Back to previous post: Driving around New Hampshire II

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Ex-TSA agent: “We steal from travelers all the time”

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 27, 2012

Somewhere between Halleluja and Holy Sh-t
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:42 PM * 114 comments

From the commonplaces on the front page:

There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real.
—G. K. Chesterton

But what about those times when that abyss is not at the back of one’s life, but rather is opening up unexpectedly right under one’s feet? When one is invited to step into it, and fall like Alice down her rabbit hole?

What does one do when one is, as AnotherQuietOne quite accurately terms it, flailing around in the spiritual wilderness somewhere between “Hallelujah!” and “Holy Sh-t…”?

This is a space for continuing this conversation, and this one. Since it grows out of the Dysfunctional Families threads, some participants may not be their usual selves (but no one should participate under more than one name).

This is not, however, a space for trying to change others’ views for, against, or within. I’m sure we all know what I mean.

Comments on Somewhere between Halleluja and Holy Sh-t:
#1 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 04:05 PM:

AnotherQuietOne: Well? Well?? :)

#2 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 04:11 PM:

My first thought on seeing AnotherQuietOne's comment was of a much-loved poem of mine.

"I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;..."

#3 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 04:24 PM:

On the same topic, I had a totally different but just as life-changing experience.

I was raised Jewish but shed most of my spirituality by the time I graduated high school. For a bit, I was actually one of those jerk-face atheists who go around looking for a fight. Hey, everybody's nineteen at some point, right?

Anyway, in college, I get involved with this woman who's very religious (in the Christian Evangelical sense). It's rough - we have a great time together but the religion thing is an issue, you know. Anyway, we break up, but I'm inspired to start reading the Bible (New Testament - I'd had plenty of the OT in Hebrew School).

And for a bit, it's, like, a whole new world to me. Because so much of our culture comes from the NT, and I'd never really read it before. Part of me was floored by this and part of me was heartsick and part of me was lonely, since it was summer and I was 1000 miles away from college and my friends. And those parts wanted to believe something, if perhaps only to give me an excuse to talk to her about it.

And then a few weeks in, somewhere in the middle of Acts, I have this... I can only call it an epiphany. Sitting there at my desk, I see the whole universe, from the whirring of subatomic particles to the whirling of the galaxies. I see my tiny, insignificant place in the grand majesty of it - the vast, cold, beautiful machinery of existence.

I realize what is, is, and that is enough.

I close my Bible and never open it again.

(I also make it a point never to argue religion unless severely provoked. I've found my answers, but who am I to tell someone else not to look for theirs?)

#4 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 05:12 PM:

Dave: Beautifully written! What you describe sounds a lot like the Buddhist "satori" experience I've heard others relate.

I, too, refuse to argue religion. Mostly because, aside from specific priorities, it seems to me a lot like the beer arguing with the soda over who's wetter.

However, I take tremendous delight in trading questions and ideas. As I say when I'm asked about my religion, I say, "I'll steal a good idea from anybody."

The kinds of conversations I love most, and are really hard to find outside of ML, are the ones that go: "Oh! You're a Christian? What's that like?" "Oh! You're a Pagan? Tell me more!"

#5 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 05:26 PM:

Dave Fried #3: And thus you refute the Total Perspective Vortex. :-)

#6 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 06:06 PM:

What does one do, when Deity taps one on the shoulder and says "You're mine"?

Myself, I stopped feeling guilty about not recruiting to my faith. Because in the end, I don't believe because of the church or the book or the evidence-that-can-be-pointed-to. I believe because that's the face deity wore when it tapped me on the shoulder and claimed me.

And I started listening when other faces of deity, the spirits-of-place I'm not "supposed" to believe in, asked for my attention.
I'm not sure what I believe, what theories about metaphysics I subscribe to. What I believe in is unbounded grace, and Deity that cares more for my caring than my facts.

#7 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 06:07 PM:
"Oh! You're a Christian? What's that like?" "Oh! You're a Pagan? Tell me more!"

That's kind of the UU mission statement, isn't it?

#8 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 06:29 PM:

I come from a comparatively long line of atheists. I used to search for the spiritual and the magical, and I still sometimes feel that prayer works, but on the whole, my observations of the world around me and my experience of it have yet to convince me that there is a Deity that gives a damn what I believe. In that respect, I style myself a Radical Protestant these days. If the core of the Protestant reformation was the idea that the faithful do not need a clergy to mediate between themselves and Scripture, then the next logical step, to my mind, is to further suppose that any All Knowing, All Powerful, and All Benevolent beings that may be around surely do not need the mediation of scripture to solicit my attention, or belief, should said being(s) have need of them. Especially if any such being lays claim to being my Creator, and thus, presumably knows precisely what sort of evidence will or will not fly with me. Scripture, after all, is knotty and full of contradictions and difficult to accept whole, even if one comes from a place of faith that it all makes sense somehow. So much worse if one comes from a place of skepticism.

So I'm here if a deity wants to chat, but so far, none has made any such indication. For that reason, I'm quite tempted by the notion that there is no deity extant that cares enough what I believe to come calling, but I suppose it's early days yet.

So I have no answer to what to do if the divine makes itself manifest. I'm continuing to to delve into the options of what to do when it doesn't. Get on with the grocery list and the knitting and the laundry, I reckon.

#9 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 06:31 PM:

Marc: Is it? Neat! Nice to know there's someplace that takes that as their starting proposition.

#10 ::: patgreene ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 07:34 PM:

Up until a few years ago, I was definitely a Christian. I was heavily involved in my church -- lector coordinator, Adult Education coordinator, Bible class leader, writer of Bible studies. And then things happened in my life, and some of the fallout drove me to leave my church.

I began to doubt the existence of a Deity. I began to doubt the usefulness of religion.

But I find I miss it. I miss having a flesh and blood community that I am part of. I miss feeling like there is a plan out there somewhere, I just don't know what it is and that's the way the universe works.

I am tired of feeling alone.

And I never discuss religion, either, except occasionally to protest that yes, there are leftist Christians. We're not all fundamentalists.

#11 ::: Bricklayer ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 07:46 PM:

I'm a lapsed agnostic.

Wait, I must start further back.

I was sent to Catholic school as part of my parents' divorce decree, because my Dad is serious South-Side-Chicago-Irish-Catholic and my mom didn't feel like fighting his parents. My mom comes from a not-terribly-religious family background (Irish Catholic and some flavor of Southern Baptist, but not commonly church-attending), and converted to Quaker while attending the Manhattan Friends School. It just seemed to make sense to her.

So there I am in grade school, the kind of smartass oversmart bookish kid who pokes and pries at any potential inconsistency and asks WHY all the time. The priest and the nuns had some answers for me, but eventually they just defaulted to variants of "because we say so" and "you'll understand more when you're older."

I went to Mass every Friday because the whole school went, and after a while I went on Sundays sometimes too because I'd been recruited as an extra spare altar boy (even though at that point they thought I was a girl; special dispensation from the cardinal because the school had only 3 boys of post-Confirmation age and that's not enough to staff the whole slate of Masses). It's kind of like being a theater techie, only with more incense. Also I was a soloist in the choir.

I longed, heart-deep and wrenchingly, for the experiences of faith I witnessed among some of the teachers, or read about in saints' lives, or saw touched on in movies. I just didn't feel any of it. I did what I was supposed to: I knelt, I opened my mind to the universe, I prayed as best I could manage. Nothing ever happened except an echoey lonely feeling.

So I got cynical and began viewing it all anthropologically. Very little is as comical in hindsight as a cynical 6-year-old. :->

Then I went to a Jesuit high school; there, the religion teacher's reaction to my smartassery was to get excited and say things like, "Oh, Aquinas had some good thoughts on that, *drop book into my hands*" or "That's one of the classic arguments! The current Church doctrine is --x-- but the whole argument is fascinating, *drop more books taking both sides or more*". It was fascinating, and a whole other geekery I could dabble into, but the undertone of bitter loneliness kind of colored the whole thing with cynicism and I didn't take on theology as a major hobby.

In college, I identified as an agnostic as a way of sounding less closed-off than 'atheist'; if given any evidence, I thought, I might be willing to entertain it. I found out about Wicca, and a lot of its ethics sounded like what I'd always believed anyway, so I started trying to Practice, opened myself to patrons, and so on. Nothing, but it felt like I was trying, at least. And I was down with having a new hobby, especially one that tied in with myths and rituals.

Then, partway through college, I had a really, really bad bout of strep throat. I was supposed to take my pills every six hours on the dot, when all I really wanted to do was be unconscious, so I spent the week on my dad's couch being periodically prodded to drink and eat.

In the middle of what I'm sure was also a fever dream with hallucinations, somehow a bunch of separate happenings of my life went /click/ and I saw a pattern, one that strongly implied deific intervention in the entire shape of my world. I could list them all off, but I doubt it would be convincing evidence to anyone but me. :->

The long and the short of it is that for me, Murphy's Law works because, if you will, God plots like Bujold: you keep getting tossed increasingly harder challenges until you hit one you think you can't handle. Then you either splat or soar, and either way there are other choices inbuilt to the result.

To me, personally, the purpose of human life (the Purpose, if you will) is to move water uphill, to fight entropy, to build things that will last, whether physically, emotionally, or whatever.

Oh, and my God is far from being above using black humor to make hiser points. E.g., my whole gender odyssey ... in the weeks and months after the big-enough-for-me-to-finally-notice clue-by-four impacted my skull (causing me to realize There Is A Name For What I Am, and secondarily a path out of pain), I noticed while looking back several increasingly-bigger shoulder-taps that were delivered, and whose points I completely missed at the time. :->

So now I'm a disorganized Deist with strong personal ethics married to a militant atheist of the sort who says things regularly that make Christopher Hitchens sound ecumenical and polite.

#12 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 07:49 PM:

Abi asks: "What does one do when one is, as AnotherQuietOne quite accurately terms it, flailing around in the spiritual wilderness somewhere between Hallelujah! and Holy Shit…?"

Tempted to quote Hunter S. Thompson here. Hell, I'm giving into it.

"I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me."

More seriously, I would say that what has worked for me— and, admittedly, it may possibly work for others as well— is to remember that the truth of any claim reposes in the practical effects of its general acceptance. (Yes, dear readers, I do subject the previous claim to its own rule.)

Although, I am interested to see what works for others here.

#13 ::: Michael Straight ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 07:50 PM:

I am responding to Lizzy L & Jacque from Open thread 177 linked to above.

I have a similar discomfort with the idea of petitionary prayer. How can I ask God for this when there are so many people who ask for more basic and essential things and don't get them? Wouldn't it be unjust for God to grant my request when he doesn't seem to grant theirs?

But I think it's always OK to be honest about what we really want, to admit to ourselves what our needs and desires are. And it's OK to share that with God. Of course he already knows. But I think there's an important difference between being known because someone can observe who you are and being known because you deliberately share yourself with someone.

Petitionary prayer may be other things as well, but I think it's at least a deliberate and honest sharing of ourselves, what we see as our needs and desires, with God. I can't always bring myself to ask for something, but I can at least confess what I want.

#14 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 07:57 PM:

I'm amused that my working theory of God accords in several respects with Bricklayer's @ 11; namely, I have a hunch that God thinks I'm hilarious (God must like slapstick, because I sure am good at whacking myself on things) and clueless, like a hamster or a kitten, and is therefore not opposed to smacking me with a Really Damn Obvious Sign when I'm in need of one.

#15 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 08:28 PM:

My own spirituality was forged out of a combination of the following:

* My father being the minister of a small, ageing congregation in the Churches of Christ. Dad tries hard to be a good Christian.
* My mother being a very sceptical, cynical, ex-Christadelphian atheist (of the subtype which hates God both for not existing and for being so horrible to them). Mum mostly had a lot to say about the way that Christianity as an institution didn't work so well as an implementation of the teachings of Christ.
* My maternal grandparents being long-term Christadelphians (although they generally refrained from attempting to convert us kids; this was mostly because of their own beliefs. If we never learned their Truth, when we died, our souls would perish and end. If we learned their Truth and rejected it, when we died, our souls would suffer eternal agonies.)
* My paternal grandfather being a long-term agnostic (of the type who encouraged his sons not to push their faith onto others).
* My paternal grandmother being a long-term depressive
* Me reading "The Number of the Beast" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" at a crucial point in my adolescence.
* My mother working night shift on Friday and Saturday nights (so Dad looked after us kids on weekends; our Sunday mornings inevitably included going to church).
* My long-term interest in various myths and legends of a wide variety of cultures (Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Indigenous Australia).

Basically, I describe myself as a pagan pantheist - I believe very strongly that all deities are equally likely to exist (so if one of them exists, they all do). I also believe that what we call "deity" is basically a reflection or a reification of what I describe as Deus - the unknowable, the ineffable. Humans aren't able to comprehend it in its entirety (although we're working on it) and so we split it up into bits and pieces, and look at each of the pieces and try to extrapolate from those parts into the whole again.

But we're part of this unknowable, this ineffable ourselves. We are part of the Deus, and the Deus is part of us, and we are with it and of it. Thou art God (and now you can see where SIASL came in). So anything can be a spiritual act, an act of communion with the Deus, because we're interlinked with the universe.

As part of this, I've come up with my own sort of creation myth - basically, I contend that the universe was created by the chaotic deities, the trickster gods, and they were working as a committee. It was also done on the sly - the way that social club minutes are photocopied on the photocopier at work, or fliers are printed out on the printer at the office. The big bosses weren't aware of it, and don't want to be made aware of it (because if they're made aware of this, they have to Do Something About It). This, to me, is why prayer is not necessarily something to be encouraged - we don't know who's listening.

I will also admit to being influenced somewhat by Charlie Stross's "Laundry" novels as well about the whole prayer thing.

My rituals, such as they are and such as I practice them, tend to be simple. I'll burn incense for the thunder gods when there's a thunderstorm going on - I'll believe in them for as long as they exist (I should clarify that this isn't an attempt to influence them, rather just an acknowledgement). I try to spend 24 hours awake for both the summer and winter solstices, as a celebration of the cycles of the world (although this one has rather fallen by the wayside over the years).

#16 ::: patgreene ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 08:30 PM:

Michael, #13, I still struggle with petitionary prayer, since I feel God didn't answer me before. I feel that is selfish of me.

#17 ::: MacAllister's been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 08:45 PM:

It's so very strange to witness people I like and respect discussing an experience so diametrically opposed and so alien to my own -- it's not, however, an unpleasant one.

May I simply observe that I'm very happy for those of you who have a profound experience of the numinous?

I'm feeling rather like a fish, attempting to understand the experience of eagles.

#19 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 09:01 PM:

There's a line in Good Omens to the effect that 'when it came to church, the church he staunchly avoided going to was the Church of England'.

That's sort of like me. I'm not at all sure there is a God--but if there IS, I'm absolutely, rock-bottom certain that She (a) has a sense of humor and (b) regards women as people and fully equal to men.

Odd, no? (I'm also both pretty damn certain there's not an afterlife, and fairly certain that if God exists, being loved by Her is a reasonable substitute for an afterlife.)

I'm also all about teh ritual.

#20 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 09:17 PM:

Here's a bit from something I wrote long ago about a really quite minimal epiphany that nevertheless changed my life. I'd been mostly agnostic for 45 years, but for reason detailed in the piece had what was then a semi-serious interest in Paganism:

It was the morning of February first and to the best of my recollection I was putting on my shoes. With a fraction of my attention I was thinking half-seriously about what I might do to mark the day, and with another fraction trying to decide if Brigid's feast was that day, or that day's evening and the next day's daylight, or what, and with yet another fraction I was playacting in my head, assuming the part of someone who believed in all this stuff, saying silently to myself "Surely, on her day, if I call her she will come." But when I played it back that wasn't what I'd said at all. What had actually come out was this: "Surely, on her day, if I come she will call me."

That was the accident.

This was the choice: I put my shoes down and thought about what I had said. And thought again. And said (this time with attention, and with intent) "All right, then."

Because of that choice I am no longer the person who made it, so I can't say exactly what I meant by what I said; but I know that a central part of it was a decision to act with respect: to be willing to listen for a goddess in whom I didn't believe; to be willing to answer.

#21 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 10:22 PM:

Bricklayer @11: I'm a lapsed agnostic.

Oh, I am sooo stealing that!

So now I'm a disorganized Deist and the purpose of human life (the Purpose, if you will) is to move water uphill, to fight entropy, to build things that will last, whether physically, emotionally, or whatever.

This latter has a very JMSish* flavor to it. You're a Straczynski-ist**? ('cept that he swears*** up, down, and sideways that he's an athiest. (While tackling some of the most deeply spiritual questions of any writer I've ever encountered.)

* Or maybe Spider Robinson.

** Oh, now wouldn't that curdle his blood, having a school of spirituality named after him? ::evil laugh::

*** Or, anyway, did when I was following him.

Michael Straight @13: I think there's an important difference between being known because someone can observe who you are and being known because you deliberately share yourself with someone.

The Deity(ies) that run(s) my particular corner of the Universe seems to value, above all else, Free Will.

He/She/It/They will only act on/for me if I ask.

I can't always bring myself to ask for something, but I can at least confess what I want.

Oh, so very yes. Sometimes, that's the hardest confession of all. We tell ourselves so many stories about why we shouldn't have what we want. (DFD thread, anyone?)

[[Mod/Gnomes: I'm getting a weird thing where the Preview is chopping off the bottom portion of my comment...? Mac OSX/Safari, if it helps any.]]

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 10:23 PM:

My usual form of petitionary prayer is 'send me where I'm needed'. It seems to work, even if where I'm needed isn't where I'd hoped to go.

#23 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 10:31 PM:

Megpie71 @15: I believe very strongly that all deities are equally likely to exist (so if one of them exists, they all do)

I've always been fascinated by the First Comandment: "You shall put no other gods before me." implies very strongly to me that there are multiple deities. Given how complex corporeal life is, it seems unlikely in the extreme that the, er, "spiritusphere" would be any less complex...?

MacAllister's @17: attempting to understand the experience of eagles.

Care to engage in a little speculation? What do you think it would be like?

I would offer that, for me at least, experience of the Numinous is only occassionally profound. A lot of times it's quite prosaic—like coming home a little after sunset and being gobsmacked by the subtle colors and composition in the eastering rainstorm.

#24 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2012, 10:31 PM:

First, thank you abi for making this space available for this conversation. Someone mentioned "ask and ye shall receive;" I am grateful.

Jacque @1

What does one do? (When one is not working for pay, or doing church work, or doing house work, or running errands, or maintaining the spousal unit who has been having non-serious-but-uncomfortable back problems again and needs to be paid attention to, at least. This one is struggling to make a space in the middle of an ordinary life that is big enough to hold the Universe.)

What this one has been doing is staring out the window, for a long time, eyes on the horizon, listening to the rain and the traffic and the occasional church bells scattering the hours through town below, wondering where to start, and which direction to go.

The old stories start in the middle of things. It's all middle.

What this one did, when goosed by the Numinous, was to mutter "Ohshit," and begin flailing around and complaining mightily that I do not have TIME for this, I have WORK to do, and besides that, La la la la I don't HEAR you.

It didn't work.

I have lately come to an understanding of what it might mean to fear God, or something like it; if by "fear" one can mean that profound and humbling awe that comes from an understanding of one's own smallness in the evidence of the vast universe, and if by "God" one can mean that unmeasurable Mystery beyond comprehension. The words, it seems to me, are pointers; if this is what they point at, then they are true. If the words point somewhere else, as they used to seem, well... I never understood how that was supposed to work.

I have come lately to an understanding, perhaps, of that which in my childhood religion was characterized as "surrender to God's will" - which I resisted then and still, I think, would resist in that form (It used to seem to mean obedience. I do not do obedience; I try to make up for this by being as respectful and cooperative as I can manage. But I am not obedient.) But this Mystery that I'm experiencing will not be ignored, and I can't evade it, and I'm tired of fighting with it, and so it came to me that the only thing left that I could do is turn around and follow it. "Not my will, but Thine."

This is... not... something I planned.

Oh, and @4/7/9 - I am very glad to be UU because there is room in my church for any place this theological crisis could end me up. At least I don't have to go church shopping on top of everything else. I really am not sure where this is going to end me up.

#25 ::: patgreene ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 01:23 AM:

That's sort of like me. I'm not at all sure there is a God--but if there IS, I'm absolutely, rock-bottom certain that She (a) has a sense of humor and (b) regards women as people and fully equal to men.

Exactly, Lila. And I'm like you with regard to ritual. I was in Italy recently, and I actually became nostalgic for all my Roman Catholic upbringing.

#26 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 01:34 AM:

patgreene @25: It is becoming increasingly clear to me that, wherever my spiritual journey has gone/will go, I am deeply culturally Catholic in an awful lot of ways.

#27 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:28 AM:

duckbunny @ #6
What does one do, when Deity taps one on the shoulder and says "You're mine"?

The same thing as when I hear inspirational power chords indicating the start of a 80s style training montage. Lie down until they go away.

I hope that is actually funny and not flippant. I wrote it because I am at heart a very lazy person and the gods I have read about often seem to want people to go on quests, build things, and address large crowds and so I am likely to want to avoid deities. Though I must also admit the idea of a more substantive encounter with Divus Antoninus, Divus Hadrianus, or the other gods I have imagined conversations with does hold an attraction for me. Though not if they want me to go commit some hazardous and/or embarrassing act.

Mishalak

#28 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 03:20 AM:

Mishalak @ #27:

This is an eminently sensible attitude, and one I share to some extent. Being chosen by Deity is not often something that makes life easier, by all the stories.

But, speaking of which:

The tradition I grew up in has stories, and I bet it's not the only one, about people whose reponse to having a god tap them on the shoulder is to lie down until he goes away.

Would you care to guess how many times it worked?

#29 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:10 AM:

I'm not sure I have it in me to lie down until it goes away. I could make a show and fuss about it, claim that I wasn't going to listen any more so there'd be no point talking to me, but I think no matter how much noise I made about leaving, I'd still come running when Deity called.

Humour understood and appreciated, no offence taken.

#30 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:20 AM:

The first time I ever heard the voice of God, in response to prayer, it was very clear:

"Pfui" (or "pbpbpbpbpbpbpbpbpb") - A cosmic raspberry.

Exactly right (of course) under the circumstances. I was exasperated dealing with the Anglican Cathedral over my wedding, 28 years ago. So I went to calm down and pray, and God let me know what he/she/they thought of the problem in perspective. And then I was able to jump through the necessary hoops.

Generally, I find that the voice of God doesn't agree with any of my preconceived answers (that's how I recognize it, of course.)

#31 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:27 AM:

AnotherQuietOne @24 fear of God

A quote I love from Annie Dillard: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”

Also re obedience: I wrestled with this one for a long time. It's stopped being an issue for me. I've come to view it this way. We choose who or what we are to serve. Without that choice, it's slavery. But once we have chosen, then we do not always get to choose what service will be asked of us. Whether you're serving one of the many recognized forms of $deity, or truth, or science, or the good of humanity, or in fact anything larger than yourself and today's whims - there will be times when you see what needs to be done, and you are in a position to be able to do it, and you do not want to. And doing it anyway is obedience. It is, if you will, not the mindless compliance that is often demanded of children, but a mindful compliance.

Mishalak @27 and Paul A @28 re the god tapping you on the shoulder and lying down until it goes away. I'm fond of the opening of the book of Jonah, in which God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah goes down to the dock and takes ship for Tarshish, in the opposite direction. I deeply identify with Jonah some days.

I started writing a post yesterday about how I came to be both a scientist and a mystic, but it needs more thought and fewer words. I'll get back to it.

#32 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:30 AM:

Henry Troup @30 Generally, I find that the voice of God doesn't agree with any of my preconceived answers (that's how I recognize it, of course.)

Yes, this. The first time I was certain I'd had an encounter with the numinous, my spiritual director asked how I was sure it wasn't just my own thoughts. (He was exploring the experience, not doubting me.) I told him that if I had been writing the script, that was not how the scene would have gone.

#33 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:35 AM:

Paul A. @ 28:

Would you care to guess how many times it worked?

With a frequency corresponding to the dramatic appeal of the resulting story?

#34 ::: Concerned ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:38 AM:

There is a big difference between religiosity and spirituality.

#35 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 10:32 AM:

Concerned @#34
I can't currently locate the publishing details, but I was struck by a very good book titled God Hates Religion; and also very affected by René Girard, particularly I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. The first 4-star review is better than I could manage.

But in short, religiosity can tend towards scapegoating, tribalism, and violence; I was hearing sad things along those lines this morning out of Northern Ireland.

#36 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 11:13 AM:

Dave 3: Sitting there at my desk, I see the whole universe, from the whirring of subatomic particles to the whirling of the galaxies. I see my tiny, insignificant place in the grand majesty of it - the vast, cold, beautiful machinery of existence.

I realize what is, is, and that is enough.

I describe that experience with the motto Natura sola sufficit ("Nature alone is enough"*). I don't really understand how anyone who is truly aware of the majesty and power of nature can still feel the need for something more to worship. I know they do, and people have tried to explain, but I just don't get it.

*The reason I put it in Latin is that IIUC 'sufficit' is a verb, which I like better. It gives (to me, no Latin scholar) the impression that being sufficient is something Nature actively DOES.

#37 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 11:38 AM:

Gray Woodland @ #33:

That was, as you probably realised, a rhetorical question. Dramatic appeal might be served by a prolonged struggle (Jonah taking ship for Tarshish, with what followed, was one of the examples I had in mind), but I can't think of a single story where "lying down until they go away" resulted in the deity actually going.

#38 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 11:56 AM:

This is from a shy friend who currently lurks, but wrote this to me privately, and has given me permission to post it here.

When reading your comment about petitionary prayer, I realized that much of my petitionary prayer takes the form of "Halp?" It's usually
all too clear that I'm not doing well with something, or even that I have no idea where to begin. And the funny thing is that it turns out
that asking for help is the beginning that I don't know where to find.

The other funny thing is that God's idea of help is almost always different and bigger and deeper than what I can imagine. By which I conclude that He has both compassion and a sense of affectionate whimsy when He's doing His job. (Good thing too, really.) So I spend a lot of time letting go of specifics and noticing where I'm being moved to go.

#39 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 12:21 PM:

Paul, when $DEITY goes away after one call, there's no story.

Also, I'll take this opportunity to say that IMO the book of Jonah is the only intentional comedy in the Bible. There are important lessons in there, of course (God changes God's mind, even about prophesied actions, take that WBC!), but Jonah is such a whiny, self-centered loser that I think the book MUST have been written to make people laugh...while imparting those important lessons.

#40 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 01:06 PM:

Yarrow @20: From the blog: I was grateful to the young man for throwing me off course. It occurred to me that the God might act like that.

This actually echoes a notion I've been playing with for some time. I've long had the sense that, to the degree that the Numinous interacts with mortal affairs, it's not generally in a material way (like causing statues to bleed, or Red Seas to part). Rather, the Numinous interacts with the material plane by influencing Attention. Naked winter branches become more vivid. A longing becomes more piquant. A new word shows up repeatedly after having first been noticed.

When you get right down to it, it would be far more thermodynamically efficient to do it this way. After all, it costs only a few neurotransmitter molecules to make one nervous about a man shouting about a football. It would take significant energy to actually push one into continuing straight instead of turning as usual.

#41 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 01:10 PM:

OtterB @ 31: there will be times when you see what needs to be done, and you are in a position to be able to do it, and you do not want to. And doing it anyway is obedience.

Interesting! My own training leads me to call the doing-it-anyway part pride; or passion.

It is, if you will, not the mindless compliance that is often demanded of children, but a mindful compliance.

And likewise one wants mindful pride and mindful passion. Pride and humility approach each other asymptotically, converging from different directions on disinterested truth. And passionate and obedient action converge from different directions on effective, respectful, independent action.

Xopher HalfTongue @ 36: IIUC 'sufficit' is a verb, which I like better. It gives (to me, no Latin scholar) the impression that being sufficient is something Nature actively DOES.

You can English that verb, as the University of Illinois Mathematics Department did when it changed its postmark to "FOUR COLORS SUFFICE" for the announcement that the Four Color Theorem was proved. So "Nature suffices" or "Nature alone suffices" or "Nature suffices alone" or "Nature suffices on its own" (depending on the exact connotation of Natura sola sufficit).

#42 ::: Kyndra ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 01:41 PM:

AnotherQuietOne@24 and OtterB@34

I find it useful to remember that in some ways the word "obedience" has changed in meaning over the centuries. Up until quite recently survival depended on one's alliance to a powerful figure and powerful figure's ability to be powerful figures depended in large part on the kinds of loyalties they commanded. One side obeyed and one protected and when the system worked well both sides served and both benefited.


When I think of "obedience" to a diety (Judeo-Christian God in my case)I think of it like that. I've chosen to give loyalty and now must render service or forfeit my oath. He having accepted my oath also has duties to perform on my behalf.

It works for me and I think explains Scripture well- but I could just be too much a Medievalist!...K

#43 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:13 PM:

AnotherQuietOne @24: Oh, blessed be, even better than I'd hoped from your hints. Dear Ghu, you made me LOL and scare the guinea pigs.

"Not my will, but Thine." ... :

Michael Straight @13: it's always OK to be honest about what we really want, to admit to ourselves what our needs and desires are. And it's OK to share that with God.

It's vitally important to share that with God.

<Sermon>
We are created with Imperative built-in. We come into this world with wants and interests and kinks and fascinations and tropisms. With some people it's Cars. With some, it's Yarn. Sometimes it's Sticks. Maybe Parenting. Or Talking. Or, or, or....

When we come into being, we are infused with these Directions. And as we move through life, we are shaped by how our Directions push us up against the world. And thus we help to shape the world. We are polished into a clear vision of our Direction, or we are shattered and scattered, our Work then becoming a dance of gathering the pieces.

Our Direction, our Vision, is the Divine Will. The more we are able to become Who we are, the better we serve God's Purpose. That's what wants and desires are for.

Genius is original vision and that's what you were born with. Your way of seeing, thinking and being in this world is unlike anyone else's‚ that's how nature works. You long to do what you were born to do like a horse longs to run and a bird to fly. —Barbara Sher

"Not my will, but Thine."
"Not thy will, but Mine."
</Sermon>

AnotherQuietOne again: I really am not sure where this is going to end me up.

... But if my experience is any guide, the journey is a gas (in between the terrifying bits).

Mishalak @27: "What does one do, when Deity taps one on the shoulder and says 'You're mine'?" ... Lie down until they go away.

Or hide

I am at heart a very lazy person and the gods I have read about often seem to want people to go on quests, build things, and address large crowds and so I am likely to want to avoid deities.

Sometimes. But sometimes they want us to love our peeps and enjoy our food and watch TV and post on Making Light. :D

Paul A. @28: Being chosen by Deity is not often something that makes life easier

A friend's favorite curse: "May you come to the attention of people in high places."

#44 ::: Jacque, gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:14 PM:

Oh yes, it is time for lunch. Thank you!

#45 ::: Jacque, gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:15 PM:

Okay, okay, I'll go get lunch. Orders?

#46 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:25 PM:

Xopher @ 39

I'm not sure I agree that there's no story. It's just the beginning to a longer story that potentially involves God going and finding someone less recalcitrant, or maybe that involves a lot of thrashing around in a god-void, with or without "enlightenment" at the end of it.

#47 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:31 PM:

I find that God and I get along much better when we forget to think about each other. Organized religion makes me tense and wound up. Individual spirituality becomes exhausting, because I'm quite capable of extreme mysticism, but I don't like the way it affects my vision and critical thinking, and besides, you can't live comfortably in a state of constant intensity.

I like quiet. I'm much better at living up to my expectations when I'm not distracted by divinity.

God and I can be very comfortable roommates, but I don't think we'll be lovers anytime soon.

#48 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:49 PM:

KayTei, if the story is that the deity has to find someone else, I'd say it becomes about them (most stories would have two people say no before one says yes). If the story is that nothing happens...I would respectfully submit that, in terms of becoming part of a religious tradition, that's "no story."

#49 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 02:58 PM:

Xopher @ 48

I disagree. I think a story about thrashing around in a godless wilderness and related comeuppances could be perceived as significantly instructive, even if it were about someone who never repented.

The two people say no before one person says yes thing... well, I did say it was the beginning of a longer story.

#50 ::: Hobbes ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 03:00 PM:

Mishalak at 27 - Chiming in to agree that it seems to depend on the God in question. My Goddess is a cat and as such, most of what She wants me to do is fairly prosaic: be happy, be well, be kind to others, make sure the cats I share my life with are happy, healthy and fed. And grow catnip.

LizzyL at 38 - I find that too.

My story - daughter of a lapsed Jewish mother and a Celtic Christian father, eldest of four kids. We celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays in our house, and were encouraged to find our own ways. They ended up with two pagans, a Jew and an agnostic, all of whom celebrate the Jewish holidays as a point of family celebration (my maternal grandparents met in Paris after WWII, having both survived the concentration camps). My pagan brother married a Christian, and they are raising their two daughters the same way my parents raised us, in terms of religion.

We're kind of the living embodiment of "There Is No One True Way." It wasn't the easiest way to grow up sometimes, but I'm happy with my beliefs, and proud that my parents were secure enough in their own beliefs to support us all in our journies.

#51 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 03:11 PM:

KayTei @46: It's just the beginning to a longer story that potentially involves God going and finding someone less recalcitrant a bigger hammer, IME.

#52 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 03:25 PM:

Paul A @ #37: Like Xopher, I was interpreting Gray's comment to mean that, in cases where the called person lies down until it goes away, and $deity goes away, there's no story.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion has this as one of its themes.

#53 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Jacque @ 51

Well, I would argue that that's not always the case, but that it certainly happens too. I don't see it as an either-or situation. Too many years on God's favorite soap-opera channel, I think. Blunts the reaction to more drama.

#54 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 04:16 PM:

I'm not saying that couldn't be a story, KayTei. I'm saying it's not a story that would become part of $Deity's religious tradition. And that stories survive better when they do become part of a tradition.

The two-refuse-one-says-yes formula always winds up being about the one who says yes.

That said, I've often wondered what kind of religious tradition would have resulted had Abraham said "No, YHVH, I will not kill my son Isaac.* Smite me if you will."

Well, of course, if YHVH behaves how He usually does in the OT, he'd smite Abraham and curse Isaac. But let's assume that the end of the story is "Good. I was testing you to see if your intrinsic ethical sense would give you the courage to stand up even to Me." We get a religious tradition about moral courage more than it is about obedience, instead of the other way around.† 'God-fearing' would not be considered a virtue.

In short, whole different world.

*The discerning reader will observe how I use punctuation to point out the existence of Ishmael.

† Note: "more than." The Abrahamic traditions are chock-full of stories of moral courage; it's just not considered as important a virtue as obedience to the Divine Will.

#55 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 04:17 PM:

KayTei @53: My comment was mostly just snark, but I was pondering your point after I posted. Yeah, I agree it's some of both.

Bigger hammer: "Um, hello, you really need to hear this message that [ I love you | you're hurting people | your hurting yourself | it would work better this way | etc. ]."

Somebody else: "Yeah, okay I see that [ you've got enough on your plate | this isn't your Thing ]."

#56 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:01 PM:

A common phrase in Catholic songs during Mass, at least in my parish, is "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your heart." That originates in the OT (Psalms), and it implies pretty strongly that some people can and do harden their hearts, or go hide, or whatever.

I think there are several places in Jesus' parables in the NT where some people do this--the Parable of the Sower has 3/4 of its examples be people who go hide or say no or whatever:

Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, some an hundred. He said unto them, He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

The implication of all that is that not hiding or saying "go away" is valuable, and presumably to some extent a choice.

#57 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:13 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @54: That said, I've often wondered what kind of religious tradition would have resulted had Abraham said "No, YHVH, I will not kill my son Isaac.* Smite me if you will."

This sounds like a really good starting premise for a novel...? :-)

Note: "more than." The Abrahamic traditions are chock-full of stories of moral courage; it's just not considered as important a virtue as obedience to the Divine Will.

It interests me that I think we're potentially seeing this world come into being around us right now. A Canticle for Assange, maybe?

#58 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:32 PM:

A Canticle for Bradley Manning

#59 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:44 PM:

Xopher @ #58: Amen.

#60 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:47 PM:

Francis Spufford (author of the highly-praised Red Plenty, and The Child That Books Built, which you should all read if you haven't already), has written a short new book called Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense. I read it the other week; anyone interested in the themes of this thread and the various breathing spaces between orthodoxy and atheism will find it thought-provoking. I liked it while ultimately disagreeing with its stance.

#61 ::: Steve with a book just got a comment Gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:50 PM:

owing to a URL that set off a tripwire, I think. Sorry!

#62 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Mm. Being an enthusiast (in the root sense) doesn't seem to me to be something to wish for. I think of Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist as someone inflicted with God.

#63 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 06:24 PM:

Anonymous via Lizzy @38 The other funny thing is that God's idea of help is almost always different and bigger and deeper than what I can imagine. By which I conclude that He has both compassion and a sense of affectionate whimsy when He's doing His job. (Good thing too, really.) So I spend a lot of time letting go of specifics and noticing where I'm being moved to go.

This. Whatever other attributes it may have, the power that moves the universe seems to me to have a sense of humor.

Then again maybe that's my desire to anthropomorphize what I cannot understand; still, if I must have a God (of which I, still deeply agnostic, am unconvinced) I will take the laughing one over the angry one.

Yarrow @41 Pride and humility approach each other asymptotically, converging from different directions on disinterested truth. And passionate and obedient action converge from different directions on effective, respectful, independent action.

This. I am strongly attracted to the notion of polarities (opposite sides of a coin, as it were) rather than dualities - mercy without justice is flaccid and ineffectual and fails to prevent wrongdoing; justice without mercy is a naked set of cold hard bones that fails to permit right action. Between the pillars of the gate the mystic's pathway lies...

Jacque @43 "Not my will, but Thine."
"Not thy will, but Mine."

Well, if you want to get esoteric about it, when the personal small-w will comes into alignment with the Universal Will, does it make a difference whose is which?

Because we're sharing, enough of my religio-spiritual background that people who know me personally can probably ID me even under the alternate nick and with the serial numbers filed off. I'm not "out" of the spiritual quest closet in my offline life yet; I really cringe when people get that look and back away slowly.

Raised in a conservative protestant church in the southern US; quit going in my early teens due to social (and theological) disagreement; spent adolescence as a seeker very wary of any church; settled on pagan as a young adult; moved to the west coast and lived there for some years as a practicing witch; moved several years ago to New England and began attending a UU church a couple of years later.

That's the postcard bio. What it skips over is the thread of mysticism that took root probably before I knew how to spell the word. I have always had it; like all the peculiar things we learn in childhood, it is the most normal thing in the world to have a still, small voice that says "Go there. Not that. You're done here, move on. It's Time."

It had gone quiet for a long while. It just got... really, really loud all of a sudden, and as the cool kids say,

((O.O))

(the eyes don't get much wider than that. ohshit.)

#64 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 06:44 PM:

Lila @52, the Bujold Chalion books do indeed have a theme about listening to the gods and what happens if you do or don't.

Illvin, late in Paladin of Souls, says, "In my youth, I was apprenticed to my god's order, but I missed the whisper of my calling. I will not miss that calling twice. Well, I scarcely see how I can, when it smacks me on the side of the head and bellows, Attend! in a voice to bring down the rafters."

At the Q&A after Bujold's talk at the National Book Festival last weekend, someone asked about the theology of Chalion, and she said that one of the things she wanted to do was develop a world that took mysticism seriously. (or something like that)

#65 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 06:58 PM:

AnotherQuiteOne @63, you might like Carl McColman's The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. I was somewhat put off by the title but found the book itself excellent. It includes a section on the paradoxes of mysticism which really distilled some things I'd been wandering around for a while. He talks about a lot of seeming paradoxes and resolves them as both/and rather than either/or.

I also like McColman's website at www.anamchara.com although it has a tendence to add to my "Ooh, must read that!" list.

Yarrow, I want to come back to "pride".

#66 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:10 PM:

My anti-authoritarian personality and my scientific training could have led me further away from my religious upbringing than they did. But there have been too many times in my life when I prayed, in effect, "Dear God, please get me out of this jam, and here is a detailed project plan for You to execute", which was followed by evidence that Someone was listening to just the first part of the prayer.

#67 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 10:31 PM:

Jacque @ 40: not generally in a material way (like causing statues to bleed, or Red Seas to part). Rather, the Numinous interacts with the material plane by influencing Attention.

Yes. Or other ways that fit with what we already know about the world. As Jonathan Korman says in a post called Magick, reason, and science, "Science organizes the application of reason to the physical universe through the use of meticulous experimentation and observation within controlled conditions, confirming its models of the world through reproducible results. These rigorous standards produce High Quality Truth. Let me say that again. Science produces High Quality Truth. If you are wise, you will not fuck with it."

AnotherQuietOne @ 63: The still small voice getting really loud reminds me of Rachel Pollack's Unquenchable Fire, where the divine has gotten really loud for an entire society (and is an unreliable narrator to boot). A funny and profoundly uncomfortable book, about answering the call of the divine while being strong enough to wrest a little bit of ordinary life and ordinary love from the divine jaws.

OtterB @ 65, I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on pride.

#68 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 11:30 PM:

I think the best way to describe my religiousness is to say that everything in my upbringing (aside from the, y'know, weekly church attendance and all*) probably should have turned me out atheist (nobody makes atheists like the Jesuits.**) And yet, I can't be an atheist. Every time I have doubts, something happens to tell me, No, really, there is a God and God wants you to know this.

Which is a bit scary, since God generally doesn't do that without good cause. I'm still waiting for the first shoe to drop.

*I still feel guilty for not attending church every week, which I can't right now because I'm working clear across Sunday mornings and the Saturday mass is no good for kids. And even though I can't pay attention, it's no good to do Mass without the kids.

**Yes, this is a trope among Catholics. Jesuits are really really good at teaching the ability to question everything and see all sides, so you end up with a lot of Jesuit-trained atheists.

#69 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 01:21 AM:

Jacque @ #43

Oh, I approve of this hiding from deity option. Possibly behind the couch with a bottle of beer with the puppy.

Personally I would go "lie down" because every experience I have had with feeling inspired or excited by an idea has turned out to be a false epiphany. I would be greatly worried that I was, yet again, hearing a false voice made up by whatever part of my brain contains the muse of demented wrongatude. And if, past performance can actually predict future returns, calming down will make me less apt to make an ass of myself.

#70 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 05:11 AM:

Xopher @ 54

"I'm saying it's not a story that would become part of $Deity's religious tradition."

I guess I just don't share your conviction that no religion would formally hand down stories about blasphemers getting their just comeuppance as an integrated part of its instructive tradition. Examples of what not to do can be equally as illustrative and reinforcing as examples of what works.

The more I think about this, the more I don't see any reason why it's necessary that the story be about someone who was eventually redeemed. We have plenty of examples of Christian morality tales about people who were not redeemed; the fact that they aren't part of the Bible seems to me to be more coincidence of timing than design.

I'm just not sure, for instance, that Job had to be about one guy. If it had been about Job, who said no and was cursed to the ends of the Earth, and Bob, who said yes, and was multiply blessed, it would arguably have provided very similar instruction and it would have been worth spending equal time describing the fate of each man. So for a religious tradition more focused on obedience and less focused on redemption than modern Christianity, it might well have served the purpose better if Job had been irredeemably intransigent, so people could be deterred from following his path. You could even give him the promise of redemption, which through pride and stubbornness he rejected, resulting in the worsening of his lot... I mean, it's got amazing potential, not just for a good story, but for a story that reinforces particular religious values and inspires thoughtful inquiry...

And I like it better with that duality, because I like redemption, it's pleasant and socially congruent. But even without redemption or someone successfully redeemed, it's still an instructive tale about not being able to escape God, and the cost of pride, and the importance of obedience, and the lengths that some people will go to in order to escape truth, and the dark side of free will, and inherent wickeness and weakness of character versus nurtured and practiced virtue... all sorts of lovely moral packaging, like the fall of Satan, reflected in a single human being.

(I don't see why three should be a magic number anywhere outside of Christianity. Dualities have plenty of precedent.)

#71 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 06:22 AM:

Naomi Parkhurst @72: If it were just the first one, I might think they were recruiting for the TSA.

#72 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 08:39 AM:

(Picking up some more replies that I missed the first time through and hoping I catch up before the next time my internet time is interrupted. I don't even have kids. How do people with children get ANYTHING done?)

SamChevre @2 - Yes. I wasn't familiar with that poem, but it tells a story from the same place.

Megpie71 @15 - what we call "deity" is basically a reflection or a reification of what I describe as Deus - the unknowable, the ineffable. Humans aren't able to comprehend it in its entirety (although we're working on it) and so we split it up into bits and pieces, and look at each of the pieces and try to extrapolate from those parts into the whole again.

This sounds very much like what I've long called the Disco Ball theory of the Divine - imagine a ginormous disco ball in a darkened dance hall or skating rink, and every so often one of the facets catches the light and flickers at you, and you can see -that- one, and maybe the ghosts of the ones around it, but even if the lights were up you would still be unable to see the back side of the Disco Ball -- there is always something unknown about the Great Mystery, it's just too mindbogglingly big for us mortals to get a full grip on.

I find this comforting in the abstract, but when it gets up close and makes its infinite presence known, well, I'm starting to see the appeal in personal, knowable Gods.

OtterB @64/65 - Bujold just made me laugh. Yes, that.. Exactly so. I will have to add the McColman to my reading list, which is already far longer than it needs to be...

#73 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 11:22 AM:

KayTei 71: Well, you make some good points here. My only quibble would be that a story about someone being punished for refusing $DEITY isn't quite the same as $DEITY just going away and not bothering the person any more, the latter making much less of a story. And, of course, this:

(I don't see why three should be a magic number anywhere outside of Christianity. Dualities have plenty of precedent.)

Three as a magic number predates Christianity by thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands. In fact, some have theorized that the Holy Spirit was added to the Persons of God to make up three, because it was already an important divine number. The triangle was a symbol of the Goddess in very ancient times.

Also, folktales are so often about three sisters, or three brothers, or three something or other that folklorists call it the "three pattern," and use it as one of the factors that identifies a true folktale. Sometimes it's four, but most often it's three.

The Bible says that "wise men" came from the East and gifted the child with gold, frankincense, and myrrh (yeah, exactly three gifts). Could this have been a gang of seventeen astrologers who each brought all three of those, along with other things that just didn't get a mention? Absolutely, but instead we get the story of exactly three guys, somehow promoted to kings, and given fanciful names. This is typical folkloristic elaboration, and follows the ancient pattern of three (possibly suggested by the fact that the author of Matthew listed exactly three gifts).

#74 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 11:49 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue #54: I've seen at least one rabbi wonder if Abraham failed his test. Perhaps passing would have made him Israel, instead of the later Jacob.

#75 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 12:17 PM:

Dave, I imagine God screaming at the angel "HOLY FUCKING SHIT HE'S GONNA KILL THE KID! STOP HIM!" And later, "Well, he's a wimp, but he's got good genes. Let's try again in a couple of generations."

#76 ::: prolapsed ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 02:21 PM:

I don't believe in God, but I believe in the congregation..

#77 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 03:01 PM:

@#74 ::: Xopher HalfTongue

Three as a magic number predates Christianity by thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands.

Three also has a very basic human resonance. Years ago I read an article by Ken Hite (I think) about the number three and he pointed out the power of three in speech.

"Read <pause> my <pause> lips..."
"Veni, vidi, vici."
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen..."
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people..."
"Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité"
etc..

Only one of those examples predates Christianity, but if I dug I am sure I could find more examples of classical speeches using the three elements in speeches.

The triskelion also is a fairly ancient example of a mystical use of three. The first example Newgrange tomb built around 3200 BCE according to Wikipedia.

#78 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 04:24 PM:

OtterB @31 We choose who or what we are to serve. Without that choice, it's slavery. But once we have chosen, then we do not always get to choose what service will be asked of us. ... [T]here will be times when you see what needs to be done, and you are in a position to be able to do it, and you do not want to. And doing it anyway is obedience. It is, if you will, not the mindless compliance that is often demanded of children, but a mindful compliance.

Indeed. This 'mindful compliance' is what I mean by cooperation; it is the sense of seeing something that needs doing and you do not want to, and you do not feel prepared or adequate to the task, but it needs doing, and so you will do it, somehow, because the alternative - that whatever it is not be done - is worse. It is... what I do. Instinctively, without trying, unless I consciously step back and refrain from interfering.

 
I am lately in a state of learning to balance this urge to run toward emergencies and fix the parts I can with a bit more attention to self-preservation for the long haul. It's been very interesting thinking back to Jim's emergency preparedness posts in this frame of mind - the details are different, but "First rule, don't become a casualty yourself" applies here too. Part of this learning to balance is figuring out when I need to quit going it alone, and howl in the wilderness for community. Hence the post that started this thread. I am not very good at this part yet. But I need to get better at it, because I will need it.

The experience with which I'm currently wrestling is the latest whack with a spiritual clue-by-four in a lifetime of poking, prodding and whispering. The Mystery claimed me for its own long ago, but what It asked of me was situationally impossible in one situation after another, and the last time around I finally got burnt out and told It to go bugger off, I wanted a normal life. And you know, I got one - house and spouse and full time day job with benefits....

... and a spiritual clue-by-four over the head reminding me that I am still called to service, and not only that, but in a moment of terrifying clarity I realized that this time around, it's not situationally impossible. That's the Hallelujah part.

What is asked, however, is still difficult and risky, and will in the long run absolutely not fit into this ordinary life, no matter how much I rearrange things.

And that's the Holy sh-t....

#79 ::: prolapsed ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 04:29 PM:

MacAllister @17,
"like a fish, attempting to understand the experience of eagles."

What it is like to be a bat..
does sonar also reveal the numinous ?
Like you I cannot imagine being a being that has religious experiences..

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 04:48 PM:

OtterB @31 We choose who or what we are to serve. Without that choice, it's slavery. But once we have chosen, then we do not always get to choose what service will be asked of us. ... [T]here will be times when you see what needs to be done, and you are in a position to be able to do it, and you do not want to. And doing it anyway is obedience. It is, if you will, not the mindless compliance that is often demanded of children, but a mindful compliance.

Doing your job because otherwise it won't be done well, or maybe not done at all. Because it's your job, and you want it to be done well, and everyone else knows less about it than you. Because doing it as well as you can is why the Powers put you there.

Although some days I could do with a little less to do. (Before mid-August we had one metric shitload of work to get done before the end of March. The the people upstairs decided to make it two metric shitloads of work before the end of the year. Metric shitload: 10 percent more than a customary shitload.)

#81 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 05:12 PM:

AnotherQuietOne @63:
Jacque @43:
"Not my will, but Thine."
"Not thy will, but Mine."

Well, if you want to get esoteric about it, when the personal small-w will comes into alignment with the Universal Will, does it make a difference whose is which?

It wouldn't, because they are the same.

& @79: And then there are those little-c callings, which are neither Hallelujah nor Holy sh-t but just "Ok, fine." I'm in the midst of one of those right now. ::sigh::

#82 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 05:53 PM:

Xopher @ 74

Fair call. I mean, it's hard for me to disentangle Christian beliefs in an omnipresent, omniobserving God from the idea of God leaving one alone; I guess my definition of "alone" is more like "Fine, you don't HAVE to have my help then. See how you do on your own." Which is itself tangled up in ideas about how all blessings flow from God, etc. And I was trying to get away from a totally Christian-centric vantage-point, but obviously that influence is pretty prominent despite my best efforts.

I agree that threes exist, I just think that dualities are also compelling in different ways. What I was really trying, badly, to say, is that although Christianity has fewer twos and more threes, that doesn't seem to me to be a good reason to insist on threes as a constant rule.

#83 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 06:14 PM:

Reading this thread, I realized I had a mental referent for "moment of enlightenment", but it took me a few moments to pin it down.

It turned out to be thoroughly profane (in the "opposite of sacred" sense). See, the last time I went to a performance of _Rocky Horror_, somebody sitting behind me -- no doubt sensing that I wasn't really getting into the spirit of things -- dumped their bag of wedding-prop rice onto my head. This was very early in the show, mind you.

Well, I thought to myself, now I'm *really* not getting into the spirit of things. I shook my head hard to get (most of) the rice out of my hair. Then I wondered why the movie was suddenly out of focus.

Oh, right. I had shaken my head so hard that my glasses flew off and landed under a seat somewhere. Fine, I thought, it's not like I'm here for the special effects. I'll finish watching (listening to) the movie, and then crawl around and find the glasses afterward. It's not like people are going to stand up and start jump

-- and that was when I acquired my mental referent for "moment of enlightenment": the question whose answer is inherent in the moment of asking.

(I found the glasses with a minimum of blind feeling around, well before the Time Warp. And it was, as I said, the last time I went to _Rocky Horror_.)

I am an atheist (a Jewish atheist, as in "talked about my atheism at my bar mitzvah"). I've got as much nerd hunger for the sense-of-wonder as the next fan -- that was a PNH observation, right? -- and can name any number of SF/F works which have moved me with their truth. (Bujold, as noted in this thread, absolutely included.) But I find I trust certainty more than revelation.

...That's putting it too simply. Not "certainty". But the sense that, after holding the question in mind -- or worrying endlessly away at it, whichever -- the answer has always been there. Not *obvious*, probably buried, perhaps buried in muck; but there.

The trick, for me, is distinguishing that from, well, from bad tape that's been playing forever.

#84 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 06:48 PM:

I think I became an atheist when I was diagnosed with a mental illness. I realized that I couldn't trust my emotions, couldn't trust any still, small voice within. When my notion of the numinous could be fixed with proper medication, it became vital for me to hang on to verifiable reality as much as I could. Reality has externally verifiable evidence. That suffices me.

But you know, I really wish the gods of Challion existed. I could get behind them.

#85 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2012, 07:33 PM:

@#84 ::: becca
Ditto on feeling positive about the gods of Challion, for the most part. I might be a bit resentful of them in some parts if they actually existed as the unification of nations seems a fairly petty thing to have people die over.

I became an atheist gradually over time. I think the first time I doubted the existence of a god or gods was when I was age 13. I might have continued as a cultural, but only half believing, Catholic except that the church is fairly hateful on a number of subjects and with the propelled me right out of religion entirely. Sort of a mental escape velocity fuel. That was approximately age 20.

#86 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2012, 12:04 AM:

On Knowledge, a triolet

I do not know. I know I do not know.
I never knew, not now, nor surely then.
I thought I knew, once. Only thought that, though.
I do not know I know. I do not know
Whether I know, or not. I had a proviso -
I'd know it, when I knew. Thinking again,
I do not know I know. I do not know
I never knew. Not now, nor surely then.

#87 ::: Dave Luckett has been gnomicated, possibly for being gnostic ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2012, 12:05 AM:

Alas, all knowledge is known to the gnomes.

#88 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2012, 12:47 AM:

Megpie71 @15: [..] I've come up with my own sort of creation myth - basically, I contend that the universe was created by the chaotic deities, the trickster gods, and they were working as a committee. It was also done on the sly - the way that social club minutes are photocopied on the photocopier at work, or fliers are printed out on the printer at the office. The big bosses weren't aware of it, and don't want to be made aware of it (because if they're made aware of this, they have to Do Something About It). This, to me, is why prayer is not necessarily something to be encouraged - we don't know who's listening.

An excellent description of Gnosticism (or at least one thread of it). My introduction to the topic was The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas (subtitled 'The message of the alien God and the beginnings of Christianity'), which I had picked up years ago at a sidewalk book sale at a book store which serviced a nearby university. In this tradition, using your metaphor, God the boss was truly ignorant of what had been going on in the back rooms of the office until Jesus told him what the staff had been up to (the 'alien god' aspect was that God and Jesus were from the outside of the universe built by the rogue creators). If you Google the title and author, you'll find the book available online as a PDF.

I have described myself as a 'science fictional agnostic' — by which I've meant I've read way too much science fiction to totally dismiss the possibility of anything.

One book I picked up in high school as a lucky find in a second hand book was Inside Outside by Philip José Farmer. Years later I found The Fabulous Riverboat, next read To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and then settled down (like everyone else who read these books) to waiting for the author to write the rest of the books. Being a somewhat critical type, by the time I got to the end of the series, I thought the big reveal had been more economically told in the first book.

I gather the earliest version of To Your Scattered Bodies Go had a complicated history, with rights tied up by an unscrupulous publisher. I took Inside Outside to be literally an inside-outside approach to the Riverworld story, with characters on the inside of a sphere — and that location being not where they went after they died, but where they had been before they were born.

In the Riverworld series, the author pulled off the unusual feat of inserting himself into the story as two separate but identically named characters. One of the author's stand-ins describes an upbringing as a Christian Scientist, later turning to atheism. The author himself, in his story, describes a universe in which souls do not naturally occur — but an advanced alien race thinks they should exist and builds an artifical soul which seeks out and attaches itself to living things (the big reveal). In the Riverworld books this provided for an after-life; in Inside Outside souls were given an ethical background prior to being born.

In a related vein, I had enjoyed Niven and Pournelle's Inferno (the sequel, not so much).

#89 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2012, 11:24 AM:

What's the opposite of an epiphany?

When I was even younger and even more stupid, I had one of those experiences that might have been life-changing - it might have changed me into a corpse, along with my passenger and potentially a car load of innocents. It would have been my fault. Thanks to circumstances beyond my control, like the presence of an exit lane at that spot, and an absence of other traffic, the only injury was to my ego.

"You had a guardian angel watching over you then," said a mate of mine when told the story.

No. There was no guardian angel or other divine intervention. I actually blacked out for a couple of seconds, but that was adrenaline, not a deity.
It was all down to luck - or at least the absence of bad luck.

To quote Bujold, "I am an atheist, myself. A simple faith, but a great comfort to me, in these last days."

#90 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2012, 03:06 PM:

It is a commonly Western idea that one can only have one religion at a time, and that endorsing a single religion implies rejecting all others. This is a fallacy, of course; even those who most eagerly endorse the exclusionary religious principle have, in fact, multiple religions even when they do not recognize them as such: Baptism, America, the Marines, football. It is the nature of humanity to believe in things, and to subsume your individual goals to a greater vision, just as it is the nature of humanity to be selfish and short-sighted. These two poles anchor us like a schoolroom globe.

One thing I got out of living in Nepal is that one can believe in multiple religions at the same time, even passionately so, and that joining a religion does not have to mean redefining one's entire identity. Today I am Buddhist, and Jewish, and a Scientific Humanist, and a Green, and an Anarchist, and a Vaishnavist, and a Hacker. I am not now a Christian, but who knows what the future may hold?

#91 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 11:24 AM:

Roy:

I have often felt the pull of it myself.

As a general comment, if there is magic, God, a spirit world, etc., it clearly must work on very different principles than the sort of things we work with in science, because otherwise, we'd be using magic and prayer and exorscisms as technology.

And I suppose this is an SFF sort of viewpoint; in many SF stories, some of what we now would call magic is incorporated into a scientifically-recognized set of psychic powers (The corps is mother, the corps is father.) And in many fantasy works, magic is demonstrable and study-able--you go to Hogwarts or the White Tower or somewhere, and study the technology of magic till you can reliably do it.

This means that for theists like me, we probably can't ever expect to see clear proofs or demonstrations that everyone will see and believe. After all, if God wanted that, He could have flaming letters in the sky 24/7 announcing His existence and word. He could have had Jesus climb down off the cross and explain how things really were to the Roman soldiers that had crucified him, and then gone to Rome and done enough miracles to convince the emperor to convert.

Instead, we get stories about miracles that are told from far away, and in the Gospels, we have Jesus constantly telling people not to talk about whatever miracle was done. And the most important stuff isn't the miracles, it's the stories and teachings and insights about God and morality and truth, and the communities that built up around them. .

#92 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 12:45 PM:

Roy G. Ovrebo @89: "I am an atheist, myself. A simple faith, but a great comfort to me, in these last days."

When I read this, in my head I hear the voice of Londo Mollari.

#93 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 02:13 PM:

Jacque:

I think Emperor Ezar would have eaten Molari alive. And one reason is that Ezar went into his evil choices with open eyes, whereas Molari spent a lot of energy concealing some of the evil of what he was doing from himself until very late in the game. Molari always seemed to me to have an underlying good nature he was struggling to overcome, in order to do the things he thought he should be doing for himself and his house and his empire. If Ezar had that kind of qualms, we never saw it.

#94 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 02:13 PM:

Jacque:

I think Emperor Ezar would have eaten Molari alive. And one reason is that Ezar went into his evil choices with open eyes, whereas Molari spent a lot of energy concealing some of the evil of what he was doing from himself until very late in the game. Molari always seemed to me to have an underlying good nature he was struggling to overcome, in order to do the things he thought he should be doing for himself and his house and his empire. If Ezar had that kind of qualms, we never saw it.

#95 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 02:58 PM:

albatross: Altogether, if I had to be dumped into a ficton, I would prefer a JMS universe to one written by Bujold. Her characters are generally more interesting, but so are the ... situations.

#96 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 07:32 PM:

Reading only the initial post, and the two comments attached thereto.

Some years back, sitting on my couch, sobbing my heart out, realizing I had just gone thru a segment of emotional hell, to learn a particular... lesson isn't the right word, but to learn. I sat there, sobbing, and asked, "Why did it have to be so hard?" A voice in my head, as clear as a bell, said "Because you wouldn't have learned it any other way."

Oh.

Since then, when finding myself going thru sh_t, nastiness, emotional breakage, I shout, "Can I get thru this learning session faster, pleeze? 'Cause this sucks." Or "When I learn whatever it is I'm supposed to learn, would you tell me the nature of the lesson? So I know why I'm going thru this?" And I do.

It's made me very, very careful what I ask for. I get answers.

#97 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 07:46 PM:

Jacque @81 - And then there are those little-c callings, which are neither Hallelujah nor Holy sh-t but just "Ok, fine." I'm in the midst of one of those right now. ::sigh::

I hear you.

I'm rapidly developing a wistful envy of the cultures that sanction bunking off to a monastery for a few months to deal with this sort of thing. Modern Western culture does not have much use for emptiness - empty time, empty space, silence. We are always trying to fill it up with something to do or someone to pay attention to, and I feel like I am trying to sandbag the ocean away to get just a little peace so I can think...

Oh well.

Josh Berkus @90 - It is a commonly Western idea that one can only have one religion at a time, and that endorsing a single religion implies rejecting all others. This is a fallacy, of course; even those who most eagerly endorse the exclusionary religious principle have, in fact, multiple religions even when they do not recognize them as such...

My sense of this is that it depends on how broadly or narrowly one defines religion - though I have long professed to be a football atheist in a land where that is considered sacrilege. Broadly defining "religion" to mean "the structure by which one approaches the sacred" is no help, because then we have to figure out what "sacred" means and we are back where we started. (Not unlike the football.)

And tying that into...
albatross @91 - This means that for theists like me, we probably can't ever expect to see clear proofs or demonstrations that everyone will see and believe.

I'm trying to come up with a good working definition of the distinction between "(spiritual) things one knows from personal experience," "(spiritual) things one believes to be true although one has not experienced them personally," and "things one does with other people when one or more of those people believe the Sacred might be paying attention."

I'm pretty sure the last one, for me, points to "religion" or at least "religious practice," and I'm pretty sure the first one, for me, points to "faith" and possibly "spirituality," but I'm really not sure where to file the bit about believing in things.

Lin Daniel @96 - It's made me very, very careful what I ask for. I get answers.

I have to keep re-learning that one, myself.

#98 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 08:33 PM:

I came back to spirituality via goal setting. Goal setting includes
1) laying it out in touchable, seeable, smellable, hearable, in 3D.
2) make it under your control (change "make my boss give me a raise" to "help me become such a good employee my boss can't help but give me a raise")

and the most important of all, which seems to get missed a lot

3) recognize it when it arrives (frex: "my boss didn't give me a raise, but an employee who left came back and offered me a great new job with a much larger salary")

There are a lot of things I have asked for that failed step 2, but I asked anyway (I might as well, since an AllKnowing would know anyway). What I got was not always what I asked for, but often what I wanted. Often in ways I didn't expect. Step 3 has gotten to be very important to me, because ThePowersThatBe (however many of Them there are) have a decidedly wicked sense of humor. Maybe They are to me, because I will appreciate it.

The last bit of humor came after I asked "What now? Where do I go next?" I ended up 3,000 miles away from where I spent my entire life: LA to upstate NY. Sense of humor indeed, as I'm still trying to figure out how a native Angeleno ended up in upstate NY with the snow. However, the lessons I'm learning here are profound.

Jacque @43
or we are shattered and scattered, our Work then becoming a dance of gathering the pieces.

What a wonderful phrasing. Thank you. I have shattered and rebuilt myself, and still finding and polishing pieces.

#99 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2012, 10:58 PM:

Lin Daniel: "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."— Benjamin Franklin

Not to say you're a fool, but that's the quote that always springs to mind when I'm learning one of those lessons.

#100 ::: SorchaRei ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 02:01 AM:

"The long and the short of it is that for me, Murphy's Law works because, if you will, God plots like Bujold..."

This is really evocative for me, although I am not sure exactly of what. Certainly something to ponder as I wander.

Thanks for that.

#101 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 02:32 AM:

Ken MacLeod recently wrote about a pair of odd experiences he'd had in his younger days. He doesn't call them mystical, but they're the sort of thing that other people might attach that word to. One was an intense awareness of "some enormous presence" when he was playing outside as a child. The other, at the age of 16, was a sense of astonishment at being himself --- "as if my mind had stepped back from my personality and wondered how it could possibly be that."

Myself, I've had the second of those experiences, but not the first. I've also had a couple that MacLeod doesn't describe:

Once, as a child, while crossing the street (I can recall the intersection), I was struck with a sudden, deep sense that each human life (most especially not limited to my own) was a story, not in the sense of being fictional, or being authored, but in the sense of being an accumulation of events. This was coupled with a horror at the thought of ending any of these stories before its time.

The other I've had several times. Do you know the feeling that some particular thing is the archetypal example of its class? I have, every so often, suddenly felt that the particular moment I was living through was somehow an archetypal example of itself. I don't know how to describe it so that it makes sense --- not that the moment was a perfect example of a moment, but that it was the most perfect example of that particular moment that it was.

#102 ::: wilwarin ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 08:08 AM:

Becca @84:

Thanks.
It's a relieve to find someone with similar experiences.
I have been forced to depend on several medications with severe side effects over the last 17 years because of my epilepsy - and once I learned that it takes only a little pill to change all of your awareness or lead to beautiful/horrible/annoying illusions, I developed my own way of dealing with it: I declared it a chemical wonder, not a supernatural one when I came across strange feelings/viewings.

But in truth: the strange side effects of my medications only furthered my coming out as an atheist, the beginnings were an episode between my Catholic priest and me back when I was about 7 years old. I asked who the children of Adam and Eve married with them being all alone with their parents and THEY being the first humans on earth... Well, he had no answer.
Doubt was firmly planted.

But still: I love religions and mysticism in general and most of all in historical fiction/ fantasy/SF.

#103 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 08:41 AM:

It occurs to me that one of my favorite novels, Mark Salzman's "Lying Awake," might be of great interest to those in this thread, as it is about the question of what is divine inspiration/intervention and what is not, and whether it matters that we know the difference.

#104 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 09:51 AM:

B. Durbin @ #99: or as we say in taekwondo, "Pain is the best instructor, but no one wants to go to his class." --Gen. Choi Hong Hi

#105 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 11:16 AM:

I am tickled to discover this conversation, and sad that I have discovered it so late (I read slowly, so when life gets exciting, ML becomes a luxury I can't afford. Life is exciting, so I haven't been around here lately).

I've recently increased my level of involvement in my little local UU congregation (there are about 30 of us, and we aim to cause trouble). This seems to be both a cause and an effect of a recent uptick in my spiritual inclinations. I've also updated my Universal Life Church ordination credentials, started reading an academic plain-language translation of the Torah, and written a few pages of a "sermon" (and its surrounding service) that I intend to give at church in January.

Having read some and skimmed all of this thread in one sitting, I'm a bit too overwhelmed to go back and seek out the post numbers I'd like to reference, but I do remember one person lamenting the loss of community that came with leaving hir church. This ties heavily into my version of the truth:

1. Man creates God in his own image. Gods, myths, religions, superstitions all serve to support human efforts to make meaning. "God" explains stuff we can't explain any other way. And since meaning-making is arguably the essential work of human existence, that is a perfectly valid approach to experiencing the world.

2. Spirituality is individual whereas religion tends to be a group activity. Individual spirituality gives us people like Gandhi. Organized religion gives us people like Pat Robertson. Evaluating which of these better serves humanity is left as an exercise for the student.

3. The fearmongering religions seem to like to use the next life as the focus of their threats. If you accept that you cease to exist at the moment of your death, most of that fearmongering stuff becomes pretty irrelevant.

4. Church is not about God. Church is about people. The community aspect of church is its single most valuable characteristic. If you're going to go to church, make sure you love the people. The details of their written dogma matter a lot less than their actual behavior.

5. The principles of Open Space make a pretty fine outlook for life in general. To wit: Whoever shows up is the right people. Whenever it starts is the right time. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. When it's over, it's over.

6. Religion is like freedom. You can have as much as you want, provided that it does not infringe on my equal right to have as much as I want. The religions (and the religious) tend to get into trouble when they start forcing themselves down others' throats and claiming that none of the others are valid. When we accept the idea that there are many paths to enlightenment, we can stop fighting over which "one" is right and get on with the journey.

And remember: what I believe is the truth. What everybody else believes is merely ideology. ;-)

#106 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 12:46 PM:

albatross @91: This means that for theists like me, we probably can't ever expect to see clear proofs or demonstrations that everyone will see and believe.

The irony here is that spiritual experience (almost by definition) is subjective in nature. (I speculate that it is the impulse to try to force it into an objective model that produces religion.)

Avram @101: Ken MacLeod recently wrote about ... an intense awareness of "some enormous presence"

I occassionally sense Presence (though it tends to be little-p, as the deity that most usually seems to watch over me seems to be a little-d entity). The spookiest experience I ever had was at a convention (Highlander, of all things), where I felt like my presence was there, meeting with a bunch of other presences. Sort of a meta-convention, in a way.

I was struck with a sudden, deep sense that each human life (most especially not limited to my own) was a story, not in the sense of being fictional, or being authored, but in the sense of being an accumulation of events.

When in traffic, or seeing a large crowd, I ponder the notion that each and every one of those heads contains a Universe, as large and immediate and vivid as my own. It's an especially weird feeling, because looking at a bunch of people perceptually feels just like looking at a bunch of marbles. "How can this be?" It's a weird dichotomy.*

it was the most perfect example of that particular moment that it was.

This seems like a really interesting notion, but heck if I can think of anything useful to say about it.

The closest referent in my experience might be when, sitting in my chair, gazing out the window, I'm suddenly struck by the perfect beauty of the light on the snowy tree branch outside. Just a tiny detail that suddenly strikes me and fills me with wonder. Or something.

* Tracy Lunquist @105: And remember: what I believe is the truth. What everybody else believes is merely ideology. ;-) — See also.

#107 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 07:10 PM:

Sarah S @ #103

Thanks for bringing that up; I'd been trying to recall the title of Lying Awake for several years.

#108 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 07:38 PM:

Avram #101: The archetypal moment experience is one that I've had.

The real-world experience I have had more than once, which I suspect is one that a lot of people have, is one of standing outside myself observing myself and wondering "what is this disaster?"

#109 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 09:22 PM:

Fragano @108 -

I tend to get the variation of the last one that comes out as "This would be a great story if I weren't in the effing middle of it."

#110 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2012, 02:33 AM:

AQO #97:

My sense of this is that it depends on how broadly or narrowly one defines religion - though I have long professed to be a football atheist in a land where that is considered sacrilege. Broadly defining "religion" to mean "the structure by which one approaches the sacred" is no help, because then we have to figure out what "sacred" means and we are back where we started. (Not unlike the football.)

Exactly!

So, I have some other working definitions:

(a) a filter through which you perceive the world.

(b) an internal force which motivates you to act in the interest of an externally defined framework of ideas ahead of rational self-interest.

(c) something which imparts the belief in being a part of a greater but intangible whole.

I also think that religion needs to involve some belief which is fundamentally unprovable, but I'm not sure about that. This is a work-in-progress.

By any of those definitions, the Marines, Football, Patriotism, Communism, and Roswell NM UFOs are all religions. I came to these working definitions after being involved in a socialist labor union. The people I worked with, while avowed athiests, showed 100% of the trappings of religion in their reverence for Marx and Lenin (as does, for that matter, a visit to Lenin's tomb).

#111 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2012, 03:22 PM:

I think of spirituality as one's personal sense of connection to something greater than oneself, usually something intangible and hard to pin down. I think of religion, ideally, as what one does about one's spirituality.

Unfortunately, religion is all too often what one's ancestors did about THEIR spirituality, which one practices even when it has no connection to one's own spiritual needs at all. This is a tragedy in my opinion.

#112 ::: Xopher HalfTongue is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Wow, no idea why this time. No links or anything.

Still, Black Hole Brownies for the gnomes.

#113 ::: lookforyouyesterday hereyoucometoday ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2012, 06:30 PM:

Saw a study about a decade ago; never been able to find it since, which showed (via brain scans) that "religion" takes place in the left front lobe, where numbering, ordering, and judgement about things is centered. Spirituality takes place in right mid brain, near a very large pleasure center. Makes sense to me.

To the degree I have any churching left in me, it's Quakers, who are the least judging humans I've ever met. Mostly it's just me and ATI (All That Is), AKA Godde. Have to say I never felt I had much choice in the matter ~~ what you have experienced changes you. Not unhappy with the change. My only remaining prayer is: Help me understand. May we all be happy with the roads which have picked us.

#114 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2012, 10:05 PM:

This thread seems to have lived out its natural life, as it should be.

I'm still not done with the topic, so I've moved my own continuing thoughts over to a recycled blog I never got around to really starting. Link in the header goes there.

Thanks for this conversation, folks. I needed community at the time of the original howl in the wilderness, and I knew I could find it here.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.