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Tony Grist

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I Dunno [Oct. 19th, 2004|10:05 am]
Tony Grist
I'm not a believer. Not any more. But I'm not an atheist. Atheism is also a belief.

I suppose the word has to be agnostic. A know-nothing. I will sniff at any nebulous theory you choose to float under my nose- I love that sort of thing- but I'm afraid I won't be buying it- thanks all the same.

Is there a God? Any God worth its Name has to be utterly unknowable- and unknowable is practically the same as non-existent.

Are there gods? Of course- hundreds, nay thousands. They are the faces we see in clouds, in patterns of vegetation, in rock formations, in wallpaper. Most of my favourite gods are goddesses.

Is there Life after Death? I've had too many "intimations of immortality" to deny it. But I'm not going to affirm it either. Why don't we all just wait and see?

[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-19 10:39 am (UTC)
I was late figuring out about Santa. I remember the day the scales fell from my eyes: I was seven, sitting on my tricycle in our driveway, thinking about how Santa flew with his raindeer right over our roof---

Just like that, I knew Santa was a bunch of guff.

(I do remember feeling some disquiet at Sunday School, when our teacher told us all about Saint Nicholas, who sounded ominously like Santa, but I was still a believer at six.)

God and Jesus and Santa were the benevolent protectors of my early life, and all three apparently found me fascinating, because they watched me all the time and knew the second I wasn't nice. I thought God had a big book, like Santa's, and that they perhaps compared notes just before Christmas. Jesus, more benign, seemed to have a simpler role--he just loved me and protected me while I slept. I didn't have to be so nice around Jesus.

I'm not astute about details, so I didn't really understand what I was reading and memorizing when I got confirmed, but later--about the time I began to feel the miseries of teenage aloneness in the world--I began to understand the concept of the Great Judgement.

It figured. So Jesus loved me, but he had a book, too. And being "nice" didn't count for much, apparently.

Still, I prayed, and still do.

I don't have a clue. Sometimes I wonder if our elaborate religious rules are to set up the correct imagery to send us to the correct safe zone when we are dying--if we have had a lifetime of expecting Jesus on a throne, that's what our mind will build for us, and we'll be "saved"--I'm glad I'm not a Baptist, with their eternal fires.

I can't understand how anyone would have children if they thought they might screw up and be in hell forever. The only conclusion I can draw is that no one really believes it.

And how can people worship a God who could toss them away to eternal torment? Certainly, it's ridiculous to call such a Being a "God of Love."

The closest I can get to anything sensible is that Whatever created us dwells in each of us as our Self, and is (as Teillhard de Chardin says) evolving and experiencing through us what is is like to be human.

When I pray these days, I pray to that Self to help me, but I feel less and less that it's personal. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that we all may be much more important than we can possibly imagine.

I want to believe. Maybe I have that God gene that this new author is claiming is an evolutionary addition that may be a survival mechanism for societies (the article is coming out in Time this week)--the gene, he says, doesn't tell us what to believe, just to believe.

Sorry. I haven't had my coffee yet. And now I have to go get my car worked on, so I don't even have time to edit this. I'm just going to push the Send button. There--
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 11:23 am (UTC)
I used to think I had the God gene. I went from religion to religion- and then the need for it just went away. Pouf- like that!

Yeah, the Teilhard theory is attractive. I sometimes think along those lines.

Santa. I had problems with that. I remember I lay in bed trying to work it out. How could one man get all round the world in a single night? So I figured there had to be two of them.

I visualised them meeting up in Croydon town centre- sitting down in a cafe perhaps- and deciding which of them would do which streets...

As for God. I saw a picture on the cover of a book of ghost stories (in Croydon public library.) It showed some horrid grey thing in a shroud chasing a schoolboy through the misty woods. The thing had a beard and it was kinda cloudy and it was flying off the ground- so I figured that it had to be GOD.

That image still comes to mind whenever I have this kind of conversation.

One of my problems with Christianity (I shall lower my voice for this) is that I just don't find Jesus all that attractive. I don't want him for my friend. What a relief it was to become a Pagan and be able to hang out with fun personalities like Pan and Aphrodite!
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-19 01:32 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed reading about your childhood picture of God-in-a-shroud, flying low over the ground.

A friend once told me that, as a child, he thought he had to sit up very straight and use his best printing when writing the words "God" or "Jesus." He said he had the impression that God frowned a lot while He watched him.

I have felt guilty when wondering how the perfect Jesus could wither the fig tree in a fit of pique. Didn't he have perfect patience, too? If I'd done that, I'd probably have to pay somehow. And what about the woman he chewed out because she kept pestering him for a miracle?

It was such a relief to realize that the Biblical stories about Jesus were, to my mind, PR for the Christians in the field. But it was at the same time a little sad to let go of the idea of a perfect human being.

Jung once told a priest that Jesus couldn't be human, that it was not possible for a human being to have a supernatural father, and that was that.

The question I spend my days wondering now is: Where are the miracles? What are miracles? Are we slowed down here, in this 4-D world, and when we die will our minds (the real us) be released into a speeded-up world of 10-something dimensions?

And where do ghosts come from? And what goes on when someone almost dies and sees Jesus or his relatives?

One man supposedly returned from death mumbling something about Plank's theorem (I think it was)--which is, if I can recall it from the days of my fascination with quantum/string theory, the discovery that paired electrons (oh, dear, my brain doesn't remember well enough) that are split off will still communicate with each other at infinite distances--which means (if one wants to make the leap) that time is meaningless at a quantum level, and that it can flow backwards.

The mystic Eckhart once said "heaven is speeded up" beyond our imagination. That's what I hope: that when we die, our minds get out of our 4-D universe and speed back up to where the physical isn't necessary.

Of course, if who we think we are is really the Self (God) mixed up with a human body and brain (and perhaps that is the REAL meaning of the archetype of Jesus: Everyman), then only the Self, God, lives on, and our little personalities, so full of ourselves, will fall away with our brains. That's sorta where I am right now. I hope that who I am, as a result of my life, is conscious somehow and contributing somehow, to God's Self. Even if I stop, I have (at least according to Teillhard) given the gift of my life to God.

But I want to know--that's my last request--what's going on?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 02:01 pm (UTC)
What's going on? What indeed? I don't think any of our theories- religious, scientific, atheistic- comes close to doing justice to the universe.

Some scientist said that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

I don't know about Jesus as Everyman. I don't think he's universal enough. I find it hard to identify with him. How can I identify with someone who- as Jung pointed out- isn't human? Where, for one thing, is his sexuality?

I decided the other day- having just seen the movie- that Peter Sellers was Everyman. I don't think I'm being entirely flippant when I say that I find the life and death of P.S. more engaging and instructive than the life and death of J.C.

Actually, for what it's worth, I don't believe Jesus ever existed. I think he's a made-up figure. There was a First Century fashion for Saviour Gods and a bunch of Hellenistic Jews (fronted by Paul?) decided they wanted one of their own and invented the Jesus myth. No-one was meant to take it literally. But some did. And after lots of unpleasantness the literalists triumphed and suppressed their opponents (the gnostics) and what had started out as an exclusive mystery cult turned into the universal church....
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-19 02:12 pm (UTC)
I hate to admit it, because I am a communicant in good standing, but I think it would be a relief to find that Jesus was most definitely a mythical figure. Because it is flat scary to think that God is expecting Jesus to judge us all, one by one. And I suppose one must buy all of it, or none of it.

If one buys only part of it, the whole thing falls apart.

(Our human version of the Judgement, of course, took place in the concentration camps in an archetypal form, when What's-His-Name the evil doctor pointed to right or left and sent people to the crematoria or to the work camp. What's-His-Name took on the archetype of Jesus. Boy, was he doomed.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 02:36 pm (UTC)
Mengele. That was the guy's name.

The archetype of the Last Judgement is truly horrific. The medieval church used it as an instrument of control. Over every chancel arch of every parish church there was a painting of the Doom, with sinners tumbling into the gaping maw of the hell beast. I think we have to rise up and protest against it!

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-19 02:03 pm (UTC)
And I don't mean to sound glib about this.

I have spent many years thinking deeply about the meaning of God and humans and heaven. Some of my conclusions electrified me. One of the sorrows of this particular time in my life is that nothing electrifies me or brings me great joy. At least, not right now. But I have hope that there are other doors opening, and that this journey of mine is not as lonely or as random as I sometimes think it is. I long for a meaningful pattern and for Something to tell me that I matter.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 02:30 pm (UTC)
Is this The Dark Night of the Soul?

The Dark Night sounds so glamourous, but it's anything but. It's the absence of the dimension of wonder, the absence of God.

People like John of the Cross thought that the Dark Night should be embraced for its own sake, that entry into it was a sign of spiritual maturing.

First God entrances us with signs and wonders,
Then he withdraws and leaves us bereft.

Well, who knows what happens next. The Dark Night doesn't necessarily ever lift.

"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher."
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-19 02:55 pm (UTC)
There was a time when I would have felt honored to have been offered the torments of the Dark Night of the Soul, back when I read books about the saints and thought I might be able to pull sainthood off, myself.

Now--and, who knows? Maybe this is one of the effects of being right inside the Dark Night--I can't see how being bereft of a sense of communication and caring from The Other Side is helpful. It's just lonely. Finally, I'm no longer special (and when did I figure THAT out? It took years!), just another person watching the time flying by, thinking about how hard it will be to die (will I choke? For how long?). And then: either I will be wonderfully, stupefyingly surprised or--I will be gone.

Sometimes I try to plan ahead for my perfect mind-heaven. In the last few years, I've always been wearing a blue gown covered with sparkling jewels, and I'm standing on a delightful terrace that overlooks a glade and a waterfall. Below (it's dark) are twinkling lights from houses. Someone (I don't care who) is standing next to me, greeting me, telling me that all the houses are lived in by musicians, and that I'm expected at a great music fest that very evening! And that they are all delighted I am here!

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 03:56 pm (UTC)
The Dark Night isn't torments- it's just absence and loneliness. The Lives of the Saints are misleading here. They suggest that the spiritual life is all ecstatic visions on the one hand and being mocked by demons on the other. At either extreme it's colourful. Only it's not like that at all- at least most of the time it isn't. The Dark Night of the Soul is hard everyday grind and the feeling that nothing in the least bit spiritual is going on.

I love your mind-heaven.

I'd like to carry on after my death- if only because I'm intensely curious. I want to take a peek behind the scenes at the machinery of existence- and to understand what's going on. Yes, me too- I have a profound desire to understand.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2004-10-19 06:21 pm (UTC)
The Dark Night isn't torments- it's just absence and loneliness. The Lives of the Saints are misleading here. They suggest that the spiritual life is all ecstatic visions on the one hand and being mocked by demons on the other. At either extreme it's colourful. Only it's not like that at all- at least most of the time it isn't. The Dark Night of the Soul is hard everyday grind and the feeling that nothing in the least bit spiritual is going on.

This made me think of Mother Teresa. I saw her interviewed somewhere, and she said that most of the time she was working in Calcutta that she had no sense of God. In the beginning, she had had, uh, I don't want to misspeak, but I don't remember exactly what she said. I got the impression that she had visions or some other kind of, um, direct contact with God. But at some point early on, that went away, and she had no sense of godliness. I was floored by this. How could you do the work she did without having 'ecstatic visions'? I mean, talk about your 'hard everyday grind'...

But I guess that's why she's a saint and I ain't.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 06:45 pm (UTC)
Visions and ecstasies are the lollipops of the spiritual life, not its substance. The saint learns to do without them. I suspect Mother Teresa's experience is fairly typical. But there are no rules.
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[User Picture]From: four_thorns
2004-10-19 04:08 pm (UTC)
"how can people worship a God who could toss them away to eternal torment?"

i was brought up as a catholic, but the more i think about it, the more i like hinduism. because nothing is eternal, except enlightenment. if you don't figure it out this time, then you'll get another chance. hell, heaven, they're all temporary to hindus. good and evil are both just distractions in the pursuit of enlightenment, in realizing that everything in the universe is already within you, and gods are just people who got lost on the path to enlightenment. they'll get another chance too.

sounds a hell of a lot nicer than judgement and eternal suffering, anyway.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 04:27 pm (UTC)
Everything in the world is an illusion, a conjuring trick, just smoke and mirrors. Yes, I entertain that thought sometimes and find it comforting.

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[User Picture]From: mtl
2004-10-19 12:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this interesting posting!
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[User Picture]From: pickwick
2004-10-19 01:27 pm (UTC)
Have you been watching the Atheism tapes and the History Of Disbelief on BBC4 recently? They're good, I think. They'll probably turn up on BBC2 sooner or later.

The guy on the AT last night was talking about the difference between atheists and anti-theists, and how most people who say they're atheists are actually anti-theists because they still have to fight relatively hard in this "Christian society".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 01:38 pm (UTC)
I've been watching Miller, but the Atheism Tapes are on past my bedtime.

That's an interesting distinction between atheists and antitheists. I certainly went through a phase of antitheism, but it was mainly
myself I was fighting. It's very difficult to free oneself of a lifetime of religious conditioning and sometimes only extreme and aggressive tactics will do.
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[User Picture]From: kaysho
2004-10-19 04:44 pm (UTC)
How can I have any confidence in the nature or existence of an afterlife when I'm not even sure what I'm going to have for lunch today? :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-19 06:49 pm (UTC)
I have that problem too. Whatever happened to the sci-fi future we were promised where all you had to do at meal-times was take a pill?
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