Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Holy Day

Reading Richard Dawkins's memoir, An Appetite for Wonder, which I'm finding a bit boring, I'm led to question, how much less interesting would an autobiography by a non-celebrity be, like the one i'm working on for example. Well, there may be some redeeming quality, say if it were very well written, or something that caught the imagination of the reader, expressing the zeitgeist or whatever... but I've always seen it as something of interest only to myself and, maybe(!), my daughter. My interest quickens whenever Dawkins deals with the evolution of his thinking that eventuated in his book, The God Delusion (reviewed on my blog and the DEW, May 2011). So I took a break from the book to go to youtube to see some of his debates.

In a documentary titled, The Enemies of Reason, Dawkins interviewed, or maybe ambushed is more accurate, certain high-profile “spiritual” teachers, astrologers, tarot readers etc; I say ambush because he seems to have stopped them in a hallway or garden enroute to somewhere else. They stand there, Dawkins peppering the victim with questions, the camera person wandering back and forth between the debaters and sparks not quite flying but evident in the tense and rapid repartee.

Of the clips I looked at most victims were struggling mightily if ineffectively to hang onto their “faith”, masking the indefensible with theological jargon. Only those who wish to be deceived are fooled by this tactic though apparently the numbers are pretty high who so wish. Usually Dawkins' questions are quite interesting while the answers he gets are nearly unbearable obfuscation, reducing usually to “faith” or “personal experience”.

Dawkins however came upon a worthy opponent when he waylaid Deepak Chopra. I did not know Deepak was an MD. I once saw a PBS documentary of one of his talks to a business group. I thought it was quite clever of him to counsel that audience to “go to the wordless space and envision your desire.” Clever because when you get to the wordless space, as I understand it, and I'm sure how Deepak understands it, you have no desire. You are only in wondrous awe of the interconnectedness of all things. Business people of course, deeply involved in an enterprise where profit is the central motivation, would expect this “wordless space” to be a sort of magical process for getting one-up on the competition. That whole world would be subverted were they to actually get there and realize that other values arise... beauty, harmony, reverence, peace.

Apparently Chopra's medical practice combines traditional medicine with “new age” notions of wholistic health. Dawkins probed this area, thinking of it as non-scientific and therefore vulnerable, actually using the word “mumbo-jumbo”. Deepak quite persuasively refuted the idea, saying we use the word “mumbo-jumbo” when we don't understand something and “science” when we do, obviously the one being respectable and the other not. So Deepak itemized a list of complaints about traditional medicine, chief among which is the “fact” that going to it for treatment is fraught with serious risk, citing statistics that, if true, would justify any reluctance you may have to go to your doctor.

As impressive as the doc was I have to say his references to treating the whole person seemed vague. What was impressive was his ability to spar on an equal footing with Dawkins and his skill at articulating the “spiritual” realm, admitting readily that 80% of “new age” stuff is superstition. They didn't actually seem that far apart, Deepak's weakness being a vagueness on some topics, Dawkins' being a defense of science bordering on the dogmatic. Chopra apparently used the word “quantum” from physics in some of his writings, metaphorically, but Dawkins thought this was an attempt to borrow the legitimacy of science for something that was clearly unscientific. Deepak addressed all charges without defensiveness, with great seriousness and eruditon (maybe only apparent, who knows, not me) and with some humor.

 If anyone in this exchange was defensive it was Dawkins. He is right to be concerned about the carnage that religion has wrought. He substantiates in his writing and videography, his claim that science can provide an experience of wonder and awe. He fails, however, to acknowledge that a parallel experience can be had via poetry, mythology or “religion”. Words point at the ineffable and despite the charletons of literal religion and the occult, and their deluded followers, metaphor is as reliable a portal to this realm as science. In fact, being impressed by such things as the immensity of space/time, macro and micro, may actually be an inferior experience to the “mystical” sensing of interconnection. Or it may be that these words are actually pointing to the same thing. As does this seasonal(?) collection of my songs, Holy Whole


  1. Since writing the above I've had some further thoughts: the folks Dawkins uses in his film are perhaps easy targets. The one I know, abit, Deepak Chopra, is given his say but I've seen the full interview on youtube and Chopra presents himself very well. It makes me think that Dawkins would have made him look bad, as he did the others in what clips he showed, if only Chopra had given him something. So as it is, there is a short statement by Deepak followed by a disparaging voiceover that claims Chopra mislead his readers by using the quantum metaphor in his book. This is quite dishonest and makes me wonder about the other editing.

    The comments below are from a listserve where I posted the article & from others, on my lists, to whom I sent the article

    Hi! - Counterpoint
    Richard Dawkins' second chapter is a rambling 43-page rant against theism. Instead of writing a real introduction about "the God hypothesis," Dawkins immediately launches into a long list of the supposed faults of Yahweh (GOD, The Father, Godhead, Christ, etc.), including, "jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." And all that is just part of the first sentence! Of course, there are no attempts to substantiate any of the claims by giving examples. In fact, "some" atheists love to point out examples where God judges those who do evil (as if we humans would never stoop so low to do such things by making laws, having police, judges and jails). How dare God judge evil! Dawkins won't tell you that the reason why God told the Israelites to wipe out entire populations was because they were burning their own children as sacrifices. Maybe Dawkins would have preferred that we still have those people around so that he could offer his own daughter as a burnt offering.


    Holly Cow!!!!!  You are amazing!!!!


    What a splendid, clear, and valuable musing.
    Many thanks, and joy for the holy-days and the holly-days.


    I'm not really sure this challenges your conventional thinking.  Dawkins, Deepak, Tolle, Bill Nye TS science guy.  Nobody knows why we are here.  Not a clue not one of them but all the great thinkers who disparage spiritual thought that includes a creator have God Delusion.  It's really very arrogant. And no carnage ever really came of religion, it comes from man and excuses for power and war.  Real Estate, money, resources all reasons for war.  Does that mean real estate brokers are evil?   It's silly really this over reaction to religion.  The zeitgeisters learned a few facts and hit hard against religion?  Why?  Why would I use an unfortunate term like mumbo jumbo for someone using a crystal instead of a doctor.  It's just not my business.  All I know is when my folks were dying and my wife is under surgery or life is at its hardest it's nice to pray to whomever it is that listens.  And no one can take that away.  Plus it's just more fun to be cheerful this time of year than all "your uninformed" and all that other junk that requires one person telling another that their beliefs are invalid.  To what end?  Merry Christmas from me to you and your family.

    Yep.  You don't need more conventional thinkers patting your back.  You need me who disagrees to pat your back.  And you know I do!  Now cheer up and be merry damn it!

    TF comment:

    i could reply point by point but it would begin to resemble dawkins' debates i suppose... thanks for taking the time to reply....

  2. continued comments: tf
    joseph campbell attended a lecture once by the theologian martin buber. during Q & A campbell said, there's a word you've been using that i don't understand. What's that said Buber?  God said campbell.

    for some reason this subject interests me intermittently and i've come to this: whether one believes in god or not depends on how you define that term. if god means what it seems to mean to jerry falwell & company then i'm an aetheist. if is meant by god the obvious intelligence of the universe then i'd say that's self-evidently true. but there's nothing in that that requires sunday church, believing in the trinity or accepting all pronouncements uncritically from a several thousand year old book... it doesn't require religion at all.


    Being a hypocrite is at the top of my list when I think of any religion.  So to me Falwell was a great poster child for christianity


    And why the hell does this all powerful an merciful God tell his minions to do his killing for him when he\she\it is supposedly more than capable of doing it himself. Seems rather cowardly to me. Using god as justification for mass murder is an time tested excuse for committing genocide. 


    Obviously, you have already formulated a bias opinion. I could tell you why, but you wouldn't believe it. God only asks for men to kill men, when men have already formulated murder figuratively and literally...thus "thou shall not kill".
    Besides, HE is GOD...creator. If you created a work of art...wouldn't you say you can do what you want with it.
    BTW, I respond, because you don't want me to. IS this not a FREE expression forum or do we discriminate and preach a non-gospel of exclusion??


    Dawkins is tiresome.  And bigoted - in my not-so-humble opinion.


    (This is a related issue, the Israeli Palestine conflict, raised by my promoting a talk by an Israeli ex-soldier and refusenik).

    1 Keep not silence, O God; hold not Your peace or be still, O God.
    2 For, behold, Your enemies are in tumult, and those who hate You have raised their heads.
    3 They lay crafty schemes against Your people and consult together against Your hidden and precious ones.
    4 They have said, Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of ISRAEL be in remembrance no more. Psalms 83:1

    The Arab Spring is just one testimony that they have more issues than little Israel.

    Response to above



    You'll understand one day. Its for people who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
    I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.  –Gen 12:3


    Were you aware that God has a facebook page?

    He’s really awesome ;-)

  3. different commenter:

     It would seem that any discussion of God, by a believer or non-believer, would be constrained by the observation that God is made in the image of humankind not visa versa, to be adored or manipulated in a godly or ungodly manner by all matter of people.  
    In the meantime, most of us just try to get along with or without divine guidance or intervention.


    ahhh, the smell of gunpowder in the morning... gotta love it!


    Also I like your painting analogy. But when I look at a painting,  an artifact of human made creativity, I get the same feeling when i see a religious text,  an obvious artifact of human creativity, and most certainly to be classified as fiction


    You mention the fallacy of men and darkness within. I’ve never heard my cat mention God, and not heard of any other species doing so. If all men (humans, male/female) are the source of information, verbally, concerning God, then is it possible at all to delineate between what people have to say about God which could be questionable, and any alternative source of information which might be more correct?

    If my question is flawed when I assume that all men are the source of said information, and it isn’t true then how would you make the case?


    I couldn't agree with you more! RELIGION is just a term or ideology. FAITH is that..."confidence is something".

    simply put...when is the last time you saw a cat, dog, monkey, horse, or lion speak, paint, or invent something new? The mere question is rhetorical in nature and misleading. You won't hear you cat mention God, because a cat does not think..."I think, therefore I am". A cat does not have a soul or spirit. Only men contemplate, because men have dominion over creation.
    Besides, no question is wrong. Solutions and answers are key.

    cool. No one is trying to convert anyone. I simple offered a counter proposal or discussion. Getting you to accept my beliefs is not the goal. I personally feel that "human" creativity is limited....just like understanding the UNIVERSE. You, nor I...have any true idea what the cosmos holds. It is the absolute nonsensical absurdity for any man to claim they are "omnipotent".


    "A cat does not have a soul or spirit." Well, damn!

    Please take this off list. 

    The Mgmt. 

    Ok, now you've pissed me off. Take this "discussion" of yours off list (meaning don't cc artnews) or I'll take you off list. Dig? And buy yourself a book on listserv etiquette for Christmas while you're at it. 

  4. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.