Friday, April 22, 2011

Dennis Miller and the God Question

My book, The Self-Improvement Book Club Murder, deals directly with the below issues in Chapters 12 and 13, which focus on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (link to free online version). 

I recommend that anyone interested read my book as a primer, then read Zen and the Art, which is quite a long book, well worth reading, but you have to know what you're looking for and how it all fits together.
* * *
Below is a short audio clip of an Interview from The Dennis Miller Show. Dennis is interviewing Vince Bugliosi, author of Divinity of Doubt: The God Question (as well as Helter Skelter, and others), a book in which Bugliosi intellectualizes many tenets of Christian faith, like virgin birth, immortality of the soul, the divinity of Jesus and others.

In the interview, Bugliosi says that he is an agnostic, and that atheism is an "intellectually empty philosophy. Says Bugliosi of popular atheists like Christopher Hitchens, who he names specifically, "They simply cannot find a non-sequitur that they do not like."
But like such atheists (and religious folk from the opposite side), Bugliosi sets up these straw man intellectual arguments which do not advance the debate at all, but rather simply further obscure the basic difference between religious/spiritual people and intellectual people, which is a PHILOSOPHICAL difference concerning the nature of reality.
This sounds quite esoteric, but let's make it very, very simple:
  • No conception of God from any religion or mode of spirituality can be presumed in a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" material universe.
  • Religious and spiritual people do not believe in a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" universe. Religious/spiritual people believe in a universe that has a manifested (physical) dimension and an unmanifested (spiritual) dimension, or possibly even a universe that is a complete illusion.
  • No one can prove or disprove any conception of the nature of reality because we are part of that reality, whatever its characteristics might be.
  • Thus, all theories as to the nature of reality--even the "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" conception of a material universe--is in the nature of a religious faith.

In other words, religious and spiritual people need not back down from people like Bugliosi because what he believes is every bit as much a faith as what religious and spiritual people believe. It's just that he doesn't understand it as such. And neither do religious and spiritual people, by and large.
How do we know what Bugliosi believes? After all, he calls himself an agnostic, which means he doesn't believe anything all. Being an agnostic means he simply doesn't know whether there is a God.
Bugliosi tips his hand (unconsciously) at about the 4:29 mark on this five-minute audio clip when he says, "[I]f we accept the Socratic imperative that what's all important is the truth" DOT DOT DOT. 
Not only does Bugliosi (and every other intellectual) tip his hand at this point--and this is usually an unspoken premise to which everyone willingly bobs his or her head--but also the day will be lost for all spiritually-inclined individuals who are ignorant of this distinction.
Why? Because with this one phrase, Bugliosi has roped you into the "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" conception of reality, and as we've already seen, there is no conception of God in that faith.
In order to understand this, one has to say, "Stop right there, Vince. What's the alternative to accepting 'the Socratic imperative that what's all important is the truth'?
In all likelihood, Bugliosi will at that point begin to stammer out some song and dance that will indicate that he has no idea what the alternative is, that he's always just assumed that everyone agrees that "what's all important is the truth" (his view is beginning to show its roots as a faith).
Professional courtesy dictates (he is an attorney, after all, like myself) that Vince be given a hint: the alternative to truth in this case isn't falsity.
Truth, as Plato (Socrates' pupil) conceived of it, was merely an idea, and as such it is the pre-cursor to rationality. It's alternative is not falsity but rather consciousness, of which rationality is merely a tiny subset. In the history of philosophy, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle pulled off the ultimate coup by supplanting the age-old "imperative that what's all important is" consciousness  (i.e. direct contact with reality) with the newfangled (at the time) "imperative that what's all important is the truth."
The story of early Christianity is the story of the struggle between these two philosophical hierarchies, one with truth at the top, the other with consciousness at the top. In one of Plato's dialogues (Phaedo), Socrates says this:
I am very far from admitting that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas sees them only ‘through a glass darkly,’ any more than he who sees them in their working and effects.

Socrates is answering an argument here from his critics, that this mode of thought is inferior because it doesn't take into account "knowing" through direct interaction with reality, as opposed to solely through rationality.
Almost any Christian of even the slightest fervency will likely be shocked by the above quotation because it contains a familiar phrase from one of the most famous passages in the Bible, called the Love Chapter from Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. Paul writes:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Paul (writing in Greek, as was Plato) repeats the phrase, "through a glass, darkly," urging his flock away from dependence on this newfangled rationality and back toward the age-old consciousness as that which is "all important."
Why? Why would Paul do that? Because the age-old wisdom was that God was reality. Paul so states in a different place (The Book of Acts), while preaching to none other than the citizens of Athens:
God . . . [put people on earth] so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. "For in him we live and move and have our being." [NIV, emphasis added]
"We live and move and have our being" in what? Reality. So direct contact with reality was understood to be direct contact with God. And any philosophy that recommended limiting contact with reality was also recommending limiting one's contact with God. Thus, intellectualism is unconsciousness. Unconsciousness of what? Of reality. Of God.  [Footnote 1]
[Footnote 1: In the 13th century, a fellow named Thomas Aquinas convinced the Christian church to incorporate the philosophy of Socrates, Plato and particularly Aristotle with those of Jesus and Paul, incompatible though they were. This homely synthesis led directly to the church's incoherence on matters of spirituality and ineffectiveness against intellectualism today.]
Let's take this a step further. Einstein famously said, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'Is the universe a friendly place?'" What simpler expression of the experience of reality could there be than this? That's all we really want to know, isn't it?
But how can we know this? Not through rationality. In fact, the spawn and chief tenet of the intellectual religion is the law of cause and effect, or the law of causality. Stating this in the simplest terms, the universe isn't friendly or unfriendly, it's completely neutral (that being the case, why anyone would choose this as their religion is beyond me).
But if God is reality itself, direct contact with reality should answer the question for us. No guesswork is involved. Millions of people experience this and testify to it (eyewitness testimony, valid evidence in any courtroom, which intellectuals must simply dismiss to maintain their religious belief system intact).
But we need take no one's word for it. We have our own little slices of reality all to ourselves--our bodies. According to Paul in the passage from Acts above, that's precisely what they're there for. We need simply to shut off our minds and concentrate on being, on feeling our bodies from the inside.
Anyone--absolutely anyone--who does this won't be long in finding that the very cells of our bodies veritably sing the praises of God--of pleasure, of peace, of friendly oneness with all that is--if we are but still enough to listen.
Not through our minds, but through every cell we know that the universe is a friendly place. It's really not all that deep. That's all there really is to it.
But once you've experienced it for yourself . . . that's enough.

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