Even when I was a religious true believer, Eastern mysticism variety, I tried to avoid being irritatingly sanctimonious. People who consider themselves holier-than-thou are difficult to be around. And I necessarily associated with quite a few people who didn't believe in what I did.
Such as my first wife, who early on deconverted from the India-based Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) faith that I held on to for about thirty-five years. And my second wife, who always has been an "infidel" from the standpoint of RSSB.
When I gave talks at RSSB meetings, I often used her as an example, saying that it makes no sense for any devotee of a particular spiritual belief system to view themselves as being superior to others. After all, isn't spirituality supposed to have something to do with humility, love, compassion, acceptance?
Having run this churchless blog for almost eight years, I'm familiar with the putdowns of pseudo-spiritual wannabes -- because so many of those putdowns are directed at me in comments and emails. Here's some of the techniques I find most irritatingly amusing, because they are so nonsensical.
After I share those, I'll end with a suggestion about how to really put me, or another religious skeptic, down.
"Brian, you haven't had [such and such] experience. You're a spiritual loser."
This is an exceedingly lame argument.
No, I haven't experienced the blazing love of Jesus. No, I haven't had a peyote-fueled vision of the divine. No, I haven't felt the cosmic compassion of Buddha by repeating Namu Amida Butsu. No, I haven't astral traveled through inner regions of reality.
Who has experienced everything that religions, spiritual faiths, and mystical practices say is possible to experience?
And who can prove that any of these experiences are more than subjectively personal? I've had countless experiences that nobody else has. In fact, all of my experiences are unique to me, because no one can ever know someone else's conscious experience.
So this putdown is so weak as to be meaningless.
"Brian, you would have had [such and such] experience if you'd stuck with [such and such] longer. You're a quitter."
This is how I usually respond to this attempted putdown: Have you ever changed your mind, done something different, gone in a different direction, discarded one thing and picked up another?
Nobody -- repeat, nobody -- keeps on the same track forever. I can't understand how it is that many religious believers convert to a particular faith, then view any subsequent conversion to another viewpoint as a ghastly sin.
If they'd always felt that way, they would have stuck with what they originally believed. Or their lack of belief. We all learn from our experiences. We all discover what we like and don't like. We evolve in our understanding of what makes life meaningful for us.
Yet even though change is the only constant from birth until death, somehow religious fundamentalists imagine that once a believer in X, always a believer in X. If Y comes to look more true and desirable, the devil must have worked his wily ways.
Ridiculous. Please, come up with a better putdown.
"Brian, you do [such and such] and say [such and such]. You're an immoral egotist."
So what if I am? And how is it that supposedly you can judge me without being an immoral egotist, but when I criticize somebody or something, I'm all wrong?
Everybody has different standards of right and wrong. We all do what we feel we should. We're all trying to journey down the road of life in the best way possible. Still, I often disagree with what someone else is doing.
Politics is one of my passions. Every day I read the news and think, "Geez, what the Republicans are doing is so obviously wrong." But I realize that to them, us progressives are wrong. I try to avoid making absolutist moral judgments.
Which reminds me of some passages I read today in one of my favorite books, Raymond Smullyan's "The Tao is Silent." He describes four people. Smullyan likes the fourth a lot. The first, not at all.
The fourth says, "Why do I act as I do? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea why. It is simply my nature to act as I act, and that's all I can say." ...The last one delights me utterly!... He is the one who is completely natural, spontaneous, and unself-consciously helpful.
...The first says, "I regard it as my duty and moral obligation to help my fellow man." ...But the first man! Good heavens, what a monstrosity!... People like the first man are so often pompous, vain, ego-assertive, puritanical, inhuman, self-centered, dominating, and unsympathetic. They are the people who act out of "principles." In a way, they are even worse than people who don't help others at all!
l don't know if I'm egotistical. I just do what I feel like doing.
Sure seems like that also is what people who criticize me for being an egotist are doing. Difference is, I don't feel superior to other people when I do what I feel like doing -- which makes me less egotistical!
Anyway, this gets me to how someone could really put me down for what I'm doing here on the Church of the Churchless: provide some super-good evidence that I'm wrong to be skeptical about god, soul, spirit, supernatural powers, and all that.
Ooh! That would show me!
I'd have to admit that what I've been saying in so many blog posts is wrong, wrong, wrong. I'd have to bow down before the truth: God is real; the soul survives bodily death; spirit is the ultimate reality; some people have supernatural abilities.
Actually, I'd be happy to do that: admit I was wrong. It'd be nice to know that there's more to life, existence, and the cosmos than what appears to be. More is better, for sure. Especially if it really is better.
Problem is, for the putdown to be effective, you need to bring your best stuff.
Facts, demonstrable evidence, proof. No one ever has been able to do this throughout all of recorded human history, so I doubt anyone is going to submit a blog post comment or send me an email with truly convincing arguments for some sort of divinity.
That's why I'm pretty sure those unconvincing putdowns will continue. Those who don't know, but believe they do, are spiritual wannabes who can't stand people like me who look at them and say, "Oh, really?"