It never hurts to return to the basics. So in this easy-to-write post I'm going to copy in one of the first posts I wrote after I started this blog in 2004, "Our Creedless Creed," plus this blog's commenting policies.
Regarding the latter, note that comments are supposed to stick to the subject matter of a post. I'm flexible about this, but today two commenters (UM and Nimfa) engaged in an almost entirely irrelevant series of eleven chat comments on a post about the RSSB guru's authoritarianism.
As you can read in the commenting policies, off-topic comment conversations should go in an Open Thread, which I call "free speech for comments." When people read a blog post, a newspaper story, or such, then click on the comments, they expect to find comments about the subject that's been written about.
Hijacking comments for purely personal purposes is a form of spam. Again, I'm fine with an occasional off-topic comment, and admit that I haven't been consistent in enforcing this rule, but don't be surprised if your comment is deleted if it doesn't pertain to the topic of a blog post.
Here's Our Creedless Creed. It's in the category of "Basics of our faithless faith." I'm impressed that after 18 years of blogging, during which I've become steadily more atheistic, there's nothing that I would change in the creedless creed other than the last item. Currently I don't think it is likely that death provides any final answers.
If you think that any of these statements are inaccurate, make your case in a comment on this post. That will be totally on-topic! I'll add numbers to the items to make it easier to comment on them.
UPDATE: I decided to add "any possible" before "immaterial reality" to make clear that currently there is no evidence of an immaterial reality separate from our universe. And I added "may" in the final item of the creed to make clear that if consciousness ends with death, as is very likely, getting any answer after death is low probability but still possible.
Our Creedless Creed
Note: to make this Creed more readable, some qualifiers have been omitted. So "God" signifies God/ultimate reality/final truth, not just a personal divinity. And "religion" signifies religion/spiritual path/philosophy, not just a mainstream theology.
(1) There is no objective proof that any religion knows the truth about God. If there were such proof, most people on Earth would have converted to that faith long ago and all scientists would be believers.
(2) Spirituality thus is an individual affair. Proof of any metaphysical realities that exist will be subjective, not demonstrable to others.
(3) Every person has the right to pursue their own spiritual quest without interference, so long as he or she doesn't interfere with the rights of others.
(4) Since the veracity of each and every religion is unprovable, equally unprovable are the moral and ethical tenets derived from any and all religious teachings.
(5) Thus morality also is an individual affair. There are no absolute laws of right and wrong as there are absolute laws of physics. Subjectivity rules in ethics.
(6) Individual ethical decisions may be formed into a collective codification of societal norms, or laws. These are purely human, not divine.
(7) Science is the surest means of finding truth. Theory, experiment, analysis of data: such are the tools of science, whether directed toward knowing material or any possible immaterial reality.
(8) Religious teachings are hypotheses to be confirmed through individual research. As such, they must not be taken as gospel truth by adherents of a particular faith.
(9) Religious doubters, skeptics, and heretics should be honored for their efforts to assure that unproven assertions about God are not put forward as solid truth.
(10) Every adherent of a particular religion should say to himself or herself, "I could be wrong." If he or she won't do this, other people can say it for them: "You could be wrong."
(11) This creedless creed of the Church of the Churchless also could be wrong. It needs to be reexamined and revised regularly.
(12) Death may provide the final answers (if only momentarily). The spiritual quest is to get answers ahead of time. But the big question is, "What are the questions?"
And here's this blog's commenting policies.
You're welcome -- even more, encouraged -- to leave comments on Church of the Churchless posts. Some of the most interesting writing on this blog comes from other people, not me, Brian the Blogger.
All I ask is that comments be in accord with the following policies. Otherwise a comment probably will be deleted or edited.
(1) No personal attacks on me or other commenters. Challenge the message, not the messenger. Best: You're wrong, because... Semi-OK: You're a fool, because... Not-OK: You're a fool.
(2) No extreme obscenity. Write as if you were in a congenial coffeehouse discussion group, not a high school locker room after your team lost the game in the final seconds. Mild swear words are fine. But goddamn it, don't go over the top.
(3) No rants about the uselessness of this blog. If you're a religious believer, I can understand why this blog could make you angry. Solution: don't read it. If you need to vent, leave a comment on my "I Hate Church of the Churchless" anti-site, not here.
(4) No commercial or religious spam. Advertising, in a comment or a URL, obviously isn't acceptable. Neither are lengthy quotations from a religious scripture, or preachiness. See #5 below.
(5) No irrelevant comments. Please stick to the subject matter of a post in your comment. If you want to talk about something else, leave your comment in an Open Thread, email me with a blog post suggestion, or use the Google search box in the right sidebar to find a previous post on this blog concerning your "something else." (Note: Open Thread comments also should adhere to the policies above.)
(6) No trolling. On the Internet a "troll" is someone who tries to disrupt normal discussions through various annoying behaviors. Here's some ways to recognize a troll. Best response to them: no response. Their sad lives thrive on attention, so ignore them.
(7) No false "facts" about critical issues. As the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. This applies to this blog, especially about COVID-19 and other critical issues. Blatantly false comments won't be published if they're about life and death or other critical topics such as global warming.
Lastly, one of my pet peeves is how uncourteously many people behave on the Internet. "Flame wars" aren't productive, so try to keep your cool if you disagree with what somebody has said.
I agree with Wikipedia's take on Flaming:
An Internet user typically generates a flame response to other posts or users posting on a site, and such a response is usually not constructive, does not clarify a discussion, and does not persuade others. Sometimes, flamers attempt to assert their authority, or establish a position of superiority over other users. Other times, a flamer is simply an individual who believes he or she carries the only valid opinion. This leads him or her to personally attack those who disagree. In some cases, flamers wish to upset and offend other members of the forum, in which case they can be called "trolls".
Mystical experiences need testing if they become a worldview
As I've noted before, and surely will do so again, one of the pleasures I get from this blog is reading intelligent comment conversations on posts that I've written. Or in this case, on an Open Thread where the comments are the substance of the post.
Below is a comment that Appreciative Reader left on an Open Thread in response to a comment by manjit. If you want to read manjit's comment, click on that link and scroll up to the preceding comment.
Appreciative Reader has a knack for saying things in a way that I've never come across before. I'm not saying that his ideas are totally unique, just that how he expresses those ideas often is wonderfully clear and creative.
He's correct in noting that every personal experience is subjective, so not rational, logical, or scientific. The world's greatest physicist, along with everybody else, is engaged in a totally ineffable experience when eating a strawberry.
So mystical experiences are simply a subset of all experiences.
They can't be put into words, or pictures, or numbers, or anything else, just as any other experience can't. I make this point frequently on this blog: nobody can question someone else's personal experience, because they aren't the person having the subjective experience.
However, once someone claims that their mystical experience has a meaning beyond the personal, that's when I tend to agree with Appreciative Reader that reason, logic, and science come into play. He just has a fresh way of saying this, as you can read below.
That said, I'm not totally convinced that his thesis is correct about a worldview needing confirmation by reason, rationality, logic, or science. I put raspberries on my cereal every morning. The taste of those berries is "mystical," in the sense that no one but me knows how they taste to me.
But it seems a stretch to say that the fact that I buy raspberries whenever I do our weekly grocery shopping makes raspberries part of my worldview, and so requires confirmation by reason, rationality, logic, or science.
Anyway, Appreciative Reader and manjit have made me ponder things that I usually take for granted. So their comment conversation has benefitted me in that regard. I guess I tend to see a dividing line between symbolic and non-symbolic sorts of experiences, which is a bit different from how Appreciative Reader sees things.
Yet maybe we're seeing similarly. So long as I simply enjoy the taste of raspberries in a subjective, non-symbolic fashion, I'm in the realm of unquestionable personal experience. However, as soon as I try to describe their taste in some way, now I'm in the realm of questionable interpersonal experience.
As ever, pleasure to read your thought-provoking comment.
You think Brian’s approach pseudo-scientific. I’m afraid I don’t agree, at all. I’m kind of curious why you think *that*, but I’ll let it pass, because there’s way more meat in your comment, that I’d like to address, and that I’ll be glad if you’re able to answer, whenever you are able. (I’ll bookmark this thread, so that I don’t miss it, should you end up responding after awhile.)
I’ll resist the temptation of addressing much of your comment, in the interests of (relative!) brevity, and instead focus on just two things, on which your thoughts will be of great interest to me.
The first, and most important, of where we disagree is where you say this: “I think one of your incorrect understandings of mysticism is that there is anything rational, logical or scientific about it.” I’m very interested in how you can possibly have arrived at that conclusion, especially in context of how I see this, which is as follows:
I agree, the mystical experience itself is not rational or logical, in and of itself. Nothing subjective ever is. If we’re content to experience whatever mystical experience we have, and simply stop at that, then, agreed, there’s no reason for reason, rationality, logic, or science to intrude in there. But the moment we incorporate that experience into our worldview, immediately it is subject to all of these things.
And nor is this peculiar to mystical experience, I’d say this applies to any and every subjective experience. You see the sun rise in the morning. Or, say, you feel that kind-of-painful-yet-pleasant pump in your bicep after working out.
Both of those mundane, non-mystical experiences, if you’re content to register them, and simply let them be, then that’s the end of it; and there’s no call to bring in logic, reason, rationality, or science into it. However, the moment you incorporate these experiences into your worldview, even in the slightest bit, then your surest way to arriving at a worldview, a model, that comports best with reality, is by following logic, and reason, and science.
Likewise with mystical experiences, surely? If you’re content to simply have those experiences, and then leave them be, well then, sure, that’s the end to it.
But if you go worldviewing your way with those experiences, no matter how much or how little, no matter how concretely or how vaguely --- even if only negatively, in questioning the veracity or the completeness of what we know about the world --- well then, right then, right there, is when it becomes subject to rationality and to science.
(To be clear, I’m not saying mystical experiences might not occasion reason to question, maybe even revise, our worldview. They well may. My point is, the moment you do even that much, the moment you do anything other than simply register that experience, completely passively and completely without any thoughts about it at all; the moment you incorporate that experience into your worldview [no matter how much or how little, no matter how concretely or how vaguely], right then, right there, is where science becomes the surest way of ensuring that that worldview, that model, those thoughts, comport best with the actual reality.)
Which is why I cannot see how you can possibly state, as you did, that there’s nothing rational, logical or scientific about mysticism.
My other point of disagreement is where you say this (and I’ll quote that paragraph of yours in full here):
“One man's "loose-jawed goggle-eyed imbecelic dogma" is another's belief that the universe was created ex-nihilo, like a rabbit out of a hat, or that life & consciousness are the product of the random, purposeless, accidental bumping together of inert matter, as if putting some oil and pigment in a bag, giving it a good shake for 10 seconds, then throwing it at a canvas could create a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa, and assorted other credulous and magical beliefs. Humanity has a long history of conflating the cultural status quo with reality itself, and implying anyone who challenges it is a "loose-jawed goggle-eyed imbecelic" dogmatist. Very often they're more right than wrong. However, very often they're more wrong than right.”
Well said, that. I agree with much of what you’ve said there. But the essence of it, the actual point of it, that is what I disagree with completely; and, again, wonder whether you might not end up changing your mind about this on thinking a bit more about it.
Haha, agreed, things popping into existence out of nowhere does sound crazy. That goes for lots of things, and indeed most things QM [quantum mechanics], agreed, absolutely. But why do we imagine that reality must necessarily comport with our native intuition about what makes sense?
After all, our intuition itself is shaped by our evolution, and is no more than what we needed to deal to best survive while running around naked in the wilds of Africa. Whether something *sounds* reasonable to our intuition, can hardly be the touchstone for evaluating whether something is *real*.
So then, if not intuition, then how *do* we make sense of the world around us, and within us? By following the evidence. By using reason and logic. In short, science. Even if that, for the present, leads us to such apparently goggle-eyed and imbecilic --- read “counter-intutive” --- explanations, as well as non-explanations, like things popping in out of nowhere, and quantum superposition, and the rest of it.
That is, there is a huge huge huge difference between the “goggle-eyed imbecilities” that science reveals to us, and the other extravagant explanations we think up about the world by means other than scientific. And what's more, basis what I’ve said just now, perhaps you’ll agree that if there’s apparently a double standard at play here, then it’s entirely warranted, in fact it is the only thing that *is* warranted, in this context.
-- Appreciative Reader
Posted at 09:46 PM in Comments, Mystics | Permalink | Comments (6)