Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Today's must read ...

... Marilynne Robinson's That Highest Candle.

Though doubt, alienation, and even parody are elements in some of these poems, the collection is quite appropriately aware that these all have reference to the field of thought and meaning ordinarily called religious. Any reader of Ecclesiastes or the Book of Job is aware that the canon of scripture has room for thought that can disrupt conventional assumptions about the nature of belief, whether these assumptions are held by the religious or by their critics. ... To associate religion with unwavering faith in any creed or practice does no justice at all to its complexity as lived experience. Creeds themselves exist to stabilize the intense speculations that religion, which is always about the ultimate nature of things, will inspire.

But really, read the whole thing.


  1. Thanks for this link. I always try to read everything Robinson writes (and I'm a confirmed atheist, but one who is aware that this too is a belief system).

  2. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Bur whereas Robinson could and presumably does argue that her Christianity is a belief system based on personal experience, the atheist is left in the naked position of basing a philosophical position towards life on the absence of experience. By definition they have and can have nothing to suggest the truth of their position, merely the possibility of its refutation by experience. But unfortunately their arbitrary(any idea wholly unaided by experience to support itself being arbitrary) position strongly hurts the possibility of any such refutation.

  3. Speaking as a practicing mystic (whose personal experience of the divine leads away from organized religious practice but towards poetry), the biggest problem the atheists have is that they are trying to prove a negative, which is a logical impossibility. It can't be done using standard logic.

    Their second major problem is that the atheist position is fundamentally a negative, anti-X position: it is always in rebellion against something. The atheist position almost never posits a positive ethic with which to fill the vacuum created by the absence and negativity they focus on. If more atheists were able to change their rhetoric towards a positive attitude, rather than a constantly negative one, they might be more convincing.

    I think it's always wiser to say "I don't know," even if that means you have to label yourself an agnostic rather than an atheist. But then, I dislike absolutist thinking of all stripes, no matter what field one is discussing.

  4. Anonymous12:10 AM

    Andrew, believe it or not, some atheists have had mystical experiences where "all self-centered desire is dead and the mind becomes a mirror for the vastness of the universe," but they don't associate their experiences with a system of false beliefs, like Christianity or Islam for example, nor do they take their experiences as evidence of 'God'.

    What little experiences of the mystical I have had I attribute to personal emotional experiences of another side of life. In my view there is no God behind the curtain. It just is.

    Art, I agree with saying I don't know for certain, but if you believe in the divine, there is always the possibility that people will disagree, particularly in the absence of evidence to support the idea and plenty of evidence to dispute it. Since there is no consensus, even among mystics, as to the nature of the divine, it is no surprise to find negativity towards the whole idea of the divine. Most mystics, after all, "think most other mystics mistaken on most points".

    I think if someone claims God exists, it is up to them to provide evidence to support their assertions. And this applies to any claim, whether it is that a burglar broke into your house and stole your computer or that there are fairies at the end of your garden. There could be, I suppose, but the burden of proof is yours.

  5. Anonymous8:35 AM

    Noel, I would argue that all atheists including yourself have little if any real idea of its actual implications. Atheism however one wishes to dress it up is nihilism and its logical state of being is non-existence. Life is the refutation of atheism. Mysticism is essentially the absence of a system of beliefs, it being concerned with pure consciousness undefiled by an idea imposing intellect upon reality. Read Krishnamurti for example, you'll find precious little mention of God or beliefs. Atheism on hte other hand is exactly this belief system, for it decides without the possibility of confirming knolwedge that life has somehow sprung from itself without cause- na kind of magic trick without recourse to a magician. It is absloute absurdity.

  6. Anonymous8:41 AM

    God also, Noel, is of course ultimately just a word. But what this word refers to is the mystical reality, absolute consciousness, etc. Says he with a little distaste;"Why dost thou prate of God, everything you can say is false," as one mystic wrote. How does this tie in with false belief systems? Also, are you arguing that the thing referred to by mysticism exists, but that God doesn't? I'm afraid that makes little sense. And from there we could of course spin into the realms of legalistic theology and its infantile categorising of realities it knows nothing about.

  7. Anonymous11:22 AM

    are you arguing that the thing referred to by mysticism exists, but that God doesn't?

    No. I am saying that the thing referred to by mysticism is not God as that word is commonly understood which is a supernatural controlling power or powers taking a deep personal interest in our moldy little planet. Though I cannot define what the totality of the universe is or even what consciousness is, it seems to me that the totality of the universe has a consciousness, as a person does, but that consciousness did not create us nor is it as far as I can tell in the slightest bit interested in what we get up to. To me it just is. Since every atom in our bodies is stardust originating from the same source as every star in the sky, I think we and everything else alive are a part of it. Times I have accessed it, I have experienced a deeply felt emotion and I don't deny the value of it. It is when people make assertions about what it is and inevitably attach those assertions to an organized system of false beliefs that we get trouble.

    Until science comes to explain more about the human mind and the universe, mystical experiences are for me beautiful emotional experiences to be enjoyed when I can for as long as I am alive. What happens after is anyone's guess.