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5-22-2010 - More on the New Atheists and a lot about Jesus et al.

Yesterday, was I unfair to Hitchins, Dawkins, and Maher? Let me elaborate with both praise and non praise.

First, here's what was posted yesterday. It's brief:

5-21-2010 - From Science to God, another Culture Unplugged film, this one from Peter Russell who doesn't use the word "god" in this presentation - I don't think. That's what Culture Unplugged calls it.  The word "god" can mean so much. A lot of people prefer not to use it cause it's so tainted by literalism and a lot of bad associations. But to many it's just another word for the absolute, buddha, tao, the cosmos, the unknown, etc. And I think it's important to rehabilitate the word because so many think it's that or nothing. And maybe it might help to open a crack in the little boxes where we find simplistic atheists (as opposed to cosmic atheists) who think they're being scientific like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Maher. Here's Peter Russell's website. He's another Noetics guy like Dean Radin who was featured here on 5-03. -dc


Back to today. As Thom Hartmann said to Christopher Hitchens during an interview, he enjoyed the ridicule of superstitious mono-theists but, "don't you think it's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel?" Hartman tried to broaden the discussion, to point out the universality of recognizing transcendent experience and cultural institutions so associated - from shamans to yogis, priests to parishioners. But Hitchens didn't see any value in any of it. Hartmann went on to gently chide Hitchens for being an evangelist for his atheism which Hitchens denied.

I've spent a lot of time with Buddhism which doesn't use any concept of god. I grew up on what I call mind-only Christianity which was non-theistic. My favorite memory of my father is him saying to me, "Davey my boy, you don't know how lucky you are you weren't taught to believe in God." But we read the Bible and interpretations of it and discussed it. To us it was all symbolic. God was a word that stood for cosmic mind though the word "cosmic" wasn't used. It wasn't a word that stood for a being. Like Maher, we thought of that as being deluded and superstitious. To us the Bible was about states of mind or something like that. Nothing was taken literally. I asked my father why in the Bible they didn't just tell it like it is and he said that it wouldn't have survived, the teaching wouldn't have been passed down through the ages if it hadn't been somewhat hidden.

I think that Christians have generally understood the stories and parables and much of what is in the Bible to be allegorical, metaphorical, much of it applying to other cultures in other times - not a substitute for using our discriminating thought and innate wisdom (as Thomas Jefferson pointed out). Karen Armstrong indicated in an interview with Bill Moyers that literalism is stronger today than ever which she attributed to a reaction against science which undermined so many cherished beliefs. [See her Ted wish]

My father was a reader in the Christian Science Church which is as close as you can get to being a minister, but he quit it (thank goodness) because he felt they tried to make Jesus more than a human being who had realized his potential. He studied Emmet Fox, Ernest Holmes, and especially William Walter. This is all Christianity influenced, as I see it, by Emerson and transcendentalism and Hinduism and Kant and Hagel and Kirkigard et al who were more into metaphysics than idol worship. I was never interested in the philosophers or discussions of is there a god or not because the way I was raised it was everything, us, me, just what was right in front of me waiting to be more clearly known, whatever it was, not something far off or someone else up high to believe or not believe in.

I was raised with the teaching that god is mind and mind is all - not my small mind but the mind of the universe and beyond - and it's perfect, eternal, wonderful. I was taught that everything that seemed to exist wasn't fundamentally real. I remember pondering the non substantiality of matter and my sister and me joking, "Is matter really matter or does it matter?" Later when I took LSD, I could see matter and indeed myself and others as essentially not existing, not having separate existence, being like reflections in something beyond existence. When I found Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and heard him use the phrase "big mind" I felt right at home, but I also felt like he understood what he was saying, was relating his own experience, not just a profound idea. And most important, he taught a path, practice, a way to wake up to big mind.

Back to the new atheists. I was venting to son Kelly about some of this and he asked me why I cared - it's not really my problem. Why think about these new atheists? I guess it's because they reach so many people and the battle between the literalists and these anti-literalists doesn't begin to touch what the whole subject is really about as far as I'm concerned. People don't attack Buddhism much but that's because they haven't looked deep enough. There are plenty of superstitious, literal Buddhists and super far out non rational stuff written in Buddhist scripture.

Rather than tell superficial fundamentalists that they're deluded, I'd like to suggest deeper definitions for the literalisms. When I was hitchhiking as a teenager I'd often be asked by my ride, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" I'd answer in the affirmative and usually add a qualifier such as, "and I think a lot about what that means" or, "Yes, but we might have different ways of understanding what that means." To me, believing in Jesus Christ just means believing in your own mind but I usually wouldn't say that though I might say that Jesus is in me and in you or something like that. In this way we could have a fairly comfortable conversation while still pushing the limits a bit.

I wasn't always so serious. Depending on the vibes of the person driving, I might put them on a bit for fun. If I was asked what church I went to I'd usually say that we did Bible study at home. But I remember once saying we belonged to the Quadrangle Church and when asked what that was I replied that we believed in the quadrangle which included the trinity of father, son, and holy ghost but included the Bible itself. That went over big.

Yesterday I did a little research on Hitchens (focusing on his God Is Not Great stuff, ignoring the neo-con pro-war-against-Islamofascism crap) and came up with these links:

Christopher Hitchens Watch which had a number of interesting posts including

Hitch is Giving Atheism a Bad Name

Christopher Hitchens Is Not Great

Although the best is still an article posted here two years ago:

The Dangerous Atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris By Chris Hedges

*** Bonus material

Speaking of ridiculous literalism, thanks to Warren Lynn for sending this edited article appeared in the FW Star Telegram.

An entrepreneur is offering to care for pets belonging to people who expect to be saved in the rapture. It is the next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World. More than 100 clients for already signed up. Atheists will care of the equally earthbound pets. These are quality atheists who have been lined up in 22 states. Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers are moral/ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet's natural life.


I looked into Richard Dawkins and was most impressed with his science writings. I certainly sympathize with him in this article extracted from The Greatest Show on Earth, his 2009 book on Evolution.

Creationists, now they’re coming for your children - People who reject the theory of evolution should be placed on a level with Holocaust deniers, argues an author in his controversial new book.

Compared with Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins seemed more reasonable and open to some nuance in the god discussion, but Terry Eagleton in his London Times review of Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, was not impressed. It's titled Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching. And it's good and gets to the heart of the shortcomings of the new atheists.

As for Bill Maher, I love his social and political commentary, and when it comes to religion, I again empathize with his taking on literalism, but he's not going to accomplish anything other than insulting literalists and many non-literalists whom he lumps in with them cause he doesn't seem to realize there's anything else. Specifically referring to the Atheism discussion of May 14, 2010.

And he's quite adamant in insisting that all or almost all wars are caused by religions. When a guest on his Real Time show points out atheistic communism as a source of violence and persecution he just lumps them in with religion. He says he's into science but he comes off as emotional and hard-headed. I prefer Bertrand Russell's take on the subject. He said that wars were fought for ideals or greed and the former were more horrendous.

Maher doesn't seem to distinguish between religion or spiritual path and religious institutions. He thinks that his atheism is rational and scientific and that religion is "magical thinking" and deluded. I wonder if his idea of science is based on an old Newtonian model, a nice neat mechanistic universe. Science is getting as far out as magical thinking these days and is, like religion, beyond my ability to understand. I think that everything we think about religion (a term I use loosely) and science both are deluded. In fact, like a lot of spiritual teachers, I tend to see believing one's thoughts as being deluded no matter what they are. I don't believe Bill Maher and I exist, much less god. I'm reminded of a Sri Ramana Maharshi answer to the question "Do you believe there's a god who created the universe?" "Yes," he said, "He's as real as you are."

Pretty near the beginning, the Bible has a warning against believing our thoughts when it says, "Do not have any other gods before me" and "You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." There's some baloney to make one cringe that goes along with that but to me the point is not to cling to anything including our thoughts or any words including these ten commandments but to wake up to the great reality that is here and now etc. I remember the head of one of the big Baptist groups in the US commenting that he thought it was interesting that people were worshiping a graven image that said not to worship graven images.

I love Bill Maher's New Rules. Here's one from me.

NEW RULE: Bill Maher can no longer tell people what they believe, especially when it comes to religion of which he has a limited grasp and narrow uncompromising definition.

"If you're an atheist, you must think that people who believe in god are deluded," he insisted on the afore-linked show.

See, he has a narrow idea of what the word god means. What if it means the unknown or is like Einstein's "nature is enough" or or or on and on with so many diverse ways of seeing what that word means. How about the sublime Pseudo Dionysius saying in a letter to Brother Timothy not to even bother to try to talk to people who can't conceive of anything beyond individual being - and he was talking about god and Jesus. See his mystical theology.

I've seen Maher several times on his show (and in his humorous film, Religulous), as soon as someone says their Christian or whatever, start telling them what they believe and it's always a very literal approach. You believe Jesus... blah blah blah. He doesn't realize that the word Jesus means different things to different Christians. Meister Eckhart asked, "Who is Jesus?" and answered, "He has no name."

From the same show: Corey Booker, the Mayor of Newark, is saying people of faith must be humble, "How can a finite being understand the infinite?" "You say you do," responds Meher accusatively. His guest disagrees, saying Meher is painting with a very broad brush. But Meher won't back down. "You said I was the arrogant one. You're the one who thinks you know what happens when you die. That's arrogant. Oh you don't? So you're not sure whether Jesus will save you?" The Mayor tells Bill how on his desk are the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Bible and how arrogant to think there's only one path." Maher says, "Jesus said only through me you get to heaven or else you burn. Same thing in the Koran." He continues to assert the "only through me" thing.

Maher doesn't know what that means to the Mayor - and I don't either. How about looking at those words as meaning that only through our higher consciousness can we wake up to reality. Then they apply to any religion or path that takes you there. To me you can substitute words for Jesus as easily as you can say it in Spanish. And that reminds me of the Texas legislator who said, in opposing some bi-lingual legislation, that if English was good enough for Jesus it should be good enough for Texas.

Pseudo Dionysius said that Jesus is "utterly divine mind." He, like Eckhart, indicated that at the divine level words don't really work. It's just a stab at getting something deeper across. That's pretty universal too - teachers and teachings are pointing at something that it's up to each of us to figure out.

A lot of spiritual teachers have used first person in their teaching. "I am that I am" is Sri Ramana Maharshi's favorite description of the ultimate. The I in "I am the way, the truth, and the light," is to me an I that includes you and that has no boundaries. I prefer religious language that doesn't use the words god, I, he, and lord, and more than that, but if they are used, get over it. All words fall short.

We all get literal. Buddhists get literal. Hindus get literal. Taoists get literal. Advaita Vedanta people get literal. Literalism is a disease of religion. We can't help it. We do our best to rise above it though. In other words, we're all sinners or, we all miss the mark. Literalism is also a disease of some atheists.

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