Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crazy Wisdom is still Crazy.

In a recent facebook comment thread, a friend seemed to be attempting to invalidate psychological notions of maturity based on the idea that the "self" is, according to eastern philosophy, an illusory and impermanent process. This was connected to a discussion on unethical, immoral, or immature behavior on the part of spiritual teachers. I'm not quite sure I understood my friend's point accurately, but I have heard this argument being made before as a means to excuse bad behavior on the part of spiritual teachers. Many make appeals to "crazy wisdom" and how the teachers are just so far beyond us that we can't judge. In a nutshell, my response is "Bullocks!".

Issues of maturity are by definition features of this illusory process. They are relative questions about this relative world - not about the absolute. Relative knowledge is still important for living in the world. After all, a bomb is a fundamental illusion that will end your suffering pretty darn quick. Ethical considerations are not to be obviated by appeals to the empty illusory nature of existence. This is just fundamental compassion. In my book, an unethical teacher is expressing a profound lack of compassion and therefore is disproving their own spiritual realization. Yes, there can be crazy wisdom that escapes our relative ethics. At the same time, if a teacher consistently excuses unethical behavior as crazy wisdom, then someone else can roll the dice by studying with them. I dare to judge them as not worth my attention other than to warn others away.

Similarly, I believe that individuals could have very deep spiritual experiences and insights, and even be skilled at teaching others to reach this same point, and yet also be an untrustworthy jerk who will empty your bank account, abuse you emotionally and physically, and perhaps even place you in physical and psychological danger. I am a crazy wisdom skeptic. Crazy wisdom is still crazy.

As The Ken has said, "When you're on your own, you're on your own.". If a teacher chooses to step across the moral boundaries of their culture, then they are truly on their own. Maybe they are right and are breaking taboos that need to be broken. Or maybe they are just acting out their shadows and immaturity. In either case, I'm not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. History will ultimately judge if their transgressions were worth it - or perhaps more to the point, their students and the families of their students will ultimately judge.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On Names, Real and Imagined

Just a short note on how I refer to people. There's no logic to it all. I have an intuition for whether people would object to having their participation in a conversation outed or not and I follow it. No consistency. If you would rather I not refer to you by name in my blogs, please let me know and I'll come up with some name to substitute for you - or you can suggest one. If you would rather I not refer to you by a silly name, then please also let me know.

Faith and Reason, cont'd.

So in my further discussions with The Philosobiker, I am trying to clarify the rift I perceive between religion and reason.

When you begin to identify with rationality, you begin to attack the metaphysics of your religious institutions. So how do you keep the benefits of these institutions once the supporting metaphysics is gone? You need replacement religious institutions with less metaphysical baggage. That is what having "someplace to go" means.

Part of the challenge is that some dedicated rationalists refuse to consider that a religious institution can be anything except laden with unnecessary and unsupportable metaphysics. Similarly, dedicated traditionalists refuse to consider that such an institution can have any moral core or any meaning.

There are plenty of people who are both rational and religious. I believe that many of these people maintain this by keeping domains of thought separated as I have discussed before. The brilliant neurosurgeon who is also a young-earth creationist, as an imagined example. They simply refuse to apply reason to their faith. Or they might just refuse to rationalize their practice, i.e. they know it is unreasonable to think that God is listening, but they pray anyway. Or perhaps they have carefully examined every piece of their faith and have careful and rational reasons for all of it - they know they are praying for personal and social reasons, etc., and yet they are stuck in an institution that will not allow them to express this openly.

Or, much more commonly, they say to hell with it and leave religion entirely.

For instance, why is it so rare for women to be ordained? Why is homosexuality an issue? These are not things that we can put off on a vocal minority. These are mainstream features of organized religion in the US. Were a substantial portion of our religious institutions actually rational, we would not be discussing those kinds of issues. The churches that had openly lesbian ministers would be common.

Does this make sense? The assertion is not "No religious people are rational and no rational people are religious." It is that the majority of our religious institutions and practices do not support rationality and are not supported by rationality. The exceptions to this prove the rule.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Faith and Reason

My friend, The Philosobiker, seems confused by the way some of my friends and I talk about faith and reason. Specifically he was confused by

"there is nowhere to go spiritually in our culture once the rational mind awakens”

- this is not referring to an inherent quality of religion - it is referring to the way we practice religion in Western culture. Some religious groups are trying to do something about this (Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarian, Unity) but they remain controversial. What is a Southern Baptist (as I was) to do when we become proficient at rationality and are brave enough to apply it to real parts of our lives, not just classroom abstractions? The choices, apparently, are to abandon rationality in some domains of your life, or to abandon your religious beliefs. This is the steel ceiling. It is exceedingly difficult to embrace rational religious beliefs. We polarize religion and rationality so that the gulf is only bridgeable by changing sides. What Daniel and I are interested in doing is building a broad bridge by which these two opposing nationalities can intermingle and perhaps make peace.

So there are at least two big parts of this:

1) Open religion up to rationality
2) Open rationality up to religion.

This discussion gets confusing because there are two conditions involved - the way that reason and faith are currently perceived by many, and what may be other possible ways to deal with reason and faith. So I may say "reason and faith are not incompatible" meaning there is no reason we can't build this bridge. And I may also say, "there is a steel ceiling on religion that won't allow the faithful to develop into reason." meaning that many of the "reasonable" and the "faithful" have adopted this antagonistic stance and are preventing the successful integration of the two.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Steel Ceiling

Huff Post today....

Gina Welch's, In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church,

This book looks fascinating. I couldn't resist homing on one sentence in particular:

"Why would they open themselves up to influence from a culture that made no space for their beliefs?"

This closely echoes The Ken's position on religion and spirituality. My good friend Daniel reminded me of the term Steel Ceiling describing this situation. Traditionalist religion has no place to grow up into. For an individual to grow into a rational world-view they have little choice but to leave their religion. The forces of modernist rationality reject religion as mythic nonsense and the traditionalist religions reject modernism as satanic devolution and godlessness. The battle lines are drawn. Ms. Welch crossed the front lines in disguise to bring back tales of her traditional enemy and finds that, guess what, they are human beings who are far more thoughtful, reflective, and diverse than she, a Berkely educated atheist, would have given them credit for.

This is why I have little patience for Hitchens and company. They are still fighting a battle that modernism has clearly won. They are shooting fish in a barrel. Surely there is something else they can do with those big brains?

Granted, there may be a valid role for them, but this tone seems to dominate the conversation between the traditional world and the modern world. We have to find constructive ways to let the faithful grow into rationality without having to reject their religion. This is The Ken's opinion on it, and I pretty much buy it. I think Ms. Welch has done a very good thing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Fine Art

My FB friend, Brian Howlett, poses the question:

"so... bottom line isn't fine art really a luxury item to be purchased, viewed and appreciated for the skill and intellect it represents ?"

Fine art may be a cultural luxury - or perhaps the definition of fine art simply changes as a culture evolves. Certainly owning it is a personal luxury - for all kinds of purposes - investment, status, aesthetics, patronage.

But I think at its core, fine art is about elevating our lives in a way that is not held down by convention and practicality. Its a way to step outside the demands of our life and see its beauty (or horror).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Test post.

So let it be written
So let it be done
Etcetera etcetera etcetera.