Spritzophrenia

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Archive for the ‘New Age’ Category

Twelve Steps for the Recovering New Ager

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 28, 2010

I’ve been researching a popular New Age writer who, it seems to me, hasn’t been entirely honest about her past. More on that in the future. In the meantime, a New Age believer who’s ditched a lot of her former beliefs shared this on one of the forums I was reading.

Twelve Steps for the Recovering New Ager

Step One
“We admitted we were powerless over the New Age and that our Higher Selves had turned us into flakes.”

Step Two
“We came to believe that a powerful bullshit detector could restore us to sanity.”

Step Three
“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our lower selves and a good psychiatrist.”

Astral Projection Kit

This is not a joke.

Step Four
“Made a searching and fearless disposal of our crystals, tarot decks, incense, angel cards, rising signs, wands, spells, medicine wheels, pendulums and lottery tickets.”

Step Five
“Admitted to God, our Guru and our seminar leader the exact nature of our delusion.”

Step Six
“Were entirely ready to take back our mind, body and spirit.”

Step Seven
“Humbly asked our Higher Power to f**k off.”

Step Eight
“Made a list of all the New Age assholes we’d been nice to and vowed to treat them all like sh#t.”

Step Nine
“Insulted the New Age wherever possible, especially when to do so made us look bad.”

Step Ten
“Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly relished in it.”

Step Eleven
“Sought through television and newspapers to improve our conscious contact with humanity, concentrating only on our ability to understand what the hell was really happening in the world.”

Step Twelve
“Having avoided a paradigm shift as the result of these steps, we vowed to carry the NAA message to New Agers everywhere and to practice being ordinary in all our affairs.”

You can find lots more here.

By the way, that picture up there? I found it with a random search. The guy is serious!

What do you think?

Posted in humor, humour, New Age, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

What is “The Universe” Telling Me?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 15, 2010

Cigarette smoke swirls in the air and teaspoons swirl patterns in the coffee cream. The waiter wanders past with someone’s bowl of fries. It’s Friday night and I’m hangin’ with a dozen friends at our usual café-cum-nightspot. Conversation rises and falls. Sometimes people say unexpected things: “The universe is telling me to let go”, says Carole. Carole is an atheist. Others nod and murmur in agreement, I look away and say nothing.

Have you heard someone say “The universe will provide”? “The Universe is trying to tell me something”? Or perhaps “Put your intentions out to the Universe”? Do you believe in “signs from the universe”? If these words simply mean something metaphorical, I can accept that. Just what IS this “Universe” Carole talks about? It’s obviously more than the stars, rocks, oceans and life that make up the physical Cosmos.

Is it energy?

I think most Universe-invokers conceive of the Universe as some kind of energy or force. A Universal Energy like electricity, or perhaps a force like gravity. If you put out positive energy, you get positive stuff back, and vice versa. Karma, if you like, it’s a kind of cause-effect thing. Flick the switch on the wall, the energy flows and the light bulb gives light. Forgive me, but aren’t we just talking about the consequences of actions in a blind universe? What does the “Universe” add?

The Universe

But Carole often goes further than this. She talks and behaves in ways that imply the universe cares about her. She seems to say that the universe has a purpose or plan for us.

A purely bricks-and-mortar Universe doesn’t care about us. An energy can’t speak, it can’t “tell us” anything. If the universe can give good things based on the “positiveness” of our energy, can communicate, can take notice of us, can be on our side— those are all things only a mind can do.

So Then, Is it Personal?

OK, so perhaps there is a powerful energy that is also personal. By personal, I mean something like a mind. Does Carole mean a “something” that has personality— has intelligence, consciousness and maybe purpose, ethics or desires? If this is what she means by the Universe, I think she’s talking about another word for g0d.

I don’t have a problem with her calling God “The Universe”. But let’s not kid ourselves when we’re doing it.

Is There a Middle Way?

Carole dips a cigarette into the ash-tray. She might suggest I’m closed to some other “middle way”. I’ve been trying to conceive of how that might work. Maybe a kind of “force” like gravity? Do a certain thing, and it reacts. Apparently, if I think negative thoughts then negative (unhelpful? bad?) results flow. The idea of “positive versus negative” thoughts reminds me of the warm energy of reason, a gift the Universe gives us.

[What “positive” energy actually means, is another good question. I think to be labelled “positive” implies something ethical, like “helpful” or “good”, which in turn could lead to a moral argument for God.]

Unfortunately I don’t think a force helps us any more than an energy. If the “something” is in any sense benevolent, if it in any sense “notices” us, then we are again left with some kind of g0d. We know that in our Universe only minds can speak, or love.

There is nothing we can conceive of as a mind in the middle, a “half mind”. We know of damaged minds, and of animals that don’t quite seem to have a mind in the sense we understand, but these are not half minds. These are minds that are not able to do the full range of mind-stuff. A half mind would be like saying I both have a brain in my skull, and at the very same moment, do not have a brain. (Quiet with those rude comments in the back seats 😉 )

I don’t want to be mean. I’ve really tried, but I can’t conceive of any other option. Either the Universe is impersonal (negative?)— and therefore useless in the way the concept is used. Or it is personal (positive?), a mind. And therefore a g0d. There seem no other options.

“The Universe” is Personal

For all Carole’s neurotic foibles as a fashion designer, I love her. Maybe one day we’ll discuss what she means about “the Universe”, but people don’t like having the bubbles of their personal beliefs pricked. I don’t know if she realises it, but she’s not an atheist.

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I love this track from King Crimson’s brilliant album, Discipline. Well, I love all of them, actually. “The more I look, the more I like it. I DO think it’s good.” It speaks to our obession around creating a thing (a philosophy?) which is good.

King Crimson | Indiscipline

Respond

? What do you think?

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Posted in agnostic, god, Mysticism, New Age, ontology, Philosophy, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Eat, Pray, Love

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 12, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert’s title speaks of simple human needs and I really wanted to call this “Eat Poo, Love”. I can’t, because I like her book. It’s about the best Western-based introduction to Hinduism you can buy, not to mention it’s great true-life chick lit; beginning with unhappy marriage and bitter divorce and ending with finding twue wove, it deserves its best-seller status. Whatever one may think of her religious experiences Gilbert is no bimbo, between the lines she shows she’s read and thought deeper than Deepak Chopra 101.

Now Julia Roberts has made the film. I suppose I’ll see it at some point but I’m sorry Julia, you’re just not who I see in that role. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the religious stuff is squashed into something fairly shallow by its Hollywoodisation. Who am I kidding, the book is always better than the film. Apparently Julia’s nervous no-one will see it, poor thing.

Facebook chatting with famous Chicago actress friend Kara, she told me “This store near me is selling Indian things and Indonesian things with the Eat Pray Love tag – buy a journal, buy a meditation mat, just like the book! BLAH.” The irony wasn’t lost on me. I replied, “This movie is all about giving up material things and going to an ashram. So here, BUY SOME STUFF.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

The book is a good introduction to Hinduism because it gives a feel for what day-to-day life might be like for a (Western) Hindu, a religion I find quite hard to fathom given it’s huge age, diversity and – to be honest – weirdness. I respect the fact she hasn’t identified her guru or the ashram, I think there’s integrity in that. Her guru is a woman, surprisingly. How common is that in Hinduism, anyone know? Another good book on Hinduism is Huston Smith’s The World Religions, which is the first book that really got me inside the Hindu mindset.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter where she probably had her trippiest experience. Much of her book is a little more mundane, so I wouldn’t want to misrepresent her.

As a reader and seeker, I always get frustrated at this moment in somebody else’ spiritual memoirs – that moment in which the soul excuses itself from time and place and merges with the infinite. … I don’t want to say that what I experienced that Thursday afternoon in India was indescribable, even though it was. I’ll try to explain anyway. Simply put, I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in the rush I suddenly understood the workings of the universe completely. I left my body, I left my room, I left the planet, I stepped through time and entered the void. I was inside the void, but I also was the void and I was looking at the void, all at the same time. The void was a place of limitless peace and wisdom. The void was conscious and it was intelligent. The void was God, which means that I was inside God. But not in a gross, physical way – not like I was Liz Gilbert stuck inside a chunk of God’s thigh muscle. I just was part of God. In addition to being God, I was both a tiny piece of the universe and exactly the same size as the universe. (“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop,” wrote the sage Kabir – and I can personally attest now that this is true.)

It wasn’t hallucinogenic, what I was feeling. It was the most basic of events. It was heaven, yes. It was the deepest love I’ve ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn’t euphoric.

I wondered, “Why have I been chasing happiness my whole life when bliss was here the entire time?”

I don’t know how long I hovered in this magnificent ether of union before I had a sudden urgent thought: “I want to hold on to this experience forever!” And that’s when I started to tumble out of it. Just those two little words – I want! – and I began to slide back to earth.

Eat, Pray, Love pages 208 – 210

How can you portray that in a film?

[Edit:] Thanks to Jon, who alerted me to Salon’s allegations about her Guru: “Accusations of financial misconduct, sex abuse scandals: The dark history of Elizabeth Gilbert’s yoga mentor”.

“What [readers of EPL] probably won’t know is that the unnamed guru is a hugely controversial figure who has disappeared from public view amid allegations of manipulation, financial misconduct and intimidation. And as that guru’s organization, the Siddha Yoga Dham of America (SYDA), has come under fire, her own guru … has been accused of sexual abuse, molestation and sexual intercourse with minor girls.”

It seems Liz probably attended an ashram of this Siddha Yoga organisation, and there is a website for those who feel abused by this group. I’ve also been keeping an eye on Guruphiliac for some time, but don’t know if it has anything on Eat, Pray, Love.

What do you think? Perhaps you consider her more of a “New Age” adherent, rather than Hindu? That would be a good thing to discuss in the comments.

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We were talking about music as a gateway recently. Here’s another one you might find takes you there.

Jeff Buckley, covering of course, the masterful Leonard Cohen

Posted in agnostic, Hinduism, movies, New Age, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

More on Avatar and Pantheism

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 12, 2010

I’ve blogged on spiritual responses to the film Avatar here and here where I discuss possible pantheist readings of the movie.

Santi Tafarella’s recent post picks up Ross Douthat in the NY Times, reflecting on the film Avatar. I agree, he does write eloquently of the human existential dilemma:

Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

I hadn’t considered this “end” of pantheism, the hopelessness of being inescapably drawn down into the mud. Your thoughts?

Posted in agnostic, New Age, spirituality | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Alien Sex Cult!

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 21, 2010

I did say I was going to investigate sex gurus. How about a nudist alien cult that has a $20 million embassy in Jerusalem? I’d heard of Raëlians, and had a vague acquaintance with their teachings. What I didn’t know is their sideline in sex games.

According to the Edmonton Sun “Former members of the Raëlian cult say attractive members of the movement cruise strip clubs and bars looking for lonelyhearts who are offered free sex – and plenty of it – to recruit them into the organization.”

His very disillusioned ex-wife tells tells how Frenchman Vorilhon (the man now known as Raël) brought home hundreds of young women to have sex with during their 15-year marriage, and exposed his kids to “debauchery”.

Vorilhon, the balding man pictured at right wearing a bad Star Wars suit, was allegedly caught up in a spaceship operated by aliens known as “Elohim”, surprise surprise. Elohim is an ancient Hebrew word found in the Bible, as is “Yahweh”, the name of g0d and also of the alien who spoke to him in French. Vorilhon had dinner with Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed before being introduced to cloned women and having a sex party at his space apartment. No, I’m not making this up.

Raëlians are very into science, are opposed to war and have allegedly already cloned a human. These days they also operate a website in support of porn stars. Apparently while he was away for “666 days” (yes, really) the aliens used a technique on Monsieur Raël to improve his intelligence, as the ultimate leaders of the earth will be a “geniocracy”. No comment.

Don’t get me wrong, they do have good things to say:

Take the perverted poseurs out of the equation and just focus on the true Raëlian philosophy, and many atheists and skeptics will find a lot that they can get on board with. Science as a solution to the problems of the world is a great strategy. Advanced technology to improve health and longevity is a great thing too. Love instead of war, who can argue with that? Moreover, the Raëlian Movement is probably less harmful than many other religions, since they don’t teach that your child can be cured of his cancer by telepathically appealing to a paranormal superbeing, and so far nobody’s ever fought a war or perpetrated a terrorist attack over Raëlian religious differences.

After all, it’s rare for any movement or teaching to hold totally abhorrent or false beliefs. However, as skeptoid also points out, we can believe in science, oppose war and promote love without adding the flakey creation myth and stupid stories about aliens. Wikipedia has a balanced but cautious article, but for my money you can’t go past Skeptoid‘s very readable and humorous take on them.

I’m single right now. Any sexy Raelian’s want to induct me?

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Stumble It

What do you think? Do you, or someone you know, believe in aliens?

Posted in ethics, humor, humour, New Age, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Avatar: The Spiritual Story Continued

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 8, 2010

I saw Avatar for the second time recently. It didn’t have nearly the same effect as the first time where I raised the possibility that the movie could be treated as a spiritual experience. Others have written about the spiritual side of Avatar and I thought I’d revisit the idea. [listen to Science Fiction while reading, it’s today’s blog backing track.]

One writer characterises Avatar as more a “spiritual fiction” than science fiction. James Cameron was interviewed on Oprah and the ideas behind the movie were raised. Oprah asked Cameron if he’s a spiritual person, after all, the Na’vi greeting “I see you” is a phrase with a deeper meaning more akin to “I understand who you are.” “I guess I must be”, replied Cameron, “because this film represents a lot of ideas and feelings I have as an artist,” going on to highlight his movie’s “environmental message and the idea that we are all connected to each other as human beings.”

Emmanuel Reagan writes:

Let’s explore “I see you”. When Jake is being trained by scientist to understand the Navi world view, he tells him, “if someone tells you ‘I see you’, they actually mean, ‘I see (into) you’”. They don’t see just the person. They see ‘into’ the person’s connectedness with the spiritual realm. In other words, the spiritual realm is a part of what they can sense. The biology of the Navis and other organisms in the Pandora is capable of connecting with the spiritual. In fact, Jake survives only because of a spiritual intervention early on. Just as a Navi arrow is about to be shot at him, the shooter senses that the Spirit Mother does not want him dead.

Dominique Teng and Brian Hines note a pantheistic slant in the movie. Hines discusses whether it’s pantheism or panENtheism before concluding the distinction doesn’t matter. However, Avatar’s is not a pantheistic deity. Eywa is LIKE a pantheistic deity. But at best, she’s a deity of the moon Pandora only. Really, this god is a god with a small “g”, a creature or demigod albeit a very powerful one. A bigger “pan” or theistic deity is still possible, and arguably necessary if one finds the classic proofs for god such as the teleological argument compelling.

Certainly watching the movie can make one yearn for the type of simplicty and perfection the Na’avi live in. It’s fiction, after all. Teng says, “[The Na’vi] are warriors and ready to protect their habitat. They understand and respect their connection with nature”, which looks rather like an ad for an “Iron John” type New Age men’s retreat. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat list 15 spiritual lessons from the Na’vi. It’s interesting that a spiritual message is equated by many with environmentalism. I guess that’s Lovelock’s Gaia coming through. Teng has identified the non-materialistic and eco-friendly aspects of Avatar well. Towards the end she mentions in passing that Jake’s avatar is a “genetically modified hybrid”. I think many New Age people are afraid of or opposed to GE technology. An interesting point in a pro-enviromental movie?

Teng writes of “Profit seeking corporations ruthlessly destroying both environment and the indigenous cultures”, the “lack of respect for the habitats of other living creatures” and “controversial military expeditions to secure resources”. However, these are ethical issues, rather that spiritual as such and I think it’s important to distinguish this. An atheist could quite happily make the same points. Ethics and spirituality overlap, but ethics do not require a spiritual base to work from. (Actually, I think there’s a strong case that ethics do in fact require a spiritual foundation, but I’ll save that for another time.)

She writes “In the Hindu tradition, avatars are the reincarnations of deities sent to save the mankind in times of great peril.” Perhaps this is where some of the accusations of racism have come from: Whitey has come to save the savages. It’s been pointed out that the main settler characters are white (but what about the Hispanics?) and the actors playing Na’avi are Black or Native American. I wonder what would be said if Jake had been black? “Jake Sully is our avatar and here to save us, the viewers. He is here to open our eyes and save us as a race, a species, on the brink of self-destruction.” Hello Christianity? The god come to inhabit a human form and save us is also a christian idea.

Some Christians have also found resonance with other messages in Avatar, with one writer praising its vision of interdependence.

The Na’vi (per Indigenous tradition) are incredibly spiritual, sharing a connectedness hard to describe. The sehalo bonds they establish with the creatures and the environment on Pandora prove this connectedness–a connectedness that implies interdependence i.e. the rejection of the cup running over due to sinful pride.

It’s interdependence that defines our togetherness, our teamwork; our collective contributions to the whole, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

On the other hand, some other Christians have denounced it. Notably, the vatican has criticised the movie for its “spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.”

My friend Martin Pribble notes that Joseph Campbell’s monomyth can be seen in the story. While I enjoy Campbell’s writing, I don’t find his ideas compelling. According to one commenter

I think the problem with Campbell is also the virtue: namely that the framework of myth he proposes is so malleable it can be adapted to almost any protagonistic narrative. It is a sort of Turing Machine of narrative, in the sense that almost any narrative can be shoehorned into a Campbellian form if it has a beginning, middle and end, and a protagonist. See here for more Campbell criticism and this Christian-based critique of Campbell.

This warm fluffy vagueness perhaps explains why people from quite different perspectives have seen both spiritual truth and damnation in the same movie. This neglect of nuance and detail is the fundamental error of all-religions-are-the-same thinking. On a surface level much in common can be found. Many religions have very similar ethics. However it’s insulting to their teachings and adherents to say all religions are therefore the same or are based on the same ultimate truth. Those who say this simply don’t have a deep enough understanding of the religions (cultures) they exploit by misunderstanding.

It appears the message of Avatar is broad enough to be compelling to many while the details my be quite vague. Can spirituality be vague, or does it have to have a definite content? I’m not sure definition-wise, but for me I want to follow something where the content is clear.

What are your thoughts? Comment below.
Edit: More on Avatar and Pantheism.

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listening to Haujobb | The Noise Institute
tful Clever animation

Posted in Christianity, New Age, pagan | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Five spiritual trends for the ’10s

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 15, 2010

The soundtrack for this post is Windowpane by Opeth. It should open in a new window and you can listen in the background as you read. Life’s been busy, and I thought this guest post by Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun was worth some comment:

Five spiritual trends for the ’10s

A year ago I wrote about five religious trends to watch for in 2009. I suggested what will happen to the religious right, the religious left, religion-based terrorism, Eastern spirituality and all those people who like to say they're spiritual but not religiousWith the dawn of our new decade, I'm coming to the conclusion the five trends have real staying power, which could see them sticking with us to 2020 and beyond.
Here are the five religious and spiritual shifts I predicted, plus my analysis of what's happened in the past year or more to indicate they could be long-lasting:

1. Eastern spirituality will flower
The days are gone when just a few intellectuals discussed the intersection of Eastern and Western thought. Now, instead of D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Masao Abe and John Cobb taking part in East-West dialogues, Asian spirituality has gone mainstream in the West. Nova Scotia-based Buddhist monk Pema Chodron (left) is being profiled in mass circulation women's magazines, teaching the controversial idea of living with "no hope." And small spiritual armies of young Buddhists, calling themselves Dharma Punx, are spreading around North America. It's not only whites jumping on the Eastern spirituality train. Inspired by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and Thailand's Sulak Sivaraksa, more Asians are transforming Eastern spiritual traditions–making them less quietistic. They're committed to "engaged Buddhism," which is putting them on the non-violent frontlines of justice.
The Taiwan-based Chu Tzi movement, which has millions of followers in 40 countries, including Canada, down-plays religious rites and zealously emphasizes international charity projects. Meanwhile, instead of having scholars highlight the atheistic philosophy of Buddhism, scholar Jeff Wilson has discovered, droves of North American converts and ethnic Buddhists (especially women)are increasingly being drawn to more supernatural reverence of the Chinese figure, Kuan Yin.

2. Religious terrorism will be the new normal
The recent failed attempts by extremist Muslims to kill a Danish cartoonist and blow up a plane to Detroit have broken a long quiet spell in terrorist activity on European and North American soil. A Pew Forum survey found in December that religion-rooted hostility is widespread around the world, though not necessarily growing. Nine per cent of countries are experiencing some form, however minor, of terrorism — not only from Muslims, but from Christians, Hindus, atheistic leaders and others.
With North Americans keeping their attention mostly on Muslim terrorism, global surveys are showing Islamic anger is based largely on a sense that brothers and sisters in the faith are being vilified and oppressed by Western financial, political and military powers. Unlike in the days of George W. Bush, virtually all Western observers, including U.S. President Barack Obama, maintain it takes more than military might to stop terrorism, as the dubious wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are proving. It takes intelligence-gathering, multilateralism, interfaith dialogue and negotiation. The anti-terror campaign, perhaps surprisingly, includes "terrorist rehabilitation," according to Religion Watch magazine. Government officials are offering psychological and spiritual counselling to thousands of jailed suspected terrorists to counter their militant ideology.

3. Religious liberals will build on advances
Momentum is rising among spiritual searchers yearning for an alternative to conservative versions of Western religion. They're finding it in progressive Christian, Jewish and Islamic writers. Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass (left), Jim Wallis, Michael Lerner, Tariq Ramadan and Canada's Ron Rolheiser have in recent years become major public intellectuals and hugely successful authors.
Polls are showing liberal religious people are not as partisan and aggressive as evangelicals, but they're making waves in public policy. Even though Obama didn't win any more white evangelical Christian supporters than previous Democrat presidential candidates, he is retaining solid support from black Protestants, mainline Protestants, white and Hispanic Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, not to mention the religiously unaffiliated. Since achieving office, Obama also has been raising the profile of one of his favourite Christian theologians, the late Reinhold Niebuhr. If black civil rights, South African apartheid and the Vietnam War brought together religious progressives in the '60s and '70s, possible environmental disaster now galvanizes them. That was illustrated by the way Christians pressed government leaders to make a dramatic commitment against global warming at December's Copenhagen climate summit.

4. Religious right will regroup
The religious right has been hit with some body blows — particularly with the rise of Obama, the failure of the war they backed in Iraq and the defeat of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In addition, more U.S. states have recently been legalizing same-sex unions. But the religious right retains its passion, anger, money, followers, political connections (including with Stephen Harper's Conservative party) and influence on major media outlets, particularly through hugely popular talk-show hosts such as Glenn Beck, a Mormon. Even though Palin is an embarrassment to many women and some of her fellow evangelicals (especially in Canada), she remains a bigger name than ever since resigning last year as Alaska's governor, promoting her autobiography and prodding the Republican party in her Pentecostal direction. The religious right was reinvigorated by last year's no-holds-barred crusade against Democrats' attempts to bring in universal health insurance. Zoning in on laws that ban federal funding of abortion, conservative religious activists mobilized against the U.S., adopting even a pale imitation of Canada's medicare system. They called Obama a "socialist" and likened him to Adolf Hitler. Palin called the health plan "downright evil."

5. Secular spirituality will strengthen
The populist mantra taking us into the next decade is: "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." It's commonplace for people now to oppose religious organizations, while embracing a host of spiritual practices and beliefs. This "secular spirituality" manifests itself in mainstream publishing, widespread nature reverence and pop culture figures such as Oprah, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. "Secular spirituality" is also making a rare foray into academia. Hundreds of university based researchers are studying the scientific benefits of "mindfulness" and various forms of meditation and contemplation, which have been practised for centuries by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Jews, not to mention artists, musicians and poets. With polls showing more people are becoming "spiritual tinkerers" who mix and match an often dizzying variety of beliefs and practices, secular spirituality is also making its way into movies, including the newly released 2012 and Avatar. Filmed in Vancouver, apocalyptic 2012 warns of environmental cataclysm. The movie ties into a New Age belief that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that the year 2012 marks either the end of the world or the beginning of a new and glorious spiritual era. Canadian director James Cameron's blockbuster movie, Avatar, also develops an eco-spiritual theme. The heroes are humanoids, known as Na'vi, who practise a powerful indigenous form of nature spirituality that holds the potential to heal the universe. In line with the current trend to treat global culture as if it were a vast spiritual smorgasbord, Cameron took the title of his movie from Indian religion. An "avatar" is an incarnation of a Hindu god.

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tful I love techno, and love Strongbad’s funny comments on techno.

Posted in agnostic, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, New Age, Sociology, spirituality | 4 Comments »

My Avatar Spiritual Experience

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 3, 2010

Susan suggested I write about personal stuff. She thought you’d like to hear about practical experiences, ways to connect with g0d. Well… there’s movies?

I’m sure a billion other bloggers are writing about Avatar as we speak. There’s good reason for this: It’s a great film. By “great”, I am not so much talking about plot, acting, dialogue, direction – though I don’t think it’s too shabby here either. I say Avatar is great because it’s rejuvenated the movie experience. It’s the first of the next gen cinema experience, imo [1].

Avatar, rated SAO (Spoiler Alert OK: Only contains minor spoilers). I took my 11 year-old son to Avatar, it’s a great age for this movie and I wanted to share the experience with him. It’s been quite some time since I walked into a movie theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing film on the big screen. It’s a function of my recent poverty that has restricted me. It wasn’t unusual for me to see two films in the theatre per week at one point. I still watch around 4 films per week at home. (Thankyou BitTorrent.)

I knew very little about Avatar aside from the basic premise, I wanted to surprise myself. And surprised I was. Tears fell freely down my face at some points. Tears can be a sign of a spiritual experience I think. At this point my fellow agnostics and hardened atheists will be rolling their eyes. Yes I know we can put this down to emotionalism, and psychology. But this raises a very important question:

Just what IS a spiritual experience anyway? How would I know if I had one?

You’ve probably read of the recent studies of brains having religious experiences, specifically under deep meditation or prayer. At the very least, a spiritual experience would be something that activates that part of the brain. If spiritual experiences are merely a particular kind of brain experience akin to an emotion, then atheists can sleep easily at night. But this doesn’t cover all religious experiences. For example, a miraculous healing might affect my body but not activate that part of my brain. This would be because the external ‘spirit’ would be acting on my body, rather than me experiencing the numinous through prayer. I think we’ll have to return to this question in future posts, would you agree?

Why was I feeling this way in the cinema? Some feelings were romantic feelings – I’ve recently broken up with someone I love. She was special to me, and I was a fool. It made me yearn for something I’ve lost, something I hope for. Yeah, I’ll confess I’m hoping the alien sex scene is included in the DVD. Incidentally, having only seen Zoe Saldana as her N’avi character I didn’t realise – she’s hawt! I suspect the loss of something important and profound is a theme in many religions. Certainly this is so in the churchianity I grew up in: The loss of innocence, the breaking of the world, the loss of connection with a creator. More mystical churchians could also point to the divine romance between g0d and ourselves.

I had feelings of hope, of inspiration, feelings of injustice and pleasure at seeing justice restored. Can you “feel” spiritual experiences in a different way to emotions?

Avatar also hints at the possibility that some kind of “god” is real. Any human being with a heart not too bruised by cynicism would surely weep at that? The interesting thing in Avatar is there’s a non-supernatural explanation for the goddess. It evolves out of a kind of natural neural net covering the surface of the planet via tree roots. Once again, a ‘supernatural’ being that atheists could see as a pal. In a way it was kinda like Jung’s theory of the universal unconscious, but with a practical mechanism.

Another test: If it was a true spiritual experience, should it motivate me to social justice? This is indicated in the Christian New Testament

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

and by the Buddhist Monk I quote here

The ‘insights’ claimed by some who [allege spiritual experiences] should be tested against the difference which these experiences make to the forces of greed, aversion and delusion in their hearts and conduct.

I think Avatar reinforced my ideas around justice for minorities and native peoples, although I haven’t had that tested yet. Intriguingly, this is an area where there’s been criticism of Avatar. A New Zealand Maori academic says Avatar repeats “negative stereotypes” about indigenous people:

The head of the School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, Rawiri Taonui, said Avatar addressed the impact of colonisation on indigenous people in an entertaining way, but relied on stereotypes.

“It was a great movie and had some progressive themes, but did it in a way that still repeated some stereotypes,” he said.

Taonui said the “rhythmic body swaying” of the indigenous people during a ceremony only appeared in “B-grade movies” and “just doesn’t happen in any indigenous population”.

There’s more at Stuff

Feminists with Disabilities makes some good points, and links to other criticisms of racism:

This is a movie which is not only racist as all getout, but also centers around a Miracle Cure! Which, of course, means that the disabled character will be played by an actor in crip drag. And, of course, this story automatically assumes that having paraplegia and being a wheelchair user is a tragedy which would make one bitter and furious at the world, and that, of course, everyone would want a cure.

Contra this, in their comments Anna says “I’m a wheelchair user and not only did I not find it offensive, I thought it was a much more accurate, positive portrayal of disability than any other film in recent times.”

I don’t think all spiritual experiences would necessarily drive one directly towards justice; I can conceive of valid experiences that are only internal. If you’re seeking a spiritual experience; perhaps a movie could be a gateway for you? I’ve already blogged a list of movies you can try. Completely off topic, but I can’t resist throwing in the very funny making of Avatar the bootleg. Anyone seen a bad, 2D version with camera shake yet?

It’s not just the liberals hating on Avatar either – Patrick Goldstein in The LA Times asks “Why do conservatives hate the most popular movie in years?”

As a host of critics have noted, the film offers a blatantly pro-environmental message; it portrays U.S. military contractors in a decidedly negative light; and it clearly evokes the can’t-we-all-get along vibe of the 1960s counterculture. These are all messages guaranteed to alienate everyday moviegoers, so say the right-wing pundits — and yet the film has been wholeheartedly embraced by audiences everywhere, from Mississippi to Manhattan.

To say that the film has evoked a storm of ire on the right would be an understatement. Big Hollywood’s John Nolte, one of my favorite outspoken right-wing film essayists, blasted the film, calling it “a sanctimonious thud of a movie so infested with one-dimensional characters and PC cliches that not a single plot turn, large or small, surprises…. Think of ‘Avatar’ as ‘Death Wish’ for leftists, a simplistic, revisionist revenge fantasy where if you freakin’ hate the bad guys (America) you’re able to forgive the by-the-numbers predictability of it all.”

There you go people, have at it. Meanwhile, I’m gonna be over here with the popcorn enjoying the movie, and possibly finding g0d.

Someone else took his 11 year-old son to the movies and came out with a Buddhist perspective on Avatar. “My 11 year old son … watched the movie with me and we both talked and talked about the movie. ‘Little Anthony’ said, “Dad this movie was just like Buddhism”. Not surprising, considering Mr Elmore is Buddhist. Everyone wants a piece of Avatar. (It seems appropriate to plug my article on the dark side of Buddhism here.)

Avatar also raises the question of the consciousness surviving death, and of soul transfer. The same day I saw Avatar I found out a high-school friend is dying of leukaemia. Coincidentally, he’s my own age, a born-again christian and a pastor. I visited him the day after, I hope to report back soon.

What do you think? Criticisms? Has there ever been a movie that spiritually moved you?

Here’s my follow up post.
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listening to The Electric Six | Antisocial Sex Boy Hit Machine, Pitch Black (The New Zealand One!) | Ape to Angel (Blutech remix), Apoptygma Bezerk | Soultaker, Arch Enemy | God Dethroned
tful [2] A fun and funny way to help the planet
reading Appignanesi & Garratt | Introducing Postmodernism

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[1] Yeah yeah, I know we can all point to similar films plot and genre-wise, and earlier 3D efforts. It’s because Avatar has done it so well, that I suggest it’s the first of the new generation cinema experience. The archetype, perhaps.

[2] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, New Age, personal development | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments »

I Believe In Pain, Cruelty and Infidelity

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 31, 2009

That was a more interesting title than “Why Spritzophrenia?”, wasn’t it? As evidenced by this comment, it’s probably about time I clarified the theme of this blog.

Yes, it’s a bastardisation of schizophrenic. I was going to call it SpiritoPhrenic, but that just sounded like a stupid CCM title. So spritzophrenic kinda evolved from there. After all, if I’m an open agnostic there might not even be any spiritual world to connect with. But I’m sure having fun exploring unreality.

I don’t fit. I don’t like boxes. As you know, I’m an ex-evangelical. I’m probably beyond post-evangelical in that I’m totally uninterested in churchianity at all. At least from the point of view of practicing it; observation, c’est très amusant. I suspect this is a frequent outcome of post-evangelicalism. By way of boast, I bought and read The Post-Evangelical when it came out in 1995 and was relatively unknown outside of the UK. I’m that cool.

Sometimes in my mind I go beyond mere atheism and become a nihilist or a satanist. In my conception, reading and practice, there’s not a lot of difference. That’s where the title quote came from [1]. If I become a nihilist, I’m not a nice guy. At all.

Rarely I’m a fluffy all-is-one new age buddhisto-hindu. It goes really well with many types of trance music, which is fantastic for getting me to a worship-state. But it’s just so damn hippy, and has all the intellectual credibility of a limp paper tissue. Yes, I know about Fritjov Capra and the new physics.

I love ideas, I love intellectualism, I love novelty. I’m probably a rationalist, ‘tho I find most card-carrying rationalists crashing bores. Edit: See Am I A Rationalist?. I read Dawkins and the rest of that pack of miserable gripes. As a philosopher, Dawkins is a great biologist. If you take my meaning. Would he rate a plumber’s book on evolution? – I think not. But I digress.

I have a friend who is multiple personality disorder, or “multiple” as they prefer. She/he/they are sane. Sane by many definitions, anyway. Likewise it depends on who’s “fronting” for me today as to which hat I wear. But they’re all me. I hope to integrate – a dirty word for multiple people – one day. I may be closer than I think.

Oh, I nearly forgot: 21st Century Schizoid Man is a song by progressive rock outfit King Crimson.

I apologise to schizophrenics for perpetuating the “split personality” idea. But hey, we lost that battle a long time ago. Language changes because it’s appropriated by the ignorant masses. eg, “evangelical” used to mean “of the Bible message” when it was used by certain christians to self-define. Now in popular culture it means “ill-educated right-wing fundie bigot”. Or have you noticed how people under 30 now use “gay” to mean “stupid, effeminate, bad taste”, much like the word “homo” was used when I was a teenager? That battle is over too, my dear queer friends.

I have schitzo aquaintances; my cousin is a loony too. I do understand, support, and sympathise with you. I’m thinking of making a paypal donation link from this blog to support mental illness awareness.

By spiritually schizophrenic, I mean that I am really not sure of my final resting ground. But it’s all me. Really me. This is not to say I don’t have opinions or beliefs; with a surety I do. It just means that I’m still exploring. I hate to quote saint Bono, but “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. Or maybe I have, and I’m just taking an extended holiday.

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Respond

? What do you think?

tful [2] Hahaha, Ricky Gervais sings a lullaby to Elmo
reading Appignanesi & Garratt | Introducing Postmodernism

Front Line Assembly | Bio-Mechanic

[2] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, humor, humour, meta, music, New Age, personal development | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

10 Must-See Spiritual Movies

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 25, 2009

Given the holiday season, you’ll probably want something to do. Given I’m a movie buff I’m going to see Avatar [see my Avatar experience], and will probably watch a few others on my laptop when I can. If you’re hiring a DVD, here are my ten must-see movies to kick-start your spiritual journey [1], or provide sustenance along the way. Regardless of their spiritual subject matter (or not) these are good films in their own right. Note that some contain violence or sex; these aren’t the kind of films Pastor Bob shows to the youth group – no tacky evangelistic flicks here. Some films will inspire you, some will revolt you. All of them will make you think, and perhaps grow. In no particular order:

1. The Exorcist (1973, re-released 2000)
Evil. Some perspectives – Buddhist, atheist, Hindu – have no concept of it. Usually Hollywood portrays evil as somehow “cool”. Hell is a place where the fun people get to party for all eternity. Heaven is a boring place for wimps. Devils even have a sense of humour, a trait that C.S. Lewis rightly pointed out a devil could not have – humour is a good, not an evil. The Exorcist portrays hard, uncompromising, callous, hate-filled evil. Think of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.

What’s truly scary about The Exorcist is the possibility that there could be malevolent entities as well as benign. I first encountered what may have been a demon when I was 16. Pentecostal christians like to talk a lot about demons, but this was the only encounter in 20 years I had where I truly believed it could be real. Comment if you’d like me to talk about this some time.

The New Age tends to ignore the dark side of spirituality. It’s perfectly possible if there are spirits that some could be the equivalent of the shark; hidden, unfeeling predators who will take opportunities to attack humans if given the chance. If this is so, it would pay us to find allies among the good spirits.

2. Breaking the Waves (1996)
This film blew me away. A ‘simple’ young woman from a strict christian group marries an oil rig worker who then suffers an accident. She believes g0d tells her to prostitute herself in order to heal her husband. Is she insane? Is God cruel? Why don’t her conservative church help her? Filmed by Lars von Trier, this is not an easy watch by any means, but is deeply thought-provoking and for me, ultimately rewarding.

Breaking The Waves is a movie about the protestant christian concept of grace – un-earned kindness. It’s about trust in g0d against impossible odds. Make sure you watch the final minute of the movie. It changes everything.

3. The Mission (1986)
Set in 18th Century South America, a warrior priest and a pacifist both try to save the people they love and care for. Who will succeed – just war priest, or tree-hugger priest? Another major plot concerns the conversion of a hard-living slaver to a devout Catholic. But can he truly give up his past? A provocative and powerful film.

4. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003)

The dramatic portrayal of Buddhist lifestyles and spiritual truths is perhaps more difficult to accomplish in an exciting way than depictions of Western religious practices and stories, because the Dharma is geared to inner transformation. And while enlightenment may be one of the most profound experiences a human being can undergo, it doesn’t exactly translate easily into compelling cinema.

From greencin

While that may be true, this Korean film is a moving and powerful portrayal of a Buddhist “redepmtion”. The movie is slow and lyrical – meditative, which is surely intentional on the director’s part. An old monk educates a young man, who subsequently leaves the monastery and commits atrocious crimes. The subsequent story is well worth an evening’s viewing.

5. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Koyaanisqatsi is not an explicitly religious movie and in that respect one could call it an atheist meditation on life, technology and our interactions with them. Perhaps one could call this a humanist movie, the first of a trilogy. It’s more a documentary or a work of art yet has no spoken narrative, only a mesmerising soundtrack by Phillip Glass. For me, the film portrays a deep sense of the wonder and tragedy of human acheivement. Watching it is a meditation in itself.

6. Jesus of Montreal (1989)
This Canadian production is probably the best modern re-imaging of what Christians call the ‘gospels’ – the biographies of Jesus. Yet it’s a totally atheistic Jesus, one that could be believed without reference to a g0d. As one would expect from a movie that captures the ‘feel’ of Jesus, it’s brilliant and compassionate.

7. The Apostle (1997)
Robert Duvall portrays a Pentecostal preacher going through hard times. Exploring hypocrisy, belief and wrenching humanity this is one of the more challenging looks at the underbelly of US christianity.

8. The Rapture (1991)
Rapture (rap’chur) 1. ecstatic joy or delight. 2. a state of extreme sexual ecstasy. 3. the feeling of being transported to another sphere of existence. 4. the experience of being spirited away to Heaven just before the Apocalypse. You’ve possibly heard the fundies talking about being ‘raptured’ As far as I know the writer and director are not Christians, but chose to explore what it might be like if this really is true. A telephone operator living an empty, amoral life finds God and loses him again. What would it be like for a non-religious person addicted to sex to be ‘born again’?

9. The Message (1976)
I hesitated to include this in my list, but I think all non-Muslim Westerners would do well to acquaint themselves with the story of Muhummad. The film itself is well produced and acted, it won several awards. Bonus: It was announced just a couple of months ago that Oscar-winning producer Barrie M. Osborne, of ‘Matrix’ And ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame will make a movie about the founder of Islam. I will watch with great interest. Neo and Gandalf meet the last prophet?

10. Natural Born Killers (1994)
You’re probably wondering why I include this as a ‘religious’ movie. You’re right, it’s not – and that’s the whole point. To me it’s a movie about nihilism, one extreme form of atheism: Nothing means anything, there’s no right or wrong, only pleasure. If we want to kill, who cares? Other people have no value except as we choose to use them. Yet the love the two main characters share perhaps belies this point of view. Is this a redeeming factor? Or does it show that nihilism can’t be lived?

So there we are. It was hard culling down a large list to just ten. Perhaps we’ll have to do this again sometime. I hope you gain insight and connection through watching them. I’ve written part two of my pagan experience, I aim to get that online soon. In the meantime, have you seen any of the above films? What other movies did you find spiritually – or atheistically – enlightening?

Happy holidays

listening to Terra Nine and Aviatrix | Wonder, T9 + Aviatrix | Whisper (Pete Ardon and Helix drum n bass remix)
tful[2] Karen jokes about Santa Claus

[1] Again, I am including atheism as a spiritual journey for want of a better description. I mean no offence by this.
[2] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, New Age, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 18 Comments »