Seem to criticize religion from a Christian or western religious perspective? In other words, those religions which have their basis in Hebraism, Judaism, and Islam; the so-called "Abrahamic religions." They rarely are ever familiar with eastern religion or philosophy where "God" is thought of in a completely different and antipodal way. For starters, God is not thought of as an "entity," and that really boggles the mind of some atheists who've spent their entire lives conceptualizing "God" as some kind of entity.
Of course, most English-speaking atheists that we encounter here at Atheist-Nexus are from the U.K or the United States where western religion is predominant, and that may explain why that is. That's why I've always enjoyed when Sam Harris emphasizes ignosticism which aims to define "God" before any discussion or debate takes place.
There's an interesting video I came across on YouTube where an Indian guru spills his insight to a young "spiritual seeker." He makes an interesting comment about atheism.
Basically that the "God" from his perspective is not the same God in which some atheists reject, the God as "entity," but instead a "source" which he vaguely describes. Because the God that the atheist rejects, he also rejects.
It kind of makes you think, what if the entire theist vs. atheist argument is one of semantics? That this flexible term that we use "God" has a spectrum of meaning, and on one side of the spectrum makes no sense, but on another side, can correspond exactly to reality. After all, Einstein used this word, but of course, not in the same sense a zealous Christian might use it. Just a thought.
And if anyone's interested in eastern philosophy and how "God" is thought about in something like Buddhism for example, a good place to start is this video here, just listen out for "final self." Truly fascinating for anyone with an open-mind… Perhaps some of you have heard this one before…
What is the difference between Eastern and Western religions ? The answer is none. There is no difference. The religious believe in the supernatural. The supernatural does not exist. There are no Gods.
Alan Watts was once asked this very same question, and he had a friend who risibly said, "The difference between eastern and western religion is that Christ was the son of a carpenter, and Gautama the son of a King."
However, I wouldn't simply say that there is no difference, whatsoever. In fact, something like Christianity and Buddhism are polar opposites, they're different almost in every aspect that it's surprising that we even would fit these two under the umbrella term of "religion." But I think it's because we have this catch-all term "religion" that most people think that Buddhism is something like Christianity, when it's in fact, not. For instance, Buddhism is completely compatible with evolution, for one, and it isn't based on what you might call "the supernatural." However, that's the problem, that most atheists aren't familiar with eastern religion whatsoever.
It's all the same dog shit. The same unnatural and unscientific views of the world. Buddhism also embraces the supernatural.
That's quite risible, but I still disagree that all religion carries supernatural and superstitious beliefs. May I suggest a little Alan Watts or perhaps some D. T. Suzuki?
Alan 'same shit' Watts was a mentally retarded theologian. I could only expect that sort of nonsense. D.T. Suzuki was a Buddhist academic and his unscientific thinking is of no interest to me.
Both of these teachers embrace the supernatural. They are neither Atheists, scientists or historians.
I know plenty of atheists who would think otherwise. In fact, Alan Watts is one of the few contemporary philosophers actually respected by a great deal of atheists. So, I'm not sure how you even arrived at this conclusion. You're right, Watts is not an atheist, he's not a historian or a scientist, he was a philosopher.
it isn't based on what you might call "the supernatural"
Are you suggesting that chanting "nam myoho renge kyo" has no supernatural component?
Yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. You see, a chant is something sung not for its meaning, but as something to attune you to the moment. As Alan Watts once said, "A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so this person is detached from reality and lives in a world of illusions."
In other words, the chant gets you away from the egoic chatter of the mind as meditation is the cessation of thought. Now, that may sound anti-intellectual, but it is in fact one of the most difficult psychological endeavors you could ever partake in. If you've ever read any of Dr. Rick Strassman's work in his book entitled "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," he speculates that what meditation may be is a natural induction of endogenous N,N-DMT, the entheogenic neurotransmitter. Another time DMT is released is in an NDE (near-death-experience) and it's also been observed to spike during the REM stage of sleep which is when the heavy dream states are occurring. So, it really depends on how you're using this word "supernatural," because this experience that it induces is not one that could be described with words, you'd have to experience it for yourself.
Of course, if you do not have the patience for meditation, there are other "shamanic methods" of inducing this experience. For instance, the imbibing of ayahuasca, a kind of neurotransmitter cocktail taken by shamanic people in South America which produce these experiences on-demand and without having to wait around for it to happen with meditation and if you do your homework, it's definitely a lot safer than having a near-death-experience. The video below is a discussion on it, it's quite long, and I don't expect you to listen to the entire thing, but at least listen about 2 minutes through.
If God is not an entity and has no being, it's true the concept—whatever it might be—does not pose any contradiction with atheism per se, but then the question arises: to what does the word God refer? It is not at all clear what a source is. It may well be that there are different ways to think about ultimate concerns than those of western religions, but then, to avoid confusion, we should use different words, not words already freighted with religious significance in the western mode.
While someone like Alan Watts may say that they (Buddhists) "think of the divine in a completely different and antipodal way than that of the Christians," the use of the word divine there can be misleading. In fact, they do not even use the word "God," they use "Brahman." And Brahman, as I pointed out is not even thought of as an "entity." Now, those atheists I referred to in my original post, some of them base their very atheism on the rejection of the God as entity, because that's the only concept of God they're familiar with, the creator/God which usually does run into a lot of paradox and things in which they feel are inherently false.
So, to hear of the divine thought about in such a way where God is not even an entity can be mind-boggling to someone who's spent their entire life with the concept of God as entity. In that link "What Buddhism's About" that I posted in my original post, Watts says, "What sort of impression would God have of himself?" Then, goes onto say, "He obviously wouldn't look at his hands like we do and see he's an old man with a beard sitting on a throne." So, instead Watts continues to describe God as something else altogether, as he says of the eastern view, "God as the kind of ultimate, ultimate then there which there is no whicher, outside which there is nothing. Which has no edges. He wouldn't therefore look like a ball, he wouldn't look like a cube, he wouldn't look like a body. There would be no way at all of conceiving the final Self of all Selves."
Sam Harris always emphasizes "ignosticism" which aims to define this word "God" before we take upon a discussion on it. I like that, because in something like Hinduism or Buddhism, it is realized that whatever it is that "is", this "source" we've been discussing truly has no name, but since we are sentient beings that transmit these memes, these concepts, these ideas then we create the words, the symbols, notions, etc. that only are mere shadows of what they quite vaguely represent, so we have words like God, satori, samadhi, Brahman, etc. that we tile over the original namelessness.
However, I do agree with you, Allan, we definitely need to get straight with our definitions. Is the 11-dimensional hyperspace of M-theory an intellectual and conceptual way of describing what is experientially an intuitive experience, a phenomenon in consciousness which over the years has only been spoken about in a religious vocabulary in such terms as "samadhi," "satori," "the Beatific Vision," "the Shekhina," "ego death," etc., etc.? If we could answer such questions, then I think we could get straight with our definitions. I'll post a little something for your entertainment.
The ineffability of God is a theme that runs through Christian theology from the earliest to the latest although it is not popular with the "Jesus-is-my-best-friend" modern type of believer. For example, in The Divine Names, Dionysius the Areopagite said:
Indeed the inscrutable One is out of the reach of every rational process. Nor can any words come up to the inexpressible Good, this One, this Source of all unity, this supra-existent Being. Mind beyond mind, word beyond speech, it is gathered up by no discourse, by no intuition, by no name. It is and it is as no other being is. Cause of all existence, and therefore itself transcending existence, it alone could give an authoritative account of what it really is.
Gregory of Nyssa wrote in a similar vein:
The simplicity of the True Faith assumes God to be that which He is, viz., incapable of being grasped by any term, or any idea, or any other device of our apprehension, remaining beyond the reach not only of the human but of the angelic and of all supramundane intelligence, unthinkable, unutterable, above all expression in words, having but one name that can represent His proper nature, the single name of being 'Above every name';
Against Eunomius, Book I, §42
Theophilus of Antioch echoed these sentiments:
Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable.
A modern expression is found in Paul Tillich:
Thus the question of the existence of God can be neither asked nor answered. If asked, it is a question about that which by its very nature is above existence, and therefore the answer—whether negative or affirmative—implicitly denies the nature of God. It is as atheistic to affirm the existence of God as it is to deny it. God is being-itself, not a being.
Systematic Theology, Vol I, p. 237
This suggests that the issue you have addressed is not limited to unfamiliarity with eastern religions, but includes lack of acquaintance with Christian theology as well. Confronted with a difficult or arcane religious concept, the temptation for most is to reformulate it in terms of what is familiar and easier to comprehend and insist upon its reality in those borrowed terms rather than question whether it has any reality whatsoever.
Yes, I agree that this is not exclusive to eastern religion. If you posit a perennial philosophy, then perhaps it may be the root of all religion. Where I've sort of taken it is… Well, I'm not sure how to put this. But there is a kind of contemporary vocabulary that is being developed, as in the concept of "ego death" or the 11-dimensional hyperspace of M-Theory. I'll leave a link below of an attempt to compare eastern philosophy with modern science.
Brahman is often defined as the "timeless infinite source that is the ground of all being." Michio Kaku has described the so-called 11th dimension in string theory as a "place where all possibilities are contained." Someone said of time once that it's a place to keep everything from happening at once, so Kaku often uses the analogy of a musical instrument, the selected notes of the strings are what create the phenomenal world that we experience. So, the notes aren't played all at once, but the point is that all the potential notes are all already there, perhaps had always been there, but what we capture are only the selected notes which constitutes our perception.
I know these are quite vague analogies, but I think something like M-Theory is a clearer way of speaking about these imponderables and ineffabilities. Another analogy I hear quite often is a mathematical comparison. That our consciousness selects out a certain pattern or partial sectioning of this wholeness that creates this phenomenal experience in the same way that a plane is a partial sectioning of a cone when it transects it.
So, these so-called unutterable experiences we hear so often in religious context would be an experience of the entire gamut or spectrum of experience. And it is the contention of Perennial Philosophy of the sort that Aldous Huxley wrote about that it's this experience which over millennia has been interpreted by human beings as "God," "Brahman," "nirvana," "satori," "samadhi," and so forth or more contemporarily as "ego death," "cosmic consciousness," and I think it was you who turned me on to the work of Romain Rolland who referred to it as the "oceanic feeling."
Of course, that's the view I've come to agree with espoused by such people as Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley in the form of perennial philosophy, and you may think whatever you'd like about it. And, in fact, please do, but I've been very brief here. I've gone into these subjects a little bit more in-depth on another atheist forum and there's an ongoing discussion there on it. I'll leave you a link to it, if you're interested, but you're going to need to be a member to view the post. You may borrow my log-in if you'd like to view the thread.