Spritzophrenia

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Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

God And Alien Life

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 13, 2010

A new, possibly Earth-like planet has recently been discovered. This seems to have slipped by the major news media. I can remember in the early 90s (?) when the first extra-solar planets were discovered. Now, we seem to have discovered tens if not hundreds. This is awesome!

Gliese 581 g, the planet discovered, is 20 light years from Earth with basic and essential conditions needed to support extraterrestrial life.

Earth-like exoplanets have been predicted for years by scientists in what is called the “habitable zone” around a star, but the identification and measurement of one has been called the beginning of a new era in the search for life beyond our galaxy.

Perhaps I should stress the words possibly Earth-like. Wikipedia notes Gliese 581 g has over 3 times our gravity, which I presume is still within the bounds of possibly allowing life. No giraffes, ‘though— I’m guessing any life there would be short and flat. Squashed elephants, anyone?

[Edit: See my update here.]

On Agnostic Forums this news was claimed by some to be a nail in the coffin for the “Fine Tuning argument” for the existence of God. I’ve been trying to get clear in my head exactly what a fine tuning argument claims. I think it’s something like this?

1. The existence of the universe is extremely unlikely
2. The best explanation for highly unlikely things is that a mind was responsible.
3. Therefore a mind was responsible for the universe.

The first premise is supported by most experts, for example Hawking and Mlodinow in their recent The Grand Design, where they spend almost a chapter on this question. It’s the second premise that I am mulling over. Is it always the case that we credit highly unlikely happenings to a mind? It seems intuitively right.

Eta Carinae Nebula

Eta Carinae Nebula

There is also an argument against fine tuning, which goes something like, “The universe is very unlikely, but we know it happened because we are here, therefore unlikely things do happen sometimes”. This latter kind of argument doesn’t satisfy me, it seems to be almost question-begging.

There were various comments on Agnostic Forums, a couple of which I’ll repeat here:

I would be very skeptical of any ‘scientific’ claims about ecosystems on extrasolar planets. So far we are nowhere near being able to determine an extrasolar planet’s ecosystem. Simply detecting those planets is a relatively new science. The only observational evidence we have that extrasolar planets even exist is the effect they have on the stars they orbit.

And,

If we are not alone in the universe, man made religions need to find a way to reconcile that fact with their core doctrines.

What do you think? If we found alien life, would that be a problem for world religions?

Respond

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The Firm | Star Trekkin’

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Posted in agnostic, cosmology, god, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Welcome to the Fall

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 7, 2010

Part 5 of a series starting here

I find it highly ironic that I choose to explore pain and suffering, and then come down with a severe cold, the crippling return of an old back injury, and a descent into depression. When I cough, I have to grip the wall, or fall over with muscle spasms. If there is a Being who Knows out there, perhaps she is laughing. How has this affected my own spirituality? I guess I’ll first say, “What spirituality?” I’m an agnostic, and always will be.

Does agnostic spirituality require a constant to-and-fro along the path of unbelief? Climbing up and down the ladder to heaven, closer and then further away? I haven’t updated you on my own journey for a while; my life, study and praxis moves much faster than I can write about it here.

Briefly, I think— for now— that some kind of g0d might exist, following my reading of various theist philosophers. I can “feel something there” when I pray or read mystical literature. Weird, I could never do that before. Is that just the “religion” part of the brain, starved for company?

Strangely, the constant pain in my lower back doesn’t convince me that g0d cannot be there. Perhaps if it continues for many more weeks it may grind down the teeth of my belief. I came to the intellectual position some years ago that the problem of evil is not a “proof” against God. It only means we cannot know g0d’s purposes.

I’m quite cheerful, the sun is shining, and my mind’s distortions of reality are receding. The cold is gone, but the back-ache remains, making it difficult to sit or lie for long. I’m typing this standing up.

Laughing Jesus

As a head-person who has an ambivalent relationship with body and emotions, can I find some meaning or meditative quality in my pain? Mostly it just takes away my focus, removes my ability to think clearly, makes me tired and removes me from the higher life. I’ve read some pretty inspiring stuff by those who live with crippling circumstance. But for me? Nope. It’s just pain. Guess I’m not a guru, huh?

Pain is everyday for some people. There is a challenge in day-to-day spirituality: The life of work, paying bills, struggling to manage kids, exhaustion, arriving too late for the start of the movie. The idol of the mundane says, “This is nothing, this is ordinary. Don’t read anything special into this.”

Do you read anything special into the mundane parts of your life?

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Ministry | Welcome to the Fall

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I Would Like a Great Lake of Beer

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 16, 2010

I would like to have the men of Heaven
In my own house:
With vats of good cheer
laid out for them.

I would like to have the three Marys,
Their fame is so great.
I would like people
From every corner of Heaven.

I would like them to be cheerful
In their drinking.
I would like to have Jesus too
Here amongst them.

I would like a great lake of beer
For the King of Kings,
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family
Drinking it through all eternity.

~ Celtic poem from 10th century Ireland.

Celtic roots

Man, those Irish Celts, eh? Pity I don’t like beer. I have Irish heritage and one of the things I like about Celtic christianity is the way they incorporated it with their culture in a very earthy way. There’s comfort in that. Making the divine, human; the esoteric, common; the mystical, mundane.

I wonder what part of my modern culture could do with taking up into g0d? What part of yours?

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Posted in agnostic, god, Mysticism, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Interview with a Modern Pagan

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 13, 2010

I strongly believe we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions in the 21st century depends on this.

Some people believe the solution to religious conflict is to suppress or exterminate spirituality, at the very least by ridicule. I think history shows this is highly unrealistic— look at the way religious life has sometimes thrived under active persecution. Polls consistently show that even with a decline in traditional beliefs, new spiritual practices are springing up to take their place. Whatever the spiritual landscape looks like in a few hundred years time, I doubt it will be 100% atheist.

Hence, I interview various believers and non-believers here on Spritzophrenia. I’m grateful to Freeman Presson for his willingness to share about his life. Freeman strikes me as a humorous and thoughtful man. Without further ado, I present:

Symbol of Enlil, Sumerian God of the Sky, Earth, & Water

Symbol of Utu? Sumerian sun God, known as Shamash in Akkadian

Interview with a Pagan

Jonathan: Freeman, let’s start with the classic “Age, Sex, Location?”

Freeman: Birmingham, Alabama, USA will do nicely. I don’t need to hide, I don’t even remember where the closet is. I’m going to pass on that age question, don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. Let’s just say I have been an adult for a fairly long time now.

Jonathan: Tell me a bit about your background – did you have any kind of spiritual upbringing?

Freeman: I was raised in a mainstream Protestant church. My first mystical experience happened in that church when I was four — but it was before a service, and had nothing to do with Christianity. I was a
fairly devout little guy from ages 8 – 12, until I decided to actually read the entire Bible.

I put it down after finishing Revelation, and I remembering thinking “I don’t know what I am, but it’s not that.”

I got along with closet atheism for a while, but the spiritual realm was not done with me. Along with a lot of this and that, including some early attempts at magic, and some intense experiences with entheogens in my late teens/early twenties, I settled into a phase of “dabbling in Zen.” Then there’s another blank spot before I found a teacher and spent over 10 years really practicing.

I sort of abruptly exited regular Zen practice in the late 90’s, and along with my new love (now my wife), began to explore some more down-to-earth experiences.

Jonathan: How would you describe your spiritual path now? How did you come to practice what you do?

Freeman: It started with figuring out what sort of experiences my wife was having, and developed from there. Her tutelary spirit, Lilith/Lilitu, introduced us to some other deities from the Ancient Near East. I had never heard of my Ilu, Ningishzida, before I was directed to work with him. It had the definite feel of bringing someone out of a quiet semi-retirement.

When we found some other people who wanted to participate, we formed Temple Zagduku. Our work is a mixture of shamanic, devotional, and magical practices. We have more or less regular relationships with six
Deities. We adopted the motto “Namsaga,” which is one of the Sumerian terms for pleasure: as far as we could tell, it is the closest to “bliss,” as in “Follow your bliss.” It’s our equivalent of “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

So we are loosely reconstructive, hard polytheists, although I am at root “model agnostic” about the workings of the Divine. If someone wants to insist that it’s “all in the mind,” I just grin and say, “So
you agree with me that the mind is a vast and wonderful place. Good.”

Jonathan: Can you tell me a bit more about what a “hard polytheist” is?

Freeman: That is one way to classify a point in the space of modern Pagan theologies. Some people believe the Gods are some sort of archetype or function of the mind; some believe they are all aspects of the One; but a hard polytheist accepts the simple explanation that there are individual Gods and Daimones who each have their own powers and personalities.

As I said before, when people say that the Gods are archetypes or whatever, I don’t argue with them. I might say, “So, the Gods are all in your mind? At least we agree that the mind is a large and strange place.”

[Jonathan’s note: We discussed polytheism on Spritzophrenia at White Men Need More Ganesh]

Jonathan: What does your magic involve?

Freeman: Nowadays I do more meditation and journey work: theurgy rather than thaumaturgy. It’s about developing my self and my relationships with my Deities and guides rather than producing “special effects” in the outer world.

Jonathan: What’s your day to day life like? Do you spend your whole time doing ‘spiritual’ stuff?

Freeman: Quite the opposite, it is a struggle to find time to do my practices any more, or to schedule anything with a group. We are busy folks with a little kid like anyone else.

Jonathan: Why the Sumerian connection, for you? You sound like you’ve researched that a bit.

Freeman: I don’t know why I, in particular, would have that connection. You’d expect Celtic or perhaps Germanic Deities, or something from the American Indian realm; but they called me. It would never have occurred to me. I tried to work with Hermes first. I got a sense of “something” there but no real interaction. Then I got “clobbered” by my Goddesses and introduced to some of the others.

Jonathan: (The question I ask everyone) How do you know your beliefs are true?

Freeman: I don’t call something a “belief” if I know it’s true. The phrase” scientists believe” in place of “current scientific theory suggests” gripes my butt. I have had experiences that I couldn’t have had any other way, and my experiences are undeniable. If I could ‘prove” any of it, it would be science instead of spirituality.

I do not have to justify my spiritual practices and experiences. I’m not selling them as a cure for anything but boredom… but spiritual boredom (anomie) is a serious condition in its own right.

Jonathan: Thankyou Freeman, I hope to chat again in future.

Freeman: You’re welcome.

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For those interested in reading further, Freeman writes at http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com and http://ulbh.livejournal.com You can also read about one of my own Pagan experiences and more interviews. If you’d like me to interview you, leave a comment.

Respond

What questions would you ask Freeman? (He may pop in and answer if we’re lucky.) What other thoughts has this raised for you?

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White People Need More Ganesh

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 9, 2010

I dreamed briefly about Ganesh last night, the god of wisdom, beginnings and removing obstacles. Meryl commented recently and asked why I find Hinduism weird; it’s mainly the polytheistic side that makes me feel funny. Blue gods, gods with many arms, elephant-head gods… Nevertheless, I found Ganesh ’warm’ enough in my dream.

Ganesh

Ganesh

I‘m amazed to discover he’s “invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions”. I’m a writer. Mystical connection, hello? Apparently Ganesha Chaturthi, the festival celebrating him usually falls between 20 August and 15 September— right now. Spoooky. He “is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees in the duration of this festival.”

Many neo-Pagans also believe in multiple gods, of the goddess and her consort at minimum, and possibly a whole lot more for those who identify with the ancient pantheons of the Greeks, Celts or Norse. Hindus can be atheist to pantheist to polytheist to monotheist and more. Indian religions are not one big unity, that seems to be an error of the West in naming the whole lot “Hinduism”:

Westerners approaching the Indian tradition for the first time … are faced with two equal and opposite problems. One is to find something graspable amid the apparently bewildering multiplicity; the other is not enforcing such a straitjacket onto the material as to overlook significant aspects of the diversity. The classic example of the latter is ‘Hinduism’: because of the existence of the name Hinduism, Westerners expect to find a monolithic tradition comparable to other ‘isms’. They remain baffled by what they find until they discover that Hinduism is a label that was attached in the 19th century to a highly complex and multiple collection of systems of thought, by other Westerners who did not appreciate that complexity.

Imagine the area covered by Europe and the Middle East at the time of the beginning of the Common Era— and suppose that outsiders had attached a single label to ‘the religion’ of that time and area. This will give an idea of what happened when ‘the religion’ of India was labelled Hinduism, and the extent of what needs to be unpacked to understand the tradition in its own terms.

~ Sue Hamilton, Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Uni Press, 2001) p8

I love the Indian people, we had lovely neighbours growing up. It’s the large painting of Ganesh in their living room I dreamed of. I have thoughts about gods being representations of a deeper reality, something Jungian perhaps. I’ll leave that for you to discuss.

So there you go, a mystical/emotional/stupid brain experience (take your pick), made me think warmly about Ganesha. Maybe there’s hope for me yet?

Respond

How do you feel about multiple gods, some with alien-looking bodies?

The Moody Blues | Om More Westerners giving it a go. Damn hippies! 😉

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I Used To Believe

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 6, 2010

The public image of contemporary philosophers is that their personal stories are all stories of losing faith or of never having had it. The stories in this volume shatter the image. …

… They are stories by contemporary philosophers— many of them world-renowned— of coming to faith or returning, or of enduring in faith. The spiritual journeys narrated were never easy, there’s a lot of suffering and desperation here, and perplexity.”

~ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale

Man before Buddha

God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, features Christian and Jewish theists. One of the longer pieces is Peter van Inwagen’s Quam Dilecta, which tells the story of his rejection of teenage spirituality, twenty years of atheism and his long slow turn to Christianity. He writes with an urbane cynicism that I find amusing:

My attachment to Unitarianism (and its three pillars: the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Neighbourhood of Boston) did not survive my going away to college. That sort of thing is, of course, a familiar story in every denomination, but it’s an easier passage for Unitarians, since it does not involve giving up any beliefs. My wife, who is one of my most useful critics, tells me that this is an unkind remark and ought to be omitted. It seems to me to be an important thing to say, however. I did not experience the crisis of conscience so common among Evangelical or Roman Catholic university students who leave the church. … It is, however, simply a fact that a Unitarian can sever his connection with Unitarianism without changing any of his beliefs.

~ p32

Have you given up a belief? (Perhaps one belief out of many, a scientific belief or belief in humanity, if not a spiritual one.)

Is it possible to have a spiritual life without beliefs? Perhaps we could say that Buddhism is also a practice that requires no intellectual assent. But is this, in fact, the case?

Respond

? What do you think?

“In yourself, believe. It’s alright”, sing the phenomenal King‘s X. There’s a live version here, with an inspiring message— recommended. Or, you can listen to

King’s X – Believe. Belief Lyrics.

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Posted in agnostic, Christianity, Emergent, Judaism, music, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »