DELANY DEAN, JD, PhD

delanydean.com

KC Mindfulness

crimlawdoc@gmail.com

I have a life-long interest in religion. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, but felt drawn to the Roman Catholic Church from an early age. I formally entered the Catholic Church in the 1980’s. I first got interested in Buddhism back in the 1970’s, when my high school English teacher (and a wonderful mentor to me) gave me a book about Zen. I did not begin any sort of formal Buddhist or meditation practice until about 10 years ago, when I became a member of the Kansas Zen Center, in Lawrence, Kansas. By that time, I had also made the professional transition from law to psychology; in my doctoral program, I was trained in the scientist-practitioner model, and thoroughly grounded in scientific research methods. It has been an interesting endeavor, balancing spiritual practice and inquiry with a skeptical mind, trained in critical, scientific ways of thinking.

At this point in my life, I retain a strong interest in religion and all of its amazing and varied manifestations. I am also fascinated by the current cultural phenomenon of a newly emerging evangelical atheism, which is sometimes found in scientists (especially those who are irritated, even infuriated, by fundamentalist Christians).

In this page I have collected some of my blog entries in the areas of: Catholicism, Buddhism, Scientology, Atheism, Meaning, and the ever-useful “Miscellaneous” category.

1. TOPICS IN CATHOLICISM

MORE VATICAN FOLLIES: BAPTISM!

I recently saw (yet) another bizarre announcement has come from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Some fellows (yes, they are all male in that hierarchy, which is another aspect of this bizarreness) have gotten their knickers twisted up because of an “irregular” formula sometimes used in baptisms. The “regular” and official way to baptize someone requires that the baptizer utter the words “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And that is the way it is almost always done. However, some ministers (including a few Catholic priests) have decided that it would be good to use gender-neutral terms for the persons of the Holy Trinity, and they do so by saying something such as: “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.” Same thing, one would think, yes? Is not the “Creator” the same entity that Catholics also know as the “Father”? And is not the Son of the Father, in Catholic theology, identical with the Catholic “redeemer”? And so on. The answer, I believe, is “yes, indeed.” However, it appears that this will not fly, by Vatican standards. Any baptism that uses the gender-neutral words for the Trinity is… INVALID. It is now being declared that persons baptized in that manner were in fact NEVER BAPTIZED, and that any subsequent sacraments received or underwent by them (communion, penance, marriage, ordination, whatever…) are also INVALID. Anyone who knows that s/he was “baptized” with the improper, gender-neutral words, must start all over again and (the print article suggests) must even undergo new instruction in the faith in order to properly be prepared for real baptism, and any subsequent sacraments.

This, of course, is insane. In the print version of the NCR article, Msgr. Antonio Miralles is quoted as saying that “the church has no authority ‘to change that which Christ himself instituted’ when he told his disciples to go out and baptize ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” Now, this is (part of) what I call the “insanity.” I admit that I tend to be a bit harsh with fundamentalists. Maybe a better term would be “inanity.” But it is the very height of childish fundamentalism for a person (a professor at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University, no less) to believe and teach that there was an occasion during which the person named Jesus actually issued orders to his disciples that they must perform baptisms using these specific words: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” If you know anything about the development of scripture, if you know anything about church history, if you know anything about the actual life and actions and words of Jesus (so far as they can reasonably be gleaned from the evidence, including scripture and the entire historical records of the time and place during and in which Jesus lived and ministered), then you can be quite sure that it did not happen exactly that way. And if you know anything about the (exclusively male) hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, you know that the real reason behind this proclamation is to stamp out the use of gender-neutral language in order to re-assert and re-emphasize male dominance, male primacy, and the (insane, or inane) idea that God has a gender, and that gender is male.

I will save for another time the larger question about the magical thinking involved in this whole way of looking at sacraments and their efficacy. Suffice it to say that there are many, many (adult) Catholics who have been taught (and who believe) at such a child-like level that, for them, to be told that their baptism might be null and void would be terribly frightening. Which is, I believe, another reason the hierarchy wishes to be so draconian in this regard. In so doing, they are, of course, engaged in what is one of the most serious sins within Catholic teaching: scandalizing and frightening the most vulnerable ones.

CHURCH DOCTRINE: FIRST, IT HAS TO WANT TO CHANGE!

A comment posted on my blog entry about baptism (using gender-neutral language) has me thinking about a larger and (to me, at least!) very interesting aspect of this whole controversy. And that is this: is it not fascinating to see people in positions of power humbly proclaiming that they are powerless to change things that they very much do not WANT to change? This is, of course, very much a “whose ox is getting gored?” issue. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is exclusively male, and they want very much to keep it that way; what better way to make sure it stays that way, than to proclaim that they are without power to change it? Could it be more obvious?

The Roman Catholic Church has changed dogma, doctrine, liturgy, and many practices throughout the centuries, and rightly so (one of my favorite graduate courses at the Loyola Institute for Ministry was in Church History: what an eye-opener!). The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, for example, was certainly not a part of the understanding of the earliest Church (making it exceedingly unlikely that Jesus actually ordered his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”). The Church changes her teachings for many reasons, one of which would be to respond to developmental changes in human knowledge and understanding, such as advances in scientific knowledge (astronomy, psychology, medicine). And then, having acknowledged and assimilated a new understanding, and the new teaching that emerges from it, the Church formally proclaims her new “truth,” usually with the (highly amusing) prefatory language: “As it has always and everywhere been taught… “

It’s enough to make your head spin, if you think about it too much…

p.s.: Another comment made on my blog by a very orthodox Catholic man reveals that he believes that Church doctrine is “set in stone,” and never changes… He also gives helpful (but misspelled) reference to a recent Vatican document that explains the role of women in today’s world! What a relief, to know that the guys in the Vatican have THAT all figured out (and how gracious of them to explain it to us, the pesky women, who become so easily confused)!

Joe Feuer Castigates the Catholic Bishops

Recently there was an excellent piece in the Washington Post by Joe Feuer, expressing the views and the dismay of many mainstream U.S. Catholics about the increasingly draconian announcements being made by their bishops. Catholics are increasingly being told that (a) the question of abortion is the most significant moral question currently being debated in American politics; and (b) a Catholic who votes for a candidate who does not oppose abortion (regardless of the other positions the candidate takes; and regardless of the moral and spiritual reasoning the voter has engaged in to reach his or her decision) risks his or her “salvation.” This is yet another step taken in what appears to be a determined march by the Catholic hierarchy to drive itself into utter irrelevance, soon to be followed by extinction. Joe’s response, and the response of many other educated, thoughtful, and compassionate Catholics, tells us that the bishops are living in a dream world, a world in which bishops and priests remain fully capable of commanding obedience by manipulating the most deeply held fears and hopes of their people. In this time and culture, that world is fading fast.

Here are excerpts from Joe Feuer’s piece:

“· Like most Maryland Democrats, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama in the recent Potomac Primary. By doing so, according to the leaders of my church, I put my soul at risk. That’s right, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you’re probably punching your ticket to Hell.

“· Now the [U.S. Catholic] bishops have raised the stakes: “It is important to be clear,” the bishops said in a 44-page statement titled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” “that the political choices faced by citizens [emphasis added] not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation.”

“· To Catholics like me who oppose liberal abortion laws but also think that other issues — war or peace, health care, just wages, immigration, affordable housing, torture — actually matter, the idea that abortion trumps everything, all the time, no matter what, is both bad religion and bad civics.

“· [For the U.S. Catholic bishops], war, peace and economic injustice have become largely afterthoughts. Bishop Michael Sheridan spoke for many of his peers when he wrote in a pastoral letter that the “right to life” is an “issue that trumps all other issues.”

“· As to the death penalty, immigration, the war in Iraq, health care and other social justice issues, these fall into the realm of “prudential judgment” — areas where Catholics of goodwill, say the bishops, can disagree. This, naturally enough, provides convenient cover for Catholic candidates who support the war, think the death penalty should be expanded, would leave millions uninsured and oppose immigration reform.

“· So what’s a pro-life, pro-family, antiwar, pro-immigrant, pro-economic-justice Catholic like me supposed to do in November? That’s an easy one. True to my faith, I’ll vote for the candidate who offers the best hope of ending an unjust war, who promotes human dignity through universal health care and immigration reform, and whose policies strengthen families and provide alternatives to those in desperate situations. Sounds like I’ll be voting for the Democrat — and the bishops be damned.”

One person posted a disapproving comment on my blog, indicating that he was especially scandalized that I approvingly quoted an article that ended with the words: “the bishops be damned.” Strong stuff, indeed.

Or… maybe not.

In a way, this business of damnation versus salvation was the entire point of my post. The issue that Joe Feuer was writing about arose out of the fact that the US Catholic bishops have ventured to declare that, for voters, only one moral issue (abortion) is really pertinent, and it is so terribly pertinent that, if you vote for a candidate who does not pass muster on that issue, you are (or may be) risking your “eternal salvation.” In other words, you may be “damned,” and forever so.

Now I must admit that (despite strenuous efforts by professors and priests and sisters and bishops and spiritual directors and the authors of spiritual and scholarly books, and I have availed myself of all of them), I do not know what this business of salvation means, nor damnation. I do know (or at least strongly believe) what it cannot mean: It cannot mean that, upon the death of each human being, that person will continue to exist either in bliss or in torment, depending on how closely s/he has believed and followed the doctrines and dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

The appallingly primitive and obviously unjust nature of such a caricature of the meaning of human life, death, and morality is striking. Such a concept could find a home only within a childish mind, the mind of one who is so in need of structure and reassurance as to be unable to think for himself or herself. And many humans do exist in such a childish state, some of them out of ignorance, some out of fear, and some because they simply have not matured sufficiently to leave such concepts behind.

Human beings exist in a world of suffering mingled with joy, a world plagued by complex moral dilemmas. We face a variety of evils on a daily basis, most of them arising from within our own hearts. If there be any salvation, of any sort, surely it must arise out of an approach to life that is based not on the rigid formulation and enforcement of rules of conduct (and hierarchies thereof), but rather out of compassion and clarity; from all that I have studied about these matters, such was the approach that was taught (and lived out) by Jesus, and by the Buddha. [And it continues to be taught, and lived out, by many holy individuals both within and outside the Catholic Church… these people are not necessarily bishops, of course.]

And so I cannot get overly exercised by the idea that Joe Feuer said a bad thing when he said, “the bishops be damned.” I think he was making the point that neither the bishops, nor he, nor anybody else can truthfully or authoritatively declare that we are either “saved” or “damned.” To offer threats of eternal damnation was (maybe) at one time thought to be an effective method for the church to use to keep people under control. At one time, the Catholic laity attributed great wisdom, holiness, and moral authority to their bishops (solely because they were bishops), so that their threats and promises were highly effective. That day is gone, for most lay Catholics, and it is time for it to be gone.

MY OPEN LETTER TO THE POPE

An article in the NYT reported that the Pope has (as was expected) approved widespread use of the Latin Mass. “What could be wrong with that?” he disingenuously inquires…

Well, Holy Father, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that. The Latin Mass is not just an alternative liturgy, not just a beautiful antiquity. It’s a powerful symbol, as is obvious when we see the very strong emotions on both sides of the issue. In fact, the Latin Mass is a lot like the Confederate flag.

People who display the Confederate flag say that they do so in all innocence, and without any thought of racial prejudice or hatred. They say that they display that flag because of their love for their Southern heritage (although you see it a lot on trucks with license plates from places far from the South), or some such fuzzy and benign-sounding proclamation. “What could be wrong with that?” they inquire…

What’s wrong with that is that the Confederate flag is overwhelmingly experienced today as a symbol of slavery. To display the Confederate flag is to proclaim a message that is neither fuzzy nor benign, but rather to say that slavery was just fine; that it was OK to brutally kidnap, enslave, and rape human beings. That flag asserts a yearning for a dreamed-of time (have you read or seen Gone With the Wind, anyone?) when white people ruled, and black people were property. You cannot escape the message of the Confederate flag by insisting that your desire to display the flag arises only out of the purest of motives.

The Latin Mass, too, is a powerful symbol. The message that is proclaimed in places where the Latin Mass is celebrated is that Vatican II was a mistake; that laypeople are inherently inferior to the ordained, and should be content to have their lives explained to them by Father; that the Catholic faith is the One True Religion, and all other Christian denominations and religions are roads to hell; and even that women are inferior to men (yes, it’s a package deal, y’all). Like the Confederate flag, the Latin Mass asserts a nostalgia for a dreamed-of bygone era that (some believe) was simple, and stable, in which everyone knew their places, and everyone was happy. Not at all like these unruly times, today, when laypeople and theologians assert the primacy of conscience, and the primacy of truth; when laypeople no longer think that Father’s every word is the final truth on any subject; and when women have the audacity to suggest they might be called to the priesthood.

The problem, Holy Father, is that you can’t go back to that time; that time was neither simple, nor happy. And you’re too smart a man to be claiming that all you are really doing in supporting the Latin Mass is to provide a beautiful liturgy to people who want it. You cannot escape the message that you are proclaiming by denying that it is really your intent to deliver that message.

Here’s a report on an interesting real-life experiment in running two fundamentally different liturgies in one parish building (from National Catholic Reporter): By MELISSA MUSICK NUSSBAUM

My New England-raised daughter-in-law remembers the day she broke the language code of my Southern family. “You can say anything to anyone,” she marveled, “however outlandish, or even cruel, as long as you preface it with the phrase, ‘Bless your/her/his heart.’” And then she gave an example: “Well, bless her heart, she looks as big as a barn in those jeans.”

On July 7, Pope Benedict XVI should have begun his letter to the universal church, “Well, bless your heart,” given what follows. He writes that the 1962 Roman Missal of John XXIII and the 1970 Roman Missal of Paul VI should stand side by side as “two expressions of the law of prayer (lex orandi) of the church.” And, here comes the “anything to anyone” part: He argues that these two expressions “in no way lead to a division of the law of prayer of the church, for they are two uses of the one Roman Rite.”
I don’t know if Pope Benedict has ever been part of a parish where the two rites have shared one space, but I have. Before it had its own building, our local Tridentine Rite community accepted an invitation to worship in our cathedral.

I remember the hope with which we entered into this arrangement. We shared Benedict’s expectation of living out “two uses of the one Roman Rite,” but we moved from division to division. For example, Ecclesia Dei kept a calendar and a lectionary separate from ours. Or, from their members’ perspective, we kept the separate calendar and lectionary.

Forget which side has it right and simply imagine a family in which four members celebrate Dad’s birthday in one month and five celebrate it in another, both groups insisting theirs is the proper, indeed, only, day on which the observance must be held. There will be more kitchen and dining room time, for sure, but none of it shared.

Imagine a family in which one set of ancestors’ stories is told, but only by the five in the separate birthday group. All that time our forebears spent in Israel? One group tells the story over and over. The other doesn’t think it has all that much to do with who we are now. Don’t think about this example in terms of church but in terms of any family you know and answer honestly whether this would lead to deeper union or deeper division.

Then imagine that one of the family groups believes any woman entering her father’s house without a head covering is showing grave disrespect to him. How peacefully do you think she will dwell there with her bareheaded sister? Not very, I should think, based both on my experiences as part of a family and as part of a parish where we tried Benedict’s experiment.

As for the Ecclesia Dei members who shared our space but not our bulletin, our confessors, our Sunday morning classes, our attempts at conversation or our hymnal? They wouldn’t even share our coffee and doughnuts — a universal law of Roman Catholic parish life if ever there was — but maintained a separate coffee cart, clearly marked “Ecclesia Dei” and, here’s my favorite part, kept it chained and locked. OK, so maybe some Novus Ordo type was stealing the Creamora. Big deal, you say. But when it came to the structural remodeling and restoration of our old building, we learned how deep and real the divisions are. We learned that the space itself was at issue.

In Article One of his letter, Benedict writes, “The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is to be regarded as the ordinary expression of the law of prayer (lex orandi) of the Catholic church of Latin Rite, while the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and published again by Blessed John XXIII as the extraordinary expression of the law of prayer.”

With the Novus Ordo as the ordinary expression of the law of prayer, we set out to shape a building hospitable to the rite. The Ecclesia Dei community was vocal in its insistence that the church be made hospitable, or at least, more so, to the 1962 Roman Rite. Why? Well, as we discovered in the open meetings we held at the beginning of the process, the 1962 party did not acknowledge “two uses of one Roman Rite.” It acknowledged two uses of one Roman Rite, one false and one true. A church in which the tabernacle is not on the altar is not an expression of one use of one Roman Rite, but a misuse of the one Roman Rite. As is an altar that suggests a table, or seating for the assembly that reveals the gathered faithful to be a sign of the body of Christ in our midst. It is not one use of one Roman Rite, community members told us, for the baptized — who everywhere care for the body of Christ — to receive the body of Christ in their hands. It is a misuse.

Will parishes need two altars under this letter? Two tabernacles, one on the altar and one in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel? If Pope Benedict would like to hear more about our experiences, I’d be happy to talk with him. I know just how I’d begin the conversation. I’d pick up the phone and say, “Well, bless your heart.”

Melissa Musick Nussbaum lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. She writes a monthly column in Celebration, NCR’s sister publication.
National Catholic Reporter, July 20, 2007

2. TOPICS IN BUDDHISM

BUDDHISM: RELIGION? DOGMA?

On Definitions, and Reality (?)

Buddhist monk Geshe Konchog Wangdu reads Mahayana sutras from an old woodblock copy of the Tibetan Kanjur.Image via WikipediaRachel has a page on her blog (click here) called “Buddhism Is a Religion.” She concludes her page by saying: “Clearly, Buddhism has all the elements of a religion… Buddhism contains the same fallacies of other religions and at the right time, it is just as dangerous as other religions.” I talked a bit about part of my conversation with Rachel in an earlier post (here). But the conversation continued after that, and I am still thinking about some of what we discussed. So, at the risk of a bit of re-hashing and repetition, I am writing again about all this, today.

To begin with, I was curious about what Rachel considered the necessary (and sufficient) “elements” of a “religion,” and in what way Buddhism (broadly speaking; there are a LOT of subtypes, with different ideas about cosmology, “gods,” bodhisattvas, hell realms, etc.) necessarily meets the elements of her definition of “religion.” For example, is “dogmatism,” or a required belief in something that cannot be established, a defining characteristic of “religion”? Certainly, within the Christian religion, dogma is a chief feature. Christianity (along with some other religions) has a very unfortunate history of trying to force its dogmatic beliefs onto others… [And this is still going on, we are learning, within the U.S. military forces (see this article).]

But, might it not be true that, within every worldview, some dogmatism can be found? For some scientists, especially among those who describe themselves as atheists, it appears that reductionistic materialism occupies the function of a dogma; and scientists who are not convinced that reductionistic materialism can ever fully describe some phenomena (consciousness, for example) are often told that they are not truly “scientists.” And some atheists proclaim a dogmatic belief that there is no entity that can accurately be described as “God,” or an intelligent creator of the universe.

I have studied Buddhism quite a bit, and I quite sure that not all Buddhists have a set of dogmas (necessary but un-provable “beliefs”) about, for example, “divine” figures or “gods.” But, certainly, a person would not accurately be described as a Buddhist if s/he did not agree that the core teachings are sound. The same, of course, is true within many disciplines; if a psychotherapist comes to the conclusion that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is not effective for the alleviation of cognitive/emotional/behavioral problems, then that person could not accurately be described as a “cognitive-behavioral therapist.” But that really doesn’t make CBT a “religion,” does it? Whether or not CBT is helpful is an empirical question, and I think the same is true of the core teachings (or principles) of Buddhism. And that is something that makes Buddhism attractive to me.

Can Buddhist principles truly be “empirically tested”? Buddhism claims, and has claimed for a very long time, that it opens itself up to experiential (or phenomenological) verification. But some would point out that this type of verification does not involve what we like to think of as “hard” empirical data… “hard” being a reference to measuring sticks, and material “stuff” that can be “objectively” measured or weighed. I am a psychologist, so I occupy a sort of middle realm of measurement, in which we find ways to measure such (perhaps “softer”) constructs as: depression; attentional capacity; anxiety… that sort of “stuff.” And I believe that science itself has demonstrated that we are just a bit naive as to what we think of as “matter,” perhaps not so far advanced as we might like to think… We actually seem to resemble the pre-Socratic Greek fellows who were debating much the same questions that we are, today: What is the ultimate nature of reality? Is it stuff… or is it mind? And, if it is “stuff,” then… What is “stuff”?

Rachel mentioned various Buddhist ideas: e.g., reincarnation, and karma, and the “wheel of samsara,” (which of course is not a wooden wheel somewhere in a particular place, like maybe an old ferris wheel in Ohio); but, in my experience, these ideas are understood at various levels, and in various ways, by Buddhists. For some Buddhists, reincarnation is thought of in very literal, physical, materialistic terms. For others, not so much so. And the same is true within Christianity: some think of the “resurrection” of Jesus very literally (something that could have been videotaped)… others, not so. And psychologists would say that the capacity to understand such beliefs in metaphorical (non-literal) ways is a developmental achievement… one that not everyone achieves.

What is a “religion”? Appealing to a powerful deity, and requiring belief in unprove-able dogma(s) might be considered “core” characteristics of a religion. Another core characteristic I would like to add would be that religions generally tend to meet (more or less!) the human need (or desire, if you prefer) for meaning, for community, for a basis for morality, and (for some people, and in some religions) for a sense that there is something larger than humanity that “cares about” humanity. So, I think that you might say that Buddhism functions as a “religion” for many people, even if you strip away the requirements of belief in a “powerful deity,” and “dogma.”

Can a person be a “real” Buddhist if s/he does not believe in the “historical Buddha,” or reincarnation (for example)? Can a person be a “real” Catholic if s/he does not believe that “artificial birth control” is sinful… or if s/he does not believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary ascended bodily into “heaven”? We would have to say that it depends on whose definition you accept!

The fundamentalist right-wing “traditionalist” Catholics enjoy telling the more liberal, Vatican II-type Catholics that they are not REALLY Catholic; and the same sort of thing goes on in many religions, world views, academic disciplines, etc. Certainly it happened within psychoanalysis, with a vengeance. We humans are strongly driven to the creation of groups, from which we can then exclude others! Happily, Buddhists (especially in the West!) are not usually so dogmatic and parochial; I cannot imagine being chastised, in Buddhist circles, for expressing doubt as to any of the Buddhist teachings. “Doubt” might be considered a “hindrance,” but it is not a grounds for being judged un-orthodox. And, even in the Catholic Church, which is MUCH more monolithic and authoritarian than (I think) any branch of Buddhism, you will find a host of variation in the private reality of individual “beliefs” … (and I truly doubt that there are very many who would pass an orthodoxy exam, using a polygraph…)

And, as to the “Is It A Religion, Or Not” question? The bottom line is: I am not optimistic about trying to define the “essential elements” of “religion.” Not all constructs or entities lend themselves to this kind of definition, even though we might strenuously attempt to force them to do so. And, even lacking any single required essential element, they do not then disappear, as if they were not “real”! A good example, with which I am all-too-familiar, is the set of entities known as “mental disorders,” which are “defined” in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR). For many, if not most, of these disorders, the diagnostic criteria are polythetic, meaning that there might be, for example, three diagnostic criteria, of which none of them is required for diagnosis. To make the diagnosis, you might just need any two of the three. So you will have four different manifestations of the “disorder” without any single “essential” characteristic. These are what are called “fuzzy” categories, and there are a lot of them; “religion,” clearly, is one of them. This is why I prefer to inquire about “core” characteristics without insisting that a proper definition include any one (or more) “essential” characteristics.

I think that we tend to get a bit too anxious to reify our definitions, to set them in stone, so that we can experience some certainty, and so that we really feel that we know what we are talking about. That makes us feel comfortable. But reality, I think, is wilder than that. And this brings us to one of the core teachings of Buddhism, called anatta (sometimes translated as “no self”). One of the great insights within Buddhist thinking is the realization that all of our attempts to “nail down” reality are going to fall short. The closer we look at anything (including what we think of as our own “self”) the more we realize that the “thing” we are looking for eludes our grasp; we can name its characteristics, but they are always in flux, and they don’t ever really add up to a fixed, solid object, with nice sharp “edges” that separate it from all that surrounds (and penetrates) it. And the more that we cling to our cherished definitions and beliefs, the more we tend to suffer.

Here is a statement that is considered a core teaching of the Buddha; this statement offers a breath of fresh air to many who struggle with the dogmas and doctrines of religious “belief” systems:

Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it (even if I have said it) unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

(Source: The Dhammapada: the Teachings of the Buddha)

When I teach meditation, or mindfulness practice, I sometimes encounter a certain fearfulness from students (and from counseling clients) about Buddhism, which some consider to be a religion that is in competition with, or threatening to, Christianity. Sometimes the fearfulness is so strong that it is expressed as anger. Not long ago, one man in the Kansas City area became incensed that a Catholic university might teach meditation and contemplative spirituality in a Mindfulness-Based Wellness format, because he felt that such a format was not adequately Christian, or Catholic.

Those of us who grew up in a predominantly Christian, or even JudeoChristian, culture, are very much steeped in a history that includes religious intolerance, murderous crusades, inquisitions, forced “conversions,” required loyalty oaths and statements of orthodoxy, and other expressions of religious bigotry, fear, and hatred. It is impossible for many of us to be open to the idea that there may not in fact be one “true” religion, in comparison to which all others fall short. Catholic Christians, in particular, suffer from an overdose of triumphalism, left over from the Counterreformation, and currently back in vogue.

Some people would be very surprised to learn that there are Catholic priests who are also Zen Masters, and there are many lay Christians and Jews who consider themselves Buddhists, as well. But there are no prescribed “beliefs” or practices within Buddhism that conflict with the beliefs, doctrines, or dogmas of Christianity or, I believe, with Judaism. This can come as a great relief to individuals (and I include myself among these) who have sometimes struggled with a perceived religious requirement to “believe” certain propositions in order to be “saved” (or, at least, to be considered orthodox)

The Buddha’s great insight and gift to the world was not a belief, not really not a religion, not a set of doctrines or dogmas, but a way to address and alleviate human suffering. Accordingly, I can find no greater inspiration, in my role as a teacher of graduate students in counseling.

3. The “Church” of Scientology

Lately I have gotten interested in Scientology. And, I hasten to add, that doesn’t mean that I am joining up! There’s a blog that I enjoy reading, called The Frame Problem; and I’ll credit that blogger (Ron Brown) with opening my eyes a bit to the degree of harm that is perpetrated by the scientology cult. It’s not just one of those funny, quirky things that Hollywood actors do in their spare time… You might want to take a look at the blog (ex-scientology kids) that was created by some of the (now grown) children of scientologists, to see the havoc that this highly coercive, manipulative, and punitive organization has created within families. Also, see the blog called “Operation Clambake” (I don’t know why it’s called that…) for a lot of information about this organization.

Here are some excerpts from the “Clambake” site:

The Church of Scientology is a vicious and dangerous cult that masquerades as a religion. Its purpose is to make money. It practices a variety of mind-control techniques on people lured into its midst to gain control over their money and their lives. Its aim is to take from them every penny that they have and can ever borrow and to also enslave them to further its wicked ends.

It was started in the 1950s by a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in fulfilment to his declared aim to start a religion to make money. It is an offshoot to a method of psychotherapy he concocted from various sources which he named “Dianetics”. Dianetics is a form of regression therapy. It was then further expanded to appear more like a religion in order to enjoy tax benefits. He called it “Scientology”.

Scientology is a confused concoction of crackpot, dangerously applied psychotherapy, oversimplified, idiotic and inapplicable rules and ideas and science-fiction drivel that is presented to its members (at the “advanced” levels) as profound spiritual truth.

The science fiction content of Scientology is revealed to [scientologists] after they have reached the state they call “Clear”, meaning freed from the aberrations of the mind. However, perhaps “brainwashed” would be a more applicable word… On the “advanced” levels (called OT levels) above the state of “Clear” they encounter the story of Xenu. Xenu was supposed to have gathered up all the overpopulation in this sector of the galaxy, brought them to Earth and then exterminated them using hydrogen bombs. The souls of these murdered people are then supposed to infest the body of everyone. They are called “body thetans”. On the advanced levels of Scientology a person “audits out” these body thetans telepathically by getting them to re-experience their being exterminated by hydrogen bombs. So people on these levels assume all their bad thoughts and faulty memories are due to these body thetans infesting every part of their body and influencing them mentally…

I guess all this could seem like harmless silliness, except that the cult uses what amounts to mind control and blackmail to suck people into their organization, and keep them there, and divest them of all their money (and their minds). The use of lawsuits and shunning tactics against detractors is reminiscent of the tactics of the (much smaller, but also vicious) Fred Phelps cult in Topeka, Kansas (see here for more info about that horrible group).

Here are excerpts from an article in Slate:

On April 24, ABC’s Nightline aired interviews in which disillusioned former Scientologists (including a niece of current worldwide church leader David Miscavige) complained that the church limited their contact with family and forced them to work 15-hour days. (In a statement to ABC, the church refused to “engage in such a debate.”) The broadcast was one in a series of publicity hits the church has suffered in recent months. January brought not only the unauthorized release of a video starring celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise but also a series of Internet attacks and demonstrations by a group of critics called Anonymous that pledges to “dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form.” The church enjoys tax-exempt status and claims more than 3.5 million members in the United States, but its secretive organization has remained controversial since its inception, and the Scientologists have repeatedly been sued by defectors or their family members. The signed agreement is an attempt to limit Scientology’s legal exposure. Church members are required to “forever give up my right to sue the church … for any injury or damage suffered in any way connected with Scientology religious services.” In order to participate in services, one must further acknowledge that “no Scientology church is under any duty or obligation whatsoever to return any portion of any religious donation.” In other words, all sales are final.

And here’s something I just found on a website about e-meters, from the scientologists’ textbook about their weird polygraph-like machine… they use it for interrogating each other (and themselves, apparently…):

Understanding the E-Meter, an old book by L. Ron Hubbard… : Here’s the book description from the Church of Scientology’s own web site: “Is the theta being inside or outside the mest body or both? How big is a theta being in relation to his body?” The answers aren’t very convincing, but it’s unusual to see Scientologists even asking loopy questions like this in front of raw public, much less purporting to answer them. Bottom line: $50 buys you a load of comic book physics and a revealing look at what constitutes a “scientific explanation” in the cult of Scientology.

In Kansas City, I have noticed that there is sometimes a group of protesters, carrying signs, standing outside the Scientology office (or whatever it’s called) near 39th and Broadway… Now, I can see why they are doing that. It’s not just some silly hobby that Tom Cruise has gotten into. It’s a lot more serious than I thought it was.

This stuff is truly amazing. I am appalled; and, from a psychological standpoint, I am especially intrigued by the apparent capacity of these cult indoctrination procedures to produce what amounts to a widespread shared delusional system.

If a person can be induced to WANT to believe something that is perfectly crazy (through a variety of tactics: desire for community; fear of retaliation, shame, etc.; isolation within a closed group in which the belief is repeatedly taught; desire to be “special”; etc.) then that person WILL BELIEVE the perfectly crazy “belief.”

Here are a couple of good articles:

4. ATHEISM

From a recent article in the NYT: the fellow who wrote an article about a construct in physics sometimes referred to as “the God particle,” because it is very “fundamental,” reports that he has been castigated for using the term “God.” In fact, the physicists who use the term among themselves are not happy when journalists use the term. Most of the complaints from scientists appear to arise out of fears that others will see them as actual believers in “God” (and of course that means many different things to different people, so I use the quotation marks), or as using religion to sell science (or even vice versa!). Again, we see the prominence of an increasingly aggressive form of atheism.

And, it could be argued, these highly vocal atheists get their current star power in part from our reactions to extreme fundamentalism among some of those who do claim to “believe in God.” Intolerance, bigotry, and even violence inspired or fueled by religious dogmatism and xenophobia is hardly new; yet it seems startling to many of us when it presents itself in the clothes of 21st century humanity.

This morning I had a great breakfast with an old friend, Dr. David Miller, clinical psychologist, neuropsychologist, and a good guy. We had not been in contact for a long time; he ran across my blog and sent me an email, partly because we share a lot of interests, including in cosmology, and in spirituality. He has gotten interested in the Intelligent Design debate (as distinguished from Creationism, although we discussed the somewhat lamentable fact that there is some inevitable overlap between the two). We are both interested in various psychological factors that appear to be actively involved in the formation of a radical, fundamentalist atheist (Dennett, Dawkins, etc.). Dogmatic atheism certainly seems to be a (fairly primitive) form of religion, in that (among other things): it is dogmatically held; it lacks any form of empirical verification; it asserts superiority over other beliefs; and it seems to provide the adherent a sense of security and certitude about ultimate matters.

My own thought on all that is that the only intellectually respectable position is an agnosticism about ultimate matters; the combined human sensory and cognitive apparatus is necessarily insufficient, I believe, to arrive at fully accurate and “true” account of our own nature, much less the nature of the whole of what is, and has, and will be; somewhat like beginning calculus students, we engage in successive approximations, each of which is intended to be closer to “the truth.” To believe otherwise is to elevate human phenomenal consciousness to a god-like state in which all is known, understood, and fully articulated in human language. Such amazing minds as Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant expressed doubts about such an idea; I vote with those guys.

Recently a person called Morsecode posted a couple of comments about what I wrote about atheism as a religion. I was ranting just a bit about some of the prominent self-described atheists who are now publishing a lot of books (with deliberately provocative titles such as: God is Not Great (cute, eh?!)). I find these folks annoying, partly because of their style: they adopt an air of superiority, and heap scorn upon people with religious faith. My own beliefs (or lack of beliefs), I hasten to add, about the ultimate nature and meaning of reality (whatever that is!) are probably not much in conformity with the (literal) doctrinal content of nearly any religion you might choose. I’m a skeptical person, by nature, and I reserve judgment about a lot of stuff. I can’t seem to make myself believe things just because I want to believe them, or because it would somehow seem advantageous to believe them. But I have the greatest respect (and affection) for the many highly intelligent people I know who do profess belief and faith in various religious doctrines. At the same time, I know that religious beliefs (or, more importantly I think, religious allegiances) have played a major role in no end of suffering and harm in our world. Yet I am not at all sure that the lack of religious adherence or beliefs would make the world a more peaceful and loving place. And I am quite sure that scorn, belittling, and ad hominem attacks are all indicative of essentially small minds and overall immaturity.

As to Morsecode’s primary complaint about my post, he points out that not all atheists profess a positive belief that there is no “god” or, I suppose, sentience/intelligence involved in the creation and sustaining of all that is. He is correct. Some who call themselves “atheists” are really what I would call “agnostics.” Here is a chunk I pulled off of Wikipedia about the more technical distinctions:

“Philosophers such as Antony Flew[32] and Michael Martin[21] have contrasted strong (positive) atheism with weak (negative) atheism. Strong atheism is the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. Weak atheism includes all other forms of non-theism. According to this categorization, anyone who is not a theist is either a weak or a strong atheist.[33] Under “this demarcation of atheism, most agnostics qualify as weak atheists.

“Scottish philosopher J. J. C. Smart argues that “sometimes a person who is really an atheist may describe herself, even passionately, as an agnostic because of unreasonable generalised philosophical scepticism which would preclude us from saying that we know anything whatever, except perhaps the truths of mathematics and formal logic.”[40] Consequently, some popular atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins prefer distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions by the probability assigned to the statement “God exists.””

So, as to atheism, I hope the record is corrected. I referred to some atheists (these would be anyone who adopts the “strong” form of atheism) as dogmatic, and Morsecode objected, with some justification. I tend to conflate the anti-theistic position of many dogmatic atheists with their frequently comorbid, or co-occurring, positions about radical monistic materialism, or reductionism. About that, there is (I believe) truly a tendency to be dogmatic.

This is what I find most disturbing, actually: that there are some among us who appear to take pleasure and pride in advancing the idea that there is no mind, no freedom, no beauty, and no meaning that is not ultimately “reducible” to and fully explainable by (for example) electrochemical activity in the human brain. This may, of course, in some sense be “true”; but, if so, then how do we live? If I truly believe that I am not in any sense genuinely free to choose my actions, and that, anyway, my actions and their results lack any genuine significance, and if I behave as if this is true, then my life (I believe) will be very different than it now is. Of course, that is what is called in science an “empirical question.” It would be interesting to see it tested, and such testing has actually begun. Not long ago a study was published in which two groups of people were observed at some sort of task (the typical psych study task). The people who were in the group that had been exposed to a lecture about the idea that humans truly lack any real free will tended to cheat at the task more often than the other group. Here is an excerpt from the “Science Daily” description of the study:

Prior to the [task, the scientists], used a well-established method to prime the subjects’ beliefs regarding free will: some of the students were taught that science disproves the notion of free will and that the illusion of free will was a mere artifact of the brain’s biochemistry whereas others got no such indoctrination.

The results were clear: those with weaker convictions about their power to control their own destiny were more apt to cheat when given the opportunity as compared to those whose beliefs about controlling their own lives were left untouched.

EXPELLED? NOT GOING TO SEE IT

On the Use of Scorn and Ridicule: If you troll around within science-related blogs (and, being a scientist, I do that), you are bound to find a lot of talk about the recently released Ben Stein movie, Expelled. Part of the idea behind the making of this film, I think, is that “Darwinism” is co-extensive with atheism, and also that scientists who are not atheists are (because of their religious beliefs) inevitably subjected to discriminatory and even abusive treatment. You can look at the trailer, here. Anyway, if you are reading the science-related blogs, and their current rants about Expelled, you will see that the atheism theme is unavoidable. It’s a growth industry, all this atheism! The atheists are sounding downright giddy, these days!

Anyway, a week or so ago I had breakfast with a friend who is both a psychologist and a Lutheran pastor. He asked me whether I was going to go to the film (he was planning to go on its opening day); he seemed excited about it, in part because of his familiarity with (and outrage about) a situation in which a university professor was forced out of his position because of his religious (and “Intelligent Design,” I think) beliefs. And at one point, I thought I might go, in part because a friend and fellow blogger, Stephanie West Allen (Brains on Purpose), had sent me links about the movie, and it seems that she thinks it is a good thing (CORRECTION: Stephanie sent the trailers without intending any endorsement or recommendation. Sorry, Stephanie!). So, I watched the first trailer when it came out; and I watched the second trailer, when that came out. And I have read the reviews. And, based on all that, I told my Lutheran friend that I would not be going to see Expelled. Even setting aside all the hoo-rah about the way the film apparently stretches to find some kind of a connection between Darwin’s work and the Holocaust… what bothered me about the film was that it employs scorn, ridicule, and straw-man arguments to sell its case against evolutionary theory.

I was disappointed to see Expelled going in this direction. As I have mentioned several times before on this blog, I am personally a doubtful and skeptical person (always striving not to also become a cynical one!); and I am frankly sympathetic to many of the complaints and arguments that atheists make about religion. I read Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith, and found it quite compelling and well-reasoned (that’s a photo of Sam Harris at the top of this post). But what turns me off about the current gang of prominent atheists (especially those who present their beliefs and arguments in the manner of, for example, Hitchens and Dawkins) is that they approach their “opponents” with outright scorn and ridicule; and they employ straw-man arguments. They set up religion (ALL religion, and ALL spirituality) as a monolithic delusional system in which the religious person is ignorant (congenitally or willfully), blind, suggestible, ridiculous, dangerous, and (at best!) pitiful–all at the same time! And, supposedly, all religious people “believe in ‘the talking snake’,” as Bill Maher famously proclaims (see: the Book of Genesis)! For an example, you might take a look at a blog, called “Evolved and Rational“; what this blogger puts on her main page reads: “I am an evangelical atheist, anti-appeaser, anti-framer and ardent evolution geek who enjoys toying with creationist minds the way a cat plays with a mouse before devouring it. I will not be responsible for any explosion of creationist brains due to my amazing wit.” And that is mild and (indeed) playful, compared the kind of stuff that P.Z. Myers says on his blog, “Pharyngula.”

So, here’s the thing. I don’t want to see Ben Stein’s movie, and I’m not going to do so… because I really don’t enjoy being in the presence of people who treat each other with scorn, and who distort each other’s positions. Doesn’t matter to me whether it is a bunch of atheists on very high horses, condescending to non-atheists, or religious people, belittling and ridiculing the work and the ideas of scientists; either way, I don’t want to be around it.

I don’t think that scorn and ridicule get any of us anywhere, except into a place of greater alienation, and that leads to absolutely nothing good (no, I can’t really prove that, either, but I sure as hell believe it).

That’s what I don’t think. Here’s what I do think:

I do think that some scientists who are also religious have been treated (and are being treated) shamefully by their colleagues, and by funding agencies. I know what it’s like to get slammed in academia, and it can be utterly devastating.

I think that some people within organized religion have failed (for many reasons) to engage in critical thinking about their religion, their beliefs, and the implications of their beliefs.

I think that science and technology can be used to perpetrate massive harm; and I think that religion can be used to perpetrate massive harm. IN both cases, of course, that has already happened, and is happening, as we speak. But I don’t think that human suffering would be eradicated if we also rid ourselves of religion… or if we refused to pursue knowledge, science, and even technology.

I think that some religious beliefs and practices are outlandish; and I think that the conceits of some scientists are also outlandish. But I think that’s because humans are just plain prone to outlandishness, in one direction or another (or several, at once, more likely). In fact, this is also why we are interesting, and it is the source of much of our great literature.

Let’s all go read some good books (maybe some Flannery O’Connor), have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, talk to each other, and cool off.

The Religious Case Against “Belief”: I recently came across a new book by that title (but without the italics and quotation marks). Here’s the link at Amazon. The author is James Carse; he’s a professor emeritus, of religion, from NYU. I found the title (and the idea it reflects) intriguing, so I picked it up and glanced through it, and later I looked it up on Amazon to see what the reviewers were saying. Here’s an excerpt from the (unnamed) Amazon reviewer:

The Religious Case Against Belief introduces three kinds of ignorance: ordinary ignorance (a mundane lack of knowledge, such as ignorance of tomorrow’s weather or the reason why your stove is malfunctioning), willful ignorance (an intentional avoidance of accessible knowledge), and finally higher ignorance (a learned understanding that no matter how many truths we may accumulate, our knowledge falls infinitely short of the truth)…

Carse associates the strongest manifestation of willful ignorance with the most fervent (and dangerous) of believers… Believers construct identity by erecting boundaries and by fostering aggression between the believer and the other. This is why belief systems choose—at great cost—to remain locked in bloody conflict rather than to engage in dialogue, recognizing the great deal they have in common. This is willful ignorance.

In fierce contrast to willful ignorance, higher ignorance is an acquired state enhanced by religion. Those traveling the path to higher ignorance recognize faith teachings… as poetry intended to promote contemplation, interpretation, and a sense of wonder… [Carse argues that, when] uncontaminated by belief systems, religion rejects the imagined boundaries that falsely divide people and ideas, working to expand horizons.

The Religious Case Against Belief exposes a world in which religion and belief have become erroneously (and terrifyingly) conflated. In strengthening their association with powerful belief systems, religions have departed from their essential purpose as agencies of higher ignorance.

I haven’t read the book, so as yet I have no conclusions of my own as to whether Carse presents a strong argument that a credal religion such as Christianity (for example) can exist without some kind of need for, or requirement of, specific beliefs. The well-respected religious scholar, Jaroslov Pelikan, spoke and wrote about what he called the “Need For Creeds” in a talk (transcript of this talk is here) in which he insists that creeds, with specific beliefs set out in detail, are necessary to religion. When asked by the interviewer to explain “what is it about Christianity that has needed creeds?,” He responded as follows:

Dr. Pelikan: Well, what it is about religious faith that needs creed is that religious faith in general, prayer addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” sentiment about some transcendent dimension otherwise undefined, does not have any staying power. It’s OK to have that at 10:00 on a Sunday morning when you’re out with your friends somewhere, but, in the darkest hours of life, you’ve got to believe something specific, and that specification is the task of the creed, because, much as some people may not like it, to believe one thing is also to disbelieve another. To say yes is also to say no.

I think that most people would agree with Dr. Pelikan. After all, we seem to be thoroughly steeped in the idea that “religion” and “belief” are inextricably intertwined. When we hear about a religion that is new to us, the first question we ask is usually: “What do they believe?” And an adherent of any given religion is likely to ridicule the beliefs of other religions… regardless of how outlandish the dogma of his own religion might be. Recently, the business of Scientology (which seems much more like a cult than like any of the mainstream religions) has suffered endless ridicule because its followers are taught to believe some very odd things about aliens from outer space who take control of human bodies and minds… Mormonism has recently suffered similar attacks from other Christians, about some of their beliefs. What comes to mind quickly, of course, is the caution about living in glass houses, and the throwing of stones.

I am quite sympathetic to some aspect of the argument that is presented by Dr. Carse in his new book. Most of my readers know that my own religious background includes Catholicism, and that I am also a student of Buddhist thought. I have, throughout my adult life, struggled (mostly in vain) with the dogmas of Christianity; and so I approach Buddhist thought and teachings with the feeling of one who is finally getting a breath of fresh air.

There is an important teaching in Buddhism known as “don’t-know mind.” I suspect that Dr. Carse is familiar with it… It comes quickly to mind when I read about his discussion of “higher ignorance,” or the need to admit that we just don’t know anything concrete or definitive about what might be called ultimate reality, or about the ineffable yearnings that so many of us have for whatever might correspond to the ideas and ideals that we pursue in the realm of meaning, spirituality, purpose, and deep connection. It seems downright silly, and also arrogant and dangerous, to issue and enforce declarations of required belief about such matters, and we have long seen the damage that results from religious “beliefs.”

Carse seems to be arguing that the truly “religious” impulse is one of questioning, not so much of answering. Along with the Buddhists, he might approach life, and all that can be perceived and experienced, by asking: “What is this?” and realizing that the real answer is: “Don’t know.” Yet I am not at all sure that “higher ignorance,” or “don’t-know mind” are really compatible with religion as we know it in Western society today… and they would seem to be an especially hard squeeze for Christianity… although I suspect that Jesus himself embodied something that resembles “don’t-know mind” (he apparently wasn’t big on preaching or enforcing dogmas), I don’t think that his followers have much picked up on that aspect of the man they dogmatically proclaim to be one “person” within a Holy Trinity.

5. MEANING

Ultimate Ending(s)

Scientific American is reporting that “One of the biggest scientific findings in recent years is the discovery that the universe is not only expanding, but it is also accelerating in its expansion. Under the influence of a mysterious dark energy, the universe will eventually thin out to nothingness and die a cold death” (here’s the online discussion and interview). This is truly incomprehensible (and even frightening) to me. I (sort of) understand that, many ages from now, inevitably, the earth and sun that we know will die. And that would seem to mean that humans, if such creatures exist at such a time, will need to have found some other way to live, some other place (planet?) to inhabit. Science fiction writing is full of ideas about how this might happen; the assumption always is that humanity will somehow endure and persist. But how about the larger picture that these astronomers and cosmologists are revealing to us? A picture that is literally empty? A vision of nothing-ness… That’s extremely unsettling; and it raises terrible questions for those of us who are inclined to think in terms of meaning and significance. The transitoriness of human life is an eternal truth that is nevertheless difficult to comprehend, but mere transitoriness seems tame compared to an awareness of the passing away, into nothingness, of all that any of us has ever thought or felt or accomplished… The emptiness that these scientists are describing seems very different, to me, from the infinite potentiality and becoming-ness of what the Buddhists call “emptiness.”

And in the face of all this, my own human mind seems compelled to ask: what is the significance (if any) of these phenomena and experiences that we hold so dear: our compellingly convincing subjective experience of freedom, of the making decisions and choices? And our sense that human life is not only precious to us, but also deeply meaningful? Is there a genuine moral significance to the decisions that make up our lives? And is there any ultimate “meaning” in our lives, in our very existence? Of course, these are the questions that the religions of humankind have tried to address, with limited degrees of success and/or persuasiveness. In Christianity, for example, we hear that the purpose of our creation and existence is “for” the “glory of God,” and that this God can be accurately described as our “Heavenly Father,” meaning (I think) that the universe is ultimately friendly to humankind… In what sense, I wonder, might these ideas be true?

The human mind has been described as an entity that endlessly engages in meaning-making… When we are around 3 years old, our minds begin to ask the “why” questions, and we never let go of them. Some of us are so preoccupied with these questions that we become philosophers or theologians… In an earlier post, I reflected a bit on this and concluded that asking “why” is a waste of time… And yet I am no better than anyone else at letting go of the deep yearning and existential “need” to seek the experience of what we call meaning… although (and maybe because) it is so very elusive.

[EARLIER POST]:

Today’s quote from my Zaadz Quotes inbox is at the bottom of this post. I like it because it speaks to some of the thinking I have been doing recently about life’s “meaning” or “significance.” Is there any thoughtful person for whom this is not, at least sometimes, a major preoccupation? Certainly, it has been for me. But, lately I have been thinking that the “search for meaning” itself is a seductive but ultimately non-fruitful diversion from life, itself. We can journal and “narrative” our little hearts out; we can spend years in therapy asking “why?” and proposing various answers… or we can just… live; and, preferably, we can live with some vitality, some sense of responsibility, some awareness, some compassion, some wisdom, and maybe even some joy… and let the “meaning of it all” take care of itself.

Human beings are “meaning-makers,” but sometimes we let it take us way too far afield… sometimes, I think, we seem never to have outgrown the stage of childhood in which we endlessly ask the “why?” questions…

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997): Man’s Search For Meaning

I suggest that those who promote ideas that there is no genuine freedom (meaning, etc.) do not, in fact live as if this is true; and this raises all sorts of other questions, as well. Long ago, I majored in philosophy, and I have some sense (and dread!) as to how deeply incomprehensible the philosophical arguments quickly become, when we go in this direction.

But I feel compelled to ask, anyway: If it is true that there is no genuine freedom (or meaning), how will humanity respond to this truth? Do we adopt (or try to impose), say, a set of (dare I say “religious”) beliefs, contrary to reality, declaring that we are free and responsible, etc., even though we secretly know otherwise? A sort of desperate, pragmatic, existentialism? I don’t know. Probably there are philosophers and ethicists who are already working on this problem. But I shudder to think of life in a world in which humans are convinced that they mean nothing. It might be even worse than a world in which humans believe that they mean everything.

6. MISCELANNEOUS TOPICS

DEFERENCE TO THE RELIGIONS AND CULTURES OF OTHERS

Cockfighting? Part of our “culture.”

Taking little girls out of school after the 8th grade? Part of our “religion.”

I’ve seen a couple of recent news stories (linked just above) in which people are defending practices that are condemned or disapproved in the larger culture, and the defense is “I do this because my religion (or culture) tells me to.” In many cases, those of us who are easy-going, tolerant, liberal types are inclined to want to defer to the religious and cultural practices of others. But we are torn, when those practices appear clearly to be harmful to other human beings, to the environment, and to other creatures. And, in a sort of an ultimate irony, there is a whole religious movement that uses extreme violence to punish those of us who live in cultures that wish to accommodate and tolerate their religious beliefs.

What is this all about? What are religions, that most of us wish to defer to them, even to religions that espouse and practice brutality?

[Caveat and Disclaimer: I am not a professional theologian. I do have a life-long interest in religion and spirituality, and I’ve done a lot of reading, and thinking, and conversing about religious ideas and practices. And a fair amount of practicing, as well.]

Here are my thoughts:

Religion arises out of the human desire to understand our existence, our experience, and our place in the larger reality that we perceive with our senses. We know about death, we experience the flow of time, we know love and grief and tedium, and our brains are designed to ask “why?” So, over the many ages in which there have been humans, ideas have arisen, usually first in the form of creation stories. We wonder: How the hell did we “get” here? Well, here’s one idea: we know that we create various things, so it seems reasonable to conjecture that someone created us. And stories are told about how this may have happened. The really good stories survive, are told and re-told. But this is not enough (nothing is ever “enough,” is it?): there is the desire to speculate about this creator. What might this creator be like? Big, certainly, and powerful! And what might be the preferences and wishes of this creator? Well, that is a difficult one to figure out, always has been. Life is very unpredictable, and if this creator is in any way interacting with us in our lives, it’s pretty hard to discern any reliable way to persuade him to help us out. Or to keep him from slamming us, again and again. Nevertheless, valiant efforts have always been made, and systematized. Do this, don’t do that, and remember to give generously to your parish. And if it doesn’t work out in this lifetime, don’t worry because there is the hope of heaven…

[Of course, even within the confines of all this reasoning, some voices have been preserved in which our ancestors are heard, throwing up their hands in despair, admitting that we just don’t know; read the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, sometime!]

Why is all this so problematic, sometimes? I think that a major problem arises because, somewhere in this process, we forgot that this is all speculation, grandly dressed up in the form of “religion.” This is no longer just Joe’s idea, an idea that he cooked up one evening at the campfire while talking with Amelia and the rest of his family and friends. At some point it became important to declare that the creator (God, of course) actually told this true story to Joe. How do we know that? Well, because Joe said so… or his friends and his descendents said so… and because everyone in the community now agrees to believe (or, at least, to pretend to believe) that this is how it happened.

So easily, we forget that all religious formulations are provisional, partial truths (at best). All proclamations about the ultimate “meaning” of human life are speculative!

And here we are today, with our capacity to observe and learn about the many different religions that have been created, that are currently being espoused and practiced in different cultures and places. We know that people get very sensitive and touchy about their religions (we know this because humans torture and slaughter each other over religious differences). We want to live in peace, so we (in Western liberal democracies) try to accommodate and defer to each other in this regard. We have learned to nervously back off when someone says “Hey, bub, back off, this is my religion… my family… my child… None of your business.” Our own nation, which arose out of a social context in which religious persecution was normative, was founded in part to protect religious diversity, so this deference is deeply ingrained in us.

Some would say it is time to take a closer look at whether or not humanity can still afford this deferential attitude. This is the question Sam Harris takes up in his book The End of Faith. If you are a person of faith, I suggest you read it; it will challenge you. I’m a teacher, and I tend to recommend challenges, even if they involve matters of faith. Maybe, especially then…

DEFERRING TO ISLAMIC LAW?

Apparently, the Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that it would be a good idea if the British government were to defer to Islamic law in some instances within the Islamic “community” of individuals living in Great Britain. Many are outraged by this suggestion, among them the frequently outraged Christopher Hitchens. In this case, I agree with Mr. Hitchens. Here is his recent Slate post about this, and here is his description of situation that might arise if the Archbishop were to get his wish:

Picture the life of a young Urdu-speaking woman brought to Yorkshire from Pakistan to marry a man—quite possibly a close cousin—whom she has never met. He takes her dowry, beats her, and abuses the children he forces her to bear. She is not allowed to leave the house unless in the company of a male relative and unless she is submissively covered from head to toe. Suppose that she is able to contact one of the few support groups that now exist for the many women in Britain who share her plight. What she ought to be able to say is, “I need the police, and I need the law to be enforced.” But what she will often be told is, “Your problem is better handled within the community.” And those words, almost a death sentence, have now been endorsed and underwritten—and even advocated—by the country’s official spiritual authority.

You might argue that I am describing an extreme case (though, alas, now not an uncommon one), but it is the principle of equality before the law that really counts.

This is, for me, an extremely sticky point. My overall outlook and attitude is one of due respect for cultural and religious differences. However, I cannot abide the argument that we (i.e., any government of which I am a citizen) must defer to harmful, cruel, and oppressive practices if and when they are defended and justified by reason of culture/religion.

A few weeks ago there was an article in the NY Times Magazine about the genital mutilation of young girls, the practice often euphemistically known as “female circumcision.” The only part of the article that I saw was the photograph of a young girl’s face, as she was held down, screaming, as she was being savagely, irreparably mutilated; and I found that I could not bear to read the article. I hope that some people did read it, and that it accomplished some good. Knowing that this and other brutal practices are, if not defended, ever tolerated or justified because they have “cultural” or “religious” antecedents is absolutely abhorrent to me. So, Christopher Hitchens, I don’t always agree with you… but on this one, I do. Archbishop Rowan, please give this a little more thought.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Recently, there was an article in the NYT about universities building footbaths for Muslim students. Apparently it is customary (or perhaps some consider it necessary? I don’t know) for Muslims to wash their feet five times a day, prior to their prayers. At some universities, students were sticking their feet into bathroom sinks, and washing them, and this resulted in dirty sinks and wet floors. Maintenance folks were worried, especially about the wet floors (safety issues). Solution: build foot baths in the bathrooms. Resulting problem: some were upset because they believed that one religion was being “accommodated” while other religions were being disrespected (Christmas music banned from one university coffee cart, apparently).

We have a fair-sized population of Muslim students at Avila University, and this group is (I believe) growing in numbers. Will we, and should we, build foot-baths? And, how about that Christmas music?

GOD IN THE “EXURBAN” CHURCH

There’s a good article on Slate (online) Magazine today, about one of the “exurban” mega-church pastors, Joel Osteen (article by Christopher Lehman). It is rather a ringing indictment, and echoes much of what makes many of us uncomfortable with Christianity presented as a way to achieve “prosperity.” Here is an excerpt:

[The] exurban image of God the indulgent dad is among the more troubling features of the gospel according to Osteen. For it turns out that the divine hand turns up everywhere, at least in Joel Osteen’s life. God upgrades his reservations to first class on a long international flight; God spares his car in a water-planing wipeout on the Houston interstate; God allows Osteen and his wife/co-pastor, Victoria, to flip a property “for twice as much as we paid for it” in a once-sketchy Houston neighborhood; God swings a critical vote on the Houston zoning board to permit Lakewood to move to its mammoth Compaq Center digs… This is… an eerily collapsible spiritual narcissism that downgrades the divine image into the job description for a lifestyle concierge.

THE GOD OF AN ASTROPHYSICIST

The book I am currently reading (well, one of them…) is: Bernard Haisch’s The God Theory. Haisch is an astrophysicist who is unwilling to accept materialistic monism and determinism. It is his view that fundamental reality is infinite consciousness and infinite potential (also known as “God”). Since Dr Haisch, like all the rest of us who are thinking and writing about these matters, is human, he uses human concepts to talk about this; for example, he suggests that, in creating the world as we perceive and understand it, God is “acting out and living out his ideas.” Some quotes:

“the manifestations of this infinite consciousness in this particular universe are none other than all of us and all the things we perceive around us. The intelligence [God] experiences itself through us because we are one with it. We are the creating intelligence made manifest… following this logic, religion’s claim that God knows our every thought begins to make sense. Our thoughts are part and parcel of this infinite consciousness.”

“The God of [this] theory cannot require anything from us for his own happiness… The God of the theory cannot dislike, and certainly cannot hate, anything that we do or are… The God of the theory will never punish us, because it would ultimately amount to self-punishment.”

Haisch proposes that the ancient concept of “karma” is a form of “spiritual physics,” analogous to the laws of conservation of energy and matter. In other words, over the long run, “good” and “evil” are necessarily balanced, and everything that we do is ultimately something we are doing to ourselves. In a sense, then, through negative or harmful actions, “you create your own hell.”

“The purpose of life is experience; God wishes to experience life through you. God desires your partnership, not your servility… Ultimately, your individual consciousness will be fully reunited with the infinite consciousness of God… The point of a created universe is to experience it. Life is God made manifest…. It is in your own best interest to live a life worthy of the creating intelligence, because that is the path to spiritual evolution and ultimate satisfaction.”

My reading of all this (so far) is that Haisch effectively brings together the most enduring and most compelling strands of many ancient spiritual and religious traditions, and he does so in the context of human minds educated by contemporary science. He has given us a very appealing model.

Religious Faith in the U.S.: Doubts?

Faking the Faith? There’s an interesting discussion going on in the blog known as “The Frame Problem” (here); a question was raised about data indicating that in the United States, there are very high levels of participation in organized religions, and high levels of expressed religious beliefs (much higher than in Europe, certainly). One commenter wondered how this could be true within such a highly educated population (this questioner clearly believes that religious faith is at least somewhat incompatible with education); she suggested that significant numbers of people who claim religious affiliation/belief might actually be faking or exaggerating their levels of belief in the creeds of their faith. Of course, she’s right, that there would be many possible reasons that a person might be reluctant to openly discuss disbelief or serious doubts as to the important dogmas and doctrines of his/her religion, and also good reasons why people might find it easier, in many ways, to conform to family and social expectations, and at least go through the motions of participation in a religious faith.

I was really intrigued by this discussion, because I have often entertained similar suspicions about whether it might be that a lot of people don’t really believe what they claim to believe. At the risk of causing serious offense to someone, somewhere, I will say that my own observations of many of those who identify as Episcopalians have especially provided fodder for these questions, in my own mind… After all, there are many advantages to being seen as a member of a church or synagogue, mosque, or temple (etc.). People who are in business, and in politics (!), are well aware of this factor. There is also the very significant matter of social support; it has been reported that people who are active members of their churches are, overall, healthier than those who are not. Human beings need community and affiliation, and they will put up with a lot of aggravation, and discomfort of various kinds, in order to get and keep it. They also need meaning, and they need hope; and an ideology and community that will serve as a container, or placekeeper, for those qualities can provide psychic support, even in the face of (acknowledged or unacknowledged) cognitive dissonance and doubt.

Here is an excerpt from what the “Frame Problem” blogger had to say about all this:

“Given the social pressures of religious communities and the fear of ostracism, I figure that there is probably a significant minority of fakers among the faithful. That they are all so afraid to ‘come out’—and quite understandably so—they generally do not know about each other. Since most members of religious communities and of North American society are genuinely faithful (and the doubtful ones generally keep their lips buttoned), social pressures at the level of the religious community and society as a whole make it socially risky to openly criticize religion.

“I think that an important step toward making people more willing to question their faith is the provision of other options for community and the pursuit of happiness and meaning. I would like to eventually help build a community which embraces many of the positive aspects of religion (e.g. supportive community, teaching love and kindness, providing a social forum for the development of wisdom and wellbeing) but which does away with the dogmatism and replaces it with open-minded skepticism and curiosity and intellectual honesty. I would like to see many of the wise developments in buddhist philosophy and practice… such as mindfulness meditation, teachings [about] the danger of investing oneself in externals (e.g., beliefs, possessions, status, others)… And of course, there would be community building activities such as social events, charity work, group projects, support groups and so on.”

I happen to be a long-term doubter, and a generally skeptical person, myself (for one thing, I am doubtful about how much I might want to affiliate with a group that includes some of the truly obnoxious atheists who are now so very prominent). And I can report that my own attempts to openly talk about questions and doubts have seldom been received comfortably by other members of churches I have belonged to. I have long admired my many dear friends who are religious, especially within the Catholic Church. I know (and have known) so many smart, well-educated, thoughtful Catholic people, ordained or otherwise, and I have tried to figure out how they manage to hold on to what appears to be strong faith/belief in a creed and set of dogmatic (required) beliefs that are amazingly difficult to really believe… In many cases, I know that their actual believing involves a series of re-workings of the literal and superficial meanings of language and stories that are better understood as metaphoric, and as representing (at best) expressions and examples of how things really are, aimed at understanding the ultimate nature of reality. But I know, from personal experience, that this re-working requires a lot of mental energy, and, really (I have to ask): To what end?

Could it be that, for many, it simply is easier to stick with the community, and friends, and family that you have been part of, for many years, maybe for all your life… than to break rank?

4 Responses to “Religious Faith in the U.S.: Doubts?”

Craig Says:
April 26, 2008 at 2:25 am Belief is not always explainable, something I believe far too many “educated” individuals attempt to do with complete failure. How can one explain how God created everything? It is beyond our understanding in this mortal and flawed state.

Faith is not quantifiable, how can it be? Faith has two main parts, the ascent of the believer, and the presence of the Spirit. One mortal, one beyond time and space. One measurable, one, well you get the picture. It is this presence of the Holy Spirit that allows one to see beyond the words and get into the source of the story. Grace, sanctifying and actual, very real and necessary to one who accepts Faith.

Trying to place a subjective individualistic interpretation onto God, the Church, and Scripture belittles them to a sitcom reality. Don’t believe me, just look at the 30 some thousand protestant sects sometime (you can also include Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam any religion will do, they all have their reforms and splinters).

These must believe dogmas are not so hard to believe, they give a freedom that most people could only dream about. We can argue all day how things were supposedly changed by this group or that person, but honestly, if that is the truth than nothing can be trusted that has not been witnessed by the individual, right? Reality is not what we want it to be, that is dangerous path to attempt, one I am sure you have professional experience witnessing.

Mankind cannot save himself, but mankind can be saved, if only he would stop damning himself.

Delany Dean, JD, PhD Says:
April 26, 2008 at 10:55 am OK, Craig, I’m not sure whether you mean that “belief” (as in “the act of believing” ;)is not explainable, or that the content of various religious beliefs are not explainable. If the latter, then I would have to comment that the fact that they are “not explainable” does not make them more believable.

Faith is not quantifiable? Well, I suppose we could develop a scale with which to quantify it, but I don’t have any interest in doing that. As to the “ascent of the believer,” I admit that I just don’t understand what you mean by that.

I also fail to understand what sort of “freedom” comes from endorsing (i.e., saying that you believe in the truth of) various dogmas. But, even more fundamentally (in the sense of “prior to”): I have always found that, even if I squeeze my eyes very tightly closed, and try, try, try, I cannot make myself “believe” something that is contrary to my experience, that is without convincing evidentiary support, and that just makes no sense to me.

It seems clear that your own faith and beliefs are of great value to you… and you are not alone in that. But there are many people, I think, who simply cannot arrive at a state of “belief” in the way that you apparently have been able to happily do (even though they may very much wish that they could!).

theframeproblem Says:
April 26, 2008 at 4:11 pm Craig: I fail to see how you can, on the one hand, say that God’s creative process and so forth is not understandable, but to know that *your* God (or any God) is true is.

If you click the link within my post that goes to all the pitfalls of every theist argument that I have ever heard and you can give an argument for your God that falls outside of these traps, you may well be inline for acknowledgement as one of the greatest and most important intellectuals of all time.

Also, regarding freedom from belief, I also do not understand this. Anyone who commits themself to a dogma immediately constrains themself. They will go through rigorous and unbelievable intellectual acrobatics and avoidance in order to preserve their beliefs when rationality will not do. Their belief obligates them to engage in dishonesty to themselves and others and systematic unreason.

Being a rationalist frees one to truly be honest and follow the evidence. On the flip-side, the contraint it comes with is that it necessitates not holding intellectually unjustified beliefs.

Both stances come with constraints, but the latter enables unrestricted honesty and reason, and cognitive consonnance (as opposed to dissonance).

Religious Case Against “Belief”?

By Delany Dean, JD, PhD

The ability of Christian martyrs – like Ignatius of Antioch, eaten by lions – to escape suffering through faith is described by Louis Lambert as proof of his Treatise on the Will.Image via WikipediaThe Religious Case Against “Belief”: I recently came across a new book by that title (but without the italics and quotation marks). Here’s the link at Amazon. The author is James Carse; he’s a professor emeritus, of religion, from NYU. I found the title (and the idea it reflects) intriguing, so I picked it up and glanced through it, and later I looked it up on Amazon to see what the reviewers were saying. Here’s an excerpt from the (unnamed) Amazon reviewer:

The Religious Case Against Belief introduces three kinds of ignorance: ordinary ignorance (a mundane lack of knowledge, such as ignorance of tomorrow’s weather or the reason why your stove is malfunctioning), willful ignorance (an intentional avoidance of accessible knowledge), and finally higher ignorance (a learned understanding that no matter how many truths we may accumulate, our knowledge falls infinitely short of the truth)…

Carse associates the strongest manifestation of willful ignorance with the most fervent (and dangerous) of believers… Believers construct identity by erecting boundaries and by fostering aggression between the believer and the other. This is why belief systems choose—at great cost—to remain locked in bloody conflict rather than to engage in dialogue, recognizing the great deal they have in common. This is willful ignorance.

In fierce contrast to willful ignorance, higher ignorance is an acquired state enhanced by religion. Those traveling the path to higher ignorance recognize faith teachings… as poetry intended to promote contemplation, interpretation, and a sense of wonder… [Carse argues that, when] uncontaminated by belief systems, religion rejects the imagined boundaries that falsely divide people and ideas, working to expand horizons.

The Religious Case Against Belief exposes a world in which religion and belief have become erroneously (and terrifyingly) conflated. In strengthening their association with powerful belief systems, religions have departed from their essential purpose as agencies of higher ignorance.

I haven’t read the book, so as yet I have no conclusions of my own as to whether Carse presents a strong argument that a credal religion such as Christianity (for example) can exist without some kind of need for, or requirement of, specific beliefs. The well-respected religious scholar, Jaroslov Pelikan, spoke and wrote about what he called the “Need For Creeds” in a talk (transcript of this talk is here) in which he insists that creeds, with specific beliefs set out in detail, are necessary to religion. When asked by the interviewer to explain “what is it about Christianity that has needed creeds?,” He responded as follows:

Dr. Pelikan: Well, what it is about religious faith that needs creed is that religious faith in general, prayer addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” sentiment about some transcendent dimension otherwise undefined, does not have any staying power. It’s OK to have that at 10:00 on a Sunday morning when you’re out with your friends somewhere, but, in the darkest hours of life, you’ve got to believe something specific, and that specification is the task of the creed, because, much as some people may not like it, to believe one thing is also to disbelieve another. To say yes is also to say no.

I think that most people would agree with Dr. Pelikan. After all, we seem to be thoroughly steeped in the idea that “religion” and “belief” are inextricably intertwined. When we hear about a religion that is new to us, the first question we ask is usually: “What do they believe?” And an adherent of any given religion is likely to ridicule the beliefs of other religions… regardless of how outlandish the dogma of his own religion might be. Recently, the business of Scientology (which seems much more like a cult than like any of the mainstream religions) has suffered endless ridicule because its followers are taught to believe some very odd things about aliens from outer space who take control of human bodies and minds… Mormonism has recently suffered similar attacks from other Christians, about some of their beliefs. What comes to mind quickly, of course, is the caution about living in glass houses, and the throwing of stones.

I am quite sympathetic to some aspect of the argument that is presented by Dr. Carse in his new book. Most of my readers know that my own religious background includes Catholicism, and that I am also a student of Buddhist thought. I have, throughout my adult life, struggled (mostly in vain) with the dogmas of Christianity; and so I approach Buddhist thought and teachings with the feeling of one who is finally getting a breath of fresh air.

There is an important teaching in Buddhism known as “don’t-know mind.” I suspect that Dr. Carse is familiar with it… It comes quickly to mind when I read about his discussion of “higher ignorance,” or the need to admit that we just don’t know anything concrete or definitive about what might be called ultimate reality, or about the ineffable yearnings that so many of us have for whatever might correspond to the ideas and ideals that we pursue in the realm of meaning, spirituality, purpose, and deep connection. It seems downright silly, and also arrogant and dangerous, to issue and enforce declarations of required belief about such matters, and we have long seen the damage that results from religious “beliefs.”

Carse seems to be arguing that the truly “religious” impulse is one of questioning, not so much of answering. Along with the Buddhists, he might approach life, and all that can be perceived and experienced, by asking: “What is this?” and realizing that the real answer is: “Don’t know.” Yet I am not at all sure that “higher ignorance,” or “don’t-know mind” are really compatible with religion as we know it in Western society today… and they would seem to be an especially hard squeeze for Christianity… although I suspect that Jesus himself embodied something that resembles “don’t-know mind” (he apparently wasn’t big on preaching or enforcing dogmas), I don’t think that his followers have much picked up on that aspect of the man they dogmatically proclaim to be one “person” within a Holy Trinity.

ISLAMIC PROFESSOR CHALLENGES EVOLUTION WITH A DELUGE OF GLOSSY BOOKS!

This morning there’s an article in NYT about a new “challenge” to evolutionary theory, not from fundamentalist Protestants, but from Islam. There’s a guy who has produced what is apparently a magnificent book, glossy, beautifully made, illustrated with many photos of fossils… and he has sent his book around to scientists all over the world. He is arguing that no change in species has ever occurred (he believes such changes would be contrary to the Koran).

Again, we see the fundamentalist antipathy toward science; and, in a larger sense, their antipathy toward human experience as a necessary resource in our understanding of the true nature of the universe, ultimate reality, and (some would say) an understanding of God. We are seeing it full-blown among many North American Protestants; Catholicism has its share (for example, the refusal to ordain women; the insistence on forbidding birth control).

It is this tendency within Christianity (and, apparently, Islam as well) that makes Buddhism so attractive, by comparison. The Buddha never permitted a contradiction between the teaching (the dharma), and human experience. There is no Buddhist “dogma” that must be swallowed whole. There is only the invitation to use the Buddhist pathway, and to see if human experience itself does, or does not, then verify the usefulness of the pathway. The Four Noble Truths about the existence, the source, and the end of human suffering are offered more as hypotheses than as infallible propositions that must be “believed.” Today, the Dalai Lama is the most prominent and vocal example of the Buddhist openness to science (see his new book, The Universe in a Single Atom).

And, of course, it is the failure to respect human experience, including scientific findings, that contributes so heavily to defections from religion among the well-educated, and scorn toward religion from many who cannot see the depth of understanding found among those who choose to practice their religion along a path of awareness, mindfulness, compassion, and seeking truth (and even Truth) from within our human experience. The “reign of God,” Jesus said, is within us.

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2 Responses to “Religion, Science, and Atheism”

  1. jocelyn anderson Says:

    Honestly, why don’t you declare yourself “god” and form your own religion and let someone else write some drivel about your idiocy.

    • Delany Says:

      Jocelyn, are you aware that this comment of yours doesn’t even make sense? It seems as if you are quite upset about something I wrote. Maybe that has made you less coherent. I’m wondering if you’d feel better if you stopped reading stuff you find on the internet about “religion, science, and atheism.”


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