Category Archives: God

Symbolic Immortality

From: Carlo Strenger’s article You’d better believe it: Daniel Dennett argues that many religious people don’t truly believe. But though I sympathise, it’s a case of wishful thinking Hopefully enough of a clipping to understand where I’m going with my thoughts.

What is Dennett’s problem, then? Why can’t he accept the facts, even though he professes to be guided by science? The reason for Dennett’s disbelief in belief is that, like Dawkins, he does not want to give up on the Enlightenment narrative that says that humanity inevitably evolves towards higher rationality. He can simply not let go of the idea that if humans have access to education and knowledge, they will inevitably move towards being secular atheists like himself – and like me, for that matter.

I identify with Dennett in that I’m also struck by the recalcitrance of religious belief to the enormous advances of science. I wonder how people who are brilliant and have access to as much information as I have, have beliefs that seem utterly irrational to me. And, like Dennett, I cannot let go of the Enlightenment narrative, in spite of evidence to the contrary. In fact, I don’t want to let go of it for two reasons: first, because it gives me some hope for humanity (and I live in an area of the world where hope is a pretty scarce commodity these days). Second, because fighting for Enlightenment values is a form of life that I’m deeply engaged in and gives my life meaning.

The findings of existential psychology show that humans need a cultural framework that provides them with symbolic immortality, or what is generally called meaning. This is the feeling that we are part of a larger whole, a religion, culture or movement that will survive our personal death. By contributing to this larger whole, we feel that we will not disappear without a trace. This is one of the major functions of cultural belief systems, and humans will often defend these belief systems with their lives; meaning and symbolic immortality, paradoxically, matter more to us than our individual lives.

Full article here.

My thoughts on belief in belief have been so PC lately I almost make myself sick. Anyways its still interesting to me. While this general idea that we need religion or any belief system so we can feel part of something is just a wee bit over simplfied for my tastes. The thought is also in this other article about Dorothy Rowe’s book. (another book for my ever growing reading list….)

At the launch of her new book, psychologist Dorothy Rowe said she intended it to act as a sequel to The God Delusion. Dawkins, she said, had posed the question: “Why do intelligent people believe this garbage?” In What Should I Believe?, Rowe gives an answer, though with less of a blanket judgment as to the rubbishness or otherwise of the religious outlook. In fact, her explanation could be used to understand any form of belief, Dawkins’ included.

She starts from the premise that our greatest fear is annihilation, not physical death, necessarily, but annihilation as a person. It is the desire to avoid this that motivates us throughout our lives. For some, religion is the answer, because it tends to suggest quite straightforwardly that life carries on after death.

To me this is not why I pursue the thought of God, or the creation of the universe. For me it is to understand my existence, and the world around me. I am open to all ideas in science and religion. Even if an idea is immediately discarded by me, I still feel I am closer to understanding something just by trying to understand someone else’s point of view.

The second article goes on to how its possible for bad things to happen even if there wasn’t religion. While religion seems to be the biggest excuse train these days, there are other excuse trains in the station.

Comments and arguments welcome.

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The God Delusion – first thoughts

So with all the talk and thoughts about atheism this last week, I thought I should actually read the God Delusion. While I’m only a little ways in, I thought I should make some comments.

Dawkins brings up some very good points about organized religion and how it seems to get a free pass in the excuse lane. I agree that hate speech should not be allowed just because its “part” of their religion.

I also think terrible, horrible things have been done in the name of religion… but what about places that lack a major religion? Doesn’t the offending party just find some other excuse to take the place of religion? Though maybe Dawkins addresses this some place further in the book.

Either way I feel like I’m still at a middle ground. It’s not that I think people are justified to do whatever they want, but I don’t feel like its my place to tell them what to believe. I think people, over time, will generally move away from religion. While it would be nice to think this is something that will happen soon… its almost just as silly as religion itself to think it will.

Major social change takes time. How long have women been waiting for equal treatment? (And in some places still waiting) How long did it take (is it taking) for African Americans to have equal rights in America? Living in the northeast I still know older people that are generally racist. Of course they would be very ashamed to admit it. As younger generations grow up in a more accepting world, they in turn are more accepting.

When I was growing up in environmentalism was taught in schools a bit, so I am more aware of these things. In turn my kids are really saturated with it at home and at school, so now they are very aware of conserving water, electricity and waste. I’m amazed at how often they remined me to turn off my laptop or the faucet!

So while I think Dawkins points are very valid I think they are not as dire as he makes them sound. Change takes time. Focusing on educating children all the way through college is probably the best way to insure logically thinking future generations.

Either way I’m looking forward to reading the rest of his points, and I’m glad that it is a best seller. While some points might be exaggerated, it is definitely something that needed to be said. Though I still disagree with the title.

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Belief in Belief: Interesting Discussion

I’ve been reading and writing a lot on religion/philosophy/existence etc over the last couple days, and as a result of such, my brain is just bouncing around with arguments and thoughts. In the moments before I’m fully awake or asleep my brain auto pilots strange explanations for a God. This morning I woke up to my brain arguing atheism. I think this has to do with my inability to grasp exactly what I believe, so that when I come across a strong atheist post, I feel offended. I feel like they are calling me silly because I may or may not believe in a God.Which is odd because for the most part I think I side with atheists much more than theists. Anyways this is long and ramble-ly because I’m in the mood to write/think that way.

Anyways an question series in the Guardian on “Should we Believe in Belief?” has stirred up some interesting discussion. Highlights and comments follow:

From Karen Armstrong’s reply-  Metaphysical mistake: Confusion by Christians between belief and reason has created bad science and inept religion

“In most pre-modern cultures, there were two recognised ways of attaining truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were crucial and each had its particular sphere of competence. Logos (“reason; science”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to control our environment and function in the world. It had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external realities. But logos could not assuage human grief or give people intimations that their lives had meaning. For that they turned to mythos, an early form of psychology, which dealt with the more elusive aspects of human experience.”

Karen Armstrong’s reply talks a bit about logos and mythos and how dangerous it can be to confuse the two. To me its not that science and religion have to be separated, but that they are two ways of looking at the world. One with the mind, logically figuring out what makes sense, and one with the heart, emotionally navigating this strange existence. Nor should we always separate them. But you can’t always take emotional reactions and feelings and apply a logical structure to them.

“We often assume “modern” means “superior”, and while this is true of science and technology, our religious thinking is often undeveloped. In the past, people understood it was unwise to confuse mythos with logos, but today we read the mythoi of scripture with an unparalleled literalism, and in “creation science” we have bad science and inept religion.”

This is a big beef… taking the bible as absolutely literally is just about the silliest thing ever. I’m on board 100% with atheists on this one. Not only do most people pick and choose which parts to take absolutely literally, its 2000 year old ideas. While this is a wonderful base for idea and inquiry, stagnation of thought is dangerous and silly. You wouldn’t stop the development of medicine 2000 years ago and call it good.

So this is where I’m in the middle roads. I think telling people there is NO God is rude and presumptuous. Telling them to think outside the box (or book in this case) is a good cause. But we need to be careful how we tell them. Telling them God is a delusion or not great, is not a place to start the dialogue. This sensationalizes the debate and leads to hurt feelings and closed ears. It sells books, but to the wrong people.

From Daniel Dennett’s article – The folly of pretence: We must not preserve the myth of God – it was a useful crutch, but we’ve outgrown it

“Today one of the most insistent forces arrayed in opposition to us vocal atheists is the “I’m an atheist but” crowd, who publicly deplore our “hostility”, our “rudeness” (which is actually just candour), while privately admitting that we’re right. They don’t themselves believe in God, but they certainly do believe in belief in God.”

This is funny, because just above I talked about the rudeness of telling people there is no God. I am almost exactly the person he is talking about here. And honestly its not so much what Dennett, Dawkins, Harris or even Hitchens say about God that bother’s me its the crusade of followers. While the four horsemen usually debate these things perfectly reasonably, the general public, especially on the internet, can argue these things less than diplomatically. This is also very true of the other side of the debate.

Which is why I feel the debate should be moved away from the word God. God is a very personal thing. Even within the major religions, each person’s mental idea of God different.This is a sacred space. A place to retreat to when things are shitty, and a place to rejoice in when things are good. When you call this idea space a crutch, delusional or less than great, feelings get hurt.

From Baber’s reply – The philosopher’s God: There is no cabal seeking to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes. Many philosophers believe in God, and many more think the issue is not easily solved

“Most people I know are atheists. But they’re atheists of the old kind who have no particular interest in proselytising because they do not believe that anything of importance hangs on whether or not people believe in God and because they recognise that theological claims are controversial. Unlike the New Atheists they don’t think they have discovered, or invented, something new and interesting.”

I think this is interesting for the use of calling anyone that attacks God as a New Atheist. While it stirs up thoughts, I also think it is untrue. I somewhat agree with her article in general, because she seems to be calling for atheists to not attack God as an idea. Though her article is a little all over the place.

Yes the belief in God can be a dangerous vehicle for other ideas, but its not the major problem. Chip away at the ideas themselves and leave the center of the tootsie pop for another day.

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Can God Be Perfect if We Exist?

An interesting post at A Philosopher’s Blog: Can God Be Perfect if We Exist?

Currently, we are discussing Spinoza in class. Spinoza presents a rather interesting view of God in that he, Spinoza, is a pantheist. On his view, everything is God. This view contrasts sharply with the usual monotheistic view in which God exists apart from His creation (and, of course, us). For Spinoza, there is no such distinction-there is but one substance and this is God.

My current feelings about God seem to be similar to Spinoza, of course I am a lay person with limited understanding of other thinkers.

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Divine Simplicity and Wikipedia Musings

Clippings from different Wikipedia pages. Highlighting and posting things that intrigued me or sounded true to my ideas of God. Give me a break on the whole Wikipedia as a bad source crap… its a fast and easy way to browse information and flag things for further study.

Divine Simplicity in Jewish Thought

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

an entity which is truly one must be free of properties and thus indescribable – and unlike anything else. (Additionally such an entity would be absolutely unsubject to change, as well as utterly independent and the root of everything.)

See below to understand why I think this italicized part is untrue.

“God is not two or more entities, but a single entity of a oneness even more single and unique than any single thing in creation… He cannot be sub-divided into different parts — therefore, it is impossible for Him to be anything other than one. It is a positive commandment to know this, for it is written (Deuteronomy 6:4) ‘…the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Mada 1:7.)

The Problem of Evil

Maimonides wrote on theodicy (the philosophical attempt to reconcile the existence of a God with the existence of evil in the world). He took the premise that an omnipotent and good God exists. He adopts the Aristotelian view that defines evil as the lack of, or the reduced presence of a God, as exhibited by those who exercise the free choice of rejecting belief.

In a world where God is everything, I’m not sure this works… because how can God be absence of himself? But its an interesting theory.


To the Nondualist, reality is ultimately neither physical nor mental. Instead, it is an ineffable state or realization.
A nondual philosophical or religious perspective or theory maintains that there is no fundamental distinction between mind and matter, or that the entire phenomenological world is an illusion (with reality being described variously as the Void, the Is, Emptiness, the mind of God, Atman or Brahman)
Nondualism can refer to one of two types of quality:

  • One is the quality of union with reality, God, the Absolute. This quality is knowable and can be gained spontaneously and via practice of inquiry.
  • A second quality is absolute by nature, or to put it in words, “conceptual absence of ‘neither Yes nor No’,” as Wei Wu Wei wrote. This latter quality is beyond the quality of union. It may be viewed as unknowable.

I can almost envision a middle ground between these two concepts… because isn’t that what led me to nondualism, my ability to see both sides of an argument. At this moment in time it is unknowable to the human mind, BUT I believe that it is not beyond the ability of beings to at some point know the nondualistic nature of reality and in essence understand God/existence. I think a part of me believes this is the purpose of existence. God is a dynamic becoming. An infinite loop of nothing to something to nothing again. Like an explosion of thought and growth. One moment a singularity the next and expanding universe and a progression of beings.

This is of course a rough idea. Because how can a nondualistic reality include a point within it of nothing.

Hrmm random idea. What if it is the only way I can perceive it. When I put existence on a time line I look at it sideways. We are here, then we are here, then we are here. What if God/true existence looks at it down the barrel. Not a line but a singular dot, starring down all of time. God/existence is everything at once. And while I can roughly understand that idea much as I can roughly understand infinity, in the end I can never truly think of everything at once.

Accessibility is not relevant to the second quality mentioned in the paragraph above, since, according to that quality, an essential part of its gaining includes the realization that the entire apparent existence of the individual who would gain access to understanding nondualism is in fact merely illusional. Achieving the second of these qualities therefore implies the extinguishing of the ego-sense that was seeking it:

“What is the significance of the statement ‘No one can get enlightenment”? … Enlightenment is the annihilation of the ‘one’ who ‘wants’ enlightenment. If there is enlightenment … it means that the ‘one’ [ie individual ego] who had earlier wanted enlightenment has been annihilated. So no ‘one’ can achieve enlightenment, and therefore no ‘one’ can enjoy enlightenment. […] if you get [a] million dollars then there will be someone [an ego-sense] to enjoy that million dollars. But if you go after enlightenment and enlightenment happens, there will be no ‘one’ [ie, no individual ego-sense] to enjoy enlightenment.”

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The Gods of the Hills

“The gods of the hills are not the gods of the valleys.” -Ethan Allen

Further so, my god is not the same as your god. God is a personal experience.

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A History of God – Clippings

Interesting snippets I underlined or marked. The entire book is interesting but these things must have stood out to me at the time. Page numbers refer to the paperback version of Karen Armstrong’s A History of God.

“One of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is many of us no longer have the sense that we are surrounded by the unseen.   …  When [ancient cultures] personalized the unseen forces and made them gods, associated with the wind, sun, sea and stars but possessing human characteristics, they were expressing their sense of affinity with the unseen and with the world around them” p. 4

“People would continue to adopt a particular conception of the divine because it worked for them, not because it was scientifically or philosophically sound.” p. 17

Aristotle’s  idea of God had an immense influence on later monotheists, particularly on Christians in the Western world. … He developed what amounted to a philosophical version of the old emanation accounts of creation: there was a hierarchy of existences, each one of which imparts form and change to the one below it, but unlike the old myths, in Aristotle’s theory the emanations grew weaker the further they were from their source. At the top of this hierarchy was the Unmoved Mover, which Aristotle identified with God. This God was pure being and, as such, eternal, immobile and spiritual. God was pure thought, at one and the same time thinker and thought, engaged in an eternal moment of contemplation of himself, the highest object of knowledge. … this God remains quite indifferent to the existence of the universe, since he cannot contemplate anything inferior to himself.” selected clips p. 37-38

“We must be careful not to interpret the story of Isiah’s vision too literally: it is an attempt to describe the indescribable, and Isaiah reverts instinctively to the mythological traditions of his people to give his audience some idea of what happened to him.” p. 42

“prophets like Isaiah were trying to make their countrymen look the actual events of history in the face and accept them as a terrifying dialogue with their God.” p. 44

“When they attributed their own human feelings and experiences to Yahweh, the prophets were in an important sense creating a god in their won image. Isiah, a member of the royal family, had seen Yahweh as a king. Amos had ascribed his own empathy with the suffering poor to Yahweh; Hosea saw Yahweh as a jilted husband, who still continued to feel a yearning tenderness for his wife. All religion must begin with some anthropomorphism” p.48

“We can see what this entailed in the writings of the Priestly tradition (P), which were written after the exile and inserted into the Pentateuch. This gave its own interpretation of the events described by J and E and added two new books, Numbers and Leviticus. As we might expect, P had an exalted and sophisticated view of Yahweh. He did no believe, for example, that anybody could actually see God in the way the J had suggested.” p. 62

“Sophia (knowledge) as an aspect of the unknowable God who has adapted himself to human understanding. She is God-as-he-has-revealed-himself-to-man, the human perception of God, mysteriously distinct from the full reality of God, which would always elude our understanding.” p.68

“[Philo (of Alexandria ca 30 BCE -45 BCE) made] an important distinction between God’s essence (ousia), which is entirely incomprehensible, and his activities in the world, which he called his “powers” (dynameis) or “energies” (energeiai). Basically, it was similar to the solution of P and the Wisdom writers. We can never know God as he is in himself.” p.69

“Philo insisted that we will never reach God as he is in himself: the highest truth we can apprehend is the rapturous recognition that God utterly transcends the human mind.” p.70

“As one Rabbi put it, “God does not come to man oppressively but commensurately with man’s power of receiving him.” This very important rabbinic insight meant that God could not be described in a formula as though he were the same for everybody: he was an essentially subjective experience. Each individual would experience the reality of “God” in a different way to answer the needs of his or her own particular temperament.” p.74

“…a woman was commanded to take a ritual bath after the menstrual period, to prepare herself for the holiness of what came next: sexual relations with her husband. The idea that sex could be holy in this way would be alien to Christianity, which would sometimes see sex and God as mutually incompatible.” p.77

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