Feb 132013
 

As some of my readers know, I’ve been a reader for some time of philosopher Ken Wilber. While the level of detail in Wilber’s system can be annoying, I find it’s always good to check any new ideas against his criteria, because if you don’t – you’ve usually missed something.

One of the key components in Ken Wilber’s philosophy is the notion of quadrants, and what it says is this: Most things can be looked at in four different ways. They can be looked at either from an inner perspective or an outer perspective, and they can be looked at as individuals or as members of a group or system – giving four perspectives. Like this:

The left-hand side is the interior perspective, the right-hand side is the exterior perspective. The upper half is individual, the lower half is collective.

The easiest example of these perspectives is a human being. We can look at a human being and study him from the outside (upper right) and study his brain structure, his biology and its underlying chemistry. This will give us a great deal of insight into him. We can also study his environment and how his organism interacts with the atmosphere, the food supply, the traffic flow, etc. (the lower right). We now have a different set of insights, equally important.

But this leaves out an entire half of the picture. What is it like to be this person from the INSIDE? What are his thoughts and feelings? What meanings does he attach to things? What does he feel? These questions are all in the upper left quadrant. Finally, what is his relationship to other people, seem from within the group? What are the values and beliefs of his family, his community or his social group?

Our tendency as modern people is to focus on only one quadrant (often the upper right) to the exclusion of or devaluing of everything else. All quadrants are important, and none should be reduced or folded into another or important insight is lost.

Ok, after this overly-long introduction, how do we apply these principles to spirituality? Let’s analyze first the case of the fundamentalist. This person may believe that he or she is deriving all of their truth from the Bible or the Koran. But in fact, they are focused almost entirely in the bottom left quadrant – the inner social group. They are relying – not on the Bible, but on the meanings and values attached to the Bible by their group. The idea that another group can attach entirely different meanings to the same Bible is confusing to them.

They are also unwilling to actually examine the Bible externally in the right-hand quadrants. Objective examination of the texts would show evidence of copy errors, redactions and multiple sources. Objectively comparing the text with history and science would show evidence of historical and scientific errors or ignorance. These objective incongruities are all ignored or pushed aside in favor of the values and beliefs of the group.

Certain kinds of skeptics, on the other hand, privilege the other quadrants. They assume that the ONLY value the Bible can possess is objective factual value. That it can be a useful source of poetry, mysticism, meaning and value is ignored. That it can be a basis for community interaction,  and social solidarity – providing a literary and mythic vocabulary is likewise unimportant. Their focus is entirely on the right-hand quadrants, particularly the upper right.

Those of us attempting to live spiritually in a modern world had best be able to live in all the quadrants at once. We must be open to the mystical, the poetic and the metaphorical, and value inner spirituality. We must be aware of the prejudices and preconceptions our group mentality may lead us into. We must be willing to accept the insights of objective insights of history, science and textual scholarship without blindness. But we must also be aware of the potential blindness of those who try to live only in the upper-right quadrant of the individual externals.

Jun 252007
 

Science rules out all religion except the highest. "

D.E. Harding

 

As most of you know, I have a lot of sympathy with atheists. There’s something noble in many of them. Since childhood, most of them have been approached with crass literal interpretations of the religious metaphors of the Bible. They have heard irrational justifications for the divine misbehavior in the Old Testament. They have been told they are damned for wrongs they never personally committed. They have been offered contradictory and arcane explanations for why Jesus dying on the cross should matter to them. They have been called fools and swine when they found all these ideas unpersuasive. Ultimately they have been threatened with everlasting torture and finally shunned.

 

There’s a refreshing courage in someone who can simply tell the Christian culture it can take a hike. And buried under a reasonable skepticism is often a profound regard for the truth, however stark it may be. But… I find that I cannot be an atheist. There are simply too many important things in my experience that hard-line atheism either dismisses or disparages.

 

One of my favorite quotations from G. K. Chesterton goes like this: “We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.”

 

There are moments in my experience when rationality and positivism aren’t an adequate world view. In fact, to say they are inadequate is a terrible understatement. They seem, as Chesterton said, “dead”. When I try to get into the mindset of the hard-core materialism, I feel like the men in Eliot’s poem.

 

“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar”

 

The External World

“Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all in my hand, little flower—but if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.” – Tennyson

I felt the dryness of rationalism first in relation to the external features of the cosmos. My first major in college was zoology, so I had a reasonably good scientific education. But time and time again I would find that science simply pointed me toward profound states of awe, but then couldn't follow me into the wonder of it. I can remember many of the exact experiences – Looking at a map of the universe in National Geographic. Staring up into a profoundly clear night sky at sea. Studying the ATP cycle in molecular biology. I would be left with a overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement, and nothing to this day changes my belief that these things are WORTHY of amazement – in fact demand it. It makes no difference to point out that the ATP cycle, for example, could have come about by “natural” processes. All this does is rearrange the wonder, not diminish it. It is just as inexplicable that it should be possible for “natural processes” to create such a marvel. The natural processes themselves become the wonder.

 

The Internal World

"The heart has reasons that reason knows not of. We feel it in a thousand things. . . . . do you love by reason?" – Pascal

 

Looking at my own inner life inspires more wonder. Is it really possible that so much meaning and joy and wonder arises in a cosmos who’s own interior is entirely dead and inert? No physical explanation of cognition even touches the inner experience. Joy, and spirit and art and ecstasy simply are not, to my mind, fortunate epiphenomena arising out of the cold physical facts of the world. They are more important to me, and more real to me, than the physical world itself, and it seems unavoidable that they arise out of the innermost nature of the cosmos itself. And so I suspect that not only in myself, but in the entire cosmos, “inner experience” is a fact, and that the whole cosmos has an “interior life” of some kind.

Aesthetic experience

When I experience natural beauty, look at a sunset or ponder a flower – or when I read a transcendent poem or look at a great painting – what is this profound feeling I experience in connection with the quality of these objects? It is really a matter of my mere subjective preferences – just as I like carrots but abhor beets? This seems a totally unsatisfactory answer for aesthetic experience. When we appreciate quality in the world, we are appreciating something real – something supremely important. This quality is recognized by a non-thinking process, and hence cannot be defined, tested for or recorded by an instrument. And yet… we know what it is.

 

Existence Itself

Nothing is more amazing than the fact that anything exists at all. It's difficult to really wrap our mind around just how bizarre the fact of existence is. I remember at least one occasion, however, when the whole foreign mystery of existence itself came crashing through to my consciousness. I felt trapped in some terribly foreign state of being, totally out of place. I suspect many have had similar experiences. WHY is there something rather than nothing – this seems the ultimate question, and it is impossible to feel the full weight of this mystery bearing down on your consciousness without sensing that something terribly important is behind it all. But, as Ken Wilber pointed out, strict materialism has nothing to offer to the mystery of existence beyond what he calls "the philosophy of oops" – a reluctance even allow the question of "why?"

Mystical experience

At the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas (the real one that is) experienced a profound mystical vision that caused him to put down his pen and leave his Summa Theologica for another to finish. His scribe begged him to complete the work that would come to be considered the greatest masterpiece of rational theology of all time. "I cannot.” Thomas replied. “Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw." Profound mystical experiences of various kinds open up a perspective that is not adequately addressed by rationality alone. These range from such things as out-of-body experiences to profound states of non-dual awareness that, while impossible to completely communicate, make it utterly impossible to look at the world without seeing it asmanifestation of a divine unity. I'd recommend the following link as an excellent example of such an experience: http://www.nonduality.com/dazdark.htm. It's understandable that a hard-line atheist would find a description of someone else's experience unpersuasive. But I believe it's utterly impossible to have one and remain entirely satisfied with hard-line atheism alone as a worldview. To quote a line from Sagan's Contact, where Ellie is explaining her experience, "I… had an experience… I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone!"

This is just a brief survey of some of the areas that make hard-core atheism, as a worldview, something I can't accept. Is it possible that I'm deceiving myself – that all this meaning and beauty and unity that I seem to sense in the world are really just epiphenomena of physics and chemistry? Logically, I would answer that yes, it's possible. But my whole point is that logic is inadequate to the task of answering this question.

I'll close with a few words from "The Silver Chair" by C.S. Lewis. The story is about several children, accompanied by a strange pessimistic creature called a “marshwiggle” named “Puddleglum” who descend from the kingdom of Narnia, ruled by the good lion Aslan and enter a subterranean kingdom ruled by a witch-queen to try to rescue a kidnapped prince. Once there, the witch puts them under a spell of confusion and forgetfulness. She gradually convinces the children that there IS no world above ground, no sun, no sky, no Aslan. They become convinced that these are all simply children’s tales and dreams – projections they have created in their minds from the drab and ordinary objects in the miserable underground world ruled by the witch. Only Puddleglum rebels.

“One word, Ma’am” he says to the witch, “All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face on I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we HAVE only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Dec 312006
 

Ok, plunging merrily back into the mess, ignoring all criticism and petitions for mercy…

I thought it might be nice to wrap up with a version of the ontological argument that most of us might have a chance of actually following. I readily admit the last several took a lot of concentration, interest, and probably off-line study, and that no doubt detracts from any persuasive power they might have. Let’s try a simpler one:

Simple ontological argument for the existence of God:

Let’s try it backwards. Rather than thinking about why things exist, let’s consider, for a moment, why things DON’T exist. I submit the following list is exhaustive.

1. Things don’t exist for one of two reasons.

A. Circumstances weren’t right. B. They are logically impossible.

Some quick examples. In the first category we can put the (nonexistent) 50’ statue of King George in New York harbor. In order for such a statue to have existed, there would have to have been various historical, political, artistic and other causes. If these causes don’t exist – then neither does this hypothetical statue. But IF all the causes where there – if, for example, there had never been a revolution, and someone found it politically expedient to honor King George, AND had the funding, AND had the approval, AND the materials were available, AND the artist did the work, AND the construction crew put the thing together… Then there WOULD be a 50’ statue of King George in New York harbor. If all the circumstances are there, then nothing can prevent the existence of such a statue.

I’ll revert back to square circles as an example of the second category.

Now then, let’s return to our definition of God and finish up the formal argument. God is that being than whom no greater can be conceived – or, in Godel’s terms, God is the sum of all positive properties. A positive property is any aspect of existence which ADDS to existence (rather than subtracting from it) AND is actually possible. One of the most important of these positive properties is that God has “necessary existence.” He exists not because of any cause or circumstance, but in and of himself.

Ok, the formal argument.

1. Anything which does not have a reason for NOT existing, exists.

2. There are only two reasons for not existing: Lack of sufficient causes, or logical impossibility.

3. God, being defined as having “necessary existence”, could not fail to exist due to lack of sufficient cause – he HAS no cause and needs no cause.

4. God is not logically impossible.

5. Therefore God must, in fact, exist.

Next, some possible objections.

I. Does not having a reason for NOT existing really mean something exists? Can’t something lack any reason for non-existence, but simply… not HAPPEN to exist?

No, because this is really just a restatement of reason A. Not “happening” to exist really means the circumstances weren’t right, so something which doesn’t “happen” to exist really is lacking some cause. About the only exception we could present would be random quantum events, which are sometimes said to be “causeless”. As I have argued before, however, quantum events DO have probabilistic causes (which are sufficient to explain their probabilistic existence.) Just in case it is still difficult to grasp the necessity of something existing if the causes aren’t lacking, let’s go back to our statue of King George. Let’s suppose no cause was lacking. Can you imagine a situation in which there was political support for a giant statue of King George, and the mayor of New York proposed a 50’ statue, and land was purchased for a 50’ statue, and an artist designed a 50’ statue, and materials were gathered for a 50’ statue, and construction workers built a 50’ statue according to the design, and the design was such that the laws of physics permitted the statue to remain standing, and no force had destroyed or worn down the statue, and no one had destroyed or defaced the statue… and yet – the statue did not exist??

P.S. – And whatever you can think of as a possible reason for it’s non-existence, simply add that to the list of “causes”. Now try again. Repeat ad infinitum. Get the idea?

II. Can’t this argument prove ANY “necessary being?” (aka the moldy cheese in Brian’s fridge rebuttal)

No. If you will follow closely, I’ll try to show that God, and ONLY God, can assuredly thought of as being logically possible, while the other candidates for godlike beings, such as the moldy cheese in Brian’s fridge, can NOT be assuredly thought of as logically possible.

Remember we said that a “positive property” was any property that added to “being” or “existence” and is actually possible. Let’s suppose we were to make a hypothetical list of “positive properties”. We have already argued previously that one of them is “necessary existence”. Another positive property would presumably be “exists in Brian’s fridge at 12:00 a.m. GMT Feb 18, 2003” There would be many many others. If we made these into a huge “checkoff list”, God’s list would look like this:

1. Necessary being? Yes.

2. Exists in Brian’s fridge? Yes. (God is, after all, everywhere, even in Brian’s fridge)

3. Exists at the North Pole? Yes.

4. Has positive property #4? Yes.

5. Has positive property #5? Yes.

….. (long list)

N. Has positive property N? Yes.

God has all positive properties. Now then, Brian proposed a different definition. He proposed (to reduce the ontological argument to absurdity) a god-like being with necessary existence, which consisted entirely of the moldy cheese in his refrigerator. After all, you can DEFINE a term however you’d like, as long as you use it consistently. The suspicion Brian had is that we are sneaking the proof of God into our definition – hence his contrary example. Let’s build the checkoff list for Brian’s cheese.

1. Necessary being? Yes. (We were allowing Brian to make this assertion)

2. Exists in Brian’s fridge? Yes.

3. Exists at the North Pole? No.

4. Has positive property #4? No.

5. Has positive property #5? No. ….. (long list)

N. Has positive property N? No.

There are, of course, other positive properties Brian’s cheese has, but the important thing is that it LACKS some positive properties, such as existing at the North Pole.

Now then, let’s ask our question again – WHY doesn’t it exist at the North Pole?

Well, there can only be two reasons, as we said – Lack of sufficient causes, or logical impossibility. There’s nothing logically impossible about existing at the North Pole, in and of itself. So, does it lack the property of existing at the North Pole because of lack of sufficient causes? Sounds good – but WAIT – we already said in point #1 that Brian’s cheese was a NECESSARY BEING – which means it HAS no causes. If it has no causes, it can’t LACK any causes – including the causes that should have caused it to be at the North Pole. The whole thing dissolves into a logical contradiction.

Hence, the only logically necessary being is one with ALL positive properties – because there are no causes lacking which would explain it’s LACKING any positive properties.

Sep 082006
 

Near the end of his life, Mark Twain said: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” How many hundreds of hours have we spent agonizing over possible problems that never actually happened?

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it more poetically:

 

"Some of your hurts you have cured,

And the sharpest you still have survived,

But what torments of grief you endured

From the evil which never arrived."

 

The Peanut's character Charlie Brown is notorious for this kind of worrying. Eventually he said, “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I'm only going to dread one day at a time".

 

The Master Jesus doesn't want us to dread the future. Not even one day at a time. He wants to introduce us to the "Perfect love which casts out fear." He tells us in his teachings not to fear the future. Now the version of this we have in Matthew is a bit confused. It makes Jesus into Charlie Brown. Jesus says there, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Now I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a very good rendering of what Jesus actually said. Jesus never focused on troubles and he would hardly advise us to do so. I suppose if he had, we could make a fortune marketing the “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow” Christian day-planner. It wouldn’t have a calendar – just a page that says “Today’s Troubles”.

 

I suspect what happened was that some poor neurotic scribe a hundred years after Jesus read Jesus’ statement to “not worry about tomorrow” and thought “How can Jesus be serious? How can we not worry about tomorrow?? Oooohhh – it must be because there are so many horrible things to worry about TODAY!!” He apparently doesn’t notice that two verses earlier, Jesus tells us not to worry about TODAY either! Here’s how Bishop Keizer renders this entire teaching in the Simple Word of the Master Jesus:

 

“Therefore, do not WORRY (!) or say, what will we eat? Or, what will we drink? Or, how will we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things. But seek first the guidance and justices of God’s INNER kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not fear the future; rather, entrust the problems of the day in prayer to the Father, and then act on Heaven’s guidance. For the transformed present will produce a transformed future.”

 

The Master Jesus wants our attention in the here and now. In the present moment – the only moment where we can actually change anything. The past doesn’t exist. The only contact you have with the past is in your memories – in the present moment. The future doesn’t exist. The only effect you have on the future is caused by your actions right here and now, in the present moment.

 

Does this mean we SHOULDN’T use an appointment calendar? No, that’s not what it means at all. It’s fine – even helpful, to use “time” for practical purposes. Who do you think worries more about tomorrow – the person who consults their appointment book and knows they have three appointments tomorrow – or the person who doesn’t HAVE an appointment book and THINKS they may have appointments tomorrow. The person without the appointment book may spend hours trying to remember where they are supposed to be and at what time, or making calls to find out.

 

Even if you aren’t consciously thinking about your appointments and things to do – if you don’t have a good planning and appointment system, your commitments will always be there in the back of your mind or in your subconscious, giving you a faint feeling of anxiety as your mind tries to keep track of everything. So the purpose of organizing your plans and appointments isn’t to worry about the future, it’s to NOT worry about the future. Once your mind knows that your commitments are captured in some external system that it knows you will check when you are supposed to – it can relax, and let you focus back on the present moment.

 

Of course, if organizing and reorganizing your day becomes your hobby – if you spend more time organizing than actually DOING, then you’ve let your organizing pull you away from the present moment.

 

So let’s get back to the present moment. Because the present moment is the gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven

 

I’m going to make a statement that may seem extreme, but I ask you to consider it carefully. Almost all of our worry, fear, stress, frustration and anxiety comes from refusing to accept the present moment as it actually is.

 

Next time you’re worried about a relative or stuck in a traffic jam, notice your feelings. At the bottom of your frustration you’ll find a deep feeling of resentment and hostility against the reality of the present moment. When we worry about the future, what are we really doing? We may be rebelling against the fact that our reality has uncertainties in it. Or we are unhappy with our present reality and want to focus on our plans for the future – but they’re not coming fast enough. There are too many setbacks. We’re not getting out of this terrible present situation as fast as we’d like to. Or perhaps we fixate on the past to escape the present moment. We linger in the sweet sadness of memories of a past that we prefer to our current situation.

 

We fight and we resist and we run away from the only thing that actually exists – the present moment.

 

Why do we resist it so?

 

Well, one thing that may worry us is an idea in the back of our minds that if we accept the present moment, and are content with our current situation – we’ll never get out of it. We’ll be stuck here. Forever. We think that with our discontent we can bribe or threaten God into changing things for us. But if we let him think we’re content – he’ll just let us languish. That doesn’t say a lot of good things about our image of God, does it? It sounds like the kind of God who if we ask for bread will give us a rock. But it is love and gratitude that open the windows of heaven, not discontent.

 

If we drop our resistance to the present moment, does that mean we are stagnant? That we can’t change? Of course not! It means that our change begins with an objective, loving assessment of out situation as it really is. It’s like a person who falls into quicksand. By resisting – by flailing around like a lunatic – we only sink deeper – because our activity is irrational – not productive. But if we keep ourselves calm – if we don’t resist the reality of our situation, then we can plan our escape more efficiently. And the universe will help us. Perhaps we will notice a branch nearby that we can grab. Something we wouldn’t have noticed if we were flailing around. Perhaps we can explore the quicksand and find a gentle handhold or toehold somewhere. And we make progress.

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The next time you find yourself in the grip of worry, or resentment or anger some other strong negative emotion, try this exercise – completely surrender to the present moment, including all its risks and possibilities. Don’t resist. Know that everything is just as it must be for the moment. Suspend your judgment of other people, or the situation or yourself.

 

What you will find is that a space opens up in the spiritual atmosphere. There’s a feeling like a fresh breeze blowing away your problems. You may still feel anxiety or some other emotion – but you won’t be lost in it. You won’t BE worried – you’ll be a person aware of experiencing a feeling of worry. And that’s a much different feeling. And when you do, you’ll find that your emotions will settle down. Negative emotions like worry don’t like to be watched. They’re bashful. Be the witness of your emotions instead of being possessed by your emotions.

 

Let’s come back to the present moment again. There is another reason we run away from the present moment. This reason is rooted in the nature of our being. It’s a metaphysical reason. That doesn’t mean it’s weird or complicated. Just the opposite. It means it’s so basic it’s sometimes hard to see.

 

The Master Jesus says that the Kingdom of God – God’s dominion or God’s dimension – is within you – within each of you. If you could reach down to your innermost nature, your heart of all hearts – you will find the presence of God. Your innermost essence – is God’s essence. That is the secret of all secrets. That is the core of all mystical teaching – the root of all true religion.

 

But this inner kingdom is hidden from us. It’s covered up by huge amounts of emotional turmoil and mental noise. Anyone who has seriously tried to practice meditation knows that – even when you don’t want it to – the mind keeps spewing out thoughts like some unwanted television set that’s impossible to turn off.

 

Eckhart Tolle tells a story of sitting on a bus next to a woman who was mentally disturbed. She was talking to an imaginary person in a loud and often hostile voice. Lots of profanity. She was a running stream of conversation. Later as he washed his hands in public bathroom, Eckhart thought to himself “I’m sure glad I’m not like that woman” – and the man at the sink next to him gave him a strange look. Then Eckhart realized he hadn’t THOUGHT the phrase to himself – he’d actually said it out loud!

 

We’re all “crazy people”. We all have a running stream of mostly useless, mostly repetitive thought going on in our minds all the time. The only difference is that the “normal” people manage not to let it come spilling out of their mouths – at least MOST of the time.

 

A lot of those thoughts are hopes and plans, and especially worries, about the future. They pull us like a strong swift current away from our grounding in the present moment. And it is in the present moment, and only there – that we can find the gateway into the inner kingdom of God.

 

You won’t find the Kingdom of God in some grandiose plan for the future.

 

You won’t find it in some cherished memory of the past.

 

God, your inner nature – is reality. And there is only one point of contact we have with reality – that pinpoint gateway – that eye of the needle, between the remembered past and the imagined future. The doorway to the kingdom of God that fills up the reality of the present moment.

 

Be in the present moment. Don’t think about it. Experience it. Surrender yourself in a complete and loving acceptance of the present moment, and the door begins opens to you. And behind the door is the essence of the Godhead, the Buddha Nature, closer to you than you are to yourself.

 

And as you become more at home in the present moment, you realize that you ARE the present moment. It is timeless. It has no past and no future. It is only now – eternally now. Forms and manifestations come and go. They appear in the field of Now and then they disappear – but the Now remains, and YOU remain – at peace in the vibrant energetic emptiness of God – wanting for nothing, worrying about nothing.

 

And here’s the paradox. When you seek first God’s inner kingdom, all the rest falls into place. The universe aligns itself to your purposes because you are aligned to the universe. Just at the moment when you begin to lose your desperate grasping after the external things of the world, the things you need begin to come to you almost without effort. And you can enjoy them fully – free of worry, because when they go, as all finite things do, they don’t take a part of you with them. You are connected to the source of all manifestation.

 

This is the kingdom of God, and the home country of all mystics. It’s a place where worries and problems subside, because you are no longer at odds with the purposes of God manifesting in your life. Many teachers of different traditions have commented on this.

 

Listen to the Catholic mystic St. Theresa describe it:

 

Let nothing trouble you / Let nothing frighten you

Everything passes / God never changes

Patience / Obtains all

Whoever has God / Wants for nothing

God alone is enough.

 

The Indian Guru Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said:

 

"You are all drenched for it is raining hard. In my world it is always fine weather. There is no night or day, no heat or cold. No worries beset me there, nor regrets. My mind is free of thoughts, for there are no desires to slave for."

 

And here’s one of the most famous quotes from “A Course In Miracles”

 

"Nothing real can be threatened.

Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God."

 

Put aside the unreality of your worries about the future, your longings for the past, your impatient desires. Surrender to the reality of this present moment.

 

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jul 282006
 

By Ken Wilber [img_assist|nid=5|title=Ken Wilber|desc=Ken Wilber|link=node|align=right|width=92|height=100]

It is flat-out strange that something – that anything – is happening at all. There was nothing, then a Big Bang, then here we all are. This is extremely weird.

To Schelling’s burning question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” there have always been two general answers. The first might be called the philosophy of “oops.” The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it’s all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens – oops! The philosophy of oops, no matter how sophisticated and adult it may on occasion appear – its modern names and numbers are legion, from positivism to scientific materialism, from linguistic analysis to historical materialism, from naturalism to empiricism – always comes down to the same basic answer, namely, “Don’t ask.”

The question itself (Why is anything at all happening? Why am I here?) – the question itself is said to be confused, pathological, nonsensible, or infantile. To stop asking such silly or confused questions is, they all maintain, the mark of maturity, the sign of growing up in this cosmos.

I don’t think so. I think the “answer” these “modern and mature” disciplines give – namely, oops! (and therefore, “Don’t ask!”) – is about as infantile a response as the human condition could possibly offer.

The other broad answer that has been tendered is that something else is going on: behind the happenstance drama is a deeper or higher or wider pattern, or order, or intelligence. There are, of course, many varieties of this “Deeper Order”: the Tao, God, Geist, Maat, Archetypal Forms, Reason, Li, Mahamaya, Braham, Rigpa. And although these different varieties of the Deeper Order certainly disagree with each other at many points, they all agree on this: the universe is not what it appears. Something else is going on, something quite other than oops….

Jul 282006
 

This project is an ongoing effort to gather those verses in the Bible, particularly the New Testament, which we believe have a hidden (or even direct) metaphysical or mystical meaning. We also hope to comment on these verses, as well as gather commentary from various mystical writers on these verses and topics, and parallel passages from the writing of other religions. The point of this project is to demonstrate that the “Perennial Philosophy” is, in fact, something that can be illustrated from the pages of the Bible.

In collecting these passages, we will follow the general outline of the “Perennial Philosophy” – which is described by Huxley as “— the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being” We have established, then, the following outline, into which we wish to collect and organize the passages in question. This outline is reproduced in the menu selections for the “Hidden Gospel” project. Please feel free to comment on any section, and we will consider your comments in future versions. :

Metaphysics: There is a Divine Reality behind the world of things and lives and minds It is uncreated It pervades all things It is paradoxical (panentheism) It uses both good and bad It leaves us free but compels us It is beyond reach or description, beyond all opposites

Psychology: There is something in the soul that is similar to or identical with the Divine Reality It is divine It is separate from the ego The ego is selfish, insatiable and craves divinity It is the true self It does not have the desires and limitations of the ego

Ethics: Man’s final end is knowledge of that imminent and transcendent Being. The ego must be killed By purification By detachment and selflessness By humility and obedience But it cannot be achieved by effort It is a gift It is by grace It is a realization Mystical union is achieved It is a rebirth It is the kingdom of heaven now Two kinds

Effects: Effortless morality Extraordinary powers Supreme peace and happiness Absolute freedom Identification with the divine

Jul 262006
 

This page is an attempt at simplification of the material on Christopher Small’s website, at http://www.stats.uwaterloo.ca/~cgsmall/ontology2.html If you want to go through the complete agonizing detail, I recommend you check it out there. Ok, to business.

What does it mean to say “God is great” or “greatest”? It is to judge between some attributes, and call them positive.

Kurt GodelKurt GodelGodel invented a notation for this as follows:

Pos(x) means that “x” is a positive attribute. What does this mean? Well we could judge this on some sort of aesthetic basis, looking for beauty or moral goodness. Godel choose for his ontological argument to keep it in the context of “pure attribution”. By this he seems to mean things that ADD TO BEING, rather than being a lessening of being.

Pure positive attributes are also absolute- and don’t depend on the changing nature or accidental structure of the world. In modal language:

Pos(F) >> #Pos(F) (for an attribute to be positive implies that it is NECESSARILY positive)

Some more details about positive attributes:

Axiom G2: Pos(F) >> ~Pos(~F) (if F is positive, it’s opposite is negative)

This contradicts Brian, who insisted that, for example, God would have to be both absolutely good and absolutely evil to be the “greatest”. In Godel’s proof, only attributes with add to being or indicate MORE BEING are positive, and their opposites are absolutely negative.

Godel next proved, through a process I won’t repeat here, but which you are welcome to pursue on the page I listed, that positive properties had to be “consistent” – and by that, he means “possible”. It makes no sense to claim that an impossible property is positive, and Godel proved that it would involve a logical contradiction. He wrote this as follows:

Axiom G1: Pos(F) >> * (Ex) Fx “For every positive property, it is possible that there exists an x which has that property)

Definitions: with this in mind, Godel defines formally what he means by “God”. A Godlike individual, says Godel, would be one for whom every essential property is positive, and every positive property is essential. Christopher Small translates this as:

Definition G1 – Gx = df(F) [#Fx == Pos(F)]

“In a Godlike individual x, for every property F which is positive, it is necessary that x have that property”

As a note, this does not say that God can’t have accidental properties that are not positive.

I will skip over some of the intermediate work of definitions and cut to the chase, since we’ve lost most people by now.

Axiom G3: Pos(G) “The quality of being God-like is positive”. There is considerable verbiage devoted to this axiom on the website, but I think most of us can simply nod.

Corrolary G1: * (Ex) Gx “It is possible that a Godlike individual exists” (Proof: Theorem G1 and Axiom G3)

Axiom G4: Pos(NE) “Necessary existence is a positive property” (Proof: already discussed previously. Necessary being would be greater being)

Theorem G2: Gx >> G Ess x “x being a Godlike individual implies that Godhood is the essence of x” (I skipped the disscussion of essence. Read it if you like. Basically it implies a property that isn’t accidental or contingent – but essential. The proof involves theorems I skipped. Again, I think this one’s pretty obvious. God isn’t just simply God by a strange quirk of chance 😉

Theorem G3: #(Ex) Gx “It is necessary that there exists an individual who is a godlike individual”

This is basically the QED – it is necessary that God exists, so I’ll try to show the proof.

We stated in definition G1 that being Godlike involved having every positive property necessarily. We stated in G4 that necessary existence is a positive property (and hence the godlike being would have it necessarily) We stated in theorem G2 that if there is a godlike individual, godhood is his essence. From the definitions of necessity (which we skipped) we conclude that if any individual x is God-like, then the property of being God-like is necessarily exemplified. This can be written symbolically as:

(Ex)Gx >> # (Ex)Gx “if there exists an x, and x is godlike, it is NECESSARY that there exists an x who is godlike”

Now it’s just cranking the logical equations…

  1. [(Ex)Gx >> # (Ex)Gx] (necessitation axiom of modal logic) “it is necessary that if there exists an x, and x is godlike, it is NECESSARY that there exists an x who is godlike”

Brief pause to introduce a new theorem of modal logic:

  1. [p>>q] >> (*p >> *q) (let’s call it the possibility theorem) “if it is necessary that p implies q, then the possibility of p implies the possibility of q”

Applied to the above, this gives us:

  • (Ex)Gx >> *#(Ex)Gx “the possibility that their exists a godlike individual implies the possibility that the existence of a goodlike individual is necessary”

But Corollary 1 told us * (Ex) Gx “It is possible that a Godlike individual exists”… therefore:

  • #(Ex)Gx “it is possible that it is necessary that a godlike individual exists”

but, according to theorem S5 of modal logic…

  • #p >> #p “if it is possible that it p is necessary, then p is necessary”

Applied to the above,

  1. Gx – it is necessary that God exists.
Jul 262006
 

Next in my tour of arguments for the existence of God, a perennial favorite, the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God.

St. AnselmSt. AnselmThe argument is originally credited to St. Anselm, who probably developed the ideas as a meditative technique, rather than an actual argument. Since his time, a number of brilliant minds have both defended and attacked the argument. It’s proponents have included Leibniz, Godel and Plantigna. At the current time, my assessment is that the proponents of this argument have the upper hand over it’s detractors. The version I will give here is one that uses a form of logic called modal logic. There have been some attacks on modal logic, and there are forms of the argument that do NOT use it, but they are a bit complex, and the attacks on modal logic also seem to have petered out. If anyone is a real critic of modal logic, I can post the other version of the argument or links to it. First, I’ll explain the symbolism I’ll use for the logic and the basic axioms of modal logic.

Symbols of modal logic:

1. “>>” Material implication. Example x>>y is “x materially implies y” (usually written like a side-ways horse shoe)

2. “~” Negation. Example ~x is “Not x”

3. “*” Possibility. Example *x is “It is possible that x” (Usually written as a diamond)

4. “#” Necessity. Example #x is “It is necessary that x” (Usually written as a square)

5. “V” the “or” operator. Example x V y is “Either x OR y”

Basic axioms and postulates of modal logic:

1. #x >> x “If it is necessary that ‘x’ is true, then ‘x’ is true”

2. x >> *x (contrapositive) “If x IS true, then it is possible for x to be true”

3. #(x>>y) >> (#x >> #y) (called ‘modal modus ponens’) “If it is necessary that x being true implies y is true, and x is necessarily true it implies y is also necessarily true.”

4. #x is true if x is a proven axiom (the principle of necessitation) “If we can prove that x MUST always be true, then x is necessarily true”

5. #x V *~x (law of excluded middle) “Either it is necessary that x is true, or it is possible that x is NOT true”

6. #x >>##x (Beckers first postulate) “If x is necessarily true, then it is NECESSARY that x is necessarily true”

7. *x >> #*x (Becker’s second postulate) “If it is possible that x is true, then it is NECESSARY that x is possibly true”

The Modal Ontological Argument (g = God exists)

Axiom 1: *g (“it is possible that God exists”)

Axiom 2: *g >> #g (“if God exists, he exists necessarily (he is not a contingent being)”)

The proof

1. *g >>#g (axiom 2) “if God exists, he exists necessarily”

2. *~g >>#*~g (Becker’s second postulate) “if it is possible God doesn’t exist, it is necessary that it is possible God does not exist.

3. #g V *~g (excluded middle) “Either God necessarily exists or it is possible he does not exist”

4. #g V #*~g (substitute 2 into 3) “Either God necessarily exists or it is necessarily possible he does not exist”

5. *~g >> ~g (contrapositive of axiom 2) “If it is possible God doesn’t exist, God doesn’t exist”

6. #(*~g >>~g) (necessitation postulate on 5) “It is necessary that if it is possible God does not exist, God does not exist”

7. #*~g >> #~g (modus ponens on 6) “If it is necessary that it is possible that God does not exist, then it is necessary that God does not exist”

8. #g V #~g (substitution of 4 into 7) “Either it is necessary that God exists or it is necessary that he does not exist”

9. ~#~g (axiom 1) “It is not necessary that God does not exist”

10. #g (8 and 9) “It is necessary that God exists”

A Possible Worlds Version:

Assuming that the modal proof above was a tad hard to follow for some, let me give Plantigna’s “possible worlds” version, which I have used here before.

Definitions:

Maximal excellence: To have omnipotence and omniscience in some world

Maximal greatness: To have maximal excellence in every possible world.

Why is it maximally great to have maximal excellence in every possible world? Because this indicates that God’s greatness doesn’t depend on this or that particular circumstance. God MUST have maximal excellence, regardless of the possible world in which he is present. Nothing can prevent him from having maximal excellence.

1. There is a possible world (W) in which there is a being (X) with maximal greatness.

i.e. It is possible that God exists.

2. But X is maximally great only if X has maximal excellence in every possible world.

3. Therefore, X is maximally great only if X has omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection in every possible world.

4. In possible world W, the proposition “There is no omnipotent, omniscient being” would be impossible – that is, necessarily false.

5. But what is impossible does not vary from world to world.

6. Therefore, the proposition, “There is no omnipotent, omniscient being” is necessarily false in this actual world too.

7. Therefore, there actually exists in this world, and must exist in every possible world, an omnipotent, omniscient being.

The last time we tried this, we got hung up a lot on point 5, with some suggesting that there are possible worlds where what is impossible DOES vary. This is a misunderstanding of what is meant by “possible worlds”. A “possible world” is a theoretical construction of a world that differs from ours only in it’s contingent details, NOT in the laws of logic. A world where the impossible is possible is not a “possible” world, but an “impossible” one. Without resolving the question of whether the laws of logic can in fact change, let’s just agree that for this example, we are considering only that set of worlds that obey the laws of logic – where that which is logically impossible does not vary.

What do these arguments tell us?

There are several trivial attacks against the ontological argument, and a few serious ones. One of the most significant attacks is to point out that the logic of these proofs can be reversed. You can prove with the same analysis that if it is POSSIBLE that God does not exist, then it is absolutely impossible for him to exist.

What these proofs REALLY tell us is that, contrary to what we might assume, God is not a mere possibility – something which may or may not exist. He is either absolutely necessary, or he is logically impossible. Any middle ground is an illusion based on not understanding the concepts involved. Which proposition, then, can marshall more support?

1. It is possible that God exists (and hence he is logically necessary)

Or

2. It is possible that God does NOT exist. (and hence he is logically impossible)

I think the best support can be gathered for #1. It is easy to see that if God exists, he would be the fundamental creator and/or sustainer of every atom and every photon – an absolute necessity. In fact, as we saw in the cosmological proof – if our notions of cause and effect, and the principle of sufficient reason, have any application on the cosmic scale, God WOULD be absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, it is difficult to see why the existence of God should be a logical impossibility. For one thing, we can coherently form a conception of God – something we really can’t do of logical impossibilities. We can form coherent concepts of CONTINGENT impossibilities (like pink unicorns) but NOT of logical impossibilities (like square circles). I can get my mind around the concept “If God exists, he exists necessarily”. The contrary, that if God does NOT exist, his non-existence is a logical necessity – just doesn’t seem as convincing. And it it much harder to summon up the idea “There is a possible world W where God is logically impossible” than the contrary.

Secondly, millions of people claim to have had some kind of contact with God in mystical or religious experience. This should give the benefit to at least the possibility of God’s existence – and, as we have seen from the proof, if God is at least possible, then he necessarily exists.

Godel also formulated an argument for God’s possibility based on some very interesting principles, which I can introduce later if anyone’s interested.

Jul 262006
 

There are a numberof versions of cosmological arguments for God floating around out there, and a number of serious refutations to the classical version of this proof. I want to introduce to the readership here a “new and improved” version of the cosmological proof developed by Mortimer J AdlerMortimer J AdlerMortimer Adler, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago (chairman of the “Great Books” program, founder of the Aspen Institute, etc. etc..)

I’ll try to give a bit of a simpler (and hence slightly less precise) version than Adler uses.

A Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God.

First of all, many critics of cosmological arguments have reasoned that we don’t need a first cause. There can simply be an infinite series of causes, each explaining the other for eternity. Let’s grant this possibility. Perhaps existence can be passed on through some sort of “inertia of being” from one link in an infinite chain to the next. Let’s assume, then, for the purposes of our improved cosmological argument, that the cosmos is eternal. On to the simplified argument:

1. If something exists, and requires a cause, then the cause also exists. 2. The cosmos as a whole exists. 3. The cosmos as a whole is contingent (ie only possible) rather than logically necessary, it therefore requires an ongoing cause outside itself preventing its non-existence. 4. Any cause outside the contingent cosmos is both supernatural (since the cosmos includes all of nature) and non-contingent, this supernatural, necessary cause is God.

The controversial premise is clearly #3. Let’s elaborate on it a bit.

One of the points critics try to make is that perhaps the cosmos as a whole is logically necessary. I would argue that it is much more likely to be contingent. Here’s why.

The UniverseThe UniverseWe can imagine alternatives to the cosmos. We can imagine a cosmos with different natural laws, different structure, etc. We don’t see any compelling reason why these alternate cosmoses are logically impossible. Ordinarily, it is impossible to coherently imagine something which is logically impossible, such as a square circle. The fact that we can coherently imagine an alternate cosmos strongly suggests that our cosmos is not logically necessary, but merely possible, something which might have been different.

Anything which MIGHT have been different… might also not have existed at all. It’s non-existence is a real possibility.

BUT – given infinite time, all real possibilities would have been realized an infinite number of times. Hence at some point, the cosmos would have ceased to exist. And once replaced by absolute nothingness, the cosmos can no longer pass on its existence.

Hence, the only way this merely possible cosmos can continue to exist – is if a Necessary Being maintains it in existence.

The only alternative is that, despite all appearances, the cosmos as a whole IS logically necessary, even though we have absolutely no proof of that.

It is therefore reasonable to believe, in fact likely, that a supernatural being maintains the cosmos in existence.

Several articles by Dr. Adler discussing these ideas can be found at : http://www.radicalacademy.com/adlertheology1.htm

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