Showing posts with label Meditation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Meditation. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 3 Getting Medieval)

Feser starts chapter 3 lauding Aquinas' lifelong chastity and devotion to god, as if that's supposed to impress us. Religious obsessions with chastity always reminds me of how masochistic it is. There's also something about serious Catholics that I really don't like. I've always hated Catholicism, but it's hard to hate most Catholics today because most of them are so non-religious that they act almost indistinguishable from your average secular atheist. But the ones who take their religion seriously, like Feser, get me agitated. Feser is convinced his religion is true and wants the world to conform to it, and that's dangerous. I suppose then that it's a good thing he doesn't get much traction.

It's in chapter 3, called Getting Medieval, that Feser lays out his argument for god. He starts by making several insults about the New Atheists and their apparent failure to address the "greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages," especially Richard Dawkins, who is arguably the most famous atheist in the world. As a reminder once again, I haven't fully read The God Delusion, and so I unfortunately cannot speak on Dawkins' behalf. But, from what I did read, Dawkins does make a lot of common sense arguments against the belief in a theistic intervening god - the kind who ensures you have parking space at Walmart while he ignores the prayers of millions of kids starving to death. Hitchens' God is Not Great is really a critique of religion, specifically the Abrahamic ones. He doesn't really try and refute the existence of god per se. Perhaps this is a weakness, but I think his criticisms against Abrahamic theism are strong enough that no argument anyone can make could establish the probabilistic existence of Yahweh. The biblical god and the religions that derive from him are just too absurd to be taken seriously, even when Aquinas' arguments are met head on, as we're about to see.

Feser makes a big deal about the New Atheist's criticisms of William Paley's popular design argument. The reason why so many atheists mention Paley's argument is because it's a very popular argument that a lot of theists make. It's also a very simple argument; one doesn't need to learn complex, esoteric metaphysics like one has to do in order to understand Aquinas. That's why Paley's argument keeps coming up again and again, and the New Atheists (and atheists in general) have to make it a point to address it. Aquinas' arguments are generally too complex and require too much philosophical knowledge for your average wannabe apologist to successfully make. It's much easier for them to memorize the simple premises of the cosmological argument, or remember the scene involved in Paley's watchmaker analogy. It's fair to say that it isn't a straw man to attack design arguments of the Paley variety as Feser thinks on page 81. It's a legitimate argument for god, albeit a really bad one. No, a more proper straw man is like what Feser did in his opening chapter when he says your average secularist thinks strangling infants or fucking corpses or goats is perfectly normal in order to show how secularism is "irrational, immoral, and indeed insane," without even defining what he means by "secularism."

Feser's attitude seems to be that none of the New Atheist's arguments mean anything, until they refute Aquinas. And to be fair, the New Atheists have, by and large, not taken up Aquinas. Feser accuses secularists of swallowing "anything their gurus shovel at them." (80) But he must realize how absurd it is for him to make such a claim, when everyone knows it's organized religion that brainwashes its masses and requires its adherents make statements of faith, usually starting at childhood. And the Catholic Church is about as organized as organized religion can get.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Does Acupuncture Work?

The prevailing view among skeptics is that acupuncture is a pseudoscience. It's said to be based on unsubstantiated spiritual claims and should be considered in the same vein as homeopathy, faith healing and astrology. There have been some conflicting reports over the effects of acupuncture within scientific studies. One BBC documentary made a few years ago claimed that there was scientific evidence that acupuncture had an effect on the brain's chemistry. However, there are many sites claiming that acupuncture is nothing more than a "theatrical placebo."

I'm not convinced either way.

While I don't believe in the claim that we all have a "Qi" or energy field that acupuncture taps into, there is no reason for me to doubt that there could be certain pinpoints on the body that when stimulated can ease pain and certain ailments. The reason why I'm getting acupuncture is to help quite smoking. Since I was in high school I've been an on-again and off-again smoker. I initially started smoking because all the "cool" kids did it, and it soon became a staple of my party lifestyle. I managed to quit for a period of 2 years when I was in college but then it came back with a vengeance and that's where I am today, trying to quit yet again. At the height of my addiction I was smoking nearly a pack a day. And at $14 per pack here in New York that's a very expensive addiction.

I've gotten down to smoking a few cigarettes a day but I can often smoke a lot more if I'm drinking. The worst thing about trying to quit smoking is that the stubborn desire keeps coming back. It's such a psychological addition that it gets to the point where just thinking about having a cigarette makes me happy and puts me in a good mood, and that's what makes it so dangerous. I'm hoping acupuncture can alleviate me of this condition.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why The "Inner Witness To The Holy Spirit" Is Evidence Of Nothing

When all else fails for the theist, many decide that they can always fall back on the "inner witness to the holy spirit." This is true among Christians but other theists and New Age types that I've debated with in person have similar justifications for their beliefs. For example, I remember one time talking to this woman who described herself as "spiritual" who told me she knew for a fact that the spiritual force behind the universe had put certain situations into her life for a purpose. All attempts to inject a little skepticism to the conversation were futile. But people like this I think highlight what is at the core of religious/spiritual belief  that there is at heart, primarily an emotional basis for belief in god or one particular religion and things like the "inner witness to the holy spirit" are really just manifestations of strong emotional triggers contextualized in a Christian environment.

It seems that some people just "know" that god or some higher power exists because they "feel" it, and nothing can come in their way. But it always seemed obvious to me that the fact that Christians, Hindus, Mormons and New Age spiritualists alike can all have these amazing emotional/spiritual experiences, that their experiences were indicative of nothing more than just our natural tendency to attribute deeper meaning to our emotional experiences and hallucinations. For example, if the Christian god existed, why would he be giving Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims amazing transcendent spiritual experiences when they meditate, chant and pray? These experiences often lead to the faith of those believers increasing, and as a result often takes them further away from ever becoming a Christian. It seems odd that the Christian god would give any non-Christian a spiritual experience that strengthens their non-Christian faith.

Christians have two general answers to this dilemma: (1) The spiritual experiences of non-Christians are mistaken or are possibly caused by the devil; or (2) in the Calvinist tradition, these people are being purposely mislead by god because god has predestined them to hell where he wants them. Since I think Calvinism is intellectually bankrupt, I will focus on (1).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sex & The City: The Time I Dated A Christian

Several years back I found myself sitting alone in a Starbucks coffee shop in Manhattan killing time. I had no idea that I was being watched. The young barista working there came up to me and smiled. She said she thought I was cute, and then offered me her phone number. I was pleasantly surprised since these kinds of things didn't happen everyday. I accepted her offer and eventually left. I remember her smiling to me as I walked out.

Several days later I either called or texted her and we decided to meet in Union Square Park, right across the street from the Starbucks. Like many first dates, it was awkward, but this encounter was even more so because we didn't even know each other at all. So we spent the day walking around the city, talking, and getting to know one another. We ended up in a Barnes & Noble sitting on the floor, looking at pictures in magazines and making gross jokes about the people in them.

She was a southern girl, with a slight accent, from Georgia - right outside of Atlanta if I can remember properly, and came to New York to chase her dreams of becoming an actress. (Oh how cliche.) I wasn't familiar with the ways of the south all that much but she was very easy going and we got along. She told me she thought I was cute and decided to be brave and go for it. I remember her telling me her thoughts before doing so. The worst that could happen, she told me, would be either that I was gay or taken, and that in either case she'd be risking humiliation. I praised her courage.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Healthy Living For A Healthy "Soul"

Many years ago my sister recommended that I see her friend who was a spiritual healer that could help me guide my life in a better direction and address some issues I had been facing. My sister was very spiritual and knew many hippie types that specialized in yoga and spiritual cleansing. Since it wouldn't have cost me anything, I abided.

I met my sister's friend in a fourth floor apartment in the East Village right on second avenue and eighth street. She looked like your stereotypical hippie: She was a white woman with long dreadlocks, and had all sorts of beads and accessories you'd think a shaman should wear. She also had a very intense stare and demeanor as if she was permanently in touch with her inner chi. 

We practiced a meditation ritual that I found rather difficult to concentrate on. Meditation has always been difficult to me. I've never been able to tame my mind in the way it's needed for a successful experience. I think it's because I think too much. I remember being in the middle of the "trance" and opening my eyes and seeing her so into it, that I felt jealous I couldn't quite get there with her.

Later she gave me a massage that was supposed to unlock my inner spirit that involved cracking my back by her stepping on me and putting downward pressure on my spine. That might have been as close as I got to inner peace.

Finally we talked about what was bothering me and she wrote down on a piece of paper some thoughts or suggestions should I consider going forward with my life in order to help me. I recently found this paper folded in a book (Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great of all places) after several years. It said:

How does attachment to people, places & things prevent you from growing? How do they contribute to fear, insecurity, & self doubt? Is this the truth of who you really are? How are you potentially being held back by fearing to take risks? What does taking risks mean to you? Why is this crucial to your growth - for now & later?
What is your daily routine for developing your practices & new direction for a healthy/empowered lifestyle? Is there anything holding you back from this?

It finished with some recommendations to keep a day to day regiment to guide me towards a better path.

*Daily Practices
1. Meditation: BOS, practice 10 min. twice daily, am & pm & all throughout the day
Observe, witness, as it is, w/o judging, labeling, assessing
Surrender, letting go, pure acceptance of what is
2. Colon cleanse: Live Live, 63 E. 10th St. between 1st & A
3. Diet: Try 2 weeks of no meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, sugar. 80% living/raw foods, 20% coocked
4. Drink 1 1/2 liters lemon water daily
5. Take yoga classes, ashtanga, kundalini

I remember trying to go on a raw food diet afterwards and dropping a lot of weight as a result, and since I was really skinny at the time, I just couldn't keep it going. Although I have to be honest that I have not been able to adjust my life to this daily regiment, I have definitely cut down on the amount of processed foods and garbage that I used to eat when I was younger. I only drink organic almond milk or protein juice, and I eat a lot of fruits. I of course have my occasional junk food binges but I keep them under wraps because I'm a lot more conscious now of how negative they are health-wise.

While I haven't been able to fully accept life as it is, I do feel that some things should be left alone and not constantly dwelled upon. The mind should be occasionally unplugged. In the years since this experience, I've no doubt struggled to be a better person and to treat my body better. Even though there is no "soul" to be cleansed, we do have our inner being, our bodies and our minds, and they do fall prey to contamination.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Human Condition Part 3

With my love of philosophy, I've gotten deeper into Buddhism's philosophy with the help of its many interpreters. Alan Watts made an excellent video, capturing in image and sound some of the brilliant interpretation's of the Buddha, in particular meditation. As Buddhism's main practice, meditation has always intrigued me, but also intimidated me. I have tried several times to properly meditate, but each time I feel that I have failed miserably. I have never reached that highly coveted state of nirvana that the Buddha is said to have reached while in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

Meditation bemuses me. I am learning about it more and more to peel away its mysteries. According to its many experienced practitioners, it is to be conducted while in a calm tranquil environment, with slow, rhythmic breathing. Your mind should acknowledge the present, while the past should remain a distant memory. The past should no longer exist. The future shouldn't either. Your body is suppose to simply, be. Let the mind flow freely. Thoughts that enter the mind should be considered noise, like the sounds from nature. Reflect.

It is this part that I usually have such an issue with. Whenever I meditate, I cannot stop thinking about my past, and worrying about the future. It consumes me to such a degree that all hopes for even the lowest slopes of enlightenment are thwarted. It is something I am working on, along with my problem controlling my breathing. With meditation, I hope to reach a state of tranquility. I hope to reflect on my existence in a new light. All the petty issues that are bothering me, that cause me so much stress in my day-to-day life, I hope will become washed away, if even for a moment.  But for the long term, seeing past events in a new light can at least alleviate the negative effects it has on one's peace of mind.

This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of what often troubles me. How do I deal with my problems in life? How do I deal with people I do not like? How do I deal with situations that annoy me? Simple reinterpretation on past events is not the long term solution for me. Change needs to be made for dealing with these same problems for the future, so that the past is not repeated. I'm not sure if meditation is is even the solution for addressing such problems. Maybe it is not. If I can successfully meditate, perhaps that will change my behavior towards my problems in the future.


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