Spritzophrenia

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Posts Tagged ‘mystical atheist’

Between Two Towers

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 29, 2010

In 1968, a secret plot to exploit New York’s famous “twin towers” began. On 7 August 1974, shortly after 7:15 am, Phillipe Petit stepped off the South Tower onto a steel cable, a quarter mile above the sidewalks of Manhattan. One of the police officers who tried to bring him down told this story:

I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire… And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle… He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again… Unbelievable really… Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.

His audacious high wire performance made headlines around the world. When asked why he did the stunt, Petit would say, “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”

Twin towers tightrope

I sometimes feel I’m balancing between two extremes, but the consequences of falling are far less frightening. Today I talk about one of those extremes.

A Different Logic

The universe has given us a wonderful gift of logic, it’s the mind-power that enables us to do so much; all of our science, art and even love language makes use of it. There is even a case that “the” given-ness of logic, like gravity, tells us something about g0d. However, sometimes people feel constrained by logic in a way that they don’t by gravity. When finding an answer hard to accept, some say “Oh well, there must be some other way of thinking that goes beyond black & white concepts”. I find this hard to accept, but I’m giving it a fair go. To that end I got Edward de Bono’s I Am Right, You Are Wrong out of the library.

The book is about moving “from Rock Logic to Water Logic”. There is something in the back of my mind which hopes, “Maybe He’s not actually throwing away logic, just getting us to think in different ways about it. Logic itself still stands.” However, reading the summary at the end seems to say that, yep, he does think that traditional logic, while very useful, is not enough for “human affairs”.

In the summary he says the objective of his book is “to shift the emphasis to the importance of perception”. De Bono is very good at coming up with simple analogies and illustrations to make hard concepts easy to understand. I want to learn how to do that. His book is challenging me, but its a highly stimulating challenge now that I’m about one third of the way into it.

There is some irony in De Bono’s claims and approach, as he uses logic and criticism against logic and criticism; uses language, which he criticizes as constraining, to criticize language; provides a history of thinking while condemning the focus on history; and, in my opinion, one can claim that he applies a different philosophy to thinking while also declaring an end to philosophy. None of this is a condemnation of his work, but rather and acknowledgement that, ironically, any revolutionary thinker can only inherit for his work the very same tools he seeks to change.”

~ from here

“Feeling” God

I also found a good book on Mystics. Mystics are people who believe we can “encounter” or “feel” ultimate reality. Many religions have a mystical element to them, this book considers the Christian mystics such as Thomas Merton, the Sufi (Islamic) mystics (the most well-known being Rumi) and the Zen Buddhist mystics such as Dogen.

The mystic is often— and mistakenly— portrayed as an otherworldly, dreamy-eyed figure who lapses into ecstatic trances, who beholds strange visions or hears heavenly voices. I grant that one finds reports of such things— and stranger— in some mystical texts. But that is not what mysticism is about. Mystics themselves often regard such phenomena as peripheral to the deeper spiritual quest. According to commonplace mystical wisdom, such experiences should not be sought after, encouraged or cultivated. …

[On the ‘mysticism’ category in booksellers] There you usually find legitimate books on mysticism mixed in with stuff on the occult and witchcraft, fortune-telling, mind reading, and alien abductions. Mysticism, of course, has nothing to do with such matters…

More than a few [mystics] have been hard-nosed practical thinkers, respectful of intellect and education. Many have possessed a healthy, down-to-earth sense of people and politics and have often been movers and shakers in the world of their day.

~ William Harmless, Mystics p 3,4 [Edits mine]

Perhaps we can go beyond logic. And perhaps we can perceive spiritual reality directly. The view from the top is attractive to me and far less terrifying than a tightrope walk. Perhaps I sense that the universe is warmer than that. Perhaps the secret is in training oneself— Petit never fell during a performance in his entire career. Walking the tightrope that values the mind, but is also open to other possibilities is challenging. Philippe Petit did it, I hope I can too.

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Rock Logic? B52s

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Posted in agnostic, epistemology, Mysticism, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Nature Was Sacred

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 14, 2010

Now, an atheist can not believe in the conventional religious gods of the culture and still feel a great sense of the sacred, even if you don’t call it sacred. And there are many people, great scientists, who feel this way.

When I was younger I was totally allergic to what I saw as religion: Judaism and even worse, Christianity—it was my enemy. But I loved nature, and for me nature was sacred. I didn’t use that word, but it made me quiet; it made me feel a sense of something greater than myself; it made me wish to serve something. So I was an atheist, but I recall it as spiritual—a spiritual atheism.

~ Jacob Needham on atheists feeling religious emotions.

Nature

More on Atheist Spirituality here.

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Mystical Experience in a Godless Universe

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 12, 2010

I’ve always found something about deserts beautiful. When I was sixteen, two friends and I spent 5 days tramping around Tongariro National Park. Much of the landscape is volcanic desert and I still have a memory of walking out alone into the rocks and sand of the Oturere basin. The sense of loneliness, sadness and beauty in the evening sunset was profound.

Yesterday I wrote about atheist spirituality, which generated a reasonable amount of traffic and a few comments. From this I can deduce that a) Atheists find talking about their spirituality interesting or b) Non-atheists like atheists talking about their spirituality or c) Google’s finally found me (but Google doesn’t actually find a great deal) or d) It’s really kinda hard to interpret much from traffic stats. Anyway, I want to follow up on a few points.

For example, do atheists pray? Does this violate some kind of atheist code, is it the unforgiveable sin? There’s an old saying – which I’m sure many atheists hate – “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Well I’m not so sure that screaming “Fuuuuck!” in your head counts as prayer. Actually, it probably does – I rather like how Anne Lamott‘s prayers mostly go “Help!”, and she’s not an atheist so that makes her an expert. From my experience, many christians would agree with her.

As an open agnostic, I can pray. I just don’t know if anyone is out there to hear me. I guess atheists wouldn’t pray, it would be inconsistent, right? They might meditate, but if we meditate, it would need to be totally divorced from g0ds or the Buddha. I’ve already written about the common misperception in the West that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. One former Buddhist writes

Once inside Buddhism you find out that belief in afterlife (rebirth), karma as a moral retribution law, the omniscience of Buddha, miracles of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, pure lands, complete obedience to one’s guru, sins (bad karma), gods (“devas”), supernatural powers, etc, are all seen as fundamental beliefs in Buddhism.

Perhaps we can turn to more naturalistic spiritual experiences? Viewing a nice sunset perhaps? Being caught up in the beauty of music? Comte-Sponville’s “mystical” experiences involving a sense of “infinite happiness”, an “eternal sense of peace”, and the “dazzling presence of the All” sound rather like drug experiences that can be had on MDMA (ecstasy) and certain hallucinogens. An ex who is a committed user of such drugs nevertheless insists that drugs are not a spiritual experience. But then, maybe she’s not defining spiritual experience very well? If spiritual experiences are really just intense emotional or mystical experiences and don’t require a g0d or spirit world then maybe these drug experiences are, in fact, spiritual experiences. This topic is one I’m planning some guest blogs and a little debate on.

Atheist Left Coast Librul writes: “Human beings are by their very nature spiritual. I wonder if theists would resist atheists quite so fervently if we were more willing to admit that simple fact.” Non-atheist Lou Kavar suggests some definitions of spirituality that doesn’t necessarily require a g0d, although the rest of his post probably goes beyond what most atheists would be comfortable with: “Spirituality is a dimension of life we each have. It is the dimension that enables to us to create, discover, or encounter something about meaning, purpose and value in life.”

Julian Baggini concludes his article on Spirituality for Atheists with “Personally, I’d like to banish the word ‘spiritual’. It misleads us into thinking that we need more than the world we live in as physical, organic beings. What we think of as ‘spiritual is simply those things – love, morality, values and meaning – that make us creatures with rich inner lives.” Sabio, a commentter on yesterday’s blog would also like to leave the word “spirit” out.

Agnostic Pentecostal, commented yesterday and asks of atheist spirituality

how it’s possible? In my mind, even a pantheistic-type (or panentheistic) “other” is still representative of something/one beyond. To me, this is a “theos,” regardless of the nature we ascribe it, whether we call that Eywa, great spirit, Nature, Universe, or God…even if it has a lowercase “g.” I like the idea of atheistic spirituality but in my mind, whatever you replace “God” with is still a God.

Of the two friends I shared my desert spirituality experience, both were atheists. Ross blew his brains out with a shotgun several years ago. Tony, who argued vehemently with me over theism in his late teens moved to England, got married and is now a christian. Me, I prefer just being alone in the desert. I think it’s about time I went camping there again with my son. Perhaps if g0d is real she might choose to meet me there.

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listening to Blue Oyster Cult | Don’t Fear the Reaper
Today’s Fun Unrelated Link Cool! Stop-motion animated T-Shirt Fight

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Posted in atheism, Mysticism, personal, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Atheist Spirituality

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 11, 2010

Can you be an atheist and be spiritual? I came across philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville’s Book of Atheist Spirituality in Unity books yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but I’d like to. [Edit: I’ve now read more, see this post]

Comte-Sponville is not the only atheist using words that we might expect of a religious devotee. As I wrote previously, Christopher Hitchens uses the word ‘numinous’ about certain experiences. Also see The O Project’s Spirituality for Atheists. I recall the sense of wonder Carl Sagan used to evoke in me as a youngster with his excellent Cosmos television series, and I’ve speculated on the non-theistic spirituality of Avatar.

Author Comte-Sponville has had a number of “spiritual” or “mystical” experiences involving a sense of “infinite happiness”, an “eternal sense of peace”, and the “dazzling presence of the All”. These experiences apparently lasted for only a few seconds but they were the “most beautiful moments of his life”. Is it valid to describe such experiences as “spiritual” or “mystical”? Comte-Sponville also writes about being so absorbed in an activity that we lose all sense of self or ego, and that this is a kind of ecstasy.

An amazon review writes

He considers matters of emotion, like the “oceanic feeling” and our response to the immensity of the Universe. These are often taken to be religious feelings, but Comte-Sponville show how they can be better and more coherently understood, and enjoyed, from an atheist viewpoint. He brings in Western philosophers, like Spinoza and Nietzsche, and Eastern philosophers, like Nagarjuna and Lao-Tzu, to bolster his arguments for an atheist approach to spiritual concepts and feelings like simplicity, unity, silence, eternity, serenity, acceptance, and eternity. He certainly left me feeling more serene, and with a more unified idea of what spirituality might mean for an atheist. His argument that religious spirituality involves a temporality that is not needed in an atheist spirituality is particularly strong, and there are many other arguments that reveal the depth and subtlety of his thinking.

Daylight Atheism commends “its approachable, open tone. Comte-Sponville defends atheism firmly, but gently. At times, as I said, I found him almost too conciliatory; but I think a believer would find this book very non-threatening, and might be led to read it and gain a better understanding of the atheist viewpoint.” Several commenters on other sites praise the book highly, one suggesting it should be read along with current works by Richard Dawkins, David Dennet et al.

I’m not convinced speaking of spirituality is useful in this context. By “spiritual” experience are we merely meaning something that is profoundly moving or perhaps emotional? Is this part of a cunning atheist plot ™ to appropriate spirituality from the religious domain? “Look, not only does your position not hold water, but we can also mimic the experiences you supposedly hold the key to”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote, “Andre Comte-Sponville has written a truly inspiring essay. Using logic that is thoughtful and profound, he makes it possible to see that human goodness need not be divinely inspired to be beautiful, and that the meaning of life comes from life itself. Many will find comfort in his assertion that love, trust and ethical behavior are possible without belief in the supernatural. This is an uplifting and timely tribute to Godless spirituality.”

I suppose spirituality could refer to anything ‘supernatural’ that doesn’t involve a god. I once knew an atheist who was a fervent believer in astrology, a system that I find rather absurd.

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If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Mystical Experience in a Godless Universe, Nature Was Sacred and Atheist Spirituality : Real Poetry?

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