Yelling Fire in the Theater of Dreams
No, I shouldn’t say that. That’s a bit histrionic. I’m not Andrew Sullivan.
But it was awful. The irony is that the all-day seminar I attended yesterday was entitled Spirituality and Mental Health: New Horizons, New Directions. I’ll be honest. Within about 30 minutes into it, I began sympathizing with the atheists--not the obnoxious and/or crazy ones who enjoy my blog, but the indifferent and or mildly contemptuous (but not mean-spirited) ones. It was so tedious that, as I predicted, it brought back immediate flashbacks of my school days, which were like having to sit in an airport for 16 years (I’m including undergraduate work).
So, anything interesting happen in my absence?
Well, nothing that couldn't have been predicted. I’m not going to respond to all the tomtrollery, because that would simply invite another round of angry atheistic fanaticism, but there are a couple mischaracterizations of my position that I should address.
First, it is a willful misunderstanding--apparently motivated by a desire to take offense--to suggest that I in any way believe that atheists are “infrahuman.” I specifically stated that there are different kinds of atheists, and that I do not regard “negative” atheism in the same way I do “positive” atheism--the certitude that God does not exist. Furthermore, I will reiterate that atheism is by definition an infrahuman philosophy (meaning that it ignores what it presumes to explain qua humans), not that its adherents are de facto infrahuman. Some are, some aren’t, but one can obviously say the same thing about many theists.
In a way, it is similar to my views on homosexuality. As soon as you say that homosexuality is sometimes an illness, the activists want to call you homophobic and stop jumping down your throat. But modern psychoanalysis does not so much view sexuality in a binary hetero- vs. homosexual manner, but in a vertical, developmental manner. In other words, I am strictly concerned with the maturity of the sex drive, not its object. While I believe there are a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that make the achievement of this maturity more of a challenge for the homosexual, that is a separate issue. And I always--always--draw a sharp distinction between the individual homosexual and what I regard as the destructive aims of homosexual activists.
Some recent commenters have demonstrated that to touch certain varieties of atheism is to touch pitch. However, as I mentioned last week, my baby’s godparents are both liberal and generally atheistic. But they are also, needless to say, among the finest people I know. For one thing, they are very open minded and very slow to take offense, even around the most explosive issues. I am not offended by their rejection of God, nor are they offended by my acceptance. And if we weren’t separated by distance, I believe I could eventually pound my point of view into them, but that is only because they are already rational and open-minded people, which is ninety percent of the battle. Should I croak, my only request would be that they expose the boy to my writings once he is emotionally and intellectually mature enough to comprehend religion. “What was my daddy like?” “Er, hard to explain. Here. Read this. The comments too. Discern the light, then go toward it.” That’s it.
Not to re-belabor the point, but the existence of God can be proved with metaphysical certitude. However, the atheists are correct in asserting that this alone does not prove that God is good, that Brahma or Jehovah is the “real” God, or that God cares about us. Furthermore, while the jnani can prove the existence of God with pure metaphysics, this is cold comfort to the bhakta or raja yogi, who take the next step of loving or knowing (and therefore being loved or known by) God. One can actually prove that God--the necessary being--is necessarily good, but I don’t want to go there, for we’ll both just get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.
This is another way of saying that you can easily prove the existence of God to yourself--as billions have--but not to others who are not inclined to believe the evidence and who are not gifted with the intellect of the jnani. (By the way, another willful mischaracterization of my view. This is not to say that atheists are not “intellectual”--which they generally are--or that I am not impressed by the triple-digit IQ of the semitic lover of pork products. I use the word intellect in its traditional sense as that which may comprehend higher knowledge with metaphysical certitude, i.e., the nous, buddhi, or psychic being [in Aurobindo’s terminology]).
On to yesterday’s conference. As a way of dealing with the tedium, I took copious notes throughout, which should be good for several posts. Let me start with the good, because there were a few interesting points. You may have known that 96% of Americans believe in God. But perhaps you did not know that 87% are aware of a need for personal spiritual growth, and that 49% have experienced God’s presence in the past 24 hours.
Did you also know that 82% of psychologists say that religion is beneficial to mental health, and that they are right? There is a very high correlation between religion and mental health, just as there is a high correlation between mental illness--especially substance abuse--and an absence of involvement in religion or spiritual practice. (It is a truism that substance abuse is an illness from which one may usually only be saved by a spiritual experience.) It has been empirically proven again and again that the presence of religion is a “protective” factor and that its absence is a risk factor for mental illness (which demolishes the outmoded Freudian view that religion is somehow an escape into fantasy, since if that were true, we would see more general pathological processes in believers). For that matter, it has also been empirically proven that the absence of religion has serious health consequences, in that religious people live longer and healthier lives in general.
There was also some interesting information on what is called in the literature Quantum Change. As someone with a psychoanalytic background, I can tell you that this kind of sudden, dramatic, and permanent change--which happens all the time--is something that traditional psychological models can in no way account for. I would guess that most of my readers, like me, have been vouchsafed at least one of these “peak experiences” (which are also peek experiences, in that they involve a lifting of the veil and a peek into the larger reality from which we had been previously alienated). These experiences--documented ad nauseam in books such as Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism or William James Varieties of Religious Experience--are always accompanied by a powerful, instantaneous, and unchallengeable recognition of their truth.
Interestingly, individuals who have had these mystical experience are not proselytizers. Often they tell no one, or just a few people, about them. For one thing, as I warned at the outset of our recent little unsolicited debate, doing so is absolutely fruitless. As Petey always says, it is pointless to butt heads with a butthead. I re-re-repeat: I have no desire whatsoever to convince the person who is at peace with either his God or godlessness. My blog is generally for two types, 1) people who are already religious but want to get more out of it, and 2) skeptical but open-minded people who would like to gain a point of entry into a form of religiosity that they can intellectually respect and wrap their minds around.
One of the most famous “quantum conversions” was that of Pascal, which vividly demonstrates the difference between the jnani “God of the philosophers” and the God that shatters all of our little cognitive containers like a cheap birthday suit, whatever that means. Perhaps I was thinking of the fact that Pascal transcribed the event while it was happening in real time, and for the rest of his life kept it sewn into the breast of his coat. It was one of many inspirations for the ecstatic conclusion of my book. Some excerpts:
In the year of grace 1654
Monday, 23 November, Feast of St. Clement,
Pope and Martyr,
From about half past ten in the evening
Until half past midnight,
Not the god of the philosophers and scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace....
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God....
Greatness of the Human Soul.
"Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee."
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy....
Let me not be separated from Him eternally.
"This is eternal life.”
Renunciation, total and sweet....
Eternally in joy for a day's training on earth.
The atheist says, “I feel no heat, nor do I see light. Show me this fire!”
Cosmonight, cosmonaught. Unfearing allahpeering darkness within darkness, benighting the way brightly. Wu, full frontal nullity!
All-embracing secret center of depth, the meaning of Within, the realization of Being, O first and last truth of Self, knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown: existence to the end of the beginning....
A drop embraced by the sea held within the drop. Unborn body of the bodiless one, dark rays shining from a midnight sun, your phase before you were bearthed & begaialed, empty tomb of a deathlaz child.
The body, an ephemeral harmelody of adams forged from within stars, our life, a fugitive dream within the deathless, sleeping what’s his G-d name.
A Divine child, a godsend, a touch of infanity, a bloomin’ yes.
Shut my mouth! Enough bull, it’s eneffable. Stop prehending. The blankety-blank hole affear is over: not a thought but the absence of thought, luminous presence, all-negating Void Supreme, immobile, self-rapt, timeless, solitary, the El Supremo at the top of the stairs, a Starman waiting in the sky, tip-toppermost of the poppermost Man on a Flaming Pie.
Same flames. Same fire. Less talent.