Conversations With You
[NOTE: It was apparent from the email suffix that K was writing from Australia, thus my comment about geography. -DC]
Thanks so much for writing and letting me know you liked my poem. I haven't had too much feedback on those, and it means a lot to know others are reading and enjoying them, even on other parts of the planet!
I really enjoyed the Brooke poem. I had not read that since I was a boy and had almost forgotten about it. Very interesting in this context.
Thanks again, and write anytime.
It's a pleasure, David. I just noticed your signature, "Digital Artist" - are those your artworks on the website? Redgate_1.jpg is pretty cool.
I loved some of your writing - it was intriguing to read about your joyful moment of dissilusionment, even though the loss of my own religion wasn't accompanied by any great pain - more of a "phew, the guilt is lifted" moment really. I was 8 or 9 when I equated God with Santa Claus, and 14 when I finally stopped trying to believe.
I noticed you've got quite a few books listed on your website about the history of Christianity. I was wondering if there's a single book - or perhaps a couple - that can give me a good historical overview, without delving too much into the theology?
Hey, I'm in Sydney, by the way. I laughed when I read your "other parts of the planet" - makes me feel like I'm on Mars or something. Culturally speaking, we're probably reasonably similar to the US...
Here's your list (what do the double asterisks mean?)
[She listed part of my books list. Note: the asterisks have been upgraded to a bolding of the names in the current list. - DC]
I should have said "other parts of OUR planet"! I'm something of a geography nut and I still get a kick out of connecting with folks from places far away. I do know that Australia is very culturally similar to the U.S., and my wife and I intend to come visit there one of these days when we can scrape up the funds. I think I'd like Australia a lot, actually.
You asked about the artwork; yes, those are all my work. If you back up one URL level from the Joy site and just go to www.newrational.com you will find links to my other sites, some of which are artwork galleries, etc. Thanks for noticing!
The book list on my site is rather long, but then, I've been reading all this stuff for years! The double asterisks just indicate books I think are particularly important. One of these days, I'll get around to making commentary on all of them. You asked for a recommendation for the best book(s) on the historical overview of Christianity. I presume you have or can find most of the traditional histories that just restate the orthodox views. If you want to see a more accurate view, I would recommend looking at the books that explain how early Christianity was actually another version of the various "mystery religions" of the time. The most accessible of these are the two books by Freke and Gandy: "The Jesus Mysteries", and "Jesus and The Lost Goddess" (in that order). Whether you agree or not with all they say, it becomes clear that the original form of the Christian religion was a clone of those ancient mystery religions that taught a direct, personal connection with the Divine. The general term for this philosophy is Gnosticism.
Most people are not aware of the tremendous and thorough suppression of gnostic philosophy by the Roman church, or if they are, they still think of it in the terms that the Roman church promulgated - namely that it was a terrible heresy and that it is good that it is no longer around. Although Paul was revised to make him look like a virulent anti-gnostic, it is obvious in much of his Biblical writings that he takes a gnostic viewpoint.
Gnosticism in general has survived to this day, and it is an area I am personally researching and becoming involved in. Not the Christian "flavor" of it, actually, but rather in its more modern, pagan, even scientific modes. Some of this deals with shamanism, the oldest form of "religion", and it ties directly to more modern ideas such as those of Carl Jung.
Glad to hear you had a relatively easy time of disconnecting with traditional belief. You can probably tell that for some folks, like myself, it was a real life-wrencher, kind of like turning around one day and realizing that we are all the experiments of some aliens or something. Hmmm, might be something to that! :)
Subject: great site
I enjoyed looking over your site and the content thereof. myself have recently *de-converted* from Christianity so there have experienced the dichotomy of joy with dissolution as you aptly put it.
Though I can see more clearly now since I have thrown off the shackles of faith, I do not regret my experience in the church at the same time. What is keen about your site is that you don't spend time bashing Christians as many ex-Xians do. Anymore I am close to the atheist way of thinking but find many of them annoying with their venom. What I have noticed is that many atheists and fundamentalists feed one another's fire and they enjoy the bashing game to convince themselves.
Frankly I agree with E.O. Wilson, the sociobiologist and atheist, that religion will not go away anytime soon given that there seems to be a biological root for religious ritual,thinking. Many Freethinkers are just as utopian as Christian missionaries to juxtapose that we can social engineer a pure secular society via education and reliance on reason& science. The fact is that the majority of the human population finds this boring. Even when the claims of dogmatic religion are debunked on paper, many will prefer remaining in the safety of their shoebox worldview. Richard Dawkins claims that religion is a mind virus. It certainly seems that way.
Well, pardon my own soapbox here. Just intended to send you a bit of fan mail and to keep up the good work.
Thanks very much for your email! I appreciate hearing from those who have found my site to be useful in some way.
I agree that many people will never venture a peek outside their small box of understanding - a worldview that was delivered to them by someone else claiming authority. It is uncomfortable outside that box and people have been trained and raised to be weak in this regard, even to the point of being proud of their weakness and ignorance.
You are quite right about the strictly rationalist worldview not being viable any more than the traditional religious worldviews are for designing and fulfilling human society. I am quite interested in what drives us and where "religion" came from in the first place - that "biological root".
I don't know if religion is a "mind virus" or some other kind of unnatural expression within our species, but it could be. It may rather be that there is a fundamental, instinctual process in humans that causes us to desire to connect with the rest of nature in a more basic manner. This is a desire that goes largely unconcsious in our western societies where we've been trained to believe only in the things we have created with our brains. It could be that we have developed our cognitive abilities so much that we've lost touch with the rest of our body and spirit (however we may define that). The mainstream recieved religions just take us further away from any direct "connection" with the universe or nature by claiming that this life is not important and will be destroyed and that all good things will come later, after this life. In fact, these religions (and the governments that are derived from them) are deathly afraid of any philosophy that encourages people to not only think for themselves, but to actually seek out direct experience of things beyond the cognitive, material world around them. Such experiences could cause people to reject their authority and usurp their power.
Some of the so-called "primitive" societies are more in tune with their place in the natural world and some of their science is different from ours in ways that can be paradigm shifting. Many of them can see and work with things that we Westerners seem to have forgotten somehow.This is something I am exploring now, and it is quite interesting. I consider it true scientific investigation on the edge of current (Western) knowledge and beyond. I plan to offer some sharing of this new journey on a new site very soon.
[NOTE: to be found at: https://davidcrews.wordpress.com -DC]
Thanks for your observations about the tone of my site. I wanted it to be encouraging and not bashing. I understand the venomous atheist and the entrenched Christian very well, having experienced both situations myself to a greater or lesser degree, but I also know that both are traps. For the believer, it is a trap of never having been truly autonomous - taking in and evaluating new ideas- or of allowing themselves to become bound and indentured by those who claim authority. For the atheist, it is a trap of skeptical existentialism (only believe in what you can sense, but be sure to be skeptical of everything anyway - and never give an idea the lattitude of possibility). For those who were once believers, it is often a matter of being "mad at God" for not being real or what they wanted, and so spending the rest of their lives sulking and deriding believers. Surely, both of these philosophies are dead ends.
So, what then? Off we go into a real life - learning, sensing, helping others, and enjoying every moment of "right now"! That's the way I look at it, anyway. I hope it will be the same for you, and I wish you well on your journey, MB. Thanks again for writing, and do so anytime.
Subject: consecraction of consciousness
I read your web page article "The Consecration of Consciousness." It sounded exactly like Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. In objectivism, there is no God, and man's highest and most noble moral action is creative work. It is a philosophy that has appealed to me since I began reading "Atlas Shrugged" (by Rand). Have you read it?
I am currently a Christian (Mormon) struggling with my beliefs, largely due to the apparent historical problems associated with my faith. However, I haven‚t thrown out God completely yet. I don‚t think there is any way to prove or disprove the existence of God, and it probably comes down to a simple choice to believe or disbelieve. For the time being, I see God in just the same way as I see the ocean ˆ it is beautiful and powerful and full of life, and my relationship to it depends solely upon me. The ocean will go on rolling whether I admit it‚s existence or not. I might feel at one with the ocean on a surfboard, and in the next moment a giant wave might crush me on the coral. The ocean makes no moral judgment either way, and neither should I. I won‚t curse the ocean or deny its existence; it simply is what it is.
I have been reading Marcus Aurelius lately. He believes in a higher intelligence or order, which sometimes he even refers to as "The Gods." However, he is open-minded enough to realize that when he dies, that might be the end of his existence. But it might not.
I have found your website helpful. There is a certain panic that I feel when I realize that (to paraphrase William Blake's The Fly‚ "the want of thought is death," but I have found that life is more precious when you see how little time you have left. I have begun studying actual history rather than the mythical version I was raised on, and I find the Romans, Greeks, and Founding Fathers to be just as interesting, and infinitely more inspiring, because they are real.
Thx - JS
Also, your poetry is very good. That is rare on the internet, particularly on homemade web sites.
Thanks for your email! I really appreciate hearing from you.
I am somewhat familiar with Ayn Rand, but have not had the time to read much of her work except parts of "The Virtue of Selfishness". . . Like you, I see at least the possibility of something "out there" that we might consider divine or at the center of things, but to call it "God" is too tied up in preconceived notions and paradigms that are patently false. I like your ocean analogy, but this ocean is much more difficult to touch or bathe in. This universe is certainly beautiful and powerful, but it is also vast and mostly untouchable, unlike our handy and compact sea.
Is there something or some"one" at the center of it all? That is the question, and the quest, but I have ceased calling it by any particular name until I have more data. The closest I come is to call it that "Divine Other", for one thing is clear - it is not human or ego/human in its form or personality. There is no "Daddy God" for us, as much as we might like it to be so. I feel like we probably would have to "evolve" into something beyond human to really be able to see its form (and perhaps we shall), but I have come to believe that some people can "encounter" this divine essence in certain ways in this life and form. As you imply, any such encounter is solely on its terms, not ours. The great hurricane pays little attention to the fish of the sea, much less any single one of them, and they should not expect to be able to alter the mighty wind's course by even an atom's width.
I guess part of what I'm saying is that I feel this Divine Other is an integral, if not causal, part of Nature. Since we, too, are a part of Nature, we should be able to connect in some manner, however tenuous, with this force. Many of those who have experienced shamanistic "journeys" or altered their concsiousness in other ways, such as with entheogens, have reported such connections. It's not an area of interest to orthodox science, because it is not in the zone of accepted knowledge yet, but that does not mean it is not scientific. I am exploring this frontier now, and I hope to be journalling some of this part of my journey onto a new website soon for those who may be interested. As you may expect from the content of my Joy of Disillusionment site, this new journey will never be about belief, only about doing and recording.
I'm happy you found the material on "nowness" helpful. There is a lot more of that side of the philosophy out there that I did not know about when I wrote that part. The famous book by Eckhart Tolle, "The Power of Now" is one of them, along with some of the eastern writers. I'm reading an old (1951) volume right now by Alan W. Watts, called "The Wisdom of Insecurity" that is also deeply about this topic. I concur about the increase in value we give to life when we are no longer fooled by fantasies of eternal existence, but it even goes deeper than considering "how much time I have left" and setting a new perspective accordingly. If we finally come to the conclusion that only the present moment is real, then life is completely focussed and becomes infinitely valuable during each "moment" of it. I like Phillip Wheelwright's quote that "...to be of the present is to be, and candidly know ourselves to be, on the crest of a breaking wave." That wave is ever-cresting, and we are always tossed about in that energy that is Life.
Thank you so much for your kind comments about my poems. Those are really the more personal, emotional things I put out there, and I am very appreciative when anyone finds a connection with them.
Happy Trails to you, JS, wherever the wave takes you, and thanks so much for your email. Write anytime.
Thanks for your reply. However, what are entheogens? Also, I was surpised to read that you accept the validity of personal experience, which is where most mormons go to validate their belief in God. For us (I'm an extreme sceptic, but still actively practicing, therefore I can still say "us"), the highest form of knowledge is personal witness, which we refer to as "testimony." Mormons routinely overlook the most glaring logical discrepancies, because their personal testimony overrides all. I have personally experienced the feeling of what I call "God" many times. Others might call it the experience of the numinous, or a mystical union with the infinite. Whatever. The point is that, much like Jodie Foster's character in the movie "Contact", I have felt something that I believe is God, and no amount of arguing can dissuade me from it. It is a personal experience that I can't deny (nor could Blaise Pascal, who was nothing if not a master of logic, and who I believe felt the same thing, which he recorded in "Pensees.") Most mormons would claim the same about their belief in Joseph Smith and the all-encompassing correctness of their religion. There is no way to refute personal experience.
That's why I can't completely deny God. I've felt him (or her, or it), and to me that is as good a fact as any. However, I can't believe that God is looking out for everyone's best interests, because there are too many children being murdered in the Sudan right now. It's a fairly common philosophical problem, which is probably why I haven't left mormonism yet. I can't believe in my religion 100%, but since nobody else has satisfactorily answered the questions that mormonism has failed to answer, I guess I have nowhere else to turn. And besides, it's really a pretty nice lifestyle - a tad constricting at times, but generally healthy and good.
So for now I only know what I know - that there is a universal intelligence, which I call God, and that it has many characteristics of the ocean. It is grand, beautiful, and dangerous. And I disagree that it is difficult to bathe in. You and I swim in it every day. I feel it all around me, and I see it's influence in everything, both good and bad. Maybe you don't have this same experience. I don't know. If you don't, you're never going to get it by reading books. I don't mean to sound condescending by that, but the only reason I found Pascal interesting was because his story sounded familiar, not because he was telling me about something of which I had no conception. Judging by your ability with poetry, I would guess that you're a receptive, sensitive person. You admit that "some people" probably experience a connection to the infinite, but it doesn't sound like you include yourself in this category. Is this true?
Thank you for responding. . . .I agree with most everything you've said. I agree that a personal experience is not something we can refute. By its nature, it's "personal" - not empirical or measurable. That said, it is one thing to have an experience, and it is quite another matter to interpret it in a particular manner. I feel that most traditional religionists, including Mormons, when they do have a legitimate spiritual "experience" have a predeliction to interpret it in those well-known and expected terms. A Mormon would naturally interpret it in Mormon terms, whereas a Hindu would interpret the identical experience in terms of Hinduism, etc. Growing up, I don't know what I would have interpreted such an event as, since I was raised in a sect that did not believe such things possible in our time.
No, I can honestly say that I have never had a direct experience of this type, other than some very intriguing and powerful dreams. Once, I would have discounted such experiential reports from others as nothing more than emotionalism. I've looked into it more now and I have come to believe that such experiences are often valid and quite attainable - and they can be life-changing in their effect. I am a sensitive and receptive person, and I do honestly seek such an experience, but here's what is crucial: I am determined to keep my interpretation filters wide open and not jump to any conclusions about the reality or meaning of such an event. That would be the same old trap of settling for someone else's dogma or faith and, moreover, it would limit my perception and attempt to understand by plopping it into a handy pre-made box.
I understand your comment about not finding such an experience in books - that is, in book-reading only. I understand that, but at the same time, I have worked from a severely biased and limited data set in the past and I need to expand my knowledge base to include as much data as possible in the form of other possible interpretive systems or possible techniques for achieving such an experience.
As I inferred before, I view this effort as essentially scientific in form. I am definitely in action now and experimenting on the frontiers of (at least my own) knowledge.
There are many such systems to be considered from Jungian Synchronicity to Sufi Mysticism, but so far, my research has mostly led me back in time (relative to Western Man) to the techniques employed by tribal peoples all over the globe from time immemorial - the techniques and tools of shamanism. I have come to think that shamanism is the precursor to all the other religions of the world, from the various mysticism movements on up through received religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Mormonism. It is still practiced today everwhere from the Amazon to Siberia by traditional and indigenous peoples. Some of those folks use natural substances to invoke a non-ordinary experience, such as the Ayahuasceros in Peru who use a powerful combination of particular vines and leaves to make a psychoactive "tea" that is used in a ritual manner to enter "other worlds" to do healing work and accomplish other goals including the serious spiritual quest. This kind of thing has always been dismissed by our culture as sheer superstition, but there is actually much scientific basis and efficacy in this kind of "medicine work".
The word "entheogen" was coined by R. Gordon Wasson some 40 years ago and means "releasing or expressing the divine within" (It has the same root as "enthusiasm"). It refers to any such plant or chemical substance that is used in this manner (as opposed to being abused for entertainment). Many legitimate peoples use entheogens in a serious and respectful manner (the Native American Church's use of Peyote, for example, or the three recognized churches in Brazil who use the Ayahuasca tea - two of them Christian!). Unfortunately, our society has so demonized such things that it is almost impossible to speak about them without causing knee-jerk fear or condemnation reactions.
Entheogens represent one important method of experiencing the divine, but there are other methods that include forms of meditation and physical extremism or ascetisicm. I think the Eastern religions have actually been a little closer to these things than we Westerners have understood, but they, too, are most often wrapped up in dogmatic interpretation schemes that limit their understandings (religious Buddhism, Hinduism, etc).
You indicated that you were comfortable for now remaining within the social structure of Mormonism for lack of having any alternatives. Nothing wrong with that as long as you are aware of the true nature of their interpretations that are being presented as dogmatic truth, which it seems you are. For myself, it is more instructive and interesting to put myself in (to me) alien environments like some of the Eastern systems, just to find another way of looking at things and see if it gives me new data to chew on. Carlos Casteneda said something about this as part of the Warrior's Way - that "the Warrior (in my case the "warrior-scientist-explorer") believes in everything - and in nothing." By that, he meant that we can gain information and power by placing ourselves within any particular belief system for a while in order to assess it, experience it, and perhaps use it, without actually adopting its belief dogmas for ourselves.
Well, I hope that is something of an adequate answer to your comments and questions, and I trust it gives you a better picture of my path and views right now. Thanks again for your correspondence.
After 2004, the Webring changed and most of my emails from readers of this site simply ceased. Starting around 2011, a few new readers found me again and some previous ones also. Some continue to correspond to the present time.
October 1, 2011
question about leaving Christianity
Hey David, I am leaving Christianity to follow the yogi philosophy. How did you get out of your church commitments when you decided not to believe? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,
Thanks for the email!
I guess it depends on what you mean by church commitments. They could be moral, financial, practical (agreed to do work around the building or teach classes, etc.).
If all is otherwise well between you and the congregation, I'd just suggest giving notice and backing off gently if needed, or directly if you can. I'd avoid trying to "explain why" to them any more than necessary. Be ready for an assault trying to "save" you back to their traditions - it's just human nature. Point there is, you are in control of you. It is not required or necessary to counter their arguments or prove your way is better. Just go do it.
When I stepped away, I had already withdrawn myself over time from my groups and congregations. My philosophy (even the alternative Christian one I developed first) was too alien to remain in that society. They could sense it, even if they didn't know specifically.
Yogi path is old and can be deep. Good luck and many blessings on it. I'm following a shamanistic path, myself.
thanks for your advice. I'll keep it in mind.
The present moment is not mundane. It is, in essence, extraordinary. -DC
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