A deep practice of interiority

A fella called Rev James Willems (is Rev his first name do you suppose? did he perhaps change his name to Rev in order to trick people into thinking he’s a Reverend? or is he actually a Reverend? I do not know the answers to these questions) commented on Be Scofield’s profundity about god’s love for transgender people. His comment is a classic of its kind.

“God” is not an assertion, but, rather, is an experience. I have no problem with people rejecting institutional religion. I have profound problems with people who have not lived a deep practice of interiority reducing spiritual experience to religion.  When one begins to prescribes what is acceptable behavior for another person, that person should have the self respect to pay attention to what the “Other” is saying about one’s own experience.

See? Classic. Jargon mixed with sanctimony.

But it’s irrelevant to what Scofield is trying to say. It’s got nothing to do with “anyone who seeks to redefine God or say that God loves transgender people.” An experience doesn’t love people. A person or other conscious agent loves people. An experience is not a person or another kind of conscious agent. Rev says god is an experience, so Rev is saying god is a kind of thing that can’t love (or hate or any other emotion) people. But Rev’s point is clearly that teh atheists are rong and Scofield is right.

It is my claim from years of working with others in meditation that anyone who spends serious time in meditation will have an experience of transcendence. There is nothing irrational or unreasonable about such an experience. It is simply transcendent. I agree that communicative praxis reflects one’s cultural situs and its resultant conditioning. Yes, cultural bias requires a significant critique. Such a critique will never demolish or destabilize a living experience of transcendence. One’s radical commitment to identity (LGBTQ or other) is not endangered by transcendence. It is strengthened and affirmed.

Ooooh communicative praxis reflects one’s cultural situs – that’s a good one. What Rev says is still beside the point though.

Mind you, Scofield probably wouldn’t say it is. He would probably say it isn’t. But at the same time he wants to claim that god loves transgender people. He wants it all – a god who loves us, a god who is an experience of transcendence, a god who is both of those very different things at once – he wants it all, and he will get it via the alchemy of language, or rather, jargon. That and a lawless way with our friend the comma.


  1. says

    Meditation can calm you down reduce stress and stop you worrying about things but it can also waste a hell of a lot of time and it can become addictive. I’ve tried some meditation myself and its kind of OK, but some of my Chinese Buddhist relatives do it to excess, in my opinion, and it doesn’t necessarily make them nice people. I have heard people say it gives them a feeling of transcendence, but in my experience (yes this is just anecdotal) they tend to be quite neurotic and stressed out in their daily lives and the meditation is an oasis of calm.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    From what I can tell, Willems is trying to sell meditation as a means to something or other. It’s not quite clear what something or other actually is, but it’s pretty neato-spiffy-keen. And people who don’t meditate are big meanies who hurt themselves and others.

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter #4

    McCarthy never has forgiven PZ for not banning him from Pharyngula. If Tony could get banned, then he’d have some street cred with the other accommodationists like Mooney and Kw*k. But being unbanned, nobody pays much attention to him.

  4. sailor1031 says

    I may have pointed it out before but Gotama Sakyamuni, referring to the transcendent experiences of some of his followers, said

    “these effects are not the reason we meditate”.

    Transcendent experiences are likely to do little more than take the unwary down a wrong path where they wind up believing in doGs and other fantasy beings….

  5. musubk says

    “God” is not an assertion, but, rather, is an experience. … I have profound problems with people who have not lived a deep practice of interiority reducing spiritual experience to religion.

    I’m so sick of the ‘string together nonsense and act smug about it’ argument.

  6. Sastra says

    God isn’t the experience itself, because the experience could be explained some other way — such as being the result of a brain state rather than a profound insight into how the universe is. I really dislike the way they deliberately mess up the distinction between what a situation feels like and how the feeling is interpreted. In addition to being sloppy, it’s a great way to denigrate your critics.

    If I tell you that your headache is not necessarily due to a brain tumor but probably caused instead by an ice pick sticking out of the back of your skull, I am not telling you that your head does not hurt. I’m not denying the experience of pain. I’m not accusing you of lying, I’m not suffering from a lack of either empathy or imagination. I’m analyzing your experience more objectively and this is not impossible.

    I’m also looking at an ice pick.

  7. Robert B. says

    “Communicative praxis reflects ones cultural situs.”

    I wonder if he expected anyone reading to know what all those words mean. It sounds much more respectable than “people say weird crap because they think they’re supposed to.” Also less like it demolishes his whole argument. And his whole writing style.

  8. Stacy says

    Terrific comment by Rieux on that post. It and Rev James Willems’s comment make such a lovely contrast. If I taught critical thinking or argumentation, I’d have my students compare and contrast.

  9. Stacy says

    See, Robert B, that’s how you can tell his argument is cromulent. ‘Cause he uses words like “interiority” and “situs”.

  10. Rieux says

    Thanks, Stacy.

    I think Sastra right here @8 is better, though. Partially because it’s succinct—something I have very little talent for.

  11. Robert B. says

    @ Stacy:

    It’s actually a really unclear phrase even if you know all the words. He might just as well have meant “people believe whatever their society tells them to.” And in neither case does he actually explain why this objection doesn’t demolish his point. He just mentions it and then makes a thinly-disguised “non-overlapping magisteria” claim. Maybe he hopes that by naming this experience “transcendence” and “God” he’s made us assume it’s a different kind of thing from other mental experiences.

    And it also entirely fails to support the thesis that God can supportably be said to love anyone, just as Ophelia said.

  12. Dalillama says

    Well, he’s perfectly right. Meditation can bring a bout a state of transcendence, where you feel as though you’re connected to the whole universe. Of course, this all happens in your head, and doesn’t tell you anything about the universe you didn’t know before, but the usual name for that brain state is transcendence, and you can achieve it by meditation if you want to.

  13. Robert B. says

    @ Dalillama: Oh, I know I can. I can also use meditation to calm my nerves, or focus my attention, or internalize a lesson I’ve just had, or (on a good day) to trigger what’s called “flow.”

    But that doesn’t make him “perfectly” right, because he positions this claim like it somehow defends religion and/or the possibility of our knowing who God loves. Especially when he names the experience of transcendence “God,” as if that was a valid thing to say instead of a blatant abuse of the language. And he says it as a universal, as though every theist in the world is talking about a meditative experience.

    And he assumes that Natalie Reed and atheists generally don’t know how to meditate, and acts superior thereby. I dunno about Natalie, but I’ve been meditating since I was ten, and it sounds like you’ve got plenty of experience, too. Dude is ridiculous and pompous, and if he’s right about anything it’s probably by accident.

  14. Josh Slocum says

    This pushes all my pedantic buttons (brace yourselves):

    A fella called Rev James Willems (is Rev his first name do you suppose? did he perhaps change his name to Rev in order to trick people into thinking he’s a Reverend?

    No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s wrong grammatically and socially. Observe.


    James: Hi, I’m Reverend Willems

    Josh: No, you’re not.

    James: Huh?

    Josh: You can’t be “Reverend” James in the first person. You’re not allowed to style yourself that way grammatically. It’s not only wrong, it’s pompous and obnoxious.

    James: Huh?

    Josh: Reverend is an honorific that is an adjective. It means, literally, “the revered” or “the revered one.” You don’t introduce yourself as “The revered one James.” It’s something only other people refer to you as because only other people can pay you the honor of referring to you as “the revered one.”

    If you refer to yourself that way you give away the game (and you let us all know you’re a vain ass). That’s why people in your place are styled with a definite article—“the”—-and it’s only other people who refer to you this way. To wit:


    Martha Churchgoer: “Janice, I’d like you to meet the Reverend James.

    James: “Pleased to meet you, Janice, I’m the pastor (note: not “reverend”) of this church. My name is James Roberts.”

  15. Musical Atheist says

    I really dislike the way they deliberately mess up the distinction between what a situation feels like and how the feeling is interpreted.

    This. I don’t know how it works in Christianity, but in free-floating new age thought, this exemplifies a serious problem. It goes all the way from ‘I won’t take a painkiller because I feel the pain is supposed to teach me something’ to ‘I just had a blinding flash of what felt like insight: all babies choose to be born. OMG, that’s absolutely true!’. Feelings get extended into truth claims which can then be announced with great confidence (and no supporting evidence) without anyone really noticing that half the conversation is taking place in a world of make-believe. Then the unsupported claims are themselves used as evidence to support other arguments, with which they may not even be really connected: ‘I get a feeling I would describe as transcendence when I meditate: ergo, you cannot say that God doesn’t love trans people’.

  16. says

    There is nothing irrational or unreasonable about such an experience. It is simply transcendent.

    IME, most atheists don’t have a problem with meditation, or the idea of transcendant experiences. And I’ve never net an atheist who wanted to outlaw meditation. What the Hell is this guy on about?

  17. Robert B. says

    I have a bit of a problem with the word transcendent, because people like Willems use it to justify magical thinking. Does that count?

  18. says

    The interiority is precisely the problem; all of these arguments rest upon the subjectivity of religion. I once threw a believer into a near frenzy by pointing out to him that theology, and anything else that poses as religious “knowledge”, is not knowledge at all. It is an art form, a mode of expression, and we know this because knowledge converges while expression proliferates. This is why there are over 8000 new religious movements in America alone each year.

    And contrary to what these people seem to claim (and claim, and claim…), we are not trying to ban all forms of expression. We simply insist that they be recognized as forms of expression rather than investigative disciplines. There is no way to discover the truth of any assertion of theology because there is no “theological method”, no objective standard of verification. They’re welcome to write all the poetry they like, but they are not allowed to call it knowledge.

  19. Robert B. says

    Boy, is McCarthy an asshole. Reads our arguments, claims we have none. Reads our reiterations and elaborations of said arguments, and argues past them. When pinned down, says “well we don’t have any way to know that” and then switches to irrelevant attacks on our ethics that are just non-specific enough to evade the comment policy. I’m done over there, that’s some bullshit.

  20. Stacy says

    @Mark Fournier #23

    Thank you for that elegantly written comment. I’ve never thought about the issue in quite that way, and I’m going to use it.

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