I don't go to the Radha Soami Satsang Beas version of church (satsang) anymore. But in a way, I still attend a service. And it's a lot more real and satisfying than the one way "sermons" I used to listen to, and give, back in my true believing days.
Yesterday I got together, as usual, with my Sunday coffeehouse conversing bunch. Most have had, or still have, a connection with RSSB. We're not dogmatic, though, and that makes all the difference.
Most of the time it was just me, Lynette, and Hans huddled at a table, sipping expresso and munching on nachos, making tremendous progress at figuring out the mysteries of the cosmos.
Next week, we'll do it all over again.
That's the beauty of open, unstructured, respectful discussion. You feel good about where you're going, even though you know that the road has no end.
I was able to try out some arguments from a book that I've halfway through reading, which I can tell is going to become one of my all time favorites in the What's It All About? genre. It's "The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality" by Andre Comte-Sponville, a French philosopher and professor at the Sorbonne.
It's wonderful. And not only because I agree with almost everything Comte-Sponville says. It's the way he says it that grabs me just as much.
He'd fit right in with our coffeehouse discussing. He's got one of those marvelous minds that cut through intellectual crap and focuses right in on the essence of a subject. In this case, the nature (or non-nature) of God, and how we relate to God's existence (or non-existence).
Later I'll share some specifics from Comte-Sponville's book. For now, I'll relate how immersing myself in some right on philosophical writing affected my talking with Lynette and Hans.
Without being obnoxious, or so I hope, I kept trying to bring us back to solid ground. Reality. Here and now, rather than there and then.
Concepts are mind frothings, like the top layer of a latte. It's enjoyable to sip, but underneath is the heart of the drink. Same with speculating about the nature of the cosmos and human existence. Sticking with what we directly experience makes for much better musings.
Like Comte-Sponville, we'd start talking about God and I'd say, "First, let's ask What is God?" If that word, "God," is just a concept with no substantive reality behind it, discussing divinity is like analyzing unicorn behavior.
It's all make believe – though taken with great seriousness by the world's religions. Leaving the purely conceptual froth aside, what we're left with is communing in a community of fellow believers or seekers.
That's what we were doing at the coffeehouse. And that's what billions of people do in their own religious gatherings: enjoy the presence of other people with whom they share a common bond.
OK, I can't resist sharing some Comte-Sponville quotes along these lines.
What binds believers together, as seen by an outside observer, is not God, whose existence is open to doubt; rather, it is their communion within the same faith. Such, according to Durkheim and most sociologists, is indeed the true content or primary function of religion – it favors social cohesion by reinforcing communion of thought and adhesion to the rules of the group.
…The question of faith should not obfuscate the more decisive question of fidelity. Do I really wish to subject my conscience to a belief (or unbelief) that cannot be verified? Do I really wish to derive my morals from my metaphysics and measure my duties against my faith? That would mean giving up a certainty for an uncertainty, an actually existing humanity for an only possibly existing God. This is why I sometimes like to describe myself as a faithful atheist.
…I had given a lecture, somewhere in the provinces, on the idea of a godless spirituality. Among the people who had come up to chat with me after the lecture was a rather elderly man who introduced himself as a Catholic priest (and I saw there was a small golden cross pinned to his lapel). "I came to thank you," he said. "I enjoyed your lecture very much." Then he added, "I agreed with everything you said."
I thanked him in turn, but could not help adding, "Still, Father, I must admit it surprises me to hear you say you agreed with everything I said. Surely you can't agree when I say I don't believe in either God or the immortality of the soul!"
"Oh," said the elderly priest with a benevolent smile, "those are such secondary matters."
Beautiful. And so true. That's why our coffeehouse conversing was so enjoyable yesterday.
We zeroed in on immediate human reality and left the secondary matters – God, guru, soul, life after death – for the conceptualizers.
Get real. Is there anything else to do?