On Keeping Faith Alive: The Intellect Doesn't Slump
Since he is now a bonehead atheist, it is odd that Lobdell still writes about "religion," being that there can be no such thing for an atheist. True, there is a phenomenon that goes by the name of religion, but it can only be a comforting self-delusion at best, a pernicious pathology at worst. Lobdell can have no genuine interior knowledge of the subject, being that there is no interior knowledge to be had. It is equivalent to saying that he blogs about his own ignorance, which hardly makes him unique.
One wonders which one it was for Lobdell, fantasy or sickness? And naturally, the psychologist in me wants to know what it is in him that is prone to pathological fantasies. The reason I say this is because these kinds of mind parasites endure, especially if one has no insight into them. You don't just wake up one morning and say "hallelujah, I'm healed of my delusion!" But that is exactly what Lobdell would have us believe. For 15 years or so he was a self-deluded religious nut. But now, all of a sudden, he has been healed of religion, and has something useful to tell us about God. But it's the same presumptuousness in a different garb. One would think a little humility would be in order from one so easily deceived.
In reality, there must be an underlying psychological continuity, religion or no religion. Whether writing about God or godlessness, he's really writing about himself. While he has every right to continue doing so, I wouldn't recommend it, because he will just dig himself into a deeper hole, while proudly elevating himself above that of which he admittedly possesses no genuine knowledge.
There is a baseball adage that speed doesn't slump. For those of you who are not baseball fans, it means that every hitter, no matter how good, will go into the occasional slump in which he just can't hit the ball. Baseball is a very difficult sport. It's not easy to hit a ball traveling 90 miles per hour, thrown from 60 feet away. But if you possess foot speed, you can always try to bunt for a base hit, or run out a routine grounder, or get a walk and steal a base, or be a pinch runner in a tight ballgame, etc. Plus, your speed can always help your fielding. The point is, there are all kinds of little ways a speedy player can help the team.
We could say that there is a parallel adage in religion to the effect that the intellect doesn't slump. Like baseball, religion is a very difficult sport; it is a long season, with lots of ups and downs. If you are more of an emotional than intellectual person (i.e, a bhakti vs. jnani), it's generally going to be more difficult, unless you possess an unusual degree of equanimity and emotional consistency. Otherwise, there will be times that your faith "goes dry," along with your emotions. In such a case, your faith will have to carry you through the rough patches. In a way, such a practice actually uses the emotions to cure them of their inherent fickleness. Sort of like marriage, in which one can elevate one's emotions by binding them to a single person.
Now, I'm oversimplifying here, being that there can be no gnosis in the absence of subtle emotions, just as a genuine, purified heartfelt faith is surely a kind advanced gnosis. Nevertheless, I imagine that Lobdell's story is not altogether uncommon. For one thing, if one possesses a modicum of intelligence, it will be very difficult to remain religious to the extent that one is only exposed to stupid religion, or if one has only a stupid and childlike understanding of it.
In such a case, any self-respecting intellect will reject religion, and properly so, being that there is no privilege higher than truth. By its nature, the intellect (because it is good) will assent to that which it believes to be true (truth is to the intellect what virtue is to the will). The problem is, for such a person, the intellect itself must be convicted and converted, otherwise it will continue to be one's biggest stumbling block, when in reality, it can be used as the key to the whole existentialada if properly developed.
Again, for the emotional person, his emotions can be either the barrier or the means to faith; likewise, for the intellectually gifted person, his intelligence can be either a wall or a door. Most atheists are of mediocre intelligence, but for those with superior intelligence, something has obviously gone dreadfully wrong (and I'm hardly excusing religion for often presenting itself in such a vulgar and stupid way, although the media plays a big role in this, and makes it easy for otherwise intelligent people to reject it.)
I was listening to Dennis Prager on the way to work yesterday, and he was talking about how the intrinsic stupidity of the left helps to keep his religious faith alive. I fully agree that when you see the absence of light and wisdom in the left, it makes you appreciate even more the timeless wisdom embodied in religion. As Prager was saying -- and I agree with him 100% -- good religion is an inoculation against all kinds of philosophical and political stupidity (and evil). In turn, this realization always prompts a kind of heartfelt gratitude for the light I have been given by so many God-inspired intellects. Not only did I receive nothing during the course of my liberal indoctrination, I was contaminated. Only exposure to the real Truth can undo this worldy contamination. And who wouldn't be grateful for that?
Lobdell has published the story of how he lost his "faith" here. Let's see how many errors we can chronicle in this cautionary tale, in the hope that some other poor sap doesn't fall into them and end up cashing in truth for atheistic sophistries.
Lobdell says that "when the Times editors assigned me to the religion beat, I believed God had answered my prayers. As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a freak show. I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people’s lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier."
Now, Lobdell's first big mistake was presuming to write about religion so soon after he himself had come to it. A more modest person would have given it, oh, I don't know, a good two or three decades before even picking up the pen. Otherwise, there is an overwhelming likelihood that you will only be capable of transmitting error, or superficially blathering about weakly grasped principles. Look at it this way: truly understanding religion takes much more time and commitment than, say, obtaining a PhD in physics, being that the subject is infinite. But what kind of person would presume to write about physics shortly after an emotional experience of "hallelujah, physics exists!"
One can also be sure that if the L.A. Times offers you a job writing about religion, something's wrong. That's like Pravda offering you a job writing about capitalism. Only certain people will be "qualified," if that is the right word.
So that's mistake number one: a kind of hubris that conceals the fact that something very central has eluded his grasp. But even prior to that, there were some red flags. Lobdell says that he came to religion in 1989, when "I was 28 and my first son was less than a year old. I had managed to nearly ruin my marriage (the second one) and didn’t think I’d do much better as a father. I was profoundly lost." A friend suggested that he needed God in his life, and recommended that he attend one of those "mega-churches" that are devoid of either intelligence or barakah, but which rake in millions by fleecing their flocks.
Now, if this were the only kind of religion that existed, I can assure you that I would be an atheist, probably a militant one. Again, the intellect can only assent to what it believes to be true, and for mine to assent to Paul and Jan Crouch, or Bennie Hinn, or Joel Osteen, or Tammie Faye Baker, I would have to be brain damaged (and I don't intend to give the brain-damaged a bad name). I don't even consider these people religious per se, any more than I consider most of what calls itself art to have any right to the name. Yes, some religiosity inevitably gets tossed into the mix, and I am quite sure that many decent people get involved in this kind of thing, but their decency -- or God's mercy -- protects them from becoming completely lost and deceived. I place these people in same category as Deepak Chopra and his ilk. Just two sides of the same coin mint.
Along these lines, a friend of mine at work is turning 40. Since graduating medical school, he has worked hard at becoming successful and obtaining some degree of financial security. Now he wants to focus on his spiritual development, and was asking for advice. It is somewhat difficult to give advice to an absolute beginner, especially someone who will likely have to overcome a kind of scientistic hyper-rationalism that often results from medical school (which selects such types to begin with).
I'm still thinking about the question, but in general, the one piece of advice I might offer is to always look for intelligence and barakah, or light and grace. If you do this, you won't go wrong, because this is what your intellect and heart are hungering for, a kind of light-filled intellectual certitude, plus a grace-filled warmth where your soul finds its home. In short, you are looking for a sanctuary for the heart-mind.
Back to Lobdell's anti-spiritual autobiography. He says that the pastor of the mega-church "had a knack for making Scripture accessible and relevant. For someone who hadn’t studied the Bible much, these talks fed a hunger in my soul. The secrets to living well had been there all along –- in 'Life’s Instruction Manual,' as some Christians nicknamed the Bible."
When he says that the pastor had a knack for making scripture "accessible," I'm going to take a wild guess and say that he probably had an even bigger talent for vulgarizing it. After all, truth is truth, and if he had been conveying anything deep and useful, Lobdell would still believe it. It would have "stuck."
And when he says that these talks "fed a hunger in my soul," that is surely true, just as Twinkies will feed a hunger in your belly. But just because Twinkies are devoid of nutrition, that hardly means that the stomach doesn't exist or that it doesn't have real needs.
That's another point I would emphasize to my friend at work: you may have difficulty with the idea of God, but that can be overcome if you focus on the other end of the line, the human spirit that is a "divine spark" of God. By locating, identifying, articulating, and expanding this "part" of oneself -- what Aurobindo calls the "psychic being," but which every tradition recognizes -- you will have your own "proof of God." That is, as this part of you develops, God naturally comes more into view. In fact, there can be no stable spiritual practice in the absence of this soul development; it is simultaneously means and end.
Lobdell's next big mistake was confusing (!?) with (¶), or transient states with enduring traits. As he writes, he attended a three-day religious retreat. I guess like any other cult, these are "designed to grind down your defenses and leave you emotionally raw -- an easier state in which to connect with God. After 36 hours of prayer, singing, Bible study, intimate sharing and little sleep, I felt filled with the Holy Spirit."
Hmm. Being that he is now an atheist, he doesn't say what he believes actually happened to him. Presumably it was just some sort of altered state brought about by the unleashing of repressed energy. I'm guessing that this kind of experience isn't too difficult to obtain under such circumstances. Isn't that what the '60s was all about?
Well, running short on time.... The End.