Join 3,440 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Namaste, bitches!
December 19, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Are you a spiritual wanker?
posted by msalt (59 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can't help but notice that the "spiritual voice" he affects is a California accent.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:17 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Expected something less intelligent than this is. I'm liking this a lot!
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:17 PM on December 19, 2012


This was surprisingly positive, funny and sincere. Love it!
posted by letitrain at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2012


"Being vague is not the same as being deep."

GOD does that need to be tattooed backwards on the foreheads of, like, half the people I know.
posted by cthuljew at 7:22 PM on December 19, 2012 [18 favorites]


Yeah, I was expecting something much nastier and more sarcastic, but this was cool. The question of material success and its relation to a full spiritual life have interested me recently.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:23 PM on December 19, 2012


Doesn't the word "spirituality" have a really broad, maybe even vague meaning? It's certainly one that has a more specific meaning within a certain community, making it so if you're using it to talk to your mom and/or a reasonably intelligent 10 year old then you're breaking your own rule about not using vague terminology. I can also see frowning on people who use other languages when unnecessary, but if you're practicing in an English-speaking place and you're adopting practices from places where other languages are spoken, chances are pretty good that there are a fair few terms that don't have good English translations, especially if you're throwing out words like "energy" as general bullshit.

There's a lot of things that he gets right, but all this is is him ragging on the group of pretentious dickheads in his community: every subculture has them. A lot of people call them hipsters. But most of this can be covered by "try to speak in a way that is accessible and not a performance", "stop thinking so fucking highly of yourself", "treat other people well" and "stop believing things that are bullshit".
posted by NoraReed at 7:32 PM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a lack-of-a-better-word 'spiritual' person I tend to become guarded and defensive whenever I think people are going to just lazily snark about the subject. So yes, pleasantly surprised that this guy is on target 100% while taking pains to differentiate the genuine stuff from the bullshit.
posted by naju at 7:36 PM on December 19, 2012


.... okay I might object to his dismissal of meditation as just 'getting high.'
posted by naju at 7:43 PM on December 19, 2012


I don't think he was dismissing meditation as just getting high, I think he was dismissing meditation in order to get high as just getting high
posted by rebent at 7:46 PM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I was at Ginsburg's hippy buddhist school this kind of stuff was so excessive that I have a hard time tolerating any of it at this point. I mean I like feel good silliness when it involves rainbows and hugs but things can go way too far into bizarre ego trips of spiritual greatness. Trungpa wrote a great book about, well cutting through spiritual materialism, but I think in general there really tends to be a level of othering and a social heirarchy of spiritual success that is kind of odd coming from people who often make outrageous claims of "having no ego" (!! Really!) or being completely unafraid of death or suffering. Or having "no judgement" of others. Why all the lecturing then?

And then there's the just world philosophies that literally DO defy science or reason and are a big part of many of the mantras and new age sayings that permeate spiritual traditions. And are really harmful to people who have suffered really aweful tragedies.

Logical fallacies can cause harm. Carrying out belief systems that are literally false or are harmful to other human beings can be really craptastic. Us non-religious spiritual people need to remember our own self delusions can be as powerful and false, and harmful to others as the ones we see more obviously in the organized religions rejected. But you know, we're all just a bunch of monkeys anyways. The only reason any of it matters is that our beliefs and subsequent behaviors can contribute to benefitting people or to harming them and the more happiness and health the better.
posted by xarnop at 7:46 PM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just about everyone in my hometown who isn't a post-rural redneck is a spiritual wanker. It's not a very intellectual scene.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:50 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what this guy thinks about Gary Null?

I always wanted to do a parody of New Dimensions, with the owners of depressed cats, men with yeast infections, cancer patients curing themselves with coconut oil, and telepathic auto mechanics.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:54 PM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


NoraReed: “There's a lot of things that he gets right, but all this is is him ragging on the group of pretentious dickheads in his community: every subculture has them. A lot of people call them hipsters. But most of this can be covered by ‘try to speak in a way that is accessible and not a performance’, ‘stop thinking so fucking highly of yourself’, ‘treat other people well’ and ‘stop believing things that are bullshit’.”

Hm. Well, I think you're right on the whole – he announces several times that it's not his intention to say anything too serious. What it seems like people found surprising is that he says some relatively insightful things here.

Personally, I wish he'd brought those out a bit more – because they are really insightful, and in some cases I think perhaps more important than even he realizes. For one thing, he makes some very coherent and on-the-money criticisms of actual identifiable "spiritual" movements and stances – most prominently the "wish-yourself-to-wealth" strain that's evident in, for instance, The Secret and a whole lot of other "power of positive thinking" philosophies that seem to be very popular nowadays. Also, his dictum about "don't be a dick" is really an important corrective. I'd say it's even more important than he makes it.

Moral thought has been completely jettisoned by whole swaths of so-called "spiritual" thought in our time. And not just there; the eschewing of morality and of ethics is a common theme in movies, in television, in our self-help books, in all kinds of touchstones of our culture. "Moralist" is an insult to us. This has always been a human impulse – in Plato's dialogue Gorgias, Callicles defines happiness as having desires and being able to fulfill them. But I think it's a hallmark of our time in many ways. What's more interesting, I think, is why people so strongly eshew moral thought. My feeling is that they do this because morality is scary – it carries with it the potential for shame. And nowadays we have no idea where it ends; we who live in North America and Europe have an ominous feeling that we're guilty for a lot of things before we even begin, so thinking about it can't lead anywhere positive.

This is part of the larger eschewing of spirituality in general that (I think) most "spiritual" people are trying to buck when they call themselves that. And there really is a void there that needs filling. Morality is the fundamental intersection between human beings. It's essential that we think about what it means, about what right and wrong are and how we can do good to each other.
posted by koeselitz at 8:10 PM on December 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


IIRC, "Namaste Motherfucker" was a slogan at the New Jersey camp at Burning Man 2011.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:17 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Koeselitz, I'm interested in hearing more about why you think people eschew moral thought. I took a few philosophy classes at a very conservative, christian college before deconverting myself. I am very interested in moral thought and different opinions about it. In my experience, here around my town, I don't think I've run into anyone who has no opinion on the matter and who is not willing to have a conversation about it - although, pretty frequently the depth of their dialogue goes no deeper than "it's ok because I did it, it's bad because it was done to me."

Is this a thing that happens perhaps in a certain segment of people i.e. geographic, age, SEC?
posted by rebent at 8:22 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I personally love it when people describe themselves as spiritual. It almost always tells me that they think the are, in some undefined, vague way, better than me.

So it saves me a lot of time in knowing what egotistical freaks I don't want to hang out with.
posted by bswinburn at 9:02 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. For a self-professed non-wanker, this guy sure is condescending.
posted by Scientist at 9:12 PM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I empathize with his frustration at trendy, newagey twits, when he wants to be somewhat real about things. I was consistently impressed with his non-condescension, in fact.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:18 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Doesn't the word "spirituality" have a really broad, maybe even vague meaning?

Only sort of. Spiritualism is an actual specific thing and the predecessor of a lot of modern new age movements as well as big chunks of the Western "self help" phenomenon. Because it's an actual thing, you wouldn't describe any random New Age type as "a Spiritualist," but there are definitely connotations to "spirituality" that are specific to this family of modern, Western religious beliefs. It's a reasonable broad term, in my opinion - I certainly knew exactly what kind of thinking he was talking about.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:52 PM on December 19, 2012



Wow. For a self-professed non-wanker, this guy sure is condescending.


To be fair, he was really trying to be sincere (as some may argue, so are most 'spiritual wankers'). But, yes, he does help us feel better, wiser and more evolved than those wankers!
posted by Surfurrus at 10:11 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


rebent: "Koeselitz, I'm interested in hearing more about why you think people eschew moral thought. I took a few philosophy classes at a very conservative, christian college before deconverting myself. I am very interested in moral thought and different opinions about it. In my experience, here around my town, I don't think I've run into anyone who has no opinion on the matter and who is not willing to have a conversation about it - although, pretty frequently the depth of their dialogue goes no deeper than 'it's ok because I did it, it's bad because it was done to me.' Is this a thing that happens perhaps in a certain segment of people i.e. geographic, age, SEC?"

Well - a couple of things. I grew up in an evangelical household in a small town, so I think I am familiar with the milieu you're talking about. Really, I generally mean what you describe: even the people who are willing to talk about morality have a relatively simple way of talking about it. I could say a lot about the state of modern Christianity here; briefly, I think Protestantism has kind of backed itself into a corner over the past few decades with its extreme simplification of what faith means, and moral thinking - not moral beliefs, or "god-said-it-I-believe-it" dictums, but moral thinking - has kind of lost its place in the culture. At this point, I think there's an interesting wave of younger evangelicals who feel a bit uneasy with their parents' moral dictums, but who aren't theologically sure how to crawl out of that box; the easiest way, and the common way now, to deal with it is to simply learn not to be crudely judgmental, and that's about as far as modern "enlightened" evangelicals go.

But they're really an outlier at this point, having been knocked down to about 12% of the population last I checked. In general, I think moral thought about right and wrong is very unpopular among most people now, at least as a concept. Conceptually, people would rather focus on things like "fulfillment," which as a goal seems to be a product of the pop psychology revolution of the 1960s and its vast impact on the American mind. People view thinking about ethics as boring at best, and, as I said, I think people subconsciously avoid it out of fear of shame. What is ironic in all this is that I've observed that the people who most loudly decry "moralism" and "judgmentalism" are often quickest to judge others and to moralize without realizing they're doing it. I think morality is sort of like dreaming; it may seem like a particular enough thing that you might be able to avoid it, but when you try you end up engaging in it more than you ever did before.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Scientist: "Wow. For a self-professed non-wanker, this guy sure is condescending."

Eponysterical?

That said - I was totally reminded of Sickest Buddhist by Arj Barker.
posted by symbioid at 10:21 PM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, not a spiritual one.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:12 PM on December 19, 2012


The only thing worse than the wankers in my own spiritual/religious communities are the folks who expect me to be wanker to satisfy their stereotypes. Srsly folks, Jews aren't magicians with arcane skills derived from number-encoded words; and Buddhists don't have special mind-powers beyond the acceptance that comes from pitiless self-knowledge.
posted by Dreidl at 11:15 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. For a self-professed non-wanker, this guy sure is condescending.

Huh. I don't see that one. For one thing, he starts out by saying he's as bad as anybody, and repeats it a couple of times.
posted by msalt at 11:20 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Being vague is not the same as being deep."

I, too, would like certain, um, "spiritual" types I argue with to have that particular truth somehow seared into their woolly minds.
posted by Decani at 1:41 AM on December 20, 2012


Also: Good intentions are no substitute for talent.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:29 AM on December 20, 2012


That was good.
posted by odinsdream at 4:47 AM on December 20, 2012


I empathize with his frustration at trendy, newagey twits, when he wants to be somewhat real about things. I was consistently impressed with his non-condescension, in fact.

I thought the same.

I go with C.G. Jung on this.

"An ancient adept has said: 'If the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.' This Chinese saying, unfortunately all too true, stands in sharp contrast to our belief in the 'right' method irrespective of the man who applies it. In reality, in such matters everything depends on the man and little or nothing on the method. For the method is merely the path, the direction taken by a man. The way he acts is the true expression of his nature. If it ceases to be this, then the method is nothing more than an affectation, something artificially added, rootless and sapless, serving only the illegitimate goal of self-deception."

...

"The step to higher consciousness leads us out and away from all rear-guard cover and from all safety measures. The individual must give himself to the new way completely, for it is only by means of his integrity that he can go further, and only his integrity can guarantee that his way does not turn out to be an absurd adventure."

Jung's Commentary on the "Secret of the Golden Flower"

"Affectation." "Self-deception." "Absurd adventure." These impressions float through my mind anytime I encounter certain spiritual seekers. So much for integrity and keeping your feet on the ground.

I just finished "The Secret of the Golden Flower." Jung's commentary is excellent. The strangeness to the western mind of the text is expertly dealt with by Jung. IMHO. If you are interested in this type of thing, I recommend it.
posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 5:02 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of a story I heard long ago from someone who approached a Harry Kirschner adept in robes on a bus ... who quickly became argumentative. When friend tried to calm him, he replied "Don't give me that shanti, shanti shit!"

The Seekers Road, like ski slopes, is littered with the corpses of best intentions.
posted by Twang at 5:34 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Twang, that's hilarious. I laughed out loud. I had to jog my memory. End of a Upanishad - Om shanti shanti shanti. Shanti - The peace that passeth all understanding.
posted by TrolleyOffTheTracks at 6:15 AM on December 20, 2012


I remember staying up after Saturday Night Live to watch Harry Kirschner's Rock Concert on the T.V. when I was a kid.
posted by malocchio at 6:44 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still, Minchin's Storm works better for me in the discussion of spirituality
posted by fredludd at 7:59 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


My problem with this is the sprinkled-in earnest bits:

"...spirituality for me, anyway, is about depth, is about transformation..."

Wanker.
posted by gurple at 9:02 AM on December 20, 2012


I have a minor quibble in that sometimes it's better to use a non-English term because the concept doesn't quite translate well. On the other side, that leads to things like "karma" in which the English use is almost, but not quite, completely wrong. "Samsara" = "suffering" is another idea that needs a fair bit of explanation beyond the common English-language definition of suffering. "Ipsum esse" is another term I'll defend for the sake of technical clarity.

koeselitz: Conceptually, people would rather focus on things like "fulfillment," which as a goal seems to be a product of the pop psychology revolution of the 1960s and its vast impact on the American mind.

Which is interesting because it seems that many spiritual traditions hold that moral praxis is something of a prerequisite for a happy life. Fulfillment can't be fully defined without a moral framework describing the good, and the praxis centers on steps necessary to achieve the good. (Praxis is another loanword I like in these discussions for its precision.) Of course, one consequence of that praxis may be the realization that what you think would be fulfilling likely isn't.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:04 AM on December 20, 2012


Now I'd like to see "Are you an anti-spiritual wanker?"
posted by No Robots at 9:12 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about tantric sex for one.
posted by mippy at 9:25 AM on December 20, 2012


Spirituality is an aesthetic. Morality is an aesthetic. Hell, living is an aesthetic. Fuck it- ultimately, everything is an aesthetic. /wank

Also:
"The way he acts is the true expression of his nature."
"'Character' is what you are in the dark." -Dr. Emilio Lizardo
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 9:29 AM on December 20, 2012


fredludd: “Still, Minchin's Storm works better for me in the discussion of spirituality”

Ah, the delicious and ever-more-popular whiff of pure British utilitiarianism – all is very simple, anything remotely abstract does not exist, life is a basic, obvious thing and anyone who doesn't see that is lying or mentally ill. Nietzsche mocked the utilitarians, pointing out that even they made startlingly bold assumptions about what is "good" and what is "beneficial" for human beings – they merely covered it up with a facade of "oh-this-is-so-obvious." Minchin and the rest are doing the same thing.

And this is why the pursuit of the spiritual is so incredibly vital now. It's so easy for people to begin to believe that the things they and their parents and their grandparents believed are so obvious that they forget that they're making incredibly unwarranted assumptions about the way the world works. The whole of civilization is a vast edifice, and it stands to make us forget that these really are just assumptions.

I am as skeptical and in fact dismissive of homeopathy as the next guy – but this is different. This goes beyond simple hucksterism. Tim Minchin and his ilk have made the world so incredibly small that they're blind to the assumptions they're making about it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I'd like to see "Are you an anti-spiritual wanker?"

Isn't that pretty much assumed these days on the basis of three words, "I'm an atheist?"
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:37 AM on December 20, 2012


ever-more-popular whiff of pure British utilitiarianism

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory, it has nothing to say about whether or not homeopathy works.

all is very simple, anything remotely abstract does not exist

Minchin (my emphasis):

Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable, natural world?
posted by pw201 at 10:29 AM on December 20, 2012


pw201: “Utilitarianism is an ethical theory, it has nothing to say about whether or not homeopathy works.”

It was shorthand for "Humean dismissal of all abstract or spiritual phenomena." Utilitarianism is a good shorthand for that because it's essentially the assertion that morality is very simple and does not reduce to any abstract or spiritual basis whatsoever. Minchin's outlook, which is a common one, relies heavily on utilitarianism as a moral foundation, and on its extension to ontology.

“Minchin (my emphasis): Just this beautiful, complex Wonderfully unfathomable, natural world?”

When Minchin says "unfathomable," he doesn't mean it. The entire song is about how he will not allow certain kinds of arguments because he knows absolutely without a doubt how the world works: all events are repeatable and testable by experiment. If science can't demonstrate it, it is not true. But gosh, isn't the world wonderful anyway?

And this empty, hollow boilerplate really starts to grate on my nerves, to be honest. Often people in this frame of mind will utter things about how the world is just wondrous and 'magical' in its own way even if you completely rule out a whole array of possibilities that you have no business or rational reason to rule out. But the indeterminacy of the world is not like that. It is big, it is scary, and it means that life is thrown into flux. The reason that doesn't cause Minchin any discomfort is because he doesn't really believe it; he believes he has a whole lot of knowledge about how the world works, knowledge that is derived from science. And he dismisses anyone who questions that or wonders about its foundations as a spiritualist hippie incapable of rational thought.
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


CBrachyrhynchos, I don't know exactly what you are driving at, but I don't think that all atheists are either wankers or anti-spiritual. In fact, some have argued that the greatest spiritual heroes are completely godless, that indeed godlessness is an essential quality of spiritual greatness. This spiritual godlessness, of course, has nothing to do with the physicalism that typifies atheism as it is generally understood.
posted by No Robots at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like "I'm a really spiritual person" often translates to "I'm into yoga and meditation". It's more a kind of self help or relaxation technique. It seems to not unlike how a lot of Christians seem to go to church for the purpose of having their life choices validated rather than any kind of attempt to embody the teachings of Christ. Both are fine and may help you feel better about yourself but where's the connection with the rest of the universe, outside of your head? What good are doing anyone but yourself? Am I missing something? Is it supposed to be that you meditate and yoga your ass off and then you're so chilled out in your own life that you can use all your positive energy to make life better for others?

I know that there are probably a lot of really super good people in the world who follow spiritual practices of one type or another, but all the really decent, evolved people I've met don't tend to talk about that kind of stuff.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:00 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


People who want to educate themselves about spirituality have every opportunity to do so. Here is a word on the subject from a scientist:
Agnostic and atheist “secular humanists” have been quietly taught that spirituality is foolish or, at best, questionable. Some secular humanists are spiritual but most are not. We are thus cut off from a deep aspect of our humanity. Humans have led intricate and meaningful spiritual lives for thousands of years, and many secular humanists are bereft of it. Reinventing the sacred as our response to the emergent creativity in the universe can open secular humanists to the legitimacy of their own spirituality.--"Breaking The Galilean Spell" / Stuart Kauffman
You may also want to read what Vaclav Havel had to say about the matter.
posted by No Robots at 11:22 AM on December 20, 2012


No Robots: It wasn't directed at you, it was a general observation that the default prejudice is atheist = wanker (jerk), one that usually frames the discussion that follows. The general understanding of, or perhaps about atheism is mired in ignorance and bigotry. The concepts of godless and spiritual greatness (or lets be more honest and say "a better person than I was last month") are utterly alien in these discussions. It's not just a matter of ignorance of the depth of atheistic thought, it's an ideological stance that demands denial or the attempt to play "good theist/bad atheist."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2012


Hume does not dismiss the abstract, consider the famous "consign it then to the flames" quote, for example.

I have no idea whether Minchin is a utilitarian (we don't learn this from Storm). Utilitarianism only sounds simple because it hides its complexity behind our (vastly complex but largely unconscious) shared understanding of what "happiness" means. It is certainly an abstract theory in the sense of relying on abstract notions: I've personally never stubbed my toe on a utility function (thus I refute you).

I'll grant the "spiritual" bit if you just mean that it's (one possible) naturalistic ethical theory, in the sense that it does not attempt to "ground" morality in some non-natural facts (e.g. facts about God). But it would be perfectly consistent to believe in non-natural things (ghosts and gods, say) while still being a utilitarian, so I'm not sure what you think utilitarianism's "extension to ontology" might be.

Do you think that the results Minchin got from scientific experiements (namely that mediums and homeopathy don't work) aren't knowledge? Does Storm (the character in the poem) have grounds to question them? She's a straw woman, but there are an awful lot of her ilk going on about Big Pharma and how science can't prove your wife loves you and how there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, and so on. These people aren't doing philosophy of science, they're just bullshitting because they don't like its results.

On the actual philosophy of science: setting the prior probability for anything (even homeopathy) to zero is bad because you can't update on new evidence. But Storm (the poem) gives us scant evidence that Minchin has ruled anything out completely. He says that if homeopathy were shown to work he'd change his mind. Repeatable experiments are not necessary for something to be a science. I bet there are a great many things Minchin accepts which are not the results of science (for example, "this background is blue") and if he were to claim that science is his only source of knowledge, he'd be wrong (but again, I don't see him claiming that).
posted by pw201 at 11:39 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos, I guess then that #1 on my list of "Are you an anti-spiritual wanker?" is, "Don't feel all butt-hurt by people who talk about spirituality."
posted by No Robots at 12:22 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please don't say "butt-hurt". I find it offensive.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2012


I meant it in the spiritual sense.
posted by No Robots at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2012


But I think it's a hallmark of our time in many ways. What's more interesting, I think, is why people so strongly eshew moral thought. My feeling is that they do this because morality is scary – it carries with it the potential for shame. And nowadays we have no idea where it ends; we who live in North America and Europe have an ominous feeling that we're guilty for a lot of things before we even begin, so thinking about it can't lead anywhere positive.
koeselitz

I think you are right about the general eschewing of moral thought in modern Western society, but I think you are wrong about the reason. Your idea about a subconscious sense of possible shame may play some part, but I think the larger reason is that for the West morality became synonymous with restriction and control because it wielded by those in power to that end. Though I reject the idea that you need religion for morality, morality especially was synonymous with religion. The 60s were explicitly a rejection of the old authority structures.

So for the people coming after that, talk about "morality" was viewed as talk about controlling others and shaming them because for so long that's what such talk was used to do. It really doesn't help foster talk of morality that those who crown themselves as moralists are generally political and religious reactionaries against the post-60s order who do espouse restrictive, controlling world views.

I think people in general are hesitant, then, to talk about morality because it's still synonymous with control and restriction. People are afraid they're going to come off as a Pat Robertson or some elderly conservative yelling about how society is falling apart and kids these days have no morals.

This is why this behavior is a "hallmark of our time" because the modern era is an era of attacking the old order whereas the reluctance of people to examine themselves lest they find something ugly is as old as humanity.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:51 PM on December 20, 2012


Sorry, I hit post too early:

I also think the reluctance to discuss morality today is also driven by the spirituality movements that arose in the West in the 60s when people were looking away from the old religious structures. This eventually became the watered-down "wanker spirituality" this video addresses.

This leaves the perception of moral discussion as either some conservative attempt at control or some New Age pseudo-Easter/spiritual nonsense. So when it comes to the cultural view of morality today people feel stuck between a rock and a hard place and just avoid it all together.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:00 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


No Robots: Consider, that it's not beliefs about god or spirituality I find wanky, but beliefs about atheists. If you wish to have a conversation about spirituality, consider me a fellow traveler. If you cross the line to commenting on the assumed poverty of my atheism (almost always getting it wrong), then you're a wanker.

Ang Lee lightly crosses that line in directing Life of Pi, a mild flaw in an otherwise beautiful movie. The prologue and denouement rely on a false dichotomy between faith and personal myth on one side, and faithless skepticism on the other.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:15 PM on December 20, 2012


See, now, CBrachyrhynchos, you have identified a lacuna in my spiritual development that I now must rectify by reading the book and/or seeing the movie, and for that I thank you.

I do not wish to attack physicalists, but I do intend to defend myself against them.
posted by No Robots at 1:25 PM on December 20, 2012


No Robots: I do not wish to attack physicalists, but I do intend to defend myself against them.

Defend in what way? You went on the attack in this discussion against something I see as little more than a projected caricature.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:45 PM on December 20, 2012


Attack? I can hardly understand you! Anyway, best wishes for the season!
posted by No Robots at 1:48 PM on December 20, 2012


Sangermaine: This leaves the perception of moral discussion as either some conservative attempt at control or some New Age pseudo-Easter/spiritual nonsense. So when it comes to the cultural view of morality today people feel stuck between a rock and a hard place and just avoid it all together.

Well said. Though I think it would be better to say, "between a rock and a soft place."

What I find missing from both those positions, and from many anti-religious folks as well -- Tim Minchin is hilarious, but I'm guessing he fits in that crowd -- is any sense of humility. Whichever camp you fall in, I wish we could all agree that these subjects are complicated, hard to pin down, and deserve careful thought, mutual respect and a sense of humor.
posted by msalt at 2:55 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's my perspective. Most statements that contain the word "atheism" as a proper or collective noun, or "atheism as it is generally understood" are almost certain to be false or misleading. You need to demonstrate that you can properly generalize across a philosophical view that's appears to have been expressed in most cultures, most religions, and in most eras of recorded human history. I don't think that "theism" can be discussed as a proper or collective noun for the same reason.

This is a radical statement, but it's also a pragmatic one. If we're actually going to have conversations about spiritual praxis, we need to shut up about our illusions of the other, speak to our experience, and listen to the experience of others. Practically everything written in this thread about atheism is bullshit. It's not true or fair to the atheists I've read, the atheists I live with, the atheists I share community with, or the atheists I correspond with.

No, that's not "atheism as it is generally understood" in my community. Perhaps it applies some other community elsewhere on the world, but not here in this discussion, or in my city. So why attack or defend it here where it's irrelevant? How is that relevant to a discussion of how to politely engage in a spiritual praxis?

My objection to Ang Lee's decision to cross the line into making claims, not just about Pi's spirituality but about atheists strikes a nerve on two points. First, the claim that atheists wouldn't comprehend the tiger as worthy of reverence and awe, or the importance of storytelling is ludicrous on its face. Second, it cheapens Pi's spiritual narrative to contrast it with a straw other. It's utterly unnecessary after all the beautiful and deep conflicts with family, school, sea, self, God, and tiger, to tack on such clumsy and shallow ones. I love religious art. You can erase the Bach, Beethoven, and Pärt from my music collection when I'm dead. I don't need it introduced and concluded with shallow apologetics.

If you're engaged in the practice of oversimplifying or misrepresenting the beliefs of other people in order to make yours look good, then I think you're doing it wrong.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:51 PM on December 20, 2012


I don't think that "theism" can be discussed as a proper or collective noun for the same reason.

When the people who most of people think of when someone mentions "atheism" use the term "religion", they usually mean evangelical Protestantism (conversely, the evangelical Protestants mean "that which we do not do, because we have a personal relationship with Jesus", q.v.).

I generally use "theism" for "belief in one omni-{potent,scient,benevolent} God". That's a useful term, because there are arguments for and against such belief, even if almost no-one is a mere theist. Still, saying "theists are all like this" is generally not going to be true.

"Spirituality" is something I'm ambivalent about: it's used by annoying people like Storm and so is tainted by association, but I can see what people who say they're "spiritual atheists" are trying to say (most often, that they're not Straw Vulcans).
posted by pw201 at 9:07 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Welcome to Pyongyang!...  |  In this interview with Collect... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments