that, just maybe, anti-theists know a hell of a lot more about the harm done by organized religion than they do. Most months, I read the FFRF newspaper cover-to-cover. You had mentioned maybe reading Eckhart, but I’ve seen nothing about you that makes me think you would enjoy him. On the other hand, I’m almost to the end of “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist” by Stephen Batchelor, and I think it likely that you would enjoy that as it provides the reader with a worldview and experiences that few of us have come anywhere close to, and it’s not at all religious in a proselytizing sense. He is actually more critical than approving of atheists, although he is one.

“I admired your open remarks about your Sufi-Bach experience.”

Thank you. I was a little worried that it would turn people off because I gave Wahaba’s name, but her name fit the experience with such delightful irony that I couldn’t resist.

Fram Actual said...

I am not sure how to respond to your thoughts about my experiences as a child recognizing lies told by adults, Snowbrush. I think much of it came simply from overhearing adults lie to one another about each other, and some lies told to me directly. Adults frequently underestimate children in more ways than one. I need to think about this more.

You are right, no thoughts/books by mystics or theologians, at least none which come to mind. Any mysticism in my thoughts stems from Native American beliefs and myths -- and my own experiences. As for religions other than Christianity, no, nothing in depth, I guess. I did take a pair of college survey courses about world religions so I would have a basic grasp of them, and that was about it. I think it might be that religion, per se, never became part of reality for me. It never was a question of saving my soul.

My search always has been a matter of finding logic and reason to life and to my own existence, and organized religion largely is without logic and reason. Religion is a sanctuary from reality, and I want to know reality to its fullest -- to know why things and people are the way they are -- not to be sheltered or protected or saved. I always have walked the line between John Milton's, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." (That sort of is a typical Marine Corps mantra, by the way.)

Speaking of the Marine Corps, I have read Eugene Sledge's book and a few hundred others, both historical accounts and personal memoirs, about the Marine Corps in World War II -- and, in other wars, as well. I have known more than a few among the "Old Breed," and interviewed a couple in detail. I consider the World War II-era Marines the fortunate ones.

My two priests were these: An elderly man, in fact, retired in a sense, and who ran for the door like the insurance salesman soon after sensing he had no chance with me; and a young man, actually only recently ordained, who became so frustrated during our debate he actually shouted loudly in the midst of several people that he was uncertain god existed, that god was real. (It was a hell of a moment.) He and I became friends, but never discussed religion after that particular day.

There probably were some who felt uncomfortable reading your Sufi-Bach piece, but I appreciate stories told from beginning to end without interference by or from political correctness.

I am not sure I am looking for anything more to read at the moment, but I will think about your recommendations. I also think I will shovel the newly-fallen snow from the driveway before I sleep tonight. Nature rules ....

Snowbrush said...

“My search always has been a matter of finding logic and reason to life and to my own existence”

Does this mean that, although you’ve read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, they had little influence in your life? I ask this because they’re known as Irrationalists in that, when it comes to making us the people we are, they consider logic and reason as veneers rather than realities (this in opposition to earlier philosophers who held that “the rational is the real”), and I would agree with them. If there is reason to whom we are, I don’t think we’re capable of knowing it. You might have come across studies that show that we make decisions on an unconscious level before our conscious brains are even aware of them. I’m not putting down logic and reason as tools, but can I truly say that logic and reason made me an atheist? I don’t know. My guess is that who we are is as predetermined as the actions of a wind-up toy, but even if this isn’t true, I would regard any attempt on my behalf to use logic and reason as guides rather than very limited tools as a detriment because I really do find them shallow and believe that they obscure rather than enlighten. As Hume put it, “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

“"Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

I’m no leader, and no one would follow me if I tried, so I’m stuck with heaven, although I would have issues there too. As for the Marine Corps, I know from my Navy SEAL reading that some of those fellows, at least, ridicule Marines as being people who are so obedient that they would charge a machine gun nest singlehandedly with a bayonet across a wide, open field if told to do so. Of course, I’m sure there’s prejudice both ways, so I don’t know what’s true; I just know that I think of obedience as being a greater virtue in the Marines than in most of the military, so I assume that they take Milton’s words in a group sense rather than an individual one.

Snowbrush said...

“I consider the World War II-era Marines the fortunate ones.”

For much of my life (and although I purposely avoided Vietnam), I envied men who had seen combat because my definition of being a man was so tied to battle. Now, I regard that feeling as the result of having unknowingly embraced the sickness of my society. I see combat as a tragedy for all concerned, and war as something that my country embraces entirely too readily and with an appalling waste of resources combined with an almost complete disregard for the welfare of its young men. We extol them as the “best of the best,” yet the children of those who send them into battle almost never choose the military for themselves (WWII was an exception to this). In essence, we use people as cannon fodder for causes that are idiotic. When I see old men crying because of the horrors they saw when they were young, and hear their wives talk about how, even today, they’re tormented by nightmares, I am struck by the contrast between that and all the flag-waving, war movies, martial music, and so forth.

I wish I could remember the name of a book I read that examined what made the Marines the Marines. I recall from it that the Corps used PR brilliantly to attract recruits during the WWII era (my uncle was an island-hopper) when the Corps was little known and not well respected. Much of my problem with the military is the same problem I’ve had with holding a job, which is that although I’m not a leader, I’m a damned poor follower.

“he actually shouted loudly in the midst of several people that he was uncertain god existed, that god was real.”

The FFRF has a confidential support group for such people. Members of clergy are in a hell of a fix when they lose their faith because their livelihoods are connected to maintaining it, and their education doesn’t prepare them for other jobs. Then too, they might very well lose their friends and families if they announce that they don’t believe. I wouldn’t even be surprised but what some people become members of the clergy because they don’t believe. I joined the Catholic Church for that very reason, it being one of four that I’ve belonged to. My problem is that the Unitarian Church is the only one that accepts atheists with open arms, but that I find it too boring for words.

“There probably were some who felt uncomfortable reading your Sufi-Bach piece, but I appreciate stories told from beginning to end without interference by or from political correctness.”

I don’t know how I was politically incorrect unless it was by giving Wahaba’s name. As for the Sufis, perhaps you know that, in the Middle East, they’re a part of the Moslem religion, but that the ones in America (the ones I’ve known anyway) who grew up Christian or non-affiliated tend to be very liberal and don’t really think of themselves as Moslem, and would surely be stoned or beheaded rather speedily in a nation in which Moslems run things. I would guess that the current hatred of Moslems in this country would have hurt their membership quite a lot. Did you hear about the NY school in which the shit hit the fan when, with school approval, a girl said the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic? She was verbally abused, and the school quickly apologized for having let her do it (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/school-divided-reading-pledge-allegiance-arabic-article-1.2154933). To hate the Arabic language that way certainly doesn’t make things look good for the Islamic religion.

Snowbrush said...

Here's a link about decision occurring prior to people's awareness of having made a decision: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/4396

Fram Actual said...

At this point in my life, I no longer keep track of who or what has influenced me the most -- which thoughts and concepts have come and gone, and which have stayed. Most of what I have cited, as I mentioned previously, I read decades ago, beginning when I was a teenager. When I cut and slice a number of meats and vegetables, select a few spices and who knows what else, and toss all these things into the stew pot, I am no longer concerned so much with the individual ingredients, but with the product as a whole -- as an entity onto itself .... as I am.

So it is with philosophers and historians and anyone else whose book or books I may have read. People like Bertrand Russell had a great deal of influence on me when I was in high school; people like Arthur Schopenhauer were among my favorites when I was looking for priests or anyone else to argue with about religion; people like Lewis "Chesty" Puller probably had as much influence on me as did either Russell or Schopenhauer, although he was not studied in the same manner or for the same reasons. Often, too, the biographies of individuals have as much influence on me as do their own written words. And, if I read Russell or Schopenhauer today, their impact and relevance theoretically would not be the same now as it was when I was a school boy because their beliefs are frozen in time and my life experience is forever roaming and expanding.

So, do not ask me to analyze myself in terms of which piece of the pie is of greater influence in the formation of my persona. My purpose is not to promote the beliefs or theories of anyone other than myself.

I am not certain what to say about the Marine Corps. I would note, though, that leadership is the cornerstone of training. If the leader goes down, the next man in the chain of command takes over, right down the line. And, he must be equipped emotionally and in terms of knowledge to handle the task of leadership. Operations are conducted in teams. Everyone is trained in three or four "skill sets" beyond their own specialty. Every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman, ready for a fight, anywhere, anytime. There is a subset of the Corps known as Force Recon. Members of this group have just as much as and near-identical training to any sailor who is a SEAL.

In terms of war, there obviously are necessary ones and others which should never have been fought. Personally, I think most old men cry simply because most old men cry -- mostly over lost youth. "O Death in Life, the days that are no more!" as Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote. I also think most of the horrors most veterans "remember" are more in their imaginations than ever were real. I am not trying to be overly sarcastic, but while virtually thousands had experiences such as Eugene Sledge describes, the combat experience of the vast majority was like the combat experience of Al Gore: One day, he got close enough to combat to think he heard artillery fire in the distance.

The only Sufi I personally have met lived in Warsaw, Poland. They were friends of a friend, and the subject of religion did not arise.

You are much more prolific than am I, Snowbrush. This will have to do it for me this evening. I do enjoy reading what you write.

Snowbrush said...

“I no longer keep track of who or what has influenced me the most”

Also, what does it mean to say one has “read” Schopenhauer or Nietzsche? It’s just that few of us read very much by people whom we disagree with (Of late, I’ve tried several times to read a little of “Reasons to Believe” by Richard Purtill, but I can never make my way all the way through such books, so if I should be browsing the library again and run across it, I will probably frown at the unhappy memory of having tried to read yet another Christian apologist who wrote in endless tedium about trivia and glossed over important problems), so I assumed that you agreed with them on more things than not, at least when you read them, yet you extol reason and logic whereas they regarded these things as superficial. Unlike you, it appears, I also find that I return periodically to writers I enjoy. What, if anything, do you currently like to read? Also, be clear that when I ask questions that appear challenging, my motive is to understand rather than to argue.

“Lewis "Chesty" Puller probably had as much influence on me as did either Russell or Schopenhauer”

I haven’t read him, but I looked him up just now and found, for those who don’t know, that he was a highly decorated Marine who saw a lot of battles, yet managed to die old.

“I think most old men cry simply because most old men cry”

Old men do cry more easily. I’m not sure why, but I see it as a newly found ability (an unchosen one, to be sure) to allow into their lives feelings that they once denied themselves—and to better see the futility of war, in this case. 
Small boys are openly sensitive; men are not; old men are. At least that’s now it often goes, and I would prefer either the first or the last state to the middle one. I have always cried rather easily (though I hid it) but, if anything, at age 66, I cry less. Of course, I take a great many drugs that could account for this. I must say that you surprise me by appearing to discount the lingering effects of battle, yet those who have seen it are invariably worse off than those who haven’t. It’s a trial by fire, of course, but life itself is enough of trial without having to go through hell, and come out of it emotionally damaged rather than strengthened. What strikes me about my country is that we go to war as if it’s no big deal (as you wrote about McCain, “He never sees a war that he doesn’t like.”) We boast that we’re a peace-loving nation, yet I doubt that there have been five years since I was born that we weren’t involved in some military action somewhere in the world.

Snowbrush said...

“Eugene Sledge describes, the combat experience of the vast majority was like the combat experience of Al Gore: One day, he got close enough to combat to think he heard artillery fire in the distance.”

Which was closer than Bush, Jr, of course! I don’t remember the statistics, but even in WWII most people in the military were in support positions—and were probably glad for it too. I want you to understand that I didn’t mean to insult the Marine Corps. Of the things in life that I’ve shed tears about, the one thing that most of them were shed about was WWII while watching documentaries about it (I’ve seen every one that I’ve ever come across), and I have the greatest respect for what those guys did. War brings out the best and the worst in people, and it’s the best that has so often made me cry. If you’re interested in the European air warfare, I would strongly recommend “My two wars” by Moritz Thomsen. The well-known liberal, Howard Zinn, also wrote of his experiences in B-17s, but I prefer Thomsen.

Speaking of people in support positions, my father was in the Merchant Marines during WWII, and survived two sinkings by u-boats (he was badly scalded in one of them, and floated around for a few days following the other). When he was in his eighties, WWII Merchant Mariners were awarded military recognition, which I got for my father.

“You are much more prolific than am I, Snowbrush.”

I don’t have a job to go to, and I rarely socialize, so what I’m doing now constitutes the major part of my social life, so I indulge myself when someone (or something) interests me, as you surely do.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I don't think there is any part of me that has never been wounded... it's a nice thought though!

Sparkling Red said...

Wahaba Heartsun? *eyeroll* Yeah, I've met a few people who fall into that general category, i.e. they put on an act of spiritual superiority when in fact they're just posers. (A stinky poser in her case. Yuck!)

Not having been Bat Mitzvahed, I am not in a good position to advise you on the overall position of Judaism with regards to referring to God. All I know is that none of my relatives has ever made a big deal about it one way or another.