Consciousness, Enlightenment, Epistemology, God(s), Happiness, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Religion, Self, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Thinking, Transformative Experience

The God of Mystic Naturalism

It seldom interests me anymore that a growing portion of the World’s people believe they can be saved from death, injustice, suffering, or some other aspect of life by a deity.  Most days, I would rather drink a tasty beer than contemplate salvation from those challenges of living which seem to disconcert our species the most.

This evening, though, I’m for once interested in the notion that so many of us feel salvation can come from a deity.  How did our most wondrous and often unfortunate species ever come up with that one?

Is the answer to that question buried in India or the Middle East?  Who were the first people to concoct the apparently comforting notion that a deity can and might save us from at least a few of the challenges of living?  I wish I knew, but I don’t.  It’s a strange notion though.

Of course, the notion is strange because it is wildly speculative — for in its most popular formulations the deity saves us only after we die.  Many people have wondered why billions of us would believe something so obviously speculative.

Myself, I think the definitive answer to that important question must wait until we know more about the workings of the brain.  So many of the “answers” people currently give to “why do we believe a deity might save us after we die” are not really explanations, but are instead descriptions couched as explanations.

So far as I can see, the only time you need a deity, is to explain salvation beyond the end of life — beyond the end of nature.  That’s to say, the notion that a deity exists is an unnecessary hypothesis: There is nothing in nature that you need to posit the existence of a deity to explain.

Of course, the fact god is an unnecessary hypothesis — is unnecessary to explain any natural thing — does not entail that “god” cannot be not an apt description of something.

I have from time to time used the word “god” on this blog to describe a certain kind of experience — the kind of experience that often seems to occur when there is an end to subject/object perception while experiencing continues.  This evening it occurs to me that I might have confused some people by using the word “god” in that special sense, so maybe it would be helpful to discuss my peculiar notion of god.

Please allow me to begin by stating that I sometimes wax and wane between ontological and epistemological naturalism.  Naturalism, as you might recall from your second or third year studying philosophy, is the intellectually sexy notion that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes.  Thus, naturalism is the opposite of  the doctrine that at least some phenomena can be explained in terms of metaphysical causes, such as god.

Ontological naturalism is the species of naturalism that asserts nothing metaphysical exists.  Nature is all there is.

Epistemological naturalism is the species of naturalism that asserts we can know only nature.  Our ability to know ends where nature ends.

I usually find ontological naturalism too speculative for my tastes: How can we possibly know whether or not anything exists metaphysically — beyond nature?  So most days I am more kindly disposed towards epistemological naturalism than ontological naturalism.

On the other hand, I come across extremely few metaphysical claims that I believe are reasonably worth investigation.  Most have only a tiny chance of being true — are merely curiosities.  After all, what are the odds the Christian god exists?  So while I accept epistemological naturalism, I might on some days behave more like an ontological naturalist.

Of greater interest to me than the existence of god is what I have sometimes on this blog called the experience of god.  That’s a label I sometimes use for the experience that can occur when there is an end to subject/object perception while experiencing continues.

However, in labeling that experience an experience of god, I do not intend to imply I know anything at all about the ontological status of god.  Instead, I am using the label merely to suggest something of the effect that experience can have on us.  In other words, experiencing the world after an end to subject/object perception can, for numerous reasons, be described as experiencing god.

I wont get into all the reasons that seems to be the case.  But I have obliquely written about that kind of experiencing here, here, and here, among other places.

Must we posit an ontologically real god to explain the sort of experiencing that sometimes occurs after an end to subject/object perception?  No.  The experiencing could conceivably be explained in terms of natural processes, including the workings of the brain.  So, while such an experiencing could be explained as the experiencing of an ontologically real god, it is not logically necessary to explain it as the experiencing of an ontologically real god.  Moreover, if we attempt to explain it in terms of an ontologically real god, we are immediately shoved up against the epistemological wall of  “How can we know that?”

It is an interesting question whether the very real god of some mystics — that is, the god which can and has been experienced — can save us from death, injustice, suffering or other challenges of living.   Put much less poetically, can experiencing the world in the absence of subject/object perception significantly benefit us in dealing with death, injustice, suffering, etc.?

So far as I know, the answer is “yes”.  That is, I don’t know that it necessarily must, but I do know that it can.  I think much depends on how skillfully we deal with those mystical experiences — especially how skillfully we deal with interpreting them.  The wisest course seems to be to refuse to interpret them at all.

So there you have it.  “God”, for me, is usually a label or placeholder, or at best a description, for a certain kind of often beneficial experiencing.  As for whether there is an ontologically real god, I think I more than adequately addressed my interest in that question here.  Of course, I’m probably wrong about the whole thing and — instead of confusing myself with such issues as I’ve discussed here — should stick to discerning which tasty beers I like the best.

16 thoughts on “The God of Mystic Naturalism”

  1. I agree, I think. Was the fundamental proposition, “more beer”? The urge to spirituality may be just a persistence of the feeling of separation from the mother?


  2. This is why I don’t use the word “god” to describe my own spirituality. If I need a word, I more often use, “the Divine” or “that-which-is” or even “Tao”, depending on the context. I tend to associate “god” strictly with the Abrahamic religions, and that is nowhere near my perspective.


  3. This doesn’t answer the question about why someone to save us from death, but I do have a thought about why people think a god intervenes in the lives of humans. It’s a simple desire for justice. I think humans crave justice and fairness in life. When fairness or justice is out of balance and we as humans can’t fix that balance, it’s difficult to accept. I think a lot of belief in a higher power came about to fill that need.

    If my parents are killed by some unknown assailant, how can accept their deaths and move on? Often healing happens through knowing the assailant was brought to justice. But if that assailant can’t be brought to justice, then how do I reconcile it? Well, if there’s a higher power that can do that for me if I allow myself to believe in that higher power.

    But what if the assailant is known, but I still can’t get justice. There isn’t enough evidence or the assailant is rich and powerful and I’m not. I can see that justice isn’t being served. But if there’s an afterlife I can imagine that person suffering after death, even if I can never prove that it happens.

    (When something bad happens to a good person, that’s another matter, one that often causes the good person to be seen as bad or unworthy in some religions.)


  4. @ Ordinary Girl: Good point! A desire for justice seems very likely one of the motivations for holding to various religious beliefs. I would think there were many such motivations, but that one surely ranks up there.


  5. I disagree with your assertions. It is presumptuous to assume that what you see is all that could be true. In my opinion it is sad to see that fear of believing in God, can keep one from truth. To me, everything in nature, is a testiment to God’s existence. I invite you to check out my prospective on the matter of nature and a creator, at my blog: Leave me a comment.


  6. @ Dsb3: Welcome to the blog! Thanks for some interesting comments! I have to disagree with them though. My position is not that what you see is all that can be true, but rather something more along the lines of what you see is all that’s needed to explain what you see. Moreover, I’m unaware of fearing your god. I think you’re confusing me with someone else. Do you know someone who thinks what you see is all that could be true and who also fears your god? That may be who you’ve got me confused for.


  7. I did not mean that you fear God, I meant you fear the idea that it might be true that God is real. It is more comforting for some to say everything happened by random chance or is a result of chemical reactions in the brain, rather than that there is a God out there watching what they do. At the same time I do want to add that your argument that God is a placeholder of a human experience is an equally plausible explanation. To me however, everything around us that we are a part of (not the things that man create, so much as creation itself) seem to testify to the idea of God.


  8. dsb3: How does Creation testify to an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibeneficent, omnipresent deity? I concede that one may see it pointing to some deity, but nature is not omnibeneficent, so it seems strange to posit that nature itself points to an omnibeneficent deity.

    As for fearing that that God may be real… I would say that all the gods are equally real, and it is they which point to a deeper reality behind human (and godly) existence. How real that reality is…is another question. `/^


  9. @ Dsb3: Thanks for the clarification! I’m still uncertain, though, on what basis you think I might fear some deity being real? So far as I know, I haven’t said anything to that effect. Could you point me to something specific I’ve said that leads you to believe I’d be upset if it somehow turned out there were a deity or deities? I’d like to know where I’ve given that impression.

    @ Qalmlea: An excellent point about omnibeneficent deities!


  10. Qalmlea: Although we may not exactly agree on how to describe the situation of God as we see it to others, I completely agree with the points you made; is some ways you nailed down the point I was hinting at. And that is that our different perspectives of God/Omnipotence/Creator (whatever you choose to call it) causes us to separate from each other is our pursuit of the description of what it is, so that we may not realize that we have agreed all along. Maybe not though. That is what I am interested in: not so much telling you what I think (unless you wish to hear it), but rather I want to hear what you think; so that I may refine my own beliefs to give myself a better view of reality, not as we say it is but as it, really, is.

    Paul Sunstone: I am sorry if I interpreted what you said incorrectly. The statements that lead me to think along those lines were:
    “It is an interesting question whether the very real god of some mystics — that is, the god which can and has been experienced — can save us from death, injustice, suffering or other challenges of living. Put much less poetically, can experiencing the world in the absence of subject/object perception significantly benefit us in dealing with death, injustice, suffering, etc.? So far as I know, the answer is “yes”. That is, I don’t know that it necessarily must, but I do know that it can….’God’, for me, is usually a label or placeholder, or at best a description, for a certain kind of often beneficial experiencing.”
    To me it sounded as though you know that something is really happening, and you may even be open to the idea of God (or even wish it), but if you were to stop and consider the idea of God really existing (in the sense He is some sort of being that has always existed) it is hard to accept or really considering it to be true is frightening. Even if this is not the case for you, again I was just interested in finding out. Sorry to have judged so presumptuously.


  11. @ Dsb3: Thanks for the clarification! I can see how my words might have been confusing now. I probably should be less poetic when speaking of an absence of subject/object perception as my manner of speaking seems to have misled you. My apologies for that.


  12. I really enjoyed your post very much. I also consider myself to be a mystical naturalist and agree with you that ontological naturalism is a leap of faith that I am not ready to take. I am weary of the fact that naturalism is mostly identified with materialism or ontological naturalism these days. First of all, we do not yet have a clear understanding of the building blocks of reality (quantum physics) Are they material (possibilities, tendencies, waves/particles, energy? Secondly, we seem to have a epistemic gap between neurological correlations and subjective experiences in both neuroscience and philosophy of mind, which begs the question is subjective conscious experiences material in nature. Thirdly, if abstract objects like morality and logic do indeed exist (I don’t claim to know for sure), their existence would not be material in nature. Of course, none of the problems of materialism prove the existence of another dimension of reality. However, they do point to the fact that ontological naturalism (associated with materialism) is just as much a metaphysical speculation as supernaturalism. How do we know naturalism is true? More importantly, how do we know our version of naturalism, which is derived from the metaphysics of Descartes true? How do we know if another dimension of reality does indeed exist, it bears no importance to the natural world we study? Any judgement, in my view, is premature.

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