Originally posted by epiphinehas
*READ THIS FIRST: The purpose of the RHP Faith Clinic is to address any objections to Christian doctrine by using reason alone. I don't claim to be a master logician, but I am seeking the challenge of using reason by itself to prove at least the portion of Christian doctrine which is amenable to reason. Some of you may take this as a challenge to dispr ...[text shortened]... etween you and a belief in God? What about Christian doctrine do you disagree with and why?
Although this is getting ahead of bbarr’s prefatory concerns:
(1) Is the point to argue that Theism/Christianity are more reasonable than any of the alternatives, or as reasonable, or as the only reasonable positions? [For the purpose of these notes, I assume more reasonable.]
(2) Since one of the great divides in religious philosophy is nondualism versus (supernaturalistic-theistic-) dualism, the theist needs to show that non-dualism is the more reasonable position.
—I am not excluding straightforward atheism from the discussion. Some nondualists consider themselves also to be atheists, since they treat theism strictly in a dualist sense; on the other hand, some strictly nondualist systems also use the “g-word” (or the “t-word”, theos
) just in reference to the one Whole that is ground-of-being. Either way, the question here is to what extent it makes sense to speak of “the Whole”—i.e., ultimately one (cosmos, god-as-cosmos, cosmos-as-manifestations-of-“god” , as opposed to minimally, two (God + cosmos).
—This debate, from the theist’s point of view, generally centers on one of the so-called “proofs of god”: ontological, cosmological, teleological.
—I present at least a summary argument for nondualism below.
(3) Then, the theist needs to show that her/his
particular understanding of the claimed god(s) is more reasonable than any of the others.
—One needs to be careful here of treating the other religions more superficially than one’s own, thereby setting up strawmen (e.g., treating Judaism as the “religion of the ‘old testament’”, or Trinitarian Christianity as “polytheistic”, etc.).
(4) ”...but I would ask that you refrain from any appeals to the authority of scripture...”
In any religion that rests on so-called written revelation, it is the reasonableness of treating that “revelation” as authoritative (and in what manner) that needs to be argued. This is really just a subset of (3), with regard to such religions.
Is it your intention that all religious language be taken as propositional for purposes of this discussion? Since I take almost all religious language to be metaphorical (or as story-myth, or symbolic, or as parable, or as apophatic-paradoxical, etc.), even if there may be some historical background content, I have less and less trouble all the time in using the language from any of the formal religions within the context of nondualism. Like others, I find that “the perennial philosophy” has streams in nearly all of the formal religious expressions (each itself a branching river on the one spiritual ocean).
“The Holy One manifests
in a myriad forms;
I sing the radiance of the forms.”
Now, just as “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18; also 1st John 4:12 and 1st Timothy 6:16), no one has ever seen the Whole—the totality that has no edge, the all-in-all-without-another, etc. From where could one circumscribe the Whole with one’s own perception? How can one perceive the whole Gestalt?—or the ground without figure, or the figure without ground?
All analogies for the Whole are limited to being drawn from figure-composites conceived against the background. To artificially separate the ground from the figures, and vice-versa—and then to apply names like “god” and “world” to that artificial separation—is, from a nondualist point of view, illusion. [Note that certain optical illusions, such as the Grecian-urn/two-faces example, are often used to illustrate the inseparability of the whole gestalt, except in our perception (and subsequent mental conceptions).]
When one allows one’s thinking, concept-making mind to go quiet in the simple clarity of awareness of meditation, one simply realizes (perhaps “intuits’ is the proper word, pace
bbarr’s post above) the artificiality of separating any figure—including the figure-complex represented by the thought/word “I”—the ground in which the figure appear, move, and pass away. One observes that one’s perceptions are figure-clusters grouped by the brain, distinguished and combined, against the more general ground—and that what now is seen as figure, recedes to the ground as one shifts one’s attention
One can also observe one’s thoughts as they arise—against what ground of the consciousness?—combine into flocks, and then pass away like a flock of geese across the sky...
From observation (meditation is a form of observation), I notice how my perceptions work and how my thinking/concept-making mind works. I note that, in each case, there seems to be a figure-ground gestalt formed—such as “I” and “other”, and the background against which I relate them. I also notice that the “I-complex”—the developed “somebody-self construct” which includes both what is sometimes called the “social self” and how I think
about “myself”—is just another figure-composite.
NOTE: I know nothing really about “gestalt philosophy”; I know a little about gestalt therapy, and am re-reading some stuff in the attempt to apply that language here. Fritz Perls once said that he thought that gestalt therapy really did everything that Zen does, just from a more western, psychological perspective.
Bbarr might help with the appropriate epistemic language here, but basically:
(1) I conduct empirical observations in meditation.
(2) In the course of spontaneous reflection,* I intuit the existential non-separability and “mutual arising” of all the figure/forms (including myself) and the ground from which and in which they arise.
(3) In subsequently thinking about my observations, I use the descriptive language of figure-ground gestalt. (I might use other language as well, but right now I am using that.)
(4) I induce from my observations, reflections and thoughts about it: (a) that the entire existential shebang can be reasonably described using the language of figure-ground-gestalt (and the Zen language of non-separability and mutuality); and (b) that it is reasonable to conclude that the figures/forms are manifestations from, in and of the dynamic whole gestalt.
—In other words, it makes sense to speak of the Whole from which I am manifest, in which I exist, of which I am, and to which I return (i.e., into which the component “strings” of this composite manifestation I call “I” are dispersed). This Whole is the “All-in-all-without-another”, and to which nothing needs to be added.
— Metaphorically, I am like a current that has arisen in the all-encompassing ocean; that current is inseparable from the ocean, but is transient in form as are all the forms that I observe. Whether or not the ocean (the Whole, the Gestalt) is itself transient, I have no idea.
[NOTE that my approach here follows roughly the four-fold dynamic outlined by Austin as below.]
—I am at this point agnostic about what the fact that this particular current is conscious (and self-reflectively conscious) might imply about the Whole. That appears to be a kind of side argument between the Advaita Vedantists and the Kashmiri Shaivites (both thoroughly nondualistic, though the latter uses theistic language metaphorically): The former stress the concept of sat-chit-ananda
(privileging being, sat
over consciousness, chit
) while the latter stress chit-sat-ananda
* James Austin, in his book Zen and the Brain
calls this reflexive interpretation. He identifies four different “categories of experience” in an unfolding sequence attending meditation (or, the so-called “mystical experience” ):
“1. Raw experience
. These first features are not thought about, they happen
. They are theologically neutral, and lie far outside any of the person’s prior beliefs, expectations or intentions.”
—I have described this as simply being aware prior to thinking or conceptualizing about it all all.
“2. Reflexive interpretations
. These are original interpretations which the person formulates spontaneously either during the experience itself or immediately after.
“3. Incorporated interpretations
. These contain references to features of the experience influenced by that particular person’s prior beliefs, expectations, and intentions.”
—Somewhere between 2. and 3. in Austin’s schema may be what I have previously called “immediate translation”. This is where the mind forms conceptual content from the raw experience: e.g., that one is experiencing an encounter with Krishna or the risen Christ. Austin comments: “Alan Watts noted that devout orthodox believers have so automatically associated the imagery of a lifetime of icons with their emotions that these symbols then seem to lie at the core of their mystical experiences.”** [Austin, p. 22.] However, I have known people whose “immediate translation” seems to have drawn upon other symbols embedded in their consciousness, that stemmed from a different religious paradigm than the one they were theretofore most familiar with.
“4. Retrospective interpretations
. These contain references to religious or other doctrinal-type interpretations not formulated until much later, after the experience ends.”
[Quotes from Austin, pp. 21-22; italics in the original.]
** It should be clear that by the term “mystical” I do not mean anything supernatural or occultic. I really simply mean that raw experience
described by Austin.