Dostoevsky Vs. Spinoza

Editor’s Note: In the early 1990’s, I was studying Spinoza and had begun reading Dostoevsky, too, along the way.  These two texts went together very nicely, or so it seemed to me at the time…  And it still seems that way to me, today! 🙂

Quoting Dostoevsky:  “I will continue calmly concerning persons with strong nerves who do not understand a certain refinement of enjoyment. Though in certain circumstances these gentlemen bellow their loudest like bulls, though this, let us suppose, does them the greatest credit, yet, as I have said already, confronted with the impossible they subside at once. The impossible means the stone wall! What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of nature, the deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they prove to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. When they prove to you that in reality one drop of your own fat must be dearer to you than a hundred thousand of your fellow creatures, and that this conclusion is the final solution of all so-called virtues and duties and all such prejudices and fancies, then you have just to accept it, there is no help for it, for twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it. ‘Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is no use protesting: it is a case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permission, she has nothing to do with your wishes, and whether you like her laws or dislike them, you are bound to accept her as she is, and consequently all her conclusions. A wall, you see, is a wall … and so on, and so on.’ Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength. As though such a stone wall really were a consolation, and really did contain some word of conciliation, simply because it is as true as twice two makes four. Oh, absurdity of absurdities! How much better it is to understand it all, to recognise it all, all the impossibilities and the stone wall; not to be reconciled to one of those impossibilities and stone walls if it disgusts you to be reconciled to it; by the way of the most inevitable, logical combinations to reach the most revolting conclusions on the everlasting theme, that even for the stone wall you are yourself somehow to blame, though again it is as clear as day you are not to blame in the least, and therefore grinding your teeth in silent impotence to sink into luxurious inertia, brooding on the fact that there is no one even for you to feel vindictive against, that you have not, and perhaps never will have, an object for your spite, that it is a sleight of hand, a bit of juggling, a card-sharper’s trick, that it is simply a mess, no knowing what and no knowing who, but in spite of all these uncertainties and jugglings, still there is an ache in you, and the more you do not know, the worse the ache” (Dostoevsky, “Notes from the Underground”).

Quoting Spinoza:  “But human power is very limited and is infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes, and so we do not have absolute power to adapt to our purposes things external to us. However, we shall patiently bear whatever happens to us that is contrary to what is required by consideration of our own advantage, if we are conscious that we have done our duty and that our power was not extensive enough for us to have avoided the said things, and that we are a part of the whole of Nature whose order we follow. If we clearly and distinctly understand this, that part of us which is defined by the understanding, that is, the better part of us, will be fully resigned and will endeavor to persevere in that resignation. For insofar as we understand, we can desire nothing but that which must be, nor, in an absolute sense, can we find contentment in anything but truth. And so insofar as we rightly understand these matters, the endeavor of the better part of us is in harmony with the order of the whole of Nature” (Proof 32, Appendix to Part IV, Samuel Shirley Translation, Page 200).

–> Kant and Spinoza, together at last…

 

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In Defense of Hell (Part II)

II.  Some Logical and Moral Considerations

It is my considered opinion that if the concept of hell must be retained (which I am inclined to think it must) as one component of an integral Christian tradition, it must be presented in a more nuanced fashion so as to maximize its potential benefits while minimizing its potential harm . . .
(see Part I:  Some Practical Concerns).

But before discussing the future of this teaching– the way forward, as it were, in the 21st century –a quick overview of the problems posed by the conventional understanding of hell is in order.  Please give careful consideration to the logical and moral implications of the apparently contradictory teachings that we commonly hear in church:

  • God is all powerful, but he is unable to create a free human being that is not free to rebel against his creator… (fair enough–the prodigal son leaves his father’s house, but he is always free to return to his father’s open arms, is he not?).
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  • God is all good and all powerful, but he is also just and his justice requires that those who rebel be punished… (well, maybe—but is not the prodigal son’s experience away from his father’s house sufficient punishment?  And why punish people endlessly for sins committed during their relatively brief sojourn on planet earth—especially when we are said to be suffering throughout our lives from the effects of original sin inherited from our first parents!?).
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  • God is all knowing, all good, and all powerful, but he prefers a creation which entails the suffering of the damned to one that does not… (i.e. he prefers option two to option one in the analogy of “having children”, discussed here; and since he need not have created in the first place, he obviously prefers the second option to the option of “not having children” at all).
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  • God is all knowing, all good, and all powerful, but if something about this scheme of things seems grossly unjust, we would do well to ignore our misgivings… (lest we, too, incur the wrath of almighty God—to say nothing of the ire of those Christian apologists who we are attempting to engage).

In short, it is defies any ordinary sense of reason and justice to insist that it has pleased God– who is said to be all powerful, all knowing, and all loving –to create from the beginning in such a way that the eternal conscious suffering of a significant percentage of human and celestial creatures is unavoidable (insisting, simultaneously, that creation was optional–that he need not have created at all).

Appeals to human freedom fall flat at this point—especially when we consider the weight of original sin and the necessity of God’s grace for our salvation.  Who brings us into existence in the first place?  Who decides that we must unavoidably suffer from the sin of our first parents?  And since our salvation depends upon the grace of God, who is it that decides who will receive sufficient grace to be saved and who will not?  It is usually explained, on the basis of Romans 1:20, that all of us receive enough light to be justly condemned, but we seem to read in Romans 9 that not all receive enough grace to be saved. Does this scheme of things really seem plausible?

Make no mistake, I think the concepts of sin and separation in conjunction with those of Divine judgement and saving grace– rightly understood –express very profound truths about the human condition.  But superficially understood– in light of a very literal reading of Genesis and Revelation, for example –such teachings are both logically contradictory and morally hazardous.  For more in this vein, see:  Is the Doctrine of Hell Defensible.

–>  Click here to read ahead:  Draft of Parts I, II, and III, combined…

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In Defense of Hell (Part I)

I.  Some Practical Concerns

My preoccupation with the topic of hell has been little embarrassing, really.  Against my better judgment, at times, I have– over the last few years –continued to drive home the point that there is something very wrong-headed about our conventional teachings in this regard.  And yet I understand perfectly well the potential downside to abandoning this doctrine–a doctrine which even Plato had recourse to, 400 years before the Christian era:

Indeed, Plato– whose Myth of Er in Book X of The Republic helped to introduce and reinforce this idea in the West –insisted that there is something about human existence (something about our sensible and appetitive nature) that requires that we be in some way compelled to turn away from illusion, towards the truth.  See, for example, the cave allegory in Book VII of The Republic:

Apropos of such compulsion, it is undeniable that the doctrine of hell does get our attention and makes us willing, at least for awhile, to consider our existence from a different point of view–especially when we are exposed to the doctrine (from our youth up) in a tight-knit religious community in which the eternal conscious torment of unbelievers is taken for granted.  Indeed, how many of us would have ever read our bibles– would have ever become inspired by the God ideal –if we had not first experienced the fear of God which exposure to this doctrine instilled within us?  Some perhaps, but not nearly so many–or so I imagine…

Nevertheless, as I reflect on the way in which it was taught to me (in fundamentalist and evangelical churches in Appalachia), it seems likely that this doctrine has done at least as much harm as it has good–providing, as it does, a good rationale for both religious fanaticism and anti-religious ridicule.  Moreover, in this day and age, it seems to me that the doctrine (taught in this way) clearly generates more skepticism– if not out right unbelief –than it does repentance unto salvation.  See, for example, this essay:  A Good Time Was Had by Some.  Or consider these signs, complements of the Wesboro Baptist church:

As such, it is my considered opinion that if the concept of hell must be retained (which I am inclined to think it must) as one component of an integral Christian tradition, it must be presented in a more nuanced fashion so as to maximize its potential benefits while minimizing its potential harm.

To be continued–Parts II and III to follow:

II.  Some Logical and Moral Considerations
III.  Charting a Better Way Forward

–>  Click here to read ahead:  Draft of Parts I, II, and III, combined…

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The Soul’s Choice

Towards a contemplative Christian faith and model of spiritual formation which acknowledges and circumvents the logical problems and moral hazards associated with the teaching of biblical inerrancy and eternal conscious torment:

  • We are of two minds:  1) The Empirical/Dualistic Mind, on the one hand, and 2) Transcendental/Nondual Awareness, on the other.
  • Within the confines of the empirical/dualistic mind, a conventional, egoic identity develops through which we experience life in alienation from God (SEPARATION/SIN/DEATH).
  • Transcending the confines of our conventional, egoic identity, however, we “put on Christ” and are reconciled to God in transcendental/nondual awareness (UNION/LOVE/LIFE).

While the empirical/dualistic/egoic mind rules our lives, we live in alienation from the true meaning and purpose of our existence. This is referred to traditionally as “the fall of man” and is attributed to our first parents (cf. Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22 ).  The mind of fallen humanity is referred to in the Christian scriptures as “the carnal mind” or “the mind of the flesh” (cf. Romans 8:5-7).

Our empirical/dualistic minds represent the world “horizontally”–slicing and dicing it into spatiotemporal pieces that appear to relate to one another causally/deterministically.  This seems to give us (as “separate selves”) some measure of knowledge and control over our environment– so far, so good –but approaching the world exclusively in this way (SEPARATION), we live our lives in fear of death and in bondage to sin as we endeavor to evade our inevitable destruction (or somehow anesthetize ourselves to it) rather than facing it lucidly and soberly.  As such, we live in ignorance of our truth and being in Christ (UNION), the knowledge of which constitutes the true meaning and purpose of our existence which, alone, can liberate us from the bondage of sin and death as we, by grace, discover ourselves to be reconciled to God, to one another, and to the rest of creation (cf. II Corinthians 5:16-19).

Having “eaten of the tree of (dualistic) knowledge”, therefore, we can (in some respects) understand the “horizontal” relationships that obtain in time and space (“the cause IN appearances“, as Kant puts it).  But so doing, we tend to be oblivious to “the cause OF appearances” which can only be apprehended “vertically” (i.e. spiritually—cf. I Corinthians 2:14).  To repeat, our empirical/dualistic understanding gives us no access to our transcendental/nondual “ground” (i.e. the Divine intelligence, Logos, or mind of Christ).

Nevertheless, these two aspects of reality—the “horizontal” (empirical) and the “vertical” (transcendental) –constitute an integral whole that is, Christ-like, both human and Divine.  Recognizing and honoring both aspects of our lives, we can, on the one hand, trace our natural history and genealogy empirically (“that which is born of the flesh is flesh”), while at the same time realizing our intimate relationship to God transcendentally (“that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”).  “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ ” (John 3:7).

Living in ignorance of the vertical aspect of our lives, however, our world seems out of joint, our lives absurd, and all our efforts ultimately in vain.  The good news, however, is that the kingdom of heaven is within us, among usat hand:

Luke 17:20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

“His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? It will not come while people watch for it; they will not say: Look, here it is, or: Look, there it is; but the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it” (Gospel of Thomas 113).

With this in mind, then—and as illustrated by the arrangement of images on the next page —let us take up our cross (Le Pendu), open our hearts to the abundant life of the Spirit (The Aces of Chalices and Batons), become like little children (Le Soleil), and enter into the kingdom NOW (Le Monde).

“The Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself…. The Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings…. In the Now we are at home at last” (Thomas Kelly, “A Testament of Devotion”).

–> The  Divine Presence “I AM”

[Editor’s Note:  Click here for a “key” to the arrangement  of images, below…]

[Note: It goes without saying that this material has been inspired in large part by my study of our anonymous author’s Meditations on the TarotI am also indebted to Paul Nagy for his feedback on the arrangement of images.]
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A Thought Experiment

Note: This experiment was originally published as A Spiritual Exercise on Yeshua21.Com.

The Occipital LobeA Thought Experiment:  Imagine, if you will, your brain setting on the table in front of you, complete with the necessary blood supply, temperature control, and appropriate “wiring” running to your eyeballs (and connected in all respects to the various nervous systems of your body).  Now, ask yourself:  Where is the scene I am contemplating taking place? 

  • Is it taking place wherever you happen to be at the moment–in front of your computer, perhaps, somewhere on planet earth!?
  • Or is it being represented in the occipital lobe of your brain (that very brain which you see spread out on the table in front of you)?

Douglas Harding MapIf the answer is “in your brain” — where, really, is your brain?  And what is the ontological status of the external reality being represented before your very eyes?

But if the answer is, “out here–obviously” — who, really, are you? And how are you observing this spatiotemporal world?

To explore this question further, click on the image, to the left, or simply ask yourself, Who Am I ?

Editor’s Note:  This exercise was inspired, in part, by the video, The secret beyond matter: “The External World” Inside Our Brain (first 20 minutes).  To explore this idea further, from a scientific and philosophical perspective, see  The Primacy of Consciousness, by Peter Russell.   For more direct pointing, from a non-religious, non-sectarian point of view, consider The Headless Way (a method of self-enquiry pioneered by Douglas Harding).  And, if it interests you, you probably should take a peek at  C.S. Lewis’ preface to Douglas Harding’s magnum opus, The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth:  A New Diagram of Man in the Universe (London, 1952)

See also:  –> Two Arguments Against Physicalism

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Quaker Universalist Voice

Many thanks to The Quaker Universalist Voice for featuring one of my essays, Everyone is Needed!, in the Conversations section of their website.  Life Streams readers are encouraged to scoot on over there and check out all they have to offer! 🙂

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The Ten Thousand Things

[Editor’s Note:  The material below is taken from the current listing of Robert Saltzman‘s new book, The Ten Thousand Things, on Amazon.Com.]

Quoting Robert K. Hall:

When I imagine speaking to a person who for the first time opens the pages of this book, I think of telling that person something like this: “You are about to read an authentic and incredibly lucid account of what it is like to live in this world as an awakened being while simultaneously functioning as a personality with all of the usual habits and peculiarities of an individual self.” Robert’s way of describing his understanding of the human existence from the point of view of an awakened personality is a revelation. His book is a fresh look at the questions that occur to anyone who thinks deeply about these matters, questions about free will, self-determination, destiny, choice, and who are we anyway.

I believe this is a “breakthrough book.” Robert’s style of writing about such ephemeral and difficult subjects as awareness and consciousness is honest, concise, and accurate. His ability to describe his experiences of living in a reality quite different from conventional ways of thinking is brilliantly unusual. On first encountering Robert Saltzman’s work, I am reminded of the same feelings of discovery, delight and excitement that I remember from meeting Alan Watts’ “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, Krishnamurti’s “Freedom from the Known,” and Chögyam Trungpa’s “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.”

His clarity of mind shines brightly through every sentence in this book. His skill at making clear the most difficult ramifications and subtleties of awakened consciousness is so free of conventional cluttered thinking, so free of habitual phrases, so free of the taint of religious dogma and the conventional ways of speaking of such difficult matters, that this book stands out for me as an entirely fresh and illuminated exposition of awakened consciousness: an awakened understanding of what it is to be human.

~ Robert K. Hall

the-ten-thousand-things-robert-saltzman-front-cover

Front Cover

the-ten-thousand-things-robert-saltzman-back-cover

Back Cover

About the Author

In the midst of his career as an artist and photographer, Robert Saltzman experienced a sudden and profound awakening—a deep vision into the actual nature of “myself.” That abrupt change in point of view, along with a subsequent long illness and slow recovery, changed the course of his life. He left the art world, obtained a doctorate in Depth Psychology, and began his practice of psychotherapy, a work he describes as “days in a small room, face to face with pain and suffering.” As an adjunct to his therapy practice, Robert established a website, www-dr-robert.com that featured his replies to questions about psychology, consciousness, and ordinary problems of living such as relationships, personality disorders, sexuality, mental illness, death and dying, etc. That site became the most popular ask the psychologist webpage on the internet, and has welcomed over four million visitors. In 2012, Robert moved his question and answer work to a Facebook page where it continues to this day. The Ten Thousand Things is a book of words and images about awakening, consciousness, philosophy, and spirituality. Forty chapters–each beginning with a photograph–based upon Robert’s replies to questions posed to him on Facebook.

–>  See also:  Ask Dr. Robert . . .

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