Awesome seminars?

While I am going to try and limit myself from just posting extreme examples of Mind, Body & Spirit culture here (so that I avoid, at least a little the straw man accusation), I just couldn’t quite resist this one. The image here is striking, and the list of speakers at http://www.divinetravels.com/MayanSpeakers.html seems to really reinforce the view that MBS events don’t mind if the world views they present seem to clash, having Mayan, ISKCON, regression therapy, chakras, an expert in  “Quantum Biology”, psychics, healers, and more. It seems to be philosophically impossible for  all of these to be true at once. They assert a range of seemingly conflicting claims about ultimate external and internal reality. Putting that minor quibble aside, I looked to the event itself..

When I read:

According to Mayan Elders, on December 21, 2012, the Great Cycle, which began in 3114 BC, will end. The Fourth World will pass, and the “World of the Fifth Sun” will be born.

Now catch the crest of the wave. Add your momentum to the vibrational energy that culminates in the peak spiritual event of the Millennium – the Winter Solstice of 2012, which will occur at the incredibly auspicious hour of 11:11 a.m. Universal Time on December 21, 2012.

I had no idea what was being said. Really. I had a comment on the Mayan end of the world thing from a friend. She had visited these sites -and a member of the group had asked about the 2012 prophecies. A local, indigenous tour guide had (I paraphrase) answered: They got the date wrong. The Mayan world did end – when the Spanish came and committed genocide.

This, to me, made the commercial exploitation of this ancient culture seem even more tawdry.

Heathen atheists? Part 1…

As promised, I wanted to make some comments about Julian Baggini‘s article in the Guardian, his Heathen Manifesto.

As I said in a previous post, I share much of his view that atheism is too often seen as arrogant, shouty and aggressive. That doesn’t mean that this is true of all, or even that many, atheists, but the discussion of Theism and Atheism in the public realm is often futile, combative and just plain annoying. So I was heartened by his statement of intent:

Julian BagginiThis manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism’s involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all atheists have in common. Rather it is an attempt to prescribe what the best form of atheism should be like.

This seems intriguing, at least. And off he goes with 12 principles. I will not be delving into all of them in detail, in this post. Just the first one. But I shall (be warned) return to some in the future…

He starts with what atheists call themselves. There has been much discussion around this. Some feel ‘atheist’ is too negative – too much “not-one-of-those”. So perhaps ‘humanist’.

I don’t much like this term, which I discuss the term in Dispirited, where I state that:

Humanism often has noble intentions, but regularly appears as a parody of religious groups.

I go on to say more – but the term seems rather aged and locked into a liberal, institutional political setting in our culture that means it only appeals to some atheists, and really repels others. That won’t do then. We have ‘brights’ for atheists.

Calling those who reject the supernatural and the theistic ‘brights’ is fairly new, but already seems in decline. Despite Daniel Dennett’s claim that ‘bright’ doesn’t imply that the religious person is ‘dim’ – most seem to read it that way, and I would be surprised to see the term last another decade in common use. So – Baggini is right in that stage may be set for a new term.

So he opens the manifesto with: 1. Why We are Heathens.

I have seen a lot of criticism of this term. I don’t much like it myself, and don’t expect it to catch on. Lots of critics have complained that heathen actually has two main flaws:

  1. Heathen historically has referred to believers. Whether it be historical pagans of various sorts, or some damn variety of neo-pagan reconstructionists, they have been believers. Often in many Gods, or Godessess, or in some kind of nature-focused monistic pantheism. But they clearly where/are not unbelievers.
  2. The other objection is that term is often used in a derogatory manner, as a (not very strong) insult against the ungodly. It certainly has a pejorative tone.

Those making objection 1 have a point, but it is not that fatal. Words change their meaning over time – and I am sure Baggini knows the problem, but thinks the benefits derived, and common usage as time goes on, will deal with its legacy-meanings.

Objection no.2 is clearly only put forward by those who have not fully read, or taken on board, what Baggini has to say about the term. Indeed, they seem to miss his key point in favour of the term by doing so. He knows that it is a pejorative term. That is his point, to a large degree. He says so:

If we want an alternative, we should look to other groups who have reclaimed mocking nicknames, such as gays, Methodists and Quakers. We need a name that shows that we do not think too highly of ourselves. This is no trivial point: atheism faces the human condition with honesty, and that requires acknowledging our absurdity, weakness and stupidity, not just our capacity for creativity, intelligence, love and compassion. “Heathen” fulfils this ambition

While I am still unconvinced by the actual term – the first point here is telling. Atheists are often portrayed (and I don’t intend, here, to get into the details of whether there is any basis for that portrayal) as over-earnest, smug, humourless and arrogant. This term demonstrates humour, and humility. Two substantial virtues. I was rather surprised that so many rushed to point out that the term was offensive and abusive -when that was actually (at least in large part) the actual point of selecting it.

So I will not be using the term, I dislike the register and also think it sounds way too close to all those mind/body/spirit things that I’d like to disassociate from atheism. However, I think he is well justified in looking for a better term here. Just for the record, I like his principles 3, 5 (a bit), 7, and 10 (only a little, but yes).

So for now – what will I call myself? Maybe I’ll have to stick with miserable, atheistic, existentialist nihilist git for a while longer yet…

Philosophy of Religion resources?

If anyone has interests in the Philosophy of Religion – I would recommend a look at a new blog from Dr Roy Jackson, at http://www.godofphilosophy.com/.

There are resources, some short videos, stuff that may be useful for revising students, and a sample chapter from the second edition of his God of Philosophy book. There is also a blog, and Roy will be adding more and more to the site as time goes on.

Photo blog

In the spirit of endles social media, rolling ever onwards, I have a tumblr photo blog at http://dispirited-dave.tumblr.com/

Buddha Butter Dish

This is to showcase images of Contemporary Spirituality which seem to typify the issues raised in the book. It will also be somewhere for the images

I collect of the Buddha / Buddhism, which seem rather culturally clashing, commercially crass or just plain weird. One of the first ones is the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha butter dish that I saw in Bristol today – here it is to whet your appetite foe the tumblr collection. I will be adding my existing Buddha pics to the tumble blog too, for those that have seen me display them as part of lectures/talks…

Soul Loss?

I know, I know – I was going to look at Julian Baggini’s 12 Rules for Heathens – and I will keep that promise. But: I didn’t know then about Soul Loss.

‘What is Soul Loss?’ I hear you ask. What indeed. It is ‘one of the main reasons people get ill, from a shamanic point of view‘. After telling me that shamanism dates back 40,000 years (I am not even going to begin with that claim) the article ends its first page with the helpful: Physically, the symptoms of soul loss can be pretty much anything.

So how do I know if I’ve lost mine? A shaman will help. The main cause is trauma in the past.

Now – were this all a set of metaphors for psychological distress and its impact – that might actually work perfectly well. We may have problems linked to our past, and we can use a range of images to explore and picture them and this may well help. But what struck me here was the literalism:

In a soul retrieval the skilled shamanic practitioner leaves their own body and enters into shamanic reality. This is usually (but not always) done to the accompaniment of a shamanic drum or rattle. Working with the help of their power animal(s) and other guides, the practitioner finds the soul part of the person they are journeying for and attempts to persuade it to return. If it agrees to return, the part is then gathered up, brought back to this reality and then literally blown back into the person’s body. [http://www.therapeutic-shamanism.co.uk/soul%20retreival.html]

I really am not sure what this might mean… So I looked at other Soul Retrieval providers – such as http://www.devimangohealing.com/whatissoulretrieval.htm where (after the 40,000 years claim is repeated) there is some very similar material. It seems that the key text here is the 1991 work by Sandra Ingerman called Soul Retrieval:  Mending the Fragmented Self. I have ordered a copy – and will report back.

In the meantime I note that http://www.liberate-online.co.uk/Soul-Retrieval.aspx offer soul retrieval by telephone (I wonder if it is available by text?), and that at the same site there is the claim:

So, how does soul loss manifest itself? How does someone know that they are affected by soul loss? In my experience, clients tend to make statements such as, “I don’t feel all here” “I feel lost” “I feel part of me is missing” “ A part of me died when she died” “I feel like I am constantly searching for something, but I don’t know what it is”– all these statements are indications of soul loss.

I would, from my perspective, probably rather suggest that these are indication of grief, lonliness, or existential angst at the absurdity of life. They do however also have the effect of making people feel vulnerable and at risk of exploitation by those peddling ‘answers’ which claim so much. In reality, these troubles often cannot be fixed, and certainly not easily and with ‘spirit work’, surely when people read (same site):

Everyone suffers soul loss at some point, either in the current life or former lifetimes, yet this can be swiftly rectified. It is a real blessing to do this work, the results can be miraculous!

They can begin to sense why the Mind-Body-Spirit world makes me so angry and upset?

Heathen Manifesto? Is this what we need?

In a recent article in The Guardian, Julian Baggini wrote what he called his ‘heathen manifesto’.

These 12 rules for heathens were his way of trying to go beyond the view of atheists as militant extremists with whom it is pointless to enter into debate. Back in September 2011, Julian wrote about a ‘stalemate’ in the debate about God.

So far – quite interesting. There is a tone of shouty hectoring in some atheist writing. There is a tendency to let the extremes or the most superstitious or crass elements of faith stand for the whole of religious phenomena. In my next blog post I will begin to look at some of the 12 rules – and return later for the rest.

But before I move on – if Dr Baggini is concerned about this stalemate, that must indicate that he has a view that a debate around religion is potentially fruitful and worth facilitating.

Why?

At the end of the September 2011 piece he writes of wht needs to be done to:

get beyond name-calling and move this debate forward.

What I wonder is: forward to where?

I raise this not (only) because I am a contrary git, but because I am not sure of what the function of a debate between atheists and theists is. Is it to convince each other to change our views? While better debate in such matters may be preferable, I doubt that such activity makes any difference to where most of us stand: that is – one’s faith (or lack thereof) is rarely the result of a rational, dialectic process. Humans don’t seem to quite operate like that. Furthermore, I am not sure that this is what Julian has in mind: he is not proposing a debating chamber where atheists convert theists (or vice versa). So what kind of debate would he like?  He notes (in the Rules) the importance of secularism, and I largely agree with him on this point. However – this seems non-negotiable (rightly) – so what is there to debate?

I agree that atheists need to clarify our position, to work together and individually to face various challenges: existential, political, ethical and more. That is partly why I wrote Dispirited. However while we might well learn from some aspects of some religious traditions (to disavow this view does seem like militant dogmatism), and have personal and philosophical discussions within the detail of more and less individual contexts and settings: the idea of ‘public debate’ between the larger social groupings seems to make little sense to me. As an aside, I am not quite sure even what ‘public debate’ actually means: does anyone else?

Julian Baggini writes:

It is time, therefore, for those of us who are tired of the status quo to try to shift the focus of our public discussions of atheism into areas where more progress and genuine dialogue is possible

I agree that there is work to do here, and will in future posts engage with the idea he puts forward in his manifesto, but I wonder what we might recognise as success in the context of a public discussion, or what public dialogue even hopes to be.