For those all who’ve regularly been reading this blog for the past couple years (all zero of you), you’ll know a few things about me. For those who haven’t been following along, well, let me fill you in. And then, once I get that background out of the way, we’re off to the races. (Here we go)
I know that proper epistemology is tremendously powerful and important. To put a finer point on it, I know that if the survival and continued ascent of humanity is our goal, that among all of our competing epistemic systems, scientific epistemology is the ne plus ultra.
I also know that language, perception, cognition, and reality (with a lower case “r”), are all inextricably linked. I know that, to coin a phrase: all that exists is metaphor.
Of course, ultimately, I also realize that deduction is only verifiably sound when confined to pure analytic systems, and that once you depart from them, the Problem of Induction devours certainty. So, while I believe that certain things are true, and I have logical justification for them, I cannot claim perfect epistemic fitness. And, as a result, much like Socrates before me, the only thing I truly know is that I know nothing.
I am more than simply in disagreement with theistic concepts of cosmogenesis, evolution, humanity’s nature and our role in the cosmos, the power of prayer, a personal deity, etc… In fact, I tend to have a visceral, inimical reaction to those concepts. From the time I was 8 years old, I cognitively could not bring myself to believe in the absurdity of an interventionist deity. I fundamentally, and forcefully, reject positions that seek to claim that if someone can’t explain every link in the great chain of existence, from the ultimate physics of reality to the smallest detail of biological/chemical evolution, that a personal God, separate from reality, must be the default conclusion. I know that, if the laws of physics hold for all of reality, then our universe is not contingent, but necessary, and is most likely eternal. More to the point, I find God of the Gaps arguments to be both intellectually dishonest and tremendously logically sloppy. I categorically reject presuppositional apologetics, and have nothing but contempt for those who abuse science for intellectually dishonest aims.
I had, for virtually all of my life, never encountered someone who truly believed in an interventionist deity and who justified their actions with that deity, but who didn’t use their beliefs as a cudgel with which to attack basic human decency, human rights, civil rights, and/or the inherently sinless nobility of personhood. When a huge chunk of a religious group organizes, specifically, to prevent people from having full civil rights, it’s clear that their religious views are an ultimate cause of harm done to the fabric of society itself.
Likewise, I have no truck with concepts of “revealed knowledge”. I can prove, with deductive certainty, that any holy books we have, that claim to be perfect and flawless communications from an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient being, are certainly no such thing. What’s more, I can prove, with deductive certainty, that either omniscience exists, or free will exists, but that it’s logically impossible for both to coexist in the same reality. On the other and, great poetry, true poetry, the kind of poetry that kindles the soul, represents authentic communion between humanity and the quintessence of reality; it speaks to the human, emotional side of existence. On the other side of the coin, equations like E = m c2 , EΨ = ĤΨ , and dx dp > ħ / 2 all represent authentic communion between humanity and the quintessence of reality; they speak to the mechanical, rational side of existence. Together, both sides of the coin are truer, and more important, than all the dogma ever devised.
Of course, I also believe that the only two, true purposes of science are to continually enhance and refine humanity’s knowledge and comprehension of reality, and to achieve physical immortality and the resurrection of the dead. Likewise, roughly a year ago, while I was discussing theology with my Rabbi through the course of planning my wedding (which he officiated at), I elaborated extensively on my beliefs and we agreed that all mentions of the word “God” in the liturgy that day would be replaced with the phrase “the source of light and life.”. I elaborated on that concept on this blog back in September of last year, when I said that:
“And that seems, to me, to be the same ‘metaphor’ that the sephirot convey: that there is some form of Deep Reality, but that we only see its emanations – which are all interconnected, interrelated, and interpenetrating; that Kether is in Malkuth as Malkuth is in Kether. I think that, on the level of Deep Reality, all of existence is one ultimate, unified whole. A Totality. And it is through the function of consciousness that ‘parts’ appear to interact with the Totality. But that, ultimately, true division into individual components, let alone individuals separated from the Totality, is an illusion.
The ultimate point I would make is that the common/traditional understanding of the word “god” contains too much baggage and too many implications, including that of a sentient being that meddled in human affairs for a while, and then quit… but not before giving instructions on the proper care and beating of slaves.
I can see why Einstein, and Spinoza, used the word.
But since I was 8 years old, the word, and its baggage, has never ‘tasted right’ to me.”
I concluded by saying that:
“Does that make me a pantheist? Not really, no. I see no need to bring up concepts of deities at all, as it only seems to muddy the waters. Further, I recognize that, on a certain level, my view of reality is an aesthetic gloss, and lacks the primacy of reality itself. It is a metaphor, a subjective, perhaps more accurately, an artistic interpretation of the cosmos. I would not say that anything I’ve just written, beyond the physics at work, is an objective truth claim.”
Now, after all the ink I’ve just spilled in this post, it’d be more than reasonable to ask why I’m writing this at all. The simple fact is that I’m now comfortable self-identifying as a pantheist, saying that I believe in the “God of the physicists”, Spinoza’s God. As for why I’ve changed my stance on the relevant verbiage? There are a few reasons.
– The first is that, for the first time in my life, I recently interacted with an Evangelical Christian whose faith led him to display truly laudable compassion, charity, and human decency. In short, he acted like a mensch. For the first time in my life, someone was using the concept of God to actually uplift their fellow man. Not the dry, “sacred story” whitewash of Yahweh which I’ve seen presented in Judaism. Not the justification-for-being-an-asshole that’s used as a cloak by so called “culture warriors”. Not the spaced out, crunchy granola, fluffy bunny, woo that acidhead mystics are selling. For the first time in my life, I saw it used as a concept to drive uplifting, noble behavior.
– The second is that for roughly two decades now, I’ve been a self-identified “dabbler” in the world’s esoteric schools of thought: I’ve engaged in ritual magick; I’ve conducted pathworkings on the Tree of Life; I’ve written on the symbolism in Finnegans Wake that’s drawn from Kaballah and tarot; and I’ve practiced transcendental meditation, yoga, and pranayama. I self-identified as a Thelemite until I realized that people thought that meant I worshiped Satan and participated in blood rituals. For lack of a better term, I have a spiritual side that does give me peace and joy when it’s nourished, and I’ve reached the point in my life where that’s like clean water for my soul. (I won’t, however, voluntarily use the phrase “spiritual but not religious”)
– The third is that, while I’ve been investigating Freemasonry for more than a decade, I never considered submitting a petition since I thought that Masonry required belief in a personal God. But I recently began to research whether or not belief in a personal deity was required for initiation, and found that not all Lodges took that stance. After a series of extensive conversations with local Lodges in the Austin area, I came to the realization that the word “God” didn’t necessarily need to muddy the waters, that it could serve as a valid tool for communication, and that I could say things like “consciousness in the cosmos is God dreaming of God”, without people thinking I was talking about a bearded white dude up in the clouds, or “quantum consciousness”, or what have you. The ability to engage in honest discussion with the word “God” serving as a valid conceptual placeholder, instead of obfuscatory smoke and mirrors, was somewhat liberating.
– The fourth is that, as I’ve gone deeper and deeper into physics as time has passed, it’s become impossible for me to maintain that certain (some but not all) mystic concepts are totally baseless. The ultimate unity of all existence is evinced in the interference pattern that makes up the hologram of our reality. Likewise, that speaks to the permanence of the quintessence of every being: not a soul as in a Casper the Friendly Ghost critter that resides “beyond reality” and drives the body like a person drives a car, but the ultimate tathata, the eternal suchness, that informs the nature of a being. The nature of spacetime and the Block Universe Model speak to the fact that time, and therefore death, are illusions. Reality as self-created and self-justifying is proven by Vilenkin’s work which verifies that cosmogenesis can be initiated by “quantum tunneling from literally nothing into a de Sitter space. After the tunneling, the model evolves along the lines of the inflationary scenario. This model does not have a big-bang singularity and does not require any initial or boundary conditions” And that fact, in turn, speaks to the laws of physics being descriptions of the nature of Deep Reality itself, descriptions of something that is both the nature and the work of the Great Architect; a higher power that isn’t separate from reality, that has no will, that does not intervene, but that still forms the ground for all of existence. Like Jastrow once said:
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
There’s more, of course (isn’t there always?). But I’ve rambled on long enough.
Suffice it to say, I haven’t taken leave of reason. I’m not going to stop wearing my seat belt because death is an illusion. I’m not going to pray for things to happen instead of working to bring them to fruition (spit into one hand, wish into the other, see which one fills up first). While I believe that everything happens for a reason… that reason is physics, not magic. I recognize that pantheism is my personal belief, my own way of wrapping my mind around existence, and that it is man made. I know that pantheism is my subjective interpretation of reality, and not an objective truth claim that I could prove to anybody else.
Nothing about me has really changed, other than the fact that I’ve become comfortable with using the word “God”, at least among people who I know won’t misinterpret me. So, yes, I’m comfortable calling myself a pantheist. Or, I suppose, a pantheistic, Thelemite, Jew.
And with that, I wish y’all a good night. See you later, space cowboys.