It's so easy to fire skeptical bullets at deluded religious believers. Because they aren't me. It's a lot tougher to turn my big guns around and point them at myself.
Yet that's what we all need to do – especially those who call themselves "churchless."
The way I see it, we often fail to recognize that while we've demolished the most obvious walls of blind faith that kept us confined within dogmatic bounds, often we've just retreated to a smaller and less obvious belief structure.
We've shrunk our religiosity from a grand cathedral to something much more humble. However, it's still a church. And there's more demolishing to do before we're closer to the bare rubble of reality.
As noted in "Is there anything to do but be?" I enjoy the comment conversations on this blog. Visitors have different styles, because everybody is different.
Some come off sounding pretty darn confident that they know what the cosmos is all about. Others express their best guess in a personal fashion and leave it at that. You could call this "I'm right" versus "I like."
I fly both ways, though I make an effort to stay within "I like" as much as possible. At least when it comes to mysticism, metaphysics, philosophy, and similar sorts of subjective speculations.
With science, claims of "I'm right" can rest on a much solider foundation. Why? Because the scientific method demands skepticism.
And a competent scientist will direct his most intense skepticism at himself. A hypothesis about the nature of reality has to be falsifiable. If there's no way you can be wrong, you can't be right.
Increasingly, the Western monotheistic religions are being rejected because the notion of a personal anthropomorphic God who intervenes in human affairs is too unbelievable.
But as Meera Nanda, a philosopher of science, observes in "Spirited Away," those who are deeply skeptical about traditional religious claims often are shallowly accepting of New Age, Eastern, and holistic ways of looking at the world.
But as secularists have begun to take on religion there is a danger that in calling for a rigorous evidence-based examination of one area they leave other areas untouched. In banishing religion from the front door some of these secularists are happily letting other forms of supernatural thinking in through the back.
… Attacks by feminists, environmentalists and others on the sins of 'reductionist western science' have created a positive aura around 'holistic science' which, it is claimed, overcomes the gap between the subject and the object. It is easy to debunk faith. Faith is by definition a relationship of trust regardless of evidence.
Spiritualism has learned to dress up its metaphysical abstractions in the clothes of empiricism, neuro-physiology and quantum physics. In contrast to the obvious irrationality of believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing invisible being, belief in 'spiritual energies' which can be 'directly experienced' by anyone simply by altering the state of their consciousness can appear so much more rational, even 'scientific'.
However, they're not. Nanda takes Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith," to task for not being as critical of his own spiritual beliefs as he is of Islamic, Christian, and other fundamentalists.
But this bilious attack on faith, the aspect of the book which has received all the attention, only sets the stage for what seems to be his real goal: a defense, nay, a celebration of Harris' own Dzogchen Buddhist and Advaita Vedantic Hindu spirituality. Spirituality is the answer to Islam's and Christianity's superstitions and wars, he tells us. Spiritualism is not just good for your soul, it is good for your mind as well: it can make you "happy, peaceful and even wise". Results of spiritual practices are "genuinely desirable [for they are] not just emotional but cognitive and conceptual".
She makes some good points. It's easy to forget that while "God," "Allah," and "Jehovah" are abstractions, not directly observable or demonstrable, so are "Being," "Nonduality," and "Pure Awareness."
In science (Thomas Kuhn notwithstanding) anyone with functioning senses, adequate training and right apparatus can see the same star, the same DNA molecule, the same electron. But not everyone with adequate training in meditation techniques, and the right atmosphere, sees the same mystical reality: some see God, some see nothing at all and some, without any meditation at all, see what the mystics see. The mystical beliefs which Harris so approves of are every bit as unscientific, untestable and unverifiable as the religious belief he so aggressively attacks.