Friday, 30 November 2012

Provisional Paganism?

CS Lewis, creator of Narnia, Ransom and Screwtape, wrote that conversion to Christianity was easier from Paganism than from secularism. Sangharakshita, founder of the Western Buddhist Order, said that post-Christian secularists might approach Buddhism more easily by first returning to their Pagan roots. Thus, both placed a positive albeit provisional value on Paganism.

I suggest that mankind benefits from celebration, meditation and secularisation but not from indoctrination about a unique revelation of sacrificial salvation from eternal damnation. Post-Christian secularists can perform seasonal rituals, practise Buddhist meditation and promote scientific understanding, thus preserving beneficial traditions without perpetuating monotheist beliefs.

Having been indoctrinated in Catholicism, I initially welcomed Lewis' Christian propaganda and accepted his philosophical rationalisations and am far from alone in still appreciating his imaginative fiction - which grants a surprising degree of autonomy to the Pagan gods under the sovereignty of Aslan/Maleldil/Christ - and also valuing many of his moral insights - in The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength.

However, after study and reflection, I now reject the ideas both of only one god and of blood sacrifice. The Buddha taught that the best sacrifice was an offering not of blood to the gods but of fruit to the poor. But I prefer Zen to Sangharakshita's eclecticism.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

From Potentiality To Actuality

At any given time, there are many potential people, who would be born if the right genes were combined. However, very few are actualised. Those of us who have been actualised have three successive states: potentiality; life; death.

I think that this life was preceded by potentiality, not by previous lives, and will be followed by death, not by any future lives. Spiritual development and the mythical realms of gods and a hereafter exist only in our individual brains while we are alive. It is important to meditate between now and death because there is no other opportunity.








Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Wanderer

In Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods, Hadding meets a man. The description of the man should tell us who he is: very tall, old, lean, wide-shouldered, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a long blue cloak that flaps in the wind, carrying a long spear, one-eyed. He has been a ferryman and presents himself as a soothsayer and healer. Two ravens fly past.

He now bears the name Gangleri. In other words, that is not his original name. It meant nothing to me but we are told that it means Wanderer. That means something. In Wagner's Ring, the chief god, answering the same description, is called Wotan in Valhalla and Wanderer when he does in fact wander through Midgard.

The change of name implies a difference in function or maybe the difference between a god (like Vishnu) and one of his avatars or incarnations (like Rama or Krishna). However, Odin does not incarnate. He simply descends bodily from Asgard to Midgard. Religious concepts had not yet become very elaborate.

Gangleri has presented himself as soothsayer and healer to a viking band. Given his appearance and apparent knowledge of the future, why do the vikings not recognise Odin? Can he cloud their minds to prevent recognition? His purpose is to persuade them to accept Hadding, not to draw undue attention to himself. The reader is in the privileged position of recognising the god at work.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Root Of Paganism

I think that Poul Anderson in The Broken Sword (London, 1977) uncovers one root of Paganism. Thunder is the sound of "...great wheels across the sky..." and Thor is mentioned (p. 23); "...a brief gleam...and a hawk-scream...overhead..." are Valkyries (p. 31).

"Sprites whirled in the mists above waterfalls; their voices rang back from the dell cliffs...graceful shining bodies haloed with rainbows..." - dimly seen (p. 26).

The elf-earls voice "...was like a wind blowing through trees far away..." (p. 19). The voice of an As (a god) "...was as of a slow storm through a brazen sky..." (p. 84). A witch sees a tall, bearded, one-eyed man with a cloak, a spear and a wide-brimmed hat but "...she had not really seen him clear - it could have been a trick of the starlight..." (p. 39). Sailors glimpse or dream what elf-eyes see, "...sea maidens tumbling in the foam and singing, the drowned tower of Ys..." (p. 31).

Our ancestors heard thunder and wind, saw storms and waterfalls, and in these they heard Thor's chariot and elven voices, saw sprites, sea maidens and the gods. If the sound of the wind in the trees evoked elven voices and if storms evoked gods, then, yes, the elf-earl's voice will resemble the wind blowing through distant trees and Tyr's voice will sound like a storm in the sky. Anderson has authentically imagined what it would be like to meet an elf and a god.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Many Gods

It is a premise of Paganism that all gods exist. A newly encountered tribe or nation worships either different gods or our gods under different names - Zeus and Thor are Jupiter - so that, either way, the gods exist. There is no difference in meaning between asking which gods are worshiped in Northern Europe and asking which gods are active there. Human interaction with divinity and divine interaction with humanity are a single process. Divine activity is (regarded as) experienced so the abstract question of divine existence does not arise.

Polytheist pantheons can be incorporated not only into each other but also into monotheist and even "atheist" world views. In Paradise Lost, John Milton identified Pagan gods as demons, thus as fallen angels, thus as rebellious creatures of the One God. CS Lewis, a Miltonic Christian, incorporated Spiritualism into Christianity by acknowledging that dead souls might revisit Earth to haunt buildings or contact mediums although they really should go somewhere else. Hindus can incorporate Christianity by recognising Christ as one of many divine incarnations.

In Hinduism, the many gods can be seen as aspects of one God. However, Hindu philosophical systems include Samkhya which is "atheist" as accepting that one material substance and many reincarnating souls are beginningless and uncreated. This kind of atheism denies the one God of monotheism but not the many gods of polytheism. The latter are among the many reincarnating beings.

Patanjali based his Yoga Sutras on Samkhya philosophy but wanted to include the widespread popular devotion to a personal deity in his list of yogic practices so he described Isvara, the personal God, as a special kind of soul, permanently free from reincarnation, not a Creator but nevertheless a God incorporated into an essentially atheist philosophical system - really clever.

Some works of modern fantasy accept as a premise of fiction, not of belief, that all gods exist and that all mythological realms coexist somewhere somehow. In CS Lewis' Ransom Trilogy and Narnia Chronicles, Pagan gods are necessarily subordinate but nevertheless enjoy a surprising degree of autonomy. Narnia is jointly liberated by a Greek god and by the Christian god in animal form. That alliance is unique in imaginative fiction.

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman graphic novels, gods exist because they are imagined, then worshiped. They fade away as their worship declines. In Poul and Karen's The King Of Ys Tetralogy, Mithras, the Olympians and the Three of Ys withdraw before the advent of the new god whose messengers, like their successor Milton, regard those earlier deities not as non-existent but as demonic.

In Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest, a traveller between alternative timelines finds one where the Aztec gods exist. In Anderson's Operation Luna (New York, 2000), the universe containing the World Tree of Norse mythology:

" '...was once closely entwined with ours, and surely with others. Or, rather, the crossing was easy from Northern lands. The belief factors...Christianity changed things. In a way, Beings like you, Fjalar, were left stranded here, like their counterparts in other universes.' " (p. 319) (Fjalar is a dwarf.)

So belief is a factor there too.

"...the Old Norse...gods...'d withdrawn before the One God..." (p. 319)

Again, withdrawal, not non-existence.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Comic Strip Bibles

All world religions have inspired texts but only one, Manichaeanism, also had inspired images. Is a comic strip adaptation of the Bible a Bible? If all the words in the captions and speech balloons are taken directly from the original, then, by definition, they remain the words of the inspired text but the visual content of the panels does not thereby become inspired.

However, two translations, the Septuagint and the King James, have come to be regarded as particularly authoritative as though not only the authors but also the translators had been inspired so maybe a comic strip Bible with very good art could come to be regarded in the same way? Imagine if Michelangelo did it.

I used comic strip adaptations of the Bible when working as an RE Teacher. The New Testament was one volume of Gospels followed by one of Acts with some material from Paul's Epistles. One pupil disliked the Gospels volume because it tried, unsuccessfully of course, to merge the four independent narratives into one. I agreed with him. Let us have the Four Gospels as a tetralogy, either with four artists or maybe with one for the Synoptics and another for the Fourth?

And the same for screen adaptations: one actor for Jesus in the Synoptics and another in the Fourth, with actors resembling computer reconstructions of what a First Century Palestinian Jew would probably have looked like. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Better Than Religion II

According to Ninian Smart, the member of the Taoist Trinity (the Three Pure Beings) who controls yin and yang was Tao Chun. (1) I think that this image represents the Three with the Jade Emperor between Tao Chun and the deified Lao Tzu, this last being the mythical founder of Taoist philosophy though not of Taoist religion, although, as agreed in "Better Than Religion," religious stories and beliefs present philosophical ideas, in this case the interdependence of and interaction between opposites, in popular forms.

Since Tao Chun is subordinate to an Emperor, it is easier to equate him with Hegelian than with Marxist dialectics although, again, since all things have their ultimate origin from the Jade Emperor who is explicitly a projection of the Chinese Emperor, thus irrelevant to any society without an Emperor, it is easy to see the Three as personifications of impersonal realities:

the Emperor is matter;
Tao Chun is interaction;
Lao Tzu is wisdom in a human being, not in a deity although, mythologically, he is deified.

Interactions from ancient times transmit practical philosophies:

Jainism + ancient Indian materialism = Buddhism.
Buddhism + Taoism = Ch'an.
Ch'an + Shinto nature mysticism = Zen.

Dialectics + materialism = dialectical materialism.
Economics + socialism = scientific socialism.
Dialectical materialism + scientific socialism = Marxism.

Zen + Marxism = Zen Marxism?

By "Zen Marxism," I mean only simultaneous practice of Zen meditation and of Marxist politics, not a compromise between philosophical idealism and materialism.

(1) Smart, Ninian, The Religious Experience Of Mankind, London, 1971, p. 231.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Better Than Religion

I have just read The Point Is To Change It, an introduction to Marxist philosophy by John Molyneux. While reading it, I thought, "This is like religion but better." Why did I think that?

Molyneux argues that religion is or includes popular philosophy. People encounter philosophical ideas about the nature of reality and of humanity through their religious beliefs. Marxism presents or incorporates explanations of material and human processes, for example:

the interpenetration of opposites;
the transformation of quantity into quality;
natural selection;
class struggle.

These processes are discernible and comprehensible by us whereas, in a religious myth, the underlying processes would be hidden from us and comprehensible only by gods. Indeed, the Taoist Trinity, at least in one account, includes, apart from the Jade Emperor and Lao Tzu, a third person who controls yin-yang interactions, thus, to combine polytheist and Marxist language, is the god of dialectics.

We appreciate both explanations on the one hand and myths on the other. Thus, an introduction to Marxist philosophy could be complemented by a summary of religious origin stories. These myths can be comprehended and appreciated appropriately when it is understood that they are explanatory stories and not scientific explanations.

Addendum, 10/7/12: I have another use for the word "religion," which is "response to the highest transcendence," where the transcendent can be a (Buddhist) state rather than a (theistic) being but this does not contradict my agreement that Marxist scientific philosophy transcends religious popular philosophy.

I am having trouble tracking down the name of that god of dialectics, the third member of the Taoist trinity.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Zen Questions

(i) In the Zen Group, someone read a passage referring to a "Lord of the House", then asked if there were any questions. I asked what was the Lord of the House and was given reasons for referring to the Buddha as "Lord". I responded that I had wondered how the House crept in. I was told not to worry about it. I replied that I was not worried but just wondered what it meant! I was now getting frustrated because I was having to ask for a third time.

After further discussion, an interesting scriptural passage was quoted. The Buddha at the moment of Enlightenment says, "Now I have seen you, builder of the house of ego! Your rafters are broken! Never more will you build!" I was satisfied with this.

The following week, the Senior Lay Minister, who had not been present on the evening when the question was asked, said that he had been told about the previous week's discussion and wanted to say that questions should be asked from spiritual concern, not from intellectual curiosity. So I had had to ask the question three times and was now being told that I should not have asked it! - But I had received an answer.

(ii) The Buddha differentiates between Arhats and Pratyeka-Buddhas on the one hand and Boddhisattvas on the other. I was familiar with the distinction between Arhats and Bodhisattvas but not with the term "Pratyeka-Buddha". I should have just asked what it meant but I phrased my question as "What is the difference between an Arhat and a Pratyeka-Buddha?" The answer I received was simply an account of the Buddha differentiating between A's and P's on the one hand and B's on the other. This was the account that had made me ask the question so it was not an answer to it. I repeated the question and received the same response.

On replying "I understand that but...", I received the reply "Then I don't understand what you are asking." I could think of nothing to say but to repeat my question and now encountered mere incomprehension. Someone else defined "Pratyeka-Buddha" but, for a long time afterwards, I could remember only the frustration of having to repeat the question and not what the eventual answer had been. I have since confirmed that a Pratyeka-Buddha is someone who realises Enlightenment independently, not by practising the Buddha Dharma.

Friday, 18 May 2012

CS Lewis' World View

C. S. Lewis’ Ransom trilogy expresses not only Christian belief but also Lewis’ particular version of it:

Genesis 2 and 3 are essentially accurate history;
Darwinian processes do not occur;
all animals in an un-Fallen world are tame;
un-Fallen human beings do not die;
their population increases to a preordained number;
their first parents are divinely endowed with knowledge that we acquired only by scientific research;
the first male parent of a new race is, not by social convention but by divine intention, a “King” who will “judge” his descendants;
it is pre-ordained that their bodies will cease to be planet-bound.1


In addition, Lewis presents fictitious ideas that are consistent with his beliefs:

eldila (angels) formed the planets that they rule;
each planetary eldil has a terrestrial counterpart;
this explains the ancient belief in gods corresponding to the planets;
all newly created rational animals on Venus and elsewhere must now be humaniform because of the Incarnation on Earth;
the King of Perelandra (Venus) is green but otherwise resembles Christ;
the Lady of Perelandra stops addressing Ransom as an equal when she realises that he is not the King of his world. 

Even in fiction, this is hard to take. That Lewis applied the concept of the royalty of the first parents not only to his fictitious Venerian Tor and Tinidril but also to the real terrestrial Adam and Eve is evident in A Preface to Paradise Lost:

“Milton himself gives us a glimpse of our relations to Adam as they would have been if Adam had never fallen. He would still have been alive in Paradise, and to that ‘capital seat’ all generations from ‘all the ends of the Earth’ would have come periodically to do their homage (XI, 342). To you or to me, once in a lifetime perhaps, would have fallen the almost terrifying honour of coming at last, after long journeys and ritual preparations and slow ceremonial approaches, into the very presence of the great Father, Priest, and Emperor of the planet Tellus; a thing to be remembered all our lives…The task of a Christian poet presenting the unfallen first of men is…of drawing someone who, in his solitude and nakedness, shall really be what Solomon and Charlemagne and Haroun-al-Raschid and Louis XIV lamely and unsuccessfully strove to imitate on thrones of ivory between lanes of drawn swords and under jewelled baldachins.” 2
 
(Of course, if history and even prehistory had diverged completely from the beginning, then you and I as the individuals we are would not have been born. Someone else with different parentage, traditions, up-bringing and memories would have been here in our place.)

Lewis’ fantasy makes a good story but, to explain the world that we do inhabit, I find Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State more convincing. Even in the Biblical account, Emperors arose after the Fall of Man (Gen. 10.8). Some of us now think that they arose after the transition from ape to man and after the production and appropriation of a store-able and possess-able surplus of wealth but Lewis projects our historically conditioned social divisions onto the structure of the universe.

Although James Blish’s post-Lewis trilogy, After Such Knowledge, addresses common themes, Blish could not have written direct sequels to Lewis’ interplanetary novels. Blish’s solar system is the one revealed by telescopes and space probes, not by a Classical literary imagination. His extraterrestrial “Angels” are energy beings, not, like Lewis’ eldila, both extraterrestrial and supernatural. When Blish’s characters do encounter real demons, they speculate that these also are composed of energy. Blish’s agnosticism enables him not only to consider the death of God but also to imagine its unexpected outcome.

There are at least four points in Lewis’ favour:

he describes other worlds imaginatively;
his juvenile and adult novels cleverly parallel each other – evil magician = evil scientist, magical worlds = other planets, the leonine Aslan = the cosmic Maleldil etc;
remembering his own period of unbelief, he imaginatively enters into other points of view, including those of the unbelieving characters, Weston and MacPhee;
in various works, and particularly in The Great Divorce, he depicts moral choices, for example about personal relationships or intellectual integrity, that everyone faces with or without Lewis’ faith.

  1. C. S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy (London: Pan Books, 1990).
  2. C. S. Lewis, A Preface To Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 118.
    C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (London: Fontana, 1982).

 

Philosophical Disagreements With CS Lewis



C. S. Lewis suggests that, if we dislike his ideas, the fault lies with us:

“Many of those who say that they dislike Milton’s God only mean that they dislike God: infinite sovereignty de jure, combined with infinite power de facto, and love which, by its very nature, includes wrath also – it is not only in poetry that these things offend.” 1

Thanks for the judgementalism but let’s consider “God.”

(1) The creator before the creation would be a self without other which is like a square without sides. Self is recognized only by contrast with other, thus with external objects of consciousness. Consciousness, a relationship between a subject and its objects, is negated by the negation of the objects. If there were a single being, then it would become self-conscious only by first appearing to itself as other, then realizing its identity. The creation of a perceived world of discrete objects separated by apparently empty spaces necessarily preceded self-consciousness, not vice versa.

The complete process would be: reality; appearance; illusion; realization. Realization is the ending of illusion, which is appearance mistaken for reality, but reality, even if single, must also be internally dynamic because a static unity would be unable to differentiate itself. Individuals perceive objects; scientists study dynamics; mystics realize unity; theists personify unity.

The problem of self-consciousness before the creation is not solved by suggesting that a timeless creator does not literally preexist his creation. He must exist independently of it and this is enough to make him potentially a subject without objects.

(2) God is believed to be bodiless. An embodied subject identifies itself with one of its objects and therefore can think “I perceive my body and other objects” whereas a bodiless subject without an environment would have nothing to think about. It would be a form without content. Mental properties like knowledge, wisdom, goodness etc, require a context. They are applicable to knowable objects and to discernible, i. e., embodied, other subjects but not to nothing. Goodness is a disposition to act in a particular way towards other beings who therefore necessarily preexist it.

(3) God is believed to be self-conscious yet timeless. However, external objects, necessary for self-consciousness, are conceived to be external only when they are re-perceived, recognized and regarded as having continued to exist even while not being perceived. “I saw that before” presupposes that “I” and “that” have continued to exist independently of each other since the remembered perception. This requires memory, thus the experience of having lived through a period of time.

A single moment of consciousness with no past or future would begin and end simultaneously, thus would be indistinguishable from unconsciousness. God is believed not to begin and end simultaneously but to be beginningless and endless. However, this implies infinite, not zero, time. Timeless consciousness, the temporal equivalent of a mathematically flat plane, is an abstraction whereas the Biblical deity is presented as a concrete individual, with specific characteristics, YHWH, not Baal, acting in history.

(4) Persons, self-conscious individuals, exist only in interpersonal relationships. The Trinity doctrine seems to answer this requirement. However, the doctrine was formulated in order to preserve monotheism despite the deification of God’s son and the personification of his spirit, not in order to explain pre-existent personality, and it raises the additional problem of differentiating between persons who are not spatially distinct. (Similarly, patriarchal monotheism precludes female deities so Mary became not a Mother Goddess but the Mother of God, which sounds like the same thing until it is elucidated.)

(5) Lewis thought that divine existence was logically necessary. However, existential propositions, like “God exists,” are contingent, not tautologous. God’s properties can neither include nor entail existence because existence is not a property but the instantiation of properties. If perfection did entail existence, then a perfect example of every kind of thing for which there is a criterion of perfection would necessarily exist. Empirical research would locate the perfect person, poem, potato etc.

(6) The omnipotent creator of all things other than himself would create all the determinants of our choices and us making those choices and therefore could not consistently condemn us for making such choices. If choices are not determined, then they are random, therefore not morally significant, and God does not create all things other than himself. Because interacting dispositions and circumstances determine  behavior, we are morally accountable to fellow creatures who try to influence our  behavior, but not to a hypothetical creator of all our dispositions and circumstances. Fellow beings can advocate courage or honesty. Our creator could have made us brave or honest.

A father (or ruler) can either allow or prevent his child’s (or subject’s) freedom of choice because he is a more powerful being sharing a common environment governed by regular laws which neither of them created. However, the infinitely powerful creator of us and our environment has already made us the people we are, making the choices we do. He neither allows nor prevents freedom of choice but determines choices. Many theists are, consistently, predestinationists.
 
People are most predictable when unconstrained. A careful man is one who usually acts carefully. He can act uncharacteristically and unpredictably because we do not know all the factors determining his behavior. God not only knows but creates them. He need not even predict because:

“…God did not create the universe long ago but creates it at this minute – at every minute.” 2

Thus, he creates us doing whatever we are doing at every moment.

I agree with Lewis that:

divine omniscience would not negate human free will because merely knowing what someone does does not make him do it;
eternal omniscience is not temporal prescience;
even prescience would not make anyone do anything.

If a man does A, then it would have been foreknown that he was going to do A. If he does B, then it would have been foreknown that he was going to do B. Foreknowledge that he was going to do B if he in fact does A is logically impossible as is subsequent knowledge that he did B if he in fact did A. However:

eternal omniscience is timeless consciousness, which I do argue is impossible;
I have also argued that omnipotent creation prevents creatures’ freedom in relation to their creator.

(7) Lewis’ defense of theism is invalid. He argues that merely caused beliefs are true only by accident whereas valid inferences are reasoned, not caused, and that an act of knowing must be determined only by what is known, not by past events. He infers that a beginningless “Reason” frees our inferences and acts of knowing from causation. Natural thoughts are at best associative whereas inferential thought is divinely illumined, thus “supernatural.” 3

Reason preceding language and an environment sounds like a square preceding its sides. If an apparent act of knowing is caused only by a series of events acting directly on a conscious being, then there is not necessarily any external object or state of affairs corresponding to what that being seems to know, but, if the series of events brings the subject and object of knowledge into contact, then it does cause the act of knowing.

Conscious organisms are not, like inanimate objects, mere passive recipients of causal determination. Animals process sensory inputs and act accordingly. When our pre-human ancestors began to manipulate and thus to experiment with their environment, their cerebral capacity increased accordingly. Lewis writes:

“…expectations are not inferences and need not be true. The assumption that things which have been conjoined in the past will always be conjoined in the future is the guiding principle not of rational but of animal behavior. Reason comes in precisely when you make the inference ‘Since always conjoined, therefore probably connected’ and go on to attempt the discovery of the connection.” 4

But an environment-manipulating, data-processing, language-using animal, competitively compelled to learn, possessing greater cerebral capacity than other species and already capable of associative thought would be able to make the qualitative leap from mere expectation to attempted discovery. It would begin to anticipate the outcomes of its actions and to adjust its expectations to experience.

Lewis rightly argues that improved vision is not knowledge of light and that improved curiosity or expectation are not inference but ignores the roles of manipulation, cerebral data-processing and qualitative transformation:

organismic sensitivity quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into conscious sensation;
processing of immediate sensations quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into perception of discrete objects;
the transition from passive expectation through active curiosity to experimental manipulation is another such qualitative transformation.

The  brain evolved with the hands, reflection with action, theory with practice, mind with body.

When Lewis criticizes his philosophical opponents for being unable to explain how a thought can be both caused by previous events and grounded in another thought, he argues that it is insufficient to suggest that the grounding thought is one of the previous events because no thought causes all the thoughts that can be inferred from it. This is because, when we think a thought, not being mere intellects, we have more to attend to than tracing all its implications. We attend to what concerns or interests us if we are not distracted by more urgent sensory inputs. Once, I was so disturbed by a particular event that it took me two days to realize one of its obvious implications.

Lewis distinguishes sharply between causally determined rationalizations and timelessly valid rationality but surely they are almost inextricably entangled in practice? Many influences prevent most people from reasoning systematically though not from drawing common sense inferences about everyday events. When we do achieve circumstances that enable us to attempt systematic reasoning, then our premises, procedures and probable conclusions are strongly influenced by economics, education etc. A skeptical theologian informs me that, because British University Theology Departments are mainly staffed by people who already accept the tenets of Christianity, they continue to accept evidence for the Resurrection that would not be accepted in History, Sociology, Philosophy or any other academic discipline. Wider recruitment to the study of Biblical texts would change the theological consensus.

A billionaire’s social circumstances and self-interest usually cause him to rationalize capitalism but, in order to do this, he pays experts to analyze relevant evidence and to generate arguments that some regard as valid but others as invalid and that must be considered as arguments, not dismissed as rationalizations. Controversy and experience force the intellectually honest to test and change their ideas and some agreed truths have emerged.

 I know that 1+1=2 not because I have been caused to believe it whether or not it is true but because biological and social causation have produced in me a level of consciousness that can apprehend simple mathematical truths when they are presented to it. Systematic rationality and abstract understanding in logic, mathematics and science have been won in struggle against concrete nature and scriptural authority.

Any process of reasoning is expressed in a set of mutually consistent propositions, at least some of which should be testable against experience. When we want to discredit someone’s reasoning, we try to show that his propositions contradict experience, each other or both. Our wish to discredit him may be irrational. Prejudice may blind us to the truth of his statements. We may respond emotionally to a single word instead of listening carefully to an entire sentence. We may interrupt and simply not hear out a valid argument to its conclusion. We may either not understand an argument or continue to disagree with it even when we do understand it. However, we at least pay lip service to rationality whenever we criticize inconsistency. Consistency between propositions, necessary for communication, is the basis of the “reason” which Lewis argues preceded communication.

Lewis argues that a thought resulting from anything other than an earlier thought has no rational basis. However, my thought that the sun is hot follows only from my experience of the sun and my ability to think. The latter has not always existed. Lewis’ conclusion that its existence depends on an ability to think that has always existed does not follow from his mistaken premise that rational thought must be beginningless first because an ability to think is not a particular thought and secondly because God’s thoughts are not mine. An additional argument is necessary to show how thoughts of mine that do not follow from earlier thoughts of mine can instead follow from earlier thoughts of an invisible being. This is not obvious. My thoughts follow from yours only if you tell me them and I agree with them.

Lewis’ philosophical opponents have not “…given an account of what we thought to be our inferences that suggests that they are not real insights…” or treated reason as a mere phenomenon. 5 Intellect was naturally selected because it enhances life by enabling us to understand natural processes. We do not first find that our insights are useful, then have to prove that they are insights. Inferential ability selected for survival can now be used for more dispassionate research just as opposable thumbs selected for grasping branches can now be used to write philosophy.

Lewis is simply wrong to imply that human loves are valueless if they are biological by-products. They remain human loves, whatever their physical basis. An electric bulb is not valueless because its light source is natural. Why would human ideals be illusions if they had not, somehow, preexisted humanity? 6

Lewis approvingly quotes Haldane:

“If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” 7

Atomic motions in my brain are a scientifically detectable aspect of me as perceived by others. My mental processes are my perceptions of everything else. Of course atomic motions and mental processes differ qualitatively and neither simply causes the other. Dialectical materialists recognize emergent, irreducible levels of being linked by qualitative transformations but Lewis replies only to mechanistic reductionism. (See Zen Marxism) Dialectical materialists say not “Only atoms exist” but “Atoms and reason are two levels of being.”  Lewis mentions the concept of emergent deity but confuses the emergence of new qualities with reduction to previously existing qualities, thus does not really consider “emergence.” 8

He concludes that “…the human mind…is set free…” from causation.

“And the preliminary processes which led up to this liberation, if there were any, were designed to do so.” 9

There were natural processes that led up to human mentality and they explain it. Any design argument for theism needs to be empirical, not a priori. An evolutionary account of the origin of human reason is no more an absurd or nonsensical proof that there are proofs than is the theistic account. We do not prove that there are proofs but explain how there are beings that can understand them.

If God exists, then he is another rational subject, not objective rationality. The latter comprises facts such as that, whenever there are countable items, then one plus one always equals two. 1 + 1 = 2 need not have been thought before the creation and, even if it had been, that thinking of it would not have been what made it valid.

References


  1. C. S. Lewis, A Preface To Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1942, 1967), p. 118.
  2. C. S. Lewis, Miracles (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947; London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002). P. 288.
  3. ibid, pp. 17-60.
  4. ibid, p. 30.
  5. ibid, p. 32-332.
  6. ibid, p. 54.
  7. ibid, p. 22.
  8. ibid, pp. 45-46.
  9. ibid, pp. 34-35. 



Thursday, 17 May 2012

Faith as Trust

Reflections on faith and action:

Faith is trust in God or life.
Life requires action, not trust.
However, manual/mental action differentiates homo sapiens.
Therefore, trusting human life means remaining active.

Collective action can prevent economic deprivation by ending competitive accumulation.
Trusting life prevents mental suffering by ending unwarranted apprehensions.
Faith addresses personal attitudes, not political action.
However, karma yoga facilitates individual participation in collective action.

Karma yoga is attention to action without attachment to outcomes.
Theists dedicate nonattached action to God.
Krishna is both god and guru of karma yoga.
Buddhist working meditation is nontheistic karma yoga.
 
Addendum, 10/7/12: This is one of several attempts on my part to express thoughts and reflections in the form of Indian philosophical sutras but I am not sure whether the result is helpfully clear or unhelpfully cryptic.

Atheology


If, as some say, the object of religious experience is neither a being nor even the supreme being but being itself or the ground of being, then it is not a person. It cannot be prayed to and should not be addressed, certainly not as "Father" which implies, if not a biological relationship, then at least a close relationship with another person. Being is the source of life and love but only because it is the source of everything. Maybe Jesus, while alive, was one with being but not uniquely so (and is not still alive in the meaning of being!)

Being becomes conscious by dividing into subjects and objects. Consciousness occurs neither in the unity preceding subjects and objects nor in objects but in subjects. Religious experience is of inner oneness or outer transcendence but consciousness is in the experiencer, not in the oneness or transcendence.

The Biblical deity is "holy." Holiness synthesizes awesomeness with moral goodness. Goodness is a personal attribute but awesomeness is not. The Grand Canyon is awesome but not a person. Theists, discerning awesomeness in their object of worship and goodness in at least some of their fellow worshipers, project both attributes onto the personified object.

Natural forces are personified or regarded as God at work but are impersonal. Gravity, electromagnetism and nuclei function unconsciously. Some organisms become conscious. One species becomes self-conscious, then projects self-consciousness or personality onto the heavens. A person is a single subject of consciousness whereas the transcendent-immanent-omnipresent reality (ie, everything) knows itself through every subject, thus is not a single person.

Wrong Actions


I have done something wrong. What can I do about it? Apologise to someone if possible and appropriate. What else?

Apologise to God? No. He doesn't exist and, if he did, he would be responsible.

Confess to a priest or find salvation in Christ? No.

Think about it? Necessary but insufficient.

Avoid past mistakes? Yes but this is easier said than done and doesn't resolve guilt.

Say that the past doesn't matter? I think it does. See that there is a level on which the past doesn't matter? Maybe, but I am not at that level of perception yet.

Meditate? Yes, but that doesn't resolve the issue immediately. What will it be like to resolve it? Past actions either will not recur to memory or will somehow be perceived differently. Zazen moves us towards that different perception but on an uncontrollable time scale. Since the process cannot be hurried, in fact since it requires and involves patience, I cannot think of anything else to be done.

Early Christian Psychology


Spong illuminates probable early Christian psychology. (1) Peter experienced an intolerable contradiction between Jesus' entirely God-centred, God-affirming life and his God-cursed death by execution. This was the theological Problem of Evil and the theme of the Book of Job writ large. Peter must have experienced intensely the problem which Christian theology sometimes poses very abstractly as a contradiction between omnipotence and infinite goodness on the one hand and suffering on the other hand. Peter's solution was, first, to re-interpret the death as expressing the life, as somehow an ultimate expression of unconditional love, and, secondly, as far as possible, to deny the death by affirming a Resurrection that at that stage was spiritual, not physical, and believed to have occurred in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. Jesus was risen in God, not, as described later, walking around in Jerusalem. That makes sense of the texts and of Peter's probable psychological processes.

However, Spong interprets all the accounts of Jesus' ministry as neither history nor biography but "midrash", meaning scripturally-based stories written to proclaim a Messiahship that had not yet been claimed or recognised while Jesus was still alive. Thus, all we know about Jesus is that he made a big impression on Peter and on some others. For Spong, this is enough for us now to proclaim Jesus' Messiahship and spiritual Resurrection. For me, it is not. I do not worship the Hebrew deity and find spiritual meaning in another tradition. Jews, Muslims and Sikhs worship the One God but do not identify Jesus with him. A Spongian creed would contain the unconvincing affirmation: "I believe that it would be fair to say that in that moment Peter felt himself to be resurrected." 

(1) Spong, John Shelby, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? New York, 1994.

 

An Extended Metaphor


The sun rises above a wide, deep ocean. Facing the sun, we stand on the shore of a still darkened continent. In the darkness behind us and below the horizon, the continent on which we stand joins the ocean that we now confront. Our preconscious ancestors came from the ocean and traversed the continent, their sight growing as the light increased. We explore the ocean and continent, knowing little about either.

The sun: the growing light of consciousness.
The ocean: the water of life; the objective universe that pre-existed our subjectivity.
The darkness behind us: preconscious organismic responses and unconscious mental processes without which we would not be conscious.

Statements about the "darkness", the origins of consciousness, are experiential, evidenced or traditional. Buddhist teaching is mainly experiential although it receives the rebirth idea from tradition, unless, of course, the line between experience and tradition is not drawn where I think it is. By contrast, the religious teaching in which I was indoctrinated was merely traditional and thus, I suggest, perpetuated the darkness. People continued not to understand how they had become conscious. 

Did human consciousness result from increasing organismic sensitivity to environmental alterations or from the infusion of souls into already conscious animal bodies - or indeed into mechanistically unconscious animal bodies, according to Cartesianism? The idea of souls may be remotely derived from the experience of dreaming, thus from the experience of (apparently) leaving the body temporarily in sleep and permanently in death, but it is contradicted by later evidence that dreams result from sleeping brain activity. Buddhist meditation, direct experience of psychological processes, generated a no soul teaching.

Some explorers sail the ocean. Others shine light into the darkness from which we emerged. Our ancestors originated from the environment that now confronts us. Eventually, those exploring in opposite directions will meet.   

 

What Does The Pope Know That We Do Not?


What do I know about religion?

(i) Indoctrination

I was indoctrinated in Catholicism. "Indoctrinated" is correct. Catholic beliefs are called "doctrines". A Jesuit was quoted as boasting that, given the boy from an early age, he could answer for the beliefs of the man. My primary school teachers were lay, then Marist; secondary teachers were Jesuit. We were neither told what anyone else believed nor encouraged to think about it. A primary teacher said that there was only one god so I believed that. Later, she said that people elsewhere had their own gods. I thought that this was a revised doctrine so that now there were many gods after all. I would have continued to believe that if I had been told it. She said that it was difficult to understand how there could be three persons in one god. I thought, although not in these words, that if "god" were defined so as to allow for tri-personality, then there was no problem whereas, if "god" were defined so as to exclude tri-personality, then the Trinity was impossible. I vaguely visualised the Trinity as a large white container with three small objects lying at the bottom of it. Years later, I realised that these objects were three purses. The usual plural of "person" was "people". 

Seeing pictures of dinosaurs and caveman, I wondered which was true, this or Adam and Eve.
Given rosary beads, I showed them as something special to a Protestant friend who, possibly mistaking the beads for a necklace, said that they were just for girls. Quoting this as a matter of interest to my mother, I was angrily told not to heed the friend. I realised that there were contradictory social pressures with no obvious way to choose between them. Growing up in the aftermath of World War II, I "knew" that Germans were bad and identified them with "germs".
I knew what the second member of the Trinity looked like but not the first. I thought that this was just because I had not seen a picture of him yet. At the Marist school, there was a picture of the founder in the hall. I wondered if that was the Father and realised that, if that was what he looked like, then I did not like him.

The enemy in a comic book set, I think, during the Korean War were called "Reds". On asking what this meant and being told "Communist", I instantly "knew" that they were bad. A man interviewed on television, describing himself as a Marxist-Leninist, might as well have said "Devil-worshipper" or "evil". Atheism was not just disbelief in God but opposition to him. Since atheism and Communism were bad, God and capitalism must be good but I did not know what capitalism was. A Jesuit told us that a suspected Communist Party member addressed a committee meeting that he attended "...and there he was, trying to stir up hatred." I really thought that Communists were committed to hate in the same way that Christians were supposed to be committed to love.

I had no sympathetic understanding of Protestantism and thought that it was obviously heretical. "Heresy" meant not mistaken belief but wilful picking and choosing between the doctrines of an acknowledged revelation. I was contemptuous of the multiplicity of Protestant sects as, much later, a Communist Party member whom I met on a picket line was contemptuous of the multiplicity of Trotskyist sects. Which, if any, is the right one? We must think for ourselves, not accept an answer from a Pope or a Central Committee.

We were told that Thomas More was beheaded for his faith but not that he had condemned others to burn for theirs. When, recently, I raised this with an older Catholic relative, she resented being asked the question, then replied, "Maybe it was the law? Maybe More had to do it?" When I was shown around a Catholic Cathedral, my guide knew of Thomas More's execution and canonisation but not that he had had Protestants executed. In 1961, at the age of twelve, I read a text book which said that the number of people burned by the Inquisition had been exaggerated. One victim, while being burned, called out the most shocking heresies, even denying the existence of God! I then thought that it was not so bad that he was burned.

I was concerned when a comic book super hero origin story (the Golden Age Hawkman) involved reincarnation. A friend thought that it might be a mortal sin to read such a comic. Mortal sin meant instant damnation on death unless the sin was confessed before death. Venial sin meant a period in Purgatory. Indulgences gained by prayers or devotion lessened the time in Purgatory. A Plenary Indulgence, granted by the Pope, removed all the time in Purgatory. One order of nuns did nothing but gain Indulgences to transfer to the souls already in Purgatory: supernatural foreign aid. An acquaintance who had attended the same secondary school joined the Knights of Malta because membership conferred the "spiritual privilege" of "certain Indulgences". For Catholics, non-attendance at Sunday Mass was a mortal sin because the Pope had decreed this. Not only did they believe that God had given them this power but they decided to exercise it. We were sometimes warned to toe the line just in case Hell did exist.

A Jesuit quoted a character in a novel who, when told that he could believe Catholicism if he wanted to, replied that he did not want to. So belief was a matter of wanting it, not of evidence or reason. Superstitions abounded within Catholic practice. There was a miraculous medal, some alleged supernatural benefit from tracing the letters INRI on the forehead and a belief that Christ in a vision had guaranteed salvation to anyone who practised a "First Friday" devotion: something like Confession and Communion on the first Fridays of nine consecutive months.
Evangelicals oppose faith to reason but Catholics tried to connect them. We were told that basic doctrines like divine existence and the historical Resurrection could be reasoned to. Having reasoned that Christ had founded an infallible Church, it was obligatory to accept those of its teachings, like the Trinity, that transcended reason. One argument for divine existence was: 

every event is caused;
an infinite regress is impossible;
therefore, there was a first cause, which everyone calls God. 

Comments:
in quantum mechanics or just in logical possibility, every event is not caused;
in this argument, neither premise is proved, the premises contradict each other and the first contradicts the conclusion;
a first cause would be a past event, not an eternal person.

A Jesuit told my class, "That then is the argument and the mind accepts that." No one else seemed to be listening to what he said. I knew even then that it was an argument, not the argument, that it was not the most convincing and that, if all minds had accepted it, then there would have been no atheists and thus no need for an argument.

Another argument in a text book was: 

there is a moral law;
wherever there is a law, there must be a law giver.

However, if God forbids murder, it must be because he knows that it is wrong, not because he arbitrarily decides to forbid it. When I told a Jesuit that I did not see how morality proved God's existence, he replied that it didn't. A similar argument but about natural law began with the premise that, wherever there is order, there must be an orderer. However, that is the conclusion to be proved so it cannot also be the premise. Empirically, we see watches ordered by watchmakers but the Solar System ordered by impersonal Newtonian laws. Theistic arguments, even if valid, fall short of verifying Catholicism. Analogously, a scientist claims direct contact with Martians, then resorts to arguing that there must be life on Mars because there are seasonal changes and canal-like lines on its surface. Years later, when my father converted to Catholicism, he was apparently told that it is not possible to prove God's existence.

A more philosophical Jesuit said, "A peasant woman knows that her faith is a divine gift. I am in danger of thinking that my philosophy gives me mine." Surely she believes that her faith is a divine gift? Thus, it is an article of her faith that her faith is a divine gift. Faith seems to be a closed system that it is impossible to get into or out of. The divine gift of faith was apparently bestowed at baptism when we were unconscious of it. Thus, it does exist independently of reason. How does this differ from indoctrination? The Church relies on indoctrinating children, not on persuading adults by obvious rationalisations like the first cause argument.

Because faith is a divine gift, it is a sin to risk losing it. Thus, there was an attempt to control beliefs and behaviour by internalising the Inquisition. The less philosophical Jesuit said that someone with faith, hearing sceptical arguments that he is unable to refute, retains his faith that these arguments can be refuted. A Protestant or a Muslim could claim the same. An apologetics text book refuted Islam by claiming that that religion had not been confirmed by a single miracle. Another Catholic text book argued, "Catholics believe because Christ claimed to be God and proved his claim by the miracles he worked." Christ, a Law observant Jew, did not claim divinity. That claim was attributed to him in the Gospels. If the miracles were proved, then Christianity, although not necessarily Catholicism, would be a matter of historical knowledge, not of faith.

I thought that natural selection explained plants and animals but that the divine infusion of a soul was necessary to explain humanity.

(ii) Education

In addition to Catholic conditioning, I also had a strong interest in philosophical enquiry. The latter was initially expressed by attempted rationalisations of Catholicism (replacing the first cause argument with an argument from contingency and defending mind-body dualism) but also by wider reading, then by wider practice:

CS Lewis, Christian but not Catholic;
Aldous Huxley, mystical but not Christian;
Jiddu Krishnamurti, challenging all received beliefs;
analytic philosophy of religion - conceptual criticism of monotheism and miracles;
Marxism, secularising prophecy (urgent social interpretation and intervention) and presenting a materialist account of history;
Buddhism, meditation without theistic belief;
popular science writing - a lay understanding of scientific cosmogony and Darwinism;
Biblical criticism, showing that the texts are not factual accounts;
neo-Paganism, reviving seasonal festivals suppressed by Christianity.

Krishnamurti's teaching clarified that, if I had not been indoctrinated in Christianity, then I would not have been converted to it so I had no reason to stay with it. I think the basic difference between me and the Pope is that early interest in philosophy.    
   

 

Consciousness


It is argued either that consciousness is different from unconscious processes, therefore independent of them, or that it is dependent on unconscious processes, therefore reducible to them. Both premises are true but neither conclusion follows and both are false. Thus: 

consciousness is different but dependent;
difference does not entail independence;
dependence on unconscious processes does not entail identity with them;
consciousness is neither independent nor reducible.

Consciousness depends on brains which depend on mostly unconscious bodily and environmental processes. It, consciousness, is a sensitive interaction whose sensitivity has quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed from unconscious sensitivity into conscious sensation. That consciousness involves conscious sensation is a tautology. However, a non-tautologous definition of consciousness is both impossible and unnecessary. We are conscious, thus conscious of consciousness. 

Consciousness exists only in specific conditions but is not identical with its conditions because causality is not identity. The objective description of an observed brain state differs qualitatively from the subjective description of an experienced mental state. An observed brain is an object of its observer's consciousness whereas the brain-possessing organism is not only an object but also a subject of consciousness. A description of its consciousness must refer to the objects of that consciousness, not just to its brain states. A brain as perceived by a neurologist is not the world as perceived by the brain's possessor. However, neurology and psychology, addressing causes and effects, might converge. 

Several unconscious processes do not add up to one conscious process but consciousness emerges from many neural interactions none of which is individually conscious just as the quality of liquidity emerges from many water molecules none of which is individually liquid. 

Thesis: emphasis on the difference between conscious and unconscious processes encourages dualism.
Antithesis: emphasis on the dependence of consciousness on unconscious processes encourages reductionism.
Synthesis: emphasis on both is dialectical materialism.
   

Strengths and Weaknesses


Each of us is born and grows up with unique strengths and weaknesses. Maybe a few have only strengths or weaknesses. Society would be better if everyone had only strengths and impossible if everyone had only weaknesses. Interactions between individuals with different weaknesses and blind spots can be lethal. We have god-like powers of procreation, productivity and creativity. The combination of personal weaknesses with god-like powers can also be lethal.

An immature response is to despise those perceived as weak whereas maturity tolerates or helps weakness. A guy I worked with had two weaknesses: he was very low ability in the job and so worried about whether he was ok with other people that he kept putting it to the test, "trying the patience of a saint" of whom there were none in that work place. A confident and out-going colleague commented, "People like him latch onto people like me."

Why are some entire lives spent without any reflection or growth in self-awareness? Since zazen is the practice of awareness, Zen trainees can become aware of their weaknesses but usually not fully aware in the time left between starting to meditate and dying. Major blind spots can remain. I used to disregard anything that I did not see as important even though it did concern the people around me. Pondering ultimate issues brought me to zazen and to a Marxist understanding of society. I now give more attention to immediate social interactions but can still get them wrong to say the least. We need more time but can only use the time that is given. 

What Is The Problem?

Natural selection both generated and impedes consciousness:

organisms were naturally selected for sensitivity to environmental alterations;
sensitivity became sensation because pleasure and pain enhance survival;
thus, consciousness was a by-product of natural selection
but self-preservation and pursuit of pleasure distract attention from mere awareness.

However, these motivations originated with consciousness
and, like it, express pre-conscious processes.
We have not "sinned" by initiating selfishness.
Some societies encourage selfishness

but others discourage it
and we can transcend it.
Zen meditation is practice of mere awareness
with consciousness as an end-in-itself. 


Not Stages But Levels?


Dogen's Rules for Meditation say that zazen, just sitting, is not something that is done in stages. Maybe not but it does seem to have levels or layers not all of which are experienced simultaneously:

(i) uncontrolled surface thoughts that everyone perhaps is familiar with;
(ii) stillness when attention, undistracted by thoughts, is focused on the present moment;
(iii) deeper issues arising from or within the stillness;
(iv) resolution of deeper issues.

When I started to meditate twenty seven years ago in 1985, I experienced only (i), wanted to experience (ii) and did not understand references to (iii). Now, I have glimpsed (ii) and (iii) but have not come close to experiencing (iv). Meditation is worth doing but can take a long time. Dogen wrote, "If you want to find it quickly, you must start at once..."  

Faith and Tradition


Christians claim that their faith is a divine gift but how does it differ from a human tradition? They believe as they do either because they have been educated in a particular tradition or because they have converted to a belief transmitted to them by a tradition. How is this one tradition differentiated from all others as a divine gift?

I was brought up to believe that monotheism could be proved philosophically and that the Resurrection could be proved historically. They cannot and, if they could, then Christianity would be knowledge, not faith. Evangelical Christians merely tell us to believe or be damned, apparently not realising that, if we do not believe, then we do not believe we will be damned. They rightly argue that a statement may be true even if we do not believe it but do not give us a reason to believe it.

Christianity was established in the Roman Empire and maintained in the Middle Ages with a great deal of political force. If history had taken a different course, then this particular faith would not now be with us. I do not see the hand of God in the course of history.   

After Judgement


English literature contains at least two classic statements about pre-judgement. One is the title of a novel by Jane Austen. The other is in Alice in Wonderland when the King of Hearts asks the Jury to consider its verdict before it has heard the first witness. If pre-judgement, prejudice, judging before the evidence, is wrong, then "post-judgement", judging after the evidence, must be right. But "post-judgement" can instead mean just what comes after the judgement, in particular its consequences.

The Day After Judgement by James Blish is the sequel to the same author's Black Easter which ends with the demons winning Armageddon. Despite their fantastic content, these  works address us. The Goat says:

"WE WILL DO WITHOUT THE ANTICHRIST. HE WAS NEVER NECESSARY. MEN HAVE ALWAYS LED THEMSELVES UNTO ME." (1)

Later, as the last magicians approach the demonic fortress, the white magician says:

"One thing is surely clear...We have been making this journey all our lives." (2)

I have argued that judgement is part of life, not its end. It may be that I am particularly aware of this. I was continually judged and found wanting by both elders and peers because I did not conform to their ideas of acceptable behaviour or personality. And I now see that I was insufficiently attentive to many aspects of social interaction. But condemnation was unhelpful. The conflict remained unresolved because we do not choose to be who we are so we cannot change our personality as easily as we can change a garment. And much of the condemnation was unwarranted. On a Sunday afternoon, I preferred to read HG Wells in the attic than to watch Z Cars in the kitchen so I was guilt tripped for not spending time with my family. I was made to feel in the wrong for reading comics instead of books, for reading about Hinduism instead of about Catholicism, for reading science fiction instead of something else and for reading instead of doing something else. It was then learned that neighbours who were a Judge and a Colonel also read science fiction. I have certainly learned how not to saddle children and teenagers with unnecessary guilt and resentment.

Making a virtue out of a necessity, I became more adept than many fellow students and work colleagues at accepting and heeding criticism and was even commended for this by an otherwise hostile Manager who, I am pleased to say, was moved out during a re-organisation. More recently, I have felt lousy when got at by an acquantance only to find out that many others regard him as arrogant. I think the problem is with me. They see it as with him.

The word "criticism" has a highly negative value and is apparently taken to mean hostile judgement or condemnation. I tried to tell a fellow student, "If you are criticising me for taking too long to do that job, then that is alright," but was interrupted after "...criticising..." with "I AM NOT CRITICISING YOU!" I gave a colleague advance warning that some criticism was coming towards his College Department and thus sparked an uproar, involving the College Principal, that was immediately traceable back to me.

I know that there are acts that it is right to feel bad about and others that I feel bad about only because of my upbringing but I cannot locate the dividing line. In the unlikely event that some higher power does judge us, he or it knows the score.

(1) Blish, James. Black Easter and The Day After Judgement, London, 1981, p. 111.
(2) ibid, p. 200.


 

Non-Christian Lutheranism?


We are Lutherans because we protest against ecclesiastical authority and insist on private interpretation of scripture. However, we read all scriptures and can interpret them critically and sceptically. Thus, we are "Lutherans" but not Christians. Catholics of the Counter-Reformation would argue that Lutheranism must lead to this and they would be right. Private interpretation must be informed by Biblical criticism and modern science but remains private interpretation, not a church- or party-line.

A former Catholic at University remarked that the only good features of Protestantism were those differentiating it from Catholicism. Another University student remarked that the progression from Judaism to Catholicism to Protestantism to secularism is a move away from the family towards the individual. I am happy to live at the secular end of that progression. The family can be a small community of related individuals, not an entity subordinating individuals to it.

In Judaism, God's covenant is with Israel and the latter is propagated through the family. In Catholicism, God's new covenant is with the Church and the latter is propagated through the family. In Protestantism, God's new covenant is with each individual. In secularism, there is society and the individual. In a large well to do Catholic family, the eldest son inherited the family business, the second son entered a respectable profession like medicine or law and a third son, not needed for inheritance or to produce further heirs, could enter the respectable profession of the celibate priesthood. Brought up as a Catholic, I now respect Luther's rebellion against the sale of Indulgences and Papal interpretation of scripture.  

Judgement


There is a Biblical myth of a Day of Judgement. I used to believe that it was literally true. In 1962, when I was thirteen, two Catholic priests met over dinner at my parents' house. When they parted, one said, "Well, we will meet at the Day of Judgement if not before!" Did they believe that? I mean, did they just take it for granted that they were really going to meet? Even when I was a few years older, I still thought that petty wrongs and injustices would be righted on that Day because everyone would then see what had really occurred during the most trivial of conflicts and misunderstandings at a secondary school. I now hope that, if consciousness does survive into an indefinite future, it will then build a better reality. Meanwhile, I now judge the absurdity of my belief then.  

Does the concept of a Day of Judgement correspond to anything in our experience so far? Someone who meditates might find that he sees and assesses his whole life to date at a profound level - his basic motivations and their limitations. The conditions that generate consciousness also impede its development. I am a self-conscious individual capable of meditation only because I am a member of a society and this particular society has done its best to discourage meditative self-awareness, not least with its myth of our accountability to a divine Judge. In our tradition, we were encouraged to confess our sins, receive absolution and not to look any deeper, unless we wanted to become priests. And did the priests look any deeper? Some at least just made it their job to perpetuate the tradition. Apart from social conditions, a lot of us have had merely personal limitations to our insight and understanding from an early age. You can only be self-conscious if you are a particular individual and particular individuals can have every kind of fault, failing, blind spot, obsession, idiosyncrasy etc.

CS Lewis' fictitious demon Screwtape gloats that one of the damned has realised that he spent his whole life doing neither what he should have done nor what he wanted to do. It seems that this man has had at least a partial realisation or understanding about the course of his life/karma/action. Lewis imagines an absurd situation in which the man was blind to this realisation while he could have acted accordingly and has the realisation only when it is impossible for him to act. A more efficiently managed universe would allow for continued spiritual/moral development after death, as Lewis implies in The Great Divorce. In that work, each ultimate choice, or "judgement", is individual. There is no universal Day.

Recently, an Evangelical said that she would like to see my face on the Day of Judgement. I am damned because I do not share her belief. Her salvation is assured so she need not concern herself about the morality of gloating at the fate of the damned. Is God a bigot? Bigots think so. We make our gods in our own image.

If faced with immediate death, we might review our whole life there and then. With meditation, it can happen at other times and well in advance of death. I heard of an elderly man in a Hospice who, presumably because his documentation described him as Catholic, was asked whether he wanted to receive the Last Rites. There are two correct answers to this question, either "Yes, please" or "No, thank you." Apparently, however, he was incapable of articulating either because, despite his condition and situation, he was just too freaked by the suggestion that he was that close to death. A Buddhist acquaintance who had worked in an operating theatre commented that he could tell the difference between those who were in some way prepared for death and those who were not, even if the way in question was not "our way". 
 
Meanwhile, every day is our Day of Judgement if we can see it that way.

 

The Spirit of Truth


John wrote that Jesus said that the Father would send the Spirit of Truth. Some Christians have written that this Spirit is present in other religions. From Christian premises, this must follow. How could the omnipresent not be everywhere? How could a Spirit of Truth be absent when Truth is sought? How could God willing the salvation of all not work for that salvation where people are? Understandings differ but recognition of a common spirit facilitates dialogue.

In Zen meditation, we are open to the Truth insofar as it manifests to us. It does not usually manifest as a vision of Jesus or the Buddha but nor are such manifestations ruled out a priori.

A believer who can think about his beliefs and discuss them with non-believers on the basis of mutual respect and equality is a philosopher, a "lover of wisdom". In such discussion, it is necessary to: 
 
state our beliefs and reasons for them;
address hearers who do not share our beliefs;
attend to criticisms and alternative beliefs;
respond to criticisms and disagreements;
be prepared to learn during a discussion or by subsequent research;
not expect to persuade anyone in a single discussion or series of discussions;
be able to summarise an alternative view in terms acceptable to those who hold it;
state reasons for disagreeing with other views and respond to whatever is said in reply.

Such dialogue is impossible with many Christians as a Presbyterian Minister and philosophy graduate acknowledged when I pointed this out. Some Evangelicals are capable only of stating their belief on the assumption that it is true and without stating any reasons for it. Is this a fault in Christianity or just in some Christians? All Christians are not irrational but there is a lot of irrationality in that religion. Disputes about the Trinity etc could be resolved neither empirically nor rationally. They could only be ended by invoking the Spirit, imposing doctrines and condemning "heretics", the antithesis of recognising the Spirit of Truth in different beliefs. John's mystical language about Jesus' Father and the Spirit became a formula to kill for. Because doctrines were formulated irrationally, much adherence to such doctrines remains irrational.

I think there is scope for a myth based on John's words without the later Trinitarian formulation. The Spirit seems to be a distinct being. If there is a Father and a Spirit, then who else might there be? Concepts would have differed if history had diverged. Let imagination be unconfined.