No Praise, No Blame

In last night’s post I tried to make clear that disbelief in God need not be correlated with the sort of spritual tone-deafness that Dr. William Vallicella argued for in a recent essay.

I’m a nonbeliever myself, but I wanted to show that even those of us who do not imagine that there exists anything like conventional versions of God can nevertheless be profoundly affected by the beauty and mystery of the Cosmos, and can still be moved, with a deeply stirring sense of awe and wonder, to yearn for a truer understanding of ourselves, and of our relationship with the world around us.

Is this “religion”? What I wrote certainly used the same sort of language that people use to talk about religion, and I think that the feelings I described may indeed flow from the same well as religion. But if religion must include the notion of God — of a purposeful and omnipowerful Mind as creator and sustainer of all that is — then no, what I’ve described isn’t religion, because I don’t believe in that sort of thing at all.

Horace Jeffery Hodges, the Gypsy Scholar, responded with a thoughtful comment, reproduced in part below:

Much of the tone and language of your 5th paragraph sounds ‘religious’, and I assume that this was intentional. Would you say that yours is a nontheistic, cosmic religion like Buddhism? Buddhism without the accretions picked up over the centuries, I mean.

From your critique of theism, I gather that you’re bothered by evil in both its forms, i.e., personal and natural. Does evil pose a problem for what you describe as “the numinous beauty and harmony that unites all and everything.” I’m not being snarky, understand. Rather, I think that some of the classic problems confronted by traditional theism — as understood in the West, anyway, where God is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent — also emerge in nontheistic traditions. Same pattern, different terms.

For instance, I once heard a neopagan ‘worshipper’ of the ‘goddess’ that she called “Mother Nature” voice worried thoughts about Mother Nature’s cruelty in sending earthquakes, among other things. Earthquakes bothered this neopagan because they weren’t something remotely attributable to human causes, unlike hugely ferocious storms such as hurricanes, which might plausibly be blamed on the moral evil of putatively global warming caused by the ’sin’ of industrial civilization.

I’m not suggesting that you’re a neopagan, of course. I’m just providing an example of a systemic problem that crops up in many religions and wondering if it poses any difficulty in your own personal religious views.

Yes, what I describe does resemble Buddhism in some ways. Though I can’t be sure, I suspect that the mystical aspects of many religions, if not the detailed practices themselves, have a great deal in common. As I said in the previous post, I do think that with effort human beings can achieve conscious states that stand in relation to our ordinary level of being as that level does to sleep, and I suspect (though, of course, I may be mistaken) that mystical practices all lead in this direction: that although the techniques may vary widely, the experiences are essentially the same.

Dr. Hodges’s neopagan is confronting the same “problem of evil” that bedevils other theologians, with the merest substitution of terms. But the problem only arises at all when one tries to reconcile the notion of a benevolent and all-powerful God of some sort with the obvious fact of Nature’s indifference to our suffering. Because I do not assume the existence of any supernatural, intentional agents who “send” us such scourges as earthquakes and hurricanes, there is no question of inconsistency, or of blame. Indeed, I don’t see “good” or “evil” as having any objective existence at all, beyond the context of our own hopes and fears, and to imagine otherwise is, I think, an enormously hubristic and anthropocentric assumption. This of course in no way diminishes the importance to us of our moral intuitions about good and evil, but does put it upon us to find our own way, our own place in the world: not as lambs in the flock, or as the children of an invisible and supernatural Father, but as autonomous, responsible adults.

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  1. ChewY says

    I i’m just stating the obvious here, preacher man and his all powerful God just got WTFPWENT

    Posted December 16, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  2. ChewY says

    Also I’m a Taoist trying to recover from the hate and hypocrisy of a judgmental and spiteful upbringing at the hands of racist feminist Baptists who used god and the bible as a tool to emasculate their children, and pass down their fears and hate. I hear see speak no evil, and give no praise to my families fictitious imaginary friend who obviously hates me and my rolling stone father for nothing but trying to get money and find true love, and no, there is no blame on a fictitious devil. As the Frech say, Se La Vi, and Bonjour.

    You all can talk shit all you want, but your god managed to turn my cousin gay, keep my other cousin a virgin (never even holding hands w/ a girl) and dependent on his mother to the age 25, and make my other cousin into a feminist whore who can’t do 7th grade algebra while stealing from me after I got her a job and then cheating on her husbaned w/ feminine men who manage to do nothing but drain her income. But hey, she gets to be on top in the bedroom.

    I’ve read the writing on the wall preacher man, God was created by women to control me.

    Wake up and grow a pair or go get fucked.

    Posted December 16, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink