jeeprs wrote:In my view, Dawkins notion of God is essentially meaningless (which is ironic considering how many books it has sold). He says in his book The God Delusion that God must be 'infinitely complex', on the grounds that 'a thing that designs must be more complex than what is designed.' But this is nothing like the depiction of God in any work of Christian theology or philosophy. He seems to think of God very much as the image of an archaic celestial deity like Zeus or Jupiter.
And I wonder who judges what "complex" means and by what standard. You hit on one of the main things that's always confused me about this whole debate. Everyone seems to have a different notion of what the idea "God" is, so proving or disproving that idea seems like a fruitless exercise. But I've also noticed few even realize their idea of God isn't some absolute that everyone experiences identically. How bizarre
Maybe I just lack curiosity, but I've also never understood the urge to classify one of the biggest abstractions in human thought into a "true exists" or "not true doesn't exist" system. Assuming we all can agree on what we mean by "God", what would knowing if it is apparently as real as me picking my nose have to do with anything? Can someone clarify the viewpoint to me so I can understand the situation of atheists/theists marred in doubt or belief? I also ask because this apparent factual-oriented belief in a deity doesn't seem to do much to relieve everyday suffering.
It's mainly on my mind because of the time of year. You can't help but wonder at the screaming Black Friday crowds in apparently painful consumerist desire and trampling each other while statistically 90% of them have a belief in God in the US.
Thank you I hope this isn't too off topic.
Everyone seems to have a different notion of what the idea "God" is, so proving or disproving that idea seems like a fruitless exercise.
Quite true. In fact the Madhyamikas would say that any assertion about something conceived as 'the absolute', whether positive (exists) or negative (doesn't exist) would be meaningless. Accordingly Buddhists generally refrain from speculating about questions of this type. That is why their focus is on meditation and the actual practice of the path. Such debates can and do result in interminable arguments which can never be resolved.
So that is kind of a "Buddhist disclaimer". However there is another answer to Dawkins, from more of a Christian viewpoint. This is that 'God' is not 'something that exists'. 'God' is not some kind of super-being or celestial deity, or, in fact, any kind of existing thing whatever. Of course the human imagination will want to imagine some being that exists, so we came up with:
which I am sure is the kind of being that Prof Dawkins has in mind whenever he talks about 'God'. (Incidentally, it is not for nothing that the Muslims won't allow any images of deity whatever, but I digress).
However, I think the authentic conception or understanding of 'God' is mystical and therefore, not able to be represented in any kind of image whatever. In my view, because Christianity was born out of an amalgamation of a number of different ideas and traditions (Biblical, Greek, Gnostic, and even Pagan), there always was, and remains, a great deal of unclarity about these ideas. But a quote from a text about the theologian Paul Tillich is much nearer to my understanding of the meaning of the word, if it is to mean anything whatever:
"Religion is direction or movement toward the ultimate or the unconditional. And God rightly defined might be called the Unconditional. God, in the true sense, is indefinable. Since the Unconditional precedes our minds and precedes all created things, God cannot be confined by the mind or by words. Tillich sees God as Being-Itself, or the "Ground of all Being." For this reason there cannot be "a" God. There cannot even be a "highest God," for even that concept is limiting. We cannot make an object out of God. And the moment we say he is the highest God or anything else, we have made him an object. Thus, beyond the God of the Christian or the God of the Jews, there is the "God beyond God." This God cannot be said to exist or not to exist in the sense that we "exist". Either statement is limiting. We cannot make a thing out of God, no matter how holy this thing may be, because there still remains something behind the holy thing which is its ground or basis, the "ground of being."
So in this understanding, "God" is not "a being" but "being itself", the source of existence, rather than something that exists. And Richard Dawkins shows not the slightest inkling of that way of thinking. That is even obvious to secular critics of Dawkins, such as Terry Eagleton, who says in his scathing and hilarious review of The God Delusion
Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.
If you're interested in a really informed analysis of the controversy, from a generally spiritual-but-not-too-religious perspective, from someone who really does understand the subtleties, have a look at Karen Armstrong's The Case for God.
Anyway, this is a Buddhist forum, and, fortunately for Buddhism, it doesn't really have a dog in the fight.
Sherlock wrote:Your position is that flat-out anyone who is post-Darwin and a believer isn't smart. I'm just saying that's not true.
You are telling me what my position is and I am disagreeing with you. Who am I supposed to believe, me or you? Are you saying you know what my position is better than I do? If you read the back posts you will find that what I said is nowhere near as general as you assert above.
I'm thinking specifically of some Christians I know indirectly who have been very unkind towards me as a non-Christian, and specifically as a gay man. If I'm so despicable, where is the compassion for someone who in their eyes is inferior and hell-bound? Jesus gave very specific instructions on how to treat those that we see as the "least of these".
Conversely, if God is such a silly non-entity to atheists like Dawkins, why assiduously insist on that fact and proselytize? I've met some atheists who are fundamentalist in their views, so I carefully change the subject if the conversation heads that way. I've been told I'm just an atheist by another name for my agnosticism on the matter. Interesting.
Anyway, I feel all of this is of merit to consider since in the US at least, I'm surrounded by people for whom this is an issue one way or the other. Thank you, jeeprs, for clarifying this for me. I'd heard of the transcendental or panentheistic God idea, but didn't realize that some essentially equate God with Zeus, "somewhere out there doing magic". For how much Dawkins purports to know on the matter if he wrote a whole book about it, I'm surprised his view isn't more nuanced or reflective of broader Christianity.
One of the seminal influences in my life was the Alan Watts book 'The Wisdom of Insecurity'. It was about the ability not to hold too tightly to anything - ideas, identities, even Buddhism itself if it is considered as a 'belief system'. The antidote is the wisdom of un-knowing - as in Socrates: 'All that I know, is that I know nothing' - and Lao Tze: 'He that knows it, knows it not'.
Basically renunciation and meditation is 'letting go' which is the opposite of clinging. It is learning to live with uncertainty (which is one of the meanings of emptiness, Śūnyatā ) while fundamentalism, whether atheist or religious, is hell bent on dispersing, pushing away, and otherwise denying, the unknown. I'm sure that is one of the reasons that atheists are so angry all the time: they're hiding from something in their own minds, which, I think, is our own innate sense of lack, of emptiness.
I have learned there is an element of that understanding in the Semitic religions, also, but you would never normally find it. But that is what the Karen Armstrong book I mentioned has highlighted.
Alan Watts on faith:
Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water. You don't grab hold of the water when you swim, because if you do you will become stiff and tight in the water, and sink. You have to relax, and the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging, and holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.
Being very cerebral, it's tempting for me to try to crystallize every damn thing into an idea that can be neatly explained. I sympathize with the desire for solidity. Unfortunately I found solace in some simple dharma then dove in head first not realizing what I was getting myself into.
If I had to guess what ails a lot of people that define themselves with specific ideas, I would say that the tighter the grasping and reinforcing process becomes, the less energy and space there is available for anything else. It takes tremendous energy to overcome some habits, especially ones reinforced on a daily basis like how we view other people. I may be mistaken, but for me it's felt like I have limited resources of attention and determination, so I have to direct them wisely. If this is the case, then it makes sense why a fundamentalist approach saps attention and concern about other areas like tolerance of opposing views or kindness to strangers.
duckfiasco wrote:I would say that the tighter the grasping and reinforcing process becomes, the less energy and space there is available for anything else. It takes tremendous energy to overcome some habits, especially ones reinforced on a daily basis like how we view other people. I may be mistaken, but for me it's felt like I have limited resources of attention and determination, so I have to direct them wisely. If this is the case, then it makes sense why a fundamentalist approach saps attention and concern about other areas like tolerance of opposing views or kindness to strangers.
That's Freud's theory of cathexis - the investment of (one's finite and limited) mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea - it does suggest that desire/grasping/making the world appear a certain way does play a significant role in taking a stance - which is exactly what Buddhist practice addresses.
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