Sunday, 26 September 2010

Let's make god tonight!

I was directed to this talk given Daniel Denett by Luke Clayborn Hopper.

I actually love this talk. Dennett is such a mischievious philosopher, wickedly pouring scorn on the sloppy thinking he finds in the religious faith communities.

However having listened to the talk, I got involved in a conversation with some people on facebook about the talk, and this blog post is the result of that conversation.

We all speak a language that we have at best only partial control over. For most of us, most of the words, phrases and even sentences that we use have been inherited.

Perhaps sometimes when we talk to each other we make new connections, and consequently we invent new pieces of language? We find ourselves saying things that we have never said or heard before; ideas which are surprising even to the speaker who happens to be speaking.

I tend to think that it is useful to think about religious ideas in a similar way to the way that we think about art. It doesn't occur to us to have to ask about a great work of art: "Is this true?" A much more pertinent question is: "Is this beautiful?" ... Is what you or I have to say about Ggod beautiful? Or is it ugly? Is judaism/christianity/islam beautiful? Or is it ugly? Or which parts of it are beautiful? Which parts are ugly?

Scientistic thinking tends to be less good at addressing issues of beauty or goodness than it does addressing issues of truth. Creating an opposition between science and religion is a bit like creating an opposition between science and art. Although science and art have a lot to contribute to each other’s discipline and each other's area of expertise, they do a less good job at judging the value of the other. Holding science up in this way tends to weaken scientists attempts to educate people. People looking for spiritual answers fail to find them there, and subsequently get infected with mythic and magical religion.

Holding science up in opposition to religion is a big home-goal w.r.t. human advancement on the part of scientists. The path forward from mythic, magical, tribe-centred spirituality is a path towards all-human-centred, global (really universal) oneness. It points in the direction of universal love. It points in the direction of ecstatic union; it points in the direction of ecstatic union being the normal condition of living for all people. It has only one of its many faces pointing to science, all be it that face from a certain point of view is a very beautiful one.

One of the clich├ęs that gets bandied about is that “god is love”. But I tend to think that god is the state of a relationship that is beyond love. God and love and not the same state. That is why we have two words. So it would be better to say that god is a state of a relationship which is beyond the state of love. When you are in a relationship with someone which is in a higher state than love (a state which includes and transcends love, and thereby goes beyond love) we could say that the state of your relationship is the state of god. This is why I like to say “Lets make god in our relationships”.

In reflecting on these thoughts, I wrote this over on my poetry blog: Let's make god tonight!

And then someone asked me: What is "scientistic" thinking?

And this is what I wrote: or ...

Perhaps I am not using the best word.

I just mean that kind of way of thinking about life which uses the authority of science to justify its self-righteousness and fails to honour how much more there is to being human than merely understanding QM and gravity. The grammar of our lives occurs in the first person and second person - not only the third person.

Saying "God does not exist" is as vacuous as saying "God does exist". Neither statement makes any difference to anything. Except some people can get to have an argument about it. I would guess that that is why Karen Armstrong says: "that is the wrong question".

Which prompted me to consider what would be a more useful question?

Here is what I came up with:

What relationship could I have with the eternal such that having that relationship would make the world a better place?

Or to spell it out in a bit more detail:

What relationship can I design for myself to have with the eternal (everything / all of it / all of everything / the whole shebang [… shh… whisper this … god … whisper even quieter …. and / or any other human being]) … what relationship can I design for myself to have with the eternal such that having that relationship with the eternal would make the world a better place for myself, my community and the world at large?

Could we design our relationship(s) with the eternal explicitly and deliberately from the design principle of causing the betterment of humanity?

And then later on I wrote this:

It is not science that is the problem. Science can be wondrous, beautiful, useful, transcendent, nurturing, exciting, life-sustaining. The problem is using science as a smoke screen that blinds us to The Mystery. Like as though there is no mystery. We just sweep the mystery under the carpet of science.

There is A Mystery that lies at the heart of being and the heart of being human. We don’t know! We really don’t know. All good education points humanity in the direction of realizing our fundamental ignorance.

I am not advocating sloppy thinking either on the part of people who spend their lives contemplating The Mystery nor on the part of people who spend their lives contemplating a Unified Field Theory. I am merely suggesting that we should not measure success in spirituality by the measure of what constitutes success in physics or philosophy.

A successful spirituality is one that supports individuals and groups and communities in the being the designers of their own relationship with the eternal (the whole-thing, whatever you want to call that). It is a spirituality that points in the direction of peace between people – communities, families, neighbours, countries, tribes. It tends to unite people, to be a cause for celebration, joy, happiness, ecstasy. A successful spirituality protects people from their fears, allows us to reconcile ourselves with our own suffering and the suffering of others. Until such time as humanity manages to transcend death, a successful spirituality ultimately supports us in preparing ourselves for our own death and the death of those we love.

None of this necessarily requires a discussion of god’s existence or otherwise (unless you think it does). In fact none of that necessarily requires a dogmatic cosmology or worldview of any kind. Does god exist? I don’t care… How are we doing? How are we getting on? I care about that!

When speaking about the realm of Mystery, the questions we ask are critically important. Getting attached to answers that we come up with in response to those questions is simply a mistake. Any such answers are like places we pass through on a journey. They are not places to set up camp and defend to the death. They make absolutely rubbish justifications to pin tribal conflicts on to.

The realm of Mystery is a realm where the more open a question is the more useful and beautiful that question tends to be. It is a realm that invites us to ask ever more beautiful questions, in full awareness that no answers to those questions are ever going to be satisfying. It is the questions themselves (if they are any good) that nurture us.

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