In Praise of the Cat Path; or, I Can’t Save Me

Heaven help me I’m
Drownin’ and I can’t save me
Send some salvation
To keep me alive
–Anna Nalick, “Satellite”

On Facebook, posts with cats get lots of traffic.  Maybe the same will be true of my blog because of this post!  😉  Even if not, cats are never out of place….

Back here, I made reference to the Hindu concept of cat paths (or religions) and monkey paths.  Though I had originally encountered the term long ago–probably sometime in the 80’s–I couldn’t remember the original source of the metaphor (though I think it was in something by Huston Smith).  I did find a worthwhile and very readable discussion of the concepts here.

The poles of my religious life are Buddhism and Christianity.  I was raised in a vague and generic cultural Protestantism, without ever belonging to a church.  When I read the Dhammapada in my freshman year of college, it was the beginning of a long flirtation with and study of Buddhism, though once more I never actually took refuge or joined a sangha.  Eventually, I moved back towards Christianity, eventually joining the Catholic Church twenty-eight years ago and change.  Throughout all this time, and up to the present day, I have periodically practiced Buddhist forms of meditation and Catholic devotions.  It has been a sort of oscillation between the two ends of the spectrum, Buddhism and Christianity.

However, when I reread the Bhagavad Gita, I discovered that I was actually more Hindu than I thought.  Why that’s so I discussed here.  The point I want to make is that in some ways Hinduism does a better job of categorizing human religious thought and response than either Buddhism or Christianity manage to do.  This is probably because of Hinduism’s long-standing and in fact dizzying pluralism, coupled with its enormous antiquity and the availability of holy men and scholars who have analyzed Hindu thought for millennia.  These sages have long realized that human temperaments are varied, and that each relates best to the Absolute–i.e. God–in different ways.  Thus, despite my tendency to ping-pong around the poles of Buddhism and Christianity, I think that using Hindu categories will be most effective for this post.  Thus, I’ll put on my sannyasi robes and adopt a Hindu perspective for what follows.  Namaste, and let’s start!

One way Hindus analyze religion is as one of various forms of yoga.  In this context, “yoga” does not mean a series of exercises, headstands, and such.  “Yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root that shares a common ancestor with our own word “yoke”.  Just as a yoke ties two oxen together, yoga ties a human to the Divine.  How this union of human and divine is to be accomplished varies, since humans are different and their needs and abilities differ.  The four basic yogas are generally said to be jñāna, bhakti, karma, and rāja.  Jñāna yoga is the yoga of knowledge.  “Jñāna”, in fact, is cognate to the Greek word “gnosis” and our own “knowledge”.  This is not knowledge in the sense of information, but mystical knowledge of the Divine.  Jñāna yoga is essentially the path of the theologian or philosopher who though study, introspection, and speculation about the nature of self gradually comes to a realization of the Divine.

“Bhakti” means “devotion”.  Bhakti yoga is the path of loving devotion to God as conceptualized through one’s personal favorite deity (known in Sanskrit as iṣṭa-devatā, “beloved deity”).  Which deity one chooses depends on one’s personality, temperament, and needs; but once having selected an iṣṭa-devatā, the devotee focuses all his devotion, prayers, and rituals on him (or her).  In jñāna yoga, the Divine is often conceptualized in very abstract and impersonal terms.  In bhakti yoga, the Divine is always personal, cherished, loved, and worshiped as a person.

We are all familiar with the word “karma”, but in this context it doesn’t mean getting back what you deserve from the cosmos.  The literal meaning of “karma” is “deed”.  Thus, karma yoga is the yoga of deeds.  One doesn’t just speculate in the abstract about the Divine, or just pray to a deity.  One puts one’s money where one’s mouth is and dedicates all one’s actions to the Divine.  This can be directly, by doing charity work, helping the poor, becoming an activist, or supporting one’s local religious organization.  More broadly, though, the idea is that one dedicates the fruits and merits of all one’s actions to the Divine, as one conceives it.  For example, a janitor might consider that he’s really sweeping the floor for Krishna; or a cook might make meals as if he’s cooking for Vishnu.

“Rāja yoga” literally means “the yoga of kings” or “king yoga”.  Rāja yoga is the path of direct mystical practice.  Instead of pondering God, like the jñāna yogin (yoga practitioner), or praising and worshiping Him like bhakti yogin, or serving Him like the karma yogin, the rāja yogin wants to experience God directly.  This is done through long-term ascetic practice, involving dietary changes, physical postures and exercises, often (but not always) celibacy (known as brahmacharya), complex ritual practice, in some cases, and intense meditation.  The exercises we think of when we say “yoga” are properly hatha yoga–“the yoga of force”–and are a subdivision of rāja yoga.  The idea is that the exercises help to discipline and purify the body, so that afterwards, the mind can be properly focused on the Divine.

The Hindu idea is that all these various yogas are legitimate, with different ones being appropriate for different people.  More broadly, one could categorize entire religions or branches of religions as being more or less like one of the four yogas.  Christianity, which emphasizes devotion to Christ, is obviously bhakti.  Judaism, with its emphasis on the 613 commandments of the Torah, is more like a karma path.  Buddhism has an intensely jñānin aspect to it.  Mystics and contemplatives of all faiths could be said to be rāja yogins.  All have the same destination–the Divine, God–but they approach by different paths.

The distinction between cat paths and monkey paths is a simpler model than that of the four yogas.  These paths are named, obviously, from the observation of cats and monkeys, and what they do with their young.  To reverse the order I’ve been using, a monkey, from a very early age, must grasp its mother’s back for dear life–literally.  As the mother walks, runs, jumps, or climbs, the baby must keep tight hold of her.  It is literally up to the young one to stay with the mother.  On the other hand, with cats, the kittens need exert no effort at all–need not even be awake.  Mother cat carries her kittens by the scruff of the neck and takes them where they need to be.  They’re just along for the ride.

Hence the metaphors.  God (or more neutrally, the Divine) is the mother and we are the baby monkey or kitten.  With the monkey path, the idea is that the responsibility for our spiritual lives is completely on ourselves.  God is not going to do the work for us–we have to seek Him.  Ascetic practice, fasting, meditation–whatever it is we do, it is based on our initiative and the effort we put into the spiritual quest.  Like the baby monkey, we have to hold on tight, since it’s our responsibility not to fall off.  Clearly, from this perspective jñāna and rāja yoga are monkey paths.  To some extent, karma yoga is, too, though not completely.  As to religions, Judaism, with its emphasis on performing the requirements of the Law, is a monkey path.  Buddhism and Jainism, with their strong non-theistic views and their emphasis on practice, tend to be monkey paths (though some schools of Buddhism are otherwise).  Hinduism has some schools that are oriented towards the monkey path–Shaivism, for example, emphasizes personal effort.

The cat path is the opposite of the monkey path.  Just as a mother cat carries her kitten, with the latter needing to make no effort at all, cat paths emphasize the initiative of the Divine, however conceived, over any actions by humans.  The Divine freely gives grace or merit to humanity, allowing them access to salvation or enlightenment not through their own efforts, but by the gift of the Divine.  Now, cat paths, like monkey paths, have things you actually do–there are rites and rituals, hymns and prayers, liturgies and devotions.  The difference is in how they are understood.  In a monkey path, prayer or meditation or liturgy, for example, might be understood as methods by which the practitioner forges his path to the Divine.  In a cat path, such things might be seen as having value, but they are not instrumental.  I am not saved (to use Christian terminology) because of what I do; rather, my actions might indicate my response to a salvation already granted.  For example:  In some schools of Buddhism, chanting a mantra might be part of a program of meditation and spiritual practice, where it is conceived of as helping develop certain states of mind conducive to enlightenment.  In short, just as pumping iron builds your muscles, chanting builds your spirit.

By contrast, in Pure Land Buddhism, it is said that if even the worst sinner invokes the Buddha Amitābha by chanting his mantra (“Namo Amitābhāya” in Sanskrit, but most commonly said in Chinese–“Nāmó Āmítuófó“–or Japanese–“Namu Amida Butsu“) even once, with faith, the sinner will, by Amitābha’s power, be reborn into the Pure Land, a blissful land of perfection, in which enlightenment is inevitable.  Unlike in the previous case, saying the mantra is not considered to to be efficacious as such.  Rather, to do so acknowledges the helplessness of the one reciting the mantra, and serves in effect as an acknowledgement and acceptance of the power of Amitābha, who has vowed to use his infinite merits for the benefit of sentient beings.*  There are other practices in Pure Land Buddhism, of course; but these are more supports or reminders to the believer, rather than means of salvation.

Pure Land Buddhism is thus obviously a cat path.  Christianity is, too–the unilateral action of Christ in his death and resurrection is what makes salvation possible.  There has been a perennial debate on works vs. grace, which boils down to arguing the extent to which human actions are necessary in addition to the grace offered through Christ.  I intend to give that debate a wide berth.  Suffice it to say that by any interpretation, Christianity is clearly in its essence a cat path.  Bhakti yoga is a cat path, as it involves pure devotion to a saving deity.  Karma yoga, though tending towards the monkey end of the spectrum, has some aspects of the cat path in that one often dedicates one’s actions to a deity.  The idea is that you’re not “saving yourself” as such, but making your deeds an offering to a deity who saves you.  Within Hindu denominations, Vaishnavism (especially Gaudiya Vaishnavism) and Shaktism tend to be cat paths.  Islam has some characteristics of monkey and cat paths, depending on interpretation.

So why do I want to praise the cat path?  As Americans, the so-called Protestant work ethic has always been a huge part of our cultural psyche.  The American values of independence, individualism, and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps are closely allied concepts.  From the very beginning, Americans have tended to look at spirituality and religion as a technique, a discrete set of actions that, if properly performed, would make us a spiritual–and perhaps also temporal–Utopia, or to use the well-known phrase, a “city upon a hill“.  It’s no coincidence that Utopian communities (such as the Oneida and New Harmony communes) and new religious movements have proliferated throughout American history, from the Deism of the Founders down to the New Age and beyond.  It’s also no coincidence that all these movements tend towards dynamic action–we Americans have never been temperamentally contemplative, and it’s no surprise that “don’t just stand there, do something” is a typical Americanism.  No matter how much we may love cats as pets, we are firmly committed to monkeys as a path!  Even self-help literature–a peculiarly American genre–is in essence a secularized version of the monkey path.  If you do such-and-such, you’ll lose weight or win friends and influence people or get your heart’s desire, and so on.

In writing about the Dhammapada, I had this to say:

[The Dhammapada] showed me that religion could be an active choice.  The emphasis throughout the Dhammapada is on what you do, on making the effort to take the path.  Once more, very much different from the “born again” Christianity of my youth with its emphasis on the powerlessness of the believer.

I was very young then, of course.  The idea of the rugged monk heroically forging his own path to enlightenment by asceticism and meditation was romantically appealing to me as a teenager.  Of course, I never actually did any of that–I don’t have an ascetic bone in my body, really, and my meditation practice has always been pretty spotty.  Also, I don’t think I ever seriously had any notion of giving it all up to be a monk or ascetic of any religious tradition.  Still, like most Americans, I had the internalized notion that I should not just stand there, but do something.  It took me a long time to do something–I didn’t enter the Church until I was almost twenty-seven–but at least I could say that one of these days I was going to get serious with my spirituality–kind of like I was going to get serious and lose weight.

Alas for such ambitions.  Weight loss has been a yoyo thing for me, and at fifty-five I am increasingly skeptical that I’ll ever reach my supposedly “ideal” weight, or maintain it if I do.  As to religious practice, I’ve been all over the place.  Mass on weekdays and holy days is really the only thing I’ve maintained, having missed it not more than a dozen times in twenty-eight years.  Everything else has gone through cycles.  I’m not even sure I’m a better or more spiritual person than I was twenty-eight or more years ago.  Sometimes my life seems to echo Paul Simon:  “The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-sliding away.”  More and more I feel that the human predicament is truly insoluble in a profound way, both for individuals and societies.  Maybe that’s just middle-aged jadedness.  I don’t know.  All I can say is that more and more, I want to cry out, in the words quoted at the top of this post, “I’m drowning, and I can’t save me/ Send some salvation to keep me alive.”  Interestingly, until I Googled the lyrics to make sure I had them right, I’d always heard the first phrase as, “I’ve tried it, and I can’t save me.”  Both sets of lyrics work, actually; and the first is how I often feel.

Does that mean I’m giving up on even trying?  No.  No matter what, it is our lot in life at least to try, to struggle to do better, both in secular life, in personal life, and in one’s spirituality.  Quitting is not an option, attractive as it might seem at times.  I have, however, given up on the American belief in the monkey path.  No matter how hard we try, we’ll fall off mother monkey, sooner or later, and probably often.  If the God of infinite love, mercy, and compassion as revealed in Christ is indeed as He is said to be–and I believe He is–then no matter how roundly and frequently we screw up, He can deal with it, picking us up again and again as a mother cat does.  I take sin and human imperfection deadly seriously; but my philosophical and emotional shift to the cat path perspective is part of what makes me increasingly convinced of an ultimate universalism.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have to try to lead better lives.  It does mean that there is no magical spiritual or temporal self-help method that’s ever going to fully fix us or the world.  If we are to be saved, if there is to be a new heaven and a new earth someday, we’re not the ones who are going to implement it.  That much should be plainly obvious.  We must continue to strive, but we also must put away any expectations of success.  In the end, we are all mewling, bedraggled kittens, and our one hope is in the love of our Mother Cat.

 

*I am aware that there is an alternate interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism which is, to put it simply, that it’s a monkey path that just looks like a cat path.  There is a distinction in Pure Land Buddhism between jiriki–“self-power”, or spiritual development based on one’s own abilities and efforts–and tariki–“other-power”, the merits and spiritual attainment bestowed on one by an outside being such as a Buddha or bodhisattva.  The alternate interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism to which I’m referring argues that the distinction between jiriki and tariki is an illusion.  The idea is that one starts with a notion of an exterior deity that give assistance when invoked.  As one continues in the practice, one develops greater insight and wisdom, and comes to realize that the “other-power” is actually coming from within.  Amitābha is thus not so much a buddha who confers merits on the supplicant, but a metaphor for the potential for enlightenment within each of us.  The more spiritually developed one becomes, the more one understands the metaphor as a metaphor, and the more one is able to work out her own salvation, so so speak.  There is some controversy, both in Asia and in the West, as to whether this is a correct interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism, but that’s a debate I’m not interested in.  For the purposes of this post, I’m using the straightforward interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism as being exactly what it is presented as–a religion that stresses the unilateral action of an outside Divine being, and hence, a cat path.

Part of the series “Religious Miscellany

 

Posted on 20/07/2018, in Christianity, Hinduism, religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Hello Tur,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and referencing. You said, “Though I disagree with the blogger, an atheist, on a lot of things, his blog is very interesting, and I think he gave a pretty good definition of cat and monkey paths.” Could you be specific one even one or two things “lot of things” that you “disagree with”? Thank you. It might be fun for dialogue. I don’t know if you blog for dialogue, however. So, as you wish.
    — Sabio

    • Hi Sabio! Well, given that I’m a theist, we obviously disagree on that matter. Also, I’ve read your discussions on mind and self (or selves), and while the notions are interesting–they remind me of some Buddhist concepts, particularly from a Vajrayana perspective–I’d tend to go for a more unitary model of consciousness (though less unitary than has been traditional in the West, perhaps). Finally, if I understand you right, you say that questions such as “Do you believe in the existence of God?” aren’t in the same category as questions such as, “Is it raining outside?” because there are issues of signification, and such questions don’t have meaning in the way the latter type of questions do. While I agree with classical theology that God is not a “thing among things”, I think it’s as intelligible to discuss His existence–or non-existence–as much as that of anything else. I’m writing this off the cuff, by the way, without having time to go back and look through your blog thoroughly, so forgive me if I’m off a little–or a lot!

      I’m open to doing a dialogue–that could be interesting. I think it’s always good to have an attitude that one can learn from others even when there are great differences in belief and outlook. Certainly an open-minded attitude to dialogue is something we don’t see nearly enough of at the current time!

  2. Hey Turmarion,

    I have only read this post, and I see you jump all over the place religiously, between theist and non-theist religions. But more than that, my position is that religion is not about its beliefs, but about its functions in a person or a groups life.

    So, in the end, someone’s beliefs don’t matter to me as much as the implications (how they use) of the interactions of their various stated beliefs. Not only that, but often people don’t really believe what they confess.

    So it is all very complicated, if you approach it from a belief perspective.

    As you bounce around religions, you can see your mind discovering what is useful more than what is true.

    You called yourself a “theist” but to be meaningful on that, we must define the term in a non-circular way.

    One use of a theist is:
    1. Belief in an all powerful being (APB)
    2. The APB cares about individual life of each person.
    3. The APB chooses to intervene in nature and human affairs, with human affairs being its(his/her) central concern.
    4. The APB love humanity fully.
    5. The APB rewards those who love him/her/it back in ways it doesn’t reward others.

    I do not consider #1 a belief sufficient in itself to qualify as a “theist”. But everyone can make any definition they want. But to have fruitful dialogue, two people are best to have a common language.

    So, are you a “theist” by this definition, and if so, why does it matter that you would have these beliefs and I don’t? For by this definition, I am a non-theist. But of the actions you and I both value, perhaps our variant beliefs can accomplish the same.

    Thoughts?

    • First, I think no one religion is the source of all insight, and that valid insights to some extent can be found in all; so I think jumping all over the place between theist and non-theist religions is a feature, not a bug. Each religion has certain areas in which it sees certain things more clearly, IMO.

      So, in the end, someone’s beliefs don’t matter to me as much as the implications (how they use) of the interactions of their various stated beliefs.

      See, that’s where I’d disagree with you in a deep, fundamental way. A given Scientologist might be a much better person than I am; and a believer in the Flat Earth may be better still. That doesn’t make them right. If it could be proved that Mormons or Sikhs or Flat-Earthers were happier, more well-adjusted, and better all-around human beings, and that this was because of their beliefs, does that mean we should all run out to be Mormons or Sikhs, or that we should mandate teaching of Flat-Earthism in schools? I think you’d probably agree with me in saying “no” to those questions.

      Your perspective here seems to be utilitarian or pragmatic–“Does it work? Does it make John Doe a better person?” I’m generally extremely opposed to utiliatrian/pragmatic ethics in general. That aside, “Is it true?” and “Does it have positive effects on human behavior?” are totally separate questions; perhaps even opposed. Nietzsche said that perhaps being less attuned to reality is a survival trait. The basic point is that, while I hope people act in a decent and kind way, being decent and kind doesn’t validate one’s belief system.

      Now I’m not interested in people’s beliefs in the sense that I don’t proselytize; and as a universalist, I think that all–to use Christian terminology, though one could express it any many ways–are “saved”; so I don’t feel a need to convert someone else to my religion . That said, I think beliefs do matter.

    • As to my theism, I’d tend to use Hindu terms, since I think they catch the notions well (though I’m not a Hindu). The Absolute Reality (or Divine, or whatever) is referred to as “Brahman”. Brahman in its full reality, as it actually is, is completely beyond all human concepts, thoughts, terms, and adjectives. To even say as much as I’ve said about it is ultimately inaccurate. Considered this way, the Absolute is “nirguna Brahman”–“Brahman without attributes”. Now, to the extent that humans conceptualize and interact with the Absolute, they experience it in human terms (like a light going through a filter takes on the color of that filter). The Absolute is thus anthropomorphized into any of the various Hindu deities. This is “saguna Brahman”, “Brahman with attributes”; or sometimes “Ishvara”, “Lord”.

      The conception of saguna Brahman or Ishvara is limited and culturally-bound–which is why there are so many gods and goddesses in Hinduism; but it’s not “wrong”. One really is interacting with God (Brahman) through our conceptualizations of Him/Her/It; but such interaction is just a drop in the ocean of reality, and not absolute. This is why Hinduism is very tolerant–as far as they’re concerned, a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and so on, are all interacting with the Divine in their own, equally valid ways.

      This idea, by the way, is very similar to the Buddhist notion of Three Bodies of the Buddha (“trikaya”), the Jewish notion of the Ein Soph vs. the Shekhinah, the Orthodox Christian notion of God’s essence vs. His energies, Meister Eckhart’s idea of the Godhead vs. God, and many other mystical teachings.

      Thus, in regard to your bullet points:

      1. God (which is the term I’ll use from this point) is all-powerful, but this is subject to logical constraints.

      2. I would take it further and say that God is concerned with every single thing in the cosmos. Since (following both Hindu thought and the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas) I think we can speak only analogically of God–i.e., God is “alive”, but not like we are; He “thinks”, but not as we think; He is “good”, but not as we are; and so on–we have to be careful in how we understand this. In the big picture “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”; but God acts in the context of infinity and eternity, so what we might consider “concerned” in our limited human capacity right now, might not match God’s conception of it. Everything will be perfect in the end; but we’re not there yet.

      3. I doubt God interferes in nature or human affairs directly very much. Very rare cases, probably; indirectly, through making Himself known to us in ways we can understand; but generally He tends to have a hands-off policy. Even when He does, I don’t think it’s a simplistic matter of “fixing” things for us in this life. I think God is beneficent, and that the endgame for us and the cosmos is perfect peace, harmony, and bliss; but right here and now, there is no evidence to think that God consistently “jimmies” the cosmos for our benefit. Observation, to be honest, would seem to indicate the opposite. As to “human affairs being God’s central concern”, there’s no evidence either way on this. God may prioritize the angels over us; or the newts; or slime mold; or the alien beings of Arcturus; or paramecia. I think that God’s ultimate goal is the maximum good of all His creatures; and we being humans, His interactions with us are (obviously) of the most interest. In the big picture, though, does He prioritize us over any other beings? Who knows? Really–given my belief that in the end, He will maximize the beatitude of all, from paramecia to angels–who cares?

      4. I think you need to clarify what you mean by “loving humanity fully”. I think God loves us perfectly, by which I mean that He both desires and will actualize the greatest good for all of us ultimately (not necessarily right now); but I’m not sure if that’s what you mean.

      5. I don’t believe this. I’m a universalist–note that I have an entire series of 44 posts and counting, on universalism–so I think that in the end, God will treat all, even the worst sinners, equally. There might be a longer or shorter purification period for different people; but I think God desires the salvation of all and will manage to attain that, in the end.

      So, are you a “theist” by this definition

      As you see from my elaboration, partly, but not completel

      [I]f so, why does it matter that you would have these beliefs and I don’t?

      I’m a universalist, so, to put it crudely, in the big picture, it doesn’t matter. As I explained above, though, I put a higher value on belief in general–apparently–than you do, so, given that I believe that God exists, I think it’s better to believe that He does, in the same way that it’s better to believe that the Earth is spherical, even if you’re in all other ways an exemplary human being. Also, in the end, we’ll all see who is right. Aesthetically, I think it would be better to have the right understanding ahead of time, be it theist or atheist. But if you mean, to put it crudely, do I think you’re going to hell because you’re an atheist, then my answer is no.

      • @ turmarion:

        You inspired me to write a post about the word atheist. Perhaps you’ll see my point there. Comment on my blog if you wish.

        Point being, there are many forms of atheism, and they have more dissimilar points than they have in common. So most Christians would not consider you a Christian at all, of course. They might even consider calling you an atheist, if you didn’t educate them on the broad meaning of the word. For those Christians, an “intervening” god is central to theism (miracles and hope). And for most, a god who rewards and punishes with afterlife is central too.

        So, you may have read my blog enough to know that I know all these subtle variants of Hindu and Buddhist thinking already.

        So, yes, as my recent post illustrates, you are right to classify me as an theist by your definition, but most Christians would disagree with you.

        Your last paragraph seem to contradict itself but maybe here is what you are saying:

        1. Concerning the belief in some sort of god (theism) you say, “in the big picture, it doesn’t matter.” So, you feel belief in some flavor of a god doesn’t determine if your soul survives death. (some flavor of universalism).

        But you then say:

        2. I believe that God exists, I think it’s better to believe that He does, in the same way that it’s better to believe that the Earth is spherical, even if you’re in all other ways an exemplary human being.

        But this is odd. For knowing that earth is spherical matters for rockets satellites and navigation. Not “believing” it will have very bad practical outcomes for many efforts even though for much of the populations it matters not.

        3. Then you say, “Also, in the end, we’ll all see who is right.” This is a comical classic Christian left-over phrase. So self-righteous. funny.

        4. Finally you say, “Aesthetically, I think it would be better to have the right understanding ahead of time, be it theist or atheist.” That was hilarious too. Really? “Aesthetically” — it is more beautiful to believe. “Ahead of time”??? Really.

        I think you really need to tighten up your thinking in the last paragraph.

        Instead, what appears to be the case is that you still want (?need) to consider yourself a theist in some fashion because of how deeply the atheism prejudice got into your mind — you can’t extricate it. So the mental gymnastic you do to keep yourself there are obvious. Second, you still want to think you are better being an theist than dirty atheists, even though we may be OK in the afterlife. You see, the temptation to think that our own beliefs make us better than others is very tempting. But isn’t this the ugliest part of religion?

      • What other Christians–or anyone else, really–thinks about my beliefs is not really of interest to me. I think crudely literal, anthropomorphic views of God are less common among the classical theologians, especially those influenced by Neoplatonism, than among the masses of believers. There is also a strong universalist tradition in some strands of Eastern Orthodoxy and among a few Catholic theologians. Thus, I don’t think an interventionist God in the crude since of a God who’s fixing things all the time, or a God who sends sinners to Hell and believers to Heaven, are necessarily needed for Christianity. But that way it gets into “what does the word ‘Christian’ mean?” and I think that’s ultimately fruitless.

        I do believe that what one could call “paranormal” or “supernatural” or “miraculous” things do, indeed happen; and I believe that that material realm is not all there is. The book The Trickster and the Paranormal is an excellent and fascinating book in this regard. So, I do believe that God is in principle interventionist. What I don’t hold is the Evangelical type of thing, like “Jesus find me a parking lot!” or assuming that God will fix all our problems. As the cliche goes, pray as if it’s up to God and act as if it’s up to you.

        I’m a universalist, but I believe in what one might call purgatory. One has to come to some true understanding of one’s imperfections and (perhaps) awful behavior. Hitler doesn’t just waltz into heaven, in other words. I discuss it in detail here, but briefly, purgatory is sort of a voluntary rehab in which souls want to become purified. “Hell” is sort of an involuntary institutionalization for souls too far gone to recognize their sickness. It’s not “punishment”; but just as psychological treatment can seem hellish to the person at the time, so might purification in the afterlife. If you want to view it in terms of the Bardo, one might look at it like that. Same principal.

        Then you say, “Also, in the end, we’ll all see who is right.” This is a comical classic Christian left-over phrase. So self-righteous. funny.

        That was certainly intended neither to be self-righteous nor funny. Certainly not the former–there will be plenty of people of all religions, and none, getting into heaven ahead of me.

        As to aesthetics, some of the greatest physicists have spoken of how good theories have a beauty to them. I think truth, to some extent, comes to us through beauty. You are of course free to disagree.

        Second, you still want to think you are better being an theist than dirty atheists, even though we may be OK in the afterlife.

        I find this extremely offensive. This is nothing like what I believe, nor have I even implied this. If you read this blog in detail or knew me in person, you’d know I take great pains to be open and respectful to all traditions and beliefs, atheism included. I have friends and relatives who are various flavors of Christianity, neo-pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, and, yes, atheists. I certainly don’t think my beliefs make me better than anyone else. Do you think yours make you better than others? Are you totally free of that base temptation?

        I’m not sure what kind of point you’re trying to make. I merely mentioned in passing that I disagree with some of your stated beliefs–that’s all. Not “disrespected”, not “thought was a horrible dirty belief”, not “derided”–merely disagreed. That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily wrong–you may possibly be right, it doesn’t mean I’m attacking you, it doesn’t mean I have any interest in evangelizing you, changing your belief system, or anything like that. I have in fact tried to be cordial. And yet you have in the last two comments said I have “pathologies”, implied that I’m insincere in my beliefs, having to make “mental gymnastics”, essentially done armchair psychoanalysis of me without even knowing me or reading more widely what I’ve written, and accused me of thinking your’e a “dirty atheist”. What’s up with that?

        You said you wanted to dialogue, and while, frankly, I don’t really have the time to respond to comments frequently, I took that as a good-faith sign of interest, and decided, “OK, that might be a good idea.” It seems you’re more interested in poking holes in what I believe than in trying to understand it. Why you’d want to do that, I don’t know–I’m certainly not interested in doing that to you. If that’s what’s going on here, then count me out.

      • @turmarion,

        You said that you believe in God can intervene. If you believe that God can heal human disease ( and is all powerful and all loving), does it not strike you as odd that he has NEVER chosen to heal any amputee? The healing of an amputee would certainly be paranormal and very easy for an all powerful creator.

        As far as poking holes in your beliefs, I think one of the fun things about people who post their beliefs on the web is to challenge the posted beliefs. If you are just posting as a benefit to all humanity and expect no challenges, you can turn off the comment section. Please feel free to my posts and challenge them. What triggered this encounter is you labeling me an atheist (as if that means something — and I have put up many posts showing how little it means) and then saying life without eternity is meaningless which I also have great philosophical disagreement with and feel it a dangerous, deadly claim. Here, I am discussing what makes a theist (thus an a-theist) and intervention is one of them, and I am challenging — by asking a question — if your interventionist claim is coherent.

      • Why does God allow evil at all, which is to cut to the chase with your question. Who knows? Minds greater than mine have grappled with that question. I think in the end “all shall be well”; but I don’t claim to have a definitive answer to that.

        I think one of the fun things about people who post their beliefs on the web is to challenge the posted beliefs.

        We evidently have very different definitions of “fun”, then. I read blogs in order to learn things and to see how different people with different perspectives approach things. That, to me, is fascinating. Challenging beliefs just for the heck of it seems to me pointless. I rarely comment on other people’s blogs at all, really. I comment on only a couple, and it’s kind of an “in-house” situation–a group of people with common interests who don’t really encounter many people in offline life that share those interests and use the forums as a place for such discussion. Every once in awhile, if I see an error of fact, such as a misattributed quote, I might comment to correct it. As to people’s posted beliefs, I really, truly believe that’s their own business, and unless said beliefs are something like “genocide is cool”, I see it as not my place–or anyone else’s–to challenge them. It’s opaque to me why anyone would want to do that. I disagree with some of your beliefs, but why on earth would I want to challenge them? Who am I to do that? That’s your business, not mine.

        If you are just posting as a benefit to all humanity and expect no challenges, you can turn off the comment section.

        I read others because I really want to learn things and to see how other people think. I find that I often learn more from people who hold very different beliefs than I do, even if I disagree with them. I put out my thoughts in the hopes that others may find them of some benefit, even if in a very small way. To me, comments are more for exchange of thoughts or constructive criticism. I don’t go on other people’s sites to challenge their beliefs–that’s really rather rude, from my perspective. It’s kind of like someone inviting you into their home, where you proceed to criticize the decor, the food, etc. I don’t have a problem defending my beliefs at all. That said, too much of the Internet is one constant argument; and that’s not what I’m here for at this site.

        What triggered this encounter is you labeling me an atheist….

        As I said on the other thread, I have edited that out of my post. All you had to do was say, “Hey, I think the way you said that comes off negatively,” and I’d have fixed it earlier, with a lot fewer pixels used.

        [A]nd then saying life without eternity is meaningless which I also have great philosophical disagreement with and feel it a dangerous, deadly claim.

        OK, now I see what you’re getting at. You say my claim is “dangerous” and “deadly”. That would explain the energy with which you’ve been pursuing your points. I frankly think it’s “dangerous” and “deadly” to dispense with over-arching meaning. However, I doubt that the fact that a person holds that meaning is necessary–or unnecessary–somehow makes that person a threat to the world. In any case, we disagree about the necessity of meaning–but not all religion-free people, as you put it, even agree with you on that issue, as I pointed out on the other thread. It seems to me that the best thing to do is to say we disagree on the issue, strongly; but that the fact that you hold your beliefs, and I hold mine, is not likely to result in either of us destroying the world. Thus, we agree to disagree, simple as that.

        Here, I am discussing what makes a theist (thus an a-theist) and intervention is one of them, and I am challenging — by asking a question — if your interventionist claim is coherent.

        I doubt that is any argument I could make that you would find acceptable that God intervenes in the cosmos at times. Once again, there are even some religion-free people who believe, for various reasons, in paranormal, extra-physical, and other phenomena that religious people might interpret as miracles or Divine intervention. I think there are reasons to believe that a fully materialist account of the cosmos has some contradictory tendencies within itself (e.g. the assumption that even though our perceptions are determined by purposeless physical processes, we can yet have accurate knowledge–Nietzsche showed the problems with that). It is also interesting that in some scientific circles, there is increasing openness to the idea that mind and consciousness might be fundamental aspects of reality, not just an epiphenomenon of physical processes. That said, once more, we agree to disagree. I think God intervenes sometimes, you think not. That’s fine and dandy. Unlike you, I have really zero interest in pursuing the argument.

      • Ideas and feelings can be modifies, improved, corrected, expanded, reinforced and more by debate. I find your position of only commenting in echo-chamber blogs and not wishing for others to debate or question what you write publically as odd and isolative. But I will respect that now.

      • Ideas and feelings can be modifies, improved, corrected, expanded, reinforced and more by debate.

        Very true. I have indeed debated many issues, including some of the ones here, many, many times in different contexts. At this point in my life, for various reasons–including some serious issues I have to deal with in my offline life–I’m not interested in debates. I write these posts because writing is important to me, and it’s easy for me to let it slide. I also write them because I enjoy doing so–it makes me happy. It also makes me happy that others may find some value in them, even if they disagree. I do not post them as invitations argue. A friend of mine has a blog in which he has very clearly expressed that he’s “read to rumble”. That’s not what I’m about.

        Here you said, “[T]o truly understand another person’s ideas, it is important to understand their temperament and life experiences.” If you read this post carefully, you saw that I was discussing my temperament and life experiences. I have done so in many other places on my blog over the years. And yet you come out swinging, calling me “pathological”, “extreme”, “greedy for eternity” and so on. Your tone on your blog seems to irenic–what gives here?!

        Over here you talk about your “favorite type of Christian”. I don’t have time for a blow-by-blow discussion, but out of the 22 categories in your table, I’m completely on your side for 12 and sort of halfway between the poles (in an “it’s complicated” sort of way”) on about 4. That’s 18 out of 22, or 82%! Certainly, I am a non-exclusive Christian, as should have been obvious from the fact that I have a huge series on universalism here!

        At least you acknowledge that you can come off as trolling. That’s certainly been my perception over the last couple of days. You say, “I may simply be trying to argue you towards the sort of Christianity I like. Now this may sound paternalistic, but it is not.” Well, it certainly sounds paternalistic! And by your definition, a Christian could come to argue you towards the type of atheism they like! Which you might be fine with. Still, you say, ” I try to stay open-minded and try to discuss in a way to keep the other person open minded.” How the heck is calling someone’s beliefs “pathological”, and early in the discussion, to boot, supposed to do that?!

        I have no desire to inflame, but of course I have a desire to post controversial comments.

        See this shows a very great difference of temperament. I have zero desire to post controversial stuff for its own sake. YMMV, obviously; but that’s not what I’m about at all.

        I find your position of only commenting in echo-chamber blogs and not wishing for others to debate or question what you write publically….

        You’re putting words in my mouth. The blogs I spoke of were not “echo-chambers”–I’ve had some sharp disagreements and arguments on some of them. I’m backing away from the types of comment that lead to that, recently, because as I said, I’ve got enough stressors IRL right now. Still, these were not echo-chambers, and that wasn’t the impression I intended to give. As to my public writings, I’ve discussed that already.

        Look, Sabio, I have found many useful and interesting things on your blog. It’s a good blog–I’ll say that upfront. That’s why I linked to it. Now if you’d linked to my blog and said, “He’s Catholic, and I disagree with him, but he has some interesting stuff to say,” that would not bother me in the least, nor would I read it as condescending, negative, etc. That said, I understand your irritation with the way I linked to your blog, so I respected that and edited my post to remove the language you found offensive. Anyway, I believe what you say on your blog, that you’re not trying to talk anyone out of their faith, that you’re not intending to troll, and that you want to understand ideas. I can respect that. There’s a lot you say that I actually agree with.

        That said, for all the reasons I’ve tried to explain here, I am not looking for a debate or stirring up controversies at the current time. I’m not trying to be disrespectful or to blow you off; but that’s not something I’m interested in right now.

        But I will respect that now.

        I appreciate that. Once more, I like your blog, I wish you well, and I try not to take things personally. I’m not perfect,of course, but I try to do better, as do we all.

  3. As a reminder, Turmarion, in your post you said, “Though I disagree with the blogger, an atheist, on a lot of things, …”
    You see, later in your comments you said you view me more as a theist, and you said our differences are few. So I contend that we may not disagree about “a lot of things” that matter at all, or do we? And by labeling me an atheist to your reader, was of way of saying, “Geez, he is an atheist, so of course we disagree on lots of things.” Which should superficial flags and signals to be weighed more heavily than deep understanding, thus this thread of comments.

    • You see, later in your comments you said you view me more as a theist, and you said our differences are few.

      That’s not what I said. Show me specifically what you’re referring to.

      So I contend that we may not disagree about “a lot of things” that matter at all, or do we?

      From here and the other thread, it’s evident that we do disagree on many things. Which is fine.

      And by labeling me an atheist to your reader, was of way of saying, “Geez, he is an atheist, so of course we disagree on lots of things.” Which should superficial flags and signals to be weighed more heavily than deep understanding, thus this thread of comments.

      That was absolutely not my intention at all in any way, shape, or form. I’d be equally likely to point out differences of opinion with a Jew or a Hindu or someone with different political views. However, since this seems to bug you so much, and since I am directing readers to your blog, I have edited to post to remove the offending text.

  1. Pingback: Religious Miscellany: Index | The Chequer-board of Nights and Days

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