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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Not Knowing How to Ask a Question

There are a lot of areas of critical concern to discuss, like climate change, our unsustainable economy, pathological inequality, endless war, corporate excess, rampant corruption, media manipulation and depletion and defilement of our resource base. Somehow in this milieu of crises we seem to get bogged down in trivialities and proxy arguments.

Such as religion. A perfect example is a week ago, where TV comedian/pundit Bill Marr, er, Maher engaged in an argument with movie actor Ben Affleck. The distraction topic at hand, surprise, surprise, was religion. Marr, er, Maher calls himself an "atheist." He had a partner "atheist," someone named Sam Harris, supposedly a great thinker atheist. Both "atheists" attacked Islam as a inherently violent religion, to which Affleck argued is bigotry.  I didn't watch the show, not having cable or interest. I can't stomach Bill Marr, er, Maher.

The argument has transferred to the Web. In today's Salon Muslim scholar and author Reza Aslan was interviewed about the controversy, calling Marr, er, Maher's stance "frank bigotry." Which it is, but to me saying this doesn't get to the heart of the matter. A comedian/pundit, which they all seem to be on cable TV, at least so I hear in snippets and read about, can come up with any number of faux arguments about anything, getting nowhere for nobody, except to get people riled up.

Frustrated by the meaninglessness of media grandstand arguments, I replied to the Aslan interview thusly:

This discussion is progress. It can be taken farther. The supposed "atheist" movement - a for without, and theism for belief in a deity or deities - is actually not a anything, but anti-religion. In the case of Bill Marr, er, Maher, his du jour religion to be anti is Islam. His protestations of being a "liberal" aside, the overall gestalt of his trashing of the Muslim faith is bullying a minority in this country that is culturally perceived as "inferior."

One way around this silliness is to get "atheists" back to talking about how there is no "God." That is not the same as trashing religion. The truly courageous among "atheists" take on the much harder task of proving there is no "God," or at least making a plausible argument that we have no way of knowing for sure.

There is an easy way around arguments for or against religion and/or the existence of "god." Find out for yourself. You can practice a faith and see if it brings you to "God." Of course in the Western view one lifetime is all we get, so it's somewhat of a gamble that most only take once. A casual view of fervent pursuers of religion that I have known hints that they tend not to get very far.

A better way to experiment on the existence of "God" is the experiential approach, found mainly in Eastern traditions like Buddhism, Taoism and the yogic practices that parallel what is known as Hinduism. From this perspective, the level of being we call "God" lies within each and every one of us, and can be reached through meditation, contemplation, selfless service, healthy living, physical disciplines like yoga and Tai Chi Ch'uan, chanting divine names, and so on.

Attaining higher levels of consciousness isn't confined to Eastern approaches. In tribes of the Amazon rainforest ingestion of the Ayahuasca plant brew is done ritualistically, and is reputed to take those who participate to transcendent realms. In indigenous "American" tribes the peyote cactus is ingested in a similar manner, though reputedly with less intense results.

What the experiential approach points to is the futility of what Immanuel Kant called the Ontological Argument. He resolved the argument by concluding that you can't determine the existence of something outside your mind from inside your mind.

From the meditative approach, the Atman, Nirvana, Satori or the Beatific Vision is beyond the mind. It is also beyond the trash talking of Bill Marr, er, Maher, comedian, "liberal," television performer. The "God" that he and his fellow-trash talkers are "a" is a setup God that is of their own mental construct. If you create something in your mind you also can easily destroy it with your own arguments against it. Only if "God" really exists can you honestly argue that "he" doesn't exist. It is a beautiful contradiction. Don't expect Bill Marr, er, Maher to touch this conundrum with a proverbial ten foot pole. He is more interested in strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, extending it for as long as possible before being heard no more.
This perspective can be used as a hologram for just about any "issue" we face. The fundamental problem is not knowing how to ask a question. Is there a "God?" It depends on what you mean by God. I know from experience that there is a higher level of being, but I also know it is something that glimpses of do not mean attainment of. Even the language we use at this level is inadequate - He, She, It, That. The guru path I used to follow had the slogans "I am That" and "God dwells within you as you." That's (in both senses) a lot better than "My God's better than yours," or "There is no God."

Anyway, subject covered. Maybe some day we can quit quibbling about what we don't know and do something about what we do know. We do know that the Polar ice caps are melting.
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Here's a bit of followup from Common Dreams.

Iris Dement is best known for this very pertinent song.

Here's a great Beatles song. Here's another. And this. One more.

John Lennon. More John Lennon. Even more John Lennon. This too.

This Donovan song has roots in Zen Buddhism. An elaboration.

Here's some Sufi chanting. Here's some more.

For some ancient Vedic chants, click here.

Tibetan monks chanting.

Indigenous "North American" chant.

Shamanic drumming.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Hawaiian chant.

Hebrew chanting, much to choose from.

Gregorian chant, plenty of choices.

Islamic chant, numerous.

Here's a Grateful Dead song.  And another, my favorite. Here's one from the "Old Testament."

Jimi Hendrix, my favorite.

The Doors.

Stevie Wonder. Here's one for all the know-it-alls in this world, my favorite.

The Carter Family.

Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson.

The Byrds. Another by The Byrds.

The Moody Blues.

Quicksilver Messenger Service. Instrumental encore, the late great Nicky Hopkins.

Finishing up with Steely Dan.

Here's a song for Edward Snowden, whose girlfriend joined him in "Russia." This calls for an encore. Second encore.
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Salon has an update about the atheists versus religionists argument.

Here's another.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why strut and fret for even a precious hour with strawman Marr; and drop the gawd entirely, to devote all temporal effort to NOT being an Ass soul. For a mindfull experience, try the Moody's OM, musically and conscientiously:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRGJbk4XpYs
They KNOW they don't know the secrets of the Universe!

10/12/2014 5:06 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Whenever someone posts anonymous comments I suspect it might be due to self-esteem challenges. What follows tends to reinforce that suspicion.

10/13/2014 2:47 PM  

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