Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christian scholars are perplexed at Jesus' choice of the word "yoke"

Death represents the culmination or boundary of horizontal existence. As such, Lazarus represents pure verticality, detached from the world of sickness, suffering, and toil. In Buddhism, there is a concept that is similar to divine incarnation, that is, the bodhisattva principle. A bodhisattva voluntarily renounces his verticality for horizontality, willingly taking on the suffering of existence until all beings have achieved liberation.

Christianity takes this principle to its translogical extreme, in that Jesus may be thought of as the ultimate bodhisattva, giving up an endowed chair in the Department of Trinitarian Studies in order to take his place with the struggling creatures below.

If death is the foreclosing of the horizontal for the vertical, this is the opposite, the renunciation of the vertical for the horizontal. And as Tomberg says, "there is no greater love than that of the sacrifice of eternity for the limitations of existence in the transient moment" -- and which is why, in the words of Petey, we are grateful for this undertaking of mortality, for our daily lessons in evanescence, for this manifestivus for the rest of us.

"Christian yoga," if we may call it such ("my yoka's easy"), is a strict balance between verticality and horizontality. One does not renounce the horizontal world. But nor does one cling to it as if it were the ultimate reality. Rather, one must always be in the horizontal but not of the horizontal. Excessive entanglement in the horizontal entails one kind of sleep, forgetting, and death; giving it up entirely for the vertical represents another kind: Lazarus' kind.

Shankara refers to horizontal men -- those flatlanders who are dead to the vertical -- as “suicides” who “clutch at the unreal and destroy themselves. What greater fool can there be than the man who has obtained this rare human birth... and yet fails, through delusion, to realize his own highest good? Know that the deluded man who walks the dreadful path of sense-craving moves nearer to his ruin with every step.”

Similarly, the Upanishads say that “Rare is he who, looking for immortality, shuts his eyes to what is without and beholds the Self. Fools follow the desires of the flesh and fall into the snare of all-encompassing death.... Worlds there are without suns, covered up with darkness. To these after death go the ignorant, slayers of the Self.”

In other words, pure horizontality entails not just the end of verticality, but the death of the Self -- or banishment to a world without the central Sun (of which our sun is only a symbol), "covered in darkness."

Let's refer back to Jesus' cryptic words in John 11:10, that "if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." Note that one does not stumble because of an absence of external light, but because there is no interior light: the light is not in him.

I find it interesting that Thomas is the disciple who supposedly evangelized India. Naturally, this would have been known when the gospels were written. But when Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with Lazarus," he is saying something rather suggestive.

Let's set aside the literal meaning for the moment, and interpret it to convey something like, "let us all die to the world and go entirely vertical, like one of those Upanishadic seers so that we too may be reborn 'for the glory of God, that the son of God may be glorified through our rebirth' (referring again to John 11:4). Let's be his glowdisciples and bring the vertical Light into the horizontal darkness that the latter doesn't comprehend!" (Also interesting that Jesus mentions there being "twelve hours in the day," which suggests to me that there shall be "twelve evangelists in the Light.")

Now, since we are dealing with principial truth, it is surely no coincidence that the Isha Upanishad warns that "To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.” 

Comment posted by: Govind Re: A Hindu View of Christian Yoga—by Rajiv Malhotra

The real Yoga of Jesus is already contained in his teaching. His teaching never originally fit into Orthodox Jewish religious beliefs and constraints and the Jewish religion has rejected it completely. The Roman religion founded in Jesus' name several hundred years after his passing was from the very beginning an imperial construct which, while appearing to surrender, in fact, quite effectively conquered the early Jesus movement and killed the spiritual by substituting it with the imperial religion.

But the yoga is there and unmistakable. So many instances can be cited. For example, his statement "Be ye perfect as your father in heaven" is an almost exact parallel of the Gita's "Nirdosham hi samam Brahma, tasmaad Brahmani te sthitaaha." What is most striking here is that Jesus uses the word "perfect" in the exact sense that Krishna uses the word "Nirdosham"... in the sense of equality of the EQUAL (Samam) Brahma. This is clear from the passage in which the teaching occurs: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

So close, almost identical, are the two that it almost sounds like Jesus is here giving a commentary on that verse from the Gita

Furthermore look at his statement "My Yoke is easy" in which Yoke is an exact translation of Yoga (latin: ieugem)... when read in context of the larger passage indicates that the Yoga of Jesus brings EASE or sukham and liberates one from suffering and again corresponds to a definition in the Gita of Yoga as "dukkha sanyoga viyogam" or which leads to "sukham akshayam". Furthermore, to this day Christian scholars are perplexed at Jesus' choice of the word "yoke" which had an almost exclusively negative context in the Biblical scriptures. In the roman world also, simply making another person pass under a yoke was a form of humiliation.

One could go on and on and on...

Sri Aurobindo has pointed us in this direction and provided all the important guideposts and guideposts to Jesus' Yoga even in Savitri. What needs to happen is the recovery of Jesus' yoga and its liberation from the grossly obscuring religious misinterpretation that has spread the mere outer word throughout the world but has also veiled the Yogic Truth of Spirit contained in them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Undue mental and psychological burden for who follow a faith

Habermas on Religion in the Public Sphere January 04, 2007  Aimee Milburn Cooper
First, Habermas has become concerned that the suppression of religion in the public sphere has created an unacceptable inequality between citizens of the state:
The liberal state must not transform the requisite institutional separation of the religion and politics into an undue mental and psychological burden for those of its citizens who follow a faith. . . . [Citizens should not have to] split their identity into a public and private part the moment they participate in public discourses. They should therefore be allowed to express and justify their convictions in a religious language if they cannot find secular ‘translations’ for them.[10]
Though it is questionable that religious speech should be “allowed,” as opposed to recognized as a basic right, I appreciate that he recognizes the burden and seeks to rectify it.
Second, he reasons that religious citizens have a burden, as far as possible, of “translating” religious reasoning into terms their secular counterparts can understand, to facilitate communication; and the freedom, if they can’t “translate,” to speak freely and publicly in religious terms. He also reasons that secular citizens have in turn the responsibility to listen for possible “truth” in religious arguments:
This requirement of translation must be conceived as a cooperative task in which the non-religious citizens must likewise participate, if their religious fellow citizens are not to be encumbered with an asymmetrical burden. . . . Secular citizens must open their minds to the possible truth content of those presentations and enter dialogues from which religious reasons then might well emerge in the transformed guise of generally accessible arguments.[11]
Note that Habermas, the secular atheist, is acknowledging that religious reasoning may contain “possible truth” that secularity should be open to. This is a far cry from the view of religion as oppressive “superstition” in the original Enlightenment view.
Third, Habermas observes that particular worldviews and religious doctrines are inherent to the formation of the person and cannot simply be laid aside in the public square, but must be taken into account in any public discourse. The expectation that they be laid aside, which he identifies as dominant since the Reformation and Enlightenment, places undue burdens on religious citizens and creates “cognitive dissonances” that, if they penetrate deeply enough into the fabric of the community, can cause its disintegration into irreconcilable segments:
In the absence of the uniting body of a civic solidarity . . . citizens do not perceive themselves as free and equal participants in the shared practices of democratic opinion and will formation wherein they owe one another reasons [emphasis Habermas’] for their political statements and attitudes. This reciprocity of expectations among citizens is what distinguishes a community integrated by constitutional values from a community segmented along the dividing lines of competing world views.[12]
His view is based on the concept of the person as having both freedom and inherent dignity, which in the public sphere manifests as both the right to speak freely and be heard, and the duty to listen to and carefully consider the freely expressed views of other persons. He speaks of the danger to pluralistic civil society when “in the case of conflicts that cut deep, citizens need not adapt to or face one another as second persons” (emphasis Habermas’).[13]
He has developed this idea elsewhere in his theory of “communicative action.”[14] This theory is consistent with recent Catholic teaching on the person and society, beginning with the documents of Vatican II and expressed most recently in speeches and statements of Pope Benedict XVI, such as the Regensburg address,[15] which call for respectful, rational dialogue between persons and societies of differing religious and philosophical views.
Fourth, Habermas has come to believe that modern Liberalism is “intrinsically self-contradictory” because it represses and devalues the free speech of religious citizens, and demands of them “an effort to learn and adapt that secular citizens are spared having to make.”[16] He is highly critical of this prevailing secular prejudice against religion:
As long as secular citizens are convinced that religious traditions and religious communities are . . . archaic relics of pre-modern societies that continue to exist in the present, they will understand freedom of religion as the cultural version of the conservation of a species in danger of becoming extinct. From their viewpoint, religion no longer has any intrinsic justification to exist. . . . [Secular citizens] can obviously [not] be expected to take religious contributions to contentious political issues seriously and even to help to assess them for a substance that can possibly be expressed in a secular language and justified by secular arguments.
           . . . The admission of religious statements to the political public sphere only makes sense if all citizens can be expected not to deny from the outset any possible cognitive substance to these contributions. . . . [Yet] such an attitude presupposes a mentality that is anything but a matter of course in the secularized societies of the West.[17]
Fifth and last, he criticizes the way that reason itself is used in secular culture, calling it inadequate and a danger. He calls for a “self-critical assessment of the limits of secular reason;”[18] the “overcoming of . . . a narrow secularist consciousness”;[19]and asks “secular citizens . . . [to be] prepared to learn something from the contributions to public debates made by their religious counterparts.”[20] He states “the ethics of democratic citizenship assumes secular citizens exhibit a mentality that is no less demanding than the corresponding mentality of their religious counterparts,”[21] and so calls citizens to a much higher standard of reasoning:
The polarization of the world views in a community that splits into fundamentalist and secular camps [shows] that an insufficient number of citizens matches up to the yardstick of the public use of reason and thereby endanger political integration.[22]
In sum, Habermas is proposing no less than a “revised concept of citizenship”[23] that simultaneously restores freedom of religious speech and reasoning to the public squareand elevates the level of secular reasoning, with an equal duty of respect, listening, and reciprocity expected of all citizens. This is stunning in light of classical Enlightenment and Liberal thought on religion – and very hopeful, coming from such a prominent and respected secular atheist.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kant, Gödel, & Rees

D'oh, we may never decode the universe - Times Online Jonathan Leake 42 COMMENTS Understanding vast cosmic events such as galactic collisions is one of science's greatest challenges, says Lord Rees

SOME of the greatest mysteries of the universe may never be resolved because they are beyond human comprehension, according to Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society.
Rees suggests that the inherent intellectual limitations of humanity mean we may never resolve questions such as the existence of parallel universes, the cause of the big bang, or the nature of our own consciousness.
He even compares humanity to fish, which swim through the oceans without any idea of the properties of the water in which they spend their lives.
“A ‘true’ fundamental theory of the universe may exist but could be just be too hard for human brains to grasp,” said Rees, who is also the astronomer royal.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
“Just as a fish may be barely aware of the medium in which it lives and swims, so the microstructure of empty space could be far too complex for unaided human brains.”
Rees’s thesis could prove highly provocative to other scientists, especially those who have devoted their careers to understanding such mysteries.
He is well placed to understand the potential limitations of science. Besides heading Britain’s premier scientific organisation, he is also professor of cosmology at Cambridge University, where he is one of Britain’s most respected astrophysicists. He is currently delivering the annual BBC Reith lectures.
Rees’s warning, in a Sunday Times interview, is partly prompted by the failure of scientists working on the greatest problem of modern physics — to reconcile the forces that govern the behaviour of the cosmos, including planets and stars, with those that rule the so-called microworld of atoms and particles.
Rees points out how Albert Einstein was able to use mathematical theories developed in the early 19th century to build his 1915 theory of general relativity, describing how gravity controlled stars and planets.
Similarly, early 20th-century physicists such as Paul Dirac used “off-the-shelf” mathematical systems when devising quantum theory, which describes how nature works at a sub-atomic level.
The problem faced by their successors is that the two theories are deeply contradictory — and no one can find the mathematical tools needed to bring them together into a “unified theory”.
Rees points out that thousands of scientists have been working on this problem for several decades and are still nowhere near an answer.
“There are powerful reasons to suspect that space has a grainy structure but on a scale a trillion trillion times smaller than atoms. Solving how this might work is crucial for 21st-century science,” he said.
Rees believes the most promising idea is “string theory” which suggests that the particles that make up atoms are “woven from space itself”. Such particles, he suggests, could exist in 10 or 11 dimensions. Humans, by contrast, can experience only the three spatial dimensions plus time. He adds that there could even be other 3-D universes “embedded alongside ours”.
“In theory, there could be another entire universe less than a millimetre away from us, but we are oblivious to it because that millimetre is measured in a fourth spatial dimension and we are imprisoned in just three,” he said.
Such ideas sound extraordinary but Rees wonders if they can ever be proved. He suggests humanity may have reached the limits of comprehension.
“Some aspects of reality — a unified theory of physics or a full understanding of consciousness — might elude us simply because they’re beyond human brains, just as surely as Einstein’s ideas would baffle a chimpanzee,” he said.
Other scientists are more optimistic. Brian Cox, the BBC science presenter and physics professor who was awarded an OBE yesterday, said: “The idea that certain things are beyond us is quite a bleak one and history does show that we can eventually overcome the most difficult of problems.”
The mind boggles
The scientific mysteries that may be beyond us include
* Multiple dimensions — string theory suggests space has up to 11 dimensions, but mathematicians have struggled to prove this
* Consciousness — scientists suggest consciousness derives from chemical reactions in the brain but cannot explain how this might generate a sense of self
* Are we real? — Rees and other physicists have suggested the universe and humanity are part of a giant computer simulation as seen in the Matrix films
People not smart enough to understand universe: scientist Toronto Sun By QMI Agency A top British scientist says we may never know all the secrets of the universe because, quite simply, we're just not smart enough. ... Has the human brain reached its limit of understanding?‎ - Limitations of the human brain mean we may never understand the ...‎ - Daily Mail
This is the week of my annual lecture, which as regular readers know is on twenty first century enlightenment. Madeleine Bunting has kindly written a piece.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One must let go of one’s certitudes and beliefs

Looking For Right Answers Times of India ANIL MATHUR, May 21, 2010
As a child, questions concerning life and death would perplex me. Sixty years later, i find myself grappling with the very same questions. Is there such a thing as an ideal life? If there is, how does one know how to attain it? I tend to think that my destiny is in my hands. Experience, however, says something different. The path my life has taken is evidence enough that my destiny is not in my control; it does seem as though some kind of superpower is orchestrating the way each and every moment of my life unfolds. 
I have tried my best to try and quantify how much of what happens in my life is within my power to change and how much is not. However, the answer is still not within my grasp. I have failed to find the answer. Despite knowing that as a rational thinking person i would not come to the conclusion that one has to accept total surrender as that is the only approach that will help one to stay sane i find that surrendering to the inevitable seems to be inevitable. […]
Why have religions made life and death so difficult to comprehend? Going on pilgrimages and travelling to different places of worship and religious importance has given me much joy and pleasure. I have also enjoyed meeting and knowing several enlightened souls and interesting persons from whom one can learn a lot. Despite all of this, i still have not been able to find an answer to the question: In its final form, can salvation be achieved through pilgrimages and darshans? 
All roads lead to the same destination that's one philosophy i have tried to believe in. However, i do not know if the difference in quiet prayers at the Pondicherry Aurobindo Ashram and the vibrant chanting of Hare Krishna at the Vrindavan ISKCON temple are cosmetic or are marked by definite characteristics. I have enjoyed both, but cannot say which will help me reach the desired goal of salvation or peace. How does total surrender to God differ from escapism? Is being totally rational, or trying to be rational, an exercise in irrationality? […] 
If you get the message that i am totally confused you are right but i have still managed to live a life of some relative sanity because of spiritual or higher pursuits. Meanwhile, i will welcome any answers to some of my questions from the readers of the column that has helped me stay afloat.  
Michael Shermer in his book “Why We Believe” describes the mind as a “belief engine” that is constantly creating patterns of belief. From fractured information and sense impressions the mind weaves together plausible pictures of reality that we believe in. What do we mean when we say we “believe” then? Things that we believe in are things that we “think that we know.” 10 Comments » 
Benthamite reasoning is hard to escape. Everyone relies on it when making decisions in everyday life, whether it be voting on a job candidate or buying one car rather than another or putting a bus line on one road rather than another.  Even a lot of the arguments for following rules rely on an ultimate Benthamite judgment about good vs. bad consequences…Benthamite reasoning is inescapable, though it is a big mistake to make cardinal utility the only relevant value.  We're all pluralists now, but cardinal utility should be a major part of the relevant pluralist bundle.
The Divine Will is an elusive thing for sure.  The religious preacher confuses his strong beliefs with the Divine Will, the despot attributes his success to it’s action, and spiritual aspirant is supposed to surrender to it.  Does any such thing as the Divine Will really exist?  How can one recognize it ?  The Divine Will does exist because there is a teleological purpose in evolution.  Every soul is being led to the Truth through a certain line of evolution, seemingly haphazardly, and it is this Divine Will which subtly goads him to progress forward. Ordinarily, the Divine Will remains concealed due to our ignorance of our true nature but it begins to unveil itself as we gradually erase the ego through Yoga and allied occult-spiritual practices. […] Conditions for knowing the Divine Will
Purification of consciousness is necessary to uncover the Divine Will. There are certain set of practices one must do regularly as an integral part of spiritual life.  First, one must let go of one’s certitudes and beliefs, and clear the clutter of opinions one has acculumated regarding the world.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Like cats, professors are naturally suspicious

 Advice by Rob Jenkins The ChronicleApril 12, 2010
Like cats, professors tend to be highly intelligent, deeply self-actualized, and fiercely independent. They need to be stroked occasionally, but only on their own terms and in their own good time. Mostly, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing. They might not come when called—perhaps because they're suspicious of the caller's motives—but they may very well show up on their own when least expected.
In fact, the real question isn't whether or not faculty members are like cats. The real question is, "What's wrong with that?" Perhaps, instead of constantly trying to rein in faculty members, we should be cultivating their catlike qualities.
Take independence. It's true that many faculty members, perhaps most of them, seem to view themselves as independent contractors rather than employees in the traditional sense. They sometimes find themselves at odds with administrators who definitely regard them as employees, in every sense.
For college professors, however, independent-mindedness is hardly a negative trait. Indeed, it's largely responsible for the rich diversity of personal viewpoints, teaching approaches, and classroom methodologies that makes getting a college education such a rewarding experience.
Another quality I admire in cats is that they have a certain moral integrity. The truth about dogs is they can be bought. Cats generally can't. You won't see anybody bribing a cat with a kitty treat. Oh, it might take the treat, but it will still do exactly as it pleases.
Similarly, good faculty members are not easily manipulated—much to the frustration of some administrators, who think they can persuade professors to embrace the latest make-work mandate simply by stroking them with vague promises, empty rhetoric, and meaningless awards. Like cats, professors are naturally suspicious, not because they're cynical (although some are) but because they're highly sensitive to ulterior motives. […]
Just feed them regularly, don't abuse them, don't patronize them, and occasionally they might climb up on your lap and purr—metaphorically speaking, of course. Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. He blogs at http://www.academicleaders.or

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Religion needs yoga or practice—or spiritual technology—to help reveal and deepen it in one’s life

As noble a goal as immanental transcendentalism was (and still is), it expressed itself via two major flaws in the postmodern age. Those twin errors have reaped untold amounts of suffering as well as caused nearly irreparable confusion regarding how we approach the ultimate.
The first flaw was that postmodernity had no real mechanism for differentiating between and judging amongst the various forms of immanental expression.  In extreme cases, just about anything that could be expressed—anything within this world and particularly within one’s experience—was considered to be salvific.
A prosaic example is the notion, common since the 1960s, that the intellect is anti-spiritual and what you need to do to become more spiritual is “get into your feelings”—as if any old feeling were automatically more enlightened somehow than any thought.  Martin Luther King Jr. you may recall had a dream, not a feeling.  Dreams are visions that involve the mind.
This same virus has infected not only individual spiritual seeking but also social-political movements.  By the (il)logical rigor of the position that feelings expressed are the mode of liberation, the Tea Party protests in the United States this year were a great enlightening event—according to postmodern thought.  It was a collective form of immanence and hence therefore, according to this school of thought, salvific.
In terms of collective expression of will—if that alone is what is salvation—then there is no difference between the Civil Rights movement and the Tea Party protests.  None.  Not spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically.
At which point of course postmodernists—generally not fans of hard right-wing American views—would likely balk and say something to the effect of “well I didn’t mean that kind of expression.”
And the phrase “that kind of expression” shows the limits of postmodernity and traps itself in its own self-inconsistency.  In other words, that kind of expression understood to be somehow wrong or immoral shows that not all kinds of immanence are equally transcendent or salvific in nature.
Yet, generically speaking, postmodernity lacked any rationale as to why it held the opinions it held regarding which forms of immanence were valid and which forms were invalid.  It all became essentially a matter of emotional preference, leaving individuals increasingly alienated from one another (because of their feelings!!!).  As I will argue later in more detail, alienation (i.e. the avoidance of relationship) is the primary form of sin—or the breaking of the link to the transcendent.  If that is true, then we are lost in a collective practice of sin.

The second flaw of postmodernism with regard to religion was not having a sufficiently grounded yoga or practice—or spiritual technology—to help illuminate the transcendent in the immanent in a profound and really transformative way.
An example.  I mentioned earlier that Jacques Derrida towards the end of his life spent a significant amount of time studying and writing on negative theology (traditionally called apophatic theology). Though the term apophatic usually refers to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystical theology, there are Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoism versions of apophaticism (though they go by a different name)… Derrida—here representing the postmodern urge and mood—never undertook those practices (so far as I can tell by his writings on the subject)… 
As such, postmodernity became a “talking school” of spirituality and religion.  It was still all too identified with the eye of mind.  All of the postmodern writers above, though they write beautifully and at times transcendentally, have no real way of teaching how they got to the point of view that they did that offered them such a majestic vista on the life process. Without a mature intellectual understanding of the spiritual nor a practice to help reveal and deepen it in one’s life, postmodernism floundered. 6:20 PM   9:26 AM

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Denying differences is a recipe for disaster

From this perspective, popularized by "perennial philosophers" such as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell and Huston Smith, all religions are beautiful and all are true. The prevailing metaphor portrays the world's religions as different paths up the same mountain. "It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side," writes Mr. Smith, "but when the top is reached the trails converge."
This is a seductive sentiment in a world in which religious violence can seem as present and potent as God. But it is dangerous, disrespectful and untrue. […] Of course, one purpose of the "all religions are one" meme is to stop this fighting and this killing. But this meme, however well intentioned, is neither accurate nor ethically responsible. God may be one according to the Abrahamic religions, but when it comes to the mathematics of divinity, one is not the only number. Many Buddhists believe in no god, and many Hindus believe in 330,000. Moreover, the characters of these divinities differ wildly. […]

You would think that champions of multiculturalism would warm to this fact, glorying in the diversity inside and across religious traditions. But even among multiculturalists, the tendency is to pretend that the differences between, say, Christianity and Islam are more apparent than real, and that the differences inside religious traditions just don't warrant the fuss practitioners make over them. […]

The Age of Enlightenment popularized the ideal of religious tolerance, and we are doubtless better for it. But the idea of religious unity is wishful thinking nonetheless, and it has not made the world a safer place. In fact, this naive theological groupthink—call it Godthink—has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clashes of religions that threaten us world-wide.
Faith in the unity of religions is just that—faith, and perhaps even a kind of fundamentalism. And it does not just infect the perennialists. While popular religion writers such as Mr. Smith see in all religions the same truth and the same virtue, new atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins see in all religions the same idiocy and the same poison. In both cases, Godthink is ideological rather than analytical. It gestates in the dense clouds of desire rather than with a clear-eyed vision of how things are in the ground. In the case of the new atheists, it springs from the understandable desire to denounce the evil in religion. In the case of the perennialists, it begins with the equally understandable desire to praise the good in religion. […]

Some people are convinced that the only foundation on which inter-religious civility can be constructed is the dogma that all religions are one. I am not one of them. In our most intimate human relationships, who is so naive as to imagine that partners or spouses must be essentially the same? What is required in any healthy relationship is knowing who the other person really is. Denying differences is a recipe for disaster. What works is understanding the differences and then coming to accept and, when appropriate, to respect them. After all, it is not possible to agree to disagree until you see just what the disagreements might be. And tolerance is an empty virtue until we actually understand whatever it is we are supposed to be tolerating. Stephen Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University. This essay was adapted from his book "God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter," recently published by HarperOne. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Funeral of secular reason

 Does Reason Know What It Is Missing? New York Times (blog) - Stanley Fish
The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has long been recognized as the most persistent and influential defender of an Enlightenment ... In recent years, however, Habermas’s stance toward religion has changed. First, he now believes that religion is not going away and that it will continue to play a large and indispensable part in many societies and social movements. And second, he believes that in a post-secular age — an age that recognizes the inability of the secular to go it alone — some form of interaction with religion is necessary: “Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”
The question of course is what does Habermas mean by “introduce”? How exactly is the cooperation between secular reason and faith to be managed? Habermas attempted to answer that question in the course of a dialogue with four Jesuit academics who met with him in
Munich in 2007. The proceedings have now been published in Ciaran Cronin’s English translation (they appeared in German in 2008) under the title “An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age.”  
Habermas begins his initial contribution to the conversation by recalling the funeral of a friend who in life “rejected any profession of faith,” and yet indicated before his death that he wanted his memorial service to take place at St. Peter’s Church in Zurich. Habermas decides that his friend “had sensed the awkwardness of non-religious burial practices and, by his choice of place, publicly declared that the enlightened modern age has failed to find a suitable replacement for a religious way of coping with the final rite de passage.” The point can be sharpened: in the context of full-bodied secularism, there would seem to be nothing to pass on to, and therefore no reason for anything like a funeral.
To be sure, one could regard funerals for faith-less persons as a vestige of values no longer vital or as a concession to the feelings and desires of family members, but Habermas chooses to take it seriously “as a paradoxical event which tells us something about secular reason.” What it tells us, he goes on to say, is that secular reason is missing something and without it threatens to “spin out of control.”
What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is “unenlightened about itself” in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments. “Postmetaphysical thinking,” Habermas contends, “cannot cope on its own with the defeatism concerning reason which we encounter today both in the postmodern radicalization of the ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’ and in the naturalism founded on a naïve faith in science.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Higher realms of consciousness and deeper truths of being

from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob

I guess I first realized this after reading Ken Wilber's Eye to Eye, in which he distinguishes between the physical eye (which knows sensory/empirical reality), the rational eye (which knows math and logic), and the eye of contemplation or intellection (which sees the higher realms of consciousness and deeper truths of being). Each of these is separate and distinct, and not reducible to the other.

It's painfully obvious once you think about it, for how can one possibly understand, say, the square root of negative one in empirical terms? Nor can you use empirical measurements to explain why the tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar is so perfect. And although the Trinity is a "number," to imagine that it can be understood mathematically is the height of folly.

Regarding my own field, psychology, I've witnessed its evolution (and devolution!) on a first hand basis. One thing you will have noticed is that the higher up one ventures into the great chain of being (i.e., matter, life, mind, spirit), the greater the potential for fragmentation, schism, and competing theories.

Now, I don't happen to believe that this fragmentation is necessary, and that most of it is due to sloppy, undisciplined, and unsystematic thinking (in fact, it's not really "thinking," more like fantasy). But one of the primary reasons contemporary thinking is so sloppy is the pervasive reductionism and materialism that prevent people from ever acquiring the proper skills and methods to explore, map, and colonize the higher realms.

For the essence of science -- at any level of reality -- is the reduction of multiplicity to unity. As such, there is clearly an appropriate kind of reduction, so long as it confines itself to its own domain, and doesn't try to pull all of the other ones down with it. Even if the material realm operated under completely mechanistic principles, that would have no relevance to the manner in which the mind operates. Your Dreamer, for example, couldn't care less about linear causation or Aristotelian logic.

When psychoanalysis was invented by Freud in the 19th century, he tried to make it completely consonant with the naively mechanistic and positivistic scientific paradigm of the day, which is why some of his ideas are absurdly outdated.
America had its own version of a mechanistic and "scientific" psychology with the development of behaviorism. Here again you see how otherwise intelligent people can be "trapped into seeing in the science of the day its ultimate phase of development." 
In my view, we should begin our philosophizing with those things that will never change, or with the eye of Spirit. Nothing that occurs in science has any relevance to these truths, since they are timeless. And although they have no direct relevance to the practice of science, they certainly have an indirect relevance. 

For example, if a scientist insists that Darwinism proves that there is no objective distinction between good and evil, or that beauty is entirely subjective, we know that he is a fool. And there is no reason to try to argue him out of his delusion, any more than one can explain to a blind man why he shouldn't wear brown shoes with a tux. In both cases, the eyes must be open (the eye of flesh in the case of the blind man, the eye of spirit in the case of the blind Darwinian).

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A higher purpose, a transcendent moral order

No Smiting By PAUL BLOOM
NYT: June 24, 2009 God has mellowed...

In his brilliant new book, “The Evolution of God,” Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up. He starts with the deities of hunter-­gatherer tribes, moves to those of chiefdoms and nations, then on to the polytheism of the early Israelites and the monotheism that followed, and then to the New Testament and the Koran, before finishing off with the modern multinational Gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Wright’s tone is reasoned and careful, even hesitant, throughout, and it is nice to read about issues like the morality of Christ and the meaning of jihad without getting the feeling that you are being shouted at. His views, though, are provocative and controversial. There is something here to annoy almost everyone.

In sharp contrast to many contemporary secularists, Wright is bullish about monotheism. In “Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny” (2000), he argued that there is a moral direction to human history, that technological growth and expanding global interconnectedness have moved us toward ever more positive and mutually beneficial relationships with others. In “The Evolution of God,” Wright tells a similar story from a religious standpoint, proposing that the increasing goodness of God reflects the increasing goodness of our species. “As the scope of social organization grows, God tends to eventually catch up, drawing a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.” Wright argues that each of the major Abrahamic faiths has been forced toward moral growth as it found itself interacting with other faiths on a multinational level, and that this expansion of the moral imagination reflects “a higher purpose, a transcendent moral order.”

This sounds pro-religion, but don’t expect Pope Benedict XVI to be quoting from Wright’s book anytime soon. Wright makes it clear that he is tracking people’s conception of the divine, not the divine itself. He describes this as “a good news/bad news joke for traditionalist Christians, Muslims and Jews.” The bad news is that your God was born imperfect. The good news is that he doesn’t really exist.

Wright also denies the specialness of any faith. In his view, there is continuous positive change over time — religious history has a moral direction — but no movement of moral revelation associated with the emergence of Moses, Jesus or Mohammed. Similarly, he argues that it is a waste of time to search for the essence of any of these monotheistic religions — it’s silly, for instance, to ask whether Islam is a “religion of peace.” Like a judge who believes in a living constitution, Wright believes that what matters is the choices that the people make, how the texts are interpreted. Cultural sensibilities shift according to changes in human dynamics, and these shape the God that people worship. For Wright, it is not God who evolves. It is us — God just comes along for the ride.

It is a great ride, though. Wright gives the example of the God of Leviticus, who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and he points out that this isn’t as enlightened as it may sound, since, at the time, “neighbors” meant actual neighbors, fellow Israelites, not the idol-worshipers in the next town. But still, he argues, this demand encompassed all the tribes of Israel, and was a “moral watershed” that “expanded the circle of brotherhood.” And the disapproval that we now feel when we learn the limited scope of this rule is itself another reason to cheer, since it shows how our moral sensibilities have expanded.