ARCHIVES:

Posts in this section were archived prior to February 2010. For more recent posts, go to the HOME PAGE.

1/24/2007                                                                                       View Comments

God, Intellect and Universal Truth

By Anthony Citrano

For someone who doesn’t believe in God, I think about God a lot.

Exploring Texas, where megachurches are more common than oil wells (and probably more profitable), lately it's made my mind itch a little more than usual. I was raised a Pentecostal Christian, and these places remind me of the intellectual darkness I experienced inside the stifling walls of organized religion. That a hundred million of my fellow Americans believe these buildings are their best gateway to the Ultimate is heartbreaking indeed.

In my early teens, based on instinct and little else, I rejected fundamentalist Christianity and stopped going to church. My mother was (thankfully) open-minded about it and accepted my decision. I wasn’t sure why it felt so wrong to me, but even at that age I realized that my natural mode of inquiry was incongruent their systemic resistance to questioning and self-examination. Growth and challenging one’s faith was heretical and an invitation to doom. Accept the faith as it is or meet eternal damnation. I knew I had to move away for the sake of things much more real and valuable to me: my own intellect and personal experience.

This oft-tamped instinct of the young to grow intellectually, to question the underpinnings of their inherited faith, to attempt to integrate it into what they see and know - is well-described by M. Scott Peck, the late Buddhist-turned-Christian:

“In a very real sense, we begin with science. We begin by replacing the religion of our parents with the religion of science. . . . There is no such thing as a good hand-me-down religion. To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.”

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins challenges the social acceptability of children inheriting their parents’ religion. At PopTech last fall, he described the religious practice of early indoctrination as a violation of childhood innocence with superstition. I agree with him entirely. I’d also take that thought on a (perhaps less atheistic) tangent to say that if you have the same spiritual convictions as your parents, chances are you’ve exposed the issue about as much intellectual light as your choice of socks this morning.

Fundamentalists of all faiths blindly accept a version of God that was handed to them, and one that is no less ridiculous than the Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster of Internet fame. While most of these people have the clarity to see the absurdity of such deities (if perhaps missing out on most of the joke), they remain reliably blind to their own phantasms. This is because the truth can be so scary that the mind will do anything to shield you from it. For many, a life without their cherished version of God - or being forced to peek into the abyss that is the Infinite Mystery - is simply too scary to contemplate.

I’m attracted to Sam Harris’ sense that we need to be more intellectually honest and tackle such delusions head-on. Spirituality is saddled by fantastic beliefs that, were they not at the core of two billion earthlings' identities, would be more at home in a fairy tale.

Throughout human history, empires have risen and fallen, wars waged, religions birthed and extinguished, treasures created and lost, trillions of interpersonal dances danced - all in the quest for these truths. While perhaps nothing is more important - fear prevents most people from even peeking behind the spiritual curtain.

I started by saying I don’t believe in God. Explaining this is where we get into the definitional trickery of spirituality and the limits of language, but I’m uncomfortable with atheism due to many of its adherents’ aggressive rejection of Greater Truths. Many tend to believe that we are witnessing All There Is, that consciousness is just an illusion, and there’s no point looking any deeper. I reject that view as wholeheartedly as I do the view that there is a guy in the sky with a kingdom of gold.

For me, the problem of pure ashes-to-ashes atheism is that I believe I’ve had direct cognitive experience of the Great Mystery from which we all arise. Not that I could comprehend or explain it - our minds are simply inadequate - but I’d bet my life that I’ve at least feebly touched the hem of its dress. And it’s nothing like what the Christians, Muslims or Jews have in mind.

What have I learned while sipping from the ocean of the mysterium tremendum? Well, to butcher the words of Wei Wu Wei, I can’t be the moon, but I can point. I am a spiritually fulfilled person. I feel blessed to have lived as I have, and every day (ok, almost every day) feels like another drop into a cup already brimming. But my spiritual fulfillment has derived from direct personal experience of a world that feels - in its every detail and unfolding - like an infinite, interconnected, breathtaking miracle.

I’ve learned a lot about life and how to live it. I’ve learned that it’s possible to be both perfect as you are, yet still have a lot of growing to do. I’ve learned how important honesty is. But the most important lesson I’ve learned thus far is that the Universe wants to experience itself, to become itself. The meaning of life is not in figuring it out, but in the figuring itself. The infinite miracle is the process of discovering, seeing, and evolving. If you know this, you are well on your way to spiritual fulfillment.

Inquiry brings us much closer to Truth than any conclusion ever could - and this is why the brainwashing of theistic western religions is a tragedy and a group crime perpetuated en masse, all day, every day. To prescribe (and proscribe) religious belief while discouraging the process of evolution is antithetical to truth. Rather, it represents the ultimate in institutionalized darkness and repression.

This exploration is more than a little important; it’s literally the hunt of your life. At this stage in my life, I find myself subscribing to a personal brand of mystical atheism; an entheogen-steeped brew of Buddhism, pantheism, and the sciences of cosmology and quantum mechanics.

But that's me and where I am on my road. You need to be committed to making your own journey. And there will be, in your pursuit, countless mistakes, meanderings, squabbles, misunderstandings and imperfections - for without them, the journey will have been pointless.

15 comments:

Valerie said...

I love this comment: "Inquiry brings us closer to truth than any conclusion ever could."

Thank you.

I had an interesting conversaiton recently with a chemist about whether scientific inquiry is, possibly best refinement we have of the spiritual endeavor to seek ultimate Truths.

Obviously, scholarly investigation often is not undertaken in that spirit. But, if the scientific method is simply "what we know about how not to fool ourselves" . . . If most inquiry is really just messier, less accountable, forms of reasoning and empiricism . . . if scientific inquiry evolved out of theological inquiry which in turn evolved out of naive superstition, which is less guarded against faulty evidence and faulty reasoning . . .

Anyhow, just playing with the idea was an cool brain warp, given that so many see science as the enemy of spirituality.

sarabhi said...

Anthony,

Awesome article. My views on atheism are very similar to yours. I refer to myself as an agnostic b/c I feel that I will never reject with absolute confidence the existence of a god(s)/goddess(es). Personal experiences have lead me to believe in the supernatural (ghosts/spirits).

I have a particular Christian friend, who I feel only clings to her religion because of the 'fear of peeking behind the spiritual curtain.' I am definately going to send her a copy of this article. You make a point I've tried to make to her before, but you say it very very well. :)

Thanks,
-Sarabhi

Anonymous said...

Thanks to both of you!

I have made a few edits (the version posted here had a few mistakes,) so for the latest version, see:

http://www.cosmictap.com/2007/01/god_intellect_and_truth.html

I am glad to be catalyzing more thought on the issue...

-Anthony (Blogger won't let me sign in, argh!)

god said...

Interestingly, I have a similar view to yours that life is about self-discovery and inquiry but I don't consider myself as possessing an iota of spirituality.

I agree that life is a journey, and there is generally no one better poised to analyze yourself then yourself, for who better knows all your innermost fears and desires? However I see that as the process of a rational and uncompromisingly scientific mind. The human mind is amazingly strong as it is weak and what better than to use its own strengths to analyze its weaknesses.

It's just very interesting to me that what you view as spirituality.. the reality of our insignificance in comparison to the cosmos, the interconnectedness of all life in the universe and the unending complexities of the human mind.. I guess I just don't attach any spiritual significance to it. It could be due to my life long interest in psychology as well as biopsychology.

But then maybe that is also why I don't consider myself religious, superstitious or a believer in ufos/abductions or the supernatural.

The human mind is a fragile thing. And it is sad when someone's self-potential seems so stunted when they are under the thrall of the religion.

Anonymous said...

Anthony writes: "This oft-tamped instinct of the young to grow intellectually, to question the underpinnings of their inherited faith, to attempt to integrate it into what they see and know ..if you have the same spiritual convictions as your parents, chances are you’ve exposed the issue about as much intellectual light as your choice of socks this morning."

This is what struck me about Anthony's posting. Very much like a fundamentalist Christian, I was raised as a fundie atheist. Granted, this did give me a rational basis on which to learn about the world; but my father never encouraged me to explore religion, and on top of that, he was caustically sarcastic about religion and it gave me a cynical view of any religious people; to my great detriment, I believed that anybody who believed in God was stupid. What an indoctrination for a child! It crippled friendships with other children. It took me many many years to get over this delusion and needless to say deprived me of a lot of good trusting friendships.

When I was in my 20’s, at a moment of crisis – spending yet another infuriating Christmas, of all things, with my father, I fled to a Christian Church and wept in the pews. For the first time, I witnessed the community of a church. I have to say that regardless of my passionate atheist convictions, there is nothing like the sense of awe, gratitude, and personal modesty that I experienced that night in the church, in atheist community. I think there is something fundamental, indeed, about a group of people gathering together to profess their smallness in the grandeur of the universe and that maybe, on a tribal level, this is essential to our sense of togetherness. Call it God, call it whatever you like; I haven’t found this powerful experience in communion with atheists. So I guess what I’m trying to say, in part, is that I now have respect for faith-believing people that atheism never taught me.

Naomi

That "Ball" Guy said...

Visit the drum jams held by the participants on the renaissance festival.

The workers there are mostly agnostic/atheistic or at the most daoistic, with a healthy sprinkling of wiccans.

There is an incredible sense of community, as most people there have helped most other people there at some time.

There's the effective community, with ritual-type events of dancing, drumming, chanting, meditating, & fasting, without the dogma of religion to taint them.

That "Ball" Guy said...

BTW, excellent article Anthony, a thousand thanks.

jfraysse said...

Anthony: Great Post! You write very well! BTW, use the “Other” selection when you post comments and you shouldn’t show up as “Anonymous”.

I personally feel “privileged” (lucky?) to be living in our present age of discovery and to live in this country. I love learning new things and each time I understand something better, especially for the first time, I feel more connected to the universe of which I am a very small part. This “connection”, whether it is to science or to a person, animal or even a plant, is very “spiritual” to me! The idea that this also touches the “Great Mystery” is, I supposed, a possibility. I can say, for certain, that I do understand the experience.

Notwithstanding Christianity’s “Dark Side”, there are some very good life lessons. The one I cherish most is that “happiness” and even “love” are, many times, “decisions” and are best when rooted in “thankfulness”, especially when one realizes that this life is probably all we are going to get!

We, as a species, are builders and problem solvers. Even what we define to be “evil” seems to have a place in our evolution for, without it, we would not be inspired to “overcome evil with good”.

All of this speaks to me of how very important we are to one another. So, I say, get out there – learn something – question something - build something – repair something – heal, nurture or help someone - utter kind words – practice good manners – choose NOT to defend yourself –keep your promises – make a commitment - wear a smile. Why? Because these are some “righteous” things to do and, in doing them, we make the world a little better place. This should be our Prime Directive!

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. (Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948)

Again, great article – thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Larry King Live, December 25, 1999
Larry King: Do you believe in God?
Stephen Hawking: Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe.

Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) believe in so-called personal God (Yahweh, Father, Allah), but ancient Chinese/Indians believe in impersonal God.

Taoism, for example, believes that God is Nature/Universe, is not person. Laozi, I think, was like Spinoza (1632-1677); “God and Nature, two names for same reality.” Albert Einstein (1879-1955) appeared to agree with Spinoza when he said,” I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

Buddhism rejects personal God. In my opinion, Buddha was like great Greek philosopher Epicurus; both didn’t believe in personal God or gods (Brahma, Jupiter, and other 1001 personal gods), and I guess, both were atheistic in this case of personal God. Why? Maybe because they already knew that personal God sometimes is “good” and sometimes is “bad” like barbaric people: killing, ransacking, etc (because these gods were created by barbaric people too!).

Personal God is only for ignorant people. Intellectual people will like Taoism/ pantheism or Buddhism from fifth century BC than Christianity or Islam from centuries AC. Taoism or Buddhism doesn’t force us to believe personal God described in the Bible or Koran. Read Dhammapada or Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) and we won’t find such a personal God in its pages. Actually, I am skeptical with any “holy books” including Buddhist or Taoist scriptures, but at least these Chinese/Indian holy books are better than Jewish/Arabian holy books. More intellectual and more civilized, I think.

Taoism/Buddhism were and are more intellectual than Christianity/Islam. Why? Intellect/reason tells us the impossibility of personal God that creates and manages this Universe.
So if there is God, I think, the God is impersonal, “who doesn’t concern himself with fates and actions of human beings,” like Einstein said. And I think Stephen Hawking is quite right that God is such (from) a law of the universe. And law is not being or person. Law of mathematic for example is not being or person. As an agnostic pantheism for so long, I believe that if there is God, the God is impersonal! Say it Nature or Universe or Law of Universe or Universal Law or else (Energy? Qi/Chi?), but not “personal” God. No way. Too childish for me.

BTW, we should beware that, in many cases, Taoism and Buddhism is run like cults too! So stay out from religions/cults, guys.

Anonymous said...

I am unable to give as positive a review of this article as the former commentators.

Anthony says:

"For me, the problem of pure ashes-to-ashes atheism is that I believe I’ve had direct cognitive experience of the Great Mystery from which we all arise."

1. I have a problem with this defnition of atheism. On the exC forums, atheists say atheism is not the profession that there is no god, but that *they see no evidence for* god. There's a major difference between saying "there is no god" and "I see no evidence for god." The first precludes the possibility. The second allows for the possibiity.

2. This sounds like there is one and only one true path to happiness.
I am glad Anthony Citrano found something that speaks to his soul and satisfies him. However,I have a problem with the idea that he has found the "one and only" true "path to happiness." The way I understand it, that is the heart and soul of fundamentalist thinking.

My observation suggests that since we are all different, different people will find peace and fulfilment from different things.

Thus, while Anthony Citrano may not be a fundamentalist atheist or Christian, he comes across to me as a fundamentalist spiritualist.

Anonymous said...

I have to take issue with some comments made.

"Personal experiences have lead me to believe in the supernatural (ghosts/spirits)."

Look here. Further intellectual pursuits can help you understand this situation a little more clearly. Do not give up so easily.

These experiences have been examined and documented by researchers - they are created by the MIND. All your experiences are created by the mind. Although you feel you've experienced something real (ghosts), you've simply had a real experience (you 'saw' or otherwise 'sensed' ghosts). There's a huge difference.

Do more research! Try to figure out the basis for your experience, whatever it is. You are making the same mistake as all religious people and not exposing your beliefs to skeptical inquiry.

Look up the biochemical basis for spirits/ghosts. You will certainly find something interesting and enlightening on the Internet. But I gotta tell you - there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of spirits . You might believe in it but there's no science behind it. That is the definition of faith - belief in the face of bad or no evidence.

Don't give up one superstition for another or you are doing yourself a great injustice.

Anonymous said...

I have to take issue with some comments made.

"Personal experiences have lead me to believe in the supernatural (ghosts/spirits)."

Look here. Further intellectual pursuits can help you understand this situation a little more clearly. Do not give up so easily.

These experiences have been examined and documented by researchers - they are created by the MIND. All your experiences are created by the mind. Although you feel you've experienced something real (ghosts), you've simply had a real experience (you 'saw' or otherwise 'sensed' ghosts). There's a huge difference.

Do more research! Try to figure out the basis for your experience, whatever it is. You are making the same mistake as all religious people and not exposing your beliefs to skeptical inquiry.

Look up the biochemical basis for spirits/ghosts. You will certainly find something interesting and enlightening on the Internet. But I gotta tell you - there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of spirits . You might believe in it but there's no science behind it. That is the definition of faith - belief in the face of bad or no evidence.

Don't give up one superstition for another or you are doing yourself a great injustice.

Anthony Citrano said...

A couple things:

- Ryan: while I don't buy the ghosts-and-spirits thing, be cautious about so easily saying that since something happens in "the mind" that it is not "real." This is at the crux of the study of consciousness, and I'm afraid it's not as easy as that. There are very compelling, rational, scientific arguments for mind and matter being interdependent.

-Rubysera: first, you're jumbling up three different things - strong atheism, weak atheism, and nontheism. And damn, where did I ever say I had found "one and only" path? I said quite the opposite:

"But that's me and where I am on my road. You need to be committed to making your own journey."

So, on the contrary! I believe that the path to light is a unique, personal one.

To all of you: I've enjoyed the discussion, and thanks for the reception & kind words. Hope you drop by the site once in a while.

Anonymous said...

I was about 13 years old and I lived in a subdivision out in the suburbs. Nearby on a dirt road was an old cemetary. School was out for the summer and on the night of Memorial Day, after all people have gone to cemetaries to memorialize their loved ones, the brothers that lived next door and I went out for a walk. I was in the lead during the walk and As we neared the cemetary I noticed that there was a glow that covered it. As I got closer, being totally mesmerized, I saw glowing human shaped figures walking about in the cemetary. I finally stopped in awe and some fear and gazed upon this sight and then turned around to say something to the brothers who had come on the walk. They were gone and I could see them in the distance running back to their house. I had been so mesmerized I didn't notice they had left me without a word.

So how did I impart my imagination of what I saw on these two brothers? They saw the ghosts too. While I can mentally explain away other supernatural things I may have experienced by myself I will never be able to explain this experience away. I am Guy.

MICHAEL said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You
Micky