Quotes from my new book

From Psychedelic Christianity: on the ultimate goal of living

I want absolutely fresh newness, as on the day of Creation, with solids that look like they have just gelled from liquid, and liquids that look like shining solids, and everything breathing and squirming with life.

If life is ultimately meaningless suffering or pleasure – I don’t believe there is such a thing as meaningless joy – for even one person, then it is for me too, and I have missed the ultimate goal.

And here is the flaw of utilitarian ethics: the assumption that there can be an impersonal, objective summing up of the values or disvalues of many subjective experiences.

The ultimate goal from my point of view is deep contentment from every possible or actual point of view.

The truth has already been revealed. It can be forgotten, ignored, seem to be hidden. But it is not hidden. It will be revealed again when it seems most hidden. That is the message of psychedelic experience, and it is the message of Christianity.

A psychedelic Christian is just a Christian who acknowledges that psychedelic experience is a way of learning how to be in the right relationship to God.

What makes the world the way it is, is a person and not a thing or an impersonal force; because if it were a thing or a force, then you and I and everybody else would just be parts of that thing or masses of stuff subject to an external force, like dead leaves blown along by the wind. And we aren’t like that.

As a result of our envy, we think of ourselves as things that can be destroyed and lose consciousness forever. Jesus represents seeing ourselves as loving children of a loving parent, so that even when that which we most feared is actually happening, we are not destroyed but rise again. And all of this is consistent with psychedelic experience.

The more we treat politics like a sport and the less we treat it like a religion, the better off we are.

Are we to say that God can’t bring about his kingdom by a just use of force, but that we can? That hardly seems like piety. Surely it is more accurate to think that God can’t do the logically impossible thing of bringing about love by using force and neither can we.

Everyone’s greatest work of art is the story of his or her life, told by living it. It is not lost in the light of the ultimate goal. It shines like gold in the light of the ultimate goal.

What can be seen is the outside. What can’t be seen is the inside. But the inside is experienced, directly, by each one of us.

Ironically all too often people who think of themselves as believers in science betray empiricism by accepting unquestioningly the pronouncements of authority figures who claim to speak for science.

Psychedelic Christianity is not an appeal to the Bible as “the inerrant word of God.” The appeal is always and only to what rings true in the light of one’s own experience.

We know our usefulness to others in this life is limited, so we want others to consider us not just as useful, but lovable whether we are useful or not.

New music by Mary Jo Call

The Institute for the Advancement of Psychedelic Christianity is proud to present one of Mary Jo Call’s latest compositions, “Moonrise.” Click on Moonrise on the menu and enjoy!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is this worth?

Is God putting an end to suffering?

Review of Suffering: if God exists, why doesn’t he stop it?
by John Morris

Morris’s answer to the question posed in the title of his concise but fairly thorough little book is that God cannot make things better, from our present point of view, by eliminating or even reducing injustice and suffering, without actually making things worse, from what our eventual point of view will be; because if he exercised the control that would be necessary to relieve our present suffering, we humans would not be free to become the virtuous and self-reliant creatures we need to be in order to, as he puts it, “multiply God’s virtues.”

In other words, God is stopping the suffering of grief and injustice, and the only problem is that from our present point of view, he isn’t doing it fast enough. So, the question becomes “Suffering: if God exists, why doesn’t he hurry up and stop it?” Morris’s answer is that he is doing it as fast as divinely possible, since the world would actually be worse if he were to take away the challenges of suffering through which we become morally virtuous and if he were to use force to prevent us from doing anything unjust, for that would be nothing more than to exercise his own virtue rather than to multiply it through the free actions of his creatures. We have to become morally virtuous on our own by living through the challenges of grief and injustice, becoming just and self-reliant, god-like beings who will no longer do anything unjust or suffer from the pains of evolving nature.

I am paraphrasing rather than directly quoting Morris because I am trying to show what I understand him to be saying. And if I have accurately represented what he says, I think he is right, and that he has said something very important. But here is something he wrote which I will quote directly, and which I think muddles the case:

“Whether or not there is an afterlife, the importance of the Earth remains unchanged: contrary to what some preachers suggest, believers and unbelievers are all in the same boat! Earth is still the only home all of us shall ever have with our present bodies and minds. So this life is not a rehearsal, but the one and only performance.” (p. 57)

If there is no afterlife, then there will be no point of view in the future from which we will see that our suffering made sense. So, I think what he should have said is that either there is an afterlife or else our suffering will only stop with our deaths and is not justified by anything that will come later. And then he could have said that if there is an afterlife, it doesn’t follow that this life is only a rehearsal. He has already explained why there is nothing trivial about how we live our present lives.

The problem of evil and the problem of suffering have traditionally been thought of as problems for religious believers. The unbeliever can argue that there is no satisfactory answer to the question of why an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God would allow evil and suffering, and give this as at least one reason for his or her disbelief in God. But it is not recognized often enough that the unbeliever has his or her own problem of evil and suffering. I think Camus recognized it when he said that suicide is the “only one really serious philosophical problem.” The unbeliever is faced with the question of why life is worth living even though evil and suffering are real. He doesn’t have to explain why a good God allows them, but he does need to explain why a life worth living allows them. That is the sense in which believers and unbelievers are in the same boat. But believers have the advantage of allowing themselves to hope for a future that is in the process of coming about, where grief and the other natural and artificial sufferings of life have become a more than fair price to pay for a deep joy; while unbelievers are constrained to pooh-pooh this as “pie in the sky bye and bye,” and come up with some other way of understanding how it can be all right that one day they will die utterly, or, as is more common, avoid thinking about it, all the while regarding themselves as hard-headed realists.

A reply to Avatar in Scott Adams’s God’s Debris

In God’s Debris by Scott Adams the character named Avatar says that the distinction between a replica of me in the future and someone who is really me in the future, is an illusion. Here is my response:

From a purely objective, third-person point of view, if there really were such a thing, the distinction would be an illusion. But a purely objective, third-person point of view would leave completely out of account what one cares about when one cares about one’s own survival. An objective, third-person account could tell you whether a person at one time is identical to a person at another time for all practical purposes except one: the practical purpose of your own survival. Why not that one also? Because unless you already know, from your own first-person perspective, whether or not you are one of those persons described in the purely objective, third-person account, it won’t matter to you, in terms of your own survival, whether or not the earlier person is identical to the later one. And if you do know, because the description is complete enough for you to recognize yourself as, say, the person at the earlier time according to the description, then the account of how the earlier person and the later one are connected or resemble each other is irrelevant. No matter how convincing, how seemingly practical, the account of the link between the earlier person (you, we are now assuming) and the later one, if in the future you do not know, from your own first-person perspective that you are the person in question, just in the way that you know now which person you are out of all the persons there are; then, for the practical purpose of your survival, either you didn’t survive or that person is someone else.

I discuss this, and other awesome topics!, at greater length in Dreams and Resurrection. If you haven’t bought it yet, what the hell is the matter with you?

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is well worth following on Twitter, and his book, God’s Debris, is far superior to most attempts at popular philosophy.

Leave the poor ego alone, but a great book

Book Review: A Little Book of Unknowing by Jennifer Kavanagh

Some of the statements Kavanagh makes in this book strike me as wise as wise can be. But mixed in with them are ones that I believe take us down the wrong path.

First, the wise part. It is a book of unknowing in that it celebrates the deep background of one’s existence that always eludes one’s intellectual grasp. It is not a matter of willfully remaining ignorant through laziness or a superstitious fear of finding out that reality doesn’t conform to one’s wishes. Instead, what Kavanagh recommends is an openness to being guided by what is not under one’s control. She writes about “seeming coincidences which are glimpses of an existing connection, hitherto unnoticed,” and states, “The more open we are, the more these seem to appear.” (p. 27) She illustrates this way of living with anecdotes from her own life and quotations from the writings of others, and shows how this openness to being guided by what is not under one’s control is the same thing as creativity, improvisation, waiting for clarity, and obedience to the will of God. She writes, “With the world inside us as our guide, we have moments of choice: to betray our true self or to say ‘yes’.” (p. 29)

The unwise part begins to creep in when she starts talking about the ego: “Obedience to that process means trust, is the very meaning of ‘faith’, the surrender of ambitions, plans, decisions made by the ego and the urge to control.” This kind of language is familiar to me from the writings of Alan Watts, Huston Smith, and others. My problem with it is that it assumes a clear distinction between a good self, “the true self,” and a bad self, “the ego”; and I think I am only one self, who is sometimes good, sometimes bad, and complex in many other ways as well. “Ego” just means “I” in Greek and Latin. I don’t think it is helpful to castigate a bad “I” who is the one who makes mistakes and does bad things, as if this weren’t the same “I” who sometimes understands and does good things. I would ask: Can’t we pay attention to synchronicity without necessarily surrendering our ambitions, plans, and decisions? Isn’t it better to enjoy an interplay between our plans and synchronicity? To recognize the importance of what we can control as well as the importance of what is beyond our control? I suspect that Kavanagh would answer, “Yes, yes, of course,” but what came across to me in reading the book was too much of a recommendation of an unhealthy self-abnegation. Near the beginning of the book she wrote, “. . . [T]he unforeseen may contain riches that go beyond what in our habitual ways of thinking and in our workaday lives we are capable of imagining.” But then a little later she wrote, “In our action in the world, if we act from that state of ego-free emptiness we will transform the manner of our working. If we work for others, we will know to expect nothing in return.” And I thought, “Well, which is it? Are we to find riches beyond our imagining, or nothing? If everybody followed the advice of her second statement, we should expect no one to enjoy the fruits of helping or of being helped by someone else. Consider those who wanted to be healed by Jesus. Were they wrong to want this? Were they ego-driven? Should they have wanted only that others should be healed? If you don’t love yourself, then loving your neighbor as yourself equals not loving your neighbor.

I think there are two types of mysticism. One is expressed in Hinduism and Buddhism, and in some forms of Christian and Islamic mysticism. It is the longing for one’s own annihilation in the belief that this is necessary in order to be one with God, or, in the case of Buddhism, to be in the bliss of nirvana. The other is the mysticism of Paul the Apostle, and perhaps of Jesus himself, in which one hopes that God will be all in all in a way that fulfills rather than wipes out individual selves, which each have life everlasting in God. The contrast of being ego-driven versus being ego-free goes with the first. The contrast between success in this life and this world versus the success of everlasting life goes with the second. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Cor. 15:19) My advice to readers is to read A Little Book of Unknowing with this second contrast in mind in order to appreciate the wisdom and beauty of this book. Mentally substitute “this worldly” for “ego-driven” and the like, and “faith in life everlasting” for “being free of the ego” and the like.

But back to the wisdom of this book. There is so much to remind one of the deepest, most important truth, which is, in the words of Julian of Norwich, whom Kavanagh quotes, that “all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.” Despite my criticism of the “ego vs. non-ego” talk, reading this book made me feel more patient, more accepting, calmer and less anxious. Dip into it almost anywhere and you will find excellent advice about how to live in tune with the Spirit. “There is no planning; we are asked to arrive fresh at every moment and respond to whatever happens.” (p. 36) “Silence is a way towards God.” (p. 38) “It was only when I heard the definition of prayer as ‘attention’ that it began to have meaning for me.” (p. 40) “We do well to remember that being led by the spirit depends not so much upon God, who is always there to lead us, as upon our willingness to be led.” (p. 50) I have stated my criticism. I also highly recommend this book.

Does Jesus recommend political activism?

Book Review

Fingerprints of Fire . . . Footprints of Peace: a spiritual manifesto from a Jesus perspective

by Noel Moules

There is much to like about this book: Moules’s universalism, i.e., his belief that in the end everybody and everything will be “made part of the final wholeness of all things”; his acknowledgement that there are important differences among the world’s major religions; his clear expression of why he favors the message of Jesus, coupled with his good-hearted respect and openness towards other views, including humanistic atheism; his appreciation for the goodness of creation; his recognition that loving God and neighbor requires love of self as well. Here is one sentence that particularly rings true to me: “One thing seems quite clear: however certain any of us are about what we believe, the final outcome will be filled with more surprise and astonishment than any of us can ever anticipate.” (p. 194)

In the spirit of reaching towards that final outcome, I offer the following criticism: Moules recommends political activism, but I don’t believe he has given a convincing answer to the question: If Jesus was recommending radical political engagement, as Moules claims (p. 54), then why did he say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36)?

Moules tries to make a clear distinction between violent and nonviolent political activism, but I don’t think he succeeds. He gives a quite broad definition of violence: “Violence is emotional, verbal, or physical behavior that dominates, diminishes or destroys ourselves or others.” (p. 132) And he writes the following about shalom, which he says is “the center of a Jesus-focused hope,” (p. 29): “Shalom has to be crafted out of raw and often resistant materials; this requires wisdom soaked in perspiration, shaped by a commitment to love and gentleness and hallmarked by a total absence of violence.” (p. 45) But he also writes that “there are times when wild nature is threatened,” and that when that happens, “we have the responsibility to stamp on the threat and eliminate it. This is part of what it means to be with creation; this is a call for us to be guardians.” (p. 86) He also makes it clear that he thinks we are currently facing an ecological crisis (p. 92) On its face, I’d say, talk of stamping on a threat and eliminating it certainly at least sounds violent. Moules goes so far as to claim that when Jesus drove the moneychangers from the Temple with a whip made of knotted cords, he was exercising, not violence, but “assertive meekness.” (p. 137) But didn’t Jesus dominate the moneychangers by physical behavior that day?

So here is where I disagree with Moules, though I think he has written a valuable book concerning topics of the utmost importance: Rather than trying to imagine there could be a kind of political activism that doesn’t aim at the goal of someone forcing someone else to do or stop doing something, we should make a distinction between 1) actions according to the worldly principle that force is justified in self-defense or defense of the innocent and 2) actions according to the divine principle that in the kingdom of heaven everyone freely chooses to act according to love of God and love of neighbor as oneself. Political activism, then, can only ever be justified by that worldly standard. Then what about Jesus’ action that day? Perhaps he would answer with a question, “Why do you call me good? There is none good except God alone.” (Matt. 19:17, also Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19)

Book Review: The Death of the Church and Spirituality Reborn

In The Death of the Church and Spirituality Reborn, Rev. John Littlewood, a former parish priest who now works as the administrator of a counseling agency, argues for incorporating New Age spirituality into the life of the Church of England. He sees the New Age movement as a revival of the old Celtic church that was defeated by the church of the Roman Empire. He points out that the problem with New Age spirituality is that it has no collective authority but rather is a free-for-all with too many self-proclaimed masters. The problem with the Church of England, in contrast, is that it has lost sight of the answer to the question: What is the point of religion — any religion? Rev. Littlewood says the answer is that spiritual growth is the point. This is the part of the book that I found most compelling. He states unequivocally, “If that [spiritual growth] is not foremost then the religion has lost its way! No matter how high sounding or important a cause or issue may be it must still be secondary to matters spiritual for that religion.”

As an American, unfamiliar with the administrative jargon of the Church of England, and lacking the historical and geographical links with the sacred sites and legends of the British Isles, I felt at times that I was not a member of the intended audience of this book. However, the question about the point of a religion is universally important, and it gladdened my heart to see it treated with the emphasis it deserves. Rev. Littlewood wrote about being shocked to read in the UK press that the Church of England “was preparing a guide on what the church members should consider before voting in a General Election,” and I recalled similar discouragement on viewing the website of the United Church of Christ, which reads like the platform of a political party with a position on every controversial social and political question of the day, and very little about one’s relationship with God.

Rev. Littlewood discusses the advantages and the disadvantages of belonging to a church. He gives a clarion warning about the dangers of peer pressure and of using particular verbal formulations as shibboleths to identify those who truly belong. He discusses the differences between prayer, meditation, and magic. He offers detailed suggestions for incorporating New Age spirituality into the Church of England. His book will be of most interest to those who care about religion and spirituality in the context of British life and culture, but it also contains a message that is relevant everywhere: The point of any religion is being in the right relationship with God, and taking stands on political and social issues is of secondary importance.

Divine justice, worldly justice, the kingdom of God

What is the difference between divine justice and worldly justice?

God has the power to prevent everyone from ever acting unjustly, but he doesn’t have the power to make everyone act justly as a consequence of love for him and for neighbor, since acting from love is not acting because one has been forced. However, he has the power to make us capable of loving him and our neighbor so that we always act justly; and we must assume either that he has exercised this power, so that we are responsible when we fail to use the capacity he has given us, or that he is responsible when we act unjustly. The kingdom of God happens when everyone exercises this capacity and loves God and neighbor so that everyone freely chooses always to do what is just as the natural consequence of that love.

Suppose our neighbor is acting unjustly and we have the power to make him or her stop, thus protecting the victim of the neighbor’s injustice. We have tried persuading the neighbor, but it hasn’t worked. In such a case, it would be just for us to force our neighbor to stop committing the injustice. Our love for our neighbor would prevent us from using any excessive force, but would not prevent us from using the force necessary to stop the harm to the neighbor’s victim, unless using that force would result in greater harm than the harm prevented. So, we would be acting justly, consistently with love for our neighbor, for it is possible to love someone and also to force him or her to stop doing something unjust.

But would this action help bring about the kingdom of God? We are assuming that refusing to take any action in such a case would not be the just thing for us to do, since it isn’t just to allow preventable harm to someone when the prevention, as we are assuming, doesn’t cause any equal or greater harm as a side effect. So, refusing to act would take us away from the kingdom of God. But would acting, so as to force our neighbor to cease acting unjustly, help bring about the kingdom of God, in which everyone always freely chooses to do the right thing, out of love? Maybe our forcing our neighbor to do the right thing would help him or her eventually to see the light? But in that case, why couldn’t God simply force all of us to act in ways that would result in our eventually seeing the light, so that everyone would do the right thing out of love? And since that hasn’t happened, why isn’t God responsible for the unjust acts people commit against each other, just as we would be guilty if we chose not to intervene to prevent our neighbor from acting unjustly when we had the power to do so? Are we to say that God can’t bring about his kingdom by a just use of force, but that we can? That hardly seems like piety. Surely it is more accurate to think that God can’t do the logically impossible thing of bringing about love by using force and neither can we.

It follows that there is more than one way an act can be the right thing to do. The first and highest, the divine way is when the act is the result of love, not of being forced, and doesn’t involve forcing anyone else to do anything either. That is the kind of act that is done in the kingdom of God, where everyone freely chooses to do what is right, out of love. The second, and not as high but still noble and virtuous in a worldly way, is when the act is the result of love, not of being forced, but does involve forcing someone else to do or stop doing something, and results in the prevention of injustice. Acts that are right in this secondary sense do not occur in the kingdom of God and do not help bring about the kingdom of God. If they did, God would do them all the time, and none of it would be any of our doing. And that is impossible, because in the kingdom of God, it is all our doing, as a result of exercising the capacity God gave us freely to choose to act in accordance with his will, out of love for him and for the neighbor. No one is forced by God or by anyone else.

To sum up, doing something unjust moves us away from the kingdom of God. Doing something just in the secondary or worldly sense leads us neither away from nor towards the kingdom of God. Doing something just in the highest and divine sense, that is from love, with no coercion on either side, moves us toward the kingdom of God.