Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Suddenly a recurrent dream

Maybe just in the past week I’m suddenly having this recurrent dream. How strange. I never have recurrent dreams. I have a recurrent theme of nostalgia, but those dreams always vary. This new dream doesn’t, not in the part that wakes me up. I have a feeling that I’m doing some traveling in the dream before that, but that part’s nothing special, just a routine travelogue.

Then comes the part where I arrive at my new home. I didn’t have to memorize which freeway exit to take. The freeway just stops there, narrowing down from about four lanes to one over about 10 feet. Then the one lane road becomes the dirt road leading to my house about as quickly. Then the dirt road becomes a field as I can’t stop before passing my house. Then the field ends as the ground falls away into something that looks like a greener version of the Grand Canyon. I stop before then, before the nick of time, well within the field. No part of the car in hanging over the edge. There was actually some margin for me to have stopped even slower.

I didn’t appreciate that in the dream. In the dream I slam on the brakes as soon as I see everything changing, yet it takes so long to stop. It’s hard to really appreciate how unrealistic something in a dream is during the dream. As I was braking in the dream it didn’t occur to me that my car was braking about as quickly as an ocean liner. I observed that it was, but my mind was on whether it would in fact stop. I didn’t want to get into the sort of cartoon physics that one can have in dreams. Please just stop naturally.

The first time I had that dream, I’m sure I wasn’t thinking much. “OhmiGod! What happened to the road?” That was about it. Then I was glad I stopped. I suppose I shouldn’t go so fast.

Then it happened again and again. My expectation became that I was going to stop eventually, before needing to resort to cartoon physics over the canyon, so I started thinking differently during my braking. I thought about how I really need to pay better attention on the freeway the next time that the road is ending. Why is it I keep missing that anyway?

It’s amazing how we accept everything at face value during a dream. That sudden freeway ending is just the way it is. I have to adapt to that. I have to do better so I can stop the car at my house instead of shooting past and having to back up each time. It never occurred to me that it actually turned out all right hurtling past my house and backing up this way. Maybe that’s what the previous owner had to do. No, dreams are much simpler. This isn’t good. How do I fix it?

On waking, I still wonder what this means about what I should do differently. Am I going too fast, either in driving or more metaphorically? I don’t see how. After a few times of reacting to this dream that way, other possibilities hit me.

What if it’s not about me? It is about me at least in the sense that things are happening I’m not anticipating. Things are happening in my family like that. So one does the best one can and is grateful if that’s enough. If not, one can reassess later. Nothing is going on among those I know where they won’t survive, where they can’t reassess if it goes badly. The car doesn’t go over the cliff, after all.

Now I’m wondering if it’s even less close to me than that. After all, no one close to me planned this freeway to end so abruptly. It’s not as though my actions meant much. I predictably slammed on the brakes and waited. That was it. The rest was up to my car.

OK, so who’s playing the role of my car in my dream? God, do you know?

How do I explain my conversations with God? Both traditionalists and a New Age writer like Neale Donald Walsch always portray God as a fountain of wisdom. He spouts differently for different people, with many more words for Walsch than any of the rest of us, but He always knows what He’s doing, in English no less. God’s the one with a plan. It all ties together in the end. But what if it doesn’t?

If I had known I was going to start hearing from God, I would have constructed a traditional God. It’s not the God I hear from, though. I suppose that relates to my understanding that God doesn’t run the physical universe. Science taught me this. Recently I’ve been making comments elsewhere how I’ve come to believe that there aren’t physical miracles, only mental ones. God to me is not defined as the creator of the universe. My understanding is that the spiritual side of the universe is much larger than the physical side, and I don’t know who created either one, if anyone needed to.

For me God is whoever answered when I first prayed, “God help me!” Fortunately that wasn’t a one-night stand, as it does take years to develop a conversation out of that.

So now I sometimes hear God express things that aren’t traditional at all. God tells me of His regret. She tells me She realizes She’s been projecting something onto me when it really was Hers, apologizing for that, vowing to do better. Tradition would say I’m a vessel like a car, and the Spirit is driving me. The Spirit is the one applying the brakes. Well, it ain’t necessarily so, kids. God is not perfect, even if He won’t listen to someone He doesn’t know on that point.

So what is it that has God speeding to the end, speeding so fast He shoots right past our home?

Have you heard of The Blasphemy Challenge? It’s a contest where some rationally minded people are going to award DVD’s of a movie denying the existence of Jesus to people who make a video in which they deny the Holy Spirit, telling the contestants that if they do that, they are cutting themselves off from God forever, according to Mark 3:29. Gee, doesn’t that sound like fun?

I suppose anyone who does that sees themselves as simply expressing what is within them anyway, that there is no Holy Spirit, no God. Maybe some would allow God in some sense, but not the Holy Spirit of the Bible. I understand that. I don’t find the Bible to be authoritative. I do find that I experience God as the Bible describes the Holy Spirit, as the Helper, but not many people have that experience. I understand those who deny the possibility of it, both theists and atheists. I also understand the existential joy of saying what is within oneself. Perhaps the organizers are mostly hoping to facilitate that same joy in others.

On the other hand, what is the chance that all of this is the work of children of Satan? By Satan, I don’t mean a compact being who has features of a goat. I don’t believe in angels, either fallen ones or ones who kept their place. So Satan can only be a metaphor for me, but it’s such a good one, for rebellion, for pride, for malevolence. I only know of such things existing in human beings. Animals can hurt others through instinct. I’m not sure anyone but humans hurt others in such a calculating way.

But who does atheism hurt? It hurt me. It kept me from God for years. Of course traditional, unbelievable religion kept me from God as well. Maybe it couldn’t be helped. Maybe the falseness of so much of religion has to be completely torn apart before it can be rebuilt in a true way. That’s not the motivation of those behind The Blasphemy Challenge. They just want fellowship, whether that’s in hell or not.

Atheists try so hard, as if the world would be so much better without religion, as if people’s natural hatred, indifference and falseness are better than those qualities when helped along by the pride and idolatries of false religion. People on a mission can wear such blinders, regardless of what sort of mission it is, for religion or against it.

So one could see all such people as simply following their natural ways, but God doesn’t. He’s told me this a lot. He’s not interested in being fair. Those who stumble into the truth are more valuable to Him than those who just as randomly stumble off in another direction. The way traditionalists worship Him as some Asian despot is not true. If it were maybe they wouldn’t be such hypocrites. Yet some people follow tradition to find the real God. I did. Some people follow atheism out of disgust with religion, but then find an emptiness that makes them turn back to God in some form. I did that, too.

Both atheists and traditional theists can dismiss all that, saying they know a simple truth, either from science or the Bible, and that’s what everyone should believe. They are fools, useless to God, ignorant of even the possibility that they’re wrong, even more ignorant to the certainty that they are all wrong in some way. Then they act to cement their foolishness, and God shakes His head.

Human nature can be so petty, so self-centered, so arrogant, and so ignorant. It lets us survive biologically, but it doesn’t take us to be the best we can be. People argue about what the ideal culture is to do that. I came to believe that there is something spiritual that can help me much more than anything cultural. My culture helped me to believe that, but it was my own experience that made me sure of it. Many people refuse even to consider the possibility that’s true. So they push for everyone to be atheists and say some very foolish things in the process.

Anyone can deny the Holy Spirit if they wish, but those who think Mark 3:29 was pure fiction without any reality that triggered the author to write it are very unimaginative people. What is God going to do about it? God tells me He’d like it if everyone who says, “I deny the Holy Spirit”, burst into flames as they did, but He can’t do that. Besides there were enough people consigned to flames for their beliefs in the past. So maybe there won’t be any consequences now, except that God wants to go home and leave such foolish human beings to their nature.

Traditionalists say God is only waiting so He can take some perfect number of believers with Him. God has told me the number. You wouldn’t believe it. Traditionalists most certainly wouldn’t believe it, yet God will do what God will do. Some of us get a brake or some other device to talk to Him about it, but only those who believe in a cartoon God can expect the unbelievable. And those who insist there is no God will be without Him altogether.

“I want to go home.” “Me, too, but not as quickly as You do.” Yes, that’s what the dream has been saying.


MG said...


I came across your blog from a link and it looked kind of interesting, especially seeing as how my main interest is philosophy of religion.

I was curious about something regarding your religious beliefs: what kind of epistemology are you working with? What is the best way you think that human beings come to know if some statement is true?

Another question I wanted to ask you was whether or not you thought all traditional religions were bad, and if so, why? My religious alignment is Christian (probably closest to Eastern Orthodox, though Im not sure yet) and I know that a lot of Christians have done nasty things in the past; but Im not sure if this makes Christianity bad, perhaps just its adherents?

DavidD said...

I am an empiricist. If I had never had a spiritual experience, I might have been an atheist, but I have had a lot of spiritual experiences over the last 18 years, maybe longer. Now what does an empiricist do with that? I'm happy that while my observations of my own experiences are subjective, far from a double-blinded, controlled study, they have empirical value. They don't reveal an ultimate reality, but they are data and like any data, the idea of empiricism is to take all such data and make a model of the world or range of models that fits one's data. For me I can see valid models that say that everything I experience, including God, matches something physical in my brain - in other words that atheists are right, even though I find that quite unlikely. I can also see models where the God I experience is fairly close to the God of the Bible, though many more where He is very much different, all involving some spiritual side of reality that is separate from the physical universe, our mind being a bridge between the two. One model I can't make sense of is non-dualism. God also tells me non-dualism is junk, so I suppose I do use revelation to supplement my empiricism. It's hard to figure out a satisfying number of things by empiricism alone.

At times I considered metaphysics that invalidate causality and empiricism, but does anyone actually live as if such metaphysics might be true? Since I think the answer to that is no, I haven't worried about the extent to which the world of our senses is an illusion.

While following Jesus brought me to my current spirituality, something I would never discount, my basic belief is that God is whoever and whatever God is, not what anyone says He is. That may sound like a tautology, but I'm trying to say in this that one must accept God as He, She, and It are or invite a distorted view of Him. Who even says that God knows Himself well? Does He have a mirror? The God of my understanding says He does not. He and She say a lot of things that I have learned to trust empirically, through consistency, through the many ways the physical world and my spiritual experiences relate to each other. No human beings have done that for me.

I think all the ills of religion result from human nature, from believing the unbelievable, from hypocrisy, from rigidity, from partisanship. I don't find that all religions are true, as many of my fellow liberals do. I find that all religions are false to some degree, including atheism. If one can accept that and why that is, without just cynically saying something like people are idiots, I think that can be very helpful spiritually. We have to trust someone. We're in no position to know any ultimate truth, even something beyond common sense, so where do we look for help? Who or what do we call on? Reason? Tradition? A guru? I prayed to God for help. What followed for me was remarkable. I don't know why I don't hear quite the same story from someone else. That affects my epistemology a great deal.

MG said...

Very interesting.

Many atheist philosophers of religion dispute the claim that religious experiences are perceptual. There are, they say, relevant dissimilarities between perception and religious experience--dissimilarities so striking that we can't classify religious experiences under the category of perceptual experiences. I don't remember exactly what these features are, but what would you say to that kind of argument? If religious experiences weren't empirical would you still hold that they are veridical?

I loudly and gladly agree that questioning causation and the reliability of our sense data is not how we should go about things.

It seems to me that the safest authority is reason (Logic) rightly understood. Obviously empirical ways of knowing are also valid; but I'm not sure they have primacy over deductive/conceptual modes of argumentation.

Also, it seems possible to simultaneously affirm that "God is whatever he/she/it is" and "God is the God of traditional Christian theism". Of course I don't think that by saying "Jesus is Lord" this constitutes the means of actualization of that state of affairs; I don't make a God by uttering that statement. But if God seems to have revealed Himself decisively in and through Jesus (a proposition for which I think one could argue rather well on philosophical/scientific/historical grounds) then it seems that to be faithful to the maxim of "believe God is who He/She/It is, not who other people say" we would have to indeed be Christian. Now obviously I haven't argued in this comment that this is the case; but it does seem rather clear that this is at least possible.

What would you do if there were arguments that made it more rational than not to believe that "Jesus is the unique revelation of God"?

DavidD said...

I heard a psychiatrist lecture once that he believed that spiritual experiences were separable from psychosis. He believed the former were peaceful while the later were not.

So was Paul on the road to Damascus peaceful? People can make all sorts of hypotheses, but until you test them, they don't mean much. It's the same with those who would call Paul's conversion epilepsy, even though no documented seizure has ever come close to that. Scientific questioning helps in any direction.

One can certainly make the distinction between a perceptual experience and a cognitive experience. People's descriptions are liable to blur that line as they may describe an idea as if it were a perceptual change. People have been describing such things for thousands of years. I don't know that we will become wiser about that just from what people say. Maybe neuroimaging will help. It is different when I'm the one testing my own experiences, but that's hard to put into words.

"God is whoever and whatever God is" allows the God of the Bible to be God. But then science says God did not create life the way Genesis says He does. I read all of the Bible in a year for a number of years. There are a number of places where the God of the Bible doesn't match the God of my experience. I pray to God about that. I wouldn't put my full trust in that, but in the God beyond anything I can do. It works for me.

I don't mind a Bible-believing Christian saying that their God is whoever and whatever God is. I just disagree. I've wondered about the semantics of whether that is differing perception of the same God by two believers or different Gods. It's harder, but I'm at the point where I would say that someone who strictly equates God with the God of the Bible believes in a false God, for many reasons. This may sound opposed to the flexibility of "God is whoever and whatever God is". There is indeed flexibility in that. I believe a range of possibilities for God is possible, but not the perfect, unchanging, omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving, all-good God of the Bible, with other features that I'd say are contradictory. The behavior of Bible-believing Christians makes this easier for me. Maybe some of them have true faith, and only some are false. I don't claim perfect faith. I just believe what I think I know.

Empiricism includes reason, of course. The problem with theology and philosophy as I see it are the premises. It's so often garbage in, garbage out. And in looking at your site, you're not actually touching God much, are you, just all these words? There is something in having a relationship with God that is not about concepts. That's another reason I like, "God is whoever and whatever God is". If you wait to understand God before trusting him, you'll wait forever. So I think reason needs empiricism to have good premises and spirituality for direction in where to apply ones' reason.

There are no arguments in mere words that would tell me who Jesus was. Jesus Christ is my Lord and my Savior, but am I supposed to know enough to know whether Jesus was a unique revelation from God, apart from how any human is unique? Jesus was whoever and whatever Jesus was. Conservatives can say I'll go to hell if I don't know that Jesus is equal to the Father or if I believe in atonement by example instead of substitutionary atonement. What do they know? Besides I've watched people say such things trying to bully others about it. It hurts their credibility.

I don't do well explaining the real power in going to God about such things. How do I recount 18 years of God and I drawing to an understanding on such things? My own skepticism on doing it this way was beaten down by God, not so much by me. I'm not God to beat down someone else's skepticism.

God says no, Jesus was not His unique revelation, for others will indeed do greater things and the theology of Jesus being God is artificial. I guarantee you there's a flaw in any argument that tries to say Jesus is more than that, probably in the premises. It's harder to counter revelation, but anyone has to decide whether to follow God or follow claims of revelation. People don't know the power of hearing God's voice. They hear the craziness, as I've seen many times from people quoting God in print. It's not simple. I think I'll blog on this tomorrow.